Theatres say the show must go on in Lancashire amid anger over the blanket Tier 3 rules

The crisis in the arts that has blighted Blackpool’s entertainments industry since March has deepened as panto season was thrown into disarray by the decision to put the resort in tier three next week.

By Tim Gavell
Saturday, 28th November 2020, 3:45 pm

Blackpool will face the toughest level of restrictions – which include forcing theatres and bars to close – when the nation emerges from lockdown on Wednesday.

Figures across the industry have today blasted the decision to force Blackpool into tier three – along with the rest of Lancashire – despite having an infection rate lower than the national average.

It means the Fylde coast’s theatres have once again been left scrambling to change arrangements and bookings and face yet more weeks without the lifeline of paying customers.

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Like many theatres, Blackpool's Grand Theatre is carrying on with rehearsals for its panto in the hope restrictions will be lifted to Tier 2 and people can be allowed in

Bars and restaurants too, hoping to open to catch the early festive spirit have been left fuming with only the outside chance of relief with a review on December 16.

Tim Lince from Lowther Pavilion in Lytham said, despite the crushing blow, the show would go on with plans to switch their festive panto to a drive-in version if the tier three restrictions are not lifted by December 16.

But he was scathing of the Government’s decision. He said: “ It clearly is not right, it just does not stack up.

“Why Lancashire could not be split into two like other place in the country have, I cannot understand.

Blackpool's Winter Gardens

“Slough in Berkshire for instance is tier two while other parts of that county are tier three. We should be the same and I don’t buy the argument that they don’t want people travelling across tier areas.”

He said for 24 hours after the announcement on Thursday the team at the Lowther had to get their heads together to work out a plan to make sure the panto goes ahead.

He added: “We are hoping they will move us into Tier 2 by December 16, because we have a full panto stage set up right now on the stage and we would love to go ahead. But if not, we have plans to change it into a drive in panto in the car park.”

He said the Lowther’s schedule of films will revert to drive-in, as they had done early in lockdown, and the carol concerts and comedy shows as well with a stage built at one end.

Tim Lince

He added: “We are going to go ahead regardless and people who have bought tickets already will have their tickets automatically changed to drive-in. I am astonished we have been put in tier three.

“The community, the bars the hotels, they have spent all year hoping to recover something of what they had lost in these weeks before Christmas. I really feel for anyone in business at the moment in these terrible times.”

Ruth Eastwood, chief executive of the Grand Theatre said venues had been left in limbo.

“We are expecting a yes or no but we got a maybe,” she added. “So we have decided to carry on rehearsing for our Pantomonium show (due to open on December 18) on the basis that the western part of Lancashire should not have been lumped in with East Lancs and we will get a review that puts us in a lower tier so we can go ahead.”

The tiers will be reviewed fortnightly, meaning the soonest Blackpool could be moved into tier two is December 16 – just two days before opening night. Bosses will not know if the show can go on until days before.

She added: “I think the pressure is growing. It is not fair on businesses to have to keep changing plans and not fair on performers who have not worked in months. So we are taking a gamble.”

Michael Williams from the Winter Gardens said they were now changing their plans regarding shows due to run.

He said: “We are reviewing the options with the Producer for ELF The Musical, which was due to open on the December 18, and will contact all ticket holders once we have a finalised the details. In the meantime time, we thank them for their continued support and patience.”

Mr Williams who is also chairman of the Blackpool Business Improvement District (BID) said the Government’s announcement had ruined the plans of many Blackpool businesses desperate to get trading again.

He said: “The current timing and planning for these changes has been very confusing from the Government and in particular the revised tier three restrictions that have been recently announced.

“A lot of our BID Members and in particular those in hospitality have been planning for either tier two or the previous tier three when we come to the end of the current lockdown period on December 2.

“Businesses have committed significant amounts of money planning for what they could open up to do in December but under the new tier three they cannot now do until December 16 at the earliest and this could be very difficult for them to recover from.”

Pleasure Beach managing director Amanda Thompson blasted the Government on Twitter. She said: “The government has seriously messed up the new tier system. Blackpool has a very low R rate, below one.

“So what on earth are they basing things on? They have seriously overlooked the dreadful effect this will have on the North/South divide.”

Her frustrations were echoed by Martin Heywood from Viva Blackpool who said the tier system across Lancashire should be more specific.

He said:”It is really disappointing. It just seems like we make an effort to get ready and then it is taken away from us. I think every business was hoping for a bit of respite at Christmas. This makes it really hard to plan. We don’t know if we will be open at Christmas.

“It is not fair on staff. We will have to review the furlough situation because we still have to pay National Insurance and PAYE for the staff and we have no income coming in.”

The Lancashire-based Federation of Small Businesses’ national chairman Mike Cherry said: “These past nine months have been among some of the most difficult that small firms have ever had to endure and that hardship looks set to continue.

"For those placed in tier three, where the tightest restrictions are set to be implemented, the Government must make sure that all firms are given the proportionate levels of support that they’ll need to survive through what normally will be normally the busiest time of the year.

“Pubs and bars in particular will face a very difficult few weeks ahead and they will need targeted support to survive into the New Year.”

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