Bring Back The Bus Station (and Levelling Up the North)
Once upon a time Blackpool had two very busy bus stations. Opposite North Station across Talbot Road was the municipal focal point for town bus services shared with both Ribble's regular stage carriage routes (as they were quaintly termed) reaching communities east and north of the Fylde coast; alongside those of Scout Motor Services whose dark brown and cream liveried buses comingled with the cherry read colours of Ribble on several routes. Blackpool's joint running 11 services as far as Lytham were predominantly operated by the distinctive dark blue and white fleet of Lytham St Annes always immaculately turned out from that system's garage on Squires Gate Lane.
Sited in immediate proximity to the old North Station terminal building (as opposed to the current concrete excursion platform addition which serves as Blackpool North today) Talbot Road Bus Station was a hub transport interchange for residents and visitors. An enclosed structure albeit imbued with constantly renewed pollutant fumes from the idling engines of buses into which diverse brands of cigarettes and pipe tobacco added their own especial aroma; at least it gave protection from the Fylde coasts frequent rain showers and gale force westerly gusts.
The town's other bus station offered visitors a conveniently sited terminus for long distance services from east Lancashire mill towns, Yorkshire's industrial centres, Manchester conurbation and even longer journeys from north of the border. Covered platforms and various conveniences including a staffed travel information officee provided essential timely details of both arrivals and departures throughout the year. The Coliseum Coach Station also benefitted from being across from Blackpool Corporation Transport's central garage and tram depot, allowing waiting queues sight of the town's unique tramcars being shunted in and out of once extensive workshops. The Coliseum was located in between South Station on Waterloo Road and Central Station at Hounds Hill but easily accessed from seafront hotels and boarding houses by the frequent passage of trams heading to Squires Gate Airport on Lytham Road with a stop just a stones throw away from the coach station concourse.
Today bus and coach travel into Blackpool has become a great inconvenience to visitors and residents alike. Ever frequent road diversion signs so beloved of the Council, combined with resiting of bus stops to accommodate new construction, provide continuing puzzles for travellers seeking homeward bound journeys. Instead of a central hub from which a cluster of routes find their terminal points - the town now provides for on street parking, more often than not of a temporary nature. The resort's answer to longer distance bus and coach services are the ad hoc shelters positioned just off Hounds Hill on the former Central Station Excursion Platform site - now due for necessary relocation to provide the much heralded anchor leisure scheme touted as THE answer to the resort's need for inspirational new attractions.
Original intention for redevelopment of North Station was for that scheme to allow for a transport interchange hub where trams, buses and trains provided seamless connections on one level. This might have been the case fifty years ago when road levels and railway tracks into Blackpool North Station were less of a challenge: but the present layout and later developments preclude what was an estimable concept by planners both public and private. Manchester's Victoria Station is but one example of tram, train and bus connectivity providing such ease of shared usage - and Blackpool might well have gained parallel benefits had qualified railway and tramway professionals bought into the originating 'visionary' aspects being promoted a decade ago. Remember 'ReBlackpool'?
At least the resulting scheme for 'Talbot Gateway' has at least delivered tram service to the resort's main railway station - as well as a definite improvement to the townscape, even if only by determined labour of demolition contractors in recent months. Building on the new link up Talbot Road from the coastal light rail service - now gives impetus to running light rail through Layton to the 'Vic' , one of Blackpool's largest and most critical employment sites. Given the present Government's assertive views on 'levelling up the North' by sustained and substantial infrastructural investment - and alongside the growing number of bids being tabled by public authorities for a slice of the action - Blackpool is well justified in putting forward a cohesive transport connectivity scheme. One that delivers new power technology for light rail and tram train operation aided and abetted by UK companies and suppliers. The tentative steps by Blackpool's Council Owned transport company to now connect Fleetwood and Preston by smart buses is already a key move towards Fylde wide connectivity through a single operator. Uplifting the new bus service to light rail with tramtrain operation using hydrogen powered units has to be considered and a logical next step. Examples of not dissimilar outline schemes are proliferating elsewhere, In South Wales, Cardiff and the Valleys, being one such comprehensive strategy already sanctioned with public and private sector partners. Even neighbouring Preston is en route (as it were) to regaining its role as a tramway/light rail innovator through initiatives of a UK company whose own role involves test running cooperation with Blackpool Transport of its early prototype units - with one being courteously stored at Rigby Road.
A prototype low floor design (UK built) from Trampower Ltd. on test at Starr Gate in 2004. Photo : John Woodman
A lot to play for as we move into the new decade.