Major investment could transform towns as more people stay in the UK
Lancashire’s seaside resorts are hoping the post-pandemic period can provide a much-needed boost as more and more people in the UK stay for holidays.
Restrictions on travel last year saw many of those who would usually fly abroad look closer to home and enjoy breaks across the UK.
For businesses, a continuation of that trend could prove vital after the losses felt during the pandemic.
Some evidence of that is already being seen as Blackpool enjoyed a thriving Christmas period packed with events and seasonal attractions.
Director of StayBlackpool, Ian White, told LancsLive: “As a Blackpool Hotelier and Director of the Hotel Association StayBlackpool, I am delighted at the way the extended season has brought so many people to town. The buzz around town, especially on the prom, has been extremely positive.
“It has been heartwarming to see and hear so much positive feedback on social media platforms and from StayBlackpool members. Blackpool Council and so many businesses have excelled during this period, going above and beyond at so many levels, creating a winter season to remember for all the right reasons.
“It is great to know the extended Illuminations and so much more will return during the winter 2022. Lots of positive lessons have been learned during a period of so much uncertainty and various challenges, giving the certainty this coming winter will be much bigger and better.”
Evidence to back up those anecdotal feelings was seen in the results of the first weeks of the Blackpool Illuminations as it enjoyed an extended run compared to previous years,
Public donations to the Lights and use of car parks have both increased, according to a council report, following the move to keep the display shining until January 3.
The report says: “Over the first two weeks of November (when the Illuminations would normally be switched off), parking patronage was almost double the level seen in the same period in 2019.
“The anecdotal evidence from accommodation businesses (both in the self-catering and serviced sectors) is that the high level of bookings over the remainder of this year has been fuelled by the extension of the Illuminations and greatly-enhanced Christmas offer.
“During those first two weeks of the extended Illuminations season, there was a significant increase in public donations at the collection points at the southern and northern gateways on the Promenade.
“As a result, by mid-November, the total public donations had reached more than £105,000, ahead of the previous four years.”
Evidence of recovery is supported by think tank Centre For Cities whose research measuring high street footfall shows so far this year, Blackpool has the highest level of recovery in the UK at 114 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Work has also begun in anticipation of a £4.5m cash injection for the Illuminations, while seven projects are earmarked to benefit from a share of a £39.5m Town Deal – the largest award in the UK – from the Government’s £3.6bn Town’s Fund.
Elsewhere in the county, council bosses hope significant investment in Morecambe can see the resort enjoy a more prosperous future. Like seaside towns up and down the country, Morecambe’s heyday occurred before the advent of cheap foreign holidays and the battle to restore its fortunes has been a long and difficult one.
But a number of large scale initiatives, notably the Eden Project North, could bring a major economic boost and with it an increase in jobs and a regenerative effect on the surrounding area.
Councillor Caroline Jackson, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “The city council is committed to the future of Morecambe, its residents and businesses, and making it an even better place to live, work and visit. Like many seaside towns it has been buffeted by economic downturns but has always fought hard to retain its jobs and workplaces.
“Our whole-hearted support and financial investment in bringing Eden Project North to the town is a prime example of our commitment, but there are many more.
“Over more than twenty years, tens of millions of pounds have been invested in the town, including the purchase of properties in multiple occupation to remodel them into family homes and enhancing residential areas to encourage people to live and invest in its future.
“The council recently led the successful £10 million project to improve the sea defences, which protects homes and businesses from coastal flooding and last year the council purchased the neglected former Frontierland site. This will be developed through new partnerships with entrepreneurs eager to invest in the town.
“Over the last few years we have also supported the Winter Gardens Preservation Trust to secure and deliver over £1 million of grant funded capital works. We are continuing this support as they work towards a five-year plan to become a major music venue in the North West through an ambitious multi-million pound grant funded investment.
“There is still much to do but working in partnership with our Morecambe community and others we will address the challenges that remain. Morecambe is a town on the cusp of a renaissance and the city council is fully committed to its regeneration.”
Other potential projects include the revival of Morecambe Illuminations to keep visitors coming to town out of the summer season.
Meanwhile, Lytham St Annes is also set for significant changes with Building Design Partnership Ltd (BDP) recently appointed to help design its long-term regeneration.
Fylde Council leader Cllr Karen Buckley hopes the ambitious plans will help the town adapt to the post-pandemic reality and bring in Government funding.
The masterplan project will use comprehensive evidence and commercial potential assessments to create a blueprint for future development. It is focused primarily on St Annes’ town centre and island site and is expected to be completed by April ready for a submission for the Round 2 of the government’s Levelling up Funding Programme.
Cllr Buckley said: “Our ambition to regenerate and revitalise St Annes Town Centre and Island site has taken a major step forward with the appointment of BDP. It is over 20 years now since the start of the last main refurbishment works in St Annes and whilst shopping and leisure habits have changed gradually over time, they have been singularly transformed over the last 18 months due to the Covid pandemic.
“I am looking forward to a blueprint fit for the future with full input from the town, its representatives and residents, and an exciting vision that will lever in much-needed Government funds.”
The BDP added: “St Annes is a classic ‘bucket and spade’ seaside town, loved by visitors who return time after time. We’re looking forward to working with the council and the community to attract further investment, to address the challenges of the changing nature of high streets and to explore new opportunities linked to the enduring appeal of living, working and enjoying time off by the sea.”
The development of the Masterplan includes funding from Lancashire County Council’s £12.8m Economic Recovery Growth Fund, which supports projects to help local economies to bounce back from the impacts of Covid-19.
The aim is to kickstart the development of transformational schemes that will make a major economic recovery contribution and create jobs in parts of Lancashire which have been hardest hit, stimulating growth and unlocking further investment.
County Councillor Aidy Riggott, Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Growth, said: “Lancashire’s tourism sector has been significantly affected by Covid, but we recognise that there are some great opportunities to help to create an improved and diverse offer. The aim of our fund is to support the development of exciting new schemes in our communities such as in St Annes.
“Attracting more people into the town brings money into the local economy and creates new jobs, spreading the benefits to other parts of Lancashire.”