Plans for a 215,000 sq ft office earmarked to house up to 2,500 civil servants has taken a step closer to reality after councillors backed the proposals.
Earlier this week, Blackpool Council’s planning committee voted unanimously to approve the £50m King Street plans, lodged by the authority’s development partner Muse Developments.
The scheme is the third phase of the council’s Talbot Gateway town centre regeneration project that has already seen the completion of a 125,000 sq ft Sainsbury’s supermarket close to Blackpool North train station, and a 120,000 sq ft office development, No1 Bickerstaffe Square.
The seven-storey civil service hub would be constructed on a 2.4-acre site bounded by Deansgate, King Street, Cookson Street, Charles Street and East Topping Street.
It is not yet known whether the office would be occupied by a Government department relocating to the North from London, or if the end-users would be officials already based in Blackpool, such as the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Defence.
Leases on sites around the Fylde coast currently occupied by the DWP and MoD are due to expire soon.
Speaking in the House of Lords in 2019, Baroness Jo Valentine said the departments “could be combined in a proposed civil service hub for thousands of jobs, which would provide year-round footfall for the local high street”.
Designed by Make Architects, the office would be a “prominent feature in the townscape and block out views of Blackpool Tower from George Street”, according to the council’s head of development Susan Parker.
However, the visual impact of the proposals could be “mitigated to a significant degree by high-quality design”, Parker added.
Cllr Andrew Stansfield raised concerns about a lack of car parking spaces, and questioned whether such a development was necessary given the changing trends in working and a shift towards flexible working prompted by the pandemic.
“We could end up with a lot of empty offices we can’t fill and that does concern me,” he said.
However, Nick Gerrard, growth and prosperity programme director at the council, assuaged the councillor’s concerns, stating that discussions with the prospective occupier about its office needs post-Covid had taken place recently.
The prospective occupier, which cannot yet be named for legal reasons, has conducted “a review of its post-Covid strategy in terms of the utilisation of their offices”, Gerrard said.
“I can assure you that [the impact of the pandemic] has been fully taken into account. This will not be an underused building,” he added.
Gerrard noted that £16m of capital expenditure approved by the council’s executive in 2019 would go towards boosting parking provision around the town centre.
He added that the location of the office, which also features a medical centre, was “sustainable” in relation to its links to public transport.
Plans to convert the former Hop Inn pub into a dentist surgery were also approved by the council.