Before Beeching. Blackpool Central Station with real trains providing plenty of seats, no standing and frequent services. Image : John Woodman Archive
There are so many competing headlines each day that it is difficult to determine which has the most implications for the people of this country. However the woes of Britain's railways have been a constant feature week in week out for the past few years. Not the least of which is the abysmal set up which the country's train services have been cynically contrived through rushed policies of the unlamented Major administration. Now news today that the present Government has rightly determined to scrutinise the state of play with the much heralded high speed rail link connecting London with the Midlands - and supposedly the rest of England northwards from Birmingham thereafter.
Branded HS2 (HS1 being the already delivered fast track link from London to the Channel Tunnel) the first phase of work is well underway bringing about high speed rail service to Birmingham from London. Following phases involve lines running to Crewe (why ever not?) and Manchester, with an eastern spur that links Derby, Sheffield and Leeds. The problem seems to be the forever rising capital costs for the first phase to Birmingham; and the ever more higher forecast (we are talking here about Billions of Pounds Sterling) to link to Manchester and Leeds as envisaged by the HS2 promoters.
Ongoing accounting of costs on the still incomplete London Crossrail east west line shows that these massive infrastructural projects have an inordinate tendency to deviate from budgeting projections - the further a development nears completion. The cost effectiveness of ripping hundreds of acres of English pastoral settings and communities in order to assure London bound travellers a shaving of minutes off current fast journey times from 'up north' is a deserving question as the stellar billions of public funding rises further into the stratosphere. Lessons from the Concorde party and the Billions of public money expended on subsidising supersonic air travel across the Atlantic for the wealthy and famous (or wannabe famous) could reach friends, partners and parties several hours more quickly than ordinary air travellers - proves the folly of high speed for the few at the expense of the many. All (or most) of the Concordes ever built are now museum pieces.
Whilst promoters, construction companies, rolling stock suppliers with shoals of lobbyists and legal firms are first to benefit from expenditures of Billions of Pounds of public finances on the HS2s of this world. We the public paying the tab, are the last to see benefit - if at all. Instead of overegging the concerns of getting people from the north to London thirty minutes or more faster than present - attention to travel east west from the North Sea to the Atlantic port of Liverpool; and Sheffield to Manchester warrants priority. An early embargo on London-centric transport schemes subsidised by public finance should be brought in for the next decade. The tens of millions of citizens (and voters) Birmingham northward all the way to Carlisle and the Tyne need to have first dibs on strategic development over the next ten years. London's gazumping bite of public finances has been at the expense of the rest of England and Wales. This catastrophic imbalance needs redressing.
The single cross country highway running between Liverpool and Hull requires singular upgrade, together with a new supplemental east west motorway benefitting the northeast together with Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands. Even the M6 now being upgraded as a 'Smart Motorway' - whatever that means - is still wholly inadequate to cope with the volumes of traffic being funneled up and down the west side of the Pennines from Birmingham to Carlisle. It is as if the north of England had been cast under a decades long shadow (since World War Two) as far as the Department of Transport and its predecessor Ministry is concerned. Only Ernest Marple (Tory Transport Minister in the Macmillan Government) with self serving construction interests gave any momentum to strategic road network investment in the 1950s - whilst in a sort of ying and yang, his railway counterpart thought of nothing else than lopping off communities and entire regions from the UK's national rail network in a vainglorious effort to 'balance the books'.
Blackpool and the South Fylde coastline together with Fleetwood and the north Fylde coast becoming local victims of these arbitrary accountancy decisions in London. The effects remain with us today. Now that the national political scene is seeing an unfolding upheaval emanating from the Brexit Referendum result even more radical changes are to be forced on political Parties struggling to regain public regard, if not respect. Just about every aspect of our lives seems up for grabs policy wise these days. Problems and issues abounding at every level but with little in the way of 'seizing the moment' apparently in evidence on the Fylde coast. A local MP has acquired a Ministerial portfolio for railways which just might offer chance of some redress to the Fylde's connectivity problems - were his Government survive into the New Year - I won't hold my breath.
The potential for the Fylde gaining its own 'High Speed rail link' that fills rural intervals between coastal communities and Preston seems ever remote - whatever political musical chairs are rearranged in the coming months. One slender thread of positivity rests with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and new hands on that tiller with involvement of BAE Systems - together with experienced minds of Business in the Community's team in Blackpool. Allied with a bold and visionary public transport operator on the Fylde coast - these could well be building blocks for an inspired 'Fylde HS15'.
As long as initiatives of consequence are removed from the grasping oversight of the metropolitan top down circus that dominates transport planning and policy in this country such regional endeavours could well translate into reality. Regional leadership voices are demanding such changes; requiring not only just an influence, but outright control over the economic future of England's northern regions. Blackpool and its neighbours have every right to be embedded in such change. After all it was the town of Blackpool which led the way with the very first application of electric power to street tramways in 1885; whilst private investors (all northern) financed and built the very successful tramway linking Fleetwood to Blackpool in 1898 - using reserved 'tramroad' right of way along a once rural coastline. Both are reminders of days when 'northern' mindsets delivered ground breaking progress with generational benefits for the many not just the few.