Libraries – Lost at an alarming rate but will we ever get them back?

This is former Aintree Ratepayer Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at a meeting to try to save his local library in 2013.

Libraries have been lost at an alarming rate across the UK because of austerity which, I might add, was backed by all 3 major political parties in the 2010 General Election. So whichever party had won back then the consequences would have been as they turned out to be or even worse across most public services. Indeed, it has been argued that under Labour in the 2010 – 2015 Parliament the cuts would have been greater as they planned to make £1b more than the Coalition Government actually made. The Treasury/Institute of Fiscal Studies chart below illustrates my point:-

But for me one of the greatest losses in our communities has been the demise of libraries, indeed I put a great deal of effort into trying to save Sefton’s closing libraries along with many other community campaigners. The loss of Aintree Library caused me the most concern as until 2011 I had been a Borough Councillor for Aintree Village. Others of course will have felt just as keenly the loss of their local library be it in Churchtown, Ainsdale, Crosby (College Road), Birkdale, Litherland or Orrell as Sefton Borough lost 7 of its libraries to cost cutting by the Council.

All that, as they say, is history. However, my question is will we get any of the lost libraries (in a suitably modern form) back? Well we won’t be getting Birkdale or Aintree Libraries back in Sefton Borough as the sites both now have housing on them. Here are before and after shots of Aintree:-

Me outside the former Aintree Library

The same site in 2017 when the houses, now completed, were being erected.

Libraries are far more than places where books are kept and borrowed from and I say that as a hoarder of books. A library is a community meeting place, a hub for the community, a place where lonely and isolated people can meet others. Yes they provide IT access and they should all have coffee shops within them too, like at Liverpool Central Library. Their foundation was all about the joy of reading together with gaining knowledge and such worthy aims are still quite valid to my mind.

Readers of this blog-site will probably know that I found Sefton Council’s unwillingness to run libraries, that it could not afford to run, in innovative ways using volunteers most perplexing (and that’s being polite about it!); it was a though the Council saw volunteers as more trouble than they were worth. But other models of running libraries have been successfully established across the UK where councils did not use their dead hand to stop such innovation.

Such innovations have regularly gone though my mind as I’ve come across them and then recently on a visit to the north east I saw this in Tynemouth:-

What’s more it was directly opposite a flat we had rented for a week’s holiday. Wow I thought, that’s great a library to visit and explore. And then the cold light of reality struck me, it was a closed library although not obviously so until you got right up to it. As you can imagine my heart sank when I realised I’d witnessed another gone library. Then this appeared a couple of days later:-

North Tyneside Council mobile library

Well a mobile library is far better then no library at all but whilst any kind of library will make me smile there is a part of me which looks upon them in a similar way to a rail replacement bus, if you get my drift. And so I thought, well at least Tynemouth has a mobile library as some council’s have withdrawn them too and my mind, such as it is, wandered elsewhere.

Then almost by chance I saw a local newspaper in our flat called the News Guardian and in flicking through it and smiling at some of the local articles of the kind you only find in local newspapers:-

‘Man bites dog – dog to sue’
‘Council leader thinks new traffic island is fantastic’
‘MP has a cup of tea and a cake with with potholing club members’

(and yes I did make these headlines up for the avoidance of doubt)

my eyes fell upon this article:-

Well that’s innovation and a future for Tynemouth Library I thought and my spirits lifted until that is I thought back to the lack of library innovation back home in Sefton Borough of course!

Libraries are still worth saving and personally I’d like to see a new modern network of them being re-established….

Click on the photos and newspaper article to enlarge them

Tyne & Wear Metro V Merseyrail

A holiday in the lovely town of Tynemouth last week gave me the chance to check out Tyne & Wear Metro. This is what I made of it in comparison to my local rail network Merseyrail:-

Merseyrail Class 508 EMU at Maghull Station

T&W Metrocars at Whitley Bay Station

In some ways these two rail commuter systems are similar but in others they are quite different.

They both serve large northern metropolitan areas – Tyne and Wear & Merseyside respectively – plus they both like painting their trains and stations yellow, grey and black. What’s more both are about to gain new (Stadler) rolling stock – Merseyrail before Tyne & Wear.

The differences as I saw them:-

* Merseyrail has staff at virtually every station – T&W Metro seems to be a predominately a staff-less system. Certainly I didn’t see staff on the 4 journeys that I made on their trains and you buy tickets from machines like this one at Tynemouth Station:-

* With no staff around T&W Metro feels less secure to travel on than Merseytravel. This performance poster (seen at Cullercoats Station) is interesting – look at the staff availability (only 5.9 out of 10) and Ticketing (5.8 out of 10), although to be fair their security rating is a higher 7.1 out of 10:-

* T&W Metro has a big graffiti problem as mile after mile of lineside walls are covered in it – Merseyrail generally is graffiti-free – probably shouldn’t have said that!

* The old T&W Metro EMU’s are quite basic and look their age (although they were refurbished between 2010 and 2015 by Wabtec Rail at Doncaster) whereas the Merseyrail EMU’s have been refurbished a couple of times and look modern especially on the inside.

* As a non-local I found T&W’s major station – Monument – hard to navigate especially for trains on the circular route north of the Tyne. It would have been nice to have had a member of staff to interact with as Merseyrail always has at it’s hub station – Central. I had to ask fellow passengers for advice on which train to get to Tynemouth Station.

* Merseyrail is of course 3rd rail power pick up whereas T&W Metro is overhead line.

