Tramway extension work to start despite approval delay

An artist's impression of the tramway extension
An artist's impression of the tramway extension
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Work to extend Blackpool’s tramway is due to start next month despite the £21m scheme  not yet having offical government approval, it has emerged.

Enabling work is due to begin in November in preparation for the investment to extend the track from North Pier to North Station.

An artist's impression of the tramway extension

An artist's impression of the tramway extension

But the Transport Minister has yet to finally confirm the Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) which is the final hurdle in the process.

Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservatives on Blackpool Council, said; “I’ve asked the council’s chief executive Neil Jack about this and he seems confident there will not be a problem.

“But I think they have jumped the gun and I would have waited until I had got the minister’s signature.

“If something critical happens and the minister can’t or won’t sign off on the scheme, then were are going to be left with a big bill.”

Sections of Talbot Road and Dickson Road are expected to be closed from next month while enabling work, including relocation of utilities, is carried out in readiness for the new track to be laid.

The scheme is being funded through £16.4m from the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership which is essentially government money, and £4.7m from the council.

But council chiefs say they must proceed with the scheme or risk losing the funding.

They say the final decision has been delayed due to June’s general election but they expect the order to be confirmed.

Coun Fred Jackson, cabinet member for highways, said: “The Transport and Works Act Order for the Tramway has already gone through all but one of the stages required.

“Following extensive public consultation the Secretary of State has already agreed that the objections did not warrant a public inquiry or a hearing.

"This confirmation invited us to ask the Secretary of State to confirm the order in writing. This process known as the written procedure was completed on 16 December 2016.

"On 10 January 2017 the Secretary of State confirmed that he had sufficient information to make the order. The expected timeline from that confirmation until publication of the order is normally 3 months.

“We understand as the election was called within that period there are now a number of such cases from across the country awaiting the Secretary of State’s confirmation which should, as has been stated previously, be a formality given the process that has been followed to date.

"Paul Maynard (who is a Minister in the same department) is aware of this position already.

“As with any major project there are timescales to be met for funding and many other issues. Given the fact that the TWAO process has run smoothly, other than this backlog, it is perfectly reasonable for us to proceed.

"If we do not we would also risk losing the funding we have won for the tramway extension, which cannot be issued for any other purpose.

"The money spent to date and committed comes from sources that are specific to the tramway which could not be diverted to other purposes so there is no money at risk.

"The risk is much greater if we do not start the diversion works in time which would have a consequential knock on effect to the rest of the works and, as I have already said, the funding allocated to the project.

“The consultation process carried out in respect of the Transport and Works Act Order and the Secretary of State’s response would suggest that the tramway is not only wanted but it is needed.

"It has a huge positive economic impact and a significant positive environmental impact."