What is consultation actually all about?

I think it fair to say that the public sector is generally poor at genuine consultation (partly because proper consultation costs too much) and it often is simply engaged in what is no more than information sharing (telling folks what is going to be done) and box ticking. So telling folk what is going to be done to their community, neighbourhood etc. is often dressed up as ‘consultation’ when in reality the comments made may well be (politely) ignored/rejected.

I recall a ‘consultation’ event being held at Maghull Town Hall a few years back about the then proposed building of what is now the newish Maghull North Station. That consultation was, at face Value, useful but I got the distinct impression that there were always going to be good reasons not to take forward suggestions which were made by attendees at that event. I blogged about it at the time – see link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/12/14/maghull-consultation-response-on-towns-2nd-and-new-railway-station/

My somewhat cynical response was ‘and it does make you wonder whether Merseytravel and their partners (Network Rail & Merseyrail) really do want to hear alternative views at all. Seems some things are sadly set in stone.’ If you look back at the suggestions which I noted were made whilst I was at the event

* The draft design of the station is too boxy and bland – Don’t want to end up as nondescript as Aintree Station when it was modernised.
* Will some of the circular buses be diverted there because the bus access along narrow roads is poor to the present Maghull Station?
* Can there be a memorial included to reflect the historic Moss Side Hospital that was on the site before? This refers to the pioneering work done there during and after the First World War into shell shock.
* Can the old Maghull Station be renamed Maghull Hornby to differentiate it from Maghull North?
* Can Maghull North name be changed to say Maghull Moss Side for example?

you could say that only one was actually followed up on – the memorial and an excellent memorial it is too. The others were rejected (or not even taken seriously?) it seems and there may well have been others I did not hear about.

So why start banging on about ‘consultation’ now Robertson?

Well my good friend Roy Connell, once a fellow Sefton Borough and Maghull Town Councillor, has public sector consultation buzzing around his head presently.

In his case it involves consultation by office of the Merseyside Police & Crime Commissioner regarding the amount of extra precept (an addition to our Council tax bills) it wants to charge in the financial year 2020/2021. Roy’s view, if I’ve understood him correctly, is the consultation has in effect been all but tokenistic. 2072 people expressed a view on the matter via either being telephoned directly or through them commenting on the matter via the survey (no, like you I didn’t know about it) on the Police and Crime Commissioner’s website. When you consider that Merseyside has a population of approximately 1.4m then a couple of thousand taking part in a survey/consultation is a very small percentage.

We live in a representative democracy where we elect people to make significant decisions about our country, region and community. The idea being that if those decisions displease us we can kick out the representatives who made them. But we seem to have developed, at least in recent years, a desire to consult folk over decisions about public policy. At face value this is a great idea but in reality aren’t the consultations rather meaningless if the vast majority of folk know nothing of them or if those being surveyed may not be taken much notice of unless they say things which fit with the policy direction being consulted on?

My review of 2020 – No Brexit, no COVID

I’ve been looking back at my blog postings throughout each month of 2020 and I’ve picked out the 12 most interesting from my perspective:-

Liverpool 2’s massive new container cranes

January – Access to the Port of Liverpool & Sefton Council’s far, far too late Judicial Review application – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/01/21/access-to-port-of-liverpool-and-that-oddly-timed-judicial-review/

Cottages in Sefton Lane, Maghull (September 2012) – Sadly flooding here has a long history

February – Will building Maghull’s vast new urban extension lead to more flooding? – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/02/24/maghull-heavy-rain-reminds-us-of-the-potential-peril-of-building-on-agricultural-land-locally/

Sunny Southport Cricket

March – Watching County Championship cricket at Birkdale – so sad it’s seemingly a thing of the past – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/03/30/southport-when-patrick-the-fastest-bowler-in-the-world-bounced-into-town/

Liverpool Exchange Station in 1977

April – Looking back at a once great station – Liverpool Exchange – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/04/29/liverpool-exchange-station-long-gone-but-not-forgotten/

Jim Sharpe RIP

May – The sad passing of an old style community journalist of note – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/05/01/jim-sharpe-rip/

June – Policing has long been a political interest of mine and a big frustration when it fails to deliver – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/06/08/policing-when-it-goes-badly-wrong/

Meccano

July – Reading the history of Liverpool’s famous Meccano Factory – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/07/22/liverpool-factory-of-dreams/

August – Vehicles on pavements the curse of the selfish motorists – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/08/03/pavements-r-4-pedestrians/

Merseyside Maritime Museum

SeptemberLife on Board a new exhibition at Merseyside Maritime Museum – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/09/18/life-on-board-exhibition-at-mersey-maritime-museum/

The present Sandy Lane Changing Rooms building – Lydiate

October – Banging the drum for football changing facilities in Lydiate – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/10/28/lydiate-progress-on-sporting-fitness-facilities/

Litter

November – Lydiate’s volunteer litter pickers – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/11/07/lydiate-and-its-volunteer-litter-pickers/

Meccano

December – A remarkable Meccano canal bridge – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/12/03/boltons-meccano-canal-bridge/

So that was 2020 trying hard not to mention Brexit or Covid. The items posted here are just a small selection of my many (far too many I hear you say) blogs about all kinds of things which have caught my attention during a very odd year indeed. Here’s hoping for a better 2021…..

