Look At It This Way - July 24, 2015

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When I questioned the priorities of Blackpool Council in using’ ‘contingency’ funds to employ a £35k per annum ‘political’ assistant for the Labour group I wasn’t banking on reading days later about the last two council-run nurseries being closed by council ‘efficiencies’.

The nurseries at Grange Park and Talbot and Brunswick Sure Start centres are deemed surplus to requirements – even with 97 children on their books.

The public service provided is considered crucial by families in communities already clobbered by social welfare cuts who don’t want to have to transfer their kids to private sector nurseries.

I don’t need ‘political’ assistance to tell me which way the wind is blowing when there’s been a rebellion by 48 Labour MPs, 18 of them new, with regard to £12bn welfare cuts to child tax credits and in-work benefits.

Or to question - as a Blackpool council taxpayer and a Labour voter - how we possibly justify borrowing £11.3m to build a £14m four star hotel in a ‘central business district’ big on style but short on substance – while we can’t afford to retain two nurseries for local children, one of them nearby.

Premier Inn may not be four star but it’s interested in building a showcase hotel in Blackpool on the old Yates spot, rather than rely on council taxpayers to do that, and raise the benchmark for budget accommodation.

It will help attract its own client base to the town centre proper, the historic one, not the civic satellite. Not that Blackpool’s all about tourism, as I seem to remember the self styled people’s party telling us once. For me, it’s certainly not all about hotels, or Cats coming back, or whatever restaurant can be found for the Tower Lounge which, for all its brashness, was a cash cow which help underpin the big stuff above.

A Blackpool Museum may be better news but I don’t want the whole resort to embody Lost Dreams,Former Follies and Costly Consultancies –and a football club run like a closed shop.

We’ve still got Carneskys ghost train languishing on the seafront, legacy of a Tory folly, boarded up and looking more haunted than ever.

It’s been shut for over a year having made £600 against a start up cost of £285k. Arguably it’s the closest to an electrifying spectacle we’re likely to get on or off the rails.

We now face uncertainty over the time and arguably reality of electrification of the proper railway line, shunted back a year to 2017, and now being assessed by a Network Rail “’deliverability review”. And remember all the time and money lost to the on-off rail franchise debacle a few years back?

I’ve written about proposed electrification of that line since I became a journalist 42 years ago. I’ll believe when I see it.

It’s 50 years since Central Station (the one Dr Beeching wanted to keep) closed and the council’s been trying to move police off the site for the last 10. If they succeed, and signs are they should, that could be a real game changer for major development. But we need to watch that space carefully.

We talk of a ‘northern powerhouse’ when much of the power will drift or devolve to Manchester and Liverpool at the likely cost of Lancashire unless we act now and galvanise those with real clout to fight our corner.

Blackpool is a small but vocal corner of that county, administratively disenfranchised from County Hall, disaffected to some degree and a transport/access cul de sac.

You have to want to be here to come here. Blackpool is bypassed by many. Sometimes even I don’t want to be here. I just have no idea how to leave town. I can’t find a bus station, our airport is no longer international, yet we still want to borrow £4.7 m to bridge the Dept of Transport’s shortfall and fund a tram link from North Station to North Pier? And heaven help smokers if they want to spark up on the beach. It could be banned.

Perhaps our council, under public health policies, should make it compulsory for all able bodied adults under the age of 60 to use that other relic, the rent-a-cycle scheme, to bike about town or work.

Or walk. Because the ludicrously overblown concept of Shared Space with its utopian ideals of car, landau, motorbike, cyclist, pedestrian and mobility scooter tootling about in perfect harmony has been found lacking too. The aesthetically pleasing block paving isn’t up to the task. It’s been replaced by functional asphalt. Another £140k found from council ‘savings’.

At least the council’s sofa is still taking to the roads for those meet-the-locals mobile chat rooms. Sofa, so good? Stuff it.