“STOP THIS NOW – BEFORE YOU DAMAGE BLACKPOOL FOREVER”

As the leader of a large local authority like Blackpool you become very used to the non-stop juggernaut that is the press.

In this 24/7 news media environment the internet age has created, news is incessant and unending.

The Gazette, Radio Wave and BBC Radio Lancashire are in daily contact with the Council and don’t miss an opportunity to report even the smallest contentious issue.

To give them their due, they are also very accommodating when the council has something to say.

Reporters from the regional and national media turn up for the big stuff, film shots of the Tower and the beach (often making snide remarks in the process) and we never see them again.

It’s the way it works and, generally, I welcome the media’s work; it’s healthy for democracy and criticism is par for the course.

I understand too that newspapers will often, rather than report from a neutral standpoint, flag wave for a particular policy or position they support. They are all perfectly entitled to do so.

That comes with great social responsibility though and, at times, a line can be crossed.

In my view that happened in Thursday night’s Gazette.

“STOP THIS NOW – BEFORE YOU DAMAGE BLACKPOOL FOREVER,” one of their inside pages ordered the council.

What were they talking about?

Were councilors planning to pull the Tower down?

Were they looking to build houses on StanleyPark?

Actually we had enraged them by having the temerity to ask the public their opinions on whether or not it might be sensible for people to knock the booze on the head by 3am.

This is probably a good point at which to introduce a bit of context.

This week Blackpool was revealed to have the lowest male life expectancy in the country with drink being one of the biggest contributing factors.

A report by the Guardian this week described the town as having “catastrophic” levels of liver cirrhosis. (here)

There are hundreds of other health indicators I could list to contextualise that particular problem but, as The Gazette so vociferously pointed out at the time, a television show did that more effectively than I ever could.

Step forward “999…What’s Your Emergency?”

The Channel 4 show, much to our chagrin, painted a bleak picture of Blackpool and, particularly, town centre nightlife.

“CAMERAS SHOW THE TRUE COST OF DRINK,” The Gazette blared.

Now, just like the BBC can make the most ordinary day of football look like a thrilling goal-fest by boiling it all down into an hour’s worth of Match of the Day, the show painted an impactful and perhaps somewhat misleading picture.

But the evidence is there for all to see regardless of editing and town centre trouble is a problem whatever statistics you want to go by.

I acknowledged as much at the time, spoke frankly and promised action, being commended for doing so in The Gazette’s editorial, I seem to recall.

Yet now, when the Council has the audacity to consult on a measure that might contribute to toning down that type of behavior, we are pilloried.

Don’t cry for me Blackpool; I can take it on the chin. I’m merely pointing out the irony.

As part of their coverage on Thursday, the council was asked whether consulting on the EMRO was “a knee-jerk reaction” to the show.

The spokesman who answered the questions replied: “No.”

It’s an extremely insulting question, symptomatic of the confrontational way in which this story was approached, and I’m not sure what type of answer they were expecting.

“Yes, we came up with it and wrote it on the back of a fag packet after a few cans,” perhaps?

I won’t analyse every aspect of the coverage and I’m not looking to campaign for or against an EMRO.

It’s for the Licensing Committee to make a recommendation under a free vote based on the evidence brought forward.

But I felt the stance taken was disproportionate, inconsistent and, above all, socially irresponsible.

Championing Blackpool businesses is something The Gazette has done very effectively and I admire their efforts in doing so.

They’re working with the council on an apprenticeship scheme right now.

But let’s be very clear – and this is where I feel their coverage was disproportionate – at present introducing an EMRO would lead to two nightclubs closing a couple of hours earlier.

To present this as though this would drop a nuclear bomb on Blackpool’s economy is quite frankly ludicrous.

Despite their very ardent position and strong belief that the EMRO may damage the town, outlined in the Editor’s blog, The Gazette themselves have not submitted a consultation response.

That leads me to ask are they really supporting the businesses of the town or just trying to sell papers?

What truly astonished me, however, was the backslapping that came the following day.

A self-congratulatory article blustered that The Gazette had done “a vital job raising issues.”

In an article containing five quotes, three of those quotes came from people from an umbrella of companies who would be directly affected if the EMRO is introduced.

What’s more, if the paper had really wanted to share the issues with the people of Blackpool they would have started their drum beating a little earlier than a few hours before the consultation closed.

The most irksome aspect and the part that really saddens me, however, is the lack of social responsibility.

At no stage in the four page “special report” did The Gazette acknowledge the number of lives that are ruined through alcohol-related violence.

From rapes and sexual assaults, domestic violence and even murder to your straightforward pub fight, the cost to families is enormous.

In the Editor’s column, Jon Rhodes, admits that there are violent scenes but questioned “are we really so much worse than anywhere else?”

As Council Leader I’m not willing to accept “oh well, it happens everywhere,” and carry on as if there’s no issue.

I’ve been forthright in my praise of our local newspaper previously and was quoted in their 150th issue praising their role in society in Blackpool and I know these are difficult times for newspapers with staffing levels not what they once were.

But this time I think they’ve got it badly wrong and I would urge them to look again at their position.

I thank each and every person that has responded to the EMRO consultation.

You have gone about expressing your views in the right way.

While, as I’ve said, this is a decision which is out of my hands and the recommendation will be made by the Licensing Committee, I know that every comment will be taken into account.

The EMRO decision is not a done deal; far from it.

Until all the views have been heard and all the facts have been discussed no decision will be made.

But before The Gazette claims to speak on behalf of the town again I suggest they cast their net wider, think a little harder and try to look at things in their social context, as the Council must do, rather than as one, isolated headline-grabbing story.

