After the trains had gone

Lydiate Station after closure – From Neil Reston Collection

A look back at the Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway by Keith Hick, published with the OPSTA Connexion Magazine Issue 155 – Feb 2022

There’s a great supplement to the OPSTA magazine for Feb’ 2022 in the form of a pamphlet written by locally renowned railway historian Keith Hick which, if I’ve understood things correctly, will form a part of a larger piece of work about the history of Southport’s railways in general. Having checked with OPSTA I’ve scanned the 12 pages of the supplement and present them here. You need to click on each page to be able to read it.

This railway has always fascinated me. Aged 10 in 1968 I went to live on Sefton Lane Maghull, just a quarter of a mile from the former Sefton & Maghull Station. I recall the platforms still being in place back then. This excellent piece by Keith Hick is very much spot on and appreciated.

And finally for this post what the trackbed looks like today as part of the Cheshire Lines Path/Trans Pennine Trail –

Farm access bridge over the former Cheshire Lines railway between the former Lydiate & Sefton & Maghull Stations.

A look back at the Mersey Railway

Oh, I do like a bit of railway history especially if it involves Nottinghamshire or Merseyside. So imagine my delight when Phil Rimmer shared some very interesting photos with me regarding the Mersey Railway which he found and purchased on a stall at the National Model Railway Exhibition at Alexandra Palace about 5 years ago. Interestingly, Phil’s grandfather Thomas, on his Dad’s side, was once Station Master at Southport and with a name like Rimmer a Southport connection is of course no surprise.

Well here goes with the photos, with any copyright issues being noted where I know them. Any background that other railway enthusiasts can fill in will be most welcome of course.

Mersey Railway No.13 Brunlees at Rock Ferry

The hand stamp on the reverse of this photo says Mr F Dean of St Annes on Sea so it could be his copyright?

Mersey Railway No.6 Fox. This is an old postcard noted as F Moore’s Railway Photographs

Mersey Railway EMU entering Birkenhead Central on train from Rock Ferry 15 May 1956

The copyright for this photo is noted as Rail Archive Stephenson (Photomatic) N431

A postcard noted as F Moore’s Railway Photographs.

Phil has given me this note associated with the photo above – The reference to Broughton Colliery on the wagon is interesting. This might have been taken on the Birkenhead-Wrexham line. There was a coal seam under the River Dee with mines at Broughton and Mostyn on the Welsh side and at Burton and Ness on the Wirral side.

6851 as N0. 15 BND Dk 23-09-23

There are no notes on the reverse of this photo other than noted in the caption.

So there you have it, these Wirral Railway photos and postcards were brought together and framed by a person unknown possibly many years ago. They were rescued by Phil who has another railway connection with Merseyside – ‘My grandad’s Father was a waggoner, moving goods between Birkenhead and Liverpool Docks by horse and waggon, using ferry then tunnel. Grandad told me that goods trains did sometimes use the closed Seacombe branch but I’ve never read that anywhere.’

Do Mersey Railway historians out there have any background information to share or do they have any input with regard to Phil’s oral family memories?

Note – Click on each photo to enlarge

Regional economic regeneration – It’s done the rounds so many times!

My good friend Bob Robinson recently pointed me towards the podcast linked below:-

open.spotify.com/episode/0BkowQ14PrKsFwsTQAregb

Bob’s take on it and indeed the whole issue of how governments keep on making the same mistakes over targeted regional investment are summed up here:-

‘This is a 50-minute podcast and is the most accurate description of the chequered history of UK regional development, I have ever heard. I carry the scars as I was involved in submitting business cases to: the North West Development Agency (Improving Construction Industry Safety), the South West Development Agency (Construction Skills development) and the Welsh Development Agency (Redeployment of Military facilities}. I watched their rise and fall. I also was seconded for a period to support the DTI’s “Rethinking Construction Programme” following on from the 1998 Egan Report into the root and branch need to reform the construction industry. Listening to this podcast suggests we are making the same mistakes over and over again. Regional policy has been a half-hearted inconsistent shambles for years and this fiasco, as evidenced by the ongoing rows about the Manchester Rail Network, is set to continue.’

