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

OPSTA Meeting with Cllr. John Fillis – Lancashire County Councillor

I attended an Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Association (OPSTA) meeting in Ormskirk Civic Hall last night where the guest speaker was Cllr. John Fillis a Labour member of Lancashire County Council and its Cabinet member for Transportation.

Cllr. John Fillis speaking to the OPSTA meeting last night.

Cllr. John Fillis speaking to the OPSTA meeting last night.

It was a good meeting and John was not your usual politician turning up to say all the right platitudes; in many ways he was blunt but refreshingly straight forward.

He seemed quite optimistic about the Merseyrail Northern Line, that presently ends in Ormskirk, being extending firstly to Burscough and then on to Preston within the next 15 to 20 years. I Hope his optimism is well placed as this should be a no brainer of an objective.

He also said he was hopeful of getting a railway back into Skelmersdale after generations of there not being one since the New Town was built. But he said this would be on the back of rail freight into the Town associated with the expansion of Liverpool Docks.

An upgrade in just about every way of the Southport to Wigan line also had his support.

I congratulated him on his contribution because to be honest I have always found Lancashire County Council and indeed West Lancs Disrict Council rather disinterested in seriously improving the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk – Preston Lines as they have always had bigger fish to fry elsewhere.

We shall see what becomes of all this but a positive approach from Cllr. Fillis was good to hear indeed and it builds on the work of John Pugh the MP for Southport.

Access to Southport from the east – Ormskirk/M58 Motorway

A Preston Train pulling into Ormskirk

A Preston Train pulling into Ormskirk

This is very much a long standing problem which not only has frustrations because of the poor nature of the main road from Southport to Ormskirk (for the volume of traffic it has to take at times) but which also has health implications due to the split site nature of Southport and Ormskirk Hospitals.

http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/corporate/web/?siteid=5489&pageid=29612

The web address above is a report by Lancashire County Council which, amongst other transportation matters, covers the Southport access problems from the east.

Sadly, this is a problem which has be talked about for years yet no progress has been made. Of course it links to the need to reconnect the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk – Preston railway lines so that after years of the two working in complete isolation we can once again get a train from Southport to Ormskirk.

Regular readers will know I am a firm supporter and indeed member of OPSTA – Ormskirk Preston and Southport Travellers Association – which campaigns for the reopening of the Burscough Curves amongst other local rail improvements.

One day access to Southport from the east will become a problem that is solved rather than just talked about and it is important if Southport is to continue to develop as a shopping and seaside town. This access problem is holding Southport back but the solution is not in Sefton but in West Lancashire.