The £65m Blackpool project set to be 'country first' - but not everyone is happy about it

“I’m not asking for an arm and a leg, just some assistance,” says Fred Omasan.

For more than 15 years he has lived and worked in Blackpool, never once claiming benefits, he’s keen to point out. But the council, he says, is “pushing him off a cliff”.

He runs Fredstar Afrocaribbean store – most recently located on Cookson Street, in a building earmarked for demolition to make way for regeneration of the area. “We have to move out but we haven’t got a location yet. This is going to kill my business off,” he says.


Omasan’s time in the town has been marred by Blackpool’s ambitious development projects, which have delivered blow after blow to his trade despite promising a brighter future for the resort overall.

His once thriving business was dealt an initial setback in 2021, when Omasan was forced to pack up the shelves, pull down his signage and move from his King Street site.

The move, he accepted, was to facilitate part of the council’s plan for the Talbot Gateway – a £350m project which will see, among other features, a new UK Government hub housing approximately 3,000 civil servants on the site of his former shop.

The Blackpool Lead is sent to subscribers via email every Thursday and covers housing, climate, politics and more. You can subscribe here.

Omasan, 49, accepted the council’s assistance and moved his business to Cookson Street – an area which at the time, was not publicly earmarked for an overhaul. Fast forward three years and the father of two, along with other independent traders, finds himself facing the barrel-end of a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO), which will find him uprooted once again – this time to facilitate the construction of a ‘Multiversity’.

The CPO, which comprises land housing residential and commercial properties between Cookson Street, Grosvenor Street, George Street and Milbourne Street, was issued in April this year and dozens of the buildings have already been vacated.

“At the time of the first move I said, I hope you’re not moving me now then going to come across the road,” Omasan says. “They assured me ‘no, no, no’. If I had any inclination at all that this was going to happen I would never have gone there.

“I have had no communication from the council. They are trying to just do it all through the landlord. There is just silence – they don’t want to speak to the tenants. I have even been to the council building myself.

“I need at least some explanation about what is going on. There has been no communication. If they were about to demolish the building how would I even know?”

Fredstar Afrocaribbean store
Fredstar Afrocaribbean store -Credit:The Blackpool Lead

The £65m Multiversity project is set to result in the country’s first ‘carbon neutral’ Higher Education campus with courses delivered by Blackpool & Fylde College in partnership with Lancaster University.

The development will replace the existing University Centre on Park Road, including Palatine Road arts college, the future of which is unknown. And arts does not appear to be a key focus for the Multiversity – so called because it will be ‘multi-functional’ and ‘multi-layered’.

“Future higher education institutions will need to be very different creatures than in the past if we are to truly achieve levelling up,” Blackpool & Fylde College’s website states. “They will need to cater for multiple entry points and cater across the age distribution, rather than focusing on the young and traditional academic years.”

Once completed, earmarked for 2027, the campus will allow B&FC to offer more than 70 courses ‘enhancing its existing higher education provision’. The college believes it will be a transformative project which will improve business connections, education and investment in the town. It also claims that the hub will ‘deliver the skills needed to drive the local, regional and national economy’.

Omasan, who moved to Blackpool after visiting a friend here 17 years ago, says that he understands the need for the CPO, but as a tenant who does not own the building he is unable to negotiate any terms.

“The landlord is obviously concerned about what he will get out of it,” he says. “I am just in limbo, I don’t know who to speak to about it now.

“It is killing my business financially. Surely someone can give me some money to move? For me to move my shop, including the signage, it will cost no less than £10,000. Everywhere around here now is so pricey. I don’t know if I will be able to afford the new rent. If I go further into the outskirts of Blackpool then that will affect trade.

“I honestly don’t know whether this will be the end of my business.”

Omasan’s landlord, Lee Dribben, has allowed Fredstar to continue operating in the building at a reduced rate while the anxious trader figures out his next move.

“I am quite happy for Fred to continue there on low rent,” he says. “I hope that it doesn’t come as a big shock when the sale goes through. If I was a commercial tenant I would be looking for alternative premises.

“If Blackpool wants to progress it needs to knock down buildings. If that’s by CPO then so be it. But I wish the council was more considerate towards tenants.”

Multiversity plans
Multiversity plans -Credit:The Blackpool Lead

Independent businesses are not the only ones being affected by the CPO.

For the past 18 years, Blackpool’s Horizon programme, funded by Public Health, has focused on helping the borough’s most vulnerable people affected by alcohol and drug dependency and all matters relating to sexual health.