* T&W Metro is light rail – Merseyrail is heavy rail. The present T&W stock are called Metrocars. They are a fleet of light rail vehicles manufactured by Metro-Cammell. For operation on Network Rail controlled tracks (between Pelaw Junction and Sunderland) they are designated on TOPS as Class 994. Merseyrail’s Class 507 & 508 EMU’s are British Rail built.

T&W Metro’s Tynemouth Station is a delight in its careful and spot on refurbishment *.

Manors is an underground Station which reminded me a little of Merseyrail’s Moorfields Station.

I enjoyed riding T&W Metro but I think that Merseyrail has the edge on it especially with regard to staffing, security and ticketing. Here’s a link to the new trains that T&W Metro will be getting:-

www.nexus.org.uk/newmetrotrains

And a local newspaper article about the temporary depot being constructed as the change over of trains to Stadler starts to take shape:-

My thanks to Wikipedia for some facts used above

Click on the photos and newspaper article to enlarge them

* This photo of Tynemouth Station is amongst my Flickr photos at:-

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

Class 769 driver training on Southport – Wigan line

A Southport bound Class 156 DMU at Burscough Bridge Station on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester Line – in 2014.

I’m indebted to Flickr user British Rail 1980s and1990’s for permission to use the photo contained in the link below to this blog posting:-

www.flickr.com/photos/britishrail1980sand1990s/49529872211

As this blog site and many, many other sources have commented on for far too long now the standard of service, the short forming of trains, cancellations etc. etc. on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line has sadly become a part of every passengers life. But there has to be hope and the testing of bi-mode Class 769’s on the line may well be a part of that hope.

I know that OPSTA will be interested in this development as they have been championing this long neglected line, together with the Ormskirk – Preston line of course, for many years indeed.

And a nostalgic reminder of the line in happier times when the Burscough Curves were still in use – photo credit Phil Hughes:-

OPSTA keeps on pressing for the curves to be reopened and is it just possible that the powers that be could be starting to take notice? I hope so but sadly there’s been far too many false dawns over the past 30 years or more to get too optimistic. However, one day Southport and Preston will again be connected by rail I sure, I just hope I see it happen.

My thanks to Kevin Duggan for the lead to this posting

Sefton Council’s BIG earners

Bootle Town Hall

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

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/six-members-staff-one-cash-17703787

How ever you look at it this situation is one where it’s an every which way but lose scenario for cash strapped Sefton Council and it’s Labour rulers.

Joe and Jane public will be horrified, especially as their ever increasing council tax bills will be landing on Sefton doorsteps very soon.

Cllr Leo Evans (Lib Dem) says that only his group of councillors voted against this at the last full council meeting.

Merseyrail – Some detail on those new trains now the first one is on test at Kirkdale

A mock-up of a Class 777 Stadler EMU as displayed in Birkenhead a while back

The Railway Gazette has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.railwaygazette.com/uk/merseyrail-class-777-arrives-in-liverpool/55686.article

A mock-up of a Class 777 – The new Merseyrail trains that will soon replace the Class 507/508 EMU’s

Maghull – Those hugely contentious planning applications for its urban expansion

The vast Maghull East site seen from Poverty Lane presently used for growing crops but under Sefton Council’s Local Plan it will become housing


Place North West has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.placenorthwest.co.uk/news/sefton-defers-decision-on-1700-homes/

The deferment was of course associated with the Special Planning Committee meeting held last week in Bootle Town Hall.

I guess those of us who fought against this vast former Green Belt/high grade agricultural site being designated for housing in Sefton Council’s Local Plan (I fought it twice – 1998 WON, Most recently – LOST) will be sad but resigned. Resigned to the fact the battle to save the land from development was actually lost when Sefton Council approved its Local Plan on 20th April 2017.

On that date we lost the battle to save the land

The issues at stake now for Maghull are all about how the site will be developed, drained, laid out, the effect on the local infrastructure, the timescale for the building etc. etc. There can be no doubt that an urban extension to Maghull of the scale of 1,600+ houses will have very significant impacts on the highway network, public transport, health facilities, school places, land drainage, you name it.

It was for all these reasons that I fought to to protect this high grade agricultural land, which grows the food we eat, and engaged with the two campaigns to stop the development in 1998 and then again up to April 2017.

Yes clearly Sefton’s Planning Committee now has some huge decisions to face up to/tackle following the Council selecting the vast Maghull East site to build upon. But as Sefton decided to designate such a huge area for housing the problems of actually delivering on that site are a direct consequence of that designation. No ifs, no buts.

Maghull folk, particularly those living around/close to this massive development, have now been pulled into all kinds of issues which concern and worry them. Yes they are trying to influence the Council and developers but I fear that with the planning system in the UK being set up the way that it is that soon Sefton’s Planning Committee will give the green light whilst many issues of concern in that community will be left unaddressed.

Frankly, I have never liked the way town and country planning takes place. It’s too remote from communities, its full of jargon and complexities that seem to be in place to keep ordinary people at arms length. My two years on Sefton’s Planning Committee up to May 2015, when I came off Sefton Council, confirmed this to me. And no this is not a dig at Sefton Planning, its a dig at the whole set up of planning across the UK for generations.

I deeply regret not being able to save both Green Belt and high grade agricultural sites across Sefton Borough from development but I enjoyed working with community campaigners like Maria Bennett, Peter Greener and many many others who put their every effort into those campaigns.

Maybe one day, hopefully soon, Government will value high grade agricultural land more highly than bricks and mortar

Press cutting from 1998 as we fought to protect the Maghull east site from development. We won back then but could not win in the recent re-run of the battle for Maghull East.

With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting