Tramway to Fleetwood under threat?

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.

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24 Responses to Tramway to Fleetwood under threat?

  1. chris says:

    Time to dust off friends of Fleetwoods trams perhaps.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      No need to dust them off – they and the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust are pretty much the same thing. I may be proved wrong but I really don’t think any campaigning or petitions will be needed here though.

  2. Paul J Smith says:

    A well reasoned piece, Andrew. However, it is my understanding that the funding challenge facing Lancashire CC is so significant that they are closing most if not all of their Information Offices and smaller local libraries at the end of March (this, from my contact at Burnley) and these have always been excellent at providing local travel opportunity information for locals and visitors alike. But worse still is the possibility that they will withdraw from providing subsidy from uneconomic local bus services, as has already happened in Cumbria. There, the voluntary sector has plugged one or two of the gaps thus created in a minimal way, but for many local communities in that county it has become something of a nightmare scenario.
    Yes, at straightened times such as these difficult choices do have to be made, and vested interests become quite vocal, but I would not be surprised if funding is taken away from the northern end of the Tramway. Anyway, let’s wait and see….

  3. David Butterworth says:

    I find this difficult to comprehend. The £88 million Government grant provided under the Labour administration in 2008 has eventually to be repaid; that is my understanding of the situation. How then, can this money be repaid if the line north of Cleveleys/Thornton Gate is axed, with substantial reduction in revenue? None of this makes any sense to me, so perhaps it is just media scaremongering -something the press is well practiced in. Anyhow the infrastructure, being new should wear well for the next ten to fifteen years at least, by which time any threat to the line may have disappeared.

  4. Paul Routledge says:


    It is high time that the whole of this tramway was listed as a national monument (or listed building equivalent) as are the cable cars in San Francisco.
    I also have some concern about running a parallel bus service rather than bus services that feed the tramway.

    Paul Routledge

  5. Frank Gradwell says:

    Well it’s clear to see that “your writer” does not occupy any position with responsibility for local government financial affairs at the present time.

    The cuts being imposed by the Tories are such that Lancashire County council has taken a decision to support only those services which it has a statutory obligation to provide and everything else is up for withdrawal. Queen St Mill and Helmshore Mill are already on the list for closure – unthinkable in heritage aand local history terms, so if to a councillor a bus looks like a cheaper alternative to a tram then the result is a foregone conclusion.

    We can’t afford rose tinted spectacles. We can’t even afford any spectacles!

  6. daodao says:

    You state, in accord with the local press, that “It cannot be argued that the Blackpool tramway has been a resounding success in terms of passenger numbers.” Exactly – it is losing passengers, as the last full year’s data for 2014 data show; actual data for 2015 are not yet available.

    The cash-strapped LCC now regards the tram line as an unnecessary expense (i.e. a white elephant), particularly the lightly used section under its jurisdiction north of Cleveleys, and that unsubsidised bus services (which are more popular with OAPs as they are free to use) would provide any an adequate public transport facility for Fleetwood, with no cost to LCC.

    The likelihood is that the current government’s policy regarding devolution of financial responsibility for local transport to the northern metropolitan regions such as Greater Manchester (Devomanc) will lead to impoverishment of these areas compared to south-east England. Don’t be surprised if in future there aren’t threats to more expensive highly subsidised forms of public transport in these areas too, e.g. Metrolink.

    In previous eras, the cost of repairing/maintaining tramways was one of the main reasons why this form of transport was abandoned, even when its role in larger cities as an efficient mass people carrier was self-evident. In this era of austerity, the future for subsidised local public transport outside London is bleak.

  7. Nigel Pennick says:

    If it is not just the media flying a kite for some interest group that wants to run buses instead of trams to Fleetwood, it makes the government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ connectivity claims ring hollow. In times when emissions must be reduced because of their effect on the climate, closure of any electric traction system must be counter-productive.

  8. davido says:

    It cannot be argued that the Blackpool tramway has been a resounding success in terms of passenger numbers – it clearly hasn’t, given the decline in passenger numbers in 2014 following the withdrawal of the free travel concession to OAPs. The lightly used section north of Cleveleys (in LCC’s jurisdiction) is particularly vulnerable.

