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Blackpool's £100M seaside splash

Blackpool’s £100M seafront makeover will be fully unveiled next month. It features new headlands, precast pebbles and a “comedy carpet”. NCE reports.

At the heart of any seaside resort is the promenade - a place to walk, sit and enjoy being beside the sea. Despite its wealth of other attractions, Blackpool is no different: an attractive prom is an important asset, especially as it offers a place for visitors to enjoy a day out at the seaside without spending a lot of money, and it also creates a link between the beach and the town behind.

Blackpool Council has invested heavily in improving the promenade and its facilities - to the extent of totally rebuilding its entire 3.3km length. The catalyst for this major regeneration project was the need to replace the town’s life-expired Victorian sea wall. But, rather than simply taking the grant from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs grant which was on offer for a like for like rebuild, the council used that funding as stepping stone for attracting regeneration grants to improve the entire seafront.

£100M funding pot

As a result, the council has built up a total pot of over £100M for the work, most of which has already been spent on building five new headlands and installing new defences in the form of concrete revetments that help absorb wave energy and cut scour and act as steps giving the public access to the beach (NCE 1 November 2006). Now, more than five years after work began, the last elements of the project are nearing completion, as contractor Galliford Try constructs the northerly end of the promenade and the scheme’s “crown jewel”, the Tower Festival Headland.

The firm has an £8.2M contract for concreting, landscaping, service installation and wave wall construction at six locations along the length of the sea front, including three headlands and the sections of straight promenade in between.

“It was more economically feasible for us to build our own precast factory”

Mike Pomfret, Blackpool Council


The entire length of the new promenade has a new concrete pavement, which is being laid insitu on top of the granular fill material used to create the new seafront profile. The top 150mm of this fill is being stripped out and stabilised on site to form a cement-bound material (CBM), which is spread from a hopper.

This is topped with a reinforced concrete slab, varying in thickness from 150mm to 200mm, depending on the location. It is made with a mix that includes buff coloured sand that matches the local Fylde beaches, and gold coloured quartzite aggregate. The sparkly effect of the quartzite is enhanced by the slab’s exposed aggregate finish, which is achieved by spraying the surface with a retarder and then jet washing it the following day. The CBM solution was chosen because it provides a strong base while being much cheaper than using the buff quartz concrete for the full depth.

Wave walls

Galliford Try’s contract also includes installing precast concrete wave wall units, which sit at the rear of the promenade and which will act as the final line of defence in an extreme storm event. It also provides seating for visitors. The units vary in height, as the land slopes upwards along the
promenade’s north-south alignment. They weigh between 2t and 3t, are 2m in length and their insitu heel slab makes them act as a cantilevered retaining wall.

Like all the major precast elements, the wave wall units were cast by specialist SLP and supplied directly to the contractor by Blackpool Council, which set up its own precasting yard at the start of the job five years ago. This will produce all the sea wall revetment units and the wave walls. “The whole project is so large, and there is such a large reinforced concrete demand for the whole sea wall, that there were no precasters in the area that could handle it,” explains Blackpool Council project manager Mike Pomfret.

“It was more economically feasible for us to buy the land and build our own precast factory. It means we can have the precast units on demand, and we can control quality.”

Pebble shaped seats

Also cast in the factory at nearby Thornton were the 21 pebble shaped seats and 10 lounger seats that are being installed throughout the length of the new promenade. These features weigh between 2t and 10t, are formed using fibreglass moulds. They are cast into the concrete pavement to give the impression that they are giant pebbles washed up on the beach.

“The real tour de force of the promenade improvement is the Tower Festival Headland”

The real tour de force of the promenade improvements is the Tower Festival Headland, where a 20,000-capacity outdoor events space has been created by building a 40m by 200m headland out onto the beach. “Until now we haven’t had a prime area for big events - for example concerts, or the illuminations switch-on,” explains Pomfret.

Comedy carpet

The new headland - built directly in front of the town’s famous Victorian tower - will provide not only that new event space but also what is set to become a major new attraction: the “Comedy Carpet”. This 1,880m2 art installation consists of 336 precast slabs laid in a cruciform shape, each inscribed with jokes, songs, and catchphrases from comedians and comedy writers.

The carpet has been designed to look as though it is made up of old music hall posters, and was created by etching each letter individually into granite which is then cast into concrete slabs. Each slab weighs 4t, and has to be delivered and grouted in a predetermined order and position - just like assembling a giant jigsaw. Elements are placed using a suction lifter.

The slabs are 200mm thick, made up of a 50mm thickness of granite bearing the lettering, which is fixed into place with white grout, and 150mm of reinforced concrete. They are bedded on 25mm of mortar and laid on a 200mm thick reinforced concrete foundation, constructed on 450mm of sub-base.

Additional features for the promenade centrepiece include windbreaks in the form of masts, between which fabric sails can be hung to protect the audience when performances are taking place. Four are 30m high dune grass replicas, made of carbon fibre on a stainless steel base and supported by 15m deep bored pile foundations.

The project is set to finish next month, in time for visitors to enjoy a bracing walk along the new prom.

Project team

Client Blackpool Council
Contractor Galliford Try
Precast concrete supplier SLP
Engineering designer Blackpool Council
Contract period May 2010-November 2011
Value £8.2M
Funding Northwest Regional Development Agency,
European Regional Development Fund, CABE, Department for Environment and Rural Affairs

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