So what are the social & environmental impacts of expanding Seaforth Docks & why have they been all but ignored – A chat with former Sefton Councillor Cliff Mainey

This is my follow up posting to my recent missive on this subject which is accessible via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/04/16/peel-ports-new-container-terminal-at-seaforth-champion-puff-piece-ignores-the-transportation-scandal/

Cliff Mainey is a mild mannered man who sat on Sefton Council for quite a number of years through the 1990’s and up to 2012. He represented Maghull’s Sudell Ward so his interest in the consequences of the expansion of the Port of Liverpool at Seaforth may be a surprise to some who do not know him well. But Cliff hails from Litherland so knows his onions you might say. Here’s a bit of social history from Cliff to start off this lengthy but I hope interesting posting:-

I was born and raised in post war Litherland, I lived there until I was 22. Church Rd for a large part of that time was a normal two lane highway, that is one lane in either direction, changing to a dual carriageway at Kirkstone Rd. Church Rd in those days had wide grass verges lined with low hawthorn bushes on either side, a real village feel to the area.

The Litherland I recall was a close community with free movement across the ‘main road’ i.e. Church Rd. Schools, shops, churches, youth clubs; I was in English Martyrs youth club, drawing on both sides of Litherland for support and existence.

Then in the sixties all that changed never to recover. The ‘new road’ was built and Royal Seaforth Docks were developed. Jobs, jobs and even more jobs, the port was keeping pace with the world. The new road was essential. The rest is confined to the dust bin of lack of foresight.

Church Road was made into a dual carriageway from Kirkstone Road to the docks. Although the ‘planners’ did their best to reassured the people of Litherland at public meetings with subways under and bridges over the road and double/secondary glazing for those who lived on the road. I lived at 225 Church Rd. Litherland was devastated.

Shops on Church Rd, Sefton St and Kirkstone Rd lost half their customers. Even the bank closed. Children changed schools because of the road. Church Parrish communities changed. People hated the subway (not the posh butty shop) it was long, cold and wet and pretty soon problems with antisocial behaviour started, ( although?).

So, having had first hand experience of planning for the economy at the expense of the community, I asked in my time as a Sefton Councillor, that WIDER PLANNING ISSUES BE PART OF PLANNING PROCESS, to no avail. I was told these were unclear and need not form part of the planning permission/consent for the docks. As I seem to remember planning consent was deemed to have been given at the highest level of government, (the then Labour government if I recall correctly) as per Fracking and Sefton Council was just dealing with/granting local planning permission.

Former Lib Dem Cllr. Cliff Mainey who felt gagged when he raised issues on Sefton Council about access to and the environmental impacts associated with the Port of Liverpool.

Former Lib Dem Cllr. Cliff Mainey who felt gagged when he raised issues on Sefton Council about access to and the environmental impacts associated with the Port of Liverpool.

Of course I knew Cliff had asked awkward questions about the port expansion during his time on Sefton Council and indeed I have made reference to his concerns in previous postings on this subject. But I decided that I wanted to hear what Cliff thought now having had time to reflect on his efforts to drag such matters out of the political long grass when others seemed more than happy for them to stay there or even kick them further in to it.

Cliff is a environmentalist, a former Merseyside Fireman and he is well up on horticultural issues too. His efforts to question the impacts and consequences of the port expansion effectively cover two aspects, the environmental/social impacts and the transport impacts.

Cliff questioned the consequences of the dredging of the Mersey and its estuary as he wanted to know how such dredging, which has of course gone on in many forms for generations, will impact on our coast for future generations. More dredging was of course done and will continue to be done to facilitate the River Berth that will be accepting truly massive container ships later this year. The answers he got within Sefton Council were hardly helpful as they were usually along the lines of ‘that’s not a Council responsibility’ or ‘another agency controls that aspect of the project’ etc. The more he tried to get the planning issues looked at holistically, taking into account all the potential impacts, the more he ran into brick walls.

Work on the new River Berth taking place in August 2015

Work on the new River Berth taking place in August 2015

Now some of those brick walls were obviously political as Bootle Labour Party were probably more willing to vote with the Tories (and you know they did that quite often) rather than expose this issue to detailed public scrutiny. Some of the barriers were also created by bureaucracy as it is indeed the case that the Environmental Agency, Council and other bodies did and still do control differing aspects of such huge projects. But of course it begs the question about why these separate organisations seem to work in their own silos only dealing with each other when they have little or no choice. Highways England doing their own consultation on the proposed road down the Rimrose Valley with seemingly no involvement from Sefton Council or Network Rail in recent weeks illustrates this silo mentality only and sadly too well.

Other environmental issues that Cliff was and indeed still is concerned about fit with my own oft expressed concerns on this blog site. The proposed new road down Rimrose Valley Country Park, widening of the A5036 (Dunnings Bridge Road), air pollution from HGV’s accessing the port in ever larger numbers when there are pollution levels of concern right now etc. I could go on but you get my drift.

But Cliff also sees the social consequences of this project as his historical comments above demonstrate. Yes, port expansion may well create more jobs if the port is successful in bringing in more business but how are the social impacts going to be mitigated for those living near the port or along the A5036 corridor that serves it? In reality the environmental and social impacts are very much mingled into one knotty problem like a ball of wool with many strands bound together. When you pull one strand you have no idea how long it will be and what it will pull out with it. And of course Cliff has told us how promised port expansion mitigations of previous generations ended up dividing Litherland.

I think it fair to say that Cliff shares my transportation access concerns and like me he can’t understand why having allowed the port to build its new River Berth the freight access issues are only now being looked at in any detail. It’s as though the project has been done back to front, as in a reasonable world surely the access issues would have been resolved before construction work on the dock took place.

After my interviewing Cliff I can only conclude that he confirmed all my worst fears about this huge project and the conspiracy of silence that has blanked out or stopped the social, environmental and transportation issues being looked at holistically and in a timely manner. It really is the scandal of our age locally here in Sefton Borough.

My thanks to Cliff Mainey for his frank and illuminating comments on this murky issue.

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