Peninsula on Track
This is an in-depth article about the arrangements being considered for tracked vehicles - like trains and trams - to operate on the Fylde peninsula.
It's a hot topic, both locally, regionally, and nationally, because there are conflicting views about what the right solution should be.
But before you can have the right solution, you have to agree what the problem is - and when Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre each have different problems in respect of tracked
vehicles transportation, we don't think it's possible to have one solution that is right for everyone.
And the risk is, that by imposing some of the solutions that are being considered for the whole of the Fylde coast, you prevent alternative solutions from being adopted in
other parts of the area, so decisions taken now could have a really big impact on the future of the peninsula.
We start with an Introduction followed by some Background and personal memories, then at how the EU got
on track with the SINTROPHER project and how LCC Joined the project, before looking at the
Results of these reports.
Next we look at Who else is involved. First at the community groups - The Poulton and Wyre Railway Society, the
Fleetwood Back on Track group the Trams to Lytham group, and the Blackpool and Fylde Rail
Next we briefly look at What the MPs have had to say - first Cat Smith, then
Paul Maynard, then Gordon Marsden and Scott Benton and finally Mark
The we ask What local councils have had to say on this matter - Lancashire County Council,
Blackpool Council, Wyre Council and finally Fylde Council.
Having covered the history, we now Come up to date: first looking at the Background of something called The Economic
Prosperity Board, who are, or maybe, considering a tramway loop around the Fylde. We begin with a Summary of their
Agenda Report before Digressing into the Future High Street Fund that might pay for this study, then Concluding the Agenda report.
Next we look at Who said what in the Economic Prosperity Board debate. That was: Mr Gerrard from Blackpool who
presented the report, Allan Oldfield from Fylde who explained it was really Kirkham Town Council's bid, not Fylde's, after which Mr
Gerrard continued until a General Discussion took place with various people speaking, including Fylde's Cllr Susan
Fazackerley who had been speaking to Fylde's MP the day before, and we note the Chairman who Brought the discussion to a conclusion.
We next offer Our Own Take and ask the fundamental question that's being missed - Does a single aim for connectivity even
exist? and even if it does, What is the connectivity for?
Then we move into considering the situations where it might become
Trains VERSUS Trams, or whether it could be Trains AND Trams in one form or another.
Finally, we attempt to condense Our own view into some Conclusions, before looking forward to what might be an illuminating
Debate in the Commons on Monday, and a Conference that's being promoted in Blackpool in February.
And as A very final alternative we wonder, if the aim is connectivity WITHIN the peninsula, whether we wouldn't be better off with a much improved bus
Way back in March 2008, we reported Government proposals to make the South Fylde line into a 'Community Railroad.
The Government's overall aim was to "double the number of passengers using these lines, and cut the subsidy by a third"
They have succeeded - Well, at least to the extent that there are now lots of community-based 'Friends' groups doing maintenance like gardening and painting, together with
other environmental improvements at the various stations along this line, and are involved in campaigning for service improvements.
All these projects are doing well - most are doing exceptionally well - with one at least winning an award in the national 'In Bloom' scheme.
So despite our misgivings about the Government's motives at the time, it seems to be working out as they had hoped.
Then in February 2019, as part of a 'Snippets' article we reported press and other comment about a possible extension to the Blackpool tramway, from Fleetwood to Poulton along the former railway line, and from Squires Gate to St
Annes and or Lytham and Kirkham along the existing (or at least the line of the existing) railway.
This idea - or one quite similar to it - had previously been mooted - we think originally by the (then) Fleetwood and Wyre Dock Company, and another in 2017 or 2018 by
Wyre Dock Development Ltd (which appeared to be ready to consider rail or tram links, but is mostly tied into
primarily residential re-development of the port area it wants to call 'Fleetwood Quays').
The theory behind the most recent plan seemed to be to create an enormous rail loop linking all the main townships on the Fylde coast.
What was not clear at that time, and is still unclear
today - is whether trains or trams (or maybe both) would be running on those rails, and we promised to look into the matter in more detail.
The matter is back in the news again so we're having that look we promised earlier.
We remember travelling on a steam train from Poulton to Fleetwood back in the late 1950s or early 1960s. It was actually the first time we had been allowed to travel on our
own on a train, and for that reason the day left us with a lasting impression.
We also remember the connection to Fleetwood being closed by the infamous Dr Beeching in 1965, with Fleetwood station closing in 1966 and the last passenger train leaving
Fleetwood in 1968. The line to the former docks (destroyed by Edward Heath's betrayal of British fishermen) carried on for a while, but eventually that too closed.
Fleetwood was badly served by both of these appalling decisions from national government. It has not recovered, and is still suffering from them today.
Attempts at 'growth' using a bit of regeneration but mostly dormitory housebuilding in North Fylde have done nothing more than clog up all the roads leading to and from the
town. Today, residents undoubtedly mourn the loss of their railway.
Likewise, at t'other end of Fylde, whilst it was fortunate to retain a useable connection to the national rail network, the South Fylde line was also badly hit when the
Blackpool Central line was truncated at the Pleasure Beach.
That worsened further in 1986 when what was the two track railway from South Shore to Kirkham had one of its tracks abandoned following claims that it was uneconomic to replace rails
and stone ballast that was worn out - and it became a single line railway.
This meant a reduction the number of trains available - because you can't have two trains on the same single line at the same time.
So between Kirkham and South Shore, it's no longer possible to have more than one train on the line, and the time it takes to travel that distance limits how often the
service can run and thus how many trains a day there can be - and that's currently a maximum of one an hour.
Blackpool itself was exceptionally well served with railway stations until 1963/64 when Beeching's recommended closure of Blackpool North Station was rejected after
Blackpool Council argued for the alternative closure of central station instead.
(All that valuable potential development land in central Blackpool must have seemed
irresistible to the mindset of a council whose town had been founded on, and was incredibly successful in, extracting money from visitors).
But for that same tourist trade, this turned out to be quite possibly the worst decision a Blackpool council ever made about rail transport. It also impacted very badly on
We can't leave this background without first mentioning the other rail-based transport on the Fylde coast - the tram system.
It's now much reduced after St Annes and Lytham were cut off in the mid 1930s, but in Blackpool, Cleveleys and Fleetwood it continued to serve visitors and workers, albeit
without much by way of re-investment.
That remained the case until 2000, when the Government of the day (notably John Prescott) said it would build 25 new tram networks over the next 10 years.
A £1bn scheme was proposed by Blackpool and LCC to extend he track to St Annes and Fleetwood and maybe Poulton, but nothing came of this as priorities changed within
However in 2008 the Government agreed to help with funds to totally upgrade the existing Fylde coast track (and
the trams as well).
And that brings us almost up to date, apart from
the work in progress that intends to take the trams up Talbot Road and into a new tram terminus adjoining Blackpool North railway station in 2012.
But now there's another move to widen the scope of rail based transport on the Fylde coast.
This time the proposal is being set in a context of green issues that want to reduce our independent modes of transport, (i.e. to get us out of our cars) because of the health
and other problems that our ever increasing numbers of combustion
engines are said to be causing in urban areas.
The strands of this green agenda - and various other schools of thought - have now come together to cause a re-consideration of rail based transport, and we'll look briefly
at each of them before attempting to weave the threads together into where this might all be going....
THE EU GETS ON TRACK
The SINTROPHER Project
In what looks to us to be more like an enormous gravy train than a real train, back in 2007, the European Commission adopted a project they codenamed 'SINTROPHER'
That acronym stands for 'Sustainable Integrated Tram-Based Transport Options for Peripheral European Regions' and its aim (in moderately classic EU speak) was to...
'Develop sustainable, cost-effective solutions to improve accessibility to/from/within low-density semi-rural peripheral regions (defined as ‘holes within the EU Pentagon’
and areas outside the ‘Pentagon’, peripheral to national territories, and/or disadvantaged by poor access through rail and air hubs to central EU regions) by regional tram
systems linking to high-quality multimodal interchanges at national/international rail or air hubs.
