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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Question Mark Over 2020 Season

Going Where No Tram Has Gone Before. A new dimension needed for Blackpool's illuminated tram displays. This is how Rigby Road delivered their ideas in the early 1960s.

Rebranding trams West Midland's style. The new clean and dynamic look now applied to the light rail service to Wolverhampton from the Grand Central (New Street Station) terminus in Birmingham's centre. Just imagine Blackpool's fleet being given a similar makeover and the impact it would bring on Talbot Road and North Station terminus.

The Government's understandably urgent insistent messages for UK citizens to stay at home except for essential needs, and closing down non-essential workplaces - means that the country's resorts both large and small, coastal and inland, must radically revise plans for the 2020 calendar. Along with the complete closure of heritage transport museums for the forseeable future and until the global virus has run its course - ridership on public transport by whatever means faces immediate and sustained reductions.

Blackpool's bus services are notable by the scant number of riders compared to two or three weeks ago. The tram operation with its present requirement for roving conductors is no longer fit for purpose and being replaced by the Promenade Service 1 bus route along more or less the same route. Thus the town will be without any trams for the forseeable future.

Since no-one knows how long the global virus will retain its present course and the UK is at least two months behind the curve of infection and hospitalisation faced in China and Korea - nor the potential for re-emergence of the virus after containment measures have been forcefully imposed - it is an open question on when a measure of public safety can be really assured. For resort towns like Blackpool - the impact on a leisure based economy has to be enormous in the medium term. Understandably families would seek to utilise the seaside and countryside to realise some leisure freedom - but the examples of police enforcing restrictions on non essential travel to Cumbria and Wales (and the Isle of Man) sees smaller communities placing limitations on visitors using local resources (particularly the NHS). Potential for imposition of similar measures on routes leading to the Fylde coast cannot be ignored.

The loss of the tram service no doubt saddens the enthusiast community, but far greater concerns and priorities now drive public authority actions across the UK. No doubt further delays will have to be factored in to the demolition of the Wilko store site and construction of long awaited Talbot Gateway development with its tram terminus. Other capital schemes in the town centre will also be affected to greater or lesser degrees. Fortunately the two prominent new hotel schemes at Hounds Hill and Talbot Square are thankfully well advanced - as is the newbuild conference centre adjoining the Winter Gardens and Opera House complex.

The 'hit' to the UK economy is going to be considerable. The Government is displaying remarkable resilience in facing up to monumental costs of supporting a wide swathe of the working population whilst handling consequences of a rapid downturn in global trade. It can't be easy grappling with the incessant and increasing demands for subventions across service and industrial sectors. And with no end in sight at the moment. No doubt the country will emerge from this catastrophic affliction at some great cost, but it will pull through what has become a wartime condition. The town's transport will be strengthened with delivery of further new buses and the town's move towards all electric versions is already factored in. The tram service to North Station will similarly become a tangible uplifting asset as will the imposing newbuild hospitality venues nearing completion uplifting the resort's predictably tired brand. The Council funded Conference Centre will open to welcome a new generation of visitors to the town, whilst the dormant former Central Station site should be transformed with a distinctive leisure complex avoiding yet more slot machine and fish and chip content (all being well).

And of course the trams will have returned; hopefully having discarded the sombre tired style once welcomed a decade ago. As for the Illuminations now well past their prime - the talk of new technologies and revamping the autumnal Lights requires an entire makeover. The Council and town's residents cannot be expected to bear the year on year costs of this seasonal bonus for hotels, bars and associated commercial enterprises - in the manner so far tolerated over successive decades. Franchising all of the Lights - or sections of the entire display needs to be 'gifted' to enterprising partners challenged to come up with out of this world features commercially supported.

While the illuminated tram contribution needs similar attention and reworking with global sponsors and a far more ambitious approach. This present interregnum offers chance to rework Blackpool's offer and image much like the pending uplift for our northern neighbour - Morecambe. Bold approaches are sought from fresh minds and ambitious entrepreneurs.

And most importantly in this Blog -

Thank you to the NHS and the eminent efforts ongoing at Victoria Hospital - one the Fylde coast's largest employers fulfilling what is now a critical role 24/7.

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