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Renewing Blackpool: Rekindling the illuminations

Blackpool is the UK’s biggest seaside resort, with its main attractions being Blackpool Tower, The Winter Gardens and the much loved Pleasure Beach. The area provides the largest single concentration of seaside tourism jobs in the UK, over 19,000. In fact 19% of all employment is due to the visitor economy, well above the UK’s 10% average.

The LEP (Lancashire Enterprise Partnership) has set up a plan to encourage growth opportunities across Lancashire, including Blackpool. The LEP want to make sure that Blackpool’s competitive advantage as one of the UK’s leading visitor destinations is further strengthened and its social and economic renewal is accelerated.

Blackpool has endured three decades of economic challenge, due to the changing visitor economy and decreasing visitor spend. Thus investment into the area was stalled, jobs lost and residents faced limited employment prospects, with wages low and often only part time work available. The population now has a high saturation of residents with social problems, being the 6th most deprived authorities in England.

But Blackpool is still a popular tourist destination, but most tourism is limited to day only visits, with the number of people choosing to stay longer very low. This has resulted in an over-supply of holiday accommodation. LEP suggests that Blackpool’s renewal is dependent on the successful growth of an all year round visitor economy.

In the report the LEP published, they discovered an emerging positive evidence of renewal in Blackpool. In 2010 the city received significant investment to radically improve public transport and tram systems and to maintain Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens. The area was also given a beautiful new promenade with vast open spaces.  All these improvements have resulted in tourist growth year on year for the last three years, for the first time since 1980.

Blackpool’s good rail and road networks gives the city the capability to connect to other economic regions, allowing for other economic opportunities further than tourism. These opportunities would include manufacturing and commercial developments.

The LEP would like to see a transformational intervention in Blackpool’s Housing Market, as many of the surplus holiday accommodation has been converted into small poor quality rental units. 80% of the rental properties in Blackpool are funded through social housing benefits. This undermines the tourist industry and negatively limits the number of overnight stays and overall economic growth. The solution to this is reducing payment levels by 25% for accommodation that was developed without planning permission, with the savings from this shared equally between the Treasury and Blackpool.  This would raise over £5million for Blackpool, and the money raised would be used to help support people looking for employment. By increasing the private rental sector conditions it will reduce the rental value of poor quality stock and produce the incentives that exist in a regular market in providing housing that is attractive to customers. The increased private sector investment will attract and retain family units in Blackpool who are able to contribute towards the local economy.

There are also developmental plans for Blackpool’s former central station, and other commercial developments in the town include the development of a new conference centre and a large casino. A £21m Heritage Based Visitor Attraction has been proposed for the Winter Gardens, which will create 80 jobs and over 400,000 additional visitors, contributing £14.9m to the local economy.

These are exciting plans which will enable Blackpool to successfully grow an all year round visitor economy capable of competing in an increasing sophisticated market.

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