New cameras will be used to catch drivers flouting rules banning cars from three streets in Blackpool town centre.
Motorists ignoring the rules around the resort’s new public transport hub could soon be hit with fines of up to £90.
Drivers using bus-only routes face fines
And more cameras could go up on Talbot Road in future, it can be revealed.
Restrictions are already in place on parts of Market Street, Church Street, and Corporation Street – but Blackpool Council is now serious about enforcing them.
Only buses, taxis and cyclists are allowed to use the streets – which run around the outside of West Street car park – between 10.30am and 6pm.
While taxi drivers have welcomed the move to get public transport moving in the town centre, there are also fears it is seen as a “money-making scheme” by the council.
Using government cash, the roads will be painted and large warning signs will be put up, with cameras scanning registration plates.
Owners of unauthorised vehicles will be sent a fine of up to £90.
Most tourists come to the resort by car, and the measures are needed to combat traffic jams and air pollution as visitor numbers grow, a council report said.
But Coun Tony Williams, opposition leader at the Town Hall, said he was “not happy” about the plans, which he said have been “sneaked in through the back door” and could impact on businesses and tourism.
He said: “It’s nothing more than a money-making scheme. I have just heard about this and I want a full briefing from our highways department.
“The fact we are following Preston’s greedy example of fining anybody who makes a mistake is awful.”
The introduction of cameras along Fishergate in Preston city centre in 2016 proved highly controversial amid widespread confusion over a similar set-up, barring cars from a 50m stretch of the road between certain hours.
It has been estimated the fines handed out since then add up to more than £2m, with 30,000 motorists caught out in the last 12 months alone.
Coun Williams said he could challenge the move to punish drivers in a similar way here.
The plans were approved by the Labour council’s cabinet member for environment, transport and climate change, Coun Fred Jackson, late last week but councillors have until today to “call in” the decision, opening it up to scrutiny.
But taxi drivers backed the move, saying it would ease congestion in a busy part of town during the day.
Cameras could also go up in Talbot Road, where new restrictions on cars coming off the Promenade are in place ahead of the tramway extension being finished.
Motorists heading towards the seafront can travel the length of Talbot Road, but those driving in the opposition direction have to go up Clifton Street and left into Abingdon Street instead, before driving across Talbot Road to Queen Street. Only taxis are allowed to turn right into Talbot Road.
Cameras could also be an option in St John’s Square, which was pedestrianised during a major revamp a decade ago but re-opened as a diversion route during recent town centre roadworks.
Only buses, taxis, and cyclists are allowed through there.
The council will also look at the small stretch of Talbot Road running from Topping Street to Cookson Street once the tram terminus is built on the site of Wilko.
The road is currently open to all traffic in both directions and, while that could change, there are no current plans for the route.
Latif Patel, from the council’s roads department, said bosses are hoping to “continue making our streets more modern, clean and safe, and improve journeys for the travelling public”.
In a draft letter to businesses, which has yet to be sent out, Mr Patel said: “As part of an effort to make Blackpool better, we’ll be working with Blackpool Transport to install new traffic enforcement cameras in the town centre.
“This is to improve transport access, increase safety, and ease congestion.”
Council director John Blackledge said the cameras will be the “next step” in the fight against traffic jams in the resort.
They are part of an “intelligent transport scheme”, which was brought in last year and uses cameras and other kit to watch and control traffic.Some 21 electronic signs, costing a total of
£2m, were also put in at key sites to direct drivers past roadworks, full car parks, and jams.
Mr Blackledge added: “The introduction of enforcement cameras would deter unnecessary and disruptive trips within these areas [of the town centre], which are predominantly accessed by buses, taxis, and authorises vehicles.
“The current mix of vehicles on certain streets results in disruptive traffic patterns, which affect key public transport routes and public realm areas.
“The aim of the scheme is to remove these infringements and make the area safer for all road users.”
He also said fines would only be doled out when “necessary and proportionate”.
The emergency services, bus operators, taxi associations, the town centre BID team, and the Grand Theatre are all expected to be asked about the new plans as part of a consultation set to be launched next month.
Ruth Eastwood, chief executive at the Grand Theatre, which is on the corner of Church Street and Corporation Street, in the middle of the planned bus zone, said she contacted the council after hearing about the plans.
She said: “They have not contacted me yet but I have contacted them.
“We have a request in to make sure our customers, especially those with disabilities, are able to be dropped off as closely to the door as possible.”
The secretary of the Blackpool Licensed Taxi Operators Association, Bill Lewtas, met with council representatives on Tuesday to discuss the changes, while talks are to be held with permit holders at the Temple Street car park, who will have to drive through the ‘bus gate’ and cameras.
Mr Lewtas said taxi drivers supported the plans.
He added: “The transport hub area is incredibly busy, especially during the daytime. For that reason it is restricted to buses and taxis only.
“Unfortunately it seems that a number of other drivers want to use this area in the daytime. This creates traffic congestion and health and safety issues.”
Clear signage would prevent drivers entering the restricted roads accidentally, he said.
In a statement, Blackpool Transport added: “The new bus hub means that almost all of our buses are able to stop within a short distance of each other, which helps customers know where to catch their bus and makes it much easier to travel.
“A lot of customers connect with other services and the hub provides an interchange for customers to do so safely.
“This builds a feeling of confidence amongst customers in knowing where to catch their bus and we hope this will encourage more people to use the bus.
“Our customer centre is also located in Market Street which provides timetable, way-finding and ticketing information to customers, so the bus hub couldn’t be more conveniently located.
“Local businesses will benefit too, with quicker links directly to the centre of the town.”
Good news for public transport-users
Coun Fred Jackson, who approved the plans, said the new cameras would be good news for people using public transport.
He added: “The current restrictions on Market Street, Church Street and Corporation Street have been in place for a considerable length of time.
“These streets are in constant use by bus and taxi operators, but are regularly accessed by unauthorised vehicles during the restricted times, resulting in delays for those using public transport.”
A public consultation would allow people to have their say on the enforcement scheme, he added, while officers will visit businesses to explain how they will be affected.
Clear signs and road markings would leave drivers “in no doubt” about the rules, he said.
“By improving bus journey times, we hope that people will be encouraged to use public transport which will then ease town centre congestion,” Coun Jackson added.
“We hope the public will support us in ensuring that drivers use the legal routes around the town centre.”
Plans affect one-way route
The plans affect the one way route starting on Market Street, that runs clockwise around the West Street multi-storey car park.
As it stands, the new “bus gate” will be created next year, starting in Market Street at the junction with West Street, before running south and turning left into Church Street.
It will then turn left again into Corporation Street, ending at West Street. The restrictions – banning most vehicles – are in force from 10.30am until 6pm
As well as buses, taxis, and cyclists, authorised vehicles such as police cars and ambulances will also be allowed. Although most traffic is still banned outside those hours, delivery vehicles are permitted between 6pm and 10.30am.
Back Church Street, which runs off Corporation Street and behind Church Street before coming out between Ladbrokes and the Hive eatery, will also be made one-way.
That is because the alleyway is too narrow to remain a two-way street, a council spokeswoman said.