Free parking/travel – putting transport in a climate change context

I often feel that this highly emotional subject actually hides a much bigger travel issue which involves us all and needs to be tackled if we are serious about climate change.

The bottom line is that use of petrol and diesel powered vehicles has to come to an end and the sooner the better. More of us need to walk or cycle shorter distances. Public transport, when it becomes OK to use it again, needs to be significantly extended as motor vehicles start to be used less often.

Parking of vehicles is a big issue, whether that be at hospitals (staff and visitors) or indeed anywhere else. Our streets are becoming choked with abandoned (I use that word deliberately) cars when they are not in use. We expect somewhere to park our cars wherever we go and when we can’t park legally/in a car park we abandon our cars on pavements, grass verges, in cycle lanes, across private/business accesses/driveways.

In short privately owned motor vehicles are our problem, not the solution to our travel difficulties.

Of course public transport has been run down over many years via cuts in subsidies and by people not using it. You can track it back to prior to the Beeching era as Beeching was in itself a reaction to the rise in road transport. Ironically the buses which were, with cars, seen to be the solution when railway lines closed have in themselves been pushed further and further to the sidelines as cars have taken over our roads.

We’ve designed/planned a society that has become reliant on the ownership of the private car with those who don’t have one being left to fend for themselves. We’ve invested countless Billions of £’s in a transport system which has. however inadvertently. encouraged the continual growth of the private car. We now face the prospect of trying to put all that into some form of what will most likely be a disorderly and unpopular reverse to try to save our planet. Imagine what the Daily Mail will say!

My view has long been that local public transport should either be free or with just a one-off daily charge for it’s use such as a £1 a day. But that in itself is only part of the solution as we need to significantly improve the bus network so that it’s clean, frequent, reliable, easily accessible and it works in harmony with our local rail networks. Bus, rail & trams are not rivals, they need to be integrated, efficient and cheap to use. We need to arrive at a point where car users say to themselves that running a car is too expensive and they’d rather read a book travelling to work on a train/bus than sit in traffic jams. And don’t scoff, this is all possible should be want it to be.

And yes I’m a car driver a pedestrian and a cyclist. I try to use my car as little as I can and I feel we need to find a way to make the use of cars more expensive the greater the mileage that is done. If you choose to work many miles away from where you live that journey has consequences for our environment. So surely that should mean you paying more per mile into public coffers than someone who has chosen to live much closer to their place of work and does much less mileage. Of course if you live close to your place of work there should be rewards in the system especially if you use public transport, walk or cycle. Putting it simply the taxation system should reward walkers, cyclists and public transport users.

Maghull – We shouldn’t even be building on this land!

The vast Maghull East site seen from Poverty Lane presently used for growing crops but under Sefton Council’s Local Plan it is to be covered with housing.

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/controversial-plans-build-841-homes-18569259

There’s every danger that you’ll be shouting back at me that I’m a broken record here especially if you agree with house building on Green Belt and on high grade agricultural land which feeds us. However, if you agree with me that building on such land is very wrong indeed then read on.

During my time as a Maghull Councillor I led the first campaign to save this land from development in the late 1990’s:-

Press cutting from 1998 as we fought to protect the Maghull east site from development. We won back then but Labour did not fight for the land the 2nd time around.

A Maghull Town Council leaflet from 1998 – That fight to stop Green Belt building was won.

We won that battle but developers and planners always had their eye on it and when they came back for 2nd go as part of the Sefton Local Plan the now Labour-run council did not run a similar campaign and Sefton Council chose the land to be built on.

So now we are left arguing over the detail of how the land will be developed rather than this high grade agricultural land continuing to grow the food that we eat! What makes it even worse is that the chances are that the vast majority of the houses to be built won’t even meet the real local housing shortage anyway as it’s in the social housing sector where the need actually is.

I despair I really do. All I can say is that during my time as a Sefton Borough and Maghull Town Councillor I fought to keep this land from development along with many other local environmental campaigners such as Peter Greener and Pat O’Hanlon. Planning and land use policies in the UK are an utter mess and they have been for generations now. When are we going to wake up to climate change, global warming and real housing need in the social housing sector? When are we going to start to value the land that grows our food?

And what did you do and how did you feel about lockdown?

