Rimrose Valley Country Park – An idyllic oasis

Idyllic view of Rimrose Valley Country Park

With the potential threat of a road being driven straight through this country park I thought it was time to have a really good look at it. I had been previously but not for any length of time. I was not to be disappointed.

I set off on my cycle from our Lydiate home last Saturday morning quite early on a bright and sunny day. Joining the foot and cycle paths that lead into the County Park at Edge Lane I found my way via this footpath network through into what is a linear open space. It is in fact surrounded by the built up areas of Crosby, Netherton, Thornton and Litherland and ends in Seaforth half a mile from the Container Terminal.

Rimrose in the foreground and its threat in the background

You can see why Highways England have been eyeing up the land to get a new road through to the docks but what on earth will it do to this lovely oasis if they get the go ahead? I remain very much opposed to that plan but we will find out very soon what is going to happen.

What I found early on a Saturday morning was friendly dog walkers, fellow cyclists and a lovely ride through urban countryside. What’s more a very tame squirrel joined me for 30 yards or more running alongside my bike. I assume he was wondering if I had some food.

The Seaforth end of the Country Park which joins the A5036 Princess Way

Surely there can be little, if any, doubt that a road driven through the Rimrose Valley can only have negative consequences for our environment.

Rimrose Valley Country Park – Highways England’s announcement delayed.

Rimrose Valley Country Park map.

My understanding was that Highways England (previously known as the Highways Agency) were due to announce their preferred solution to increasing the capacity of the A5036 otherwise known as Dunningsbridge Road/ Church Road in Netherton on 8th August.

Of course the big fear amongst environmental campaigners is that they will plump to build a new road through Rimrose Valley Country Park. The ‘need’ for the increased road capacity is due to the Liverpool 2 River Berth being constructed at Seaforth by Peel Ports, a subject I have posted about many times before.

But news reached me yesterday via an e-mail from Rimrose Valley Friends, who are trying to protect the Country Park, that the announcement has been delayed until September. We are told that this follows a Highways England meeting with Mersey Mayor Steve Rotherham.

The significance of the delay/deferment is not presently known.

Here’s a couple of links to pages on the Rimrose Valley Friends web site about the expected announcement:-

www.rimrosevalleyfriends.org/news/highways-england-port-of-liverpool-access-preferred-route-announcement-due-080817/#

www.rimrosevalleyfriends.org/news/highways-england-port-of-liverpool-access-preferred-route-announcement-delayed/

Port of Liverpool – The two road only options on the table

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/port-traffic-route-headache-option-12556835

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above

This is a matter which I have been blogging about for a long time now and I still feel angry about it.

A classic cart before the horse situation if ever I saw one. The new Liverpool 2 River Berth catering for massive Post Panamax container ships is planned, constructed and completed before any serious thought is given as to how the increased freight is going to get to and from it. You really could not make this up as a planning absurdity but that’s pretty much what has happened.

Liverpool 2's massive new container cranes

Liverpool 2’s massive new container cranes

The A5036 route that links the Port of Liverpool at Seaforth with the motorway network at Switch Island is presently the only/major corridor for freight moving to and from the Port. It’s congested, at busy times the capacity is insufficient to cope with the traffic wanting to use it and there are already big concerns about air pollution from the diesel powered HGV’s that thunder up and down it. What’s more the A5036 is hemmed in by residential areas along significant parts of it.

As I have said before there are two options on the table from Highways England, either increase the capacity of the A5036 or build a new road right down the middle of Rimrose Valley Country Park! As if either option is credible and the plans seem to pit residents who live around the A5036 against residents who live either side of the Rimrose Valley.

And what has Sefton Council been doing? And where’s on earth is Network Rail? Between the two of them the best you can say is hiding behind the sofa!

Why has making new rail connections with the port seemingly been forgotten? Where’s the community leadership from Sefton Council?

This is indeed a dogs breakfast of a mess and the people left to pick up the pieces (and the air pollution) are the residents living in Netherton, Litherland, Crosby and Seaforth.

The present consultation on a road only solution needs to be brought to an end and only reconsidered when every possible rail freight possibility has been put in place.

Access to the Port of Liverpool – An update

Work on the new River Berth taking place in August 2015

Work on the new River Berth taking place in August 2015

IMG

I return to this matter because Highways England have issued a 3rd newsletter which is now available on their web site – see link below (click the publications tab):-

www.highways.gov.uk/roads/road-projects/a5036-port-of-liverpool-access/

The map above shows what Highways England have in mind, as if we were in any doubt. Option 2 is their proposed new road down and through the Rimrose Valley Country Park. Option 1 is upgrading the A5036/Dunningsbridge Road etc.

The issues that pop out for me from this latest newsletter are:-

* The odd answer to the question which I and many others must have asked the Highways England reps at the various public events a few weeks ago. Why isn’t greater use being made of the railway network in order to distribute this additional freight? Answer – Improvements to the rail network are being considered elsewhere. The obvious follow up question is where is ‘elsewhere’ and why is there no indication of it in the newsletter?

