In this installment of her bi-weekly column, Stephanie Cottle discusses the importance of protecting Blackpool’s open green spaces.

The View from the Tower

Standing atop Blackpool’s landmark tower, most eyes will find themselves immediately drawn to the spectacular views of The North West coastline. It’s not difficult to see why – with it’s whirling grey depths and dramatic, changeable skies it is a mesmerising sight to behold. Blackpool owes much of its success to the sea, having enchanted visitors to the town across the ages, and the birds eye view from the Tower only emphasises the exhilaration we feel in the presence of nature’s powerful forces. With eyes to the west, the scene feels palpably ancient and unchangeable, the horizon acting as sentinel of a vast beyond.

If you are able to pull your eyes from the sirens call of crashing waves and look to the north and south however, you will find yourself looking instead at dense oceans of red brick, splashes of grey slate and dark streaks of tarmac – our urban environment, which restlessly changes to meet the tidal force of human demands. Rollercoasters and scaffolding rise from the ground and large areas of rubble return to the earth as buildings are demolished in attempt keep up with the undulating desires of western culture.

At first, a glance to the east provides a similar sight, but on closer inspection, in the distance sits a patch of lush, leafy green. This is the emerald jewel in Blackpool’s crown – Stanley Park and it’s surrounding green spaces.

 

[Image: Elizabeth Gomm]

The UK’s Best

I’m extremely lucky to live within a five-minute walk of this twice award-winning ‘Best in UK’ park. Since moving to Blackpool it’s been one of the places I’ve visited most, especially when I feel a desire to step away from the stresses modern life can impose. The impact that visiting green spaces has on mental health and wellbeing is well documented by the World Health Organisation and amongst academics in the field and I believe (although I might be biased) that this place in particular, with its resident and very well fed squirrels, ducks, swans and now established parakeet family can enrich a life in endless ways. Strolling through Stanley Park’s rose gardens treats you to the most alluring, flowery scents and pointing out the bobbing head of terrapins on the lake to tourists, before they submarine under the pond weed again will provide the most delightful sport.

This park is so well loved that a Facebook group, Images of Stanley Park Blackpool Past & Present, is dedicated to the documentation and discussion of it and inundated minute by minute with posts and beautiful images that you can access from home or work for a quick top up of the joy this space can bring. This beautiful park and its surrounding areas make up a whopping 40 per cent of the green space Blackpool has among its otherwise heavily built up urban neighbourhoods.

The animals of Salisbury woods

Over the road from the boundary fences of Stanley Park lies the small area of Salisbury Woods. Here, beautiful dappled light falls from the green canopies above whilst magpies, blue tits and blackbirds deliver excited speech from their spindly branch podiums. In spring wild garlic grows thick and bountiful, producing an abundance of delicate white flowers, emitting the most enticing aroma, and generously providing the perfect accompaniment to an ‘al fresco’ salad. A steam runs gently through the woodland if the weather has been dry and if the wetter days have arrived, which they often do, the stream expands its reach and produces a marvellously slushy terrain – perfect for a walk in your wellingtons.

In this tiny, unimposing patch of land you will find creatures not typically associated with urban spaces and certainly not usually associated with coastal Blackpool. Elizabeth Gomm, a photographer passionate about the park and its surrounding green spaces, kindly agreed to discussing with me the rich biodiversity found here and on the golf course next to the woods. She can even attest to seeing and photographing buzzards, owls, pheasants and hares (I am unspeakably jealous but you can find Elizabeth’s photography on the Facebook group and this is almost as enjoyable as a live encounter).

On the margins

These small but naturally lavish spaces on the margins of the park are resources which, if lost would be a devastating blow to Blackpool and it’s wildlife. It’s difficult to imagine that the ‘UK’s Best Park’ and it’s inhabiting floral and fauna would ever potentially suffer under the hand of urbanisation. Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming evidence of the rich wealth of nature here, life on the margins is usually dangerous place to exist. On 29th August 2019, Blackpool Council issued a joint press release alongside Holmes Investment Partnership, stating that they would seek to develop the land directly neighbouring Salisbury Wood.

This proposed development would see the land, currently used as part of Blackpool Golf Club’s 18-hole course, developed into a large leisure centre named Adrenaline World. The development, if successful, would also include 250-holiday lodges on site. The land sits nestled between the woodland and Blackpool Victoria Hospital – more specifically (and ironically) the attraction, which would offer activities such as go-karting and high rope climbing, would be built beside the Lancashire Cardiac Centre which provides treatments to those with heart and lung issues across Lancashire and Cumbria.

In response to this proposal the council, so far, has received 391 comments on the development with an overwhelming majority (390) of these objecting to the plans. Public comments express deep concern regarding a variety of issues including: the lack of foresight on how the attraction would impact congestion on an already busy road who services vital routes in and out of the hospital, the loss of trees in a town which sits amongst the lowest in the UK for canopy coverage, the unsuitability of developing camping sites on a land renown for it’s flooding tendencies and the protection of the precious wildlife who occupy the space.

Green space, coronavirus and the future

For me, the idea that we would happily relinquish green space in a town that has faced wave after wave of health issues prior to the one we face together in the world now, is both saddening and infuriating. Since the UK entered lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, visits to natural spaces have increased dramatically as people soak up the health benefits of visiting these luscious places. We seek out these places when we need to heal, when we need to reconnect with the land, and when we need to see beyond the man made urban and societal structures. Whilst we seek this sanctuary it is important to remember that these places often seek their own sanctuary, from spreading urbanisation. It is our duty to return the favour and to offer protection to those who are not able to ask for it.

When future generation gaze through the clouds from Blackpool Tower’s glass viewfinders, I hope they look to the east and still see this precious patch of greenery.

 

[Image: Elizabeth Gomm]

More information on the objections to the development of this land can be found at Blackpool Open Green Spaces website – https://www.blackpoolgreenspaces.co.uk/

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  • Stephanie Cottle is currently a research student at UCLan working alongside the curatorial partnership In Certain Places. Her practice investigates place & the everyday experiences of the North West of England.

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