Blackpool's Changing - For the Better
A Council decision this week confirmed the application by a private development consortium to invest in an anchor leisure scheme that takes up the area of land formerly known as Blackpool Central Station. Sited immediately behind properties fronting onto the Promenade, this location has been the object of varied proposals over past decades ever since the Beeching cuts inflicted untold harm on the Fylde coast and resulted in the resort having to choose which of its principal railway terminals would close (in the 1960s).
Blackpool's direct line to Preston (and beyond to the south) through Poulton le Fylde and Kirkham was preferred over the south Fylde line which terminated at Hounds Hill a stones throw away from the beach and promenade tramway. Closing Blackpool's Central Station with its added Excursion platforms left open a large amount of land abutting on to Central Drive. A horrendous concrete edfice housing the Magistrates Courts with adjacent central police station (and cells) then used a portion of the site, whilst the large area of cleared land was turned over to car parking space.
The approved new development is intended to draw more visitors year round with a mix of leisure venues, hotels and large multi level car park. An remaining part of the town's heritage at the corner of Chapel Street and Central Drive is to become a 'Heritage Quarter' embracing the long closed King Edward cinema and classic King Edward Public House built in the Edwardian era. The former railwaymen's accommodation block built by the LMS is to be upgraded to new boutique accommodation - alongside the Picture House and King Edward corner pub. The latter still very much unchanged from its as built state.
New hotels within the project will add to a lengthening list of modern hospitality brands appearing in the resort. Talbot Square's Premier Inn has become a town centre landmark taking the place of the Yates Wine Lodge structure, whilst a less attractive newbuild hotel on the old 'Palatine' site is now nearing completion with five star offer and visitor experience filled with nostalgic reference to the resort's entertainers over a century, among other features. Blackpool North station awaits completion of a further new hotel (Holiday Inn) brand alongside the tram extension from North Pier up Talbot Road to a scissors crossover terminus. A further new town centre hotel is planned next to the Winter Gardens and the nearly completed conference centre off Leopold Grove. Completing this town centre hospitality upgrade is a revamped Clifton Hotel in Talbot Square now nearing its emergence under a new operator.
The Pleasure Beach Company have led the way with new hospitality assets and their successful 'Big Blue' brand which has expanded twice since the initial hotel opened. Further south yet another newbuild hotel property overlooking the promenade (and passing trams) opened two years ago as a Hilton Hampton brand complete with large windows in the seaward facing bedrooms. This abundance of new hospitality choices is causing Blackpool's traditional large hotels to sharpen their marketing skills; whilst inevitably impacting on the even more traditional bed and breakfast sector which for a long time has symbolised the resort's cheap and cheery image. One which now needs adjusting to rapidly changing social trends.
Will we get to see a 'tram themed hotel' formatted on the back of reconstituted Rigby Road transport operations? Or a return to the original 'Hydropaethic' theme of the large castlelike structure at Norbreck? Or even an aviation themed establishment at Squires Gate? Only time will tell what the future is going to bring to the town after the present transition runs its course. Just a shame that the once excellent seafront establishment known as the 'Metropole' has lapsed into the controlling influence of the Home Office and Serco - something must be done.
Back to the Future : Railway grand style with porte cochere to provide protection against the weather for ladies (and gentlemen) alighting from their carriages at the station entrance! Across the road the classic Talbot Hotel frontage and the 1939 Talbot Road Bus Station with corporate green and cream facia tiling. They don't build them like they used to! Image : John Woodman Archive