I can’t but agree with Bob’s assessment having listened to the very interesting podcast and taken his concerns on board. UK policy in so many critical areas is subject to far too many twists and changes meaning nothing gets bedded in before an incoming government wants to shake it all up again. The NHS and Education are a couple of glaring examples but this blog piece is about regionalism and how we invest in areas most in need of investment – ‘Levelling Up’ being the latest incarnation of it.

I’ve blogged about such issues before so there’s a danger I could well repeat myself here; if so my apologies. My experience as a Sefton Borough Councillor from 1999 to 2015 and particularly my period as Council Leader from 2004 to 2011 inform my views.

There’s little doubt that the North West Development Agency was the big beast with regard to most if not all large scale projects whilst it was in being. It sat rather uncomfortably aside the North West Regional Assembly as Blair was going about his decentralisation of power and public money from Westminster. His was the first government to really embrace regionalism aside from the efforts of ‘Tarzan’, the ‘Minister for Merseyside’, Michael Heseltine during the previous Tory years under Thatcher and Major.

That we live in one of the most centralised countries in the developed world says a lot so Heseltine and Blair were kicking against a well-ordered position stoutly defended by virtually all Labour/Tory politicians and of course the Civil Service. Liberals had seriously woken up to regionalism and devolution many years before them I might add so in general, we welcomed such initiatives whilst usually being of the view they were too small in scale, done to people rather than them being consulted and not far-reaching enough. Of course, we were right!

Blair got stuck or got bored with regionalism and devolution and it kind of fizzled out well before the job was done particularly in England. Ignoring the Brown years where nothing much happened on this agenda it took the Coalition Government to have another go and I think it fair to say that they only succeeded in adding to the dog’s breakfast of English regionalism and devolution. City Mayors and City Region Mayors were their big idea and I opposed them from day one as I still do now. My many previous blog postings on this subject go before this one so I’ll link one that seems pertinent below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2021/03/02/more-elected-mayors-will-not-address-north-south-divide/

So the podcast is very much to the point and sadly the majority of our English politicians still love that we are overwhelmingly ruled from Westminster. Apart from crumbs from their table, they will want it to stay that way too!

Until the UK fully embraces regionalism and very significant devolution of powers and spending from Westminster we’ll continue to be badly governed.

Decency?

Not a word I’m guessing that many folk would associate with Boris Johnson yet it was uttered by an elector who’d supported/voted for his leadership of the Tories at the last General Election. The context of the remark was indeed remarkable, to me anyway, in that the person using the word was seemingly saying that they had expected decency from Johnson.

What struck me about this was why on earth would anyone expect decency from Johnson? And thereby hangs the cult of Johnson who often seems to be imagined as a person significantly different from the one we see on our TV screens day after day.

There’s nothing new about political cults of course as it’s only very recently that we lived through the cult of Corbyn. Thatcher had a cultish following too of course. And what about Churchill and even Lloyd-George?

Johnson’s cult following is clearly associated with Brexit, itself a fantasy never to deliver all the ‘wonderous’ things its proponents promised. That he wrote out two EU scenarios, one pro, one anti, and then decided which one he was going to run with says a lot about the man. Of course, he ran with the one which he calculated would take him into power. It worked too.

Now, I often turn to look at what Jim Hancock is thinking when I’m considering important UK issues. He rarely disappoints even though I don’t always share his conclusions. Here’s Jim on the present melt-down of Johnson’s Government over Partygate:-

www.jimhancock.co.uk/police-to-pms-rescue/

Well, what do you think of Jim’s take on Johnson/Partygate? To me, he’s got a pretty good angle on it all. I was particularly interested in the Bury Tory MP defecting to Labour. Considering what he’s previously voted for the MP is clearly of the right and I could not see him being spoken of as a One Nation Tory in any sense when he was in that party. On that basis, Labour has gained a defector who may well sit, if slightly uncomfortably, with the present right of centre leaning Labour leadership but my guess is that many local Labour members in Bury will privately be horrified if he’s been promised a run at the Bury Sth seat in the next General Election for Labour.

