The tide is turning
With Blackpool Council, we brought together a top panel of decision makers, investors, businesses and infrastructure and skills providers to discuss the major regeneration plans in hand, how Blackpool and the Fylde Coast is facing the impact of coronavirus and the growing message that it is open for business.
Nick Gerrard, Blackpool Council
Before the Covid-19 lockdown, Blackpool’s Growth and Prosperity Programme was both large and extensive and was critically important to our economic recovery.
Exploiting opportunities in growth sectors and providing opportunities for our young people through a series of major regeneration programmes like Talbot Gateway, the Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone and Blackpool Central – that’s a balanced portfolio of major projects supported by a series of smaller ones.
The way the Blackpool economy has been affected by Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of maintaining and implementing those long-term plans as quickly as we can. One of the things I am particularly pleased about is that we’ve been able to maintain progress on all of those schemes.
We need to diversify and expand our tourism offer to create year-round visits and longer staying, high-spending businesses to create that sustainable economy.
We’ve been invited to bid for the Future High Street Fund and we’ve just signed off £25m of activity which we’ll be putting to government.
If we’re successful in that, we’ll have a wide-ranging programme of physical regeneration, digital infrastructure and other programmes that will rejuvenate our economy at the time when it needs it the most.
Another opportunity the government has given to the ‘levelling up’ agenda and stimulating towns like Blackpool is the Town Deal. We’ve been invited in the first wave and I’ll be submitting our town investment plan.
We also have a Town Deal board. People who are committed and passionate are shaping our plans and represent the real hope and opportunity for the future.
Andy Hudson, Aqua Comms
One of the main factors why we chose to land our submarine cable in Blackpool is the people – the collaboration, energy and the ‘want’ for the project.
So, we set about the designing, engineering and building a new submarine system from Dublin, calling into the Isle of Man and then landing in Blackpool. It then it carries on across to Newcastle and away to Denmark across the North Sea.
There’s also a new transatlantic system that is being built, which forms part of this entire network. It’s not just a piece of fibre across the Irish Sea, it is a global piece of infrastructure and the point is that Blackpool is connected to the North Atlantic Loop.
It is a resilient, diverse high capacity network connecting the US with Ireland, UK and Denmark. The beauty of having a global network in Blackpool is as an enabler.
Blackpool is a number of milliseconds closer to New York than London. So, all the big investment houses that do daily, hourly, 24-hour transactions in the trading platforms don’t need to sit in London. They can realistically sit in Blackpool and have better connectivity to those platforms through the North Atlantic Loop.
Both Fylde and Blackpool have been fantastic in their support for the project and our investment story is helping stimulate further investment.
There’s no reason why the big ‘Over the top’ (OTT) media services that end in ‘book’ or start with a ‘G’, can’t invest in Blackpool or the surrounding area.
Daryl Platt, Blackpool & The Fylde College
We are focused on the aspects of education and training which are needed to push the local economy, help develop a skilled workforce, secure employment, drive outcomes for students and promote equality.
We’ve got 1,800 businesses locally, regionally and nationally who choose to work with B&FC and we are the largest provider of degree education by an FE college in England.
A big thing for us is having strong working relationships. We work with the council and across the enterprise zones. We can go to those businesses that are investing here and co-create what they need to make them successful when they get here and, in many cases, help businesses that are coming to the town recruit.
The big opportunities we see are energy and digital. We’ve got the Lancashire Energy HQ campus; there’s a hydrogen hub we’re working with to exploit new technologies as they come along and making sure we get the skills needed.
From a digital perspective, we’re starting to see huge demand for data analysts, cyber security and, as tourism becomes more e-comm based, we’re seeing those skills starting to arrive.
We have a 100 per cent employment rate for people attending our digital and computing courses, most of them have secured a job long before they finish the course.
Ben Mansford, Blackpool FC
Like a lot of businesses, we have not had one penny come in since our last game was cancelled because of coronavirus. That game alone was worth more than £200,000 to us.
If we are asked to play a game without audiences or play half or a full season without audiences, then we are going to lose more than two-thirds of our income. So, the challenge for us is immense.
It is a real shame, because the new owner Simon Sadler came with a real plan to invest and we’ve spoken a lot to the council about a new training facility.
Like a lot of businesses, we had plans to invest in infrastructure to grow and we’re simply now putting fingers in the hole of the dam to try and get through to when we can get some cash in.
I think, and I hope, that the ‘Back in Blackpool’ marketing that we launched around January, will push on.
We need to have a bright, young and exciting team on the pitch to give the locals, the people that Blackpool and this town matters to, a team that they can relate to.
When the football club was doing well in the Championship and had that 12 months in the Premier League, I’m sure that was worth a significant amount to local businesses and the council.
We’d love to reach for the stars, but the first thing is we’ve got to become connected to local communities again, both business and fans.
Jane Cole, Blackpool Transport
Over the last five years Blackpool Council has invested heavily in supporting Blackpool Transport to make sure that we renew our assets.
The infrastructure will be enhanced more next year when we take the tramway from the Promenade, up Talbot Road to Blackpool North Station. We’re connecting to the main rail routes, so we’ve got a very good fundamental infrastructure in place.
Through the Future High Street Fund, we’ve put together a proposal to extend the tram network to create ‘a loop’ that goes from Kirkham, through Lytham St Annes; connects into Blackpool, up to Fleetwood and then back round to Poulton-le-Fylde station.
It’s a fantastic proposal, giving an alternative to travelling to Blackpool by car and the ability to get round the area and opening up Wyre and Fylde for growth as well.
At the height of the season have 650 employees, 43 of those are on an apprenticeship programme with Blackpool & The Fylde College. The college is really helping us to future-proof and keep people in the town.
