Work will begin early next year on the £300m Blackpool Central leisure development after councillors unanimously backed plans to transform the site of the former Central Station.
The council’s planning committee approved a hybrid application including outline permission to build three indoor theme parks, a 200-room hotel plus bars, restaurants and outdoor entertainment space.
Full permission was granted to convert and upgrade buildings on Central Drive including the King Edward cinema, King Edward pub and King Edward apartments into holiday accommodation, restaurants and bars as part of a new heritage quarter.
Artist’s impression of Blackpool Central
A 1,306 space seven storey car park was also approved which will be the first element of the scheme by Nikal Ltd and Media Invest Entertainment.
The Heritage Quarter is set to be built by spring 2024, with further phases not operational until spring or summer 2025, and the full development expected to take 10 years to complete.
A report to the committee said the council had spent “well over 20 years attempting to attract investment, facilitate site assembly, and deliver new development on the site to drive its wider regeneration goals.”
The former Central Station closed in 1964 and has since been used as a car park. Previous attempts to develop the site, including planning applications in 2001 and 2006 had failed.
Artists impression of the heritage quarter
The report added the current application meant there was “now a greater likelihood than ever before that redevelopment of the site on a scale of strategic significance could take place.”
Richard Fee, chief executive of Nikal, said after the meeting: “This is a key moment for levelling up Blackpool’s visitor economy post Covid.
“Blackpool Central will help transform and futureproof the town’s tourism offer, and last night’s approval is an important step forward in our journey.”
Blackpool Pleasure Beach had objected to the description of three indoor theme parks, saying this could ‘undermine’ its tourism offer.
Nick Laister, representing the amusement park, told the meeting there would be nothing to stop the developers installing mechanical rides rather than delivering a unique new experience for Blackpool visitors.
He said: “You are being asked to approve another theme park in Blackpool which will directly undermine Blackpool Pleasure Beach which is a major resort core attraction.”
Mr Laister said the development would pose “a serious threat to the Pleasure Beach’s existence.”
But committee chairman Coun David Owen said he did not believe Blackpool Central would “be any significant competition” to the Pleasure Beach.
He said: “I honestly think the Pleasure Beach has always been the major attraction in Blackpool. It always has been since it started, it has always replenished itself.”
Adrian Spawforth, agent for the applicants, said the developers had “no interest in being a smaller indoor version of the Pleasure Beach.”
He added: “I can’t find any reason why our development can’t co-exist with all the other attractions.”
Mr Fee added it was hoped to begin work as soon as possible.
He said: “We have worked hard to ensure that the scheme will complement Blackpool’s current attractions and wider leisure offer.
“This approach will help us to secure game-changing benefits for Blackpool – drawing in 600,000 additional visitors a year and boosting annual spend in the local economy by £75m.
“We are now looking forward to getting spades in the ground to build the multi storey car park and Heritage Quarter, which are the catalysts for delivering our wider vision.”
Council leader and cabinet member for tourism Coun Lynn Williams said: “Yesterday’s decision is a major milestone for this transformational regeneration project which has been widely anticipated by our residents, who can now look forward to seeing activity on site as construction starts in earnest.”
She said it would bring “skilled year-round job opportunities, extra footfall and revenue to local businesses” as well as breathing life “into a rundown and neglected part of the town”.