£22m tramway expansion is approved despite taxi drivers’ objections

The new tramway extension proposed for Blackpool
The new tramway extension proposed for Blackpool
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A £22m expansion of the Blackpool tramway has secured town hall approval - despite a last-ditch plea from taxi drivers for a re-think.

Councillors tonight voted in favour of the scheme to extend the line up Talbot Road to North Station, saying connectivity with the railway network was the right way forward.

An application will now be made to the Secretary of State for Transport to authorise the work.

A full meeting of Blackpool Council said the resort had to follow in the footsteps of cities such as Manchester which had successfully linked their tramways with the rail system.

Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of the council, said: “Every town in the country that has a tramway or underground, operates it to meet with the major railway system, for example Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield, and there are clear advantages to this.”

She said measures would be taken to minimise potential disruption.

Coun Campbell added: “Councillors are looking at the detail and making sure we get it right and that’s why we delayed the decision at executive.

“We are questioning things with the intention of minimising disruption during the work and so it works as well as possible when completed.”

But representatives of Blackpool Licensed Taxi Operators Association told the meeting they feared the move would lead to traffic congestion.

Association secretary Bill Lewtas warned surrounding town centre roads including the Promenade, Abingdon Street and Clifton Street would become gridlocked.

He said drivers travelling between the north and south of the resort would use other routes such as Whitegate Drive,clogging them up as well.

Fellow taxi driver Steve Buckley also told the meeting: “There is severe congestion in the town centre already.

“We are set against this project going up Talbot Road.”

Coun Peter Callow backed the cabbies who he said would lose income.

He said: “Many taxis line up at Blackpool North Station and this trade is their bread and butter.

“To rob them of their livelihood is disgraceful.

“I can remember when trams ran throughout the town causing absolute traffic chaos. That is why we got rid of them.

“Why bring them back?

“I also believe the priest at Sacred Heart Church on Talbot Road is worried about trams disrupting funeral services.

“I say scrap this plan.”

But Coun David O’Hara argued: “Co-ordination between taxis, trams and buses is what is working in all the major towns and cities.”

Transport chiefs say the scheme, which has already secured funding from the Department for Transport, will improve connectivity with rail services, encourage use of public transport and boost economic growth.

Following a recorded vote, the recommendation was approved by 26 votes to 11 with Labour members in favour and Conservatives opposed to the plans.