Tramway threat in budget proposals

Tram at Fisherman's Walk, Fleetwood
Tram at Fisherman's Walk, Fleetwood
Share this article
37
Have your say

Blackpool’s tram link to Fleetwood could be lost after County Hall chiefs threatened to stop funding its share of the tramway.

The proposal to cut funding for the Lancashire portion of the track is among a raft of measures put forward by Lancashire County Council (LCC)as it tries to plug a £65m hole in its finances left by Government cuts.

If approved, the authority would stop its £280,000-a-year contribution towards the upkeep of the line in Wyre.

Blackpool Council is seeking reassurances from the neighbouring authority over the funding.

A report to members of LCC’s cabinet said: “The proposal will have a detrimental impact upon the financial viability of the Blackpool tram service.

“A worst-case scenario would be that Blackpool Council would cease maintenance of the tramway infrastructure that runs through Lancashire.

“In the event that the infrastructure deteriorated to a point where it was unsafe the tram service through Lancashire would cease.”

The two councils each pay for the upkeep of the line in their respective areas, with LCC responsible for the track north of Victoria Road West. Neither has a statutory obligation to fund the service.

While the authorities may yet seek an alternative source of income to plug the gap, the move puts the viability of the line at risk.

Coun Gillian Campbell, Blackpool Council’s deputy leader, said: “Lancashire County Council have asked to meet us to discuss this proposal.

“While we cannot fund such costs outside our boundary, we hope that in the spirit of working towards a combined authority, a long-term solution can be found which allows both residents and visitors, across the Fylde coast, to continue to enjoy 
the full length of the tramway.”

Earlier this year a Tram Forward Group report showed the number of people using the trams had fallen since Blackpool Council stopped allowing pensioners who live outside the resort to ride for free.

The Council scrapped the discount for those NoWcard holders to save an estimated £700,000, but the move sparked a fierce row when LCC said it could not afford to cover the cost of reinstating the privilege for Lancashire residents.

The latest plans are just one of the options the county council is considering as it finds a way make savings of £65m over the next two years. A further £262m will have to go from its budget by 2020, bringing the total savings since 2011 to £685m.

Another proposal, which would save around £7m, involves reducing the number of libraries in the county – excluding Blackpool and Blackburn – from 74 to 34.

No details have been released over which ones would close but some of the 12 libraries in Fylde and Wyre would almost certainly be affected.

Coun Jennifer Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council, said Government cuts mean that, by 2017, the authority will not be able to offer any services beyond those it is legally obliged to provide.

She added: “The reality of our financial situation is such that we will have to use the bulk of our reserves just to balance the budget over the next two years.”

Wyre Council leader Coun Peter Gibson said: “It would be devastating to Fleetwood if the trams were to be lost.

“Some of the key issues councils must look at is infrastructure and transport and if you lose your transport links, it hits your infrastructure.

“There are other ways of saving money and I don’t agree with the way Lancashire is looking at this whole situation.”

His fears were echoed by traders in Fleetwood.

Trader Derek Eaton, who runs the Lighthouse Stationers and is a prominent member of Fleetwood Chamber of Trade, said: “If anything happened to stop the trams coming to Fleetwood, it would kill the town off.”

Cafe owner Colin Hind, who runs the Capricorn cafe on Lord Street, said: “Fleetwood has not recovered since the new tram tracks were laid a few years back.

“The disruption that caused, over about 18 months, killed the town. Fleetwood shops lost money, we lost customers and haven’t really got them back.

“If we lost the trams now it would be the final nail in the coffin.”

Robert Brown, chairman of Fleetwood Chamber of Trade and a stallholder at Fleetwood Market, said: “If the trams stop we may as well shut the door.

“It would be particularly devastating to Fleetwood Market, which relies very heavily on tram passengers from Blackpool.”

Coun Terry Rogers, leader of Fleetwood Town Council, said: “If we were to lose the trams in Fleetwood, this town would be devastated.

“We are already on our knees as it is.

“What I am hoping is that, because Fleetwood is one of the most deprived areas in the county, money can be ringfenced to protect this town from the worst of the cutbacks.”

“There are more affluent areas within Lancashire which are in a better position than us to lose key services.”

Coun Rogers added that County Hall leaders needed to speak directly with third tier councils in Lancashire, such as Fleetwood Town Council, to see how the smaller authorities could help.

He added: “Parish councils can raise money which may, in extreme circumstances, help contribute to certain key services.”