Above : Tram 290 - the very last tram to depart from North Station terminus to Fleetwood - in 1963. Now saved by the FHLT and in store pending the formal opening of the new tram service to North Station three years hence.
Blackpool's tramway link to North Station was unveiled today in the local media with impressions of the reconfigured site occupied presently by Wilko's store and a large multi storey car park. Preliminary work is underway from North Pier and along Talbot Road to assess realignment and need for adjustment of existing utilities along the route of the tramway extension.
Final details of how the tram terminus layout and contiguous link with the existing North Station terminal building have yet to be affirmed - and no doubt these are very much a work in progress. The topography and difference in levels of the train station with the Wilko site complicate what could have been a direct alignment with trams running onto the southern most edge of the current railway setp up. However Network Rail are engaged in their own major infrastructure planning for North Station which requires adjustment to all or most of the existing platforms and tracks. No doubt there is an element of cross referencing ongoing between Blackpool Council, Lancashire County Council and relevant transport bodies on the implications and variances of both important schemes.
A timetable of works is being scheduled which assumes completion of the tram extension in 2019 - of course allowing for slippage in such matters. However the final layout is resolved for the tram terminus itself at North Station - this will be a vast physical improvement in the overall look of the important entry point to the town for visitors. Much needs to be done in removing or cleaning up the former retail strip along Talbot Road - with transfer of charity shops, tattoo parlours, betting shops and other detrius - to sites away from the area. A handful of businesses deserve to retain a presence given their economic contribution to this part of the town centre. But overall 'cleanup' and 'clear out' is nonetheless essential to strengthen the existing investment by Muse Development and the Council - in redeveloping the overall Talbot Gateway area for the better. Much needs to be done with the tram extension along Talbot Road being a catalyst.
Were Blackpool to be sited in the Home Counties there would be no lack of investor interest - but our location on the fringe of the 'Northern Powerhouse' albeit by the sea, makes the job of attracting new investment in hotels, services and 'back office' location far more problematic. However this is an important start in putting the tramway side of the town's transport operation on to a more credible level, apart from the seasonal visitor travel and unique leisure ride experience. Once this project has been completed attention should turn to mooted tram train service to Fleetwood, St Annes, Lytham and even Warton.
Blackpool Council's consideration of becoming part of a joined up partner in a greater Lancashire Unitary Council, along with the majority of other local authorities in the County, is now under discussion. This could even the north west playing field vis a vis Greater Manchester and Merseyside Councils - whose remits and funding strengths provide for enhanced powers in planning of social and economic development. These are factors now in play by the seaside !