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Thread: Why did Butlins leave Barry Island?

  1. #1
    Worked at Minehead Guest

    Default Why did Butlins leave Barry Island?

    I thought i would start a new topic on this one, following comments on other threads. As I have said before I was at Barry Island in September 1986 at the end of the final season it was a Butlin's.

    Theres a lot of specualtion as to why Rank pulled the plug on Barry Island, particually as they had plans to invest and turn it into a Holiday World. As I said the buzz around the camp in 1986 was that it was to become a fully fledged Holiday World, ahead of of some of the other Butlins camps at the time, plans were drawn up to convert chalets into County Suites and builders were even hired to do the work, there were also plans for the indoor and outdoor pools and a new name was even being touted around "Wondercoast World", it seemed like all systems go - then came the news it was to close. A shock to everyone.

    I have my own thoughts in the reason behine Ranks decision. As we all know Barry Island was, at least capacity wise, the smallest of the Butlin's camps and I think was in the end deemed too small by Rank.

    Also the chalets were poorly built in the first place. Billy Butlin had some great ideas and was a fantastic businessman, but his decision to build the chalets at Barry Island in the modern flat roof, wodden frontage and sometimes 3 storry high design was a mistake. They fell into disrepair quicker than chalets at other camps and were a lot harder to maintain. Even in 1986 complaints about accomodation were higher at Barry Island than any other of the butlin's camps. Converting these to County Suites etc would have been harder here than anywhere else, and Rank would have had a long term idea of what they wanted from each camp, so would have know that at some point ALL the chalets at Barry Island would need replacing at a cost of thousands if not millions.

    It wasnt just the chalets that needed work doing on them, the main entertainment buildings had become tatty and dated, as had all the 60's Butlin's buildings. While these buildings still stand today and are used by the remaining Butlin's camps they have had a lot of investment, all this investment however was staggared, at Barry Island to get it all up to scrath they would have had to do the 3 main buildings and the chalets in one go, it would have cost a fortune.

    The 1980's wasnt a great time for Butlins as a whole anyway. We were still in the grip of package holidays and the British Holiday camo decline of the 1970's was continuing, I think Butlin's felt they were better off dropping the smallest of there camps, a camp that needed a hell of a lot of money spent on it, and instead investing in the other 5 and hoping the decline would stop.

    Butlin's didnt expect to sell Barry Island as a going concern, in fact a friend of mine who worked for Butlins up until Bourne took over, said that all avenues were considered by Butlin's including selling the land for housing, ironically the council put potential buyers off saying they wouldnt grant permission for housing on the site.

    In the end Majestic paid ?2.5 million less for the site than Butlin's wanted. It was a hard camp to sell because of the leasing issues with the council. You have to give it to Majestic they gave the old place 10 years more than it would have had, but despite the love you all have for it on here Barry Island wasnt one of Butlin's best, at least not at the end and I much prefered working at Minehead.

    Had Rank kept the camp open it still wouldnt be a Butin's today, it would be too small for a Skyline etc, it would probably be a Haven or a British Holidays site, I think once a huge compny like Rank left the camp was always going to be doomed, it was just a matter of time!

  2. #2
    barryislandfan Guest


    I think accomodation was a big factor in Rank's decision, although as a child in 1986 I used to think our chalets were great. Like you say being a business I guess Rank looked 2, 3, 4 maybe even 10 years into the future and didnt see Barry Island as an investment worth making.

    It is interesting to know plans were in motion to convert the camp into a Holiday World, I do remember they announced there would be investment in the site. Rank obviously thought spending millions on the place wasnt worth it, wrong in my opinion but I guess they at least thought they were doing the right thing.

    I do agree though had Rank kept the place it would almost certaintly be nothing more now than a big caravan park and would probably have just the Regency building left with everything else being in a "funworks" building.

  3. #3
    Worked at Minehead Guest


    I dont think anyone really understood how much it would cost to get Barry Island into the sort of acceptable state Butlin's wanted for it's Holiday Worlds. Im sure Rank underestimated the costs when they announced the original plans. As I said accomodation was the big problem, it was also a pretty small camp and I think just became financially unviable.

  4. #4
    barryislandreunion Guest


    SLightly off-topic but here is an extract from a report from the Vale of Glamorgan Chamber of Trade on the future of Barry Island

    5.41 The decline of Barry can be partially attributed to a change in the fortunes of Barry Island. Whilst it is recognised there has been a sharp fall in the number of traditional seaside holidays taken in this country, Barry Island still continues to draw in day visitors in significant numbers when the weather is favourable.

    5.42 The Beach and Promenade at Whitmore Bay are now Barry Island?s only attractions. The resort is in desperate need of an indoor attraction having become too weather dependent. It is essential Barry Island is recognised as an equal key element in the future success of the town and fully exploited. Great urgency and emphasis should be placed on encouraging the development of both indoor and outdoor attractions. Appropriate sites should be identified for leisure facilities and generous funding and incentives made available to attract investors.