These will be tested by knowledge transfer across 5 demonstration regions:
Nordhessen (Kassel)(DE), Fylde Coast (Blackpool)(UK), West-Vlaanderen (Diksmuide/ Koksijde/ Veurne)(BE), Valenciennes (FR) and Nijmegen-Kleve (NL).'
It cost at least 27 million Euros (roughly £23m).
Yes, really! (again).
The first plan of how to do this was at least easier to understand than the aim. It would look at
- 'TramTrain' systems integrating urban tramway and national rail systems
- Low-cost tram extensions using exclusive right-of-way through urban areas.
It was intended to run as a project from 2007 to 2014 (although it was later extended to 2015, and then again to 2016) and was to be organised by University College London.
LCC Joins the Project
The County Council became a partner in the project in 2015.
Blackpool put in £10,000 and LCC put in £80,000 of the £174,000 overall cost of a 'South Fylde Connectivity Study' which was to be done by a consultancy called Jacobs
LCC had already decided that the South Fylde line was a key weakness in the Fylde Coast public transport system, which they described as offering...
- Poor interchange between the South Fylde Line and the Tramway leading to a loss of connectivity along the Fylde Coast, including central Blackpool.
- Poor quality and ageing rolling stock.
- Low frequencies compared to Blackpool North.
- Unreliability with frequent cancellations.
- Relatively poor connectivity to external areas of economic growth such as Preston or Manchester, including Manchester Airport.
- Poor quality passenger facilities at most stations.
- Some overcrowding, particularly during the summer months.
and the study they wanted done was to see what benefits could be achieved.
This was especially after the aims of the SINTROPHER project had been widened to
- Promote the best possible, cost effective technology-based solutions;
- Assess the appraisal procedure for regional tram systems and improve the business case development process;
- Achieve high-quality, seamless interchange between regional tram systems and regional rail and air hubs;
- Promote and market the benefits of regional tram-based systems to users and stakeholders.
The Lancashire / Blackpool study in particular wanted to see:
- What outcomes could be achieved through targeted rail-based investment in the South Fylde Line corridor;
- Whether wider economic and social benefits of transport investment beyond those in standard British cost/benefit studies could be found;
- To look at what if any innovative, lower-cost technologies could add provide solutions that addressed failings in the existing rail network.
The proposed study area was defined to include Central and South Blackpool, Blackpool Airport, St Annes, Lytham, Kirkham and the Warton Enterprise Zone, and it was to be
done in 3 phases:
- Assembling and creating the evidence base and identifying options.
- Appraising the options to choose the preferred ones, and
- Costing and appraisal of the preferred option(s)
The Results of the Reports
(Note: We're working from both the SINTROPHER and the Jacobs reports here)
Subtitled - 'Connecting European Regions using Innovative Transport' the summary version of the SINTROPHER report was published in May 2017.
Although it addressed several European places, we're only commenting on what it and the Jacobs report says about the Fylde Coast.
On the Blackpool tramway, it notes that at over 20km, it is the oldest UK tramway (dating from 1885). But its (at that time) increasing obsolescence - including no trams
with disabled access, and its high maintenance costs - threatened its closure, even though it was carrying 4m passengers a year (85% of which were in the tourism season).
It also notes that SINTROPHER had helped to fund a major upgrade of the tramway to latest European standards, and also produced feasibility studies into extending the
tramway onto the mainline railway, linking to Preston, Manchester and beyond.
These feasibility studies concluded with a preferred option of extending the tramway to Blackpool North Station (which is now in progress).
It also considered options for upgrading the South Fylde Line, including tram or tram-train with a new connection to the existing Blackpool tramway.
It also noted that
"The investment case was strengthened by linking the infrastructure investment to territorial development opportunities along the corridor."
We think that probably means that development of housing or commercial use along the route could help offset some of the costs.
In a more general sense, it makes the point that tram links into a major rail or bus hub usually have a stronger case than tram-train lines (because they offer an easier
technical solution and lower cost).
But set against that, a tram/train often scores higher because regional services can go directly into urban centres without the need to change vehicles.
The decision on which of these is 'best' usually depends on what already exists, but generally it favours the 'Hub' approach because this is usually much less expensive and
thus affordable - unless there are overriding reasons outside the accepted process of relating the cost to the benefits that will accrue.
A further point in favour of the former is that light rail and tram systems are linked to effective transport interchange hubs which are either on, or connect to regional,
national and international transport networks.
Summarising its view about South Fylde, the report noted that options had focused on upgrading the 19km South Fylde rail line for tram or tram-train, and seeing this as part of the development corridor from Blackpool to Preston,
Manchester and beyond.
The option of converting the entire South Fylde Line to a new tram-train line with connection to the existing Blackpool Tramway was said to have a perceived low value for
money when judged in the normal cost benefit analysis because of high infrastructure costs and operational factors relating to existing rail services.
However it was found that a new link to connect to the existing Blackpool tram line with tram-rail inter-operation on the South Fylde Line (possibly segregated) offered good
value for money, but it would have to be accompanied by urban regeneration and regional economic growth because the scheme would need to access UK regional funding which has a
strong emphasis on economic growth and competitiveness.
We understand the full report covered a wider range of options that had been examined in the summary - including
- Heavy Rail (what most folk call trains)
- Light Rail (tram or 'train tram')
- Combined Light Rail and Heavy Rail
- Segregated Tram and Heavy Rail
Of these, the preferred option recommended in the report was to improve the rail links in the short term and look at trams (or tram train linkages) in the longer term.
In the summary report, the overall financial figures for the preferred options to upgrade of South Fylde Line were:
- Short term = rail at a cost of around £71m, (€99m), and
- Long term = tram/tram-train at a cost of around £266m, (€372m)
There's a very big (and in some people's minds, controversial) difference in these figures. But as we understand it, having looked at the four options above, none of
them matched the value for money offered by the rail option in the short term, and only the very expensive train-tram system offered it if you looked longer term.
So as we see it, the findings of this report suggest that in the short term, the sensible money is going to be on enhancing the rail network in south Fylde rather than
converting it to trams or a mixture of the two.
Readers can follow this link to download the full
SINTROPHER summary report (as a pdf file) for themselves.
WHO ELSE IS AN INTERESTED PARTY IN ALL THIS ?
Well excepting for the local authorities (which we'll deal with shortly), there are several community groups who are involved one way or another.
We'll have a quick look at those we know of, (and apologise in advance to anyone we might have left out - if we have). We'll start in North Fylde.
There seem to be two groups here.
The Poulton and Wyre Railway Society
Readers wanting more information can follow this link to their website
The group was formed in 2006 to act as a catalyst to reopen the railway between Poulton and Fleetwood.
We understand their short term aim is to get the line open as a 'Heritage Line' with a longer term aim of restoring passenger (and presumably goods) trains.
In common with other rail groups that we know a bit better, these folk seem to be a friendly, community-minded and strongly practical group and well as a campaigning group.
Like others, they have undertaken a lot of practical clearance work on the now disused line, with environmental improvements and 'In Bloom' enhancement schemes.
They also appear to have some rolling stock restoration projects ongoing indicating to us a desire to get them literally 'on track'.
Their big 'claim to fame' at the moment is that Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently visited the PWRS team at Thornton Station, where he saw first hand the progress already
made to revive the route.
And, according to the PWRS website, he has pledged to make £100,000 available for a feasibility study on the future of the Fleetwood to Poulton railway
And in November last year, ahead of the election, both 'Lancs Live' and
'The Gazette' both reported that
'Prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged to re-open the disused railway line between Poulton and Fleetwood which he says could bring jobs and growth to the Fylde coast.
Mr Johnson saw for himself the progress already made to revive the route during a visit to Thornton Railway Station yesterday (Saturday) as part of the launch of a £500m
national fund to restore closed down tracks.
He said: “This will have a massive impact. Fleetwood alone has a population of 28,000 and a town that size should have a railway.
“All my experience running municipal transport on a bigger scale is that investment in affordable transport for people can make a huge difference. It’s the best thing we can
“It’s good for the environment, takes cars off the road, reduces congestion and frustration for people, and improves the quality of their lives....'
