Remembering Dr Jim Ford

Jim Ford was a founder member of OPSTA (Ormskirk Preston & Southport Travellers Assn) or OPTA (Ormskirk Preston Travellers Assn) as it was originally constituted. He’d certainly been at meetings ever since I joined and that must be 30 years+ and counting.

Jim was an interesting man and you could not but like him. I’ve heard him described as an ideas man and that fits him well.

I last met him only days before he died when we had an OPSTA Committee meeting in his Southport garden surrounded by his model railway. Little did we know then that Jim would have what proved to be a fatal heart attack and die on 16th September following heart surgery.

Jim was a medical doctor specialising in occupational health and on one occasion earlier this year he described himself as the Clinical Directed and his dear wife Fiona as the Clinical Director, yes Fiona’s a doctor too.

He was very much a politician, being a member of the Labour Party but he was far from being tribal about his politics and would bend the ear of any colour of politician to make his often telling points about local railway matters. He specialised in making Freedom of Information requests to find out what some public bodies would rather not publicise. I recall him being very supportive of John Pugh the former Lib Dem MP for Southport whom he clearly had a bit of a soft spot for. His comments about John, at least in my Liberal earshot, were always positive.

On one occasion we were having an OPSTA meeting in the Heaton’s Bridge Pub and I’d ordered a pint of one of my favourite tipples – Morrhouses Black Cat. To my embarrassment, I then realised I’d left my wallet at home! Jim immediately stepped in and paid; that was the kind of chap he was.

There are some lovely tributes to Jim in the latest edition of the OPSTA magazine Connexion, see scan above. I’ll miss engaging in conversation with him about trains and politics. RIP JIm

Southport – Wigan – Manchester rail services – Farron hears the case for Southport & West Lancs getting a better deal

Tim Farron & David Pullin at Southport Station April 2016

Nice to see that Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron is being briefed on the much needed upgrade of rail services to and from Southport to the east of the Town and through West Lancashire. In the photo above Southport resident and campaigner David Pullin is bending Tim’s ear.

And Southport Cambridge Ward Cllr. Pat Keith was also on hand to make sure Tim understood why the rail line to the east of Southport is so important to people travelling to Manchester Piccadilly Station.

Tim Farron and Cllr. Pat Keith

Tim, of course, has the promised electrification of the Windermere Branch under his belt, that he led the campaign for, even though Network Rail seem to be trying hard to kick the implementation of it as far as possible into the long grass.

Southport to Manchester Trains – From the pages of OPSTA’s Connexions Magazine

Rail travellers who commute from Southport, Burscough, Parbold and other stations along the line through West Lancs are concerned about the proposal to push all Southport trains into Manchester Victoria as opposed to the present situation where some go through to Manchester Piccadilly. OPSTA [Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Association] have been lobbying over this for some time now and below is an update from their September Connexions Magazine.

Departure board at Southport Station.

Departure board at Southport Station.

The campaign continues in concert with the Southport Rail Transport Forum to press for the best we can get with the new franchise and to retain direct links from Southport to both Manchester Victoria and Manchester Piccadilly. More recent responses to lobbying suggest the routing of all services to/ through Victoria may not be the fait accompli we were once led to believe and the right campaign may result in us retaining both Manchester routes.

Burscough Bridge Station with a Manchester bound train from Southport.

Burscough Bridge Station with a Manchester bound train from Southport.

Until we are sighted on what the preferred bidder proposes – December at the earliest – and we have a realistic time frame for the Northern Hub our efforts will focus on gathering the evidence with another platform survey targeted for this autumn. We mobilised in large numbers last year and achieved an impressive 75% sample on the stations attended; this time we intend to cover Gathurst too.

We have recently briefed all 3 MPs whose constituencies are on the line between Southport and Wigan.

And pleasingly TfGM [Transport for Greater Manchester] has invited OPSTA to participate in an exercise to consider future timetable requirements, aspirations and opportunities with our submission to be made as this newsletter goes to print.

Southport and its railways – a victim of the 1960’s Beeching era and Local Government reorganisation of the 1970’s.

The 1960’s loss of the Southport – Preston Line, should it still be there, would be laughed at these days but gone it has even though it was electrified to Crossens. It must rank as one of the most bizarre Beeching era losses.

