Urban transit systems feed the beast at the centre

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

It’s true, they all tend to serve the city at the centre of things and rarely offer connectivity between the satellite towns/districts. I’ve often thought about this because of my experience with Merseyrail but the same will be true of virtually all metro/transit systems. The link below addresses Greater Manchester’s very similar problem:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0yekbZWMWw&t=482s

But like Greater Manchester, there are potential solutions available subject to the money to do them and the political will. Readers of this blog site will probably recall that I’ve always been sceptical of the Liverpool City Region as a concept because it potentially sets up power and resources being pulled into Liverpool at the expense of towns such as Bootle, Southport, St. Helens, Ormskirk, Kirkby and Birkenhead. To my mind, Liverpool City benefiting from losses in the districts is simply bad politics, bad for the wider than Liverpool local economy and bad social policy. Yet the Liverpool City region is set up with a public transit system which is in effect designed to deliver such outcomes!

I don’t want there to be excellent transit to Liverpool but crap irregular and unreliable buses joining up important district centres. So what are the possible solutions? I’ll look at just two for the Liverpool City Region but from it, you’ll get my drift, I hope.

Expanding Merseyrail

If you take the Liverpool – Southport and Liverpool – Ormskirk Merseyrail Northern Lines they effectively head north from Liverpool in a ‘V’ shape with Southport and Ormskirk at the top of the ‘V’. What’s needed is for the Ormskirk Line to head further north to Burscough (a fast-growing town in itself these days) and then for it to finish at two destinations – Preston and Southport. The track/trackbed’s already there to enable this, indeed the only bits without track and regular train services are the two ‘Burscough Curves’. It really is a ‘no brainer’ because at a stroke you’ve ended up connecting Ormskirk with Southport and Southport with Preston. What’s more, you’ve converted the present hourly service between Ormskirk and Preston to a far more regular Merseyrail service.

One end of the mothballed North Mersey Branch seen here from the platform of Aintree Station.

Coming down the present ‘V’ towards Liverpool you have a second very clear opportunity to connect up Bootle and Aintree using the currently mothballed North Mersey branch. Or look at it a different way. Presently, if you live say in Maghull and want to get a Merseyrail train to Southport you have to travel south all the way to Sandhills Station in Liverpool to change trains to then go back northwards towards Southport. Under what I’m outlining here you could go via Ormskirk without needing to change trains.

None of this needs land to be acquired, buildings to be demolished or major engineering works but it would significantly help to connect up north Merseyside and Lancashire communities assisting their economies.

Of course, there will be other similar solutions in other parts of Merseyside/Liverpool City Region such as reconnecting Skelmersdale with the railway network. That project, which does require heavy engineering, land to be purchased etc. is being seriously looked at despite it having an eye-watering price tag.

Lord Peter Smith RIP

I’ve just picked up on the passing of Lord Peter Smith from the blogsite of Jim Hancock – This is what Jim had to say about him –

‘I was sad to hear of the passing of Lord Smith of Wigan. He was one of the most significant figures in local government in the North West in the last 40 years, although his profile was low. He led his local authority for 27 years and was leader of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) for 21 years.

His quiet ability to bring together ten competing local councils and make them see the wider picture provided the foundation for the Combined Authority we see today. He was a moderate in Labour Party terms and avoided open personality clashes. I confess that sometimes I found him frustrating when looking for a colourful quote, but I respected his wisdom, diplomacy and dignity.

My condolences to his friends and family.’

I too liked Peter Smith whom I met on a number of occasions during my time as Leader of Sefton Council – Back in March 2012 I blogged about his impressive leadership of Greater Manchester and compared it with politically dysfunctional Merseyside:-

Greater Manchester – It’s going places that Merseyside finds hard to reach!

As Jim Hancock notes Peter was a moderate, not a description I would personally like to be known by, yet he was hugely successful. In many ways, his approach to regional issues was just about the opposite you’d expect from a senior Labour politician. I never saw him angry, ranting or tribal in his approach to anyone, indeed he was very diplomatic. We have indeed lost a decent man.

Northern Politics & Covid 19

I posted a couple of weeks back about struggles in the north of England to tackle both Covid 19 and our Government in Westminster. Here’s a link back to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/10/16/scousers-cheer-metro-mayor-but-its-not-their-own/

So that was my view back on 16th October but what about an alternative take on it all from a professional independent analyst – step forward former BBC North West journalist Jim Hancock and his blog piece – ‘TURMOIL IN NORTHERN POLITICS’:-

jimhancock.co.uk/hancocks-half-page/

Jim neatly points to an issue which has always troubled me with regard to devolution of powers in England and how Regional Mayors can’t really stand up to Westminster. He is of course right.