We've no doubt that will be a delight to the ears of the Society.
Fleetwood Back on Track
Readers can follow this link to their Facebook page.
Like the Poulton and Wyre Railway Society this group also undertakes community works with clearing overgrowth and other environmental improvements including the 'in bloom'
initiatives but as their name implies, we think they are more concerned with the Fleetwood end of things.
That said, we know they also have an effective campaigning arm, and seem to have the ear of Fleetwood Town Council as well.
Trams to Lytham
Readers can follow this link to their facebook page
This is a fervent and active campaigning group that is well organised and has a strong social media presence. Their aim - as the name implies - is to extend the tramway to
Lytham in two phases, with phase one ending at St Annes.
Their focus seems to be on passenger transport and moving people locally within Fylde rather than better connecting Fylde to the national rail
network - although they argue both would be possible if the two systems run close together but are kept physically separate.
We don't know much about the history of this group, but in 2014 they created an online petition: 'Extend the Blackpool Tramway to Lytham' which acquired 3,827 supporters.
It's argument said:
'Efficient transport is a critical component of economic development. As local campaigners, Trams to Lytham believe passionately that light rail can and must have a greater
role in the overall transport plan for the Fylde Coast, delivering the network the region deserves and so badly needs to become an integral part of the 'Northern Powerhouse'.
At this time the SINTROPHER project was about to be extended by a year, and Fylde Council responded to the petition saying:
'Sintropher’s suggestion to reduce costs would be to link the trams to the South Fylde Line near Squires Gate train station. However even this will be very costly with
complications as to whether the trams can work alongside the heavy rail that already use the railway line.
However, additional funding has been acquired from the European Union
for a further one year study specifically to look in more detail at the possibility of this option.'
After the final SINTROPHER report was published, the group produced an impressive promotional report in 2019, cogently arguing their case for the Blackpool Tramway Extension
to South Fylde. Readers can follow this link to download a copy of their report,
which also reproduced the earlier petition.
Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users Association
Readers can follow this link to their facebook page.
The South Fylde line previously had a support group originally known as the South Fylde Line Users Association. But in 1993 they decided to expand
their scope and, as a consequence, became the Blackpool & Fylde Rail Users Association (BAFRUA).
They have two main objectives:
- The retention and improvement of Preston to Blackpool rail lines; and
- To encourage greater use and expansion of public transport.
Like the rail groups in North Fylde, this group also has a very practical approach with teams of volunteers (typically 'Friends' groups for each station) who have been
working to clear overgrown areas and undertake maintenance and improvement works like painting, signage seating.
They too also have strong links into the 'in bloom' schemes.
They have recently done a lot of work on what used to be Platform 2 at Squires Gate station.
In 2019 they produced their own 'future statement' which expressed concern about the impact that a tram system could have on the present rail system and said they saw
Blackpool South station becoming a transport hub for the south shore area of the town supported by a passing loop to increase the train frequency to half hourly.
WHAT ABOUT THE MP's?
We've not sought specific comments from any of the MPs, but from what we've seen them say or write, most seem to see the need to improve rail-based transport of one kind or
Currently, the majority of them appear to be more favourably disposed toward the heavy rail (train) service improvements rather than converting train lines for trams.
Cat Smith (Labour: Lancaster and Fleetwood)
Seems to favour a focus on trains rather than trams.
She delivered a petition calling on the Government to reinstate the railway in Fleetwood (Oct 2019), saying:
'More than 3,000 people signed the petition, believing, like me, that the absence of reliable good quality transport links, particularly the fact Fleetwood is not on the
rail network, remains a major barrier to the regeneration of the town. Without a rail link we cannot attract development, investment or tourism which is needed to transform our
Paul Maynard (Conservative: Blackpool North & Cleveleys)
As a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Transport and Rail Minister, he will know something of the inside track, and to us he seems to be favouring
the idea us using the rail lines for trams.
'I've put forward a bold proposal to expand the Fylde Coast's light rail network. Using mothballed routes and convertible under-used rail lines, I want to see tram services
deliver new connections for Thornton and Fleetwood and to vastly improve frequencies for South Fylde Passengers.'
Gordon Marsden (Labour Former MP: Blackpool South)
Not now an MP but was for many years, and was a supporter of the train more than the tram options, saying
'The tram plans would mean passengers having to change from train to tram at Kirkham or Lytham. Currently they can travel right through to Blackpool South from Preston and
'The installation of the South Fylde line passing loop, would enable the much-needed half-hourly heavy rail service to be realised and bring even more holidaymakers into the
town from outlying areas.'
Scott Benton (Conservative: Blackpool South)
A new intake MP, and at first we struggled to find a stated position from him on rail transport. He is however keen to get the airport up and running again for commercial
passenger flights and whilst we were looking at that, we noticed this quote
'Better rail links will help to improve our connections to the rest of Lancashire and the UK. That’s why I support more regular train services going from Blackpool to
Preston. And why I’m working with Government to create a passing loop on the South Fylde Rail Line to make this a reality.
This will make it quicker and easier for you to
travel, not just to Preston, but to Manchester, Liverpool and London too. It will also support local businesses, and tourism, by making it easier for people to travel here to
spend their money'.
So he looks to have a preference for trains rather than trams as well.
Mark Menzies (Conservative: Fylde)
Probably had the most to say about track-based transport of all the Fylde coast MPs and seems to be favouring trains more than trams. He said:
'I am delighted to hear there is a clear priority on transport in the North, especially the move to ensure there are at least two train services
every hour on every line. I have spoken to ministers on several occasions to call for a passing loop on the South Fylde line, serving Lytham, St Annes and Blackpool South.'
'I have campaigned for improvements to the South Fylde line, serving Kirkham, Lytham, St Annes and through to Blackpool South ever since I was elected.
I wanted to see vast improvements at Kirkham Train Station, particularly in relation to access to the platforms, increased frequency of service on the line, and
much-improved rolling stock.
I'm delighted to say we have secured some real investment on the line - but there is plenty more to do and I am still lobbying ministers and pressing the case for the line,
which serves one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country, Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
I want to see the frequency of trains on the South Fylde line increased.
One train per hour is not good enough, but is all that can be accommodated at present given the line is actually a long siding between Preston and Blackpool South.
I have raised this issue several times with ministers and rail bosses and my calls are gaining traction.
I met with rail minister Andrew Jones in November 2018 to urge him to back plans which could double services on our line.
He and senior officials from the Department of Transport met with me to talk about the South Fylde line after I raised the matter in Parliament.
It was a very productive meeting in which I outlined the overwhelming case for a passing loop on the South Fylde line. A passing loop would bring about an increase in
capacity and frequency of service on the line, but it would also ensure trains would be more effectively aligned with outgoing and incoming services at Preston.
As a result of my previous work on this, a study is now being undertaken to look at the costs and benefits of the scheme.
The minister has asked to be kept fully informed of the outcome of this work, which I hope will enable us to get this project finally signed off.'
AND WHAT DO THE LOCAL COUNCILS SAY?
Again, we've not sought quotations, simply reproduced what we've seen in official reports and other news media.
Lancashire County Council
LCC's 'Transport Masterplan' of 2014 (which is now a bit long in the tooth) showed an expectation that LCC saw Blackpool North Station becoming the central interchange to
provide onward travel through the Fylde Coast as a whole.
It envisaged North Station would have a direct interchange between tram and rail at that point, and provide access to an integral rail and tram interchange with bus and
coach stops immediately outside.
North Station would become the transport hub for the whole of the Fylde peninsula.
The masterplan also says
In order to establish just what potential these stations have, we will undertake a North Fylde Line Station Viability Study but, (as we will see in a minute), they were not
prepared to put any money into doing that in 2019.
The most recent information we could find was the Budget meeting about a year ago (Feb 2019) where County Councillor Kim Snape proposed some additions to the capital
programme including a £50,000 Feasibility Study for the Back on Track scheme at Fleetwood.
It was voted down by the Conservative group and did not succeed into the LCC budget.
Reporting the diverging political views emanating from that meeting - views that echoed divisions within local community groups, the Gazette said:
'There was widespread agreement that the town needed better transport links - but that was the point at which consensus hit the buffers in County Hall. Some councillors
hitched their wagons to traditional trains, while others got on board with the idea of light rail.'
They also reported Cllr Lorraine Beavers (Fleetwood East) who accused the Conservatives of having no clear vision for the economic development of Fleetwood or transport
infrastructure in the area.
We understand there was even disagreement between Conservative Councillors for Cleveleys South and Cleveleys West as to whether 'heavy rail' (trains) or 'Light Rail' (trams)
were the better option.
So at present, LCC seems more or less to be on 'pause'.
As might be expected, Blackpool are pretty much focused on making North Station the train and tram transport hub for the Fylde coast which, they say, will also offer
convenient access to Blackpool's seafront hotels and attractions, particularly the Pleasure Beach, and connect the North Fylde to the national rail network.
They note that Stage 1 of the SINTROPHER project, provided 7.2m Euros (just over £6m) to study ways in which the tramway might be extended, and that concluded with the plan
to initially extend the tramway to just short of Blackpool North railway station.
Note that word 'initially'.
They also note the second phase of the SINTROPHER project headed by Lancashire County Council had considered how the South Fylde Line (heavy rail) might be improved to best
meet the Fylde Coast's regeneration needs.
They recognised that this single-track line provides a vital local rail service and brings many visitors to Blackpool from East Lancashire, to the extent that there has been
over-crowding on the trains.
So as we see it, whilst they might be open-minded about what's running on the South Fylde tracks, given their preference for Blackpool North to be the train, tram and bus
interchange for Fylde, and the benefits that their wholly-owned Bus Company would accrue from a vast increase in potential tram passengers, we think Blackpool Council are more likely to prefer the South Fylde line switching to trams.
We could find no comments from Blackpool about the track-based transport in North Fylde, but we wouldn't be surprised to see Blackpool wanting an extension of the tramway to
Poulton and points beyond as their preferred option.
Wyre Borough Council
Wyre don't seem to like discussing things in public. They seem to us to like to be more secretive than MI5 and we could find almost nothing they have said.
To be fair, they're not a transport authority like LCC or Blackpool, but given that rail travel of one sort or another has a potentially big impact on how to:
- get their residents to work,
- access the country's capital,
- significantly reduce road congestion both for passengers and freight, and
- increase tourist and day visitor numbers to Wyre
we're surprised that matters such as these don't seem to have figured significantly in their debates.
We'd have thought they had a responsibility both to their residents, and also in terms of economic development, to have already debated issues like the North Fylde rail link and
what they thought should be done.
But we could find nothing on their website since 2012. However, we did note a comment to the Gazette last year that spoke of consideration of the North Fylde line saying:
'A spokesperson for Wyre Council said that authority is currently in dialogue with Network Rail...and looking at a number of different options, but nothing has yet been
Fylde Borough Council
Fylde too has almost nothing on its website about these matters, and we don't recall it being a topic at any of the (many) meetings we have attended in the last few years.
Our comments about Wyre apply here equally.
COMING UP TO DATE
That more or less brings us up to date with what has gone before, so now we move forward, to look at what will happen in the future.
The current impetus for this arises as a result of a meeting of the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Joint Committee whose sub-title name is the 'Economic Prosperity Board'
Background to the 'Economic Prosperity Board'
This is actually the latest incarnation of an organism that began life as 'Re:Blackpool' - a regeneration company set up to deliver the so-called 'Blackpool Masterplan'.
Basically, Re:Blackpool was a partnership between the former North West Development Agency, which, in 2006, was a ten year old regionally-based conglomerate of all the
previous Government regeneration agencies (which had lots of money), and Blackpool Council, (which claimed not to have any money).
Blackpool's big idea for using the Government's money at that time, was a three pronged programme involving
- a Casino and Conference centre and Leisure facilities on the old Central Station site;
- the redevelopment of the North Station area for civic facilities, courts and new retail outlets; and
- the 'People's Playground' which included re-vamped open spaces on the promenade and in other areas.
As we all know, Blackpool's Casino scheme bet on red, but it came up black.
So Re:Blackpool said it would morph into a 'vehicle' (as they called it) for a 'new company' to be formed.
But as far as we can tell, Re:Blackpool simply changed its name to "Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Economic Development Company Limited" before the North West Development Agency
(who had the money) exited the partnership, and Wyre, Fylde and Lancashire County Councils (none of whom had very much in the way of money) joined.
Readers will recognise that - structured as a limited company - there was no requirement for the participants to publish agendas or minutes, nor make their meeting open to
the public for reporting. All their deliberation and decision-taking could be done behind the scenes and out of the public eye.
And it was.
We covered Fylde's willingness to join this group in 'Company Formation' on 1 April 2010 (That was in the days ruled by Fylde's former Commissar, and was, we think, possibly
the most appropriate date to join that Fylde could have chosen).
We followed that up with 'Decisive Company' on 8th April 2010.
But that organisation only lasted from February 2010 to June 2010 before it briefly became 'LCC Nameholdco Ltd' - until in 2011, when it was 're-branded' as 'The Blackpool Bay
This incarnation lased longer than any of the others (actually until 2015) but then it changed yet again.
Faced with increasingly limited access to public funds as a private company, it ceased to be a private limited company, and became a local government 'Joint Committee'
which then called itself
'The Economic Prosperity Board'
Technically it is a Local Government committee comprising both officers and elected councillors from Blackpool Fylde and Wyre.
Sadly however, it's evolution through the chrysalis of a private limited company has encouraged its current members to believe they should still keep as much of their
business secret as the law will allow them to do. (And in our view they sometimes step over the line of what may be kept secret).
So operationally, this group actually puts Wyre's secrecy to shame.
They are more secretive than the KGB, especially about the big bucks money sloshing around the former Blackpool Airport - now re-branded an Enterprise Zone.
Considering a Tramway Loop - Maybe?
But thankfully, they were not so sensitive about rail-based traffic, and the agenda for their meeting at Fylde on 7th January 2020 was held in the public part of the meeting
before they excluded us for the rest of it.
('The rest' of the meeting went on to consider aspects of the Enterprise zone, and about which we expect to have more to say in a future article).
Their report in the part of the meeting they had designated to be 'public', was titled 'FUTURE HIGH STREET FUND: FYLDE COAST TRAMWAY LOOP' and was presented
we thought) by a chap called Nick Gerrard who is the Growth and Prosperity Programme Director at Blackpool Council.
We're led to believe the study that they were considering was estimated to cost in the region of £2 million.
(that calls for yet another: Yes Really!)
We're going to do a précis of the agenda in a moment, but more avid 'anorak' readers like us can follow this link to download a copy of the full
THE ECONOMIC PROSPERITY BOARD'S AGENDA ITEM
The title - 'FUTURE HIGH STREET FUND: FYLDE COAST TRAMWAY LOOP' - seemed to give the game away a bit, because it said it was about creating the tramway loop - perhaps like the one that Paul Maynard MP has been promoting, and
certainly lots of people who have not read far beyond the title seem to think this is what this report WAS about.
But we don't think its a clear-cut as that, as we will shortly show.
The opening paragraph said the purpose of the report was an update on the proposal that all three local authorities would include a funding request in their respective
Future High Street Fund (FHSF) bids (by June 2020) to support a business case study into a Fylde Coast tramway loop.
Sorry to tram and rail buffs at this point, but we need to make a quick digression....
Digression: The Future High Street Fund
This is a government initiative that appeared to grow out of Conservative reaction to complaints about the decline of the British 'High Street' - which, in the past
couple of decades has seen the huge change we predicted back in the late 1990s
In the ten years to 2018, online internet retail sales increased 6-fold.
In 2000, online retailing accounted for less than 1% of retail sales, but by August 2018 almost 20% of all retail sales took place online (ONS stats).
Retailing on the high street is in a lot of trouble, and it's only going to get worse.
