The legal basis for the running of the horse trams appears to be unclear.

It follows the decision for the Department of Infrastructure to take over the operation of the service from Douglas Council in 2016.

At the time, the Douglas Bay Tramway Determination of Promoter’s Powers Order was published.

The order stated: ‘This Order ends the powers of the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Douglas, as promoter, in relation to Douglas Bay Tramway. Unless those powers are purchased by the Department of Infrastructure, as the road authority, they cease and determine.’

The horse trams have been operating under the 1876 Douglas Bay Tramway Act.

However, as there appears to not have been legislation transferring the promoter powers to the Department of Infrastructure, and the current legal framework references ‘the promoter’, the legal footing of the operational powers of the horse trams are unclear.

It comes as a written response was published on the amendment of the Douglas Bay Tramway Bill.

A written question from Daphne Caine, MHK and chair of the Douglas Bay Tramway Heritage Trust, asked Infrastructure Minister Chris Thomas: ‘What progress has been made with the Douglas Bay Tramway (Amendment) Bill and when will it be introduced into the branches.’

In his response, Mr Thomas said: ‘Whilst drafting of the Douglas Bay Tramway (Amendment) Bill has begun, more work is required before it will be ready for introduction into the Branches.

‘This is expected no later than the beginning of November, depending on Keys sittings, as legislative drafting is expected to conclude by Q3 2023.’

Mr Thomas told the Examiner: ‘The Douglas Bay Tramway Amendment Bill will amend the 1876 legislation to put the operations on a secure legal footing.

‘The rail inspector inspected the tramway, Highways designed the tramway with Isle of Man Transport to be safe and I look forward to it being on a secure legal footing.

‘By order we made the legal change that is necessary but it has never been fundamentally important, because it is safe.

‘We need to change the law, and we are changing the law.’

Mrs Caine said: ‘According to Our Island Plan the bill’s stated aim is to put horse tram operations on a “secure legal footing” so the lack of urgency from the department is surprising.

‘There’s no clue in the written reply what the reason is for the delay or what drafting instructions have been given by the department.

‘The trams are still running under the original 1876 Act, which has somewhat outdated terminology and doesn’t quite fit with who owns the highway, who has the right to operate the tramway, even perhaps who gets to decide when it closes.

‘I will also be checking once the draft bill is published whether it specifies the tramway should operate along the full length of the promenade.

‘At present I believe they’re only allowed to use horses on the promenade tramway so I’d expect to see electric added in the bill for the future.

‘Meanwhile I’m very much looking forward to seeing the horse trams commence this summer’s operation on April 6 with, hopefully, some improvement to passenger facilities.’

The horse trams will start up again this week at the start of the Easter holidays.