Sefton & West Lancs – Encounters on a bike ride

It was a beautiful day for a bike ride yesterday so I set off from my Lydiate home through Maghull, Melling, Simmonswood, Aughton and Downholland back into Lydiate. It was a ride of just over 12 miles but quite a bit happened along the way.

Firstly, a van overtook me whilst I was negotiating the roundabout by the new Maghull North Station and the Poppy Fields housing development. To say the van was too close is putting it mildly; less than half a meter from me I would guess when the recommended amount of space to leave around a cyclist when overtaking them is 1.5m! Fortunately, the name of the firm was on the truck so when I stopped I Tweeted the Preston-based company asking them to advise their driver not to put cyclists at risk by driving so close to them.

Then I went down Spurriers Lane, which turns into Outlet Lane when it leaves Melling Parish and enters Simmonswood Parish in West Lancs. I had a brief look at the hugely controversial caravan site off the beginning of Spurriers Lane, near Carla Lane Animal Centre, and saw 4 or 5 caravans on it. My recollection is that the Champion newspaper recently reported that Sefton Council is having the landowner return the land back to its original condition as the development does not have planning permission. There was no sign of remedial works taking place.

I pressed on down Spurriers and into Outlet Lane and then a dog encounter, which I have never had before down that particular lane. I stopped a good 20 yards from the two dogs that were running free in the lane and retreated. The problem is you never know as a cyclist what dogs running free will do so its best to avoid them. Even friendly dogs can jump up and knock a cyclist off causing injury. When I stopped later for a brew in Town Green I e-mailed the West Lancs Dog Warden asking them to speak to the owners about keeping their dogs under control and I await a response. I also Tweeted the company of the too close van as mentioned above and I await their response too.

Then it was up and over Clieves Hill and what a view it was on a lovely sunny winters day. I also encountered the volunteer litter picker who often cleans up at this local beauty spot. Regular readers of this blog site will recall that I posted a while back about my encounter up there with a West Lancs Council litter cleaner who told me how bad the littering was and that there was a chap who did some volunteer litter picking. Well, I’ve now met the chap and we had a good chat about the mucky buggers who create so much mess in and around this lovely spot.

Down the hill into Downholland and I find myself approaching the Green Lane/Eagar Lane canal swing bridge over the Leeds Liverpool Canal but there were workmen on it and the bridge had clearly been closed. It soon became apparent why – one of the safety barriers had snapped off in the high winds as always seems to happen at this exposed spot. Indeed, the barrier was in the canal and was being fished out by contractors working on behalf of the Canal & River Trust. A narrow boat was waiting to get through the bridge and it was able to whilst I was there as the work had been completed and a new barrier is on order. Here’s a couple of shots of the activity around the bridge:-

Snapped off bridge barrier being hauled out of the canal

Narrow Boat at Eagar Lane canal swing bridge after bridge is reopened

Quite a lot of things going on on one short bike ride around Sefton and West Lancs.

Maghull Wind Orchestra rock the Palm House yet again

Another great concert from Maghull Wind Orchestra at Liverpool’s iconic Palm House in Sefton Park yesterday. The place was packed out; here’s a couple of shots of the concert:-

I think it fair to say that the audience was delighted with the performance but not necessarily, somewhat bizarrely, with the venue’s convenience or should I say inconvenience arrangements. The toilets were out of bounds to those attending the concert and a walk of some 5 minutes, for a fit person, was required through the park to another set of toilets where the gents were out of order anyway! How odd, the notices did not say the toilets were out of order at the Palm House, indeed they seemed to be in use for catering staff if I understood correctly. I’ve been there many times and never have I seen the toilets out of bounds before. Frankly, with many elderly people in the audience or considering that the weather could have turned foul at any moment in February the ‘facilities’ needed to be open. Even the orchestra members had to run for the other toilets at half time! I wonder what the trouble was all about?

Click on the photos to enlarge them

The lead photo is also amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Addendum – I queried the lack of toilet facilities and this is the response – Looks like a misunderstanding on the day – ‘sorry you were unable to use our toilets, this shouldn’t have been the case and that this spoilt enjoyment of both the Palm House and our free Sunday Concert.

We do provide toilets facilities at the Palm House specifically for our visitors and who those attend our events – such as you did when you came to our concert.

However, these are not public toilets for the Park and recently we had been experiencing some anti-social problems and it became necessary to put the signs up around the Palm House to try and deter this.

Anyone who has wanted to use our facilities has been able to so, or has asked a member of staff and have been directed to them. I would stress our intention has never been to stop our visitors using the toilets but only to restrict access.’

Liverpool’s ‘Bucket’ fountain’ – move proposal sparks protests

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link below

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/people-dont-want-liverpools-bucket-15801178

I recall going to watch the bucket fountain as a young lad and yes it can be mesmerising as described in the Echo article. I also agree that it’s almost hidden location is a part of its charm.

I’ve signed the petition and would urge others to do so as well. Here’s a link to it:-

www.change.org/p/liverpool-city-council-save-the-bucket-fountain?recruiter=45146312&utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

Sefton Borough – It lacks balance

In the light of recent local Conservative claims that all of Southport’s money is being spent in Bootle (a rather coarse popularist approach which tries to pinch more sophisticated Lib Dem clothes) I thought I would revisit my piece on this matter from 2015 – you can access that blog via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/03/28/borough-of-sefton-what-a-mixture-of-diverse-communities-that-have-little-common-with-each-other/

Mm well, my views have not changed and I still think that Sefton is a geographically bizarre Borough and that this situation can only be changed for the better by looking at West Lancashire Borough at the same time.