But the Future High Street project isn't primarily about helping retailers, its more about High Streets evolving and adapting to the inevitable.
It's about building economic resilience into 'town' centres by adding residential and office space to them.
Government has made £675 million available help local areas to respond and adapt to these changes.
With about 343 councils in the country we make that an average of about £2m per council area (although it's not being allocated like that).
The Government has said they expect the fund to contribute up to £25 million to projects per local area (whatever that is), so at first, we didn't quite see how that was
going to work - unless a lot of places didn't take up the idea.
Government says the money is supposed to be used to (sorry about the 'council speak' that follows...)
'support local areas to prepare long-term strategies for their high streets and town centres, including funding a new High Streets Taskforce to provide expertise and
hands-on support to local areas.
It will also then co-fund with local areas projects including:
- investment in physical infrastructure, including improving public and other transport access, improving flow and circulation within a town / city centre,
congestion-relieving infrastructure, other investment in physical infrastructure needed to support new housing and workspace development and existing local communities, and the
regeneration of heritage high streets; and
- investment in land assembly, including to support the densification of residential and workspace around high streets in place of under-used retail units.
The point we make here is that whilst *access to the town centres* is in the mix of possible issues that the Government has listed, we don't think it's intended to be
as dominant as the thrust of the scheme - which is mostly aimed a re-purposing commercial areas.
Calls went out for local authorities to submit Phase 1 Expressions of Interest by 22 March 2019 setting out their 'challenges' and their strategic approach to regenerating town
centres, and Government would decide who was moving forward to Phase 2 in summer 2019.
Because Kirkham Town Council had been working with developers and the business community to develop a bid for Kirkham Town Centre since October 2018 and were already in a
position to submit a bid to this new fund, it was thought they would be the council’s best chance for a successful bid at that point in time, Fylde agreed to support the Kirkham town
We downloaded the 2019 list and found Fylde had not been successful, and neither had Blackpool. But Wyre had been.
We heard Fylde had been advised to reapply in 2020.
However in August 2019 the Government said it had increased the funding for this scheme by a further £325m, and shortly after that, Fylde were told Kirkham had now been
included in what might be called '1a' of the scheme, and were invited to progress to the next stage.
We understand Blackpool's bid was also approved to go forward because of this 'extra' £325m
Back to the Agenda Report
The Economic Prosperity Board report does indeed say that the proposal is to investigate the feasibility of two further extensions to the tramway, creating two tram/rail
interchanges, with the aim of creating a more cohesive Fylde Coast public transport system, boosting Blackpool, Kirkham and Fleetwood town centres.
It also proposed that Blackpool Fylde and Wyre include within their own Future High Street Fund submissions, a bid for resources that would include Blackpool Council, in
conjunction with Lancashire County Council (as transport authority for Fylde and Wyre), to undertake a comprehensive feasibility study to recommend a sufficiently developed
preferred option, that is capable of being implemented if a future funding opportunity becomes available.
Readers should note what we think is a very large 'IF' in the last few words of the sentence above.
It also said
"In the north, the tramway would utilise the trackbed of the disused railway line between south Fleetwood and Poulton-le-Fylde. To the south, the tramway would use the
trackbed of what is currently an operational railway, with an hourly service to Preston operated by Northern Rail.
Clearly, this operator and Network Rail, who own and are responsible for the two branch lines would need to support the proposal."
So again, the report looks to be only about putting trams on the rails.
But then it stresses that the proposal may, or may not, conclude the above is feasible, or deliverable or would offer sufficient value for money.
Interestingly to us, it noted that whilst Blackpool and Fleetwood are already connected to the tram network, Kirkham town centre is detached from its railway station, so it
would need a better and regular bus service to reach the proposed tram/rail interchange at Kirkham and Wesham station.
To be honest, we can't see the Government going for a scheme that needs you to get a bus in Kirkham town centre to go the mile or so in order to reach the Railway Station -
which is just on the Wesham boundary of course.
We're also not that sure that Kirkham's businesses will be that excited about a project that will need some folk to get a bus to the town centre after they get off the train
or tram at Wesham either.
The report also talks about needing better facilities for connections to Kirkham by walking passengers and the disabled.
Oh, and the cost of this study is likely to be around £2m, which is to be split equally between the Councils.
So, unless Fylde can argue for more money than they originally expected to get from Government, this study - that might find the idea is not be viable anyway - is likely to
take about £666,000 out of the scheme that Kirkham Town Council and their traders were expecting to have
available for their own preferences.
Just in passing here, we note that in terms of Omens, 666 is not an auspicious number.
As our readers will have noted, so far, the report still sounds quite positive for the idea of using trams, and it doesn't focus much on improving the South Fylde line with a
passing loop to improve the frequency of trains, nor does it consider trains to Fleetwood.
But when the Blackpool officer spoke to his report at the meeting, it didn't seem to us to be as clear cut as his report had led us to believe.
We can't help thinking that the 'Tram Loop 'is what Blackpool want to happen, but both Fylde and Wyre (as the other two partners in this endeavour) are both more keen
on train services.
WHAT WAS SAID AT THE MEETING.
We know there is a lot of local interest in this matter and that's why this is (another) longish report.
Mr Gerrard from Blackpool BC who spoke to his report first gave the background and said that given they had all (Blackpool Fylde and Wyre) got through the first phase of the
Future High Street Fund application, so there was potentially scope to use capacity within that bid to fund a study into a Fylde Coast Tram Loop and the idea was to take
Explaining further, he said
"....obviously this was a..., novel approach in terms of..., because the discussion that we had is rather..., it fitted with..., potentially with..., the Future High Street Fund
bid, and we could potentially use it to add to the attractiveness of the respective three town centres as part of that.
But because it was, novel, in the sense that when Future
High Street Funds were announced, you know, they were for each individual town. So what we did, we spoke with the Delivery Manager who is appointed by CLC
Communities and Local Government Department].
There's only two Delivery Managers. Fylde and Blackpool have the same one, same person, and another person for Wyre, and anyway we discussed with a chap
called [name omitted], about this idea that had emerged from here, and said, you know, it was a very innovative approach by the
three authorities to look into doing this, and what did he think etcetera.
So, as a result of that, we pulled together a short paper just to outline what the proposal might include, and of course, the whole issue with the feasibility study..., the
brief hasn't been drawn up yet..., and of course is to look at all the relevant issues. And of course, once we've had the discussion about some of the detail, there are various
issues that will need to be included in a brief if we're going to take this piece of work forward.
For example, I know that Wyre has included within their brief, they've already included a transport theme and the issue of connectivity specifically. Blackpool hadn't
specifically included it in their strategic objectives.
One of the issues for Fylde particularly was..., because the line isn't actually in Kirkham Town Centre, its down the road..., was how could you address the issues of connectivity
and so on. So what we said was, that's a classic thing and to look at the options as to how that could be best effected.
And other question that came up - what about the issue of heavy rail etcetera and the use of that.
Just take a step out. Do you remember when we had the very first meeting of the Economic Prosperity Board, can't remember when that was, it was the year before last I think,
what we agreed to then..., the three authorities did..., was to support the bid under the banner of the Preston City Region bid for the Transforming Cities Fund, and the interest
that we had..., that we included... in that, was to look at the heavy rail passing loop as part of that study, because they'd a network of routes that they were looking at as part
of that. So we..., that was included in the proposal.
Since then, which must be 18 months, there's a lot of work been done on the business case for that heavy rail passing loop which, of course we weren't pushing for having it
included in the final bid. When push came to shove, and the detailed business case had been done and completed shortly before Christmas, Lancashire County Council who were the
sort of penholders of that bid..., when they'd refused everything..., because it all has to be green book business appraised - which was a complex process - when they'd done that,
the cost, the value for money of the passing loop was something that they felt was going to undermine the whole bid, so it was not included in the bid that was submitted back
in, I think it was December, or certainly November.
So that particular initiative had emerged out of this group hasn't borne fruit, and so we won't be going down the Transforming Cities Fund route.
One of the questions that emerged though, is well, what about the rail dimensions of this and whether you have a combination in terms of tram and or rail and so on.
