Why we need more Low traffic Neighbourhoods

As far as I can see we are still building new communities and housing estates so they’re car-dependent when clearly we should be doing just the opposite!

I’ve been trying to get my head around another green initiative called ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ and here’s a good explanation of what they are from Sustrans:-

www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/get-active/2020/in-your-community/what-is-a-low-traffic-neighbourhood

Car drivers often get very angry when there are suggestions/plans to reduce car use. Their often irrational response is because they’re addicted to their car which they use for virtually every journey. Indeed, their whole life has been built around them being car-dependent and they want it to stay that way as they know and care little about alternatives. Pedestrians are strange, why walk when you can drive, aren’t these people weird? Cyclists are a damn nuisance who need running off our roads. Horse riders should be in fields. Drivers who follow speed limits are forcing me to take on dangerous overtaking manoeuvres to get past them.

Does pollution not matter to these drivers? Well no, not unless someone in their family has been made ill by airborne pollution. And what about vehicle accidents?, oh they happen to others, not to me. Green issues generally?, oh that’s for politicians to sort out, nothing to do with my car. In reality, the vast majority of vehicle drivers will never volunteer to reduce their car use. They may well buy an electric car (if they are comfortably well off that is) as it may make them feel ‘green’ when actually the production of their ‘green’ car is anything but green!

I suppose it comes down to this. We all want the road we live on and the one our child goes to school on to be car-free and safe but we want every other road to be a vehicle free for all where we can drive however we want and not suffer any consequences.

The approach of the government is to build car-dependent communities as developers like, where they like. It’s for another generation to sort out the mess that poorly planned housing developments are creating. Oh and let’s build more new roads even though we know they just generate more traffic. And the climate change/green agenda?……………………

Editor’s Note – I Drive, Cycle and walk.

Double Rating in Sefton – My letter to the Champion Newspaper

Dear Sir,

I support Independent Sefton Park Ward Cllr Andy Wilson’s campaigning for Double Rating payments to be reinstated from Sefton Council to those parish councils who maintain their own parks and gardens as without it the council taxpayers of those communities are paying twice.

When I was a Sefton Cllr. and Leader of Sefton Council I ensured that those payments were improved to reflect the real costs of maintaining parks and gardens in Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree Village. That was around 2007, but sadly in around 2013, after I’d stepped down as Sefton Leader, the payments were stopped altogether creating great injustice. I opposed the stopping of payments and wrote Lydiate’s Parish Council’s submission* to the ‘consultation’ prior to them being stopped.

Since then Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village Parish Councils have lost many, many thousands of pounds and have had to fund all their parks and gardens maintenance from the separate precept those councils raise on their council taxpayers. It has meant that in these communities residents have been paying their respective parish councils who do look after their parks and gardens and also Sefton Council who don’t!

What possessed Sefton to stop the payments completely, baffles me as the formula agreed in around 2007 was meant to be flexible in that the money paid (revenue and capital) to the parish councils was meant to reflect what the Borough Council would spend on those parks and gardens if it was responsible for them. So if Sefton reduced expenditure on the parks and gardens it runs, then the payments to the parishes would drop proportionately. Of course, the opposite would apply too.

The irony of some Labour politicians jumping up and down over the matter now is not lost on me though, as it was Labour-run Sefton that stopped the payments in the first place!

Yours sincerely

Tony Robertson
Former Leader of Sefton Council

* My posting of 14th Feb 2022 refers

The letter was published on 16th March 20222

HGVs on Greens Lane Downholland

Having cycled Eagar Lane/Greens Lane for some years now I’m finding the surface of the single track Greens Lane to be in very poor condition presently. Eagar Lane is in Lydiate Civil Parish (Sefton/Merseyside) whilst when it becomes Greens Lane it’s in Downholland Civil Parish (West Lancs/Lancs County).

Greens lane canal swing bridge (known as Rimmer’s Bridge locally) – Photo from 2018.

