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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Missing - Blackpool's Museum of Transport 2

John Woodman

Its not as if there haven't been attempts to establish a professionally managed transport museum/visitor heritage attraction celebrating Blackpool and the Fylde's rich transport history, The last such initiative was undertaken by the Lancastrian Transport Trust (now the Fylde TT). The Trust commissioned designs for a tram museum using the Council owned permanent way site at Thornton Gate. This would have allowed vintage trams to access the running line for special tours and seasonal services - as well as providing display space for the tram collection built up by the LTT with local enthusiasts. Sadly the impressive building design was not acted on at the time since the site was to become the operating base for the tramway upgrade contractors BAM Nuttall who took over the entire area for materials storage and their temporary offices.

Thornton Gate Permanent Way site seen this week with trackbed material delivered for ongoing work on the tramroad.

A tentative step was taken by Blackpool Council's planners which would have allowed a compact area within the tramway turning circle at Starr Gate to be reserved for a heritage tram display - albeit restricted in size to no more than six or eight vehicles. This too did notin eventualise as part of the light rail redesign work.

Meanwhile another local initiative pursued by the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust undertook the pre-planning for a visitor display using redundant trams being disposed of by Blackpool Transport from 2009 ahead of the tramway service being upgraded to light rail standards. The Trust's aims were intended to augment proposals for regeneration of Fleetwood's town centre with especial attention to the waterfront properties owned by Associated British Ports which had fallen into disuse. Examination of successful schemes on the Clyde and at Grimsby were examined - both of which included heritage museums linked with wider urban redevelopment. After a number of options were considered and several trams acquired for display - the Trust's limited resources could not sustain an ever lengthening timeframe by which agreements could be reached with public and private partners.

Earlier efforts to similarly build upon Blackpool's volumes of visitors included a creditable scheme to take over the former tram depot structure on Blundell Street by the Trustees of the Commercial Vehicle Museum in Leyland. In 2000 a detailed proposal was prepared for the Leyland Trustees under the header 'Transport Heritage Experience'. This envisaged transfer of exhibits from Leyland to Blackpool and opening of the new visitor attraction in the Foxhall area by 2004. A working heritage tram service would pass or otherwise access the attraction utilising existing tramway tracks in Blundell and Princess Streets. At the same time thought was being given to the need for a new tramway depot housing anticipated light rail vehicles needed in the approved upgrade of the Blackpool to Fleetwood service to begin in 2010. The Council's immediate preference was to use the Blundell Street site to 'stable' the new trams which could run into the location from the Promenade using Princess Street tram track (itself historic infrastructure from the 1880s) - and outbound by crossing Rigby Road to gain the further existing tramtrack onto Hopton Road and thence into Lytham Road and Manchester Square. In anticipation of these credible developments new pointwork was inserted within the upgrade contract on the Promenade at the Foxhall and Princess Street connection. This has never been used for its intended purpose and remains as dormant testimony to 'best laid plans'. For whatever reason, these were pushed onto the back shelf in favour of building the new depot almost at the water's edge with the Irish Sea at Starr Gate.

The Blundell Street/Foxhall option thus lapsed through competing proposals of a. a heritage transport museum involving the BCVM's collection transferred from Leyland and b. Blackpool Council's planned depot for its light rail fleet to be delivered by 2009. Ironically neither of these schemes were realised beyond consultant's studies and in the case of the light rail option - the expensive installation of pointwork accessing Princess Street together with an adjacent new crossover on the promenade line. Today the Blundell Street site and adjoining property has been subsumed within a low cost social housing development in which the development company faces financial difficulties. Damage to Blundell Street's original depot building caused by high winds resulted in the entire structure being demolished by the Council with the land itself being turned into a visitor car park but with at least recognition of the site's original role being evident through the former depot tracks being left in place.

A futile attempt to conserve the historic Princess Street track link from the Promenade to Blundell Street and the site of Blackpool's first electric tram depot - failed. Here is preserved 304 on one of the final historic 'tours' along the Princess Street tram track looking towards Blundell Street. Image : John Woodman

Whilst all of this was going on Blackpool Transport signed off on proposals to operate a visitor heritage service involving 'tours' along the tramway accessed from a limited number of specially designated stops - and using a seemingly ever expanding fleet of once familiar Blackpool trams (plus a remarkable survivor of Bolton Corporation Tramways). Intended to fill a gap in visitor attractions unique to the resort - Blackpool Heritage Tours took on a clearly important role having benefit of volunteer crews and staff drawn from willing enthusiasts of electric trams. However the costs of maintaining, repairing and storing what is a large fleet of vintage tramcars is keenly balanced against ticket and private hire receipts. Quite understandably the economics of the heritage tour operation have been ravaged by government lockdowns and restrictions during the pandemic. Without a permanent publicly accessible 'home' to display old trams, nor period buses (of which there are equally large numbers of surviving examples), the advantages of tapping Blackpool's millions of annual visitors remains moot.

Something must be done.


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