£2m bid to make world famous illuminations even better...

Lights fantastic: According to one Gazette correspondent, the Illuminations bring business into Blackpool while other resorts are closing down, benefiting our resort's businesses
Lights fantastic: According to one Gazette correspondent, the Illuminations bring business into Blackpool while other resorts are closing down, benefiting our resort's businesses

Ambitious £2m plans have been drawn up to spark a massive boost to Blackpool’s famous Illuminations.

Tourism chiefs will hear in January whether a move to secure the cash from the Coastal Communities Fund has been successful.

Illuminations

Illuminations

Blackpool Council’s bid has already made it through to the second round of the process.

And if it is approved, the cash would go towards a spectacular upgrade of the central stretch of the Lights along the Golden Mile.

Money would also be used to hire people to meet and greet visitors to the Illuminations, and to enhance the Brilliance attraction in Birley Street.

The investment would be on top of the council’s annual funding for the Lights, which currently stands at £2m.

And it would see the first major upgrade of the world-famous attraction for many a year.

Head of Blackpool Illuminations Richard Ryan said: “We want to make significant improvements to the central section on the Golden Mile to create something world class.

“It would be something people could view from their cars, but which more importantly they would want to get out of their cars to see.

“We also want to improve the visitor experience by having people to meet and greet visitors and tell them all about what Blackpool has to offer.

“If the bid is successful we would also invest some money into the town centre, thereby assisting the night time economy. This would be into Brilliance and also to bring a high quality attraction to The Grundy Art Gallery.

“We don’t want to lose what we have already got, but we do want to enhance the Illuminations and broaden their appeal.”

Philip Welsh, head of the visitor economy at Blackpool Council, revealed the bid to hoteliers at a tourism conference at the Winter Gardens yesterday.

He said: “We know the Illuminations are hugely popular, but as enduring as the Illuminations are to generation after generation, we do need to look at innovations.

“We have submitted a £2m bid to the Coastal Communities Fund which we believe will deliver a step change in the whole Illuminations if successful.

“If it is, we will have a tight schedule to deliver that for the 2015 season.”

Designs for how the new Lights display would look have not yet been drawn up.

Mr Welsh added that if the bid was not successful, the Illuminations would still be refreshed for next year but that would have to be “within the constraints of a tight budget” and emphasised the Lights still needed business support.

Claire Smith, president of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, welcomed the bid and said investment in the Illuminations had to remain the top priority for the town.

She said; “The one thing I worry about with all the council cutbacks is the Illuminations, but they are our lifeblood.

“The half-term holiday we have just had has been the busiest week of the year and the reason for that is the Illuminations.

“But visitors do tell us that they would like to see some changes to the Lights.

“They (the Illuminations department) have been doing everything on a shoestring for so long, so to have some significant investment would be great.”

Shirley Hunt, of the Friends of the Illuminations, said: “We all know there will be more cutbacks in the council budget next year so we have to keep trying other ways of bringing the money in for the Illuminations.

“A lot of my guests have said they wouldn’t come to Blackpool at this time of year if it wasn’t for the Illuminations being on. But business contributions are still disappointing, and I still feel the businesses of this town need to support them.”

Merlin, whose attractions in Blackpool include The Tower and Madame Tussauds, has funded an extra week of the Illuminations for the second year running.

Boss Iain Hawkins said: “You can’t just keep rolling out the Illuminations with a fresh lick of paint every year.

“Sometimes we do have to take opportunities to invest and create something new and fresh for people.

“Hopefully this bid will be successful and can help to future-proof the Illuminations.”

This year saw new sponsors supporting the Lights including Fleetwood Town boss Andy Pilley’s BES Utilities and the Houndshill shopping centre, while celebrity Laurence Llewelyn Bowen remained on board after eight years at the helm of the design team.

The Coastal Communities Fund (CCF) aims to encourage the economic development of UK coastal communities by awarding funding to create sustainable economic growth and jobs.

Since the start of the CCF in 2012, grants have been awarded to 117 organisations across the UK to the value of £65m.

The Big Lottery Fund is delivering the CCF on behalf of the Government.