Blackpool Council is to rule next week on a new planning application for a £20m, 7,000-capacity conference centre at the Winter Gardens. Advocates hope the project, should it get the go-ahead, could form the next step in the regeneration of Blackpool’s visitor economy.
On Monday 18 July Blackpool Council Executive will discuss the plans and, if the result is positive, could submit bids for external funding to build a new conference venue on the former split level car park site on Leopold Grove. It would include a conference hall for 2,000 delegate and, a 1,200sqm exhibition hall.
The new building will be directly linked to both the Empress Ballroom and the Opera House to form a flexible venue with joint capacities of up to 7,000.
Started in 1878, Blackpool Winter Gardens developed to become one of the most important entertainment centres in the country and, after World War II, conferencing became a core part of the offer, with all the major political parties holding their annual conferences at the venue. The situation changed in 2007 when all parties had moved their national conferences out of Blackpool.
Blackpool Council has commissioned outline designs from architects Bissett Adams, who have worked in Blackpool previously designing the refurbishment of the Central Library. The brief, the council said, was ‘to create a high quality contemporary building which respected the historical and architectural significance of the rest of the complex, but which offers innovative solutions to the challenges of 21st century conferencing’.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “Since Labour took control of the Council in 2011 we have been working on options to secure large-scale business tourism and conferencing facilities for the town.
“The recent demolition of the car park at the Winter Gardens has provided a rare opportunity to build on land the Council already owns and which directly connects to two of our most iconic venues.
“Much of the detail is yet to be resolved – but behind the scenes we have been talking to agencies like Historic England to make sure the development of designs protects the historic significance of the building whilst delivering the biggest economic impact possible.
“Through the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, and the Lancashire Combined Authority, I am hopeful that we can gain up to £20m in funding towards construction costs – but these are highly competitive bidding processes, which will need support from businesses and other councils across Lancashire. Huge amounts of work are being undertaken, by me and others, to try and turn this dream into reality. If we are successful, this will herald a dramatic new chapter on Blackpool’s long and proud conference history.”
The report to the council executive can be read here:
Caption: Proposed image of new Winter Gardens conference centre