Lydiate and its volunteer litter pickers

There’s a band of volunteer litter pickers in the community I live in and they go out regularly to try to keep Lydiate clean. They don’t ask for recognition and unless you see them doing their bit you might think our reasonably litter free community is being kept clean by ‘the council’.

Some impressive lengths of roads are litter picked by the volunteers and sadly they are always kept busy because a certain section of our society seems to think that chucking litter, bottles, dog poo bags etc. is a positive contribution to local life. They love throwing litter out of the windows of moving vehicles or picking up dog poo where they think they may be seen only to then deposit the very same bags anywhere they can’t be seen. The participants in these anti-social activities must feel they have a social duty to keep ‘the council’s’ street cleaners busy and in work. However, the reality is that councils do much less litter picking these days as they’ve cut back on such work to try to better fund other vital work such as paying for children in care and social care for the elderly. These two council activities cost an arm and a leg no matter which party runs ‘the council’.

I’m not trying to make excuses for ‘the council’ but having been a Borough Councillor for 16 years (1999 – 2015), 7 of those as a Council Leader, I know how desperately stretched nearly all councils are and why the likes of street cleaning has slipped down their list of priorities. It’s not a good situation but sadly it’s reality. Of course that’s why in so many communities volunteers can now often be the backbone of keeping our streets clean.

I have nothing but admiration for the work of Lydiate’s volunteer litter pickers many of whom do far more than my own very limited contribution.

I look after a footpath which connects Southport Road, Marshalls Close and Coppull Road and I litter pick it around once a month. I did it yesterday and despite only doing it around 3 weeks ago I still collected half a back bin bag of rubbish and litter. I know this path is well used but it’s also secluded so I’m guessing that a very small minority of its users chuck all the litter along it on the basis that with a quick look around to check no one can see them they can just drop whatever they want – and they do.

Whenever I see litter my mind goes back to my favourite author Bill Bryson and his book Notes from a Small Island. Bill, on travelling to Liverpool happened to do so whilst there was an industrial dispute on-going between refuse/street cleaners and the City Council. Liverpool was indeed a mess at that time and he dubbed it a ‘festival of litter’. Sadly, whilst that situation was subsequently resolved there are a small number in our society who have opted out of civic life to create work for those who really care about their community. I fear that the volunteer litter pickers will be doing their rounds for a long time to come because some in our society really can’t give a damn!

Canada – Violence? Really?

I think it was around 2002 that Sheila, Jen and I had a holiday in Canada and my abiding memory of that lovely country was how safe it felt; far safer than the UK. Indeed, I recall that during a bus tour around Montreal the guide proudly told us how safe the city was and how little crime took place compared to many western cities.

Imagine my surprise then when I came across the video on You Tube:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYVzM0ku_J4

Ok, yes, I’m a railway enthusiast and our holiday in Canada all those years ago was by rail up the eastern coast. We started at Toronto where we spent a couple of days, then got a VIA Rail train to Ottawa. Again, a couple of days there and then another VIA train to Montreal. Finally, after a few days in Montreal we got our final VIA train to Quebec City. Here’s a shot of our train at Ottawa station:-

I suppose all western societies are getting more violent but somehow I can’t get my head around it happening in Canada, that friendly and peaceful country I had the pleasure of visiting nearly 20 years ago.

Lydiate – The racetrack called Southport Road

Cllr. Edie Pope outside her Southport Road farm shop. The notorious accident black spot is in the background.

This week’s Champion newspaper is highlighting the dangerous nature of Lydiate’s Southport Road and they are to be congratulated on an excellent article by reporter Danielle Thompson.

The vast majority of Southport Road has a 30mph limit – that’s not a target but a maximum! Frankly, the reality is that the road is little more than a racetrack from the Maghull boundary with few vehicles keeping to the maximum speed. The part of it which is 40mph runs from Lydiate Abbey to the Merseyside boundary just past St Thomas’ Church where the road becomes Mairscough Lane. It is this latter section where Cllr. Edie Pope has her farm and shop and where she fought to get the speed limit reduced to 40mph a few years back due to the number and regularity of serious accidents. Despite Edie’s efforts, this 40 mph section is also a racetrack and not so long ago Lydiate Parish Council called upon Merseyside Police to take enforcement action to try to curb excessive speeding.