West Lancashire is not a unitary authority its a District Council within a County so all its major services are provided by Lancashire County Council – Highways, Social Services etc. And thereby hangs the major problem to changing local government boundaries locally – It’s not comparing like with like. West Lancs, for example, is only an Associate member of Liverpool City Region so it can’t really sit at the same table as the big boys and girls. That’s a problem as it means that West Lancs finds it hard to have much of an influence and it means the boundary between it and Sefton/The Liverpool City Region is more like a barrier to progress all round.

Do you remember when John Prescott was all-powerful in the Blair Government years and he came up with a plan to split West Lancs in half putting one half into Wigan Metropolitan Borough and one half into Sefton Borough? Yes, there were significant issues about where the splitting boundary should be but frankly, it was not a bad plan it just needed fleshing out and developing. What actually happened was that it fell off the table and was not pursued at all. The effect has been to keep West Lancs in a weak position within Lancashire (where it has always struggled to make its voice heard) and it, in effect, stopped Sefton Borough being able to review it’s own somewhat bizarre geography.

My personal view is that until local government, in general, is reorganised to make all councils unitary i.e. getting rid of the outdated split between District and County Councils in the shire counties (thereby finding a fix for out on a limb West Lancs) then fixing Sefton will be very difficult indeed.

That the Lib Dems and before them the former Liberal Party has been leading the charge to fix Sefton’s bizarre geography ever since 1974 is a given but what about the oft-made claims that one part of the Borough is subsidising another? Does this argument have any basis in fact? It’s probably true of all council areas where there’s a part or parts of it which are poorer and therefore more disadvantaged that council expenditure has traditionally been higher in the poorer communities to try to pull those areas up and support the social/community infrastructure. So in Sefton, the poorer areas are obviously significant parts of Bootle but also parts of Southport. Yes, Southport clearly has it’s affluent areas but like most UK seaside towns it has its fair share of poorer districts too with all the social, low paid seasonal work and housing issues that go with seaside towns.

The problem with poorer areas though in local government finance terms is not just where the money is spent but how it is raised. By this, I mean that in poorer areas there are far more Band A properties in Council tax speak. This means they generate less income for the Council running the area. Merseyside, in general, suffers from this problem and it means that Councils can’t raise anything like the amount of Council tax that more affluent areas of England can.

Austerity, as it’s been applied to local government finance, has had the effect of making poorer council areas poorer because they have become more reliant on the Council tax they can raise locally rather than on government grants which used top up/prop up their services. This is probably the basis of some saying that community ‘X’ is having its money spent in community ‘Y’ and on a crude popularist level there’s a case to hear where you have a council area with wealth in some parts but poverty in others. Put it this way, if you have a council area where 50% of it is affluent and 50% is poor then the effect will be (if you run your council services at the same level across the borough) that the affluent areas will be subsidising the poorer areas.

The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s not just about where a council spends its money, which may well be unbalanced across its area, but its’ also about how it raises the money that it spends too. OK, I’ve simplified the case for illustrative purposes but I hope you get my drift.

The bottom line is that with Council tax being a property based tax as opposed to one that is based on the ability to pay then such problems will always be the case. And of course, it is why Liberals and Lib Dems have consistently argued for a Local Income tax to replace Council tax ever since Council tax was introduced as a quick fix following the Poll Tax troubles of the 1980s. Both Conservatives and Labour oppose a fairer local taxation system based on the ability to pay and want to keep our property value based tax.

So you could say and indeed I do say that Sefton as a Borough is unbalanced both geographically and in local government finance terms. That it has a ‘viable’ future is more down to the fact that governments, of any colour, have failed to act on the root causes of its difficulties than anything else. My solutions are:-

* Bring in a Local Income Tax and scrap the unfair Council tax
* Reorganise those areas of England that still have District and County Councils so that all councils are unitary
* Empower communities to run far more services at a very local level

What’s the connection between Melling’s Waddicar Lane and Maghull’s Woodend Avenue?

Or more to the point what’s the connection between the area of Melling Civil Parish known as Waddicar and the area of Maghull known as Woodend?

For clarity, we are talking about the built-up part of Melling on either side of Waddicar Lane and the part of Maghull between the Meadows and Alt estate either side of Liverpool Road South.

The connection?

‘At the time of the Domesday Survey, Godiva, the widow of Leofrie, the Earl of Mercia owned Melling which was surrounded by a huge forest that stretched from Waddicar (Wood Acre) to Wood End in Maghull’

This is according to The Maghull Trail walking booklet published by Sefton Council a few years back and now out of print. The booklet is one of a series of such walking publications and they are beautiful pieces of artwork in their own right being watercolour illustrated throughout. The cover of the one I’m referring to is shown below:-

Sefton Council – Chief Exec’ Carney to retire

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its web site – see link below

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/sefton-councils-chief-executive-margaret-15767682

Goodness me is it really 10 years since I sat on the recruitment panel which selected Margaret Carney as the new Chief Executive of Sefton Council to replace Graham Haywood? My recollection is that Margaret was head and shoulders above all the other applicants for the job and that it was a unanimous decision to appoint her.

If memory serves Margaret started out at Knowsley Council in an ordinary clerical role and through hard graft worked herself up to an Executive position at Rochdale Council from where she came to Sefton Council.

Straight forward, incredibly hard-working and a pleasure to work with is how I’d describe her from my former position as Leader of the Council and then Cabinet member perspective. I wish her well and hope she enjoys life after Sefton Council.