Headlines in today's local paper throw up the possibility of the tramway service being terminated at Victoria Square if Lancashire County Council (LCC) determine not to continue funding upkeep of the tramway infrastructure from this point north to Fleetwood. This is one of many debilitating measures under review at County Hall, Preston as part of mandated budget cuts totalling £65 Million in the next two financial years. And this is just one part of overall County budget cuts which will involve a further £262 Million by 2020.
Blackpool's Council (a Unitary Authority) is itself trying to square a similar circle facing significant government cuts to its own funding in the next financial year and having to find substantial savings through job cuts and reducing services. It is un-likely that Blackpool will be willing to pick up Lancashire County Council's tab, and the very real possibility of foreshortening tram service beyond Cleveleys now looms large.
The cost of LCC's funding of track and power, and associated work on this stretch of the line is put at £280,000 annually. Blackpool Council own the right of way plus the Thornton Gate permanent way site (now devoid of track access) and presumably the 'stations' built along street running trackage in Fleetwood. All this needs to be maintained to ensure safe operation of the trams and conforms to Railway regulatory standards under which the line now operates.
Needless to say Fleetwood's Town Council and local businesses are up in arms at this disclosure - given economic woes of the town, even with the tramway running. Further salt in the wounds is the possibility of the Knott End Ferry ceasing operation also through withdrawal of Council Council subsidies.
The Blackpool to Fleetwood tram service has been fundamental in the movement of people, whether for work, schools, or leisure since its opening in 1898 by a private company. This role has been ever more important following closure of the Poulton to Fleetwood railway line - part of the infamous Beeching Report in the 1960s.
No doubt all involved Councils will be brainstorming on ways of ensuring the tram service is NOT truncated at Cleveleys. However precedents of any of these public representatives achieving any concrete or worthwhile solution are not encouraging, given the impasse over funding the use of NoW Cards for Wyre aged and disabled residents on the tramway. This is a three way argument which has raged between all three Councils over two years on who or how this subsidy can be equitably applied - - if at all. No answer in sight so far.
One solution to the Cleveleys to Fleetwood service upkeep might be to place it in the hands of a private consortium; or a public private partnership.
The north of England is now being denuded of central government funds at the same time as billions of pounds of capital expenditure are being floated so that travellers can reach the capital and Home Counties that bit faster on Japanese (or other foreign built rolling stock) - a clear divide is in view with HS2 or 3; or whatever the number is - high speed train to London being given priority whilst a few thousand pounds is denied the people of Wyre Borough. Wyre ironically is a Conservative held Council, whilst Fleetwood Town Council and (I believe) all of its Wards are Labour who remain a vocal minority in Wyre Council Chamber. Blackpool Council is Labour controlled whilst neighboring Fylde Borough is and always has been a Conservative political fiefdom. Thus the Fylde coastline is at a constant disadvantagethrough a political menage, with very little in the way of strategic planning or joined up thinking in the interests of all the people. A unified Authority to strengthen the interests of Fleetwood in particular has to be on the agenda (somewhere). It has been mooted, talked about endlessly but the politicians avoid the issue like the plague, god forbid they should give way to a coherent body that has a credible demographic mandate from Warton to Knott End and inland to take in the abominal A 585 road link from the motorway M55. The less said about Lancashire County Council in all of this - the better.
The maintenance of the only rail link and an environmentally friendly transport mode along the Fylde coast is essential. Economic implications go far beyond providing this service to residents : the flow of visitors to Fleetwood using the popular tramway will be significantly endangered year round - thus inflicting more damage on an already troubled town centre. If the political forces cannot reconcile these issues affecting this part of the northwest, its time for the private sector to step in. There are plenty of self made clear thinking minds able to deal with an issue that bedevils whole communities and the disadvantaged. A forum that brings articulate professionals into the frame is overdue (but please - not yet more out of town consultants feeding from the public trough on local problems).