I’ve been on the Lancashire County Council website a couple of times in recent months reporting huge potholes at 3 points along Greens Lane and at first, I assumed it was the often massive agricultural vehicles of our modern-day churning up the surface. But a second thought was, well why has it got so bad in recent times? Then a conversation with a fellow cyclist (and one with a fellow Lydiate Parish Councillor) made the penny drop so to speak. The point made to me was that adjacent to the canal swing bridge, which is very close to the County boundary, there’s some form of waste recycling going on and I was told it was at times visited by huge HGVs. I’d not encountered them until today when I came across a skip lorry and then a huge (long) articulated HGV. The skip lorry could both have only come from the recycling site, I guess, due to the weight limited canal swing bridge? The huge HGV was actually exiting the site.

It strikes me that Greens Lane will need a significant upgrade if such traffic is going to be using this single track lane for much longer, otherwise, Lancs County Council will have to be out fixing the surface very regularly.

Interestingly, at the Lydiate end of the route i.e. at the beginning of Eagar Lane, this new sign has recently popped up:-

Eagar lane, Lydiate

It will have been erected by Sefton Council and whilst the obvious reason for it will be the canal swing bridge, why has it just gone up? have the HGVs visiting the site on the other side of it been trying to use Eagar Lane?

Whatever the case, I’m assuming that Sefton and particularly Lancashire Council are on the case. If I find out more I’ll update.

Double Rating – Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree – A history of ups and downs

It’s all about why in Sefton Borough Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree Village Council Taxpayers pay twice to have their parks maintained

This shot of Rigeway Park in Lydiate was taken in 2017

Well, this is a subject I’ve blogged about a few times in the past. Here is one such posting that explains things, it’s from 2017:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/04/06/maghull-land-money-maintaining-old-hall-park/

And here’s Lydiate Parish Council’s submission (June 2013) to Sefton Council’s consultation on the withdrawal of Double rating payments to the parish councils doing their own parks and gardens maintenance:-

Double Rating in Sefton – Lydiate Parish Council’s response to Sefton MBC’s proposal to stop repaying the affected Parish Councils

In Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village (and to a lesser extent in Melling Parish – see note below) all of the parks are looked after by the Town or Parish Councils and these Councils charge residents for the cost of doing this, via the Council Tax – the separate ‘parish precept’.

Sefton Council also charges for looking after parks in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village even though it does not deliver any such service in those three communities. This means residents potentially paying twice for having their parks looked after. This is clearly not fair or right so, some years ago, an agreement was reached for Sefton Council to pay these Parish & Town Councils the same per acre that Sefton spends on its own parks, elsewhere in the borough. This stopped residents from paying double, so the agreement was called “Double Rating”. In other words, Sefton has been returning to these Parishes what it has been taking from them but not spending on their parks.

However, Sefton Council is now planning to scrap the “Double Rating” agreement and the payments it makes to the Parish Councils which maintain their own parks and gardens. This will mean residents paying twice for having their parks looked after. First, they will pay their Parish/Town Council for actually maintaining the parks and second they will pay Sefton Council to do nothing to them. Sefton will just take the money it raises in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village and spend it on parks elsewhere in the Borough.

Lydiate Parish Council’s view is that Sefton Council’s proposal to stop paying back Double Rating money to the affected Parish Councils is clearly unfair and the Borough Council needs to reconsider. If the proposal is carried forward the result will be that Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village Council taxpayers will be paying twice.

The good news, however, is that Sefton Council does have two quite viable alternative options to resolve this matter without putting the Council tax payers of Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village at disadvantage. These options are:-
a) To continue to make the payments but at a lower level commensurate with the reduced standards of grounds maintenance that the Borough has already budgeted for and may well budget for in the future. This option would mean that all of Sefton’s communities would be treated the same by the Borough Council no matter whether the parks and gardens are run by Borough or Parish Council.
b) For Sefton Council to charge a differing level (lower) of Council tax in the Parishes which maintain their own parks and gardens than in the rest of the Borough. This option would stop Sefton Council from collecting money in the Parished communities that look after their own parks and gardens and then having to refund the money via the Parish Councils. Doing this would also mean that Council taxpayers in the affected Parishes would not be put at a disadvantage.

