Plans are accelerating on a £75m ‘leisure beach and thermal spa’ planned for Southport that will create hundreds of jobs and attract thousands of visitors to the town. Tony McDonough reports
Entrepreneurs behind a proposed £75m ‘leisure beach and thermal spa’ at the Princes Park waterfront in Southport are ready to accelerate their plans.
First unveiled in late 2020, The Cove Resort, next to the former open-air sea bathing lake that closed in 1989, could be a key part of the regeneration of Southport, creating hundreds of jobs, and attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
Co-founders Tony Howard and Tamlyn Stone say the new development, will bring “health and wellbeing coupled with active fun, all year round”.
In addition to a four-star hotel, there will be attractions for all ages. They will include swimming, surfing in a “world class” lagoon, fitness facilities and other indoor/outdoor leisure activities and events.
It will also offer a more relaxing “thermal journey”, through pools of water designed to improve metabolism and increase circulation, including steam rooms, saunas, Turkish baths, and a heated outdoor relaxation pool. Healthy food offerings will also be part of the mix.
The indoor and outdoor facilities will wrap around the south-facing lagoon to provide shelter from the sea winds, also echoing the amphitheatre shape of the sea bathing lake which it replaces.
The terrace and main public space will be above the height of the sea wall, and glass facades will offer panoramic views of the coastline in one direction, and of the lake and the lagoon in the other. “All aspects of the resort will be visually connected to water.”
Tony and Tamlyn have put together an international team of experts. They include architects Leonard Design, construction consultants WWA, and wave providers Whitewater West.
The project will be private sector funded and discussions with investors are well advanced. Sefton Council is looking to leverage hundreds of millions of pounds of private sector investment on the back of last year’s £37.5m Town Deal funding from the Government.
A ‘pre-application’ proposal has been submitted to Sefton Council and work continues. Upon agreeing final terms with Sefton, a detailed planning application will be developed. The full planning process may take up to 12 months followed by a construction period of two years. Tony adds, “If all agreements are in place, the resort could be open as soon as 2025.”
Although the resort will very much about a new future for Southport, its ethos lies deeper in the origins of the seaside town.
It was innkeeper William Sutton who first put Southport on the map when he built a bathing house in 1792. As the Industrial Revolution gathered pace the growth of the railways opened up the seaside and people flocked to Southport in their thousands for rest and recuperation.
Two centuries before the term ‘health and wellbeing’ even existed, Southport was embracing this concept as doctors of the time prescribed the town’s sea-bathing, sea-air and its many hydropathic establishments.
As the town moved into the early 20th century, the appetite for wellness continued with the introduction of the spectacular sea bathing lake and many glorious theatres.
For Tony there is a personal connection to The Cove. He told LBN: “My grandmother was present at the grand opening of the sea bathing lake in 1928. As a child I would hear her stories, clearly it was a time of glamour, sophistication, and liberation.
“Having lived away for a number of years, I returned to my hometown in March 2020, looking upon the waterfront and town with fresh eyes. To have so much heritage from a town’s glorious past still intact is remarkable, many other historic seaside towns look longingly on what remains in Southport.
“The waterfront has so much potential, but I believe it requires ambitious, modern-day attractions and experiences to appeal to a broader audience from all parts of the UK and perhaps beyond.”
“Our concept aligns with the town’s heritage, but it is reimagined in a very modern way. In 2019 the town attracted an impressive 9m visitors, of which most were day-trippers. More reasons to stay for longer are needed, and The Cove can help drive that.”
Tony is determined that The Cove doesn’t just become an isolated attraction. He wants it to be part of the town and community, widely available to local residents to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits. Free time slots in the lagoon will be allocated for local schools and other groups.
He added: “The Cove’s appeal, and even its very identity, will be more than what’s on offer within its boundaries. There is so much to offer in Southport and along our coastline – golf, kitesurfing, cycling, paddle-boarding, the amusement park, sand dunes, pinewoods, and the splendour of Lord Street, to name but a few.
“Southport is an incredible experiential destination, one which The Cove wishes to enhance and promote widely.”
“Southport should continue to embrace its history whilst also learning from it. Success came from a clear understanding of its identity and a bucketful of ambition. The town has so much to be proud of, but perhaps the next level of transformation will only come from self-belief and being bold in delivery.”