Bob Crow – Doing the trade union movement a favour?

The Guardian has the story surrounding this hugely controversial trade union Barron and his recent troubles.

As a long-time trade unionist who worked for PCS Trade Union for many years as a lay official I think I understand what true socialists are all about but I must say Mr Crow makes me scratch my head.

Yes he lives in a house that belongs to a social landlord so that fits with his beliefs, I assume, about common ownership of property. But he earns an arm and a leg as a trade union leader which puts him in an income category that his embers can only dream of. Yes, but hang on, surely a socialist, representing the working classes, should not be earning such huge wages – £145,000 (according to the Guardian newspaper)? How can you truly represent the interests of the workers if you can afford a lifestyle very different from theirs?

Lancashire V Sefton – Forget partnership because sadly it has become a neighbour dispute!

I have commented before about my concerns regarding this relationship. It should be good, positive and comprehensive yet sadly it is very far from that. The Council area that Sefton has the most common interest with, other than Liverpool, is the one that it seems to have the worst relationship!

My concerns have been long standing and relate to the lack of joined up thinking over health and transport going back a long way and certainly to the reorganisation of local government in 1974. With a shared hospital Trust covering Ormskirk and Southport and joint transport challenges you would have thought the two councils would have been drawn together to solve common difficulties but no; the invisible Merseyside/Lancashire boundary is, in local government terms, all but a brick wall and a tall one at that.

More recently it became apparent to anyone taking a close interest in the emerging Local Plans for Sefton and West Lancs that the expected co-operation and joint working was simply not happening beyond the odd stone being tossed over that brick wall with a message wrapped around it.

West Lancs has criticised Sefton’s draft Local Plan because Sefton has a big idea to close up the Green Belt boundary between Lydiate (in Sefton) and Aughton (in West Lancs). Similarly Sefton is cheesed off because West Lancs is to allow the building of houses bang up against the Southport (in Sefton) and Halsall(in West Lancs) boundary. This means that West Lancs gets the housing it wants but Sefton has to provide all the services for the new Halsall residents such as GP’s, schools, dentists etc.

So as you can see and indeed as I have commented about before the cooperation between these two neighbouring Councils has been and is at such a low level as to be of little use to anyone.

But then another neighbour dispute pops up if those above were not enough! This time it’s back to the joint transportation problems and it’s associated with Sefton’s response to the West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan drawn up by Lancashire County Council. Readers will recall that I have covered this quite recently but there has been a further twist in that Sefton Council (report dated 31st January) has all but given the draft Masterplan a two fingered salute! A few quotes:-

“the Council [Sefton] is disappointed that it has received no further contact or consultation from Lancashire County Council since an initial stakeholder meeting in April 2013.”

“the document makes no reference to the current configuration of health services offered by Southport and Ormskirk NHS Trust.”

“On page 20 the Masterplan seems to suggest that some reduction in car traffic may occur, which does not seem consistent with the assumed growth in traffic on page 25.”

On the Masterplan’s suggestion that Southport bound traffic from the M58 be routed via Switch Island and the presently being constructed Link Road Sefton says “Sefton Council does not consider this proposal either acceptable or appropriate. The Council is disappointed that it has not been approached for any discussion about this proposal in advance of it publication.”

The response is far more detailed than the scything quotes above but you get my drift i.e. the Sefton – West Lancashire/Lanachsire County partnership is sadly becoming no more than a battleground!

Sefton Liberal Democrat Councillors response to Lancashire County Council’s West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan

Our 20 strong political Group on Sefton Council has made the following submission to Lancashire County Council in response to their draft West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan. We have made it in the context of our concerns about transport difficulties in accessing Southport from the east and north – see previous posts on this subject.

January 2014

Taking the major points from the Masterplan over which we take a differing view to the draft document our comments are as follows:-

Traffic management within and direct traffic through Ormskirk

The Plan says 3 significant things:-

1 Tackle congestion in Ormskirk town centre, building on options outlined in a recent study to manage and reduce traffic, focused on making walking and cycling more attractive options, including a new and innovative cycle hire scheme.