Horizon’s Sex Workers Outreach and Support Service (SWOSS) works alongside the town’s sex workers to provide advice, signposting and support for those most at risk.

In the past five years, the team has seen the numbers of street sex workers diminish to next to none. Increasingly sex workers are operating from the town’s ‘massage parlours’ – some of which are based on Cookson Street.

“They refer to themselves as massage parlours,” says Anthony Harrison-West, sexual health manager for Renaissance UK – a charity which works in partnership with Horizon on drug, alcohol and sexual health harm reduction, the venues operating in Blackpool. “We support owners, managers and the staff who work there.”

In the UK, excluding Northern Ireland, the exchange of sexual services for money is legal under certain conditions. It is illegal to run a brothel, which is an establishment used by more than one person for sex work, and Harrison-West says the premises operating in Blackpool adhere to these rules.

Fears were initially voiced by Horizon over the demolition of the parlours, without them, they feared, sex workers may turn to more dangerous work on the streets.

“As it happens, the area that the CPO covers has only one parlour in it and it was empty,” says Harrison-West. “It went quiet during Covid and never really got busy again.

“Initially a lot of the people we work with were worried about the future of their business. They knew they were very close to a CPO – but that’s a very specific area of development.”

And Harrison-West says the parlours are “unofficially protected”.

“The parlours have been there as long as I can remember. We know that they are there, the police know where they are if they are needed. We don’t want to lose that and the council doesn't either.”

The £65m Multiversity project is set to result in the country’s first ‘carbon neutral’ Higher Education campus
The £65m Multiversity project is set to result in the country’s first ‘carbon neutral’ Higher Education campus -Credit:The Blackpool Lead

Despite there being no immediate threat to sex workers on Cookson Street, Harrison-West says that there are ongoing discussions around the future of the area, with a specific focus on how the sex workers can be protected.

“As the future unfolds there are other concerns,” he says. “It’s not really ideal to have those kinds of premises a stone’s throw away from the Multiversity. There have been a lot of conversations around those concerns, ensuring that we protect this group of people. We may have to look at supporting them to relocate.

“There are concerns around safeguarding. We don’t know how old or young these students might be. It’s not ideal to have them stepping out to parlours.”

Harrison-West said that the council has been involved in supporting the charity through these discussions, with elected officials leading the charge on protecting the area. Councillors Jane Hugo and Mark Smith, who represent the Talbot ward, were contacted for comment.

Another charity affected by the plans is Blackpool and Fylde Street Angels, whose Charles Street centre, Angels Rest, has recently relocated to Central Drive.

The group, which works with Blackpool’s homeless population by managing a temporary bed unit and providing food and support in the community, were in the process of renovating the original Angels Rest site on Cookson Street when news reached them about the CPO.

“We have had a difficult time,” says Paul Rawson, manager at Blackpool and Fylde Street Angels. “We have moved from the property but we have been promised compensation and are still waiting.”

The charity was developing its Cookson Street site to support its outreach programme when the pandemic initially halted progression.

“We started to get funding to invest in the building,” says Rawson. “But then we were hit by Covid and had to stop the development. When we came out of it unfortunately letters started coming through saying it was planned to be part of the regeneration.

“Prior to that, we had only been made aware that the other side of Cookson Street was going to be under development. We thought we were okay, we were safe, but that wasn’t the case in the end.”

Rawons says that once a deal has been finalised, the charity should receive remuneration which will help them to claw back some of the costs from the move.

“We know for a fact that the charity and the work that we do does save not only our council, but other local authorities a lot of money,” he says. “The more funding or support we can get does help in all of this. It would be helpful if it could be sorted out.”

And while the charity does get some financial help from the council, Covid followed by the CPO, has dealt Street Angels a “double blow”.

A Blackpool Council spokesperson said: “We fully understand the impact on people living in the properties in the Multiversity area, as we are buying their homes and some businesses need to relocate. We continue to support any residents or tenants who have to move as a result, and nobody will be asked to move without reasonable warning.

“While we cannot go into the details of individual negotiations, these have to take place with the landowner at first. While we’d expect the landlord to update their tenant as per any landlord and tenant agreement, due to the nature of the scheme we have also regularly written to all tenants in the affected area explaining the process and what advice and support is available to them before, during and after the completion of the sale.

“Approximately half of the land has either been completed or has been agreed to be completed in the coming months.”