Howard Bernstein, chair of Blackpool’s regeneration company, talks to Richard Waite about casinos, seaside masterplans and regenerating in a downturn
‘If I produce a plan and everybody thinks it’s crap, then they are entitled to that’
‘It’s pointless to pretend that Blackpool doesn’t need a radical overhaul,’ says Howard Bernstein, part-time chair of the ailing seaside resort’s urban regeneration company, ReBlackpool.
Bernstein, sporting a pair of impressively large gold rings, a velvet-collared jacket and a well-coiffed comb-over, looks more like a 1950s jeweller than the chief executive of Manchester City Council, a post he’s held for nearly a decade.
It is surprising that this man, with his gruff cackle of a laugh, is the driving force behind the transformation of Manchester.
What’s also extraordinary is that Bernstein (Mancunian of the Year 2003) is leading Blackpool’s regeneration less than two years after his name became mud along the town’s Golden Mile.
In January 2007, while blowing his Manchester trumpet, Bernstein convinced the government that the eastern fringe of ‘his’ city was the perfect spot for a supercasino – snatching a similar dream from Blackpool, which had plans for a huge Gensler-designed Vegas-on-Sea. Eventually, Prime Minister Gordon Brown changed his mind, and neither place got one.
Bernstein is adamant that a gambling mecca would not have been right for the Lancashire town. He says: ‘I’ve always believed that Blackpool’s case for a casino was not a strong one, because a casino in itself doesn’t deliver the change that’s needed.’
Nevertheless, Bernstein clearly thinks something can be done to turn around the fading resort, with its flagging tourist trade and ‘high levels of worklessness’. He ‘reluctantly’ gave up a post with the Olympic Delivery Authority to head to Blackpool after being approached by central government. Reports that he was glad to leave the London 2012 team are nonsense, he says.
Bernstein’s first move since joining ReBlackpool this summer was to appoint Arup, KPMG and GVA Grimley to carry out ‘a strategic review’ of the existing Blackpool Resort masterplan.
Just as he did in Manchester, Bernstein is hatching a big plan, and hopes to have a significant input in the final ‘strategic focus’ that emerges.
‘Let’s be clear – there are no straightforward solutions here, otherwise they would have been thought of,’ he says.
‘The key issue for Blackpool is that it is too one-dimensional. It has focused on the creation of a visitor base which has been consistently eroded.