The Good

When the roads were quiet and building sites closed the world seemed more peaceful and you could hear the birds singing – I enjoyed listening to the silence and the birds.

With traffic hardly moving our polluted world smelled cleaner – I enjoyed that cleaner air

People were out walking country lanes in significant numbers – I envisaged we had gone back to the 1950’s (NO not in a Brexiteer way!)

Cyclists everywhere, goodness me cycling took off with the combination of more free time and generally good weather – I participated but then I’ve been a fitness and leisure cyclist for quite a number of years.

The Bad

Isolated shielding people alone in their houses – I felt so sorry for them and tried to help where I could

Speeding traffic became a really big issue because although there were many less vehicles on our roads the speeds they were doing were frightening – I called on both Merseyside and Lancashire Police (via Twitter) to get a grip but I guess my pleas fell on deaf ears.

Doing DIY became a big challenge as everything had to be ordered on line and either picked up later or it was delivered days, often many days, later – I found this so frustrating when I wanted to get on with various household jobs.

I missed the English cricket season so much – I watched a couple of old games repeated on TV but spring and summer is cricket to me, oh how I missed thwack of willow on leather – until today that is.

Covid 19 – Highlights of a (minority) lawless anti-social society

Me outside the old Maghull Police Station. This was once a real hub of community policing.

In any society there will always be a minority, possibly a significant one, which will not play by the rules set down by that society. Looking at the UK lockdown of recent months I’m wondering if our significant minority are wearing their non-conformist views on their sleeves? And I’m not taking about non-conformism here in the radical and Liberal sense of the word but more in the two fingers up to society as a whole way.

Let’s look at 3 pieces of potential evidence from the BBC website:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-53176717

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52370352

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52674192

We will do as we like, when we like and the rest of you can rot in hell, maybe one way of putting it.

From my perspective the the issue is clear. If as a society we decide to turn a blind eye to minor acts of non-compliance with laws (which we have in reality done) then we have started what amounts to a game where those willing to push at the boundaries will do so to see how far they can get.

The solution, as it has always been, is community policing where local Bobbies are well known and they know those in their community who are likely to be the cause of anti-social behavior and crime. And I’m talking about sufficient numbers of Bobbies and probably more significantly PCSO’s for there to be boots and cycles on the ground 24 hours a day, NOT Bobbies parading miles away and being sent out when there’s trouble.

Yes that means all kinds of laws which are presently being broken many times each day in most communities being enforced for the common good. Start with the little things and our society will end up respecting its own rules and those who are tempted to ignore those rules will think twice before doing so. Most law breaking and anti-social behaviour at a community level is done because those doing it know, almost for sure, that they will not be held to account.

My view is our society has lost respect for itself because we’ve adopted, almost by accident, an every man or woman for themselves attitude.

Here on Merseyside we almost got there in terms of community policing of the kind first advocated by John Alderson the former Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall in the early 1980’s. His at times one person battle to establish community policing was rejected by fellow police officers and ignored by government but eventually the Penny dropped and it became the goal of most police forces. On Merseyside we had specific officers and PCSO’s allocated to particular communities/local government electoral wards although the numbers were not high enough for it to work really well. However, it did work and just needed building on. Sadly it was abandoned on the high altar of austerity and probably because there was a feeling within the police that community policing was soft/not real policing. No fast cars, no drug busts, no big career opportunities in an organisation where getting up the slippery pole has always seemingly been the most important thing.

So we unlearned all the lessons we learned from taking Bobbies out of communities for a 2nd time. We did it first in the 1960’s and 1970’s as police officers were withdrawn from many communities into brand new central police stations in bigger towns and cities. John Alderson could see how that had failed communities so he tried to bring back community policing in the 1980’s. He eventually won the argument but we went and did it all over again in the 2000’s!

I wonder how long it will be before we adopt real community policing again? You never know there could well be promotions in it for police men and women keen for advancement who advocate it!

And there you have it that’s my potentially too simplistic reason for the state that we are in with anti-social behavior and crime and it’s an opinion I’m firmly stuck with. Covid 19 has brought out the best in most of us but the worst in others of that I’m also sure.

Oh and by the way I hope it goes without saying (but I fear it does not) that all community Bobbies in fact all police officers need to be recruited on the basis that don’t hold racist or homophobic views.