    Sadly, maintaining tramway infrastructure is expensive, which is why so many tramways were abandoned in the depression years of the 1930s, not just in the UK, and could happen again in these times of austerity. Buses are cheaper, and preferable from a cash-strapped local authority perspective where they can be run without subsidies.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      But like the Gazette you are ignoring the huge increase in passenger numbers and revenue in 2015! Its been a hugely successful season so that cannot be ignored.

  9. Christopher Callan says:

    Was a ludicrous article in Gazette designed to cause fear and alarm to effectively negotiate how the rocketing revenue and numbers this year translates in terms of individual council renumerations. The usual anonymous voices predictable. Am sure they will be still here whilst the majority are riding to North Station and beyond. Id urge British Trams Online to publish the figures (welcome to use the table on my facebook page) demonstrating the rocketing numbers.) Simple solutions exist and pretty clear work is gathering pace behind scenes to deliver North Station extension and explorative work to go beyond it continues. The tramways success means people want to enjoy the fruits of it without paying for it. The rise in October 2015 alone would more than cover Thi potential cut.

  10. John Stewart says:

    The Gazette is a leader in scaremongering. Any suggestion of closing the tramway north of Cleveleys would bring quiet government intervention in view of the amount of central capital put into it. Also, the natives of those parts would be in open revolt.

    • Christopher Callan says:

      Absolutely spot on. A range of solutions to this problem down the line exist. Quite clear local rag vehicle for political deviants with them gaining a headline and some increased traffic to their site. Increased numbers in October alone would cover this alone.

  11. Michael says:

    In a front page story in the Blackpool Gazette about the October half term, a sub headline read ‘Extra trams laid on to cope with rocketing numbers’.

  12. Ken Walker says:

    Fleetwood needs to lose its tram service like it needs a hole in the head! It has already lost its fishing fleet, its ferry service and its pier, and is now under threat of losing its ferry to Knott End as LCC is talking about ending its half of the funding, despite a new ferry being funded only a few years ago, and despite a very poor bus service being available as an alternative (if it hasn’t already been withdrawn), so I could easily believe that they would try to stop funding a tramway that has a frequent bus service competing with it.
    The track and overheads may be new but that doesn’t stop defects appearing if maintenance is neglected, and possibly defects that affect safety at that.

  13. John Stewart says:

    There is a solution that was looked at a few years ago but not pursued. That is a local government reorganisation that puts the entire Fylde coast from Fleetwood to Lytham in one unitary authority. It would probably have to be called “Fylde” as Blackpool wouldn’t go down well with those on the periphery. It could still be parished to reflect local matters as are some parts of the Metropolitan Cities of the north.

  14. Franklyn says:

    To talk about the success of the Fleetwood tramway, one needs to look at a lot more than passenger numbers. One problem is the way these numbers are often counted. If passenger totals are counted via electronic ticket machine receipts, these can be wildly inaccurate on modern tramcars because at busy times the conductor can’t take any fares because he can’t physically move through a crush-loaded vehicle. No fares through the macine means the data for that journey will show the tram as almost empty. So if the figures are counted in this way they will always fall short of the actual numbers carried.

    If they are calculated by some other method, then this should show revenue per passenger is nowhere near as high as expected. This is because with modern multi-door vehicles fare dodging is a common and constant problem.

    Just a few years ago most trams to Fleetwood ran full, normally thanks to huge numbers of pensioners travelling to the market or just loking for quieter places to eat and shop such as Cleveleys or Bispham.

    So what has gone wrong?

    Well my observations seem to point to a number of recent problems. Firstly the withdrawal of Blackpool Transport’s travel cards had a massive detrimental effect on passenger numbers. Then came the so-called upgrade, which in reality was nothing more than a pointless vanity exercise at best and could well be the beginning of the end for trams in Blackpool as well as Fleetwood. They now run large singke deck vehicles, but with a ridiculously small number of seats. Granny travelling to Fleetwood is never going to want to stand up all the way, especially in the sterile plastic interior of these charmless modern vehicles.