Now there's been various studies done in the past that have looked into the issue of feasibility of the tram.., the Fylde coast. The most recent edition of a study which was
done by a company called Jacobs, commissioned by Lancashire County Council and involving all sorts of people.
What that specifically looked at was comparing the options for what they call 'tram train' - in other words specially track..., tram.., that can run on tram and train track,
you know, which is sort of unique and quite expensive, versus the heavy rail options. And in that piece of work, what they showed at that time was that the value for..., in the
short term..., the case which had the most effective business postulation..., which is what they use..., was indeed heavy rail.
However, that was comparing it to tram train, which is an enormously expensive solution, and, it was also assuming that you'd make direct connections through to..., they'd
integrate direct to Manchester - which, of course, now, is not possible with what's emerged about the capacity at Greater Manchester.
Having said all of that, these issues and debates have been raised by various people in relation to the discussions we've been having about this.
So what we have said is look, we want to know what is the best solution for the Fylde coast. So we should include consideration of these issues about the tram loop with the
heavy rail option etcetra as part of this, in terms of today's circumstances, you know, with what we know about Greater Manchester etcetra, to arrive at what is the best
potential option for us to pursue.
Bear in mind, this is a piece of work on a feasibility study to get to the stage where, once the feasibility study's been done, the much bigger task of securing funding to
deliver it has to be achieved, so we're way off that yet.
But, the timescales to do that study could be within the time limited span of the Future High Street Funding bid. So there are bids.
I know there are some issues, certainly that Fylde need to address because of the way they're managing their Future High Street Fund bid.
In Blackpool's case for example, we are leading on that bid with partners, and I think there's a..., Alan, you'll explain about the approach being taken in Fylde, and we
need to respect that process of consultation because of course, going through this whole type of feasibility study that works for us all, we've got to consult with all the
relevant parties to arrive at, you know, the decision about the information that is given to us as to what is best.
So I think I'll, probably sort of press pause there, and, do you want to say something Allan?"
Fylde's Chief Executive (Allan Oldfield) replied:
"I think the difference is because in the Kirkham bid is that that bid was actually pitched and led by the Kirkham Business Group in partnership with Kirkham Town Council,
and it was pitched to our Planning Committee up against a bid from St Annes, and Planning Committee were more impressed with the Kirkham Business Group and Town Council bid and
proposal, and so our officers sort of then partnered with them to work with them, so we're probably not the lead organisation in that bid.
What we've not been able to do is finalise the Board Members for the bid, and then pitch this idea of adding extra funding to that bid, to those partners.
The principle behind the extra funding is not the issue, its that we've just got to get those lead partners on board or involved. I know there's been an offer to go before
the Kirkham Board when it's finalised to talk through this idea with them.
So I think that's where we're...., we're not at the stage yet where it's..., where we can say for definite it will be added to that bid. We've got to consult those partners
Mr Gerrard from Blackpool BC continued
"And that, I don't..., from the point of view of what we're recommending, I don't see that as a problem at all, because what needs to happen is, you've got to bear in mind
that with the Future High Street Fund bids, Wyre are on a slightly faster timescale than Fylde and Blackpool because of when the decisions were made.
So Wyre have to submit an outline Future High Street Fund bid next week, and then a final bid by April. So the first one is..., is they just need to flag things up that
it'll be included in that, so it doesn't prejudice anything, and doesn't remove the opportunity, which is the key thing.
It's only by April that their final bid will be going in, which would need to include whatever we were collectively saying as final.
In Blackpool and Fylde's case, our timescales are: Interim bid by March, and final one by June, so it's less of a problem for us.
What I'm proposing with some modifications is that we carry on with all the consultations that are set out in the report and these discussions, obviously picking up the one
that Allan's mentioned as well, and, because we've got to get to the stage of knowing whether or not
- a) Government's OK to support this, and
- b) We've got a proposal to put in to them that can be included in respective bids, which will have to be at the latest by April for the purposes of Wyre having to have
finalised their bid by then.
So I think the timescales work for us to be able to make sure that we can pick up all the issues of concern that there've been about options and other things, and make sure
that in this brief that those are covered. It also gives us time to clarify, because there are discussions now going on through our Delivery Manager, the Government Delivery
Manager, to see how the Department of Transport will react to this.
Bear in mind, you know, if they don't support it then its not going anywhere.
But what's incumbent on us is to get our collective act together to address all the issues that have been raised, but also make sure that we don't miss the boat."
The Chairman said that literally it was really just coming down to timescales, and he asked for comments from other Board members.
Wyre said they needed to make reference to it in their bid and hoped that by submitting a 'combined bid' from 3 authorities, that would set their bids apart from all the
The Chairman said it had started out life as something just like a wish-list at the Lancashire Leaders meeting, but it had gained pace and momentum since then, adding
'This wasn't a bad idea and has now turned into something that realistically we do need, and we all want to see it done as well. So we need to get there."
Mr Gerrard spoke again saying:
"I'll perhaps pick up one other point that has been raised with me. Somebody's raised the question of isn't this a huge amount of money for a study, especially when some
previous work has been done?
Well, it is a huge amount of money, secondly, obviously, this work would be tendered and we would establish exactly what the sum of money was rather than that's just a
budget estimate at this stage.
Thirdly, I think some reference has been made to a smaller amount of money that was used to do the second phase of the tram link study, well that was just for an additional
piece of work, the cost of that was about £140,000 on top of the work that was done in 2011, so we're not comparing like with like.
But, the reason the amount of money on this is because you've got to get this to the stage where you have a business case, you know, once the options have been chosen. A
business case that somebody would fund.
And, of course, that requires all the last bits of detail to be sort of sorted out, because if we go ahead with this and we come up with a feasible and deliverable solution,
the next thing will be discussing is how to get the thing implemented in whatever way appears to be best."
The man from Wyre added:
"Bearing in mind the recent...., well, the announcement that was made. The sort of 'pre-election' result around significant monies being made available to improve
connectivity infrastructure with specific reference to rail - potential reinstatement of lines and extensions of lines,
I think if we include, if we all agree to include it in some form or other in our Future High Streets Fund bid. If it's not successful, at least there's a marker been put
down for Government and we can follow it up with further information, with a potential bid to a separate funding pot which I'm assuming will be announced in the next six months
(We think he was alluding to comments made at Boris Johnson's November 2019 visit to the former Thornton railway station here)
There was then some further discussion about smaller studies that had been done and their costs.
Another Board member said (tellingly, we thought)
"It is important to ensure that the scope of the study is there to look at the various options that are available not only at one particular solution.
There's a number of people in the past who've you know, pinned their colours to the heavy rail system, and there's two groups really, one going down the tram route, one
going down the heavy rail route.
I think the issue is that somehow we've got to get a decision as to which is the best option for the Fylde coast, and this study is actually going to do that."
The Chairman said
"That's perfectly true, we start off on one, and then all of a sudden, other options start springing up, and its a case of finding which is the best one that will suit all
of us on the Fylde coast"
Fylde's Cllr Susan Fazackerley said:
"I had a conversation with our MP yesterday and I have to throw into the conversation that he is far more committed to the heavy rail loop option.
I am kind of reassured that both options are going to be looked into.
He was saying that 'Transport for the North' is it called? Have done a recent study and even they've come out in favour of a heavy rail loop, and he wanted those views to be
expressed at this meeting.
He also added - I know it isn't..., we don't have to take notice of what the MP's say - but apparently the new MP for Blackpool South is also of that opinion."
Another Board member said:
"Just to remind members of the context here, we have been knocked back for the South Fylde line tram bed..., sort of train loop. We've been told that doesn't make sense in
terms of value for money.
Now, we're not accepting that, we're challenging that as part of this process, but nonetheless we are in a position at the moment where nothing is going to happen on the
South Fylde line because we aren't getting funding for the heavy rail passing loop, and we haven't done anything about the tram stuff, so we need...., arguably we need, a study
to justify whichever route we take forward, but to challenge what's already been said which is that the heavy rail passing loop makes financial sense."
