Boldness Gains Investment
Yet a further announcement of additional capital largesse is being assigned to transport authorities of English 'City Regions' to facilitate investment this week. Both West Midlands and Greater Manchester clinching further funding for new light rail lines and extensions, on top of the already sizeable piggy banks awarded by Central Government to both Authorities.
Blackpool's Unitary Authority has to be grateful for the miniscule contribution to its less than quarter mile incursion from the Promenade to 'Talbot Gateway' and Blackpool North railway terminal. A single Fylde Coast public authority would have far greater clout in Westminster than the fragmented proliferation of 'Councils' can presently achieve - not to mention efficiencies in staffing by elimination of duplicating 'posts' particularly at managerial and supervisory level. Combining four public bodies into a 'city region' style forum for this exposed coastal area of northwest England has to be an inevitable outcome during this century.
Rising sea levels will create far greater challenges and problems for all four Authorities, not to mention Lancashire County Council. A single empowered Fylde coast authority that incorporates the present unitary authority of Blackpool would certainly assure that the almost free rein being given to voracious housebuilding investors comes under far stricter and more coordinated public oversight than is the case at present. Even with the more recent sea defence improvements along the Fylde coastline, the forecast of sea level rises caused by polar ice cap and glacier melting will inevitably overwhelm areas, so far sublimely indifferent to global warming.
Blackpool's important north south light rail artery may well require adjustment, as well as relocation of the Starr Gate Depot facility from its current exposed position adjacent to the sea wall. Even the planned for redevelopment of Blackpool Transport's Rigby Road infrastructure to house an all electric bus fleet - calls for attention given to coastal flooding projections through this century. Glasgow's environmental summit will (one hopes) concentrate minds on these issues at all levels of government.
Insofar as the further expansion of the coastal tramway / light rail operation is concerned, quite apart from the oft mentioned aspirations of creating a circular service that embraces Fleetwood with Thornton, Poulton and Blackpool using the dormant railway right of way from Wyre Dock as far as Poulton - and extension of the service further to St Annes from Starr Gate: the need to connect with Blackpool's largest employer hub at Victoria Hospital is self evident. Already planning is underway to relocate the Magistrates Courts and related services from their 1960s concrete bunker off Chapel Street to Talbot Road and Devonshire Road indicates enhanced footfall to and from Talbot Road in the near term.
Continuing the current North Station tram extension eastward on Talbot Road to Layton with its dense population, and further east to reach Victoria Hospital and Stanley Park (and Zoo) is THE glaring option for Council Planners and their many Advisors to take seriously. The NHS is and will remain a major employer on the Fylde coast. No more so than in and around Victoria Hospital. Travel to and from the hospital site will be considerably enhanced by frequent service of low floor trams operating 24/7; as well as providing improved access and visitor numbers to Stanley Park with adjoining Zoo. Light rail service will also ease hospital visitation and reduce private car access.
Whether the modest eastern extension leads to visionary thinking on the part of strategic planners at Bickerstaffe House (and elsewhere) is an open question. But one further obvious light rail corridor with potential is along Squires Gate Lane from Starr Gate to the new Enterprise Zone. This would take in large retail centres, aviation serviced hub, and other business sites in immediate proximity. It could also open up a vital Park and Ride site close to the M55 for day visitors not wishing to encumber their financial condition with ever increasing parking costs in Blackpool - whilst at the same time enjoying clean transport to and from the seafront attractions from a safe and secure peripheral location.
This next chapter in the history of Blackpool and its neighboring communities has yet to be written. Bold ideas win big funding commitments - both public and private. England's City Regions, starting of course with London, have track records to prove this point. Blackpool and the Fylde's leadership should not further linger in coalescing towards this same objective. New generations in our communities, both large and small are all depending on bold actions from their elected institutions.