So what does OPSTA think should happen?

OPSTA Response to LCR Local Transport Plan Consultation

OPSTA logo

I’ve been a member of OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Assn for more years than I care to mention because they consistently campaign for improved local rail services. Here’s their submission to the Liverpool City Region which has been running a consultation process about the future of local transport:-

‘This submission is on behalf of the Ormskirk Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association (OPSTA) a non political group that uses an evidence-based approach to campaign for improved public transport in the north of the City Region and south-west Lancashire. We have a longstanding relationship with the CTA.

It outlines the case for extending Merseyrail services north of Ormskirk to Preston and through re-instatement of the south junction at Burscough to Southport and similarly extension of public transport links from Kirkby Headbolt Lane to Skelmersdale and Wigan.

The planned implementation of an extended rail service to a new station at Headbolt Lane demonstrates what can be achieved in a short timescale and the potential of the new Class 777 trains when battery-equipped.

Extension of Ormskirk service to Burscough

OPSTA recommends this as a fast follower project to Headbolt lane as it could be delivered very simply and quickly at very low capital cost.

There is a strong and increasing passenger demand case with counts conducted by OPSTA showing continuous growth of journeys made between Burscough Junction and Ormskirk (present entry point to Merseyrail) despite the disruption of recent years. Moreover, it is known there is significant rail heading at Ormskirk, Maghull North and even Aintree by people travelling along the A59. The population of Burscough all within 15 minutes walking distance of the station will soon have increased by over 50% in the last few years.

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Northern trains meet.

Liverpool – Ormskirk – Preston service

OPSTA passenger surveys conducted between 2013 and 2019 have shown consistently that around 25% of those using the Northern Trains’ service use a connecting Merseyrail service towards Liverpool.

Many from Preston and Lancashire will travel into the City Region for work, education and leisure. Similarly, residents in the City Region travel into Lancashire for work and leisure reasons and notably to Preston for education (UCLAN) and connections with northbound services.

A Merseyrail service between the two cities would complement and add capacity/services to the route between Lime Street and Preston; an easier and quicker route for residents north of Liverpool would encourage use of the train while reducing the numbers of passengers passing through very busy city centre stations to travel elsewhere. It would also alleviate congestion all along the A59 arterial road into the city centre thus helping to meet zero carbon and air quality targets.

Liverpool – Ormskirk – Southport via Burscough South Curve

With a through line at Ormskirk, reinstatement of the south junction at Burscough would connect it to the Southport – Wigan line and enable a frequent and fast Merseyrail service between Southport and Ormskirk, Aughton, Maghull and Aintree and bringing Meols Cop into the Merseyrail network.

Previous journey requirement analysis and modelling conducted by the rail consultancy Steers incorporated in a formal proposition made in 2021 for the Burscough Curves demonstrated that there is a unique demand that is not met by the ‘fingers’ of the current Merseyrail Northern lines estimated to be 350-400k journeys annually. A rail options report by WSP Global consultancy in August 2020 also recommended reinstatement of the south curve.

Improved transport links from Kirkby Headbolt Lane to Skelmersdale and Wigan

Now it is clear that the Department for Transport will not fund and progress the development of a new rail line the latent demand for fast and efficient public transport links remains.

A dedicated and fast rail bus service connecting the town to the Merseyrail network would be a very low-cost and quickly implemented option that appears to be a good fit with the City Region’s plans for bus services and multi-modal transport, with cognizance this would be within Lancashire and need a partnership approach with the County Council.

The Dft decision also creates an opportunity to extend the Merseyrail service from Headbolt lane to Wigan instead for which there are similar benefit case arguments for operating through services to Preston. Along this rail corridor demand for rail travel to Liverpool will be strengthened by the house building taking place close to stations and it will facilitate access to Manchester for those residing inside the City Region.’

Passing Merseyrail trains at Aughton Park Station on Merseyrail’s Northern LIne to Ormskirk

Skem’s reconnection to national rail network hits buffers

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of 1960’s progress!

Well, it’s been a long time coming and I guess quite a bit of cash must have been spent (in person-hours particularly) in the planning but Government has probably unsurprisingly run for the hills over the cost of reconnecting Skelmersdale to the national rail network. The BBC has the story on its website – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-62087680

I say unsurprisingly as folk I know who are knowledgeable of Lancashire’s politics and indeed its railways have been indicating such an outcome pretty much ever since this major project, with its eye-watering costs, was first proposed. Here’s a link back to an earlier posting of mine (from 2015) on the matter:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/11/skelmersdale-the-detail-of-the-skem-rail-link-project/

Of course, the new and 2nd Merseyrail station for Kirkby at Headbolt Lane did get the go-ahead (plus funding) and it is actually being built right now.

