Blobby Land 20 years on: Part 3

Noel Edmonds gives his creation 'Mr Blobby' a hug during the opening of Crinkley Bottom at Happy Mount Park in Morecambe in 1994.
Noel Edmonds gives his creation 'Mr Blobby' a hug during the opening of Crinkley Bottom at Happy Mount Park in Morecambe in 1994.

In the third and final part of our series on the Blobby Gate scandal, we look at the legacy of the doomed Happy Mount Park attraction and the lessons learned.

Lancaster City Council suffered an absolute lambasting over the failure of the Crinkley Bottom theme park in 1994.

A report by District Auditor Clive Portman in 2004, after a five-and-a-half-year investigation, revealed serious failings in how the council dealt with the matter.

Mr Portman said that entering into a legal agreement with Noel Edmonds in March 1994 was an “imprudent” decision by the council because, at the time, it had failed to conduct professional market research, had no design concept for the park on the table, and had not conducted a proper analysis of costs against expected attendance levels.

Mr Portman also described the decision to close the park in November 1994 after just 13 weeks as “mistaken”.

He also said the “wave of optimism and enthusiasm for the Crinkley Bottom project severely clouded the judgement of members and officers” and the “financial risks were underestimated”, mainly laying the blame at then-town clerk Bill Pearson for “repeatedly failing to protect the interests of the council and taxpayers”.

At the time, the leader of Lancaster City Council was Stanley Henig.

Reflecting on the events of 20 years ago, Mr Henig, who is no longer involved in politics, told The Visitor: “Morecambe was a very different place then to what it is now.

“There were developments going on in Morecambe town centre, like Morrisons, the bowling alley and the new market, and we needed something that would keep bringing in visitors.

“I saw the whole Blobby business as being very much a part of popular culture but not something I was very knowledgeable about. But I did know Noel Edmonds was extraordinarily popular.

“The council genuinely thought it could mark a turning point. It seemed like a major coup for Morecambe.

“I certainly regret it and it was one of the things that went wrong on the council during my time, but there were also a lot of things that went right.”

Mr Henig lost his seat in the local elections of 1999 but says: “I could have lost it anyway.

“I certainly don’t think (the Blobby saga) should put councils off doing things that are enterprising and good for the area.

“It has a sad history and the council learned a lot.”

Eileen Blamire, current leader of Lancaster City Council, was new to local politics as a councillor in 1994.

“I think it taught us a tremendous lesson,” said Coun Blamire.

“I’m certainly a lot more sceptical now. If I’m not certain, I don’t go along with things. But I don’t like it when people say we should never take a risk.”

Abbott Bryning, who was on the council 20 years ago and remains a councillor today, said he believed the district was no longer paying for the mistakes of Blobby Gate, which cost the taxpayer more than £2m.

“It was paid for,” said Coun Bryning.

“I can’t recall it was necessary to borrow money or anything like that. There’s no way that would still have an effect today.”

Mark Cullinan, chief executive of Lancaster City Council, said the city council is “a very different organisation” now.

“The council has learned from the mistakes of the past and is determined to ensure such a situation never arises again,” said Mr Cullinan.

He said the council will no longer become “directly involved in delivering a major tourist facility” and the council now “routinely takes specialist legal and other professional advice”.

As for Happy Mount Park, it has successfully recovered from being tainted with the pink and yellow stain of Mr Blobby.

Last summer the park pulled in 93,821 people, and was recently granted Green Flag status and a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence.

With new developments planned, Happy Mount Park will hopefully go from strength to strength in future, and leave the memories of Blobby Land firmly in the past.