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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Levelling Up Funding Hits Blackpool

John Woodman

News this week of the Government's decision to approve £40 Million grants towards the resort's bold plans to finally create sustainable leisure reuse of the old Central Station railway land is a welcome announcement by Michael Gove. The town was also the location of an Anglo-Irish inter-governmental summit earlier in the week when the two governments (UK and Republic of Ireland) met to try and resolve the stalled Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

Much of the approved grant funding is to go to the Central Station site renewal by underwriting the capital costs of relocating the concrete edifice at the corner of Chapel Street which served both as the town's principal police headquarters and Blackpool magistrates court from the 1960s. Neither of these structures did anything positive to help Blackpool's image and their demolition is certainly welcome. The courts complex is to be relocated to the Council owned land off Talbot Road at its junction with Devonshire Road. This was originally the location for a new 'Isolation Hospital' built soon after the opening of the Layton tram route which ran from Talbot Square to Layton Cemetery gates - just over a mile and a quarter and Blackpool's shortest tram service at the time. It was replaced by buses in 1936.

It would be of further benefit for a sliver of the newly approved grant funding to be applied to Council's plans for creating an educational and heritage visitor complex at Rigby Road - now given the name 'Tram Town' and certainly deserving of financial support beyond the strained circumstances its volunteers and skeleton staff now face. able to achi For some reason Blackpool's Council has been generally cavalier and dismissive of its trams since the 1960s - regarding them as a expensive adjunct to the town's visitor offer; and even an idiosyncrasy in an era of diesel bus supremacy in Britain. That era is changing as electric power fast replaces pollutant emitting diesel and petrol driven vehicles (including hybrids). Blackpool's Council and Operator have already made the strategic (almost inevitable) decision to replace its present bus fleet with all-electric buses during this decade. Light rail development has made its return as a clean environmental transport mode especially within urban corridors, although nowhere as extensively as similar shifts in transport policy from buses to trams in countries like France, Spain and the USA for example.

However just a small glimmer of this change is to be found in the newly installed tram track along Talbot Road from Talbot Square as far as the impressive emerging development next to Blackpool North Station. Whether this in turn extends further eastward to Layton Square and Victoria Hospital complex, with its large daily footfall of visitors and patients remains to be seen. Adding the new Magistrates Courts complex along Talbot Road is an important further incentive for planners to pull out options for what may well emerge as an inevitable line benefitting Blackpool Zoo and Stanley Park, as well as the ever expanding Grange Estate. As a resident of Layton I admit to personal interest in such potential travel possibility.

Stanley Park and packed buses at the Main Gate in the early 1930s. A Guy open bus waits for the 'off' to return to town with a Shelvoke and Drewry model close behind. How visitors were enticed from the Promenade by open Corporation buses. Original plans called for an extension from the Marton tram service into the new park - but this was cancelled prior to development in favour of toastrack style buses.

I also confess to pro-active support for the hard working people involved in creating a world class transport visitor attraction that utilises much of the existing tram depot at Hopton Road. Seeing the iconic 'Allan Bradley' tram (710 - see previous Blog) among other amazing Blackpool tram designs from past era under cover and professionally displayed is a one modest step towards this important 'electric era' objective. An era which began well over a hundred years ago when this town embraced electricity over steam and horsepower. A new book to appear early next year by Brian Turner will be dealing with the background to Blackpool's pioneering electric tram service signalling a brave new world for the resort - and urban transport travel generally.


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