A certain level of criticism has arose over the Council's plans to build a tramway to North Station from the Promenade at North Pier. The double track junction in both directions was built into the Promenade tracks at North Pier during the 2011 upgrade purposefully to ensure the extension up Talbot Road would be added later. Part of the delay in implementing the capital investment approved by the Government - has had to do with the Council's purchase of the Wilkinson store property without which creating a safe and attractive tram terminus and bus interchange would not be possible.
Talbot Gateway Scheme work in progress - the Wilkinson property to the right and Below : the awful 'bunker like' structure confronting visitors arriving at Blackpool North Station. Now about to get the heave ho and capital investment complete with tram terminus (hopefully without the rubbish shelters used on the promenade line) which befits the major entry point into Blackpool's commercial centre. Ironically tram tracks lay underneath the excavation of the roadway - carrying trams from Talbot Square to Layton up to 1936. Images : Copyright John Woodman
It was only a few weeks ago that the sale of the Wilkinson's property was concluded by the Council with the Wilko business relocating to a new site elsewhere in the town centre. This will finally allow further redevelopment fronting on to Talbot Road and facing on to the railway station. That the existing Wilko property is a blight on the the Talbot Gateway scheme, is to put things mildly. Its now pending demolition will be a massive plus for Talbot Road which has gone into terminal decline ever since the original railway station terminus was knocked down over four decades ago.
For visitors arriving by train and confronting the grim concrete edifice which houses Wilko's and then having to traverse a run down trashy street that attracts its clutter of social misfits and drunks is nothing short of a civic disgrace. The only alternative for arrivals is to get into one of the hordes of taxis lined up in the station precinct. Buses are to be found at a higher level from the station entrance, with little advance guidance from BTS etc on which services go where and from what stop.
Building a tram terminus as close as possible to the station itself - and ridding the town of a structure which only serves to accentuate just how awful this part of Blackpool has become in recent decades - is a massive plus. Naturally hackney drivers are incensed at this threat to their 'trade' when visitors with luggage will be able to access a low flow tram which travels to most of the quality hotel and holiday apartments along the sea front - at nominal cost compared to a cab and with NO charge for their luggage. Hence the cries of woe from this seemingly put upon aspect of Blackpool's 'economy'.
Most of the semi derelict and seemingly half abandoned structures along this stretch of Talbot Road need to go the same way as Wilko's building. Apart from two classic pubs and the town's principal Catholic Church - there is need for wholesale demolition and renewal along this important artery leading to the Promenade. Tearing up the roadway for new tram tracks is as good a reason as any to rid Talbot Road of its gaggle of charity shops, betting parlors, vacant premises and other low end residue. Its doubtful the Council have funds enough to compulsory purchase this row of dross, so the chances of wholesale renewal are slim. Some trees and greenery could create an appealing avenue down to the seafront - with civic policing of the street to remove beggars, drunks and worse from public view.
A further rationale for stalling the tramway has been raised by voices concerned with the traffic flow on the Promenade and installation of tram activated lights at the junction with Talbot Road. One would think that there is likely to be an never ending stream of trams running up Talbot Road, when in fact the track layout and fleet will allow at best one tram every 8 minutes negotiating the junction in either direction. The wringing of hands by local politicians spouting this nonsense against the backdrop of urban deprivation along Talbot Road crying out for meaningful investment and regeneration - is shallow at best. Anyone unfamiliar with Blackpool arriving by train at the principal station terminal has to be appalled at the squalor they are confronted with at present. Being hurried away in the back of a usually elderly cab and charged a packet for the privilege is not likely to alleviate their impression.
So bring on the trams. Dig up Talbot Road: install a decent terminus and station stop in Talbot Square, ideally screening one or two of the drinking dens masquerading as upmarket bars. And while you are at planners, bulldoze decaying buildings offering nothing of value to residents or visitors. Plant trees, create stylish lighting, clear the beggars and panderers away, and fulfill the vision of Talbot Gateway becoming an integrated transport interchange for trains, trams and buses. Which was what we were sold by the Council and Developer from the beginning.