The Fylde, Quadrilla and Planning – Some thoughts

No this is not another rehearsal of the wrongs of fracking which worry us all but more the planning process that goes on within Councils over highly controversial issues like this. Let’s start with the news that Lancashire Planning Officers have made a recommendation that will see fracking start in Fylde Borough if councillors vote to accept their report next week – see link below to the BBC news item:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-33132569

Planning Officers always try to teach, or is that indoctrinate, councillors that planning is simply a matter of interpreting planning law, guidance and policy to define whether a proposed plan is acceptable or not. Of course that says nothing for the real world of politics, lobbying and the pressure that elected councillors can be put under.

Imagine you are a councillor in Lancashire at present representing the Fylde and you are on the Planning Committee. You would be subject to all kinds of pressure in the form of massive Council reports, lobbying of campaigners, e-mails by the dozens from concerned citizens saying what will happen to your electoral chances if you vote the wrong way and amongst this you may even get some mail from supporters of fracking.

Now what do you do at the Planning Committee meeting when you are sat there with the eyes of the world seemingly on you, as it is you has to make the decision?

You could simply vote against the officers recommendation with a beggar the consequences approach. After all the applicant will simply appeal the decision and a Government appointed Planning Inspector will make the decision for you. Job done, you have done the right thing electorally and the Planning Inspector gets the blame if he/she gives the plan the nod.

You could look to bring in more delaying tactics in the hope that in the intervening time something will come along to make things easier. I have seen this done a few times, particularly by Labour on Sefton’s Planning Committee, by proposing a deferral. In fact usually not much changes but the process can give campaigners the feeling that they may be winning when all that is happening is that local politicians are playing for time.

You could just vote for fracking because if you represent a ward that is not likely to be affected by it in the foreseeable future then your calculation could be that your electorate will not be much bothered. This calculation is I suspect usually right but this is a big, big issue.

Members of the real planning committee will be going through all these thoughts and more as they are pulled one way then the other. Planning committees usually endorse what planning officers recommend but when the wheels are coming off politically you can bet that the control that the officers usually like to have have over planning members is simply not there.

By the way the real issue will be what the majority political group do on the Planning Committee. Yes I know that the rules say that there can be no whipping on a planning committee but votes can often go down party political lines in the real world.

Who would be a Planning Committee member with such decisions to take?

Skelmersdale – That plan to bring a railway back to the town – An update

I blogged about this ambitious plan last August. Here’s the link to it:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/08/08/is-skelmersdale-really-going-to-get-a-railway-station/

The old Skelmersdale Station - now long gone in the name of progress!

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of progress!

Well the Southport Visiter newspaper is carrying an update:-

www.southportvisiter.co.uk/news/southport-west-lancs/skelmersdale-railway-plans-right-track-9370775

Looks like things are progressing although it is fair to say that what could well end up being a £100m+ project is thought not to be a runner in some circles simply because of that price tag. The theory goes that such a huge amount of money spent elsewhere on the local rail network could deliver other much needed projects (the Burscough Curves?) for far less money.

If delivered the project may well see Merseyrail electric trains reaching Skem’ with a diesel hauled service connecting Skem with Wigan.

This one has a long way to go before it really is a runner I think but as I said in my previous posting correcting the errors of the past does not come cheap!

With thanks to Cllr. John Dodd of Meols Ward in Southport for the lead to this updated story. John sits on the Merseytravel Committee.

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!