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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

All Change Up North

The headlines post December 12th show a change of emphasis towards the northern tier of England by the new Government. Given the importance of parliamentary seats formerly in the vicelike grip of the Labour Party and now freshly adorned with new faces of Conservative MPs there is now the issue of delivery of campaign commitments going forward. Already the days of business as usual by Whitehall mandarins and their lackeys is being consigned to the skips outside government departments - with an especially large one provided outside the Department for Transport.

We are told that the days of Northern Rail's hegemony over train services in much of the north of England are foreshortened. A not quite nationalised regime will take over this important franchise during the second quarter of the new year removing at a glance the private shareholder controlling interest and its bottom line balance sheet fixation. Goody.

In tandem the Treasury is under instruction to shred its value for money mantra on where public funds are expended to aid economic regeneration weighted as ever towards London and the south east.

New road and rail (and schools and hospitals) infrastructure projects are set to gain new credibility to assist with rebalancing economic weighting between England's northern tier of communities and regions and those in the south. In addition emphasis on rail investment, both light and heavy, will see reopening of Beeching era (and other) closed branch lines - favouring connectivity of many communities placed in splendid isolation from each other save for now overcrowded roads having to take on the strains and continuing ebb and flow of commuter traffic - day in and day out.

Perhaps all these headlines may indeed result in new railbound connections with longer passenger trains; operated by new and clean running electric powered rolling stock - capable of providing sufficient seating for most if not all commuters. The Fylde being one modest segment of the northwest region now destined for this new era through the marvellous blue sky propositions already warmed up at varying levels both locally and at regional level. Wyre Dock Development's own visionary recommendations for reconnecting Fleetwood by rail with Thornton, Poulton and beyond as part of its bold ideas for returning the north Fylde coast's economy to a semblance of its former strength - may be actually now bear fruit. Likewise the parallel efforts of community leaders along the south Fylde coastline are also being taken seriously in revamping the moribund railway that formerly carried express trains into Blackpool's central district from London and much of the country.

Whilst Manchester City Region, Merseyside, Leeds conurbation and Sheffield are gaining in economic strength and political influence; the Fylde and its umbilical links to Preston, Lancaster and the Lakes - and east Lancashire communities, seems finally destined for sustained surges of new capital investment under energetic embrace of Mr Johnson and his new team. Blackpool's future as coastal linchpin in the Fylde is certain to play a lead role, particularly as far as transportation and new energy technologies are concerned - aided and abetted by new Enterprise Parks both north and south, together with proximity of the considerable advanced resources of BAE Systems at Warton. Blackpool's own transport system (still in public ownership) having held on to electric powered tramway services for nearly 120 years will soon have its faith in that once derided transport mode amply justified due to a visionary management together with renewal of local authority support. Electric power was the wonder of the age when introduced on Blackpool's promenade through the efforts of a Halifax innovator in the 1880s. Its longevity here is recognised through integration of a symbol for the then new energy source in a formally endorsed Corporation coat of arms. The town's motto 'Progress' was aptly applied before the turn of that century.

Lancaster's remarkable centre for learning (and training) expands exponentially along the side of the A6 south of that city: Preston's own university goes from strength to strength in an urban centre itself now destined to see electric trams (sorry light rail) return as a result of the sustained efforts of today's northwest pioneers.

Blackpool and the Fylde's higher education institution is also no slouch; having adjusted once modest aims in Bispham to far-reaching strategic objectives benefitting successive generations in this century.

Allied to the technology cluster at Warton there is much to be applauded as a further decade dawns on this stellar coastal island of the northwest. Perhaps if a bridge can link Scotland with Ireland there is also now the possibility of a physical connection between the Cumbrian coastline at Barrow and the Fylde coastline at Fleetwood - with all the potential connectivity permutations that could well transpire in the years ahead. Barrow's state of the art naval strengths being brought literally close to aeronautic and space technology assets quietly at work next to Lytham - a few further miles inland at Salmesbury. Thanks to BAE Systems.

Even more relevant are underlying 21st century applications nearing completion through undersea cable links that bring New York and Chicago's vast financial and commercial centres to the UK market - now coming ashore on the Fylde coast. Swathes of investment, technology and immediate connectivity embedding itself on our doorstep - quite literally.

Blackpool's retention of its airport, modest in size though it may be, inevitably has a new role to play in the decades ahead. Now it is our road and rail assets need attention to complete a virtuous circle. We are fortunate in hosting a business led (and driven) think tank (Business In the Community) of visionaries already outreaching to secure the Fylde's future in ways not previously possible. This is akin to the era of growth and development which brought this part of northern England a surge of prosperity, new employment as electric power and its many applications brought momentous commercial opportunities whilst a previous long lived Monarch sat on the throne.

1898 - 2020

Visionaries of that previous age - who brought connectivity and electric power to bear on the Fylde coast linking Blackpool with Fleetwood.

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