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Splash steer clear of superstars for Prom

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January 27 2006

Glasgow’s ADF Architects has been shortlisted for the competition to design Urban Splash’s 40,500 square metre redevelopment on a site adjacent to the Midland Hotel on Morecambe’s Central Promenade. The relatively unknown commercial practice is the only one from outside London to make the shortlist. However, according to Sarah Wigglesworth, the competition chair, the shortlist features none of the familiar names. “All six teams are relatively unknown and there are no superstars – this in itself is interesting and refreshing and demonstrates why it is important for competitions to be anonymous,” she said. Originally called the Armstrong Douglas Fergusson Partnership, it became ADF Architecture & Design in 2001.

Urban Splash is the preferred developer for the regeneration of the site, which lies on Morecambe Bay and is adjacent to the art deco classic Grade II listed Midland Hotel, which Urban Splash is refurbishing. Built in 1933, the Midland was the first art deco hotel in Britain. Speaking to Prospect contributor Phil Griffin in 2003, Tom Bloxham, chairman of Urban Splash, made a bold claim for Morecambe. “In ten years’ time, Morecambe will be Brighton to Liverpool and Manchester ... I’m pleased to hear talk of Blackpool’s ambitions to be the Las Vegas of the North; we’re aiming for something a bit classier,” he said. Urban Splash has a reputation for taking on signature buildings that have fallen into disrepair or ill favour.

The Central Promenade was once one of Britain’s most popular tourist destinations. However, the stretch of coast has come to represent Britain’s postwar decline rather than the halcyon days of the Empire. It was the backdrop to the screen adaptation of John Osbourne’s The Entertainer, a searing indictment of post-Suez Britain, starring Laurence Olivier as a debauched vaudeville comedian. Although the scheme is smaller than Urban Splash’s biggest development at New Islington in Manchester, in many ways it is more difficult, given that demand for new property in Morecambe is currently low.

“On this key site, we want to see something that will fit in with the natural environment of the Bay, complement the architecture of the Midland Hotel and contribute to Morecambe’s economic renaissance. A big ask – but we think the shortlisted designs have something really worthwhile to say,” said Councillor Ian Barker, leader of Lancaster City Council.

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