The Chairman said
"We have to push on and get to the right answer because in the Lancashire Leader's meeting, it does keep coming up about connectivity over to East Lancashire.
Pendle, they keep banging the drum all the time, and if we over here don't pursue it, but pursue it correctly, then we could end up..., it does work out that we could end up
losing out, and then say, all the money that's available goes over to East Lancashire, instead of, maybe, splitting it up a bit better.
But what we need to look at the moment, is we need to look at really pushing our case forward, what's the best case, and really get behind it."
He then asked if there were any more comments and whether the Board was happy with the recommendations in the report.
Mr Gerrard said he thought it would be helpful they specifically picked up the Fylde issue including consultation with the.....and For Fylde, Allan Oldfield completed his sentence
'Kirkham Business Group, and Kirkham Town Council', then went on to say
"An action we have to do is to have a discussion with them and canvass their view and get them to sign up to it."
One of the members asked:
"What will be the process to make sure the scope of the feasibility study is fair for all parts because we've talked a lot about that feasibility study and how
important it's going to be. Where will that go to? Will that.... This seems to imply it will..... What will be the form by which the scope is agreed?"
Smart question we thought
Mr Gerrard said that those discussions had got to take place because you couldn't do anything with the railways without involving Network Rail and currently, Northern Rail,
and obviously Blackpool Transport would need to be involved, so they had to get all the responsible parties involved and on board with what was being proposed, because they
would insist on certain things being looked at.
So they had to be sure that all parties with a legitimate interest - those interested in the town centres and those with responsibility for transport infrastructure,
Lancashire County Council and so on - became as part of that.
He went on to say that once they had got an agreed brief the matter would need to come back to the Economic Prosperity Board adding
"But if such a study were to be commissioned, you'd have a steering group involving people outside of this group including certainly Blackpool Transport, Network Rail and
Northern Rail as a minimum on that, to drive that work forward."
Coming to a Conclusion
The Chairman said
"You reap what you sow don't you. So if you ask the right questions, then really what you want is some data. There will be a lot of emotion, and people's past beliefs flying
around about what might work and won't work, you really need to be quite data driven. So are we sure that the right people will....."
Mr Gerrarrd said
"Well I think you have the Steering Group because you've got to have the relevant people involved to take ownership of the process and seeing it through, but that's where
the consultants come on board to be objective - you know, if people...
(He didn't complete this sentence but we suspect he was going to say - 'step into fantasy land' or
something like that.)"
He did go on to say:
"And also, the Green Book appraisal process, you know, is..., I spent a whole day going through this last year which was thoroughly, well, reasonably interesting considering
how dry the subject is. But it's really important.
Actually, it's probably worth mentioning, I don't know if you noticed this over Christmas but it certainly made my eyes light up, when one of the proposals, and it was
mentioned again, that the Chancellor is going to introduce a better...., a more favourable..., sorry, a more favourable appraisal process for the Northern Regions.
The standard Green Book appraisal process at the moment favours the higher grade economies in the South of the country, and makes it that much harder for places in the North
to pass the test of this 'Business Cost Ratio' of 2 to1.
So if they put their money where their mouth is, and they're going to..., actually..., to give the North and the Midlands..., as they're talking about..., a more favourable..., then that will
help our business case. But anyway that's to be done.
But the rigour of that process will be the only thing that ultimately secures anything is ever funded"
The Board member who had asked what we thought was the smart question said:
"And that will determine, on a business case basis, which option is and is not? So it might just work out that heavy rail is feasible or it might work out it's not, but
we've got to go through that process in order to rank them"
The Chairman said it would take on a life of its own now they were kickstarting it, and their role was to make sure they got to the end and did everything correctly.
And with general agreement from the Board, the recommendations set out in the report - possibly with some wording added about the specific situation in Fylde, the matter was
decided. They were
- a) That the proposition is accepted, with any agreed amendments.
- b) MHCLG are approached to secure endorsement for the approach being undertaken with a view to Future High Street Funding.
- c) Lancashire County Council, as transport authority for the vast majority of the study area, are formally approached for their support.
- d) Blackpool Transport, Network Rail and Northern Railway are briefed on the proposal and are given an opportunity to input.
- e) Community Rail Lancashire, Transport for the North, the DfT and the Poulton and Wyre Railway Society are consulted.
So, on the assumption that ways are found to secure the funding of this study from within the Future High Streets Fund, and that the Government's Delivery Officer agrees
it's a valid scheme within the Future High Streets project, and the Department of Transport is supportive - or at least raises no objection - then the study is likely to go
OUR OWN TAKE
So what to make of all of this?
Well, it is a big issue, and we think it's potentially equal in stature to the closure of Central Station in Blackpool all those years ago.
But we've a few niggles about what's going on, and they are mostly to do with the fact that we see this 'Economic Prosperity Board' as a false construct.
Does a single aim for connectivity exist?
It's a (laudable) aim to find a unified voice for the Fylde coast.
But the needs and values of the three constituent boroughs are so vastly different - and different in so many respects - that we don't think this is ever achievable (unless one
or more parties lose out on what their electorate need).
If we just take this matter of transport as the example....
Blackpool believes it has solved the trams to train link with the creation of what will become the rail/tram and bus interchange hub at Blackpool North station.
So their next desire must be to increase the number of people from North and South Fylde who can easily access their made-over commercial centre mostly for shopping, but also
for work and onward connections to the national rail network via Blackpool North station.
So they're very likely to favour pushing for a local 'tram loop' to bring that local
transit system into being.
And although Mr Maynard MP has been pushing this idea of the 'tram loop' most publicly, a letter was published in the Gazette in January last which suggested the plans for
the 'tram loop' had actually been...
'.....drawn up by Blackpool Transport which had also carried out the feasibility study'....
If that is the case (and we don't know whether it is or not), you can understand how Blackpool Transport would be keen to increase its income by increasing the number
of tram travellers
across the whole of the Fylde peninsula.
And if you then realise that Blackpool Transport is actually 'Blackpool Transport Services Limited' - a company that is owned by Blackpool Council, then what we might
be seeing here is Blackpool Council funding its ambitions through its bus company - and its aims in this matter of the tram loop might not be entirely altruistic.
Wyre - and especially Fleetwood - will be much more interested in connectivity to the national rail network.
Like Blackpool, Fleetwood already has a good (and in many ways an even better) tram system in place. It already goes right along their main high street and, to be honest, whilst
we've no doubt it's been helpful, it has not been the panacea that stopped - or even slowed - the disastrous decline in retail activity in Fleetwood, as has been found in many
other town centres.
So we're not convinced that a tram loop to Freeport and to smaller places that would simply add the likes of Thornton to the tracked transport system is going to make that
much difference to the town centres.
Furthermore, as anyone who uses it knows all too well, the arterial road system out of North Fylde to the motorway is now hopelessly overloaded (after all the housing that has been
allowed to be built in North Fylde). So Wyre's overriding need is for an alternative routing for both passengers and if possible freight onto and from the national rail
network to get outside the Fylde peninsula.
It might be looking quite far into the future, but we think the line from Fleetwood could be connected to the electrified national network at Poulton le Fylde
Although current space availability seems to preclude an additional platform at Poulton Station itself, it looks to us to be quite possible to reconnect rail to and from
Fleetwood near what we knew as a youngster to be 'Curve Halt' (near the back of what used to be the cattle market and is now mostly Aldi and parking in Poulton Town Centre).
So if the line to Fleetwood could be re-opened, and especially if it could be electrified, this could reawaken the town's mechanical, chemical, and industrial operations
(and perhaps even its post-Brexit fishing opportunities), and that could bring greatly improved - and much needed prosperity - to the town.
Add in the prospect of Isle of Man Ferries and freight returning - especially when the IoM's airline links look shakier than for a time, and the Town's future could change
Fylde Borough has no trams at present, but its expressed preference so far appears to be to improve the service on the South Fylde line to half hourly by introducing a loop
of 'spare' rails that could allow one train to wait briefly in a sort of 'siding' whilst another passes it, meaning two trains could be on 'the same' line at the same time,
doubling the current frequency of services to Kirkham and Preston.
