Trams to the 'Vic' : A new East West Line for the 21st Century.
A scheduled appointment this week at Victoria Hospital's extensive campus was sufficient to raise the question of when this major employment hub and critical care centre for the entire Fylde coast could be linked with Blackpool's light rail system. Adjoining the green leisure attraction of Stanley Park with its golf course, and adjacent Blackpool Zoo - there is already more than sufficient footfall to justify a dedicated light rail service year round running east west from the Fylde coast.
Ironically in the planning phase for Stanley Park's construction Blackpool's Council considered the possibility of a new tramway serving the park potentially as a branch off the existing Marton line. This would have been during the early part of the 1920s. However a faction of the Council was dead set against more street tramway services, instead favouring (as did many UK local authorities) the use of motor buses or trolleybuses. Detailed plans to extend the Layton tram service from its terminus outside the Cemetery Gates and along Westcliff Drive as far as the Windmill public house where the roads for Bispham and Poulton diverge - similarly fell foul of pro-bus sentiment at the Town Hall by 1925.
Nonetheless both the 'new' park and new Victoria Hospital were both built to the east of the town centre; whilst a municipal 'aerodrome' was also constructed in close proximity to both projects. A hundred years on Victoria Hospital has substantially extended its remit and services becoming the single largest single employer in Blackpool. Stanley Park retains its allure for visitors and residents while the former aerodrome land has given way during the 1950s to a well managed zoo which also originated in Council ownership absorbing the earlier aerodrome structures in its displays.
The logic for a continuance of the new town centre tramway extension to be instated along the Talbot Road corridor to Layton, and then further eastward to serve Victoria Hospital complex has to be a strong case for future infrastructure investment. Particularly as residential districts in and around Layton would gain strengthened transport links; while access to the hospital for both employees and visitors will gain vastly improved capacity free from vehicle emissions - if not entirely, then for the most part. There remains of course synergies and connectivity with Fleetwood and the south Fylde communities all now needing enhanced rail based services.
The only way east to Victoria Hospital. Trams will reach this point within the next eighteen months.
Image : John Woodman Archive
A Hospital Line would benefit both Stanley Park and adjoining leisure venues - with the potential of further strategic benefits to an east west service running into the Fylde beyond Blackpool. This will become even more important following sanctioned house construction along the A585/A586 beyond Poulton as far as Great Eccleston. A Park and ride hub could well emerge to strengthen the economic case for the 'East West Line' with a first phase from Blackpool's town centre to the 'Vic'.
Just as Manchester's Metrolink is inexorably extending its reach benefitting the entire conurbation around that 'city-region' and West Midlands light rail network is similarly transforming the economic profile in and around England's second city - more modest deliverables stemming from Blackpool's current light rail operations are equally compelling - particularly when tied to climate change priorities of governments through this century. Plenty of grist for planners to work on in a unified Fylde transport strategy going forward. Lessons from Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Nottingham, Edinburgh and of course the capital, where the Underground network gained two new stations on an extended Northern Line this week, are very much pertinent to local planners.