NORTHERN POWER HOUSE ANYONE ?
One particular political headline caught the media and public imagination in recent months. Northern Power House evoking dramatic technology and economic initiatives, plus a plethora of other 'goodies' has entered the public lexicon. The granting of new financial powers to Manchester with its extensive neighboring communities - is a welcome step reinforcing the northwest's primary conurbation (although citizens of Liverpool/Merseyside will probably claim otherwise).
For Blackpool and the Fylde, with proximity to both Lancaster and Preston - there are more modest goals (and issues). Fundamental to these are transport links with need to invest much more in infrastructure. Some incremental signals have emerged (no pun) suggesting political awareness by most Parties in Local Government now subscribe to serious investment in new roads and rail. Studies are one thing; action is very much of a different order.
The absence of a single governmental body to bring together the diverse strands of local government in this part of the northwest, means the muscle which Manchester's leaders have been able to exert in realising more fiscal autonomy and control - is lacking on the Fylde coast and its hinterland. The Fylde's coastline is splintered into three very different authorities; each with competing agenda and varied political representation. The consequences over many decades, has been a lack of single or unified voice in Westminster politics.
However there are indicators that the 'Northern Powerhouse' does extend to embrace our five Parliamentary Constituencies. Due diligence on the 'tram train' concept being applied to the south Fylde's rail link (such as it is) with Blackpool, is rumbling on. Interestingly this review was launched through initiatives of the late 'ReBlackpool' regeneration body created by Blackpool Council (Jubilee Car 762 was given a wraparound vinyl promoting this agency). A diversity of alternative energy technologies with new capital investment is ongoing in and around Fleetwood and the River Wyre - with consequent new employment. Blackpool & The Fylde College (B&FC) is completing its new engineering skills site at Bispham - focussing on energy and industrial manufacturing. BAE Systems at Warton (and Salmesbury) retains a very important aerospace technology cluster extending to pilotless fighter development, as well as a host of other high tech avionics. The company is an important high tech employer on the Fylde coast.
Both Lancaster and Preston are home to important Universities that have blossomed (as it were) with specialised higher education and training faculties. Electrification of the Preston to Blackpool line, whilst again deferred/delayed, is very much on the railway investment agenda. Sadly the still dormant rail line running towards Fleetwood from the junction at Poulton - remains in place but has apparently low visibility, on Whitehall's agenda. This glaring omission is in contrast the tentacles of railway and light rail investment being commissioned in and around Manchester - an example of how joined up political thinking and decisive local leadership gets attention where it counts - and delivers.
Elsewhere towns in East Lancashire vie for attention (and deservedly so); whilst across the Pennines, the need for joined up Yorkshire First branding is batting on a firm wicket. Events in Scotland, political and otherwise, have shattered the accepted structural firmament in the UK, to the extent that some communities in the northeast are suggesting the SNP is welcome in their part of England. Business as usual with top down control from London to the 'provinces' is no longer acceptable in the post May 7th UK political firmament.
But back to basics - an integrated rail and tramway network on the Fylde coast with seamless interchange in Blackpool should be achievable. Blackpool's own publicly owned 'arms length' transport company is in a strong position to lead on this, given the incremental extension (an important one) to North Station. Assessing other important 'corridors' serving sectors in healthcare, education and technology should feature in forward planning that incorporates all of the Fylde coastline. The dormant rail bed running north from Poulton Station needs to be given priority in whatever form renewed public service is most economically viable. Turning it over to yet one more heritage railway is laughable. Enterprise Zones at Warton and along Squires Gate Lane logically suggest light rail or enhanced bus services beyond the current fossilised licensing structure that has outlived its shelflife. All of this is punching slightly above the Trust's weight - but reflects the transport continuum here over three centuries. Fylde Powerhouse anyone?
Blackpool's regeneration agency took over Jubilee Car 762 in its later years with distinguished all over sponsor-ship. Seen here at Cleveleys about to reverse on the old crossover with driver training or something similar.
The tram honours Blackpool's tramways engineer Stuart L. Pillar who designed two 'Balloon Car' rebuilds in 1979/1982 as one person operated double deck trams. Number 762 is now in the Crich Tram Museum in a far less distinguished advertising scheme; whilst sister car 761 awaits possible return to Cleveleys as a living memorial to Stuart's own innovation at Rigby Road Works.