Closure of the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway
As the voluntary support group, Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway were shocked by the recent decision of current Douglas Borough Councillors to discontinue the promenade horse tram service. We had no expectation of this turn of event. As far as we can determine, little if any exploration of alternative and perhaps better ways to operate an heritage tramway service affordably has taken place.
We are not satisfied with the veracity of the stated Douglas ratepayer subsidy for the tram service. The Strathallan Depot re-development plans, intended to provide rentable commercial space in addition to housing the horses and tramcars under one roof, were unnecessary for the continued safe operation of the tramway, but still used to inflate the potential future subsidy and justify closure on financial grounds.
We are also dismayed at the comment by Chief Minister Allan Bell that there is no question of the Government stepping in to run the service, even before his colleagues in Government have had opportunity to discuss and consider matters fully with other interested parties before making an informed decision.
The Douglas Bay Horse Tramway is arguably the biggest jewel in the Manx heritage crown, being unique in the world of heritage transport. It should not be seen as an under-used, loss-making, out-of-date transport service hindering the redevelopment and regeneration (modernisation) plans for Douglas Promenades.
The horse tramway is an icon for Douglas and the Isle of Man, a key attraction for many visitors coming to this Island. But its real heritage value lies in people today being able to see, experience and ride original Victorian and Edwardian horse-drawn tramcars, travelling the same route along Douglas Promenades first set out by Thomas Lightfoot nearly 140 years ago. Static exhibits or short demonstration lines at transport museums like Jurby, Crich or elsewhere will never compare, the heritage experience would be lost forever.
Governments have a continuing duty, on behalf of past, present and future citizens, to protect and conserve their nation’s important heritage in perpetuity (be it social, cultural, man-made or natural) using taxpayers money in the absence of private benefactors. Otherwise, national identity will erode and eventually will be lost. It is certainly not for one or two elected public servants to make the determination of what constitutes important Manx national heritage and whether it is worth saving for the nation.
We are of the view that the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway should be retained as an operating heritage attraction along Douglas Promenades and, with guidance from Manx National Heritage, structured in such a way that it can be supported financially by both central and local Government, membership subscription and charitable donations.
Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway
26 January 2016