* In a second question specifically about bringing the North Mersey rail branch line back into use Highways England give a reasonable answer but again the answer does not take us any further forward with regard to non-road solutions.

* On the positive side Highways England seem to be saying all the right things about biodiversity, green issues, air quality and noise issues, which of course we should welcome.

However, what you quickly realise is that the strong line of questioning that Highways England clearly got from the public during the first round of consultation was really about the rail connections to the docks. No surprise there of course but those of us pressing that crucial issue were talking to folk who exist to build roads! They have little or no interest in other forms of transport.

And all this brings me back to my greatest concern which I have voiced before. Why is there not a joined up consultation being undertaken including Network Rail and Sefton Council? Yes we know that Labour-run Sefton is hiding behind the sofa hoping no one will realise that they should be leading this debate and goodness knows what Network Rail are doing in reality. So all we have at present is Highways England being desperate to build a new road.

It really is time for Labour-run Sefton Council to come out from under their sofa and lead this important public debate. If Bootle Labour MP Peter Dowd can raise the issue in Parliament why can’t Labour get to grips with it at a local level? And I don’t mean photos with concerned residents in the local press! What we need is all agencies and appropriate bodies being brought together by the Council so we have a fully informed public debate. There its not so hard comrades is it? – just do it.

So what are the social & environmental impacts of expanding Seaforth Docks & why have they been all but ignored – A chat with former Sefton Councillor Cliff Mainey

This is my follow up posting to my recent missive on this subject which is accessible via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/04/16/peel-ports-new-container-terminal-at-seaforth-champion-puff-piece-ignores-the-transportation-scandal/

Cliff Mainey is a mild mannered man who sat on Sefton Council for quite a number of years through the 1990’s and up to 2012. He represented Maghull’s Sudell Ward so his interest in the consequences of the expansion of the Port of Liverpool at Seaforth may be a surprise to some who do not know him well. But Cliff hails from Litherland so knows his onions you might say. Here’s a bit of social history from Cliff to start off this lengthy but I hope interesting posting:-

I was born and raised in post war Litherland, I lived there until I was 22. Church Rd for a large part of that time was a normal two lane highway, that is one lane in either direction, changing to a dual carriageway at Kirkstone Rd. Church Rd in those days had wide grass verges lined with low hawthorn bushes on either side, a real village feel to the area.

The Litherland I recall was a close community with free movement across the ‘main road’ i.e. Church Rd. Schools, shops, churches, youth clubs; I was in English Martyrs youth club, drawing on both sides of Litherland for support and existence.

Then in the sixties all that changed never to recover. The ‘new road’ was built and Royal Seaforth Docks were developed. Jobs, jobs and even more jobs, the port was keeping pace with the world. The new road was essential. The rest is confined to the dust bin of lack of foresight.

Church Road was made into a dual carriageway from Kirkstone Road to the docks. Although the ‘planners’ did their best to reassured the people of Litherland at public meetings with subways under and bridges over the road and double/secondary glazing for those who lived on the road. I lived at 225 Church Rd. Litherland was devastated.

Shops on Church Rd, Sefton St and Kirkstone Rd lost half their customers. Even the bank closed. Children changed schools because of the road. Church Parrish communities changed. People hated the subway (not the posh butty shop) it was long, cold and wet and pretty soon problems with antisocial behaviour started, ( although?).

So, having had first hand experience of planning for the economy at the expense of the community, I asked in my time as a Sefton Councillor, that WIDER PLANNING ISSUES BE PART OF PLANNING PROCESS, to no avail. I was told these were unclear and need not form part of the planning permission/consent for the docks. As I seem to remember planning consent was deemed to have been given at the highest level of government, (the then Labour government if I recall correctly) as per Fracking and Sefton Council was just dealing with/granting local planning permission.

Former Lib Dem Cllr. Cliff Mainey who felt gagged when he raised issues on Sefton Council about access to and the environmental impacts associated with the Port of Liverpool.

Former Lib Dem Cllr. Cliff Mainey who felt gagged when he raised issues on Sefton Council about access to and the environmental impacts associated with the Port of Liverpool.

Of course I knew Cliff had asked awkward questions about the port expansion during his time on Sefton Council and indeed I have made reference to his concerns in previous postings on this subject. But I decided that I wanted to hear what Cliff thought now having had time to reflect on his efforts to drag such matters out of the political long grass when others seemed more than happy for them to stay there or even kick them further in to it.

Cliff is a environmentalist, a former Merseyside Fireman and he is well up on horticultural issues too. His efforts to question the impacts and consequences of the port expansion effectively cover two aspects, the environmental/social impacts and the transport impacts.

