Blackpool’s £25m conference centre aims to lure politicians back

An artist's impression of the proposed conference centre.
An artist's impression of the proposed conference centre.

Bold multi-million pound proposals have been unveiled today for a new conference centre in Blackpool.

It would be built on the Winter Gardens site and boast state-of-the-art exhibition space as well as a 1,500 capacity conference room.

Simon Blackburn

Simon Blackburn

Blackpool Council has put together detailed plans for the scheme which would cost between £18m and £25m to build.

It is hoping to secure funding from the government’s Growth Deal 3 by making a bid through the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

If the scheme goes ahead it is hoped it will bring back big conferences to the resort and be a huge boost to the town’s economy.

The proposed contemporary building would link directly into the existing buildings which make up the Victorian Grade II listed Winter Gardens.

If it was successful as a bid, it could change the viability of the Winter Gardens as a 21st century conference centre because of the additional new build

A design statement accompanying the planning application says: “The conference centre is planned to be of a scale and quality to attract the highest level conference trade, restoring Blackpool’s pre-eminence in this area, complementing the attractions of the other offerings within the Winter Gardens.”

The conference centre would be built on the Leopold Grove side of the Winter Gardens.

The land was previously occupied by a multi-storey car park which was demolished earlier this year.

Alan Cavill, director of place at Blackpool Council, said: “We are putting together a bid through the Growth Deal for a modern exhibition space and conference centre which would make us much more competitive in the conference market.”

MP Gordon Marsden at his office in South Shore.

MP Gordon Marsden at his office in South Shore.

He added talks had already been held with the LEP whose members indicated they were supportive of the bid.

But the final decision on funding would lie with the Government.

The council expects to find out in the autumn if its bid has been successful, but the way funding is allocated means work could not begin before 2018 and the new conference centre could not open until late 2019.

The plans, which have been drawn up by London-based architects Bisset Adams, would see a double height entrance foyer opening onto Leopold Grove, with exhibition space on the first floor.

Winter Gardens demolition

Winter Gardens demolition

Above this on the second floor would be a large uninterrupted space capable of hosting major conferences of up to 1,500 people.

A special construction system would reduce the need for columns.

Also proposed are new public areas outside which would be created by setting back the entrance from the road and angling the first two storeys inward.

The ground floor would link through to the Empress Ballroom, and also accommodate loading bays and storage areas.

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden, who has met with council chief executive Neil Jack to discuss the plans, said: “This is a good and relatively fast-moving initiative by the council to try and take advantage of some additional funding.

“If it was successful as a bid, it could change the viability of the Winter Gardens as a 21st century conference centre because of the additional new build.

“The challenge, as always, will be sustainability after construction, and that is something the council will have to look very closely at.”

The council’s executive will consider the proposal at its next meeting on July 18 and is being asked to agree for a £50,000 pot of cash to be made available to fund the submission of the bid.

A report to the committee says the Winter Gardens site offers “the most affordable option”.

It adds Blackpool has continued to lose out on business tourism for a number of years and “independent studies have clearly identified the absence of a modern fit-for-purpose conference centre as one of the main contributory factors”.

Proposals for a £21m Blackpool museum within the Pavilion Theatre, expected to be funded by a Lottery grant, are also still moving forward.