I can’t help but return to that Joint Authority matter for the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside as the more I think about it the balmier it looks from Sefton’s and indeed West Lancashire’s situation. Indeed, it makes me angry just to think about it.
West Lancs Borough are all but shut out of the club and Sefton instead of pressing for a wider and far more logically based sub-regional authority that covered the real travel to work geography around Liverpool simply said to its southern Merseyside neighbours yes we will join your club. No fight, no hard negotiations, no championing of the diverse needs of Sefton’s communities just a forest of Labour hands (with some surprising Tory support) toeing the line of the other Merseyside Authorities. Even St Helens has succumbed as Labour’s previous Leader there had been replaced. She, Marie Rimmer, had stood out against a takeover by Liverpool (as had the Council Leader prior to her – Lib Dem Brian Spencer) but she was removed seemingly for her independent stance.
When I spoke at the recent Sefton Council meeting, which sadly agreed to the Borough joining this odd little club, I said there was nothing in the deal for the northern half of Sefton and indeed it could well be to its detriment. The economy of Southport is clearly dependent on what goes on in West Lancashire because it, with the Irish Sea, all but surrounds the Town. Development of Southport’s tourist/seaside economy needs a boost and significantly improved transport links through West Lancashire are the key to that.
So the challenge for this new Joint Authority to me is crystal clear; sort out the major road link that is needed between the M58 and Southport (in effect an Ormskirk by-pass) and significantly enhance and reconnect the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk – Preston railway lines. If this new Merseyside Joint Authority will commit itself to solving these problems, even though they are in West Lancashire, in say a 10 year timeframe then maybe sceptics like me will have a change of heart. Until I see the Joint Authority say ‘we will solve these issues’ written in blood then don’t ask because a combination of Merseytravel, Lancashire County Council, West Lancs Borough Council and Sefton Council have singularly failed to get these two major projects off the ground since local government reorganisation in 1974!
If I have one huge regret from my time as Leader of Sefton Council it is that this east of Southport transport conundrum was not solved. I heard much sympathy, lots of warm words and many encouraging noises but at the end of the day nothing happened.
I think the people and businesses of Southport have every right to be angry at this situation and I say this despite the valiant efforts of the Town’s MP John Pugh and many of his Lib Dem councillor colleagues. Will the Joint (Liverpool centric) Authority finally sort this out; will they even care about it? Frankly, I severely doubt it and Southport will miss out once again. And please, if they do think about taking this challenge up – no more warm words PLEASE!