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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool Town Centre Begins To Tilt

John Woodman

For at least two decades the commercial centre of Blackpool has been south of the Winter Gardens and within the tightened area south of the Town Hall to the Coral Island site, The once robust retail presence on and close to Abingdon Street with Talbot Road itself has lapsed into a threadbare offer led by Charity shops, tattoo parlours, the inevitable bars and lacklustre 'cafes'. The absence of the General Post Office as a functioning hub, and decline of Abingdon Street's market accelerated this rundown in once vibrant businesses. The closing of Talbot Road Bus Station didn't help matters either.

In part the development of the Hounds Hill shopping centre with an anchor department store, (Debenhams) was a key influencer in the uplift of spending power in proximity, and a downdraft felt by shop owners on Talbot Road and Abingdon Street in particular. The loss of Debenhams has certainly harmed the town's retail offer overall and diminished the attractiveness of the Hounds Hill operation in particular. Traffic flow patterns, parking charges and changing bus service stops have also impacted on widened perception on the diminished standing of today's town centre. Out of town shopping centres such as the one at Mereside and Squires Gate Lane further diluted and diminished the relevance of town centre shopping - on street parking charges didn't help either.

Leaving aside the issue of 'slumlord' housing attracting low income or no income tenants from outside of the Fylde -bringing noticeable social ills into the town's 'rotten wards' - Blackpool's condition behind its promenade frontage - has been a cause of growing concern over the past two decades - at least. Efforts to combat evident ills are underway through several parallel agencies and government led actions not the least of which is the announcement this week of new funding to strengthen public action against 'rogue landlords' as well as infusion of new cash into meritorious programmes formulated by public private partnerships - announced this week.

More importantly the physical skyline of the town centre is changing through the partnership of MUSE developers, Blackpool's Council and its several executive agencies, and regional development platforms in Lancashire and the northwest. Quality hotels have been and are being opened to counter the negative reports of visitors and researchers on an all too familiar corporate operating brand which has managed to acquire larger properties including the Metropole, Norbreck Castle, and Savoy hospitality businesses. The imminent completion of the Holiday Inn complex within the Talbot Gateway scheme is a game changer on several levels, bringing as it will a top class restaurant with national prestige. The new dramatic and stylish hotel replacing the Yates Wine Lodge property has done wonders for Talbot Square's image, while south promenade is hosting a further newbuild national brand already increasing in size. A less inspiring but nonetheless important new hotel is transforming the old Palatine Hotel site next to the Woolworth's art deco structure, while the classic Clifton Hotel also on Talbot Square is benefitting from new owners and operator investment.

Below : BTS bus turning on to Dickson Road from Talbot Road with tram tracks leading into the development site and behind the Holiday Inn structure in the background.

Signage greeting train arriving visitors and the newly built Holiday Inn structure ready for internal fittings.

And below : how the completed Holiday Inn will look with the restaurant entrance on the nearest corner ground floor level. Blackpool North Station is on a lower level off 'camera' to the right. The tram terminus is behind the building.

Perspective on revamping the former 'Hop Public House' to the right with Blackpool Council offices on the left and a glimpse of the Sainsbury supermarket structure behind. All photos John Woodman

The test runs of trams up to the designated terminus adjoining the Holiday Inn (and restaurant) have now taken place, with no doubt many more to follow. Service trams to North Station are still several months ahead, transforming as they will, the ambience and streetscape of Talbot Road itself. - a vital pedestrian and traffic gateway on to the Promenade for visitors, Improvement to this town centre corridor is now essential - flushing out delinquent landlords and removing the dross and derelicts who have made it their turf for far too long. Tree planting, stylish lighting, and upmarket retail needs to follow on this principal artery for travellers arriving in the town centre.

With the announced plans for new government offices on an impressive scale to be built as part of the Talbot Gateway (or whatever nomenclature is being presently applied by planners) and the opening of tram services to the railway terminus of Blackpool North, a whole new commercial and service anchor is being created for the town centre. One hopes that a ripple effect will spread on Dickson Road, Abingdon Street. Clifton and Birley Streets and perhaps even Queen Street and its important Central Library/Grundy Gallery complex - the latter still awaiting much needed extension for cultural and heritage exhibitions. Much akin to the opening of Talbot Road Bus Station and new landmark in 1939 - the prosperity for local businesses in its proximity became self evident thereafter. Whether this can be further built on is in the hands of the planners and far sighted urban regeneration expertise at hand. Possibly a combination of the revitalised Central Station site with its anchor leisure complex and hotels, and the Talbot Gateway scheme in full flush, Blackpool may have finally turned an economic (and social) corner - complete with all electric transport network under local ownership and control. In any event the inexorable tilt of central district 'tectonic plates' is already shifting northward - and for all to see at last.

1959 : As it was. Church Street in front of the Opera House with throngs of shoppers and one tram heading carefully into the curve for Abingdon Street. Photo : John Woodman


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