A 21st Century Conference Offer for Blackpool

11 July 2016

A brand new conference centre could form the next step in the revival and regeneration of Blackpool's visitor economy.

On Monday 18 July Blackpool Council Executive will discuss plans for the new facility at the historic Winter Gardens Complex. 

If the Executive agrees to progressing the plans, Blackpool Council will formally submit bids for external funding to build a brand new, purpose designed conference venue on the former split level car park site on Leopold Grove.  The new-build venue will include a state of the art conference hall for 2000 delegates, a 1200sqm exhibition hall and break out spaces as well as much needed catering facilities.

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 seven thousand.  Whilst it’s unlikely all the spaces will be in use at any one time for conferencing, this flexibility puts Blackpool squarely back in the major league conference market.

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. This changed in 2007 with all parties moving 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 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 twenty first century conferencing. 

The outline scheme, which has now been submitted to Planning, delivers all of the above, particularly in how it deals with connecting the new building and the Empress Ballroom.  Construction materials will be agreed at a later stage but the architects are currently exploring options around cast terracotta and ceramic finishes which are a direct reference to the materials of which the rest of the complex is built.

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 £20 million 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 Council’s Executive will consider the proposals when they meet on Monday 18 July.

The report to the Executive can be read at http://democracy.blackpool.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=135&MId=3640&Ver=4

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