Bosses behind a huge redevelopment in Blackpool today hit back at criticism over plans to plough millions of pounds of council cash into a new hotel.
Developers at the £220m Talbot Gateway Central Business District today unveiled more details of the second phase of the ambitious scheme, following the completion of the new car park, council offices and Sainsbury’s store this summer.
Now Muse will kickstart the second phase with a four star hotel, as previously revealed in The Gazette.
The revelation that the council is to borrow £11.3m towards building the new 130-bedroom hotel has sparked controversy from some quarters - including opposition councillors and hoteliers - who say the cash would be better spent on refurbishing existing hotel stock.
But Andy Barton, Muse project manager for the Talbot Gateway, said appraisals by his company showed the hotel, which will be built on the St John’s car park in East Topping Street, would generate income for the council once it was up and running.
And he predicted the £14m hotel investment will trigger improvements in surrounding areas including Cookson Street which has been notoriously down at heel.
He said: “We have looked at Cookson Street and I have had meetings with the people who own the properties.
“What we have done on the Talbot Gateway will encourage people to improve their properties in the surrounding areas - that always happens in areas where we are involved in projects like this.”
“We have been working hard to get a hotel on that site for 18 months.
“We are very pleased to have a quality hotel operator on board and we look forward to starting on site before the end of next year subject to planning.
“The hotel will be of similar quality architecturally to the council offices which have already won awards and the way it is being funded is a common business model that is being used elsewhere.
“There was always going to be a four star hotel in the Talbot Gateway as part of our outline planning permission.
“The design team will be brought together before the end of this year and there will be a full planning application in the spring.”
The hotel’s reception area is expected to open out on to Deansgate, with guests able to use the adjacent Talbot Road car park, although surface parking on East Topping Street will remain.
Mr Barton added elements of the second phase - including a new transport interchange at Blackpool North station and developments on the site formerly occupied by the Apollo store - were still on the cards.
The transport interchange at Blackpool North Station will create a facility where people can transfer from buses or trams to trains. It is proposed to extend to tramway from the Promenade, up Talbot Road to Blackpool North Station.
The Department for Transport, through Transport for Lancashire, has already pledged £16m for the tramway extension.
He said: “We are still in discussion with Wilkinson’s about their building, and Network Rail, and as and when we can, we will come forward with a viable scheme. We have only half finished this project and we will keeping working on it until something happens there.
“Everywhere we go, we build quality buildings - we go into the middle of towns that need regeneration and build quality urban environments that improve the area.
“Blackpool is no different to any other town and what we have done here is just as valid as anywhere else. But we have always said it will take time and we can’t do it all at once.”
But Claire Smith, president of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, said she understood why the council was putting the money into the hotel scheme but warned it would put pressure on existing guest house owners.
She said: “Research shows we can’t attract higher spending visitors or more conferences unless we have a hotel like the one proposed and I understand that.
“But it will add to the existing bed stock in the town and put pressure on guest house owners and b&bs.
“So what we have to do is go further to make a difference in terms of the personal service you get in a b&b compared to a national hotel chain.”
The next physical changes residents will see as part of the scheme will be the demolition of buildings at 25 to 31 Deansgate and 58 to 62 Springfield Road plus 23 High Street, possibly before the end of this year.
The former will see vacant premises on the corner of Deansgate and Topping Street bulldozed to open up that area, while the latter will see some buildings flattened as part of the longer term aspirations for development around North Station.
Hopes or relocating Blackpool Central Police station and the law courts, which were part of the original Talbot Gateway blueprint, have not been thrown out but depend on funding.
Phase one included new council offices, a Sainsbury’s store with 600 parking spaces, and a full refurbishment of the 450-space Talbot Road multi-storey car park.
Blackpool Council will borrow £11.3m to build the hotel, with the remaining £2.7m coming from development funds generated from the first phase of the scheme. The council will appoint a management company to operate the hotel and is in talks to use the Holiday Inn brand.
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservatives on Blackpool Council, said he still did not believe the hotel would be a success.
He said: “There are examples in other towns where councils are working with private investors but they are using their own capital and not borrowing.
“My source of information is very close to the brands themselves and to other operators in the hotel industry and it shows this will not stack up.”