The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has officially opened Blackpool's new £30m conference and exhibition centre.

Mr Johnson unveiled a plaque in the reception hall of the new building, which is situated within the historic Winter Gardens, on the second and final day of the Conservative Party Spring Conference.

It is the first time the Conservative Party has staged a major conference in the resort since 2007.

The new state-of-the-art conference centre has been designed so that it seamlessly integrates with the Winter Gardens complex.

With 2,400sq metres of dedicated space set over two floors and equipped with cutting-edge audio- visual technology, the new build adds a unique contemporary twist to the Winter Gardens, which first opened in 1878.

With a direct link into the Empress Ballroom, Opera House and Empress Buildings, the new centre has created a hub of 12 distinct venues, giving a total capacity of 7,000 delegates and almost five acres of connected conference, meeting, event and exhibition space.

Built on the site of a former car park, the scheme was facilitated by £17.8m of funding from the Government’s Growth Deal, which is managed by the Lancashire Economic Partnership (LEP), almost £3m from the Coastal Communities Fund and the remainder from Blackpool Council and the Blackpool Entertainment Company Ltd (BECL).

It is the first major building development at the Winter Gardens since the construction of the Opera House in 1939.

After officially opening the centre, the Prime Minister said: “It was an honour to open Blackpool’s new conference and exhibition centre in the historic Winter Gardens for the first Conservative Conference here in 15 years.

“This initiative is at the heart of our levelling up agenda, this new conference centre will make a real difference to boost economic growth and bring opportunities to this great coastal town.

“I hope this will be the home to many events for years to come, bringing people together from across the UK in the heart of Blackpool.”

Since being acquired by Blackpool Council, the original Winter Gardens buildings are undergoing a multi-million pound upgrade with a new air-conditioning system, improved digital connectivity and extensive refurbishments to restore rooms such as the Floral and Spanish Halls back to their original splendour.

Cllr Lynn Williams, Leader of Blackpool Council said: “Our ambition in developing a new conference centre alongside the Winter Gardens is to see Blackpool regain its reputation for staging major league conferences.

“The return of the Conservative Party for their spring conference this weekend, coupled with the official opening by the Prime Minister, marks the start of that exciting journey.

“Major conferences in Blackpool bring thousands of delegates in the town centre, who in turn spend money in our local shops, restaurants and hotels, helping our businesses thrive and allowing them to take on new workers.

“This will be a real game changer for business tourism in Blackpool.”

Michael Williams, Managing Director of BECL, the company that operates the Winter Gardens, said: “With the opening of the new centre, it means that we’re now ready to offer conference and exhibition organisers a totally unique venue that combines state-of-the-art facilities in the new building with the grandeur and history of the original Winter Gardens.

“It is hugely impressive how the new build adds a contemporary twist to this historic site.”

Debbie Francis OBE, Chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: “A vibrant, busy Blackpool is good for the whole of Lancashire, so it’s therefore fantastic to see the £30m state-of-the-art Blackpool Conference and Exhibition Centre being officially opened by the Prime Minister today. This stunning asset, which was supported by £17.8m of LEP Growth Deal funding, is the largest and most sophisticated of its kind in the North, and will help put Blackpool back on the map as one of the UK’s premier conference and exhibition destinations.

“When coupled with another LEP supported project – the resort’s £22m Tramway extension, which received £16.4m of LEP funding – you can also see how such strategic investments are helping to transform Blackpool’s overarching visitor offer.

“These schemes are also part of part of a wider £58m LEP funding programme for the resort that includes support for the Showtown Museum and the Houndshill Shopping Centre extension. Such investments will not only help drive more footfall, create more jobs and unlock more investment in Blackpool, but will bring wider economic benefits to the whole of Lancashire.”

Find out more about Blackpool’s regeneration plans by visiting www.blackpool.gov.uk/BetterBlackpool

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