Simply stopping the repayments to the Parish Councils is unfair and will lead the Borough Council open to the charge that it is raising money in one part of the Borough simply to spend it elsewhere. We contend that this is not a position that the Borough Council should wish to find itself in.
Finally, we would add that we fully appreciate the level of savings the Borough Council has to make; all we ask is that in this case of Double Rating the savings are made fairly.
*****
Note 1:- Melling Parish is also affected but in Melling, there is recreational land provided by both Sefton Council and Melling Parish Council so the situation there is more complex.
Note 2:- The other 6 Parish Councils in the Borough do not own or lease land that is used as parks or for public recreational purposes so ‘Double Rating’ is not an issue to them.

Entrance to Dodds Park Maghull

And I suppose you’re wondering why I’m banging on about this great local injustice again now. Is it just an old politician musing on former wins and losses? Well, actually the reason I’m back on the subject is due to a discussion with Maghull & Lydiate’s Sefton Park Ward Independent Councillor Andy Wilson. You see Andy has got the Double Rating bit between his teeth and wants to try to get things rebalanced. Of course, I agree with him. Well, I would, wouldn’t I, having put so much effort into getting a fair system put in place only for it to be pulled a few years later on the altar of austerity. So good luck Andy, I look forward to the oil tanker that is Sefton Council being turned around again and in doing so helping Parish Councils, like Lydiate, to reduce their precept on local council taxpayers.

Kenyons Park – Lydiate

Councils decide Local Plans, are planning application approvers, sometime land developers & may be social housing providers too!

I’ve long pondered over the various roles associated with land development/housing that are filled by single local authorities.

It was the article below from the Liverpool Echo that made me think about what looks to me like conflicting responsibilities.

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/concerns-raised-over-councils-luxury-22515674

Sefton Council (like all other unitary councils) decided the current Local Plan for the Borough, which in turn designated new pieces of land to be developed. Yes, the government prescribed that councils have such a plan but crucially it’s the councils deciding the parcels of land to be tarmacked and concreted over. Ok, local politicians, across the country, then pull all kinds of stunts to pretend they had nothing to do with taking land out of Green Belt, for example, (as that’s usually very unpopular) via the Local Plan they agreed to. They may even go so far as to oppose planning applications for the land they’ve designated for development! Such is political life but whatever politicians say the decisions about which parcels of land to make available for building were taken by a local council.

So planning applications are decided upon by the same councils who’ve picked the land to be built on. Surely a conflict of interests? Yes, I know, local authority planning committees are at face value run along quasi-judicial lines whereby the members of such committees can’t or should not be influenced by political or party political thoughts and lobbying, but is that really how things work? I’m a sceptic.

But what happens if the very same council sets itself up as a land developer/housebuilder as well as a Local Plan and planning application decider – Surely big conflicts of interest there?

And some local authorities are still social/council housing providers so potentially have a direct say in every part of the process from a piece of land changing from say high-grade agricultural land to it charging rent to the people living in the houses built on such land!

I had such thoughts when I was the leader of Sefton Council some years ago. I was invited to leave the council in May 2015 by the electorate I might add but at least my conscience is clear because I consistently opposed the development of Sefton’s Local Plan due to high-grade agricultural land, which feeds us, being designated for building on, That plan was finally approved after I left the council. Sefton was not a social/council housing provider in the latter years of my being on that council as all the housing stock had been transferred to a housing association called One Vision under pressure from the Blair Government.

Am I right to see all these conflicts of interest and worry about them?