    The final part of the problem is in vehicle numbers. There just are not enough seats per hour available between Blackpool and Fleetwood to be able to make the service pay while keeping fares reasonable for average person. Previously there were specials to augment the service and provide extra revenue, but post “upgrade” these seem to have been conveniently forgotten about.

    The prevous poster who said the tramway should become a historic monument was partly correct. But unfortunately his words have come a little too late. In recent years we have seen the demolition of historic tramway structures, scraapping of equipment and the disposal of many perfectly servicable members of the tram fleet, which would all be needed to provide enough capacity on the tramway at busy times if it were to be reinstated as a proper heritage asset.

    One final thing…. If the “upgraded” service is doing as well as is claimed, why shoukd the tramwY receive ANY government subsidy? Surely it should be able to stand on it’s own feet, shouldn’t it?

    • Ken Walker says:

      Granny is not going to stand up all the way to Fleetwood. She will be on the bus where she doesn’t have to pay.
      Passenger numbers may well have dropped noticeably after the tram concessions were withdrawn from non-residents of Blackpool, but how much did revenue drop considering that the passengers deterred were not contributing anything to revenue? It is businesses along the route if anybody who will have lost out, not the trams. In fact refuction in demand from ceoncessionary pass holders may have encouraged fare paying passengers onto the trams as they have more chance of getting a seat!

  15. Kev says:

    Some interesting comments. What Travelcards are you referring to which were withdrawn? ‘Firstly the withdrawal of Blackpool Transport’s travel cards had a massive detrimental effect on passenger numbers.’ I bought Travelcards right up to the last day in 2011.
    ‘They now run large singke deck vehicles, but with a ridiculously small number of seats. Granny travelling to Fleetwood is never going to want to stand up all the way, especially in the sterile plastic interior of these charmless modern vehicles.’ Still more seats than a Centenary or Brush and presumably Granny couldn’t get upstairs so more than lower deck of a Balloon. Presumably she is OK to climb really high steps on Trams but not stand when she has level access. In reality people DO move to let them sit down.
    Trams are not as full because a 54 capacity Brush, 60 capacity Centenary or 100 capacity Balloon has a lot less capacity than a Flexity so the same number of people, or more people will look empty! many more people use tghe Trams now than pre upgrade. I’ve been the sole passenger many times on a winter evening in the past. Passenger numbers are up FACT.
    Specials do still run but not as many as there aren’t as many Trams – so they aren’t ‘forgotten’ as you say.
    As for plastic charmless modern trams – TOUGH, they have to comply with new regulations, get used to it. This argument is old and tired. By the same token the assests you say have been disposed of are old and tired and would not be allowed to run as they aren’t accessible. Yes it is a load of rubbish but it is the law (or will be very soon).
    ‘One final thing…. If the “upgraded” service is doing as well as is claimed, why shoukd the tramwY receive ANY government subsidy? Surely it should be able to stand on it’s own feet, shouldn’t it?’ Is it really that simple? No because the profits are not all reuinvested in the Tramway. Don’t forget a mix of authorities are responsible for the infrastructure and Blackpool Council run it (BT is a Council owned company). If it was a self sufficient company it might.
    It would be interesting to see which other public Transport gets subsidies, especially tramways. I note you aren’t attacking the loss making bus services which are also subsidised.
    Do you use the Trams? I do and I can assure you they are well used, even at night. No, they aren’t packed but how many people do you think nweed to travel to and from Fleetwood? My local buses are even less well used and I live in a twon bigger than Fleetwood!

  16. Edward M. Koehler says:

    The premise is that Lancaster County Council will no longer fund legally required items such as the Blackpool Tramway within their borders. Many of the writers have talked about the Old Age Pensioners (“OAP”) riding the competing bus service. Why are they assuming that Lancaster County Council will continue to provide funding/assets/permissions for such bus service if it is not legally required?

  17. Peter G says:

    A quick look at my calendar was required just to confirm that it’s not April 1st 2016!

  18. Nathan says:

    Oh now this is ridiculous. The suggestion that a tramway basically totally rebuilt five years ago should be closed is absurd. It never will be, because I trust the council has more sense, but if passengers numbers are down, what’s stopping them from returning concessions to the trams for non-Blackpool residents and withdrawing the redundant No.1 bus?

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