Seaside conference season faces fight for future

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Indy Politics

Labour is to consider abandoning the traditional visit to the seaside for its annual party conference after receiving an approach from a new £250m conference centre in Docklands, east London.

Labour is to consider abandoning the traditional visit to the seaside for its annual party conference after receiving an approach from a new £250m conference centre in Docklands, east London.

Shifting the conference from resorts such as Bournemouth and Brighton would provoke angry complaints from grass-roots activists of metropolitan bias, but Labour sources confirmed last night that party officials are to visit the new conference centre in Newham. Both Labour and the Tories are under pressure to find larger, more modern venues amid growing criticism of outdated facilities in Blackpool, and concerns that both Bournemouth and Brighton are becoming too small and inflexible as venues.

Keith Greetham, commercial director of the 90,000 sq metre London complex, called ExCeL, said talks had begun talks with major political parties about staging their annual conferences after the opening of a 6,000-seat auditorium in 2003. "I have no doubt about it: our product meets the needs of a modern political party," he said.

Officials at Millbank, Labour's national headquarters, confirmed they had accepted an invitation to tour the site but insisted their visit was purely exploratory. Labour last staged an annual conference in London in 1974, after a snap October election was called, forcing the party to rearrange the event at short notice.

A Tory party spokesman denied being in talks with ExCeL, but said: "If they got in touch, we would listen to them."

The main doubt over the suitability of the complex as a conference venue is whether it can provide sufficient overnight accommodation. Labour needs 20,000 beds and the Tories, now they are in opposition, 11,500.

A Labour source said: "It may be that this venue could be more suitable for our local government conference or something like that, but we will go and look at what they've got. The accommodation factor is the most significant one."

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