4 thoughts on ““STOP THIS NOW – BEFORE YOU DAMAGE BLACKPOOL FOREVER”

  1. I have to say given how much the Gazette has gone on I thinks it’s a little over the top considering it will only affect 2 clubs.

    I worked for a number of years in the industry and I’m surprised how many people who still work in it think this is the end of the world? I don’t see 3am shutting times destroying the industry in Blackpool it just means clubs and bars need to work at making money slightly differently.

    I think it’s a good idea to change licencing hours especially for 1 club which is woefully understaffed in the security measures, It needs this before someone is killed there.

    Bars and clubs do need to get tighter on serving people who have had enough though, and the bars need to be gradually moved away from the family and shopping areas towards a “Nightlife Zone”. There should be no bars on Bank Hey Street after Revolution. The junction of Church street should mark the end of places to got smashed on Bank Hey street to make a buffer for families. This enables a much more controlled area of operation for security staff and the police to work within meaning they can make the area safer for those that are drinking.

    Forcing bars that way could also help rejuvenate some of the empty and unsightly units on Clifton and Talbot.

    Just my thoughts on the matter anyway.

  2. do we imagine that the blackpool locals are drinking all night and that 3 am curfews will save them? Most locals are either serving the drinks and glad to be employed or fast asleep. Sure we have our youth – same as every other town. I rather suspect that the vast majority of Blackpool’s soon to be “catastrophic” levels of liver cirrhosis” patients are the same people we see on that channel 4 program. Are they drinking in nightclubs till 4am ? NO. they go to the off licence or the local supermarket. The real drinkers in any town arent to be found in the local trendy nightclub, they buy cans of beer on offer and drink at home or in bus shelters. If the Council really intends to try to help the disenfranchised of Blackpool – give them hope, not smart new council offices and free parking, real hope- Jobs future, training and proper social care strategies.

    As for Blackpool’s identity, we sort of have the answer to that. We are, the gay centre of the north, the stag and hen centre of the north, the family entertainment centre of the north. If you built zones by that definition everyone could get what they need out of Blackpool. Look at the gay zone, it works brilliantly, you know what to expect and if you don’t want to experience it – don’t go, everyone knows.
    Why don’t we build a stag / hen zone at the end of the big car parks – basically just give an area of the towns hotels and pubs and clubs an identity, we would avoid it like the plague, but im sure it would be a hit and families wouldn’t be holidaying cheek by jowl with bus loads ofs stags being inappropriate by family standards

  3. a good article and i must admit i (umbrella) fully support both your original plan Mr Blackburn to consult the community and your response to the gazette wich is not a socially minded newspaper at all. We live in an age were we use buzz words like empowerment but the processes and powers seldom truelly empower the community however your idea to open consultation is a big step forward towards real social empowerment and i applaud it and hope there will be more of this the problem with the gazette is it is a big fish in a small pond and has no viable competion. fortunatly at umbrella we are hoping to offer an alternative to this with community glue wich will be an evidence based community focused non partisan magazine for the community self help, consultation and genuine debate your more than welcome to offer any advice on how you feel this idea should be in the spirit of consultation.

    its a dificult job i am sure to be in your position one i myself would not nor feel could not do and it is easy to throw stones at people we do not understand or have no empathic value of. This town cannot nor should not have a legacy as a centre for booze and prostitution, drugs and broken families. I applaud something that reduces even if it is only a small reduction one of the most prolific substances for social dischord that is alcohol abuse. I have worked for many years with the victims of domestic violance on the majority caused through alcohol, rape victims both male and female on the majority through alcohol and the abuse of children not always but often suplemented through alcohol for me i can envision blackpool having a more european cafe culture wer alcohol is there but is not the main focus of the scene its a long road you are on but social change has only three outlets no social change in wich we then live in a subtle quasi facist-capitolism were businesses rule towns and lives and come before the people, a revolution wich are always messy and for blackpool there is little or no motivation for sudden change or the most appropriate and beneficial slow steady social change through cultivating understanding, motivation, reasons for change and options to see the bigger picture.

    It is shameful to be a resident of this town when you see woman exposing themselves and men drunk in the afternoon in foront of children or urinating infornt of crowds under the banner of “stag and hen good times in blackpool parties” or to witness violance at 2 in the afternoon all of wich i personally witnessed last friday afternoon between 3 and 4 pm

    businesses that rely on the sale of cheap alcohol for a living of course are going to be outraged because they cant add more pennies to themillions they have already made out of damaging this town but they are not thinking clearly they can and should adapt. Maybe you can set a social responsibility tax to these venues? but most of all they need truely educating to the damage that is caused by them making huge profits without social responsibility.

    well done for standing your ground and being brave enougth for a politician to speak out from the heart

    kane
    umbrella

  4. I stand by my comments on http://www.fyldecoastradio.co.uk and thank the Gazette for daring to take a position different from that of the Council. For the past 15 years the Gazette has dare I say it taken a rather brown nose position regarding all important Council proposals.

    However Cllr Blackburn makes a lot of very valid points worth serious debate. Personally I suggest he and the Blackpool establishment should instead campaign to enable the local police to lock up everyone that is drunk and disorderly. They should be fined heavily and that money should be used to fund the extra cells, supervision and court costs etc.

    If required get our wonderfully influencial MP,s to change the laws to enable this funding stream. If they fail boot them out in 2015.

    Not dealing with this costs Blackpool Millions every year in negative publicity. The public care as much about where and when the booze is obtained as the council did years ago about gambling addiction.

    It is the bad behavour in the streets shown on TV screens they care about. Fine them till the message gets through.

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