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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

The Wilko Store Saga

Traffic through Blackpool town centre is in something of a snarled up state due in good part to the extended delay in demolishing the building familiarly known as 'Wilko'. The best intentions of planners at all levels have come to nought in delivering the tramway extension along Talbot Road to a new terminus abutting the North Station precinct.

Legal issues and other obstacles seemingly are preventing the closure of the Wilko business in its present location. Much like a property chain transaction - expectations are for a new and alternative retail store to be constructed alongside the Hounds Hill Shopping Centre - which is to be (it is presumed) part and parcel of other leisure and retail expansion for which land is available facing the Winter Gardens west facade.

For reasons not explained to the general public - glitches in formal agreements have resulted in the Wilko business being unable to relocate until later in 2020. As a direct consequence the Owners of the Wilko business understandably wish to keep trading in their existing property until the new structure is delivered. All of this has an immediate and pressing impact on the Council's careful plans for completion of the Talbot Road tram extension to its approved terminal point to be sited on the footprint of the Wilko store (and car park).

With delays until late 2020 for completion, and much of the street tramway having now been embedded almost up to the entrance doors of the Wilko store itself - an interim arrangement is looking likely for tram service to Blackpool North. A section of roadway on Talbot Road has been excavated and cleared sufficiently to allow a crossover or stub end terminus just west of the Dickson Road/Talbot Road junction. Presumably a single track with temporary platform would be installed, and road surface reinstated to permit passing vehicular traffic on Talbot Road at a temporary on street tram terminus.

This is not altogether unlike the final tram terminus at North Station when the first generation service ended in 1963. Here trams shunted onto a single stub track before reversing for their journey northbound to Bispham, Cleveleys and Fleetwood. Traffic in those days was also very dense in season and holiday periods given the volume of trains and the many excursions which ran into the original North Station Railway Station located on the current Wilko site. Below : North Station tram terminus 1960 with a Brush rail coach reversing in front of the 'Odeon' on the crossover. The driver (smoking) is turning the trolleypole whilst two Corporation buses patiently hold back traffic on Dickson Road. Photo : John Woodman

So best laid plans are adrift for what is set to be the first extension / expansion of Blackpool's tram system since the 1920s - just over a hundred years ago. For enthusiasts of this niche hobby this will undoubtedly provide fascinating subject matter for myriads of images. For the public and particularly Blackpool residents it will be a great irritant and the entire saga little credit to those with responsibility for this misjudged scenario. Of course the easiest option would be for the operator of the Wilko business to forego a year's trading of its budget products at Talbot Road (God forbid) given ample alternatives available in Blackpool's commercial centre which is full of similar vendors and lacks any quality retail in its present state (outside of the Hounds Hill venue).

This would at least give the Council chance to press ahead with approved plans for demolition of the entire structure blighting the Talbot Gateway scheme - facilitating completion of the tram extension in its entirety (if not completely within the projected timescale). But then again one can witness pigs flying over Talbot Road daily.

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