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.

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…………

Scousers cheer Metro Mayor (but it’s not their own)

It’s been a little surreal over the last couple of days as Scousers have been piling onto social media to cheer along on Greater Manchester’s Metro Mayor Andy Burnham! Yes you’ve read that right Scousers cheering a Manc’, when anything to do with Manchester is usually treated with utter distain probably because of football loyalties in the city of the Beatles where the main religion is indeed football be it red or blue.

But the Manc’ Mayor is actually all but a Scouser himself having been born in Aintree Village/Old Roan on Merseyside, so I guess that allows Liverpudlians to cheer him on even though he’s working for the enemy so to speak.

Personally, I’m no fan of Burham at all as I recall him, when in government, having a hand in NHS privatisation, something he seems to oppose these days. I also see him as a populist politician who will shift his ground to follow the crowd. However, presently he seems to be a bit of a hero in some folks minds because he’s been taking on Johnson’s Government when here on Merseyside/in Liverpool City Region Burham’s Labour colleagues are being accused of capitulating in the same Covid 19 Tier 3 lockdown fight in the very first round.

Steve Rotheram, the former Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, is the Liverpool City Region Mayor and he seems to find himself very much in Burnham’s shadow. Of course Burham is media savvy indeed he seems to be the darling of the media who rush to him for quotes on anything remotely to do with anything in Greater Manchester or even the North West of England. Poor Rotheram is clearly not so comfortable surrounded by the press and being out shone by Burnham must surely be getting him down.

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again that public health is the loser in the spat between northern leaders and Johnson’s Government over the detail of Covid 19 Tier 3 lockdown measures and the compensation which closing businesses will or won’t be getting. At the very time we need unity of purpose at all levels of governance we end up with a party political ding dong.

Interestingly, these issues have not just been exercising the minds of Labour Council Leaders, MP’s and Metro Mayors as plenty of Tory MP’s and Council Leaders in the north have also been picking a fight with Johnson and Sunak. Indeed, I hear that Labour allowed the northern Tories to have a good old go at Johnson’s lot before they joined in. It seems that Lancashire has gained a ‘better’ deal than Merseyside because they’ve been offered a better (better than what?) business compensation package and also their gyms will not have to close. The latter is very much a moot point because if gyms are seen by scientists as being Covid 19 spreaders then it’s debatable whether that aspect is part of a better deal or simply a bad decision. I know many folk think gyms are key to better mental health so them being open outweighs the negatives/challenges of them being open. I’m no scientist so am left wondering whether the trade-off’s are right or wrong and I guess that goes for many of us watching this most public of fallouts.

But what of Greater Manchester’s still to be done deal? What will Comrade Burnham ‘win’ for his own patch or, together with his Tory Lancashire colleagues, has he shown up how Merseyside’s Labour Leaders fell into line following the first Government punch?

More importantly, as this Covid 19 battle is seemingly going to last for a long time, through various phases have ‘lessons been learned’ (a favourite politician’s phrase) about putting public health first rather than political point scoring? Answers on a postcard……………….

Merseyside or Liverpool City Region?

or

With Merseyside/Liverpool City Region being somewhat the centre of attention presently due to the recent spike in Covid 19 it’s been interesting to hear how the media and politicians interchange Merseyside with Liverpool City Region. I’ve even seen a posting on Twitter explaining what Liverpool City Region is made up of as even on Merseyside it’s a matter of some confusion with Joe and Jane Public.

First a bit of history. Merseyside was created as part of the big local government reorganisation which came into effect in 1974. It comprised and indeed still does comprise the council areas of Knowsley, Sefton, St. Helens, Wirral and Liverpool. Mrs. T did not like the uppity Metropolitan County Councils and the Greater London Council so she abolished them. The powers that were held by Merseyside Country Council were given to joint boards made up of councillors from the boroughs or they went straight to the borough councils. The lead photo is of one of the last surviving Merseyside County Council boundary signs that I know of. It’s on Cunscough Lane on the Bikerstaffe/Melling – Lancashire/Merseyside boundary or at least it was last time I looked. You’ll note that the County Council had a crest which is displayed on the sign.

