Fleetwood to Poulton rail line could be first to re-open as minister launches £500m Beeching reversal on Fylde coast

Transport minister Grant Shapps  pledged to get moving "very fast" on plans to re-open the Fleetwood to Poulton railway line as he visited the Fylde coast to launch the Government's £500m strategy to reverse the Beeching cuts.

Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 4:47 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 4:48 pm

He said the line, which closed in 1970, would be the first to be restored as part of proposals to reconnect tracks axed during the 1960s.

It follows a promise made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Thornton station on the same line during the General Election campaign.

A £100,000 feasability study will now be carried out to examine options with both light and heavy rail under consideration.

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Minister for Transport Grant Shapps with Brian Crawford, chairman of the Poulton and Wyre Railway Society Picture by Gordon Head

Possibilities include linking the line to the traditional rail network, or as part of a tram loop around the Fylde coast.

Mr Shapps said: "We want to do this within the lifetime of the Parliament.

"One thing I have discovered since coming here today is there is a degree of debate locally as to should it be light rail or should it be heavy rail, and exactly how it should work.

"We are determined to move it ahead very fast. I have been listening to the views of local MPs like Paul Maynard, Ben Wallace and others but it will be a local decision as to how to proceed with it.

Grant Shapps with campaigners including Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard Picture by Gordon Head

"What we are doing today is providing £100,000 in order to carry out that feasability study and we will be guided by the community."

Mr Shapps was also encouraging of a £2m joint bid by Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Councils as part of their submissions for a share of the Future High Street Fund towards building a business case for the tram loop.

He said: "There are various different pots of money for local community transport.

"One of the things I am really keen to do as Secretary of State for Transport is to get to communities that have found it difficult to get around by car for so long.

"The Beeching cuts are emblematic of those cut off and left behind and that's what we want to reverse."

The minister said he believed reconnecting communities through transport was vital to increasing economic productivity.

He added: "We won the election on the basis we would be the government that reconnected left behind communities and that is why I have come straight back here so quickly into this new government to announce the Beeching reversal right here.

"We want to level up across the country and we think the way to do that is to put better transport in place and we want to get this moving very fast.

"I imagine pressure on the government from me to make this happen very, very quickly but it is for the local community to decide how it wants to proceed through local leadership, MPs and I know there are a couple of fantastic heritage groups here.

"They will work out how to take this forward and I will be guided by that but speed is of the essence."

Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said: "I have been campaigning for a tram loop for some time but there are lots of options we'll be looking at.

"We want to come up with the right one for people to get to where they work, to take cars off the road and one which is better for the environment."

Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said the three Fylde coast councils were working together to come up with the best solution.

He said: "We are bidding for £2m through the Future High Streets Fund for a feasability study on improving connectivity on the Fylde coast.

"That will help to inform whether that's a heavy rail solution or light rail. The main thing is there is support from government and all three councils to get this up and running which is very exciting."

Managing director of Blackpool Tranport Jane Cole said people were now working towards the same goal of improving links to Fleetwood.

She said: "Let's do the best thing for the local economy."