Here’s Danielle’s excellent article:-

Nice to see a really good piece of local journalism – the late Jim Sharpe would have been proud of Danielle.

I really don’t like cycling on pavements

I’m a regular almost daily cyclist for fitness, shopping, and local visits for whatever within a few miles of where I live – Lydiate, Merseyside. You may therefore be surprised that I have some negative things to say about some of my fellow cyclists who use pavements to get around rather than being on the road where they belong. To me cycling on a pavement is dangerous for pedestrians especially when bike riders all but creep up on them from behind without even announcing they’re there as it’s uncool to have and to use a bell. It’s bad enough cyclists expecting pedestrians to move out of the way when they are cycling illegally and don’t have any right of way but when also scaring the elderly and people with disabilities out of their wits it’s nothing but utterly disgraceful.

You won’t be surprised that I take a similar view with vehicles parked on or driven on pavements as pavements are for pedestrians unless they have been designated as shared space with cyclists by a local council.

I was exchanging views recently with a Sefton Borough councillor on this matter and the following is a reply that Borough Councillor recently received to concerns he had raised on behalf of residents in his ward who, like me, want the police to put a stop to riding on pavements – The reply concerns Southport but clearly the police are making general, if not nationwide comments:-

‘Cycling on the pavement is an offence but we have to adapt a common sense approach. It has
been agreed nationally that momentary use of the footpath should not be construed to be an
offence. Also we have be mindful of the dangers certain roads also pose to cyclist.

Cycling on pavements is something that does get reported to us, particularly in the summer
months. In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in cycling, partly due to the British
successes in major cycling events but also under the current COVID-19 restrictions as a
recognised way of keeping fit and safer travel.

We do however recognise that whilst there is a large majority of responsible cyclists, there are
those that do not abide by the rules and can pose a risk of injury to themselves and others.
They are often attracted by the wide pavements that exist in Southport and the reduced risk to
themselves from motor vehicles.

This is something that we discuss with the local Council and over the years there has been the
introduction of cycle lanes and pedestrian areas. These are designed to facilitate cyclists
around the town and protect them from increased motor vehicle traffic and reduce the impact
upon pedestrians. You will be aware of the recent introduction of more cycle lanes designed to
alleviate the problem and also the change in description regarding the Chapel Street area. This
formerly prohibited cycling but now contains a cycle lane and has adapted the “Share with Care”
approach.

We currently liaise with local cycling groups and Schools in an attempt to educate cyclists,
raising awareness of the consequences and also conduct spontaneous operations to tackle
these offenders. Some offenders are advised regarding their conduct and others are fined.
We will continue to address incidents of cycling on pavements when staffing and conflicting
demands allow but based upon the threat, harm and risk to the Community, combined with the
number of incidents reported it is not presently a priority.

What we are targeting is anti-social behaviour in the Town and this often includes inconsiderate
or even dangerous use of pedal cycles. We have dealt with a number of offenders through the
justice system under the anti-social issues rather than specific cycling alone. This is not always
visible to members of the public as it may be addressed by later prosecutions as attempting to
stop the cyclist there and then can further danger themselves and other pedestrians.

I must add that such enforcement also receives complaints due to an opposing view in favour of
the cyclist.’

When I first read the police view I must admit to thinking along the line of that’s a good politician’s response as it says a lot whilst not really addressing the fundamental issue i.e. the safety of pedestrians. However, on reflection I think there is some hope, if only a very small amount, that Merseyside Police do understand the issues whilst rarely having the spare resources to tackle those who put pedestrians at risk. It would be interesting to see some stats on police interaction with illegal cycling across Sefton Borough and indeed Merseyside as a whole as I have a horrible feeling that such interaction only really happens when a pedestrian has been injured by a reckless cyclist on a pavement.

Whatever we as cyclists and motorists (yes I’m a driver too) may think when we are in our own little world the fact is that the most important and vulnerable thing on our roads is the pedestrian, that’s why our bikes and vehicles should not be ridden, driven or in the case of vehicles parked on or across pavements.

Sadly, I have the feeling that with police resources being so stretched (although I bet they did little cycling intervention when they weren’t so stretched) that a significant minority of cyclists will continue to put pedestrians at risk and there’ll be no one to challenge such anti-social behaviour until a pedestrian gets injured.