Then in the 1970’s Southport suffered again, this time at the hands of local government reorganisation. Many hold the view that Southport was added into Merseyside as a party political fix and this is probably the case because the Borough of Sefton, which I led for 7 years, is geographically most odd. It is that odd geography that has caused a continuing and ongoing transport problem for Southport.

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

This photo is amongst my Flickr photo’s at

Having lost its rail connection to the north the Town has been left with one high quality line to Liverpool and one poor quality one to Wigan and on to Manchester. The problem being that virtually all of the line east of Southport is in West Lancashire where Lancashire County Council is the transport authority. So to get the Southport – Wigan line upgraded it clearly needs West Lancs Borough and Lancashire County Councils to make it a priority – they have failed to do that ever since 1974 when the Merseyside – Lancashire boundary was erected. I say failed but, from their perspective, why should they look upon the Southport tourist economy as being a priority as Southport is not in Lancashire’s area of responsibility.

Then there’s the Burscough Curves; two very short sections of curved track that if reconnected could bring back a Southport – Preston railway service and a Southport – Ormskirk service to boot. Again, this is not a priority for Lancashire’s politicians and seemingly may never be such, but it is a huge priority for Southport.

So Southport at least from a rail perspective as lost out all ways round and finding a solution when that solution is in Lancashire has proved to be all but an insurmountable barrier for 40 years, despite the campaigning of Southport’s MP’s and its councillors.

When the railways first reached Southport Manchester businessman came to live in the Town because of its excellent rail links to Manchester – excellent is not what you would call the service these days!

My contention is that until the West Lancashire area becomes a unitary authority and joins the other Merseyside Authorities as an equal partner Southport’s rail challenges may not be given much more than tea and sympathy. And sadly this seems to have been the stance of Merseytravel (the Passenger Transport Authority, then Integrated Transport Authority and now little more than a Committee of the Merseyside Joint Authorities) since 1974.

Southport has been served up a raw deal in the modern day rail era but, we must not let the challenges daunt us, tough though they may be. The Southport economy will continue to be held back if the battle is not eventually won.

The original article was written for OPSTA’s magazine ‘Connexion’ of April 2014.

Lord Ronnie Fearn of Southport at 50!

No Ron is not 50 but he has recently completed 50 years as a councillor for the same area of Southport – Craven Ward now called Norwood Ward.

The man of the moment, Lord Ronnie Fearn of Southport, pass on a little advice last night.

The man of the moment, Lord Ronnie Fearn of Southport, passes on a little advice last night.

Yes Ronnie has served as MP for Southport and now he is in the House of Lords but it is his remarkable record of continuously serving the people of Southport on Southport Borough Council (until 1974), Merseyside County Council (until Mrs Thatcher abolished it) and Sefton Borough Council from 1974 to date that this posting pays tribute to.

Ronnie Fearn, Shirley Williams, John Pugh & Anette Pugh

Ronnie Fearn, Shirley Williams, John Pugh & Anette Pugh

Last night a gala dinner was held the Ramada Hotel, Southport to celebrate Ronnie’s remarkable achievement. The room was packed with Liberal friends from across the UK as well as many local people who have worked with Ronnie over the years.

Former BBC and Liverpool Post reporter Nick Hancock debating with Sefton's Lib Dem Leader Iain Brodie-Browne.

Former BBC and Liverpool Post reporter Jim Hancock debating with Sefton’s Lib Dem Leader Iain Brodie-Browne.

Guest speakers were John Pugh the present Lib Dem MP for Southport and the redoubtable Baroness Shirley Wiliams.

A great night was had all round. Congratulations Ronnie – 50 years a councillor. I am coming up for 30 years and frankly 50 seems like a target I may well not want to hit!

In praise of Teaching Assistants – John Pugh MP signs Commons Motion

John Pugh the Lib Dem MP for Southport has signed an early day motion sponsored by the trade union UNISON whish seeks to recognise the work that teaching assistants do in classrooms across the UK.

Dr John Pugh Lib Dem MP for Southport

Dr John Pugh Lib Dem MP for Southport

The motion comes at the time a right-wing think-tank Reform is lobbying for teaching assistants to be removed from schools as they say they are ineffective. And I wonder how many of Reform’s big thinkers went to private schools?

All this came to mind when I received an e-mail from a Teaching Assistant living in Maghull asking me my views on the proposals to remove them from Schools. I was happy to say that my view is that they do a great job in helping to develop our young children.