A decade has passed since a devastating conflagration destroyed the iconic Yates’ building in Blackpool’s Talbot Square. Intersecting Clifton Street and Talbot Road the century-old edifice housed the chain’s eponymous wine lodge and several retail units including a long-standing pet shop, in which sadly over 100 animals perished in the fire. To this day the person or those responsible for the arson attack have yet to be brought to justice.
Nothing in Blackpool happens overnight, especially if it is deemed to be of some material or aesthetic benefit to the ailing seaside resort. It is only now, ten years on, that reconstruction of the Yates’ site is starting to gather apace, with Nelson-based Barnfield Construction tasked with the responsibility to sympathetically redevelop what had become just another of Blackpool’s problem sites – of which there are plenty yet to be addressed, or, have in fact been made worse by what has since been constructed upon them.
A development that will both tidy up the area but undoubtedly expose the many adjacent planning failures, as well as a considerable amount of buildings at and above ground level neglected and often abandoned, it is nevertheless sad that such a historic site in a prime, central location cannot be more imaginatively developed than the siting of yet another Premier Inn, slated to house 168 guest bedrooms. Blackpool has always been famous for its Bed and Breakfasts(B & B’s) and whilst many of these are now unable to provide the modern facilities demanded by today’s travellers, they remain an intrinsic part of the quintessential Blackpool experience. The likes of Premier Inn and Travelodge undoubtedly play an important role in today’s tourism sector, but aside from exterior architectural subtleties dictated by local sensibilities, when inside these and other budget accommodation providers, one could almost be anywhere in the country. In this sense Blackpool is slowly becoming a Costa Generica.
Designed to acknowledge, rather than ape a like for like replication of the former Yates’ building’s striking exterior rotunda, designers have at least managed to keep some part of Blackpool’s history alive, when buildings were often grand, imposing, and invariably unique. Whilst incorporating some element of the past into the hotel’s exterior is a nice touch, it must be remembered that this is not a conversion of an existing building that had fallen into disuse. Rather, this is very much a case of starting from scratch on a site cleared to a point where nothing remained from its former life. There is undoubtedly an argument for completely dispensing with the past rather than incorporating an act of architectural tokenism, that might only serve to rub salt into the wounds of those lamenting the loss of yet another iconic piece of Blackpool’s heritage.
There are many stark realities of life in Blackpool which are hidden from those who quite rightly concentrate their visits on its 7-mile promenade. Empty shops pockmark the centre’s surrounding streets, with many of those occupied offering a retail experience at the bottom end of the scale. The Hounds Hill Shopping Centre has though been able to attract and retain many large retail names, albeit the usual suspects. Outside of the tourism season, and especially Monday to Friday, it is painfully obvious who reside in the town. So often invariably at the top, or bottom, of various indices the town’s levels of poverty, rough sleepers, drug and alcohol abuse, and a mental health crisis within all age groups highlight a microcosm of the many problems sweeping through Britain today, but on a greater scale. My featured image, albeit just one snapshot of a town which holds the unique distinction of seemingly looking worse every time a large amount of money is thrown at it, neatly sums up an uneasy juxtaposing of the old, decrepit and squalid, with the Yates’ site slowly taking shape into what will be a new, gleaming, but soulless structure.
If there are to be windows at the rear of the Premier Inn, the skeleton of which can be seen in the background at the western extreme of Deansgate, an interesting view of the gritty realities of life for so many in Blackpool will remind tourists that not all that glitters on the town’s Golden Mile equates to town-wide gold. For those promulgating Blackpool as Britain’s premier resort and the Las Vegas of the North, a vision still yearned for by many, this snap is quite literally an exposure of an existence many will never see on visiting the Fylde Coast, but serves as a reminder, if one was needed, that very little surface needs to be scratched before squaring up to the ills of modern day life, that have burgeoned in Blackpool at a geometric rate.
Source information: Barnfield Construction/Premier Inn: http://www.barnfieldconstruction.co.uk/portfolio-developments/premier-inn-blackpool/