2 A complementary route management plan would realise the potential of a new Thornton to Switch Island link road in Sefton to provide a better route for traffic travelling between the M58 and Southport.

3 The plan rules out pursuing a bypass of Ormskirk as a recent study has shown current congestion is largely caused by local traffic, limiting the benefit of a bypass and meaning that a combination of other proposals as outlined in the Masterplan will be more effective.

Our view is that the market Town of Ormskirk remains a traffic barrier for vehicles travelling from the M58 to and from Southport. This is a long term problem but one that the Masterplan does not effectively address in our opinion.

We can understand the wish to try to encourage Ormskirk residents to walk and cycle more but doubt that as a realist ambition it will have the step change effect that is required to substantially reduce traffic in and around the Town centre.

We also doubt that the somewhat optimistic suggestion that Southport bound traffic will use the soon to be built Thornton to Switch Island will be a game changer either as the length of the route to Switch Island and then on to Southport is considerable. This is not a realistic solution or even partial solution to the problems faced by M58 – Southport traffic and congestion within Ormskirk. It can only have benefits at the margins.

Our firm view is that the economy of Southport and its tourist trade in particular will continue to be held back if a long term highway solution is not found to counter the narrow and congested roads within Ormskirk.

Rail solutions are also required

The Plan makes three significant points:-

1 Investigate options and prepare a business case for electrification of the Ormskirk to Preston railway line to fulfil its potential as a commuter route.

2 The plan also makes the case that it would not be feasible at present to pursue reinstatement of the railway curves at Burscough due to lack of a robust business case, but that nothing will be done to stop them being reopened in future if circumstances change.

3 Linking Skelmersdale to the rail network with a new rail station and bus interchange in the town centre.

We are fully supportive of the first point but would also wish to make the case for similar treatment of the Southport – Wigan Line i.e. that it needs serious investment to better serve the rural population of West Lancashire and the tourist economy of Southport. Whether the line can be electrified needs to be assessed but with potential changes within Greater Manchester to the line that is presently used by trains from Southport and West Lancs to access Manchester and its airport we need to seriously look at all upgrade options. If Greater Manchester improves the line from Manchester through to Atherton in a way that makes the present service from West Lancs and Southport to Manchester one that may need to truncated at Wigan then the economies of Southport and West Lancs will be put at a considerable disadvantage.

We also remain sceptical of negative thinking about the Burscough Curves because the advantage to communities in both Sefton and West Lancs of remaking the connections could be considerable. With the possibility of running trains from Ormskirk to Southport and Southport to Preston the reinstatement of the curves is far too greater a prize for Sefton, Lancashire CC and West Lancashire to put to one side. Indeed, the prize is of far wider benefit as communities on the eastern side of Sefton such as Aintree Village and Maghull could easily get a train that started in Liverpool and reached Southport via Ormskirk and Burscough. We urge Lancashire CC and West Lancashire Councils to reconsider shelving the Burscough Curves and to relaunch the campaign to get them reconnected via a partnership with Merseytravel, Liverpool City Region and rail campaign group OPSTA.

With regard to the 3rd issue, the provision of a rail connection into Skelmersdale, we are supportive of this project although realising it will be one requiring a massive financial investment. For it to work properly it will however require the presently truncated line at Kirkby to be opened up so that electric trains can run right through to Wigan as well as serving Skelmersdale. If Kirkby remains the end of the Merseyrail electrified service the advantages of reconnecting Skelmersdale to the rail network after many, many years will be far less effective.

And whilst making comments on the excellent idea of reconnecting Skelmersdale with the railway system we can’t but note that reconnecting the Burscough Curves and making significant improvements in the Southport, Burscough, Wigan, Manchester route would be of a far less expensive. Our point here is to suggest that in aiming for the Skelmersdale connection whilst shelving the more financially modest but equally important other project is missing a vital opportunity.

