THE MAN who designed Summerland has spoken about the disaster for the first time as its 30th anniversary approaches.

James Lomas's architects' firm was behind the original state-of-the-art entertainment complex, which was destroyed by fire on August 2, 1973.

Tomorrow (Saturday), marks the 30th anniversary of the tragedy, the worst in Manx history, in which more than 50 people lost their lives.

'It was a good idea that was destroyed in an unfortunate manner,' Mr Lomas, of Port St Mary, said.

At the time of the fire he had been retired for two years and he heard about it while in Corsica.

In the words of Mr Lomas, the building was 'breaking new ground'.

The leisure complex had been designed to try and counter the increasingly popular resorts of the Mediterranean.

His firm, J. Phillips Lomas, was appointed architect to the Summerland project in 1965 by Douglas Corporation.

It was given the overall responsibility for the development of the design and the management of the project to the agreement and satisfaction of the corporation.

Gillinson, Barnett and Partners of Leeds was appointed associate architect.

Mr Lomas returned to the Island to give evidence to the commission set up to investigate the disaster.

The commission's report stated: 'It would seem substantial credit must go to Mr J. Phillips Lomas for the more specific ideas behind the Summerland concept which began to develop in the early 1960s.'

Summerland opened on May 25, 1971, and little over two years later the fire, caused by three young boys who had been smoking in a plastic pay desk next to the complex, destroyed it.

They were later punished for minor offences of damage and gaining entry to the pay hut.

The use of plastic Oroglas in the building – a prominent feature of the complex – was widely blamed for the rapid spread of the fire.

The commission said this was contrary to the evidence and that it was satisfied by 'clear and positive evidence of eye-witnesses that the Oroglas was ignited from fire within the building and didn't catch fire until there was a very substantial fire in the amusement arcade'.

The commission's report reveals that Gillinson, Barnett and Partners became principal architects for Trusthouse Forte, which ran the complex, and J. Phillips Lomas was no longer responsible.

Mr Lomas – who refused all requests for interviews after the blaze – did not wish to talk about the findings of the inquiry this week and when asked whether he thought about the disaster regularly, he said: 'You can't carry something in your mind forever.'

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