Whilst St Annes is also suffering from retail decline (especially amongst multiple chain retailers) Lytham's multiplicity and diversity of smaller individual traders is
The demographic and many other factors in Fylde also differ very significantly from Blackpool, so we don't see the same pressure for a tram connection to Blackpool or
Kirkham when there are already rail (and bus) connections to both.
So for these reasons of cultural, industrial, and demographic diversity, unless there is a way of allowing trams and trains to run harmoniously on the same lines - and that
would mean discovering an affordable method that no-one in all the previous studies on this matter has managed to find - then
we can't see this going very far at all.
So we can't see much prospect of a unified brief for this proposed study - unless that brief is prepared to consider recommending different options for each Borough.
Our real criticism of this proposed study is that it has yet to agree and define the collective aim.
Yes, we can see it is to improve connectivity.
But connectivity to what?
Is the aim to be *local connectivity* to spread the economic potential of the Fylde coast to each other's town centres and populations? In which case it's mostly about
recirculating the money that's already in the local economy more widely or more diversely, and it's not so much about economic growth for the peninsula.
Or is it about *national connectivity* to create better connections to other parts of the country - which could take goods produced here more easily to other parts of the
UK, and bring tourists from outside the peninsula area here to spend the money they have earned elsewhere.
That really would, at least, be economic growth, rather than recirculation and redistribution of money already within the local economy.
Trains VERSUS trams
Unless someone can come up with an affordable technical solution to run them on the same lines, (and given the money that's gone into this sort of study before) we're very
doubtful that any such solution exists.
(The Jacobs' report in investigated all different types of transport for the south Fylde line - heavy rail, light rail (i.e. tram), tram train and guided busway, and they
came to the conclusion that on the south Fylde line the Heavy Rail was far and ahead the best financial option).
We have heard an idea of using something called 'hybrid tram-trains' on the line, powered by hydrogen cell technology. To be honest, we know nothing about this, so we can't
comment further at this time. But if it has any of the following problems, then we can't see there is a perfect solution anywhere.
That's because Blackpool's existing trams take power from the overhead cable infrastructure, so adding those trams to an existing rail line - using the same sort of overhead power
delivery - would most likely mean that trains could no longer run on those lines.
We understand it is possible that some forms of tram-trains can run without overhead wires, but Blackpool's present trams can’t.
And given the money that's just been spent upgrading Blackpool's tramway, we can't imagine anyone is going to seriously look at changing the method of power supply, or the
type of track they run on.
So if existing Blackpool trams are used on any of the rail lines, then freight and passenger trains, and even occasional (or more frequent) 'heritage trains' are ruled out.
Likewise, if the train lines stay in place to be used for 'heavy rail', they will preclude the use of Blackpool's trams on the same track.
There are also issues with the different types of vehicles requiring different platform heights to operate and so on.
So broadly speaking, we think the two existing systems are incompatible on the same track.
Trains AND trams
If it ends up not being possible to accommodate both types of existing vehicles on the same track, then the second best option becomes either full (or maybe partial)
parallel tracks for each different types of vehicle, allowing enough room for each to operate independently, and travellers swapping their mode of transport at some point or
the journey (like changing buses).
This is not ideal for those with disabilities or pushchairs or luggage, but it's not impossible either.
But even if enough money could be found to do this, we don't think there is enough room to allow it to happen all the way along the South Fylde line without taking back into
public use land that has already been sold or appropriated for other purposes.
We're less clear about the North Fylde line's space availability, but in any case there is no need to add trams to Fleetwood because they go there already.
What Fleetwood needs is trains.
If parallel lines aren't going to work for one reason or another, then the third possibility is to use Interchanges or Hubs, where there are points at which the two systems
more or less touch, and an exchange point can be created.
The picture shows this in Germany with adjacent tram and bus services, but if one of the buildings one either side was a railway station it would complete the picture.
There is easily enough open land at Fleetwood's former railway station to do this if the rail line is restored to its former location. There may also be scope to do it again
(or alternatively) between the town and Broadwater if necessary.
On the South Fylde line it's a bit more complicated. It would mean either
- replacing the 'heavy rail' line from Blackpool South station as far as either St Annes or Lytham with a light rail (tram line) that has also been connected to the Existing
Blackpool tramway, and putting the Interchange or Hub at either St Annes or Lytham stations, or
- Making the Interchange or hub at the Blackpool end, either at South Shore or Squires Gate or thereabouts. (we have long argued that the ideal location would be at the former Pontins site, close to, and connected with, the Airport.)
We also see an argument for a 'Passing Loop' to increase service frequency not to be in the middle of fields somewhere, but at an existing station, where the 'stationary
train' could wait and people could join it whilst it is waiting for the 'other train' to pass.
So as things stand at the moment, we don't go with the tram loop that Mr Maynard is promoting, because we think it's more important to connect Fylde to the outside world
rather than recirculating people within it.
We recognise the de-facto primary tram/train interchange on the Fylde coast is going to be Blackpool's North railway station.
We strongly support the idea of restoring train services to Fleetwood, and to begin to promote this, we'd like to see serious support given to the railway enthusiasts in
North Fylde who want to remind people what might be possible by temporarily running a simple heritage line from say Burn Naze to the Promenade at Queens Terrace.
We also come down to the idea of a passing loop on the South Fylde line, and if that can be done at St Annes (before the former platform gets converted to car parking) or
en-route to Blackpool South somewhere, then that would still allow the prospect of a southern Blackpool tram - train interchange or hub at the same location.
LOOK OUT FOR NEXT MONDAY....
Although we don't know her as well as we would like, Cat Smith, the Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood seems to be a lady ahead of the game for North Fylde.
Last Friday, (9th January 2019), in the 'Business of the House' session which allowed MP's to question the Leader of the House (Rt.Hon. Jacob Rees-Mogg MP) about various
matters, she spoke, saying:
"As I am the fifth Member to ask about rail, the Leader of the House can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on both sides about transport infrastructure. Can we
have a Transport Minister before us so that we can question them on details of the recent announcements on the reopening of lines closed under Beeching? I am particularly keen
to raise the reopening of the line to Fleetwood."
Mr Rees-Mogg replied:
"The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood raises an important point, as have other hon. and right hon. Members. There is a £500 million pot to reopen lines that were
closed under Beeching, and there will potentially be an opportunity to discuss it on Monday 20 January in the debate on the economy and jobs. Rail is an important part of the
economy, and that debate will be the first occasion to raise it.
I reassure the House that I am not the deaf adder. I have heard very clearly the widespread concern about rail, and it will have been heard by the Government and the
responsible Ministers, too."
So readers with time available can see what's said in that debate - probably in the late afternoon or evening - on Monday 20 Jan. The debate is called 'The Economy And
We also hear The Light Rail Transit Association is sponsoring a
Conference 2020 at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool on
Tuesday, 18 February 2020.
It's being organised by the Trams to Lytham group and hopes to bring together councils, transport professionals and the public.
We think this conference is likely to look mostly at light rail and trams rather than the other options, but we expect speakers and other details to be available in the near future.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT.
If the aim of the Economic Prosperity Board is truly to improve connectivity for passengers WITHIN the Fylde peninsula then the better answer might well be a vast increase
in the number and frequency of bus services that operate in the area. That would have a much less capital cost than any of the tracked schemes that are about to be considered.
It would also avoid the need for a £2m study of rail options.
Yes, it would need an annual subsidy to the bus operators to provide what might otherwise be uneconomic services, but if we want an intra-Fylde public-service-based transport
provide better connectivity, then it will have a cost.
And Transport for London manages to provide such bus services,- the best of which ran on five minute frequencies last time we were there - not the hourly (or in the
worst cases daily) bus services that are dumped on us in the North.
London has a bus service most people in the North have forgotten anyone could have, and that's all down to political decisions.
There is no reason it can't be done here as well if the will exists.
We hope to follow this story as it develops and will keep readers informed when something of significance comes our way.
Dated: 16 January 2020