We’ve got to keep decarbonisation at the front of our thinking. With the transatlantic cable coming in we’ve got to think about a digital transport strategy and look at transport as mobility, as a service.
We’ve also got to embrace other ways of getting round and all that has to come into a hub to supplement the main infrastructure that Blackpool Transport is providing.
Peter Swan, Coolsilk
We came here after developing a music venue brand. I travelled here to watch the Royal Variety Show and saw the potential in the area. I just fell in love with the place.
Our venue was very successful and we looked at our position on the Promenade and the lack of a five-star hotel. We have developed that project over the last few years and are now looking towards one of the most prime hotels in the country, next to the Tower.
The work that has been done locally to develop Blackpool over the years has been immense.
We continue to try and deliver and we are looking to see if we can get our own brand diner open, hopefully in August. We are working on how we get through these difficult times, because we know at the end of it the UK tourism business will flourish, if we get the support.
I’m also looking at the possibility of a horse racing meeting on the beach between two piers. It would be an event televised throughout the world. There are so many things that can be done in Blackpool. Don’t just limit it to what’s been done or what we’re doing now.
Now is a perfect opportunity to train and invest in our young people. Give them an idea of the rewards that are there if they work hard. If we become a year-round resort, that will help us with employment and the knock-on effect of people staying here.
Kate Shane, Merlin Entertainments
Merlin’s attractions in Blackpool include Sea Life, Madame Tussauds and the Tower. In terms of profile and diversity of offer, Blackpool is the most significant cluster in the whole of Merlin globally.
Our ongoing relationship with Blackpool Council goes from strength to strength. It is a pleasure to work with them.
In terms of the future, we have plans, we are speaking to the council about investments, other offers and opportunities.
Merlin is here and here to stay. Blackpool Tower is a flagship attraction, Nick Varney our chief exec talks about it regularly and is very proud of the fact Merlin is operating businesses in Blackpool.
People are excited about the Blackpool Central development plans. They are going to be our neighbours and it’s fantastic, it is going to be a game changer. Add to that investment in the transport infrastructure and it just creates this big picture.
We’ve got a densely populated area; we’ve got an outstanding college. People are achieving a great education and great results, but we seem to be a net exporter of talent and we’ve all got a responsibility to create opportunities for local young people.
Brand Blackpool is very strong and well-recognised. Yes, its tourism and entertainment, but it is all the other opportunities that are ready to come through. Aqua Comms and the cable being the main one.
Martin Long, Blackpool Business Leadership Group / Napthens
One of the biggest attractions for Blackpool is the fact that we’ve got an amazingly proactive and ambitious local authority, combined with a strong and sustainable vision and strategy for the future of the town.
There’s also been reference to the positivity amongst the business community in Blackpool, and I think that is epitomised by the Blackpool Business Leadership Group. We hold those meetings every two months, we have upwards of 160 people there and there’s a discernibly positive atmosphere in the room.
Over the last few years, we’ve really seen a joined-up approach, so that we have one vision for the economic development of the Fylde coast, rather than all three local authorities doing their own thing.
The BBC’s John Simpson came to Blackpool, I think it was last year, and one of the things he mentioned was its teams of deeply impressive, dedicated people who are working hard to regenerate the town. He summarised what you see amongst the local business community.
When it comes to digital industries based upon the Aqua Comms North Atlantic link, Blackpool is working with Lancaster University to create an innovation zone which is connected to data and energy technologies.
We already have strong sectors on the Fylde coast in aerospace, manufacture, advanced engineering, food manufacture and processing, and we have the opportunity to build on those industries in particular.
Nick Payne, Nikal Developments
The first thing that struck us when we came to Blackpool was its people. The politicians, the officers, the residents, the neighbours, the customer base; it all gave us a huge amount of confidence that investing in this area could be attractive.
We perceive ourselves a regeneration developer, so we’re looking at towns and cities and areas that are probably a little bit deprived. When you look at our Blackpool Central site, you couldn’t get a more prime opportunity to create something quite different. It just seemed an absolute no-brainer.
The key driver for Blackpool was when we saw the serious intent about money coming into the town. Not beating around the bush, we’ve been to towns and cities where there is a lot of talk and nothing gets done.
In Blackpool when we want to do something, we get an immediate reaction, we get an immediate answer and in development terms, things can move very quickly, so that’s very beneficial for us and gives us confidence to invest money.
Our scheme is driven by a number of opportunities, but in specifics we’re looking to create new. larger public spaces and covered areas, and we’re very IT driven.
We’re looking to broaden the offer to attract new, wider audiences from around the country and globally, which will act as a trigger to increase hotel occupancy and improve the food and drink offering.
Michael Williams, Winter Gardens
This year the Winter Gardens celebrates being open for 142 years. The new conference and exhibition centre is the first major development on the site for more than 80 years and probably one of the biggest in the town centre in recent years. It is very important.
We’re an arm’s length management organisation of Blackpool Council and its foresight in buying leisure assets, including the Tower and the Golden Mile Centre, back in 2010, was a very bold decision and one that is now paying dividends for the town, the region and the UK generally.
The conference and exhibition centre will be state of the art. There’s massive investment going into technology and it’s no coincidence that Blackpool is investing more than £3m in one of the fastest broadbands available, that will link across the pond to America in milliseconds and that will give us great connectivity as well.
This, the improved transport links and the new hotels, including the five-star hotel on the Promenade, is all coming together and that is great news for Blackpool.
We are classed a seasonal resort, so the more year-round attractions we can have the better for employment opportunities.
For me it is about ensuring we have the hotels and the attractions and the reasons for people to visit out of season as well.
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