Blackpool on track for big changes

PUBLISHED: 10:38 05 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:39 20 February 2013

Blackpool on track for big changes

Blackpool on track for big changes

Blackpool has been a work in progress for some years now and more transformations are on their way Photography by Kirsty Thompson

Stars get waxed in Blackpool

A galaxy of star names came out for the exclusive launch party of the new Madame Tussauds in Blackpool. More than 150 guests, including the Mayor of Blackpool, local councillors and representatives from other Blackpool attractions and businesses, were treated to an after-hours look around the attraction.

As well as stepping on to the sets of hit TV shows such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and The Jeremy Kyle Show, guests were able to rub shoulders with stars including Lady GaGa, Susan Boyle, David Beckham and Bruce Forsyth.

Photography by Sara Cuff

The seaside place called Blackpool, noted for fresh air and fun, has more iconic landmarks than many entire counties. Generations of tourists have visited the tower and the piers, built sandcastles and taken donkey rides on the beach, and sucked a stick of Blackpool rock as they stroll along the prom, prom, prom.

But change is rattling down the tracks. Work is underway to create new visitor attractions at the tower, to transform the promenade and to renovate the Winter Gardens complex. And the towns famous trams are to be given an overhaul too.

The tramway is one of the oldest in the world - it opened in 1885 - and some of the trams which trundle the 11 miles from South Shore to Fleetwood date back to the 1930s. But now a fleet of sleek new trams is due arrive in the resort this month.

The Bombardier Flexity Two trams, which have been built in Germany and Austria, will undergo a series of test before starting service next Easter. Two new vehicles a month will be delivered to Blackpool and once they enter service they will run alongside the existing trams which will be known as heritage trams.

Features of the modern, more environmentally-friendly trams - which will be housed in a new depot currently being built at Starr Gate - include low floors for easy access, wider aisles, state-of-the-art video surveillance equipment and improved heating and ventilation.

The leader of Blackpool Council, Cllr Peter Callow, said: Anticipation for the arrival of the new trams is growing. These innovations will not only bring Blackpool present day benefits for residents and tourists, but will also secure a great future for the town, bringing higher efficiency and modernisation.

And the first phase of the Winter Gardens redevelopment has been completed at a cost of 1.25million. Blackpool Council last year bought the Grade II listed Winter Gardens which has hosted political conferences, concerts, exhibitions and even the Royal Variety Performance, as part of a 39m package which also included the tower, Louis Tussauds Waxworks and the Golden Mile Centre.

Cllr Callow added: The refurbishment of the entire Winter Gardens complex is something that will take a great deal of time and thought. Its our job to work closely with the architects and English Heritage to ensure that we make the best possible use of the building.

Work is now underway at the Tower to create a new observation deck near the top and, about 500 feet below, a dungeon exhibition, which replaces the old aquarium, and will feature a series of grisly displays.

The work forms part of the masterplan for Blackpool, which
was launched in 2003, and includes projects around the town. A number
of schemes have already been completed, including the regeneration of St Johns Square, the new Hounds Hill shopping centre and some town centre streets.

Alan Cavill is now overseeing the masterplan for the council and he said: I would say we are about three quarters of the way through. Weve not quite managed to do it all but we have gone a long way. What remains is to tie it all together.

We will possibly start some work on the central business district by the end of this year - the rest, the new supermarket, new council office, hotels and railway station could start next April or May. An awful lot has happened but there is still work to be done.

Much of the work has been aimed at changing perceptions - since the advent of cheap foreign travel and the city break, the market for stag and hen parties in Blackpool has grown to fill the void left by the dwindling number of families choosing the resort for holidays.

But after working hard to attract national chain coffee shops, a concerted effort is now underway to bring high end restaurants to the town.

Lots of businesses have not seen Blackpool as the right place for them in the past but that is starting to change, added Alan, a former Arnold School pupil whose parents ran guest houses around the resort after moving from Salford in the 1960s.

And the changes are starting to have an effect, visitor numbers have risen in the last three years - theyre up above 13 million a year now - but Alan concedes that the recession has had an impact on the regeneration work and the councils plans for the future.

It has been a tough time in local authorities recently, we have had to let staff go and we wont be able to do everything as we had hoped.

We can no longer afford to host the international beach volleyball tournament. Showzam, the festival of magic, happened this year for a third of the cost of previous years and we are getting sponsorship for the firework championships.

We have maintained the amount of money in the Illuminations because of last years storm damage so we have been able to replace some that were lost. But future years are not looking as good in terms of building new pieces. We will carry on with the Illuminations and we wont reduce the scope for the next three or four years, but if the hard times go on much beyond that then we will have to look again at what we do.

Lifes a beach

What does a Blackpool donkey get for its lunch? An hour.
Its an old joke but its still true, thanks to the 1942 Donkey Charter which also stipulates that the 150 donkeys who give rides on the beach and the horses who pull landaus along the prom are given an annual health check.

The charter insists the animals get a day off and a lunch hour every day and - a newer regulation, this one - that they are micro-chipped to ensure they are not substituted for other animals during the season.

Karen Richardson is the fourth generation of her family to own donkeys on Blackpool beach and her animals still wear bridles made by her grandfather. Its nice way to spend the summers, youre your own boss and it gives you plenty of freedom.

The print version of this article appeared in the July 2011 issue of Lancashire Life

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