Only since the 1990s has there been significant financial investment in the town. According to Corfield, the realisation that Southport was in accelerating decline “started a process of regeneration that commenced some 15 years ago.”
Many of the regeneration projects were co-ordinated through the six-year Southport Action Plan, aimed at maximising the opportunities provided by Objective One Funding and the Government Office for the North West. This was succeeded in 2009 by the Southport Investment Strategy, with a 10 year remit.
Much of the early effort was expended on improved infrastructure: a new sea wall was seen as unlocking the investment potential of the seafront, while the Marine Way cable-stayed bridge provided new road access between town centre and beach.
Focus on culture
More recently, regeneration has been more culture-focused. Southport Pier was reconstructed in 2003, with its Shed KM-designed pavilion. Floral Hall and Southport Theatre were redeveloped in 2007/2008 into the Southport Theatre Convention Centre, featuring a new four-star hotel, exhibition and conference venue, performance space, restaurants and bars.
In the town centre, the public realm of Lord Street was transformed with the re-landscaping of its gardens. It was complemented by the Townscape Heritage Initiative, a Heritage Lottery Fund-supported grant scheme to help the private sector to regenerate its building stock.
Sefton Council has also seen the value of culture led regeneration through the success of a series of figures by Antony Gormley on Crosby beach. The figures, originally a temporary commission, have proved so popular that they are now sited on the beach permanently.
One of the most high profile features of this regeneration effort has been the focus on creating a strong and consistent brand identity for the resort. Locum Destination Consulting has been working with the council on developing the brand as “England’s Classic Resort”.
As a result, regeneration plans aim to recreate the spirit of glamour and sophistication of the past but in a contemporary way. Traditional seaside heritage is combined with modern attractions and service standards. This is not only being achieved through new and refurbished buildings, but also programming, building on existing strengths in live music and comedy.
“If a destination doesn’t understand the importance of brand identity, then they won’t be able to achieve the maximum benefit from regeneration activity,” says Corfield. “The look, feel and what people associate with us as a destination is vitally important, as it shapes practically every aspect of creating a sustainable future.”
A high quality cultural offer is seen as a vital component of developing this brand identity. Recent work by Locum evaluated progress in establishing the brand, and recommended more targeted efforts that include making Lord Street the focus for the resort’s style-and-culture offer.