The Horse Trams are a National Issue3 min read
Lib Van leader Kate Beecroft tabled a motion for emergency debate calling for the Council of Ministers to explore all possibilities to allow the horse trams to be transferred to another entity, and to report back as a matter of urgency.
She said: ‘The horse trams are a national issue. They are part of our heritage. These are iconic things. I think we actually take things for granted because we have grown up with them.
‘And if at the end of the day, no solution can be found, then I think we are going to have to grit our teeth and take that decision, but at this point we have not looked at all the options.’
Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne said a working group had already been set up to look at the options and it would meet for the first time this week.
He said that committee will include his department, the public transport heritage railways team, the Department of Economic Development, including the Minister and member for Tourism and the tourism director, the chairman and director of Manx National Heritage and the two MHKs for Douglas East.
Mr Gawne said the decision by Douglas Council to axe the horse tramway had come as ‘something of a blow’ to him. He said he was confident there are workable solutions and given that Douglas Council has not engaged in cost cutting exercises to slim the service down, he would be surprised if the reported £250,000 loss made by the trams could not be reduced.
Douglas South MHK Bill Malarkey said he was ‘totally gutted’ that the horse trams are to stop. He said: ‘This government must look at this. We are not talking megabucks. I looked up how much we are throwing into the Wildlife Park – I think it is about £400,000 a year. It had 55,000 visitors. Well, in 2014 the horse trams had 63,000 people using them, more than the Wildlife Park and yet again subsidised by the taxpayers of the Isle of Man.’
Mr Bell told the Keys that government could not be used as the constant default situation for every problem that comes along.
He pointed out: ‘We have been committed to a smaller, smarter government. And here we are at the first challenge, we take on further responsibilities and further costs.’
He ‘congratulated’ Douglas Council for the ‘political dexterity’ it had shown in ‘shifting overnight’ a major problem for Douglas ratepayers onto the taxpayer and by ‘remarkable sleight of hand’ it was ‘now government getting attacked for not immediately taking it on’.
Mr Bell said he would support Mrs Beecroft’s motion as it talked of transferring the horse trams to another entity, and not necessarily government.
‘But please go into this with your eyes wide open,’ he implored.
Peter Karran (Lib Van, Onchan) agreed there should no open chequebook.
John Houghton (Douglas North) suggested the trams could be run by volunteers on a smaller section of the walkway on Loch Promenade only.
Douglas East MHK Chris Robertshaw said he was shocked by the ‘perfunctory’ nature of the decision but what he found even more disturbing was the declaration by the leader of Douglas Council that tourism was at an end. ‘I am absolutely disgusted by that comment,’ he said.
Juan Watterson (Rushen) said Douglas Council was wrong to think it could ‘just walk away’ as under the 1876 Tramways Act it was liable for the costs of removing the tracks.