But to come back to my original theme about how voters perceive Johnson, a suppose you need to have bought into the cult to get why his supporters see him so very differently from those of us outside of it. But, decent? Really?!!!!!

Lord Ronnie Fearn RIP

I first met Ronnie pretty soon after getting involved in Liberal politics in 1980. If memory serves he was at that time a Sefton Borough Councillor for Southport’s Norwood Ward and a Merseyside County Councillor. He came across as a campaigner with huge amounts of energy, ideas and enthusiasm.

Lord Ronnie Fearn of Southport, passing on a little advice..

He encouraged me as a fresh-faced lad to stand for Maghull Town Council but I also recall him wondering out loud if my beard would go down well with the electorate. It did and I won a seat at a by-election in 1985. I would run into Ronnie not only locally when the Liberals, the SDP/Liberal Alliance and subsequently the Lib Dems were campaigning on an issue but also at Liberal Assemblies and then Lib Dem Conferences.

At conferences and assemblies, Ronnie was in his element often surrounded by like-minded campaigners and he had some fun at those events too; Llandudno in 1981 comes to mind as do many a Glee Club (a Liberal political sing-song at conferences) where Ronnie would always do his bit of entertaining. Of course, he was heavily involved in amateur dramatics in Southport so being on stage was second nature to him.

Ronnie suitably dressed for a Burns Night

It was no surprise to me when he was elected as MP for Southport in 1987 as my feeling was folks in the Town looked upon him as Mr. Southport. He lost the seat in 1992 election but stepped right back into campaigning to get it back at the 1997 General Election, which of course he did. He retained his council seat for Norwood Ward of Sefton throughout his time as an MP and was a regular attendee at Council meetings as well as fulfilling his parliamentary duties. His boundless energy made it all possible. I recall asking him on one occasion whether he ever had a day when he did not want to campaign or struggled to do so when he was under the weather. His answer was I put my best foot forward and get on with things, or words to that effect.

Ronnie at the head of the table for his Sister-in Law Maureen’s 90th Birthday celebrations.

Ronnie was determined that I stand for Sefton Council and when I won a seat in Molyneux Ward in 1999 no one was more delighted for me. He then decided to step down as an MP and John Pugh was subsequently elected for the Southport seat. Ronnie found himself elevated to the House of Lords in 2001 where he served until 2018. Subsequent changes within the Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council ended up with that fresh-faced lad, that I mentioned earlier, finding himself as Group Leader and then Council Leader in 2004 when the Libs became the largest party on the balanced Council. I was Council Leader until 2011 and Ronnie was a member of my Group and was Cabinet Member for Leisure too. I recall that on a number of occasions I would be leading my group through some tortuous council process whilst thinking to myself Lord Ronnie is sat there whilst I’m advising him what to do! All my instincts were set up to follow Ronnie’s advice and guidance, how on earth had the tables been turned?

Ronnie with John Pugh at Christine Polanski’s retirement party. Christine on the right was a secretary to the Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council

The reality was that Ronnie was a kind and supportive chap who just wanted to help me to succeed and I’m so grateful for his years of guidance.

A close friend of Ronnie’s was David Rimmer, a fellow Sefton Councillor for Meols ward. David had the ability to sound just like Ronnie and every now and again he’d slip into his impersonation of Ronnie, usually to the great amusement of all concerned. It was not done in a way to make fun of Ronnie but in admiration of him.

So those are my memories of Ronnie, a kind and supportive man who encouraged a fresh-faced lad into front-line politics. I owe him a lot and will miss him greatly.

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…….