Businesses open “as normal.”
Of all of the signs of the times marking out ongoing tramwork chaos at Blackpool, Fleetwood and Cleveleys – this is perhaps the most ironic.
Don’t talk to Maxime Hotel owner Tony Adams about “normal”. He’s barely had passing trade since his stretch of North Promenade – and his hotel all but overlooks Gynn roundabout – was blighted by tramworks.
Tony says for the better part of a week, on top of months of partial closure, road access closed altogether, after sewers collapsed in neighbouring Dickson Road guests booked in couldn’t reach the hotel to drop off luggage or elderly or infirm guests.
Now the precious patch of parking outside his hotel has been marked “suspended bay”.
“People who have booked in have checked out rather than stay and face this mess,” he admits “No, we haven’t given them refunds. It’s not our fault. But it’s goodwill lost.”
This is three-star guest accommodation by official accreditation, £25 a night B&B complete with leisure centre, but Tony wants out, of official schemes, anything that costs him, be it VisitBlackpool, the holiday guide, or paying his rates. “I’m not paying,” he vows.
The deal, he says, is too one-sided. There are enough pressures on hoteliers, he says, as the proliferation of closed hotels, and others going over to DSS trade shows. He is looking for at least £30.000 compensation for loss of trade.
He adds: “The road outside the Hilton never closed, not completely, not like ours did. We’ve been here 38 years. That’s our reward for loyalty to this town.”
In the town centre, Jade Clewlow negotiates more backstreet closures to walk her dog. Jade’s from Cambridgeshire, where they know “how to make roads work”, and in the six months she has lived off Reads Avenue, she has been baffled by the proliferation of short cycle routes leading nowhere, and roadworks everywhere.
“This shared space idea on Central Promenade is crazy. It will just add to congestion. Cars and coaches and horses and carriages can’t share spaces with pedestrians – especially visitors who have been drinking.”
In Cleveleys, there’s another sign to add to the signs of road closed, diversions, no left turn. Buried services, it says. Now there’s another irony, say traders, who reckon business is flat lining. Steve Musson runs Furniture2Go on The Crescent. Steve’s sitting it out in every sense. Sofas on sale outside face tramworks and a few straggling shoppers.
It’s like the set of Friends, without the Friends. “I’m close to my limit,” Steve admits. “It’s worrying. I used to take £20k a week. Some days I don’t make a penny, or see a shopper. I pay £400 a week rates. I sent a claim to Wyre Council ages ago, haven’t heard a thing. More shops will close.”
It’s tough going for shoppers too, visitors bemused by the metal fences encasing the tramworks, others gingerly negotiating them, in the hope of finally finding a crossing point.
Even locals struggle to work out where buses now stop, what routes they take, or how, and where, to cross busy roads. Margaret Keenlyside, 80, says: “It’s a disgrace. It’s gone on too long.
“You cross at one place one day, another the next. You trudge around endlessly. Visitor numbers have fallen. The town’s suffering.”
Mrs Marjorie Dyson, 75, uses a disability scooter. “I’m stuck if there’s no lowered flags, or cars park over them. I literally got stuck when the tramworks tore up the tar, and had to get lifted out.”
Fleetwood, hammered by recession, has been particularly badly hit by road closures. “It’s already a dead end town,” says Kyle Archer, 19, with Traci Austin and Julie Allen. “No work here. Nothing to do at all.”
Julie’s home faces tramworks. “It’s like living in a cage. The workmen seem to spend more time digging up what they’ve already done.”
Stephen Morton-Banks agrees. He owns second hand shop Most Wanted at Warrenhurst Avenue, and says it takes him two weeks to earn what he used to make in one day. “I did good business here. No passing trade now. I’ve lost business and Wyre Council offers me about £50 compensation. They can stick it. £14m spent on this scheme, and two years it’s been going on, you could have built the World Trade Centre in less time.”
Jack Wood, of CW Bargains, Lord Street, says he barely earns enough to pay wages. “I sell coffee at 4p over cost price to get people in, but their routine’s gone, they shop elsewhere. I don’t think they’ll come back. I’ve been here 35 years. This mess has cost me £100,000 in takings, about £28,000 gross profit. But it’s the stress that gets you, there’s not a darn thing you can do.”