INITIAL works on a historic row of shops in Blackburn town centre has revealed its full potential to become 'thriving' restaurants and bars.

Following structural assessments and repairs, the £1.4million renovation of the Victorian Blakey Moor Terrace opposite King George’s Hall has moved onto the internal strip-out stage.

This has shown that the first floor of numbers 11 to 17, the end nearest The Mall shopping centre, to be in better condition than expected with a fine wooden central staircase and large arched windows giving plenty of light ideal, for bar or restaurant use.

Progress is is also proceeding rapidly on other elements of the £3.8m Blakey Moor Townscape Heritage project to transform Northgate into a leisure quarter.

Phase Two internal works to 35 Northgate (formerly the Ribblesdale Hotel) will go out to tender this month and the 10-week restoration of 14 and 20 Lord Street West, occupied by the Prism Gallery and Studios, is scheduled to start shortly.

The project team are now working on plans to improve the front and side elevation of King George’s Hall, including a new lighting scheme, better signage and remodelling the disabled entrance.

Already Blackburn with Darwen Council, which is co-financing the project with the National Lottery, has had an unexpected early expression interest in Blakey Moor Terrace - which is earmarked to become two restaurants, bars or cafes - and a serious approach from a commercial firm to occupy the former Ribblesdale Hotel premises.

Cllr Phil Riley, the borough’s regeneration boss, said: “The early works have revealed no unpleasant surprises with the structure of Blakey Moor Terrace and that the first floor is better condition than we had expected with a fine central staircase. It will be ideal for a bar or restaurant use.

“We are using the coronavirus pandemic to get ahead with this project to turn Blakey Moor and Northgate into the thriving heart of Blackburn town centre.

“We have had an approach about the terrace out of the blue and serious interest in the Ribblesdale Hotel. The aim is have this scheme ready for when the hospitality sector recovers after the pandemic.”

His Tory group counterpart Cllr Paul Marrow said: “We welcome this progress. It is sensible to use this time to get on with it.”