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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool's civic bust

Ironic contrasts recently as our local news covers more awards being handed out by Blackpool's Civic Trust amid self congratulatory hugs and smiles - at the same time as the Rowntree Trust publishes its findings into the socio economic downturn of British towns and cities - and with justification places Blackpool firmly among the top ten worst urban centres in Britain to live.

No doubt more little blue plaques will find themselves affixed to this or that Blackpool structure of architectural or historic merit. The only problem with these embellishments is that they are hardly legible to read in most cases. A classic example being on the initial site of the founder(s) of the eventual Rolls Royce company which had its founding days in a nondescript building on Bloomfield Road next to the Number One Club. What should be an easily read roundel is affixed halfway up the building facade, with faded miniscule lettering ensuring this site in Blackpool's heritage is kept as an anonymous locale, even for the most assiduous student of UK motoring history.

A more appropriate exercise these days would be to nominate Blackpool's worst buildings and public spaces - of which the town centre has more than its fair share. Starting with Talbot Square precinct. Once upon a time this was Blackpool's principal civic space fronting the Town Hall and the arsonist destroyed 'Yates Wine Lodge' Victorian edifice. Now a barren windswept flatland it sums up all that is wrong with the town's carers. It may be that planners are waiting for the long heralded tram extension connecting the promenade line with Blackpool North railway terminus and attendant 'Talbot Gateway' scheme. This still awaits removal of the blot on the landscape structure occupied by 'Wilko' - although myriad coloured markings now appearing up and down Talbot Road hint at realignment of utilities and roadway.

To be fair the decision to endorse the Hounds Hill Shopping Centre scheme and create an indoor retail mall which was sadly lacking in Blackpool - caused the inevitable drift of quality retail into the Bank Hey Street/Hounds Hill corner of the town centre. Since the Centre's opening once busy commercial streets have been allowed to drift into a sad menage of charity shops competing for 'volunteers' and 'donations' to stay in their niche fund raising 'business'. Alongside are even less salubrious venues encouraging alcoholism and fast food; with the inevitable gambling dens otherwise known as 'betting shops' now tarted up to give an air of respectability. Add to these attractions a generous helping of tattoo parlours, rent a settee on mind boggling terms outlets; and an extra large dollop of 'FOR SALE' or 'FOR RENT' signs liberally sprinkled up and down once prime business and retailing streets - and you have Blackpool's reality cheque in your face. Naturally there any number of 'managers' on this or that payroll of a myriad number of agencies pushing their credentials and dubious regeneration claims.

The small army of consultants and workers busily involving themselves in designing the Museum of Blackpool to take up residence in the Winter Gardens complex might stop to think about simply erecting 'then and now' large photos and flat screen imagery of the town's former condition up to forty years ago and the state it is in now. This would take just a few months of image sourcing and come out a lot cheaper than engaging specialist designers and heritage 'experts'. The army Blackpool needs lies in economic development and business investment where meaningful employment is generated through private companies. I see little support or emphasis being given to this critical aspect of Blackpool's younger generations looking for work close to home and a future beyond hotel staff, carer positions and lowest paid employment options in the country.

Away from the promenade's seasonal bustle and hucksters - the townscape has little to commend itself to award giving and self congratulation societies. THE one growth sector seems to be 'car parks' both public and private. The latest addition just emerging on the graveyard of the former 'Hippodrome' theatre / ABC Theatre / Syndicate Night Club edifice (take your pick) - a once grand Edwardian structure which bit the dust literally over the past few weeks. Perhaps it heaved a sigh of relief in the process. Take a peek at the latest town centre streetscape car park coming to a corner near you. Below - once upon a time this was the site of a magnificent Edwardian era theatre - now destined for Council car parking spaces as if there weren't enough within three minutes walk of the camera amid a further bland windswept road junction on the fringe of the town centre. Up to 1962 smart quiet smooth running trams swept by on their way to Talbot Square or Whitegate Drive passing this latest blot on Blackpool's townscape. Blue plaque anyone?

Marton's trams traversed this roadway - now with a clear view to the other Council Car Park competing with the free parking on offer at the Sainsbury store complex a few yards away.

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