Rebuilding Blackpool's Economy - Another Step Forward
Amid continuing daily coverage of the pandemic with engrossed talking heads pontificating on data and trends impacting the general population, a singular beam of positivity appeared in Blackpool's local media today. Council sources confirm plans to develop new offices for an as yet unnamed government department - taking up property already acquired immediately to the south of the former 'Talbot Road Bus Station' structure.
Capital investment of £50 Million and up to 2000 new jobs are cited for this development. This realises long held aims of Blackpool's executive to attract 'white collar' public service employment into the town centre. Locating a strategic government 'back office' into Blackpool's town centre has been a stated objective of the Council for several years. With the next phase of 'Talbot Gateway' now underway and the tram link to North Station from the Promenade finally nearing completion - the importance of this announcement cannot be understated. Congratulations to the sustained efforts of Council officers and staff at Bickerstaffe House and Corporation Street are definitely due.
Another of Bombardier's Flexity class trams - here in Antwerp showing the impact of modern light rail service in an urban centre. While Blackpool's version lack the quality and style of 'De Lijn' the seeds of an upgraded network are already in place on the Fylde coast. Toronto's excellent tramway network similarly is now wholly focussed on this design, with their 1980s Canadian Urban Development Transit cars now on their way to museum status. Photo courtesy : Peter Watts
The infusion of permanent year round jobs into the town will go a long way to underpinning the regeneration of what has become a commercial desert in recent years. Apart from the Sainsbury's store and Home Bargains store nearby on Talbot Road - now nothing of value to attract shoppers to once thriving retail clusters on and around Talbot Square and Church Street. M&S Food Hall bravely stands alone amid 'coffee shops' whilst the demise of Debenhams leaves a big hole to fill at the Hounds Hill retail complex.
On the plus side the emergence of the dramatic new hotel replacing the Yates Wine Lodge structure has definitely changed the look of the town's civic space in Talbot Square - to be further enhanced once trams start turning off from the promenade for their short on street journey to the town's principal railway terminal. No longer will arriving (and departing) visitors need to struggle with luggage past a depressing streetscape from the station to the natural vistas of the seafront.
Blackpool was previously deemed a desirable and safe repository for transplanted government offices and departments removing from the ravages of wartime London. Ministry outposts sprung out of farmland and fields to provide secure operating sites in the early 1940s - Norcross, Warbreck Hill, and even the Norbreck Hydro became new homes for thousands of 'civil servants'. Military installations at Squires Gate, Stanley Park, Weeton, and later on at Warton added their own colourful uniforms to the town's bustling economy. Perhaps seen at its best in the Tower Ballroom and Winter Gardens each evening.
While the tramway extension is modest in scale it is nonetheless a first step towards a strengthened Fylde coast light rail network. Initiatives to bring about tram service along the entire coastline starting with southbound links with St Annes, Lytham, Warton and possibly even as far as Preston's new tramway scheme - are under lively consideration. Within Blackpool extending the Talbot Road link from its important first milestone at the Talbot Gateway station terminus - further east to the important healthcare hub (and employment cluster) at Victoria Hospital additionally serving Stanley Park with Blackpool's Zoo has to be a high use corridor for trams - year round.
Fleetwood, Thornton, Poulton with Bispham providing fast connectivity for students at the expanding campus and educational training cluster along Highfurlong present additional challenging opportunity for light rail - tram train operation being a likely option for planners.
And then there is the long overdue need for a dedicated exposition of Blackpool and the Fylde's rich transport history - yet to be fully realised as both education and skills training assets for new generations as well as an informational tourism hub (and showcase for Blackpool Transport). But for today at least the town can take pleasure in transformation of a key site in its centre - with no doubt the underlying impetus of government incentives laying down strategic infrastructural investment in the north of England.