Blackpool Airport
Enterprise Zone



Project summary

  • Sports facility design
  • Sports construction
  • Sports surface improvement
  • Technical consulting
  • Event support
  • Sustainable water management
  • Habitat management

In June 2020, STRI was appointed by Blackpool Council to design and build a series of natural grass sports pitches which shall form part of the Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone, part of a Government Industrial Strategy to support businesses and enable local economic growth.

The Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone is 144-hectare site which incorporates Blackpool Airport and the surrounding commercial areas. STRI were engaged for a full design and build project on an 11-hectare site adjacent to the airport, where high quality sports facilities were sought by Blackpool Council for use by the local community.


The proximity of Blackpool Airport meant special consideration was needed at all stages. This was evident from the initial site assessment, neutralising STRI’s ability to utilise our in-house drone service in order to provide information of ground conditions; right through to the construction phase, where the stripping of site topsoil needed to be completed in a phased manner in order to minimise the impact of dust on the airport. In addition to this, the UK was hit by Storm Francis during the construction phase, making the phased stripping of topsoil as well as the remainder of the construction, even more challenging.

The timing of the project meant that construction would begin in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in an immediate responsibility to make safety a priority, delivering a safe working environment for all on-site staff as well as visitors. To ensure this was the case, STRI developed specific COVID-19 site risk assessments and method statements which aimed to guarantee the protection of the workforce, therefore minimising the spread of infection. This included appropriate use of PPE, social distancing and frequent use of hand sanitiser and was regularly monitored and amended when necessary to ensure we consistently fell in line with updated regulations and advice from the Government.

The site itself was previously a part of Blackpool airport, being utilised as a military hospital during the First World War and being used by the RAF to become RAF Squires Gate during the second World War. The rich history of the site meant thorough archaeology survey works were required before excavation and topsoil stripping could commence.

The main design issue identified was in relation to the drainage strategy for the site. Information from the ground investigation confirmed that infiltration rates were not suitable to discharge water to soakaways and there were no existing watercourses nearby to providing a suitable outfall. As such, the drainage for the entire site had to be discharged into the existing surface water network with attenuation and flow control mechanisms built into the design. Given the proximity of Blackpool Airport, it was not possible to create any open water features such as attenuation ponds or swales which may attract bird activity and increase the risk of bird strikes.


Our in-house design team focused on establishing an effective way to maximise the 11 hectares of available space by developing a functional pitch platform which can be configured to accommodate multiple pitch sizes and orientations. STRI’s design was based on a detailed knowledge of the site and the prevailing ground conditions. The site is effectively underlain by sand with a water table subject to tidal, seasonal and climatic fluctuations, necessitating the need for a bespoke drainage solution which would limit discharge to greenfield runoff rates. It was apparent that to maximise the available space and form suitable gradients for winter games pitches, comprehensive earthworks would be required. The surface levels were re-contoured to direct any surface runoff away from the airport site and into the sports drainage system, adding value by introducing a new surface water exceedance pathway which reduced the risk of standing water on the airport site. Our Digital Design team modelled the site to develop a ‘balanced’ earthworks model which negated the need to import or export materials, creating a sustainable and low impact earthworks strategy, befitting of the surrounding landscape.

As the existing site was situated within an area of rough grassland, it was thoroughly checked for nesting birds prior to any vegetation removal. Once this had been completed and the team were satisfied that the site was clear, a phased approach to vegetation clearance was implemented which began in the west of the site and progressed to the east, encouraging any reptiles and mammals to migrate towards a designated biodiversity protection zone. Following the ecological survey work, the vegetation was cut to a height of 100mm and then, after a rest period to allow reptiles and mammals to migrate, was cut down to ground level.

Preceding the lateral drainage installation, the excavation of a network of main carrier drains and associated flow control and silt trap manholes was carried out. This meant that care had to be taken to ensure works only commenced when surface conditions allowed, so as not to compromise the topsoil surface and soil structure. Prior to this, comprehensive analysis was carried out at STRI’s in-house laboratory to ensure the topsoil had sufficient drainage characteristics and was compatible with the underlying drainage aggregate.

Cultivations were also carried out by STRI’s research team in order to relieve any superficial compaction before final levelling and seedbed preparations. The area was seeded in late-September with a blend of hard-wearing perennial ryegrass cultivars with initial maintenance being carried out by STRI and Carrick Sports Construction before handing over the pitches to Blackpool Council in September 2020.


  • Site successfully transformed from rough terrain to high standard 11-hectare sports field serving the Blackpool community
  • STRI and Carrick Sports’ work on the site has enabled the return of The Blackpool Cup, an international youth football tournament, after a 7-year spell of being played outside of Blackpool
  • As a result of that, STRI pledged £7,000 to become main tournament sponsors for The Blackpool Cup 2022, paying for places for 60 local youth football teams as well as equipment such as kits and goalposts to enable the tournament to go ahead
  • Site can be configured to accommodate various pitch layouts and sizes for a range of different sports and levels
  • STRI designed the playing fields to ensure there was a serviceable emergency access route to the airport for emergency vehicles both during the construction phase and once the pitches were handed over to the client
  • Ensuring a sustainable design was important to meet the requirements of our client. We achieved this by designing a balanced earthworks model which negated the need to import or export materials from site
  • STRI’s in-house ecology capabilities meant that there was minimal disruption or harm to local wildlife through all phases of the construction

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