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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Bus Travel And Public Transport In The Spotlight

John Woodman

Today's announcement by the Government of plans to commit up to £3 Billion on strengthening Britain's bus services with significant improvement on new vehicles entirely free from diesel power is a massive plus for the public transport sector. The announcement places emphasis on coordination between Local and Regional authorities and bus operators - a factor which Blackpool has no problem with, given ownership of BTS operations by Blackpool Council.

The strategic move away from diesel powered buses and even hybrids, to all electric or hydrogen fuel cell is already factored in to Blackpool Council and Transport's planning. Whilst details are unpublished so far - Blackpool's existing bus fleet is set to be replaced by all electric designs in this decade. Revamping Rigby Road's infrastructure to handle electric powered buses and the phasing out of existing operations which have been in place since the early 1920s is already the focus of scrutiny by Council officers and specialist advisors.

Expansion of services within the Fylde, potentially linking with Garstang, Lancaster and Preston as well as smaller communities so far ill served by operators is a further objective. In particular the fast expanding higher education and skills training site centred on Lancaster University and the A6 just south of Lancaster - has to be high priority for strengthening frequent bus connectivity as far as the Fylde coast. Similarly the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, together with technology clusters at Warton and Salmesbury are all important destinations meriting vastly improved public transport access. Blackpool's own university cluster in Bispham and on Palatine Road similarly should benefit from strengthened bus services adding to the incremental improvements in the past decade. The Bispham campus in particular is now amid expanding commercial developments on adjoining land formerly rural farmland.

Memories of rail connectivity :

Light rail and tramtrain development is also inevitable; with the UK lagging behind competitive economies in western Europe. Lobbying for tram train operation connecting Fleetwood with Poulton - and by extension Kirkham and Preston has been a constant feature of political and planning recommendations in recent years (including those of the writer). A Lancashire coastal service that draws on the remarkable green leisure projects on Morecambe's seafront, as well as the aforementioned Lancaster University campus expansion - would and should find common strategy with Fylde coast tramway extension, including potentially over-Wyre. The long gone Knott End and Garstang Railway may well yet return in an updated form that draws on modern technology through joined up planning involving northern based professionals. The decline of Fleetwood's own economy over recent decades include losing its railway connection, its ferry services - both cargo and passenger, its port operation and importantly its trawler fleet - have been nothing short of an economic tsunami impacting the town. The time for determined action to instigate improvements to Fleetwood is at hand.

If superfast IT connectivity from New York can be installed to connect with London's financial powerhouse through landfall on the Fylde coastline - then almost anything is possible led by private sector investors.

A telling item in the Government's announcements today is emphasis on new buses being sourced in the UK. A major problem with the UK's light rail sector is its reliance almost entirely on imported hardware from the EU. These big ticket items provide valuable skilled employment for German, Austrian, Belgian, French and Spanish factories and ever frequent pronouncements of contract awards to companies and factories outwith Britain. The most recent being contracts for new rolling stock on the Newcastle Metro and closer to home - the electrified line linking Southport with Liverpool and the Wirral. The UK taxpayer underpins most/many of these multimillion pound orders, which up until January this year were constricted by EU regulatory procurement strictures involving public bodies (including Blackpool). The upshot has been to gradually strip Britain of its capacity to design and build (or assemble) trams or tramtrains for its own market. As a third country (of some size) outside of the EU it is high time that modern tram development is nurtured and sustained by UK public procurement contracts. It is also high time Britain's engineering and design competence is put to work by this sector. If stealth and pilotless technologies can be applied in aerospace and avionics development in Lancashire - then it is not a big deal for business to put its mind, competence and money into modern tram development for the UK market - and for export beyond that. Sort of back to the future.


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