Saltburn's famous cliff lift will be open seven-days-a-week by start of school holidays

Visitors to Saltburn have been promised by Redcar and Cleveland Council that the town’s famous cliff lift will be open seven days-a-week in time for the start of next month’s school summer holidays.

Meanwhile, local councillors have spoken of their sadness and frustration that the Victorian-built tramway has only been in operation to the public for a handful of days since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.

The popular attraction – which is the oldest water-balanced cliff ‘funicular’ still in operation in Great Britain and the second oldest in the world – was due to open at Easter earlier this year, but a problem spotted during a routine maintenance check halted the plans.

It did open the day before the recent Platinum Jubilee long weekend, but was then closed on the Monday for four days.

The famous lift at Saltburn is set to be fully operational from next month

Earlier this month the council posted a notice stating that the lift, which transports people from the Foreshore to Marine Parade and back in the other direction, would be out of action for several weeks on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, due to staff training.

It is currently restricted to a Thursday to Sunday schedule, however the council said it was expected the tramway will “once again be operating every day in time for the school summer holidays” after the training is complete.

Saltburn councillor Philip Thomson said: “It’s very sad for residents and visitors that such an iconic part of Saltburn’s history has stood idle for so long and continues to be limited in its opening hours.

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“Well over a million pounds has been invested in the facility in recent years, part of which resulted from poor maintenance and neglect, although no man-made structure erected in Victorian times will last forever.”

Coun Thomson claimed that previous council investigations had yet to be published and scrutinised, and confirmed that the current restricted opening times had been due to not having a sufficient number of trained staff in place after the extended closure period.

He added: “I have requested a copy of the business plan for the cliff lift, along with copies of business plans for all the activities and assets along the Foreshore area so that a greater understanding can be had as to how the council structures and manages these collective tourist assets.”

Fellow Saltburn councillor Craig Hannaway said he was “really frustrated” at the council’s inability to keep the cliff lift regularly open and suggested it may be better in the hands of a community interest group.

He said: “When I was in the cabinet in the last administration, we spent nearly a million pounds on a major restoration of the carriages, tracks and mechanism. But still there were minor technical problems such as the wi-fi signal between the two stations, which were apparently enough to close it on safety grounds.”

Coun Hannaway said staffing problems seemed to be an issue and suggested that “in these straitened times the council is forced to rely on a very small team with very little back up”.

He added: “I know other cliff lifts around the UK also have technical problems, but I sometimes think it would be run better if it belonged to a community interest organisation which would have access to heritage funding, as the council seems to find it so difficult to keep it open.”

A local resident who tracked the tramway’s various closures in the past few years, said the “saga” had “gone from bad to worse” and followed extensive closures and significant investment that had taken place in 2018 and 2019.

After being closed in March 2020 due to covid-19 restrictions the attraction remained closed for the remainder of the year, while the likes of the Scarborough spa cliff lift re-opened in August.

The Saltburn cliff lift, which originally opened in 1884, was also closed all of the following year following a council decision, despite all covid restrictions being removed in July 2021.

The resident questioned why staff could not be “trained on the job” and said in total the cliff lift had only been open for several days in the past two years and three months.

He said: “Saltburn is a popular destination for many [and] having one of the jewels in Teesside’s crown not working for so long is not a good recommendation for the area. I visit Saltburn regularly and often sit admiring the view from near the top of the cliff lift.

“The number of people from outside the area who arrive at the tramway only to be disappointed because it is out of order is significant. I also suspect many other elderly and infirm people simply do not come to Saltburn because the non-working tramway is their only means of access from Marine Parade to the pier area.

“The council appear very good at telling everyone that they don’t have enough money to provide their services and yet they are sitting on a golden egg with the tramway and seem unable or unwilling to maximise its potential.”

In a statement Redcar and Cleveland Council said: “Saltburn Tramway is one region’s most iconic tourist attractions and we are delighted it is running once again after it was closed for long stretches during the pandemic.

“Due to staffing issues we have not been able to run seven days a week so far, but new colleagues have now been appointed and are being trained and it is expected the tramway will once again be operating every day in time for the school summer holidays.

“This Victorian attraction, which attracted more than 150,000 people in its last fully operational year, still operates as it was designed. However, modern safety systems have to be used which means that occasionally it must be temporarily closed for checks and maintenance.”