Finally, we would draw attention of readers of this consultation response to the motion discussed and agreed at the Sefton Council meeting held on 23rd January 2014 which tried to address issues raised in the West Lancs Highways and Transportation Masterplan and wider ones in the Sefton/West Lancashire transportation area.

“This Council
(1) welcomes new investment in road and rail but is concerned that the transport plans of local transport authorities, including that of Lancashire County Council, should give appropriate priority to the transport needs of the Borough of Sefton and people travelling into the Borough from places outside Merseyside
(2) recognises the economic importance to the Borough of transport links to Lancashire and Greater Manchester
(3) commits itself to work in conjunction with West Lancashire Borough Council and Lancashire County Council to engage further with neighbouring transport authorities to ensure these links are preserved and enhanced
(4) requires a report to be prepared for and submitted to Cabinet at an early date indicating how these aims may best be achieved.”

Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne
Lib Dem Leader
Sefton MBC

Bootle – A view across the roof tops

Looking north-west out into the Mersey estuary with St James Church dominating

Looking north-west towards the Mersey estuary with St James Church dominating

The imposing St James Church that was once described to me as Liverpool's third Cathedral

The imposing St James Church that was once described to me as Liverpool’s third Cathedral

The snowy scene in the first shot is looking over Bootle towards Seaforth. The size of St James Church is noticeable from that shot but the second one really does make it look imposing.

A Southport bound Merseyrail train is passing on the middle of what are 3 lines at this point. The line nearest to St James is part of the mothballed North Mersey Branch that diverges off to Aintree less than half a mile north of this location. It sees little use at all other than when there have been major engineering works on the Liverpool Southport line such as in 2007 and 2010. Sapling trees are presently growing between the sleepers.

Merseytravel have had ideas about reopening the line for passenger services which it once had and there was a station at Ford many years ago. If you search hard enough you can find some videos of engineers trains on this branch on YOU Tube.

The first photo is also on my Fickr site

Bus Passenger Views on Punctuality and Timetables

Passenger Focus has been looking at what people thought of bus punctuality and timetable information – and what they wanted in future.

Passenger Focus required qualitative research to inform its response to a consultation on new statutory guidance for bus punctuality in local services. The overall aim of the research was to understand passengers’ needs in relation to punctuality and timetable information.

The research found that:

• Most passengers are quite forgiving about buses turning up late, feeling that there is little bus drivers can do to avoid the traffic. They see timetables as a ‘guide’ rather than a promise, spontaneously mentioning that giving them five minutes’ leeway feels about right.
• Passengers do not expect all buses to be on time and are prepared to ‘forgive’ occasional lateness so long as they perceive bus operators to be doing their best and not running buses that regularly turn up late, or ever leave early.
• Overall, passengers would prefer a timetable that is accurate and harder to remember than one that is easy to remember but less accurate. This challenges some conventional thinking on timetabling and may warrant some further exploration.
• Passengers seem to distinguish between poor punctuality (represented by their bus turning up late at the start of their journey) and ‘delays’ (the bus arriving late at their destination).
• Most passengers feel there is no point complaining to the operator either because they do not generally regard it as important enough to complain or because, when they have done so, they have not received a reply.
• Passengers feel that punctuality data, independently audited, should be published and made available to regulatory bodies even if most passengers have little appetite in searching it out. Some suggested that there might be a public relations benefit to operators from publicising that “more than 9 out of 10 of our services are on time” on the back of buses.

I picked this item up via Merseytravel but one thing jumps out at me which is not mentioned above – buses arriving early as this drives folk around the bend and frankly there is no excuse for it.

A very unusual sight on the Liverpool – Southport Merseyrail Northern Line

Just north of Hillside Station - track renewal

Just north of Hillside Station – track renewal

I took this photo on the 24th April 2007 as major upgrading of the track on the busy Southport Liverpool 3rd rail electrified line was taking place. My recollection is that worn out jointed rail was being replaced by continuously welded rail and new sleepers.

You can see from the shot that the Southport bound line was missing altogether at this point. Work in the hours of darkness was clearly taking place as evidenced by the temporary lighting at the side of the track.

This photo is also on my Fickr site