This is my take on that very issue – Much talk of Regional Mayors in recent times due to Covid restrictions but devolution in England is half-hearted, that’s why I opposed the imposition of Regional Mayors. Putting power in hands of one person was another no no for me. However, I’m fully behind regional governance (well I would be as a Liberal) but for it to be useful the powers need to be extensive. What I’ve never got my head around is why on earth Labour backed the Tories devolution plans when they were clearly putting in place another level of governance but with far too few powers……

I suppose the other big question is what would northern leaders actually do differently, to what Westminster demands in this pandemic, if they had the power to defy Government? My view is that there may be many options to close down society in an attempt to control Covid 19 until a vaccine becomes available. However, in reality they are like selecting from a menu of foods you’ve not tried before. You may dislike all of them but some will be slightly healthier options than others. I suspect that closing this or that business is marginal and your view on the closure will be greatly influenced by whether you use that kind of business or not. Gyms have been the very public argument and now they’re all open following the backlash against them being closed. But surely it’s the case that by opening them the chances of supressing the virus are potentially/slightly diminished? Or looking at it a different way if you open gyms should you not close something else?

There are no easy answers whether the options are chosen nationally or regionally…………

Liverpool City Region devolution – The deal is rubbish and should be rejected out of hand.

My two most recent postings on this subject are available via the links below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/10/07/liverpool-city-region-underwhelmed-by-lackluster-submission-for-delegated-powers-2/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/11/03/liverpool-city-region-was-that-submission-for-devolved-powers-from-government-deliberately-poor/

The Liverpool City Region settlement announced today falls far behind the one negotiated for Greater Manchester.

The Liverpool City Region has been given far fewer powers than was Greater Manchester.

Manchester will have control over the Police and over the Health Service Liverpool will not! These are two huge areas where Manchester will be able to better coordinate at a sub-regional level the work of the public sector across their huge conurbation. Crime and the NHS are probably our greatest local challenges so what’s the point of a devolution deal that does not empower the Liverpool City Region to address them?

In addition one of the new Liverpool City Region powers, to regulate buses is probably little more than whistling in the wind. The North-East combined authority has already decided not to make use of this devolved ‘power’ because they would have to pay over £230 million in compensation to the existing bus operators.

This is not a good deal, it’s in no way a historic deal but it is just about the best deal our often publicly bickering Merseyside Council Leaders could get with their poor quality, seemingly last minute application. We could have had a much better, potentially worth having, deal had the 6 Merseyside council leaders been working together for the past few years in the way that the 10 council leaders in Greater Manchester have been doing.

In my opinion the deal is not worth a carrot, it will probably get us an unwanted and costly Metro Mayor and Merseyside is hardly likely to move forward. Not radical just ridiculous and it should be rejected out of hand.

Devolution of powers to City Regions with Metro Mayors – The Manchester deal is rubbish

A powerful response to the so called devolution of powers to English cities is covered in Iain Brodie Browne’s latest blog posting at:-

Iain Brodie-Browne

birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/foisting-mayors-on-reluctant-northern.html

Communities like Southport, Formby, Maghull, Aintree, Crosby, Lydiate etc. would be run for the benefit of Liverpool City. Much of Sefton Borough’s boundary is with West Lancashire and City Region deals, should one be replicated in the Liverpool City Region, will put more bricks in the wall between Sefton and West Lancs. Stop this nonsense now.

Lord Smith favourite for Greater Manchester super-council boss

Councillors in Manchester have backed moves to give Greater Manchester a new figurehead, as part of the first step to having its own directly-elected mayor. The plan would involve appointing a new leader to a “super-council” in the hope the Government will then hand over a package of new powers and finance. Lord Peter Smith, the leader of Wigan Council and the current chair of the Greater Manchester combined authority, is understood to be the frontrunner for the interim post.

The Manchester Evening News carried this story recently.

No surprise that Lord Peter Smith he is the front runner to be the leader over in Greater Manchester. I have seen him at work and respect his approach to local governance. He must be the major reason why Greater Manchester has been so successful in getting Governments to part with so much cash especially in the transportation area.

BUT hey don’t go a spoil it all by having a Metropolitan Mayor for Greater Manchester; that will be a bad move. Yes, Lord Smith could easily slip into such a post but think about who comes after him and don’t put too much power in one person’s hands!