North / South Divide: Blackpool’s “Three Rink Circus”

It occurred to me recently that, while I was commenting on the varying outcomes of redevelopment at the Streatham and Richmond ice rinks, that there is a fascinating rink –development situation – erm… “developing”… on my own doorstep that might be worth closer scrutiny. Yes – it so happens that here in the Land Of The Seagull (that’s Blackpool, by the way – Brighton’s “seagulls” are football – not ice hockey…), it’s a bit like waiting for a bus.  There’s no ice rink for twenty years and then TWO turn up at once!

For the benefit of newcomers to the sport of ice hockey, let me explain the history here.  The Ice Drome at Blackpool Pleasure Beach was built in the late 1930s – primarily as a venue to host their fantastic ice shows.  At that time, ice hockey was enjoying a boom in Britain with the GB team winning the Olympic goal medal in 1936 and lots of new rinks and ice hockey teams springing up all around the country.  A few exhibition matches were played at the newly opened Ice Drome and some Blackpool based enthusiasts set up their own club, although the outbreak of the Second World War put things on ice.

After the war, the Blackpool Seagulls were formed and played more or less continuously in various leagues and competitions until the early 1990s.  Two things happened around that that time: firstly  the rink management decided that they didn’t want to keep throwing resources at the senior hockey team and, secondly, the new Olympic size rink had opened at Blackburn so the upshot was that the whole hockey set-up moved there.

Despite the continued existence of the Blackpool Ice Drome, which still hosted public skating, ice dance clubs and the annual ice shows, there was no competitive ice hockey played in Blackpool for the next 20 years. Then – all of a sudden in Spring 2011 – a new ice rink opened on the promenade at Cleveleys and senior ice hockey was back on the Fylde Coast again in the shape of the new Fylde Flyers team in ENL North Division 2.

I will just break my thread here for a moment to tell you that you can read all a bit about the old Seagulls team and the opening of the new rink in Cleveleys in my… ahem… rather good book entitled “The Seagull Has Landed” (ISBN 978-1-909643-01-7 – buy it here:  www.poshupnorth.com) which, basically, looks at how the Seagulls got back together again as a recreational team but does also have some interesting history in it as well.

Anyway, back to the whole point of this article:  the main problem with the SubZero rink in Cleveleys is that it was shoe-horned into an existing building on the promenade (between Pizza Hut and the Vue cinema, in fact) and it does NOT have a full size ice pad.

seagulls at ice dromeSo – not very long after that rink opened, rumours started up that “somebody” wanted to build another ice rink – this time with a full size ice pad – on part of the old TVR factory site in Bispham, in the north of Blackpool. So there you are – all of a sudden potentially THREE ICE RINKS in the Blackpool area. However – there are several odd things about all this – firstly the new proposed site is less than 3 miles away from the Cleveleys rink.  Secondly, the people who are behind this new venture seem to be trying to keep their identity a secret.

Also – Blackpool council originally turned down planning permission for the site to be used for leisure purposes as they wanted it to remain an industry zone. By the way – these are the same “planners” who have annoyed dozens of flourishing private hoteliers and guest house owners in Blackpool by removing the coveted “tourist zone” status of their streets while simultaneously annoying property developers and struggling hoteliers in another area who desperate to convert to residential properties but can’t because they somewhat arbitrarily fall within the said tourist zone!

Anyway, that planning decision has now been overturned because nobody actually wants to take on the empty bits of the site for any industrial purposes and work has now supposedly been started on converting the old factory into an ice rink.

I personally think that anybody who wants to put resources into building an ice rink – any ice rink – wherever it is and whatever size it may – deserves our full support as we have all seen too many horror stories with disappearing rinks over the years.  I can also understand when the serious hockey players say that they need a full size ice pad to be able to play proper matches and – on that level at least – I am fully supportive of the TVR factory rink plan. BUT and there is a big BUT here – there is one area that I feel has been completely overlooked and will come back to haunt them if they don’t do something about it – and that is spectator accommodation.

I haven’t actually seen any detailed plans for the new development but I have seen the original planning outline on the Blackpool council website  and you can see it for yourself here: http://openlylocal.com/planning_applications/1587389-Planning-Application-12-0485-FORMER-TVR-BUILDING-BRISTOL-AV-. There is one phrase there fills me with horror. It is the reference to a “ part mezzanine floor to form viewing area”, which I have also seen referred to elsewhere as a viewing platform for spectators with 200 seats.

Now, that sounds to me suspiciously like the seating arrangement that we have already at the Cleveleys ice rink and I can tell you that it is not very user-friendly.  The actual seats themselves are fine – very comfortable in fact, they have cushioned backs and arms and there is plenty of legroom – which is very important to me being 6’4” tall – but you have to go up two flights of stairs to get to them and once you are seated, depending where you sit, you do not necessarily get a clear view of the ice.  I fully appreciate that the designers of the new TVR rink may already have got these issues in hand but, if they haven’t, then they need to.

The other thing is the overall spectator capacity of the rink.  What is the point of doing all that work, spending all that money and putting all that effort into building a new rink with a full size ice pad if it is really only going to have 200 seats?  Even when the Fylde Flyers were struggling towards the foot of ENL 2n they regularly attracted over 150 fans.  Assuming that part of the reason for wanting a full size ice pad is to be able to have a decent level ice hockey team, who is going to come and watch it and where are they all going to sit?  The Blackburn Arena is a bit oversized with 3.200 seats but Deeside has 1000 and Widnes (eventually) 800. In order to be able to sustain any level of serious sporting event – be it ice hockey, figure skating, ice dance – or maybe even short track speed skating – you need to be able to get enough paying customers through the door to cover the costs.

Easily accessible seating –and enough of it – with good all round views of the ice, team benches, penalty boxes and scoreboard are an absolute must for enjoying an ice hockey match.  And the more fans you attract, the more people will be buying drinks and snacks in the cafe so, please – Mr Mysterious Rink Builder – whoever you are – could you take into consideration the safety and comfort of the spectators as well as the ice users in your exciting new venture.

 

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