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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 11:45 GMT
Blackpool turns the tide
Blackpool: Still England's best known resort
Blackpool: Still England's best known resort
Hailed as "the UK's favourite holiday destination", dismissed as a decaying seaside relic, will clean beaches bring an upturn in Blackpool's fortunes?

While rival resorts cleaned up their beaches and flew their Blue Flags with pride, Blackpool was left behind.

Visitor numbers drained away as quickly as sewage into the Irish Sea.

We'd like to see thousands of visitors returning to Blackpool

Jane Seddon, Blackpool Council
People came for the seaside, but it was the attractions inland - the variety shows and rollercoasters, the arcades and chip shops - where people flocked.

The beach became a joke, in a town not short of comedians.

Even Michael Meacher, the environment minister of all things, had refused to go near the sea.

If this grand old lady of seaside resorts was to be turned around, urgent action was needed. The sewage had to be tackled.

Blackpool's fortunes have been as bumpy as its rollercoaster
Blackpool's fortunes have been as bumpy as its rollercoaster
"We started from a very low baseline - basically all the sewage along this coast was being discharged untreated," says Phil Heath, of the Environment Agency.

Sewage systems and massive sewage treatment works were built to treat the water, and although it has taken several years, and an impressive 500m, it seems to have finally done the trick.

The pollution is no more. The PR campaign can begin.

"We'd like to see thousands of visitors returning to Blackpool who boycotted it when the water quality wasn't up to scratch," says Jane Seddon, from Blackpool Council's tourism department.

She believes there will be enough new visitors to fill the beaches and keep the inland attractions fuller than ever.

And what is more, there are signs that it's already starting to happen.

It wasn't part of Blackpool's plan, but the foot-and-mouth outbreak forced millions of holidaymakers away from the Lake District, and towards the North's seaside towns.

Clean beaches should encourage a few more bathing suits
Clean beaches should encourage a few more bathing suits
"They were rediscovering Blackpool," says Craig Fleming, tourism correspondent for the Blackpool Gazette. "We had walkers going up and down the promenade."

Fear of flying in the wake of the US attacks also meant more visitors for Blackpool, and the unseasonably warm October half-term was the most popular for years.

Now comes the beach breakthrough. "It's the final piece of the puzzle," says Craig Fleming.

"Blackpool was blighted because of its dirty seas, so the tourism bosses promoted the land-based attractions. They turned their back on the water.

"It wasn't Blackpool's fault, the pollution came from all over Lancashire. Now things have changed, even the rivers are the cleanest they've been for 200 years."

There are new attractions everywhere, including a sculpture-filled promenade, and plans to use deregulated gambling laws to bring glitzy casinos to the seafront.

Blackpool is determined to capitalise, and Craig Fleming is optimistic.

"The commitment's there, they've finally got the chance to prove that Blackpool can be the best again."

But whether the sunbathers flock back remains to be seen. As does the sight of Michael Meacher, splashing about in the waves.

The BBC's Richard Bilton in Blackpool
"It has cost more than half a billion pounds to clear this coast up"

1. The South

2. The North

3. The West

4. The East

See also:

30 Sep 98 | Labour Conference
'I don't like to be beside the seaside'
25 Feb 01 | Business
Seaside towns face decay
31 May 00 | UK
The tide is turning
05 Jun 01 | UK
Blue Flag beaches 2001
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