Birkenhead tram depot under threat

The continuing saga of the future ownership of Birkenhead’s heritage tramway has taken another, potentially worrying twist with the revelation that Wirral Council may be on the verge of selling off the existing tram depot, museum and workshop at Taylor Street. A suggestion has been put forward that the historic tramcars may be relocated to the nearby Pacific Road complex as the local Council strive to save money, but such a move would not be without its problems.

The future of the Birkenhead tramway has been a cause for concern for the past few years after Wirral Council announced its intention to get rid of the trams in a bid to conserve funds. However, the Council have been rather demanding and expected interested bidders to also take over responsibility for other local facilities as well, with the Pacific Road Arts Centre proving to be a major stumbling block for Merseytravel, who had expressed interest in running the tramway and museum. Following several aborted attempts to mothball the tramway, the Council have now confirmed its plans to save £250,000 per annum and local transport preservationists attended a meeting on May 16th to try and find a way forward which will enable them to achieve this goal without losing the tramway forever. It now seems that the dedicated volunteers who have worked so hard to establish the existing tramway, could well prove to be its saving grace.

Whilst nothing is yet finalised, the Council have now indicated that they would like to close the Taylor Street depot in the near future, which is also home to various road vehicles, and relocate the transport museum to the other depot building at Pacific Road, approximately half-way along the tram route. Up to 1996, the Birknhead tram fleet were based there but it has latterly been little used, and currently is home to just one tram: Blackpool Brush car 626, which is owned by Merseytravel and has never carried passengers at Birkenhead. The proposal would also see the new museum run entirely by volunteers, replacing the current set-up which involves a mixture of unpaid enthusiasts and paid staff who are employed by the Council. This would mean that volunteers would need to increase in number significantly, as they would probably be needed to maintain the public facilities within (such as toilets) as well as maintaining the trams. The Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society, who own the majority of the trams at Birkenhead, have joined forces with the owners of the various other vehicles currently housed at Taylor Street to form the Wirral Transport Museum Group, as they attempt to put together a credible plan to secure the future of their priceless collection and the heritage tramway which they call home.

However, a move to Pacific Road could have problems. Since the trams moved to Taylor Street the MTPS collection has expanded with new acquisitions such as Warrington 2 and Lisbon 730, and so not all of their trams could fit inside the existing building, let alone other vehicles as well. There are no tram restoration facilities at Pacific Road either, which could have a severe impact on the completion of work on both Liverpool ‘Baby Grand’ 245 and the aforementioned Warrington car. Wirral Council have been unable to tell the MTPS what will happen to the two Council-owned Hong Kong trams 69 and 70, but if they are to be accomodated there then this will reduce the space available for the MTPS cars even further. One possible option could be to offer some trams on long-term loan to other museums, with Liverpool horse car 43 an obvious candidate for such an arrangement as it is not operational and is arguably of little use to the tramway. However, most other organisations are also extremely short of space with the recent disposal of numerous Blackpool trams resulting in most museums being full to bursting point.

Another concern involves the Blackpool trams acquired by Merseytravel. As it is looking highly unlikely that the firm will ever take over the tramway, these cars are now facing an uncertain future and as 626 is stored at Pacific Road it may well have to be evicted shortly if the proposed move goes ahead. It remains to be seen whether suitable homes can be found for these trams, or if at least some of them will become the first of the sold Blackpool fleet to be broken up for scrap. As popular as these trams are, the priority must be to ensure that valuable trams such as the wonderful Liverpool 762 and the unique Wallasey 78 are kept safe, and their owners still hope to keep them all on the Wirral.

Asset managers from Wirral Council have requested a plan to be submitted to them by the end of June, and if this is deemed viable then a more detailed business plan will be compiled. This is a potentially exciting yet very scary time for the MTPS who are now appealing for more volunteers to potentially help run the museum, as a matter of urgency. After being inconvenienced so many times in the last couple of years, it is pleasing to see this proactive society taking its future into its own hands and they deserve our support as they face new challenges – but it will require immense effort to ensure that this wonderful tramway can survive and propser.

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6 Responses to Birkenhead tram depot under threat

  1. David Taylor says:

    It is interesting to note that the bad news travels fast. Members of the MTPS were only told on Wednesday. Three committee members attended the meeting which was confusing as the councilers did not know the facts. They thought that council employees operated the system and were taken aback when informed that 90% of the operations were done by the society. With only a few paid staff such as electrician, Caretaker and four platform staff.
    If the trams are to move then only 8 of the eleven would be involed as the Blackpool tram 626 could go to Liverpool to join the other three trams stored there. At present Wirral Borough Council do not know what they are doing with the Hong Kong trams 69/70 but it is possible that they could join the horse tram in storage elsewere on the Wirral.
    As for Warrington 2 & Liverpool 245 it may be possible to leave them at Taylor Street, as WBC have stated that it is a good base for restoration but not for visitors as it needs over GBP100,000 spent on it.
    The four page A4 newsletter is too big to go into here but the tramway is safe to the end of the year so come to the bus/tram day and help us build our funds.

  2. Ken Walker says:

    I don’t know why the society would look to provide space for the council-owned trams after being treated like this. I would have thought that 69 & 70 should be the last to be considered, especially as they have no real vintage at all!

  3. David Taylor says:

    As Time moves on so does the dead line. The MPTS have now been told everything stays the same until October so the Tram & Bus show for this year is safe. The worrying thing is the council do not seem to know what is going on as they first stated the exhibits would move to pacific road, then Pacific road would be better for the public to visit and Taylor Street is an ideal location for restoring vehicles so it seemed Warrington 2 and Liverpool 245 would stay there. The society has now been told everything stays the same until October as the Cabinet do not meet until September. Unfortunately the council have now mothballed Pacific Road. so no events will take place there. Even the CAMRA beer festival has been affected and talks are going on to get the venue back into use.

    It now seems that Mersey travel may not take over the tramway and 626 will have to join the other three at Kirby.

    I agree with Ken Walker but I think if they were signed over to the MPTS they would make a fine base for Building new trams of types that never survived. A Liverpool standard for example or even a Chester tram.

  4. Ken Walker says:

    Yes David, that’s a very good point, but would the council allow them to be rebuilt as replica British trams? All I was meaning to say was that if there is no room for all of the vehicles then the genuine museum vehicles should surely take priority. If all vehicles can be accommodated somewhere that is fine. At the end of the day I would hope that the enthusiast fraternity would be supportive of the MPTS in whatever difficult decisions they have to make

    • David Taylor says:

      Good comment ken.
      At present we have three groups 1. The armchair brigade who like to talk about things. 2. The front line troops who want to work the trams and 3. The backroom boys who do most of the work getting the trams ready, rebuilt and painted. If any readers want to join any of the above groups we are always willing to take your membership subs. Details from http://www.mtps.co.uk

      Personaly I would be willing to buy the trams for a knockdown price if the MPTS were willing to undertake the project.

      As to space the pacific road site is bigger than suggested. It contains two roads in the frst half of the deopt which is about half the building. It has space for at least one more road if not two. The second half could be used for static exhibits such as the horse tram. Even bringing in the second car from storage if the WBC are willing. Until the floor plans are seen then nothing can be decided but there is always a way. Come and visit at the week-ends or join up as your money is used to good effect.

  5. john boycott says:

    is the bus and tran show on this year please say yes it is as you all do a good job going why dont you ask liverpool to join you up as one team rhat way the govment can not lose you