HC Deb 22 June 2004 vol 422 cc1166-7
3. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con)

What investment his Department will be making in the refurbishment of Blackpool tramway. [179611]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Kim Howells)

As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will understand, there are many pressures on the transport programme and there are several major light rail schemes currently under consideration. We will announce a decision on Blackpool as soon as we can.

Mr. Jack

I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he confirm that all the Members of Parliament who represent the Fylde coast and who have an interest are in the Chamber? Will he also confirm that sustaining an existing transport system, like the Blackpool tramway, is compatible with Government policy? Does he recognise the importance of the project to the regeneration of Black pool and the effect that it will have on the Fylde coast? This project, as it exists, should not be the subject of a determination using an optimism index. The system works and needs to be sustained. Can we have the Minister's support?

Dr. Howells

The right hon. Gentleman is well known for his optimism. I pay tribute to him and to my hon. Friends who have campaigned for the project for a long time. I must remind him. however, that a great deal of investment has gone into light rail. Indeed, the number of passengers carried on light rail has increased by 86 per cent. since 1996–97. We will certainly consider all the light rail schemes that have been proposed, including Blackpool. I hope that we can make an announcement on Blackpool in the short term rather than the long term.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab)

My hon. Friend will be well aware from his previous incarnation in the tourism game that the Blackpool tram system is very well used and patronised, not just by tourists, but also by residents. Picking up the point made by the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), will my hon. Friend convey to his officials and those charged with making a final deliberation that, whether or not an optimism index is reasonable, it is not necessarily reasonable to apply the same optimism index to a blue-sky scheme as it is to one that is tried and tested, which has no nasty surprises in terms of rerouting utilities and things of that nature?

Dr. Howells

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are well aware of the nature of the scheme. It is long established. We know its strengths and limitations. I shall certainly pass on his observations to officials in my Department.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab)

To reinforce the point again about the importance of the Blackpool tramway, is my hon. Friend aware that it goes through Cleveleys all the way up to Fleetwood and is an existing service, used not just by tourists, but by local residents' My constituents in Fleetwood use the tramway to travel down into Blackpool to work and to get back home again. Equally, tourists in Blackpool use it to go up to Fleetwood to enjoy the facilities there. It is vital that the investment is put in to ensure that the tramway, which has been in existence for 100 years, continues for another 100 years.

Dr. Howells

I commend my hon. Friend on the case that she has made for the Blackpool tramway and on reminding the House that it is a working tramway that carries people to and from work in the centre of Blackpool. I can only repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden)—we are well aware of the importance of the scheme, but we must consider it in the context of a number of other proposed schemes, all of which are regarded as important to their neighbourhoods.