Tram campaigners have hailed a win-win deal after funding was found to allow pensioners to use the service for free – and to maintain the Fylde coast’s tracks.
The deal between Labour-run Lancashire County and Blackpool councils means Wyre pensioners will once again be allowed to travel on the famous tramlines for free.
Fleetwood resident Angela Patchett, who campaigned for the restoration of the NowCards for Wyre residents on trams, and gathered 3,000 names on a petition in the process, said: “I’m absolutely thrilled, it just shows you that if you make a stand, people will listen.”
The problems started in April 2014 when Blackpool Council said it could no longer afford to fund the travel of pensioners from outside its boundaries.
Lancashire County Council said while it was the transport authority for the Wyre area, it had no obligation to fund concessionary travel for trams, sparking a stand-off between the authorities that left Wyre pensioners unable to use concessionary passes on the system.
But a deal which will see funding for track maintenance in Wyre continue, after Lancashire County Council previously announced it would have to pull its £314,000 funding due to cutbacks, means concessionary travel will return from April.
The county council raised the prospect of services ending at Anchorsholme due to it not being able to afford the maintenance of the tracks in Wyre, following huge Government budget cuts.
But now, thanks to a ‘transitional grant’ from the Government, cash-strapped County Hall has agreed to continue the £314,000 a year it provides to Blackpool for maintenance to the tram tracks – and Blackpool has in turn agreed to reinstate the concessionary fares on the trams.
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 difficult budget proposals.
The proposals, were passed by majority vote but opposed by Tory members.
County Coun John Fillis, cabinet member for Transport at Lancashire County Council, said: “We’re very pleased to have worked directly with Blackpool Council to restore the NowCard to Wyre residents, and at the same time establish a service agreement for maintenance of the tracks which will safeguard the trams for the near future.”
Coun Christine Wright, chairman of Blackpool Transport, said it was good news Lancashire had agreed to retain £314,000 within its budget for the maintenance of the tramway.
And she welcomed the move to allow Wyre residents free travel on the trams with their NowCards.
Coun Wright 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 for their residents.
“The machines dispensing the tickets can easily be altered to identify which passengers are from Wyre, and we will be monitoring the situation.
“It is also good news Lancashire is retaining its maintenance budget because it would have been devastating if the tramway had had to end at Anchorsholme, especially for the residents of Fleetwood.
“I sympathise with Lancashire County Council which has had some very difficult budget decisions to make, but it was vital to keep the tramway going.”
Fleetwood County Coun Lorraine Beavers played a key role in the negotiations and 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 £300,000 plus 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.
And she criticised Wyre Tory councillors for not supporting the Labour budget.
She said: “By voting against our budget and the amendment on trams, those councillors were putting their party before the people of Cleveleys and Wyre.”
But Wyre Council leader, Coun Peter Gibson said: “We certainly welcome the reinstatement of the NowCards.
“We said all along that this funding was the responsibility of Lancashire County Council as the transport authority for our area, and it is nice that they have accepted that responsibilty.”
And Cleveleys County Coun Andrea Kay hit back at the criticism: “I have campaigned, with others, 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.”
MP Paul Maynard pointed out the Government had helped by providing £1.8m to Lancashire from the total £300m Transition Fund.
The Cleveleys MP said: “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, and from many 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 more than £1m extra for Lancashire.
“The county has now run out of excuses and has to do right by local people.”