Fleetwood could lose its vital tram link to Blackpool in the wake of massive county hall budget cuts.
Lancashire County Council (LCC) has proposed to stop all of its funding for the tram lines in Wyre as it tries to plug a £65m hole in its finances.
The proposal is among a raft of measures put forward in its budget recommendations which could also see funding for Fleetwood Museum and the Knott End Ferry end, and a number of Wyre libraries closed.
If approved, the authority would stop its £280,000-a-year contribution towards the upkeep of the tram line in Wyre - and Blackpool Council says it could not afford to fund the line outside of the town.
The Weekly News understands Blackpool Council, which is also facing severe financial pressures, is seeking urgent reassurance over the plans that could result in services to Fleetwood stopped.
Coun Peter Gibson said: “It would be devastating to Fleetwood if the trams were to be lost.
It would be devastating to Fleetwood if the trams were to be lost
“Some of the key issues councils must look at is infrastructure and transport and if you lose your transport links, it hits your infrastructure.
“There are other ways of saving money and I don’t agree with the way Lancashire is looking at this whole situation.”
Coun Gibson voiced fears that the loss of the trams could even effect the tourism aspect of projects such as the proposed barrage scheme.
A report to members of LCC’s cabinet said: “The proposal will have a detrimental impact upon the financial viability of the Blackpool tram service.
“A worst-case scenario would be that Blackpool Council would cease maintenance of the tramway infrastructure that runs through Lancashire.
“In the event that the infrastructure deteriorated to a point where it was unsafe the tram service through Lancashire would cease.”
The two councils each pay for the upkeep of the line in their respective areas, with LCC responsible for the track north of Victoria Road West in Cleveleys. Neither has a statutory obligation to fund the service.
While the authorities may yet seek an alternative source of income to plug the gap, the move puts the viability of the line at risk.
Fleetwood Coun Ruth Duffy, Wyre Labour leader, said: “As a direct result of the Government cutbacks, services will be devastated.
“If the trams stopped it would be a huge blow to Fleetwood and also to Blackpool.
“The County Council has a very difficult decision to make and obviously has to look first to its statutory services like schools, before the museums and libraries.
“The Government should go after tax avoiders like Starbucks instead of decimating our councils and key services.”
Trader Derek Eaton, who runs the Lighthouse Stationers and is a prominent member of Fleetwood Chamber of Trade, said: “If anything happened to stop the trams coming to Fleetwood, it would kill the town off. The town centre is already on its knees.
“I personally don’t believe the trams will be stopped because there has been so much investment in the new tracks in Cleveleys and Wyre, it wouldn’t make sense.”
Cafe owner Colin Hand, who runs the Capricorn cafe on Lord Street, said: “Fleetwood has not recovered since the new tram tracks were laid a few years back.
“The disruption that caused, over about 18 months, killed the town. Fleetwood shops lost money, we lost customers and haven’t really got them back.
“If we lost the trams now it would be the final nail in the coffin.”
Robert Brown, chairman of Fleetwood Chamber of Trade and a stallholder at Fleetwood Market, said: “If the trams stop we may as well shut the door.
“It would be particularly devastating to Fleetwood Market, which relies very heavily on tram passengers from Blackpool.”
Coun Terry Rogers, leader of Fleetwood Town Council, said: “If we were to lose the trams in Fleetwood, this town would be devastated.
“We are already on our knees as it is.
“What I am hoping is that, because Fleetwood is one of the most deprived areas in the county, money can be ringfenced to protect this town from the worst of the cutbacks.
“There are more affluent areas within Lancashire which are in a better position than us to lose key services.”
Coun Rogers added that County Hall leaders needed to speak directly with third tier councils in Lancashire, such as Fleetwood Town Council, to see how the smaller authorities could help.
He added: “Parish councils can raise money which may, in extreme circumstances, help contribute to certain key services.”
Coun Gillian Campbell, Blackpool Council’s deputy leader, said: “Lancashire County Council have asked to meet us to discuss this proposal.
“While we cannot fund such costs outside our boundary, we hope that in the spirit of working towards a combined authority, a long-term solution can be found which allows both residents and visitors, across the Fylde coast, to continue to enjoy the full length of the tramway.”
Earlier this year a Tram Forward Group report showed the number of people using the trams has fallen since Blackpool Council stopped allowing pensioners who live outside the resort to ride for free.
Port could suffer cuts onslaught
Fleetwood could be facing up to the devastating loss of key services if budget proposals at Lancashire Council get the go ahead.
At potential risk are key services in the port such as Fleetwood Museum, the town’s library and the Knott End ferry.
There are also concerns in the town for the future of the tram service in Fleetwood and Wyre after County proposed a possible cut of £280,000 towards the tram service.
Cash-strapped Blackpool Council would be left trying to find funds to cover this shortfall, with services outside Blackpool most at risk.
The services are at risk because County Hall needs to make massive multi-million pound savings as Government cutbacks bite.
County Councillor Lorraine Beavers, from Fleetwood, said County Hall was facing up to the toughest of decisions as it tried to choose which services would have to be lost.
She said: “We are having to make these cuts because the Government is slashing funding for councils all over this country, and not just Labour councils.
“It means we are at risk of losing key services in Fleetwood.
“I will be fighting as hard as I can, like all the other councillors, to try and safeguard services in this town.
“Unfortunately, the priority will be statutory services which looked after vulnerable children and adults who need the most help of all.”
But Wyre Council leader, Coun Peter Gibson, said County Hall had not prioritised and said: “There are other ways of saving than cutting key services which will have a devastating effect on Fleetwood.”
County needs to save £65m over the next two years, which would result in the loss of the equivalent of an estimated 367 full-time jobs.
The job losses would be in addition to the 1100 staff who have already left the authority, having taken voluntary redundancy since January 2014.
At the same time the council will be continuing work on delivering the remaining savings identified last year, adding up to a further saving of almost £148m over the period 2015/16 to 2017/18 and a further reduction of more than 500 full-time equivalent posts.
The proposals follow the announcement in August that the council will need to save an additional £262m by April 2020, to tackle a funding gap caused by reduced government funding and rising demand for services.
Services are vital to our town and its people
Coun Peter Gibson, the leader of Conservative-led Wyre Council, said funding cuts which could affect spending on tram maintenance, the Fleetwood to Knott End ferry, Fleetwood Museum and other services could be avoided.
He said: “I am really worried that the county council is looking at those services as though they are not necessary, when they clearly are.
“These cuts will hit Fleetwood and Wyre hard.
“For example, we pay half the funding toward the knott End to Fleetwood ferry and if County withdrew their half, we would really struggle to pay for all of it.
“We are not a transport authority at the end of the day.”
Coun Gibson rejected Labour claims that it was the Conservative Government’s austerity measures which were forcing the county council’s hands on the savage cutbacks.
He said: “Obviously there are serious financial considerations but it is a question of priorities, and that choice is down to the county council.
“At Wyre we have made it clear we don’t cut main line services and at the same time we make sure the council tax is kept low. It’s all about good management.
“Lancashire should look at its staffing structure and see how savings can be made there, before cutting key services.”