Tram-users in Wyre have double reason to celebrate after a common sense “win-win” deal was struck between two councils.
The arrangement between Labour-run Lancashire County and Blackpool councils means funding for track maintenance in Wyre will continue - and pensioners in Fleetwood and Cleveleys will now be able to make use of their NowCard concessions again and travel free on trams from April.
Cash-strapped County has agreed to continue the £314,000 a year it provides to Blackpool for maintenance to the tram tracks, while Blackpool has in turn agreed to reinstate the concessionary fares on the trams.
It was in April 2014 that Blackpool Council stopped funding free travel for NowCard holders living outside the resort, meaning pensioners in Fleetwood and Cleveleys have had to pay full fare, saying it could no longer afford it.
And in the face of massive savings needed to be made by Lancashire County after severe Government cuts, the authority was considering axing the £314,000 it provides to Blackpool towards tram track maintenance, leading to fears that the trams would stop at Blackpool-run Anchorsholme.
But the deal was struck at County Hall’s tense full council meeting on Thursday night, when the ruling Labour group included the deal as a late amendment to their difficult budget proposals.
Lancashire Council Council’s decisions contained a mix of good and bad news
The proposals, including cuts to services in the face of massive Government funding reductions, were passed by majority vote but opposed by Tory members.
The NowCard development has been welcomed by delighted tram users and campaigners in Fleetwood and Wyre, but while both Labour and Conservatives say it is a good move, it has still caused a political row between them.
Labour have hit out at County’s Conservative councillors for not backing the budget proposals, while there has also been a fall-out with Tory-run Wyre Council.
Fleetwood West County Councillor, Lorraine Beavers, who played a key role in the negotiations with Blackpool, said: “We have come up with a deal which is excellent news for tram users in Fleetwood and Cleveleys, it is a win-win arrangement.
“We will pay Blackpool the £314,000 to maintain the tram tracks if Blackpool allows Wyre residents to use their NowCards.
“We’ve agreed to working with Blackpool on this for the good of residents in Wyre and the shops - including Fleetwood Market.”
But Coun Beavers hit out at Coun Peter Gibson, the leader of Conservative run Wyre Council, for refusing to offer any help in the funding of the NowCard in the borough when asked to enter negotiations.
However, Wyre Council leader, Coun Peter Gibson, had a different take on the issue and said: “We certainly welcome the reinstatement of the NowCards to Wyre residents.
“We said all along that this funding was the responsibility of Lancashire County Council as the transport authority for our area, not the responsibility of Wyre, and it is nice that they have accepted that responsibilty.”
Coun Gibson praised Paul Maynard, the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, for the part he had played in lobbying parliament for the restoration of NowCards for Wyre residents.
Labour’s John Fillis, Cabinet member for Highways and Transport said: “I’m delighted that we were able to work with Blackpool Council to come to an agreement that will mean Wyre residents will be able to use their NOW cards on the Blackpool Tramway, at no extra cost to Lancashire County Council. The trams are an important part of the transport infrastructure in the area and as well enabling local people to get around more easily, this will no doubt give a welcome economic boost to businesses along the tram route.”
“We were disappointed that when it came to the recorded vote that every Conservative County Councillor voted against the restoration of the NOW Card provision for the people from Wyre on Blackpool Trams.”
Coun Christine Wright, chairman of Blackpool Transport, said: “I am pleased Lancashire has found the funds for their residents and we had said all along that that needed to happen because it was not right that Blackpool Council was paying.
“The machines dispensing the tickets can easily be altered to identify which passengers are from Wyre, and we will be monitoring the situation.
“The trams are doing very well and are running every 10 minutes, so there will be enough capacity.
“It is also good news that Lancashire is retaining its maintenance budget because it would have been devastating if the tramway had had to end at Cleveleys, especially for the residents of Fleetwood.”
But Coun Adrea Kay, a Cleveleys Tory councillor, defended her decision not to vote for the majority Labour proposals.
She said: “I have campaigned for the free tram travel tirelessly, but I could not vote for the overall budget proposals when they included cuts to buses in my constituency which will leave children and older people cut off and isolated.”
And Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard, commented: “Lancashire Council Council’s decisions contained a mix of good and bad news.
“Devastating cuts to local bus and other services, but a major U-turn, after sustained pressure from myself, local councillors like Andrea Kay and Patsy Ormrod, and from local residents has seen the county agree to reinstate tram use in the national concessionary scheme.
“It was a stupid decision in the first place, but due to my recent lobbying, my thanks go to Andrew Jones, the Transport Minister for questioning Lancashire County Council and to Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Local Government for finding over £1,000,000 extra in cash for Lancashire.”