Moving Southport’s poor eastern and northern transport connections up the agenda – The motion to Council

Below is the text of the motion that I mentioned a couple of days ago which I have submitted to Sefton Council for debate. I hope it will gain all-party support, at the Council meeting to be held on the 23rd January.

“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 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. Tony Robertson

Merseytram – Finally killed off in 2013 – But the City Region’s public transport problems remain

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The ill-fated Mersytram project, which the last Labour Government was having none of, was finally killed off in 2013 and we are told that investigations into it are ongoing as part of the wide ranging probes into Merseytravel generally. But the death of this project and the time and money wasted upon it leaves Liverpool and its commuter belt with unresolved public transport problems which will do harm to the local economy by holding it back.

In my view the big transport issues in the Liverpool City Region are resolvable via investment in the already established and highly successful heavy rail system that serves the City and some of its commuter belt.

Two of the heavy rail electrified lines need to be extended to their logical ends as opposed to the present artificial ones:-

* The Northern Line which presently terminates at Ormskirk needs to extended first to Burscough and then ultimately to Preston.

* The Northern Line route to Kirkby needs to extended through to Wigan, with a potential spur into Skelmersedale.

A new heavy rail/tram line is required as follows:-

* Liverpool Airport needs to be rail connected to Liverpool South Parkway Station or a connecting tram from that railway station needs to be built to the airport.

The following lines should be electrified and see enhanced services:-

* The Bidston to Wrexham line.

* The Southport to Wigan line.

The Burscough Curves need to be reconnected so that Southport to Preston and Southport to Ormskirk rail journeys are again possible.

To me these objectives are straight forward but on Merseyside the obvious got muddled into what may have been seen as a competition with other major cities to get a tram system established. Yes, trams were then the new fashion and Liverpool’s great rival Manchester along with cities like Nottingham and Sheffield have had great success in establishing and then extending new tram lines. But, was it right to propose trams for Liverpool when it already had a highly successful heavy rail electrified system in place? I think the planning in the 1990’s and early 2000’s was wrong and Liverpool ended up following the fashionable route towards trams instead of doing the obvious and developing what it had already started in the 1970’s when the heavy rail systems were brought together via the underground tunnels.

In some ways the tram plan was also too insular as it did not address the need to easily get people people into the City from a commuter belt that stretches well beyond the rather odd Merseyside boundaries. It was a plan to better move around the present population of a small city rather than a plan to spread Liverpool’s wings into its wast commuter belt in Lancashire and Cheshire.

And the lessons for this are all to clear from Greater Manchester where public transport developments have been logical and well supported by Governments of all colours. It may be hard to learn from an arch rival city but the fact is that Manchester has played its transportation cards well and Liverpool needs to learn from that.

Merseyside’s big advantage is its network of heavy rail electrified lines. They simply need to be developed so please lets get on with it.

Tackle transport problems east of Southport or don’t tell me that the Merseyside Joint Authority has credibility

I can’t help but return to that Joint Authority matter for the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside as the more I think about it the balmier it looks from Sefton’s and indeed West Lancashire’s situation. Indeed, it makes me angry just to think about it.

West Lancs Borough are all but shut out of the club and Sefton instead of pressing for a wider and far more logically based sub-regional authority that covered the real travel to work geography around Liverpool simply said to its southern Merseyside neighbours yes we will join your club. No fight, no hard negotiations, no championing of the diverse needs of Sefton’s communities just a forest of Labour hands (with some surprising Tory support) toeing the line of the other Merseyside Authorities. Even St Helens has succumbed as Labour’s previous Leader there had been replaced. She, Marie Rimmer, had stood out against a takeover by Liverpool (as had the Council Leader prior to her – Lib Dem Brian Spencer) but she was removed seemingly for her independent stance.

When I spoke at the recent Sefton Council meeting, which sadly agreed to the Borough joining this odd little club, I said there was nothing in the deal for the northern half of Sefton and indeed it could well be to its detriment. The economy of Southport is clearly dependent on what goes on in West Lancashire because it, with the Irish Sea, all but surrounds the Town. Development of Southport’s tourist/seaside economy needs a boost and significantly improved transport links through West Lancashire are the key to that.

So the challenge for this new Joint Authority to me is crystal clear; sort out the major road link that is needed between the M58 and Southport (in effect an Ormskirk by-pass) and significantly enhance and reconnect the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk – Preston railway lines. If this new Merseyside Joint Authority will commit itself to solving these problems, even though they are in West Lancashire, in say a 10 year timeframe then maybe sceptics like me will have a change of heart. Until I see the Joint Authority say ‘we will solve these issues’ written in blood then don’t ask because a combination of Merseytravel, Lancashire County Council, West Lancs Borough Council and Sefton Council have singularly failed to get these two major projects off the ground since local government reorganisation in 1974!

If I have one huge regret from my time as Leader of Sefton Council it is that this east of Southport transport conundrum was not solved. I heard much sympathy, lots of warm words and many encouraging noises but at the end of the day nothing happened.

I think the people and businesses of Southport have every right to be angry at this situation and I say this despite the valiant efforts of the Town’s MP John Pugh and many of his Lib Dem councillor colleagues. Will the Joint (Liverpool centric) Authority finally sort this out; will they even care about it? Frankly, I severely doubt it and Southport will miss out once again. And please, if they do think about taking this challenge up – no more warm words PLEASE!