Despite the crisis, Blackpool in the UK keeps the lights on

The English town of Blackpool plans to maintain its famous illuminations despite the inflationary crisis

Paul ELLIS

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At this time of year, the British seaside resort of Blackpool shows its best side at night, when a million LED lights illuminate the seafront for over 10 kilometres.

After the Covid pandemic, the tourism-dependent town in North West England was aiming for better times. Then the war in Ukraine and an energy-fueled inflation crisis hit.

Even as organizations across Britain face skyrocketing electricity bills, Blackpool’s illuminations will stay on this autumn, from early September until January 2.

“It is unthinkable not to have our autumn illuminations,” Ivan Taylor, the deputy head of the city council, told AFP.

“As far as our tourism sector is concerned, it is very, very important,” he said.

Blackpool claims to be among the first towns to switch on permanent electric street lighting, with eight arc lamps in 1879 – shortly before Thomas Edison patented his revolutionary bulb design.

With breaks during the two world wars, the illuminations have taken place every year since a royal visit to Blackpool until 1912 and now attract around 3.5million visitors a year.

The council had planned to spend £1.75m ($2.07m) on the lights this year, but that did not take into account soaring electricity prices, which will show up in figures from the ‘next year.

For large UK companies, energy bills have doubled or tripled on average over the past year, while consumer inflation is at a four-decade high, above 10%.

The cost of living crisis could also reduce the number of visitors to places like Blackpool.

Just as it was recovering from the pandemic, more than a third of the UK’s hospitality sector is now at risk of failure, according to a survey carried out last month by groups representing pubs and restaurants.

The operator of the council-owned Blackpool Winter Gardens entertainment venue, which is a key part of the town’s attractions during the illuminations, has offered to close it on quieter days to save money.

Councilors refused the request, fearing it would send a message to the public that Blackpool was closed for business.

The city faces a delicate balancing act.

“I know it attracts a lot of tourists, but at the same time you have to balance that with the cost,” said Jo Berry, a Manchester resident in her early 40s who was visiting the illuminations.

A light display is a sensitive issue when many Britons say they can’t afford to turn on their heating, she added.

“Let’s just hope we get through the winter and it continues to be mild as it has been unusually warm so far.

“I hope it stays that way. Because a lot of people can’t turn on the heating at all, let alone turn it on for only a few hours.”

Chris Wheeler, a retiree visiting the city, said the council had no choice.

“You can see the benefits of the lights to Blackpool’s economy,” he said.

“If everyone is spending a few hundred pounds (pounds), that’s a lot of money for Blackpool.”

At least running costs for lighting have come down in recent years, after inefficient light bulbs were replaced with low-voltage LED lights.

In 2004, wind turbines helped power the light show for the first time as climate change became increasingly prominent.

Today, Blackpool’s illuminations only use green energy from renewable sources like wind, hydro and biogas, according to the council.

The Blackpool Illuminations run from September to January

Paul ELLIS

Taylor said that if energy costs were to increase much more, organizers would “realize savings within the show in other ways.”

“The return on investment is really worth it”, underlined the union adviser.

“They (the visitors) all spend money when they get here. So it’s good for us and it’s good for them, because we want them to have a good time.”

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