A petition urging support for a plan to extend the Blackpool Tramway into the South Fylde (including Lytham and St Annes) has recently closed with more than 3,8000 signatories backing the plans. The petition was launched by Trams to Lytham who want to see the extension to provide an integrated, modern transport system across the Fylde Coast. With the petition now closed it has been presented to both Lancashire County Council and Fylde Council asking for support although the initial reaction from the county council is circumspect to say the least.
The idea of Trams to Lytham is that the current Blackpool Tramway would be linked to the South Fylde railway line (which currently sees Northern running a service from Preston to the terminus at Blackpool South with much of the line single track giving very little scope for an improved service). The petition does not seek to provide answers how this could be achieved but was just looking for support for idea in principle. It does however suggest that either the railway line could be fully converted to light rail operation or they could run in parallel (i.e. tram-trains).
Very soon after the petition closed – 3,834 people signed – Cllr Keith Iddon, Lancashire County Councillor with responsibility for highways and transport, released a statement proving very little hope that the council would be looking to back the plans in the immediate future. He said: “Tram extension schemes such as that proposed through this petition and likewise under construction between the Promenade and Blackpool North railway station usually require substantial funding contributions (up to 90%) from central government through competitive bidding processes. Currently, the funding mechanisms in place to 2020/21 are Local Growth Deals and the Department for Transport’s Large Local Major Transport Schemes programme. The Promenade to Blackpool North extension is partly funded through the Lancashire Local Growth Deal, agreed between the Government and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership in July 2014. Unfortunately, both the Local Growth Deal and Large Local Majors programmes are fully committed. It is not clear whether the Government intends to continue with either programme beyond 2020/21 and if not, what replacement mechanisms the Government will put in place. This will require a Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which the county council does not anticipate taking place until next year. Furthermore, the Government is progressively linking transport infrastructure investment to wider policy agendas, particularly housing delivery and the Industrial Strategy published in November 2017. Once the Government’s intentions about future funding programmes become clearer, the county council’s Cabinet will decide whether to commit further (potentially significant) resources to developing any tram extension, including Outline Business Case preparation.”
In response Trams for Lytham restated the fact that they are just calling for a “feasibility study and development work for light rail investment in South Fylde to be prioritised once the government’s plans are fully clarified.”
Trams for Lytham added: “The closed petition and online support of Trams to Lytham clearly demonstrates that this proposal is highly supported by local residents. Trams to Lytham are currently in the process of preparing an Outline Report which will explain in full the benefits of the proposed scheme, including enhanced connectivity to key economic centres on the Fylde Coast, and why the option presents the most well-balanced option to enhance the role of the South Fylde Line. It explains what the next steps should be and what intermediary solutions can be explored. It is also explained what the shortfalls of previous feasibility work regarding this scheme are and why further and updated study is a necessity. The report has cross-party support within Blackpool Council, the backing of the Light Rail Transit Association and endorsement of Jane Cole, managing director of Blackpool Transport among other notable statements from influential groups and individuals which have been included in an appendix. All comments and signatures from the petition have also been incorporated as further supporting evidence.”
As things stand at the moment the return of trams to Lytham seem a long way off but at least there is public support behind the plan and who knows once central government is clearer there may be a way forward which will revolutionise public transport on the Fylde Coast once again.