I’m of the view that the designation of land use by local authority areas is taking too many smallish geographical areas and making decisions on them when such decisions actually would be better taken strategically at say a sub-regional level. Look at it this way if say a group of local authority areas, Merseyside may well be a good example, all produce their own Local Plans (what happens now) would it not be better if those land-use decisions were determined over the whole former Merseyside County area? There may be large areas of brownfield land in a couple of local authorities but almost none in others. This means that, under present rules i.e. separate Local Plans, the couple of authorities with large areas of brownfield land have a pretty easy Local Plan process. However, not all their brownfield land needs to be used so some is left undeveloped but in the other adjacent local authority areas with little or no brownfield land their plans can only pick non-brownfield land to be built upon. Do you get my drift? The smaller a geographic area for a Local Plan the more likely it is that poor strategic land-use decisions will be.

In terms of social housing provision, I’d like to see strong tenant-led housing associations separate from local authorities. I worry that housing associations have suffered from neglect and they may well not be fulfilling their original purposes well these days. It would also break a link which can be an issue of conflict of interest to me with local planning authorities.

I’d be interested to hear the views of others…….

Melling – Trying out its new Prescot Rd/Bank Lane safe cycle route

I’ve mentioned this Liverpool City Region project previously (see links below) but now the M58 ‘Ashworth’ Junction to Kirkby part is complete* – here’s my review of it.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/05/02/maghull-to-kirkby-via-melling-a-cycle-path-for-prescot-road-school-lane/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/01/04/melling-new-cycle-path-from-m58-ashworth-junction/

Oh and there’s a related posting about the stone-built bus shelter which now sits between the new cycle path and Prescot Road and had previously been threatened with demolition:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/03/17/melling-prescot-road-bus-shelter-what-on-earths-going-on/

From the M58 ‘Ashworth’ Junction south eastwards towards the Pear Tree Pub there’s a cycle path on both sides of the road (Maghull Lane) up to the junction with Prescot Road. If you’ve read the 2nd link above you’ll note my frustration with the fact that the cycle path on the left-hand side has not been taken round into the Ormskirk bound carriageway of Prescot Road but stops just before the junction! This effectively invites cyclists to rejoin the road at a dangerous point if they’re going towards Aughton/Ormskirk. Bad planning in my view. From this junction, there’s only one cycle path on the right-hand side heading along Prescot Road. The path is wide so easily caters for cycles to pass each other. Here’s a photo looking towards the Pear Tree Pub/junction (in the far distance) with the M58 junction being behind the camera:-

The previously threatened bus shelter**, of significant Melling heritage, which was fortunately saved can be seen in this shot with the Pear Tree Pub in the background.:-

To get around the Pear Tree Pub the cycle path follows Prescot Road at the forked junction and then, via a traffic-lighted crossing, passes to the rear of the pub to join Bank Lane. Here’s the crossing:-

And here’s my final shot looking down Bank Lane where the new cycle path joins a longer-standing one which takes cyclists into Kirkby:-

All in all an excellent piece of cycling infrastructure of the highest quality. Nice to see that it’s fully signed, unlike the new cycle path along the A59/Northway in Maghull. The hedging has been replanted so another environmental tick in the box there.

When the section into Maghull and its North Railway Station is constructed (at some point in the future – I know not when) a valuable complete safe cycling route will have been provided. Oh but please do that short missing section into Prescot Road from Maghull Lane for goodness sake! And on that note I’ll repeat something I often say about cycling infrastructure, it’s all well and good doing these grand and often expensive projects but sometimes relatively minor cycling solutions all over our communities remain unattended to. Identifying and tackling those many small projects needs to be a priority. If Sefton Council wants to know my list then I’ll happily supply it but in case I’m becoming a grumbler let me say again the new cycle path I post about here is most welcome and of high quality.

* The section running into Maghull and its North Railway Station will, I assume, be constructed along with the development of the vast Maghull East Urban Extension.

** Storm Arwen took the roof off this bus shelter and there was a great idea from a local resident to replace it with a living roof. I backed that idea and Tweeted my support for it to Merseytravel which they seemed to like the idea of. I note that the new roof is however not a living one, but what I don’t know is whether this is a temporary fix prior to putting a living roof on. Does anyone know more about this?

Note – Click on the photos to enlarge them