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Flamingo Land could receive public purse subsidy to run water park

Thursday, 23 May 2024 08:07

By Stuart Minting, Local Democracy Reporter

North Yorkshire Councillor Gareth Dadd and Flamingo Land boss Gordon Gibb. (Picture: LDRS)

The firm charged with reviving the fortunes of a leading North Yorkshire attraction could receive subsidies from the public purse to help make the venture viable.

Underlining North Yorkshire Council’s desire for the Alpamare water park in Scarborough to become a key part of the resort’s tourism offer, the authority’s deputy leader Councillor Gareth Dadd revealed the long-term future of the facility remained far from clear.

Coun Dadd was speaking as the authority, which took possession of the Burinston Road attraction in December after after previous owners Benchmark Leisure Ltd went into administration, announced Kirby Misperton leisure operator Flamingo Land had secured a contract to run it for 12 months.

A key part of the contract is for Flamingo Land, which with about 900,000 annual visitors is Yorkshire’s leading tourist attraction, to have opened the water park by July in time for the peak summer season.

However, the detailed terms of the contract are yet to be finalised and Coun Dadd said it could involve paying the leisure firm a subsidy.

The announcement comes as the authority’s audit firm, Veritau, nears the end of its independent investigation as to how Benchmark secured a deal to run the attraction with Scarborough Borough Council.

North Yorkshire Council has said the deal, which was agreed by councillors behind closed doors, has left the taxpayer some £7.9m down, and Coun Dadd said while the authority was “not confident” it could retrieve the money, it had taken ownership of the attraction as “some sort of mitigation”.

Coun Dadd said a final report is expected to be published during the summer, but residents could be reassured Flamingo Land was a trusted firm with good balance sheets that employed local people.

He said:

“Flamingo Land recognise the opportunity and we recognise the importance of this asset to the tourism industry in Scarborough.

“I’m sure the public will get some confidence as a result of this tender process we have secured a partner that we have confidence in.

“One of the key advantages with Flamingo Land is their experience in marketing, local staff and their business skills on a large scale.”

He added there had been “a number of expressions of interest” to run the attraction, but declined to say how many.

Coun Dadd said:

“Be under no illusion, we are still not certain that this will not require subsidy. Nobody knows how it is going to trade commercially.

“We’re not saying we will have to pay a subsidy, and that, of course, is part of the negotiations. That is why we’ve looked for a 12-month tenure with an option to extend for a further 12 months.

"That will give us a better idea and some data with which we can try and secure a long-term future for the site, if it’s appropriate to do so.”

Under the terms of the deal, Flamingo Land will be incentivised to make it work.

Gordon Gibb, Flamingo Land’s chief executive, said he had personal reasons for wanting to take on the water park, but he understood a lot of work was needed to tackle the high operational costs, such as energy, that contributed to the previous operator going into administration.

Among the first changes would be to make the plant room more efficient, he said, adding: “It’s going to be evolution not revolution to begin with.”

Mr Gibb said:

“I was brought up in Scarborough and saw the resort when it was at its best and have seen its general decline over the years, so being abe to get one of its key tourist assets operational again is really gratifying on a personal level.

“Hopefully it will be commercially successful as well and we will get control of the operational costs and make it a year-round business rather than just seasonal and then we can start to offer people careers and not just seasonal jobs.

“We know a bit about the history, but we are trying to turn a fresh page as much as we can. A lot of business models fail because they are too ambitious at the onset.

“Hopefully with our years of experience we are a lot more practical and prudent than that and having the mothership of Flamingo Land as a support network in the background will put us in a pretty good place to give us the best chance of opening in time for summer and surviving on a year-round basis hopefully after that.”

When asked about what number of visitors the water park needed to attract to make it viable, Mr Gibb said he would be putting a software system into operation to reveal how many customers had left the site before the end of their session to enable them to sell additional tickets.

Other plans under consideration include would discounts for local residents, putting on shuttle buses from Flamingo Land and creating holiday accommodation at the water park.

He said:

“There’s some things we would like to improve on. It’s quite heavy lifting moving some of the inflatables to the top of the stairs. There was a design drawn for a lift to take the inflatables up, but it simply wasn’t installed, so we’d be looking to do that fairly quickly.

“With our skill set that we already have within the leisure industry we feel quite well placed to get the water park operational by the end of July.

“A lot of our staff live in Scarborough and there will be some additional career enhancement opportunities for our team leaders at Flamingo Land.”

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