It cannot be argued that the Blackpool tramway has been a resounding success in terms of passenger numbers, with many records being broken during 2015 and October being the busiest month on the tramway for many years. It is therefore rather shocking that the local press have published a story suggesting that the line to Fleetwood may be at risk of closure, due to suggested budget cuts from Lancashire County Council.
It has emerged that Government cuts have left Lancashire County Council with a sizeable gap in its finances and various options are now being looked at to save a hefty £65 million within the next two years, with further cutbacks expected as the LCC threatens to cease all funding it is not legally obliged to provide by 2017. One such option is to withdraw their financial contributions towards the upkeep of the northern stretch of the tramway, currently £280,000 per year. Blackpool Council have already stated that they are unable to justify providing this sum as the affected area falls outside their boundaries, but have urged the LCC not to proceed with the proposal. The worst case scenario would be that, if the tramroad fell into a state of disrepair, it could have to close which would see the tram service terminated at Cleveleys. Whilst this has got many stakeholders in the tramway agitated, it could well be viewed as a threat by Blackpool Council to try and persuade the LCC to keep funding the upkeep of the line.
Many local traders are also appalled by the suggestion, reminding councillors of the devastating impact on their businesses during the lengthy period when no trams ran to Fleetwood Ferry during the tramway upgrade works. Some locals have stated that the town has never fully recovered from this loss of revenue which resulted from a sharp drop in the number of people travelling to Fleetwood, and that a permanent closure of the tramway into Fleetwood would spell disaster for the town and its economy.
Of course, even if the LCC do decide not to provide any further finance towards maintaining the tramway north of Cleveleys, we should bear in mind that having been the subject of massive investment in the last five years, it would presumably be quite some time before the main infrastructure deteriorated to a point which could be considered serious enough to warrant closure being a serious option. Furthermore, other options do exist to plug the hole in funding; after all, a Government cash injection ensured that the Fleetwood route remained open during a period of uncertainty in 2002-4, when double deck trams were temporarily banned from running past Thornton Gate due to the woebegone state of the track. Despite the Blackpool Gazette’s apparent attempts to paint the tramway as a struggling concern, emphasising a drop in passenger numbers which followed the cessation of senior citizens living in Fleetwood being able to travel on the trams free of charge, it has failed to show that these figures actually refer to 2014 and not the season which has just ended. In fact 2015 has been an excellent year for the Blackpool tramway, with a rise in passenger numbers over previous years and October was confirmed to be the busiest month for the core tram service since the upgrade! Bearing all this in mind, any arguments over a relatively modest sum of money seem rather petty when the vast number of people who use the trams to travel to and from Fleetwood is considered. It would also seem beyond absurd to even consider abandoning the line to Fleetwood when the opening of the short branch to North Station, expected in the near future, will effectively give the town a link to the main line rail network via the trams for the first time in decades.
Whilst some people are extremely worried about the future of the tramway, your writer’s opinion is that this latest statement is little more than hot air and media sensationalism, although naturally we will continue to observe the situation and report on any further developments as they arise.