Cliff questioned the consequences of the dredging of the Mersey and its estuary as he wanted to know how such dredging, which has of course gone on in many forms for generations, will impact on our coast for future generations. More dredging was of course done and will continue to be done to facilitate the River Berth that will be accepting truly massive container ships later this year. The answers he got within Sefton Council were hardly helpful as they were usually along the lines of ‘that’s not a Council responsibility’ or ‘another agency controls that aspect of the project’ etc. The more he tried to get the planning issues looked at holistically, taking into account all the potential impacts, the more he ran into brick walls.

Work on the new River Berth taking place in August 2015

Work on the new River Berth taking place in August 2015

Now some of those brick walls were obviously political as Bootle Labour Party were probably more willing to vote with the Tories (and you know they did that quite often) rather than expose this issue to detailed public scrutiny. Some of the barriers were also created by bureaucracy as it is indeed the case that the Environmental Agency, Council and other bodies did and still do control differing aspects of such huge projects. But of course it begs the question about why these separate organisations seem to work in their own silos only dealing with each other when they have little or no choice. Highways England doing their own consultation on the proposed road down the Rimrose Valley with seemingly no involvement from Sefton Council or Network Rail in recent weeks illustrates this silo mentality only and sadly too well.

Other environmental issues that Cliff was and indeed still is concerned about fit with my own oft expressed concerns on this blog site. The proposed new road down Rimrose Valley Country Park, widening of the A5036 (Dunnings Bridge Road), air pollution from HGV’s accessing the port in ever larger numbers when there are pollution levels of concern right now etc. I could go on but you get my drift.

But Cliff also sees the social consequences of this project as his historical comments above demonstrate. Yes, port expansion may well create more jobs if the port is successful in bringing in more business but how are the social impacts going to be mitigated for those living near the port or along the A5036 corridor that serves it? In reality the environmental and social impacts are very much mingled into one knotty problem like a ball of wool with many strands bound together. When you pull one strand you have no idea how long it will be and what it will pull out with it. And of course Cliff has told us how promised port expansion mitigations of previous generations ended up dividing Litherland.

I think it fair to say that Cliff shares my transportation access concerns and like me he can’t understand why having allowed the port to build its new River Berth the freight access issues are only now being looked at in any detail. It’s as though the project has been done back to front, as in a reasonable world surely the access issues would have been resolved before construction work on the dock took place.

After my interviewing Cliff I can only conclude that he confirmed all my worst fears about this huge project and the conspiracy of silence that has blanked out or stopped the social, environmental and transportation issues being looked at holistically and in a timely manner. It really is the scandal of our age locally here in Sefton Borough.

My thanks to Cliff Mainey for his frank and illuminating comments on this murky issue.

Peel Ports new container terminal at Seaforth – Champion article ignores the transportation scandal

Buried away on page 18 of last week’s Champion newspaper was an article all about a visit by a little known government Shipping Minister (Robert Goodwill) to Seaforth Docks and the Port of Liverpool.

Red and blue cranes at Seaforth Docks

The article was in connection with his visit and how the expansion of the docks is we are told attracting new businesses to the area. All well and good except for the fact that this project has seemingly been put together without much in the way of credible transport planning, by responsible public authorities, to get the extra projected traffic that the expanded docks may generate to and from Seaforth.

I am not really pointing a finger a Peel here because if the transport infrastructure challenge is not successfully resolved they will be one of the victims of what to me has been an appalling planning processes.

I have commented on this many times before and yet the transport issues are only now being addressed (Highways England have just started public consultations) whilst the Champion tells us the port’s enhanced facilities are opening later this year. Just think how long it will take to put the controversial transport infrastructure solutions in place!

So yes dear Minister tell us what a great thing the expanded port may well be but what’s the point of saying all this when the planning for the the movement of freight to the from the port has in no way been progressed at anything like the pace it should have been to match the building work at the container terminal. I fear the press has just been used to shower us with the good news in the hope we will not worry too much about those transportation issues.

And they are utterly immense! A new road down the Rimrose Valley and Country Park, widening of the A5036, but probably very little extra freight by train as transport planners can’t really be bothered about that method.

The fact is that Seaforth Docks are hemmed in by residential housing to the east and north so whatever road transportation solutions are eventually proposed they are bound to have negative effects on residents living in Netherton, Seaforth, Litherland etc.

The fact that this has all been left to the very end of the project and effectively to chance is of no credit what so ever to Sefton Council, Highways England and Network Rail.

This may be a good news story but it has got a huge amount of grief attached to it that the powers that be have all but ignored. If this is an example of integrated planning for a project of regional significance I’m a Dutchman as they say.

Cliff Mainey

Cliff Mainey

I recently chatted about this with my old friend and former Sefton Councillor/Borough Mayor Cliff Mainey and another posting will follow. Cliff tried to burrow into the impacts of the port expansion and to put it bluntly he was blocked at every turn. Read on when I publish Cliff’s take on all this……