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Blackpool’s Conference Centre plan
Published: 14th March 2017
This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group
Construction on a £25 million conference centre in Blackpool is due to commence in the autumn.
It is hoped the new centre (which is yet to receive an official name) will give the ailing seaside resort a much-needed boost and help it entice major events to the town – once the capital of the north for conferencing and business tourism.
The massive development, which includes a new hotel, will permit the historic Winter Gardens site on Church Street to host up to 7,000 delegates at once. This increased capacity will place the town firmly back in the big league for business events and allow it to compete with sites such as the MEN in Manchester and the ACC in Liverpool. The revamp may even pave the way for the return of high-profile political conferences (something Blackpool is historically associated with but hasn’t hosted since 2007).
The project forms part of the government’s National Industrial Strategy – a scheme to implement a series of economic improvements across the North West, as a part of a £556 million cash boost for the Northern Powerhouse.
Blackpool Council announced detailed plans for the scheme, expected to cost between £18 and £25 million to build, and will finance the project with a £70 million share of the government’s Growth Deal 3 Fund, secured by a successful bid through the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
News of the conference centre was welcomed by Blackpool business leaders.
Deputy leader of Blackpool Council, Gillian Campbell, said: “This is a really exciting step forward in upgrading the Winter Gardens to a conference venue fit for the twentieth century.
“We already know that the Empress Ballroom and the Opera House provide perfect venues for keynote speakers and housing delegates, but to have a proper exhibition and welcoming space is exactly what is needed to try and bring major league conferencing back to the resort.
“We are keen to make sure that while the design for the new centre is contemporary, it still remains in keeping with the historical and heritage aspects of the rest of the Winter Gardens, and have been talking with heritage experts to make sure that we can retain the beauty of the Winter Gardens building within the new build.”
Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn, part of the LEP team responsible for securing project funding, said the news was a ‘triumph for Blackpool’.
Blackburn added: “We had hoped to secure somewhere in the region of £35 million from Growth Deal 3. To have been awarded just shy of £70 million therefore is nothing short of a triumph, and shows the value of us all working together, and I want to thank all of the Leaders of Lancashire, and my fellow LEP directors for their support and efforts to bring home this result.
Managing director of the Winter Gardens, Michael Williams, said: “The process of selecting a contractor is now underway and we are proposing to start work this October with completion by spring 2019. Once work starts, it is going to be a partnership with the contractor to ensure none of the events at the Winter Gardens are affected and that disruption is minimised, including for our neighbours.”
Work is set to begin later this year with a view to completing the project by spring 2019. The conference building and hotel will link directly into the Victorian Grade II listed Winter Gardens, seamlessly merging the old with the new. On the first floor, the conference centre will feature an impressive double-height entrance foyer and exhibition space, while up on the second floor will be an expansive exhibition/conference space capable of hosting major events of up to 2,000 delegates.