The Northern Powerhouse minister has said the full Tory party annual conference should come back to Blackpool as soon as possible after the £25m new conference centre opens.
Jake Berry said he would be encouraging his party to look at returning to the resort as he was given a tour of the Winter Gardens site and ceremonially broke ground on the huge build project which will transform the historic building.
On a tour of the North for his role as Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Communities and Local Government, Mr Berry met Blackpool council leader Simon Blackburn and business leaders to hear plans to improve the resort’s year-round appeal.
He said the £15.1m of Growth Deal funding together with £2.9m from the Coastal Communities Fund means that once built Blackpool could see the number of events held rise by 30 per cent by 2020 compared to 2015.
He said: “I have been stunned to see the huge progress made here in Blackpool and that is reflected by this year Blackpool having a record 17 million visitors with this extension, with this new conference centre that the future for the Winter Gardens is very bright.
“Blackpool is already on the map, we have had a record number of visitors here this year contributing over a billion pounds to the Northern Powerhouse.
“Blackpool is a fantastic place to come on holiday and I hope that with this new conference centre they can pick up on those big national conferences again and get them here in the winter to keep that fantastic high season economy going for longer and on a personal point of view as a Conservative MP in Lancashire I think it is absolutely time that the Conservative Party comes back to Blackpool because the best conferences I have ever been to have always been here in Blackpool as it’s a great place to visit either for holiday or a conference.
“We have put more than £50m of Government money directly into Blackpool and there’s £15m of local growth fund money spent here in Lancashire for this conference centre that we have broken ground on here today.
“I think there are more visitors coming back to Blackpool showing that the huge Government investment we have made, part of a £300m investment across Lancashire, is really starting to make a difference.
“People are talking about Blackpool, people are excited about Blackpool, they want to come here on holiday and will want to come to this great new conference centre when it is completed.
“I have been to Blackpool on holiday I used to come here with my grand parents twice a year to visit the Illuminations and the winter and occasionally for our summer holiday and I just think Britain is the best place you can come on holiday and the best resort we have in this country and I would urge people not just in Lancashire but across the country to come to Blackpool.
“Lancashire has a huge part to play in the Northern Powerhouse, largely because we have a high tech manufacturing specialism, later today I am visiting BAE Systems looking at the huge contribution that makes not just to the economy here in Lancashire employing 13,000 people but also to the Powerhouse.
“But just here in Blackpool our visitor economy contributes £1bn a year to the Northern Powerhouse and I think that is hugely exciting.
“When you invest in places like Blackpool they will deliver.
“The Northern Powerhouse is a really simple concept that if you join up the towns, villages and cities of the north as one economy and we co-operate, we work together, we improve the connections between areas that combined would be the ninth biggest economy in Europe.
“Its about making sure that businesses in the north and people in the north have a better business environment to work in and better living environment in which to bring up a family.”
‘Great news for the whole of Lancashire’
“Graham Cowley, chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Deal Management Board and chairman of Blackpool Opportunity Area, said: “The government’s £320m Growth Deal investment programme secured by the LEP is designed to help kick-start key developments like the new Winter Gardens conference centre and is also helping fund over 40 additional projects across the county.
“All of these initiatives are aligned to the LEP’s long term, integrated economic plan, and a thriving and resurgent Blackpool is great news for the whole of Lancashire.”
But Blackpool South Labour MP Gordon Marsden said that while the Government money for the conference centre was welcome, Westminster had in fact taken much more out of the resort in recent years through grant cuts.
He said: “It’s welcome that Jake is here and I know the council will be talking to him about the funding that has been given to help us extend the Winter Gardens as a key conference centre, and hopefully that will bear fruit. “That money from the government is appreciated.
“But over the last five years, and Jake as a Lancashire MP will know this, £450m of money that used to come to Blackpool from government has been stripped away, and that has had a devastating effect on the ability to deliver services.”
‘This is absolutely huge for Blackpool’
Blackpool council leader, Coun Simon Blackburn, said: “New investments are also helping our economy grow and creating more jobs for local people. Bookings are already being taken for the new conference centre at the WWinter Gardens, companies are queuing up to build new hotels in the resort and this year’s Illuminations and fireworks championships will yet again extend our tourist season way beyond any other seaside resort in the country.”
He said the investment unlocked long held plans for modernising the Winter Gardens.
He said: “This is absolutely huge for Blackpool. I have been on the council for nearly 15 years and this is something we have always wanted to but for many years we have struggled to see a pathway to achieving it and our success in successful growth fund bid earlier on this year was the key.
“Subsequently we have been able to get money from the Coastal Communities fund and the council as well and this is going to be a real game changer for Blackpool.
“It is going to take about two years. Our first booking is for the spring of 2020, but we hope to have the conference centre ready by the summer or autumn of 2019.”