Mrs Enid Pearson, 83, and not too steady on her feet, reckons she lives the “wrong side of the tracks” at Cleveleys. Near neighbours Clara and Paulo Mirrelson agree. “We feel marooned,” they say.
For years they have crossed the tram tracks to reach Cleveleys Health Centre on Kelso Avenue on foot or by car.
Now they go via the town centre or Anchorsholme Lane and back track from there.
Bus stops have also gone. It’s as tough for locals other side of the tracks too, wanting to nip to the centre, or beach.
Closing the crossing for track renewal ahead of the supertram upgrade has driven traffic onto residential streets, such as St Georges Avenue, which has two churches and one primary school. One church, Cleveleys Baptist, hosts tonight’s public protest meeting about the issue at 7pm.
The crossing will reopen by September but it’s a temporary reprieve. A decision on its long term future has been deferred to September 7 by Blackpool Council’s executive. Officers will recommend it closes permanently. To signalise the junction, the compromise for locals, would cost £400k, which wasn’t budgeted for within the contract, say chiefs.
Enid is one of 3,100 local residents furious at the proposal. It took her 30 minutes to walk to the health centre opposite her home. She got back, having paid £5.36 for a cab, to find a letter recalling her next day for a blood test. “I cancelled. Couldn’t face it,” she says.
That worries Dr Catherine Scott, one of the medics at the dual-practice health centre, protesting at the crossing’s closure. She explains: “For elderly or less mobile patients this is causing great difficulties. We worry they will start to miss appointments or fail to make them. No buses stop near the surgery now. Drivers often park the other side of the track but can no longer cross. If it closes permanently traffic and health implications are immense.”
Anne Goosnam, 83, stood vigil outside the centre for two weeks collecting signatures which ward councillor Tony Williams hopes will force the issue before full council. “The executive should do the decent thing and let full council debate it,” he says.
Local MP Paul Maynard adds: “I lobbied the last council for the crossing to remain open and was delighted they agreed. I’m disappointed that due to poor communications and management the decision was not implemented. I am also concerned we are seeing a Labour U-turn. The council cannot turn its back on the residents of Anchorsholme by failing to reopen this crossing.”
Victoria (Cleveleys) ward councillor Patsy Ormrod has also tabled a motion urging Wyre councillors, at full council meeting on September 8, to back the residents’ fight against the decision by Blackpool town hall.
People power forced the former Tory-led council to rethink an earlier decision to close the crossing. Blackpool’s executive, in July 2010, said a full prohibition traffic order was not “necessary” and opted to keep it open.
But tramway contractors Bam Nuttall were not notified of the change of heart. Work proceeded until residents noticed and raised the alarm. It was halted just as double yellow lines were being painted.
The executive met last month and deferred a decision until next month when officers will again recommend permanent closure, on safety grounds, light traffic use, and alternative routes nearby.
Tonight residents will choose a champion to fight their corner, for five permitted minutes, at next month’s meeting. Many say their right to pedestrian and vehicular access is enshrined within property deeds by act of parliament of 1897. “It would surely take another to remove that right,” says Frank Bilsborrow, of Kelso Avenue, who spotted the clause. Officers say the council as landowner, and traffic authority, has the right to close the crossing, but residents may take legal advice.
Officers also say the Office of the Rail Regulator is concerned. A spokesperson for the OR tells me: “The ORR has not requested the closure of the tramway crossing between Lauderdale Avenue and Blanford Avenue. Rather, ORR inspectors have worked with the local council and Blackpool Transport in an advisory role, having been informed of the council’s plans. Closure of any road intersection with the tramway is a matter for tramway operator and highway authorities.”
John Donnellon, Blackpool Council’s built environment service director, will attend tonight’s public meeting and concedes: “Where we fell down is we didn’t make explicitly clear the executive decision to keep that junction open. It will reopen as an uncontrolled crossing to traffic, by September. Nothing is set in stone.
“We planned to put in a pedestrian crossing, not least because of the health centre, but the officers’ view is a traffic prohibition order is the most appropriate solution. The rail regulator are not going to tell us we must do this but if there’s any fault with it they won’t certify the tramway.
“My view is they will not approve it either closed or signalised. Signalising is a costly option. Our contracts were based on certain actions which did not include signalisation here.”