TRAMS could be making a dramatic return to Southampton almost 60 years after they ran last ran along the city’s streets, the Daily Echo can reveal.

The council’s leisure boss believes a fleet of trams operating in the Old Town and the waterfront would prove a major tourism boost and could help cut traffic congestion.

The ambitious transport scheme was included in a new arts and heritage vision aimed at broadening the city’s image to visitors and outlines the city’s ambition to be European Capital of Culture for 2020.

In a damning assessment, the report said Southampton was perceived as a place to just shop, eat and catch cruises.

Councillor John Hannides, Cabinet member for leisure, culture and heritage, said the reintroduction of the tram– which operates in cities such as Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield – was an ambition for the Conservative-controlled council.

“Incorporating the tram as part of our transport network would be a marvellous addition and a great attraction and it would encourage more people to visit the Old Town and the waterfront,” he said.

Electric trams were a familiar sight in Southampton for exactly 50 years, from 1879 to 1949, and were as much a part of the city scene as the huge ships sailing up and down the Solent.

The 32-mile route covered most of the city, until the tracks were ripped up and trams replaced by the more versatile bus.

“For me, the most disappointing thing in the last 20 years has been the lack of planning to incorporate something like the trams,” Cllr Hannides added.

“They are quite an evocative mode of transport, it reignites that feeling of nostalgia and history.

They are also novel, but because they are rare these days but I think that adds to their appeal.

“We are going to look into money for a feasibility study, and approach funding partners, but first and foremost we need to identify where it could go.”

Cllr Hannides said the Old Town could be reconnected with the waterfront by running a tram from Town Quay across to Ocean Village.

“In an ideal world I would also like to see it as a practical facility for residents and visitors to use, but right now we don’t have enough information to be able to say if that is a direction we could follow.

“The purpose behind the vision is so that we can provide a guidance so people can start planning it and looking at what options we’ve got.”

The Old Town tramis one of a number of proposals included in the 30-page report, which sets out Southampton’s ambition of becoming a serious candidate for a European Capital of Culture title from 2020.

It states that currently “Southampton is not perceived as a cultural city by people who visit. They will shop in West- Quay, eat and then leave.”

The report adds that visitors hunting for the city’s sea and maritime heritage – one of the few cultural associations strong enough to lure visitors – are left “disappointed with what they find.”

The centrepiece is a £30m hitech climb aboard Titanic exhibition as part of the new heritage centre earmarked for the Civic Centre, as revealed by the Daily Echo in July.

The council is desperate for the exhibition to be open in time for the 100th anniversary of the disaster in 2012.

Another key project is the £16m development of the cultural quarter in Northern Above Bar with a revamped Guildhall square and arts complex.

The Old Town will also become a “historic quarter” with the £6m revamp of Tudor House alongside the development of public arts, the art vaults concept – putting contemporary art in medieval locations beneath Southampton – and making the most of city’s medieval walls with initiatives such as artistic lighting schemes.

The vision also wants to promote more “hidden history” style interactive audio tours of the city and the sees the state-of-the-art redevelopment of the Solent Sky Museum as important to promote the city’s aviation heritage, alongside a Daily Echo backed £1.5m permanent memorial to the Spitfire.

It also sets out milestones to be celebrated such as the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen living in the city next year, the centenary of Southampton Airport in 2010 and the 75th anniversary of the maiden flight of the Spitfire in 2011.

The opening of the waterfront at Royal Pier and Mayflower Park could also pave the way for a “maritime cultural experience”, the vision says, with a docks viewing area and interpretation centre, and public berth for displaying of historic floating vessels.

Scottish developers Kilmartin have recently been asked by the council to come up with a masterplan for district.

“The city has a fantastic opportunity over the next twenty years to create a vibrant cultural heart, a sense of identity and uniqueness that connects people to each other and to Southampton as a place,” Cllr Hannides said.

  • To read the council's report "Towards a City of Culture" click the link in the 'Related Links' section on the right.