    5.43 The demise of the traditional British seaside holiday has resulted in the closure of the holiday camp. Few now mourn its passing. Many if not all, however, recognise the urgent need for a new attraction to replace it and an equally urgent need for alternative accommodation for short-stay visitors.
    Part of the old Butlins Holiday Camp site has been sold off for domestic housing. The remainder must be retained for leisure use and not allowed to be swallowed up by residential development. Plans to demolish what remains as the Holiday Camp should be resisted until all options for the site have been fully explored.

    5.44 Establishing a small scale and select touring caravan complex, possibly sited to the east of the Causeway, is considered a vital ingredient in the quest to attract greater numbers to the town. It could be one of the many new features in Barry to attract visitors. The Wales Tourist Board recognises an increasing market in short-stay holidays and a booming touring caravan sector with the Caravan Club membership at an all time high.

    Not sure how you read this, but it seems to me that the meaning behind it is this: Barry has declined following the decline of Barry Island. The decline of Barry Island has followed the closure of the holiday camp. So what new idea have they come up with to rejuvinate the area?..... A caravan park, with an indoor leisure facility where the Butlins buildings are. Hmmm. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't that pretty much what they already had!?!? Replace the chalets with caravans, as many of us have commented on, and there you have it. Interesting that they recommend resisting all development of the old Butlins buildings until all avenues have been explored. Given that the proposed campus investment are about ?4m short to complete their plans, I cant see those buildings going for quite some time!

  5. #5
    barryislandfan Guest


    I've read that exact report before somewhere or other. I remember the line "few mourn its passing", found it very offensive as a fan of the camp! I cant for the life of me see how any kind of caravan park could go on whats left of the camp at Barry Island. What I read from that is the Chamber of Commerce are desperate to do something, anything in fact to attract people to the Island.

    They say that few mourn the passing of the old holiday camp yet they basically atribute the decline of Barry and Barry Island to its closure, so im not too sure they know what they want.

  6. #6
    barryislandreunion Guest


    BIF, glad you are as confused as I was.

    However, I think the line 'few mourn its passing' is actually a dig at the short sighted attitude of people in Barry Island that we have discussed here before. The author of the report - the President of Barry Chamber of Trade was a staunch supporter of the camp and lamented its closure. He fought the councils plans to sell the land to Bovis homes, but the head of the council was adament.

    It makes me laugh (or cry) when they say that the demise of the traditional British Seaside holiday caused the closure of the camp, and then say that weekend breaks and short stays are on the increase. This highlights another point we have made here - that in the final years the camp was simply mis-managed!! The proposed site for a caravan park is to the east of the causeway - not sure exactly where this is! - anyone?

  7. #7
    gaietybarryboy Guest


    The east of the causway is the Knap area.

  8. #8
    barryislandfan Guest


    Yeah like we've said before locals didnt really like the camp but most of the local businesses miss it now. The head of VOG council at the time should be ashamed that he has in effect killed off Barry Island as a holiday resort.

    They say the camp closed due to the demise of the British seaside holiday but Butlins still has thousands of visitors each year, the camps demise was more down to the fact is was badly managed and in a state of disarray structually. It needed a new owner and it needed pots of money.

    I have no idea where that proposed site for the caravan park is GBB may know.

  9. #9
    barryislandreunion Guest


    Thanks GBB

    The head of the council is probably very proud that the camp is now closed, as he was fired by Rick Wright when he first bought the camp!!!

    Not sure if he is proud of the decline of the area, or to be honest if the guy is still in a job. Hope they got rid of the clown!

  10. #10
    Worked at Minehead Guest


    Seaside councils are made up mainly of 70 something retired colonels and their wives who have little or no time for holiday camps. They want the revenue from tax and they want the holidaymakers money, they would just rather they didnt come to stay. My experience of seaside town councils is this, they want your money but they dont want thousands of Midlanders and Londoners coming down with their "kiss me quick hats and funny accents" upsetting Mrs Counciller Smythe and her dog Fluffums, who venture on the the seafront once a day to look at the view but never spend money!

    Most Seaside councillers see their towns as untouched unspoilt Edens, they would much rather the town was open to them and them only, but reluctantly accept that they have to actually let "plebs" in too in order for the town to survive.

    Most of them hate holiday camps, but see them as a neccessary evil. This doesnt stop them making the managements lives a misery though. Endless and needless inspections, more rules than anyone else when it comes to applying for a licence, hold ups when it comes to planning permission etc.

    They dont like the camps yet when they hear even a sniff that Butlins may pull out they panic. I remember in the late 80's local councillers were wrongly given the impression Butlins were going to pull out of Minehead. The panic that set in was amazing. Well can you just imagine Minehead without Butlins?

    Clacton, Filey & Barry Island council all now realise the importance of the holiday camp in their towns. Clacton & Filey had no choice in losing theres, Barry Island it seems did and now I believe the resort and the town is paying for their decsion.

    Im not a fan of seaside town councils, dont get me started on the one at Burnham on Sea

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