Weber Shandwick bids to change Blackpool image

Weber Shandwick Worldwide's public affairs team has set itself the long-odds challenge of turning Blackpool into the 'Las Vegas of Lancashire'.

Weber Shandwick Worldwide's public affairs team has set itself the long-odds challenge of turning Blackpool into the 'Las Vegas of Lancashire'.

The agency has won a brief from Blackpool Challenge Partnership, a public-private body aimed at regenerating the town, which is best known for its annual seafront illuminations. The BCP aims to make Blackpool a gambling mecca based on the sort of themed casino resort hotels common in the Nevada city.

Director Pete Bowyer, who joined Weber Shandwick last November from BSMG Worldwide, will lead the account, working closely with public affairs CEO Colin Byrne.

As foreign travel has become cheaper, resorts such as Blackpool have fallen on hard times. The town was recently snubbed by the Labour Party, which said it would prefer to hold its annual conferences in Brighton or Bournemouth since both had more hotel rooms and better facilities than Blackpool.

The BCP consists of major public and private sector bodies. Blackpool Borough Council chief executive Graham Essex-Crosby sits on the board, which is chaired by Labour council leader George Bancroft. The vice-chairman is Philip Welsh, managing editor of the town's Evening Gazette newspaper, while it also includes the management of the local radio station Wave FM and flagship local tourist attraction The Pleasure Beach.

Weber Shandwick's brief works in several stages. A public consultation exercise is already underway, being run by Phil Riggins, managing director of Weber Shandwick's research division, SWR.

An old-style lobbying project will follow aimed at convincing the Home Office to liberalise gambling rules. The agency will assist Blackpool in its submissions to the Gambling Review Body, which is chaired by former treasury adviser and monetary policy committee member Alan Budd. The body is due to report to the Home Secretary in the summer.

Key areas for the town include making it possible to join a casino on the day you first visit it - there is now a 24 hour legal delay - and removing limits on the size of casinos or the number of one-armed bandits they can house. Such changes would require primary legislation, as would making it possible to have hotels and casinos in the same buildings, currently prohibited.

'The internet gambling boom is such that the current regulations on gaming look more than a little out of date,' Bowyer said.

Media relations is included at all stages in the campaign ahead, with the long-term goal, Bowyer stressed, of acting as a 'spur to regeneration for the whole town'.

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