When you consider that this latest knock-back for the North West comes on top of the HS2 Goulbourne link being axed and the reconnection of Burscough Curves being blocked yet again it makes the ‘Levelling-Up’ agenda look as worthless as was the Northern Powerhouse, or Poorhouse as my old chum, Jim Ford, accurately once labelled it.

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.

Community ‘Fair Deal Campaign’ pits Maghull Labour v Sefton Labour

Having been involved in politics here on Merseyside since 1980, one of the many things I’ve learned is that whilst the Labour Party fight like ferrets in a sack internally they always, always try to put forward a united front in public.

But hey, things may be changing as Maghull Labour are rightly trying to turn the screw on big brother Sefton Labour. You’d expect it to end in tears for Maghull Labour but let’s give them credit for standing up to Sefton Labour. I have a feeling that the Maghull Town Council/Sefton Borough Council relationship may be getting a little fractious.

So what’s the conflict all about? Well, a community ‘Fair Deal campaign’, with Labour-run Maghull Town Council taking the lead, has been launched because, well to put it bluntly, Sefton Council (also Labour controlled) has in my view been diddling the communities of Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village* for a few years now

And by the way, for the benefit of any doubt, I’m very much supportive of the campaign. My recent blog posting regarding ‘Double Rating’ makes the point and here’s a link to it:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2022/02/14/double-rating-maghull-lydiate-aintree-a-history-of-ups-and-downs/

I also had a letter published in the North Liverpool Champion newspaper on 16th March on the same subject.

Here are some scans of the campaign leaflet that’s presently being delivered around Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village (you’ll need to click on each scan to enlarge for reading):-

As I pointed out in both my blog posting (linked above) and in my letter to the Champion Newspaper, whilst austerity was the reason given for the ‘Double Rating’ being withdrawn in reality the formula for it simply needed adjusting to take into account Sefton Borough Council’s reduced expenditure on its own parks and gardens. The total withdrawal of DR was simply wrong and I opposed Labour’s move to do that when I was a Sefton Councillor because it meant Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree Village council taxpayers were being disadvantaged. Here’s the relevant part of the submission made by Lydiate Parish Council explaining that very fact:-

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.

Looking at the party politics is interesting because the area of Sefton Borough covered by this campaign is known as the East Parishes and it has 3 Borough Council wards – Park, Sudell and Molyneux. Until recently these 3 wards had 3 Labour members in each (total of 9) but 2 of the councillors (1 in Park, 1 in Molyneux) have parted company with Labour, sitting now as Independents. I suppose the question is what will the 7 East Parishes wards Labour members of Sefton Council do if the issue comes to a vote on the Borough Council? This question assumes, of course, that Labour-run Sefton Council doesn’t capitulate and pay up, which I hope they will.

Anyway, back to the campaign. You’ll have noticed the reference to the ‘New Homes Bonus’, ‘Section 106’ and the 1700 new homes to be built in Maghull from the scanned leaflet. The issue for me here is that as a former Maghull Town Councillor myself, I ran the successful campaign to stop the very same ‘Land East of Maghull’ being developed back in 1998**. I didn’t see Labour-run Maghull Town Council opposing/campaigning against Sefton Council’s most recent and successful bid to build on the land, which they (Sefton) won, almost without a shot being fired! In other words, there’s a certain amount of shutting stable doors after the horse has bolted going on here.

So there you have it, the party political tectonic plates are shifting in Labour-run Sefton and in ways that would have seemed inconceivable not so long ago. My feeling is that all may not be well with Keir Starmer’s seeming bid to take the Labour Party to a centre-right position in UK politics and this may be causing some of the local Labour Party unrest. If all this unrest resolves a great injustice for the East Parishes council taxpayers of Sefton Borough then some good will have come from it.

* I note Melling Parish Council is seemingly not involved in this campaign and wonder why. I say this as at one time Melling PC did get some Double Rating money for the wild-flower meadow they maintained on Melling Rock. Maybe they no longer have responsibility for it?

** That was during the development of what was then called the Sefton’s Unitary Development Plan. The new plan, which this time has approved the building on this vast piece of high-grade agricultural land, is called the Sefton Local Plan. I opposed the Local Plan as a Sefton Councillor (and after I’d been invited to leave the council by the electorate) as this piece of land is high-grade agricultural land that grows the food we eat.

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