Sefton Council – Going bust?

Sefton Council Logo

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/merseyside-council-faces-27m-black-18487709

Bootle Town Hall

For as long as anyone involved in local politics can probably remember local authorities have shouted from the roof tops at every government of every colour that they don’t understand them and the pressures they are under. Usually and indeed during every one of my 15 years as a Sefton Borough councillor the underlying cause of this shouting was associated with the ever spiraling cost of adult social care and children in care. This time the causes are very different but like the ever present and rising costs of social care the effect will be similar across many if not all local authorities. Indeed, this has led the Local Government Association to to say that local authorities will go bust, which if I recall correctly, is actually illegal as they are not permitted to run deficit budgets.

The underlying problem is that local authorities for the most part are actually just agents for the delivery of government prescribed services. They have many statutory duties to do this that and the other although the level/standard to which they do these functions is often not prescribed so one local authority will major on one thing but another will put more effort into another etc. etc.

There’s surprisingly little room for maneuver and that’s why party political changes within local authorities only see changes at the margins, over 90% of the policies/spending won’t and don’t change with differing political council leaderships.

But returning to Sefton, that most odd of virtually all local authorities from a geographical perspective, is it doing the best that it can during the pandemic? Well that’s a difficult question to answer as like all one-party states and governments it will only tell you what it wants to tell you and what it has no choice but to tell you. But here are my thoughts.

Sefton is far too centralised with virtually everything being controlled and directed from Bootle Town Hall via a small political elite in the every bottom corner of this vast Borough. It has dismantled all the previous community related infrastructure for delivery of services to the extent that it has gone back to a ‘one size fits all’ at best. You could say a typical old socialist model of local government.

The buying of Bootle Strand Shopping Centre for a huge amount of money a couple of years back was not only a financial risk to the whole Borough and it’s Council tax payers (should the deal go wrong) but it also defined where the local authority’s priorities were i.e. Bootle, Bootle and Bootle. There are significant fears that this particular chicken could be coming home to roost soon as the value of that retail property falls.

Sefton is slow to react and ponderous and it’s always had a tendency to be so. I suppose this relates very much to its centralised nature and to me it has often seemed unwilling to innovate in a meaningful way. When it did innovate it was at a community level but as I say that level has been all but snuffed out.

I don’t don’t doubt that Sefton, like many local authorities, is in very deep financial trouble as a consequence of the pandemic on top of austerity. Whether it could have been in even a slightly better position if it were run differently is the question no one can really answer. Having said that those of us who are advocates of decentralised and more transparent local government may well say it probably could be better placed if only at the margins.

That the slow moving and ponderous oil tanker which is Sefton Council will continue and will survive one way or another is all but a given. However, with its finances badly holed at the waterline and it being permanently moored at Bootle Docks it will also continue to fail to deliver the kind of modern day services its diverse communities require, except that is for its generally much appreciated domestic waste and recycling doorstep collections.

Memories of Sunny Southport

Having found these two videos – see links below – on You Tube about Southport, it’s history and how it was promoted in the 1970’s (both uploaded by Michael Dawson) I had to share them:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgLAZ90BXNQ

www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6MyE-ptbK8

And how the seaside resort is presently promoted in Covid 19 times:-

www.visitsouthport.com/

What’s interesting is that clearly in the days of the former Southport Borough Council and indeed into the early days of Sefton Borough Council there was significant promotion of the famous seaside resort by or at least organised by the council. That this lead in the promotion of Southport has been all but lost via the changing priorities of the present Council and indeed austerity measures must surely have had a detrimental effect on the local economy.

I recall that during my time on Sefton Council (1999 – 2015) with 7 years of that period being as Council Leader one of my long-term concerns was that the Council was always under pressure to reduce spending on the promotion of Southport. So yes the issue well pre-dates modern-day austerity. And the reason for this pressure? The need to spend an ever greater proportion of the budget on adult social care and children in care. Now you can see why politicians of all parties had to put the elderly and children first but never the less the effect was an ever dwindling amount of money to promote our local seaside resort.

Now probably more than ever Southport needs to be promoted so this proud and historic seaside resort can return to prosperity returns after the pandemic.