£100m deal to get Blackpool buzzing

BLACKPOOL has been given a multi-million pound boost.

The Government today sealed an ambitious 100m deal to upgrade the Blackpool to Fleetwood tram service.

Work will start later this month and the 16 new trams will be up and running by April 2012.

And Blackpool Council is set to inject 3m into empty shop premises in a move that will bring scores of workers back to the town centre.

Town hall chiefs have agreed to buy the former Harvey's furniture store at the corner of Birley Street and Abingdon Street for around 1.2m.

They will then refurbish the three-storey building at a cost of 1.8m.

Transport minister Sadiq Khan was in the resort today – on his first

ministerial engagement – to rubber stamp the tram service plans, which will revitialise the route from Blackpool to Fleetwood.

The Government will contribute 68.3m to the plan while Blackpool Council and Lancashire County Council have handed over 33.4m.

Mr Khan said: "This scheme will deliver significant benefits for the local community.

"Trams have been running in Blackpool for more than 100 years – I hope this funding will mean the world-famous tramway can continue to run well into the future."

Government funding is on top of 11.8m given to the resort almost four years ago to fund emergency repairs along the Promenade tram system.

Cash from the scheme will be spent on replacing 8km of tram track

between Starr Gate and Fleetwood, buying the fleet of 16 Bombardier trams, which will offer shorter journey times, and rebuilding tram stops.

Coun Peter Callow, leader of Blackpool Council, said: "This is a great day for Blackpool and we are very grateful to the Government for supporting our ambitions."

Blackpool trams have been running since 1885 and the tracks are owned by the council.

Lancashire County Council leader, Geoff Driver, said: "The new trams will be a great boost to tourism and business."

In the town centre, 70 staff from Blackpool Coastal Housing (BCH) will relocate from Progress House in Marton to the former Harvey's store, which has been empty since May 2008.

Coun Maxine Callow, cabinet member for tourism and regeneration, said: "It's all about bringing trade to the town centre, which is vital."

BCH will use the top two floors as offices and there will be a Home Stop Shop on the ground floor.

Other organisations will also be able to lease space in the building.

It is hoped the move will boost an ailing part of the town centre, which has suffered since the Post Office relocated its counter service to WH Smith on Bank Hey Street.

Robert Littlewood, manager of Abingdon Street Market, said: "Workers might come in during their lunch hour to spend their money. This is good news."