This weekend we took a very brief trip to Blackpool, to visit friends. Christine, if you’ll remember, used to live there and still has a few ties with the place. It’s the first time we’ve been in about eighteen months.
Blackpool has a reputation for being rather downmarket these days. Gone are the times when huge excursion trains deposited thousands of holidaymakers into (the now demolished) Blackpool Central station by the tower. Whilst it’s still a popular seaside resort, at weekends it’s hard to avoid the legions of stag and hen parties, and it has a reputation of being rather tacky. The tourist attractions tend to cater for the mass market, so there aren’t many museums or art galleries for the more discerning visitor.
The local council is acutely aware of this and is trying hard to tidy up the town. The sea wall was rebuilt several years ago, and Blackpool’s heritage tram system has been upgraded, with new, modern trams running between the Pleasure Beach and the northern town of Fleetwood. And there has been much work done on the public realm: shopping streets have been pedestrianised with nice paving.
In particular, the area around the town’s main surviving railway station, Blackpool North, has been transformed since we last came with new buildings and paving. Indeed the club where Christine and I had our first kiss, The Tache, has been demolished and replaced by a Sainsbury’s which opens in a couple of weeks (the club has now moved into the town centre thankfully).
The problem is that the council is limited in what it can do with privately-owned buildings. Many of the shops that make up the town’s streets are in a bad way – thrown up in the 1950s and 1960s with little architectural merit. Blackpool does have some lovely Victorian buildings, such as its theatres and old post office, but they’re almost drowned out by badly-maintained low rise buildings and out-of-keeping uPVC windows to keep out Blackpool’s notorious strong winds.
It’s a shame because it’s clear that the council are trying so hard to turn the town around. But with the economy still in a fragile state following the recession, there’s little incentive for private landlords to invest in their estate. Not only are there shops that have seen better days, but better tenants too, with many vacant or with short-term leases. I was surprised and a little saddened by how many ‘to let’ signs there were.
I like Blackpool and think it could still clean up its act. But only if everyone in the town gets behind the cause and does their bit to tidy up. Then it could reclaim its place as the seaside destination of years gone by.