Row over new bid to reinstate free trams

Tram outside the North Euston Hotel, Fleetwood.
Tram outside the North Euston Hotel, Fleetwood.

A row has erupted over who should foot the bill if free tram travel for Wyre pensioners is reinstated.

Councillors have been accused of politicising the issue and letting down residents by putting party politics ahead of finding a way to reinstate subsidies for NowCard holders.

The Gazette reported last week how County Coun David Borrow, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, had opened talks with Wyre Council leader Coun Peter Gibson over sharing the bill to allow pensioners from Wyre to again use the trams for free, after Blackpool Council axed the perk to save £700,000.

But talks now appear to have stalled over ways to plug the gap.

Coun Gibson has called for Labour-run County Hall to bear the cost – thought to be around £180,000.

He met with County Coun Borrow, but claims he was asked to find the money to fund it.

Coun Gibson reported on the discussions at a heated full council meeting – and disputed Labour claims that County Hall had offered to share the cost.

He said: “There was no offer on the table at all. In that meeting, Coun Borrow said, ‘Would Wyre be willing to fund this?’

“I said ‘no’ – we have not got any money in the budget for this and we are not the transport authority. It is not up to Wyre to fund the trams.

“I tried to facilitate a meeting between Lancashire County Council and Blackpool Council but, despite giving them weeks of notice, neither could – or should I say would – attend.”

But Coun Borrow told The Gazette afterwards that County Hall is prepared to share the cost with Wyre.

He said: “I thought we had a very reasonable conversation. If the county and Wyre are prepared to jointly fund the extra money that is needed, the county is prepared to pay its part.

“We have been in talks with Blackpool to see if the ticketing changes are possible, and are waiting to find out what the costs are.”

But he said the county council is facing a £300m budget shortfall and cannot shoulder the burden alone.

The county council operates the NowCard scheme for bus travel, as the transport authority for Lancashire, but there is no legal requirement to extend the scheme to cover tram travel.

And the Labour group on Wyre Council came under fire from Conservative councillors for saying the borough should meet some of the cost.

Group leader Penny Martin put forward an amendment to a notice of motion proposed at Thursday’s meeting that appeared to call for Wyre to play a greater part in finding a solution to the problem.

Her amendment was defeated but the original notice of motion, calling for the county council and Blackpool Council to work together to resolve the issue, was passed.

Speaking after the meeting, Coun Martin said it would be unfair for residents in the rest of Lancashire to fund a scheme that does not affect them, and it is right to expect Wyre council to contribute.

She added: “This was about getting the people of Fleetwood and Cleveleys back on the trams.

“It’s about Lancashire County and Wyre (councils) putting some money in to fund this, but when it comes to putting their hands in their pockets, they are not prepared to do it.”

But Coun Gibson said the Labour group’s amendment to the notice of motion was politically motivated, and designed to shift responsibility away from County Hall.

He added: “Labour did not support the notice of motion and I think it was an absolute disgrace.”

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