Boundary signs – Seen in Tosside – A mixed message?

Boundary signs always make me wonder about the messages that are being delivered and how the visitor may see them. The one below is in Tosside in the Trough of Bowland – its seems to mix the messages of welcome and crime in one place.

rsz_mixed_messages

Not so long ago there was a boundary sign as you left Lydiate (Merseyside) and were entering Lancashire and it read ‘Lancashire a place where everyone maters’. It has now been replaced by another one that reads ‘Lancashire welcomes careful drivers’, like the one in the photo.

Apart from the cost of changing them (just think how many there must be in a vast place like Lancashire) do these vague ‘welcome’ messages really serve any purpose?

I can see the point of say a Town like Maghull making a big fuss on its boundary signs (hint, hint) about Frank Hornby because he created a worldwide brand that makes Maghull unique and lived in the community for many years. But really, ‘a place where everyone matters’, no wonder they took it down.

The photo is amongst my Flickr shots at:-
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

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
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

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.

www.opsta.btck.co.uk/

Sefton’s budget meeting was not all bad news – a glimmer of hope re. Combined Authority

As well as the big party political bust up between the ruling Labour Party and us opposition Lib Dems over Labour’s budget for the Council last Thursday there was another matter on the Council agenda of importance.

I have commented before on the recently created Combined Authority for Merseyside, why Sefton Lib Dems would not support its setting up and subsequently the ridiculous farce because the 6 Merseyside Labour Council Leaders, who are responsible for setting it up, can’t even agree what to call it!

The report before Sefton Council last Thursday was at face value a technical one all about constitutional type issues for this new body but we saw an opportunity to try to make a significant move for the betterment of this flawed project. Our move was to propose an additional clause which read as follows:-

Commits Sefton Council to positively lead an exploration of all the realistic options to expand the Combined Authority to encompass those areas of Lancashire and Cheshire that are presently not a part of the Combined Authority but may aspire to such.

No one was more surprised than me, as the mover of this amendment, when the Labour Leader got to his feet and agreed with me! In Merseyside Labour’s horizons are usually very low but it seems that light has penetrated Labour’s darkness on this matter.

There are two important reasons why Merseyside has been seen to be and indeed has been dysfunctional and unsuccessful in terms of its local governance. Firstly, its Labour-run Councils over the years have not got on or even had a common agenda – fighting like ferrets in a sack comes to mind! I saw some of this at first hand when I was Leader of Sefton and there were then 2 other Lib Dem Council Leaders from St Helens and Liverpool Councils. I think it fair to say that we 3 Lib Dem Council Leaders often used to wonder if Labour had any other agenda than trying to unseat the Labour Chairman of Merseytravel because that issue did the rounds so many times. Most of all this was symptomatic of Labour’s long-standing Merseyside internal rivalries.

But the other problem is that Merseyside is far too small. It does not represent the real travel to work area of Liverpool with places such as West Lancashire and Ellesmere Port being outside of the governance structure. A glance across at Greater Manchester shows you how right that balance can be and how wrong Merseyside has always been since it’s creation in 1974.

Greater Manchester has virtually always displayed a public face of a common agenda and in doing so it has been successful. Merseyside has never had a common agenda and the consequences have been failure. Greater Manchester is clearly a governance area that makes sense and which encompasses the vast majority of Manchester’s travel to work area. Merseyside is too small and it does not represent Liverpool’s travel to work area.

Maybe a small step was made last Thursday to address the geographical problem, I certainly hope so. Whether Labour can sort out the generations of infighting across Merseyside is quite another!

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

Passenger Focus publishes new research into bus passenger views on value for money.

Passenger Focus is a national group which always looks at public transport from the users perspective. This is a recent survey they did about bus services which, lets’s face it, are generally hardly of the quality to make folks leave their cars at home!

Interestingly, Cllr. John Fillis the Transport portfolio holder for Lancashire County Council told us all at the OPSTA meeting on 31st October (which I posted about) that the whole of Lancashire would fall within a Quality Bus Contract in the foreseeable future meaning the routes, ticket prices etc. will be specified by Lancs CC.

This is what Passenger Focus says:-

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We asked passengers about this as our 2013 Bus Passenger Survey showed that satisfaction with value for money ranged from 30-70 per cent – averaging at only 54 per cent. We wanted to understand what really influenced this.
The key findings are:
•passengers’ views on value for money are most influenced by getting a seat on punctual, frequent and reliable buses
•the attitude of the bus driver and the difficulties when trying to find information about timetables, routes and fares, also greatly affected passengers’ views
•young bus passengers are more reliant on buses than many other passengers and their needs for more flexibility to balance education, work and their social lives are not being met
•young passengers resent paying adult fares when they are still in education, training or low-paid work – they think that adult fares should only be charged from 18 years onwards.

Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus chief executive, said:

“Bus fares and passenger satisfaction varies widely across the country. In many places, bus fares increase by more than inflation each year. Passengers rightly expect buses to deliver them to their destination in relative comfort at the promised time.”

Please click the link below to download the report:
www.passengerfocus.org.uk/research/publications/bus-passenger-views-on-value-for-money