‘Bang heads’ over free travel row

Pensioners in Fleetwood have called on Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to use his influence to bring about a solution to the free tram travel row in Wyre.

The minister was at Rossall School to talk to residents about transport issues last week.

And Mr McLoughlin heard how senior citizens living in Fleetwood and Cleveleys could no longer use their Now Cards to have free travel on the trams, although they could still use them on the buses.

The decision to scrap the tram concessions for people outside the resort was taken by cash-strapped Blackpool Council last year.

Blackpool says it will save £180,000 as a result, and argues that it should offer the concession only to its own residents.

But Fleetwood man Iain Johnstone, who has a background in the guesthouse trade, told Mr McLoughlin: “We have got two transport authorities, Blackpool Council and Lancashire Council, who oversee the tramway system.

“Someone at your ministry has to bang heads together to avoid this situation happening again.”

Mr McLoughlin told him: “Usually trams - or light railway systems - operate under only one transport authority.

“This case is unusual in that the route is covered by the two. Sheffield is another one.

“You (residents) can also bang heads together. Make it clear to Lancashire County Council and Blackpool that they are not treating you fairly.”

Angela Patchett, a Fleetwood campaigner, told Mr McLoughlin she had started a petition to get the NowCard concessions on trams reinstated for Wyre residents.

Mr McLoughlin said residents were right to make their feelings known.

And Coun Dave Shaw, of Fleetwood Town Council, said: “The construction of the new tram system caused a lot of problems in Fleetwood, especially for traders

“Then, in April last year, NowCard concessions stopped for people in Fleetwood and Cleveleys. That has affected 8,000 elderly people in Fleetwood alone.”

The minister accepted that tax payers had paid toward the Government’s contribution of £60m to upgrade the trams, and he said: “I know about the huge disruption to the tramway in Fleetwood and Cleveleys.” John Woodman, of the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust, which planned to open a tram museum and heritage centre in Fleetwood, said to the minister: “You came to this meeting today on a German-made tram. The vast majority of modern trams in this country are made in France, Germany or elsewhere.

“We used to have a superb British industry for the manufacturing of trams. Can the Government help in a return to that situation?”

Mr McLoughlin said: “Bombardier may be German but it does employ a lot of people in this country.

“I understand the Blackpool trams were finished off in the company’s Derbyshire plant. And I am pleased to see that Hitachi Rail Europe is opening a new factory at Newton Aycliffe in Durham, so in terms of jobs Britain is not losing out.”