Then many years later there was a developing trend, particularly amongst Tories, to ape US/Australian local/regional government process and with that came the creation of Liverpool City Region, a City Region Mayor and a Police Commissioner. It also meant that Liverpool City had two elected mayors leading to the City Mayor becoming known as the ‘Spare Mayor’ in some circles. I think it’s fair to say that Police Commissioners have been a complete flop whilst the regional mayors are hardly viewed as being a successful policy move either.

The difference geographically between Merseyside and Liverpool City Region (LCR) is that LCR includes the Borough of Halton (Widnes & Runcorn) and the graphic below illustrates the area covered by LCR

But why did Merseyside morph into Liverpool City Region? Well it happened whilst I was leader of Sefton Council and the theory was this. The Council Leaders were told that potential investors in Merseyside did not know where it was, whereas they did know where Liverpool wass. You can follow this through reasonably logically by thinking about the huge successes of Liverpool Football Club who together with the Beatles put Liverpool on the world map. I get all that but to be honest I was never particularly sold on dropping Merseyside for LCR but a decision had to be made so eventually LCR was the title agreed but not with much enthusiasm I think it fair to say.

The irony of where we are now due to Covid 19 is that LRC may well mean a clear area of the UK for outside investors but to locals, politicians and the media in the UK it’s still Merseyside.

The name change has not really worked and it possibly never will with locals.

Lancashire – Is it about to get an elected mayor?

Map of the Borough of West Lancashire.

Jim Hancock has the posting on his blog site – see link below:-

jimhancock.co.uk/big-changes-for-lancashire/

Jim, as ever, has an interesting and informative take on the long running saga about how Lancashire will be run in the future. It is to put it bluntly a dogs breakfast of a local governmental mess presently as I guess most will agree. Trouble is there’s been no consensus to agree how to sort out the mess which pre-dates John Prescot’s attempt resolve it as Deputy Prime Minister many years ago. Those with long memories will recall he wanted to split West Lancs and put half of it in Wigan Met Borough and half of it into Sefton Met Borough. It went nowhere and neither has any other plan it seems at least up until now?

My gripe with Jim, as those who know me will expect of me, is that he seems to back Metro Mayors and I can’t abide them. Jim says this ‘The success of the elected mayors in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region may finally have ended the squabbling in Lancashire over an elected mayor with a combined authority.’

Well Jim if having an elected mayor for the Liverpool City Region has been a success I would not like to see failure. Not enough devolved powers (I have often referred to the LCR deal as 3rd rate) and putting them in one persons hands is simply wrong to me. And just what has our elected mayor done that could not have been achieved without us having one?

But my other big gripe, which admittedly may not apply in Lancashire with it having no major cities, is that regional mayors operating from a big city have a detrimental effect on surrounding towns. Just ask Southport or Bootle or St. Helens or Birkenhead. A good example of my concern is the thousands civil service jobs being taken out of Bootle and centralised in Liverpool for HMRC. The jobs were put in Bootle for a very good reason in the 1960’s and 1970’s i.e to address an unemployment black spot and help the local economy. Taking them out reverses that piece of good work. And what has our City Region Mayor done to try to put a stop to this process?

Maybe as a Liberal I see the concentration of power in a single persons hands as fundamentally wrong but Tories and Socialists see otherwise? Maybe also as a Liberal I see true devolution of power very differently to the crumbs off the governmental table which is the present format of devolution. Frankly, no I don’t see Lancashire having an elected mayor being a big positive for a newly formatted local government structure in the county.

I like Jim’s commentary on politics in the North West of England and he’s often both well informed and right. However, we’ll have to agree to disagree that having an elected mayor in the Liverpool City Region has been a success. Indeed, I would go so far as to say it has been an abject failure for the majority of LCR – a bit like the present local government arrangements have been in Lancashire for a long time now.

If regional mayors are the solution you’re asking the wrong question.

Merseytravel survey into how we move about – before – during & after C19

There’s an in depth travel survey on the Merseytravel website which you may like to participate in – see link below:-

liverpoolcityregionalca.researchfeedback.net/s.asp?k=158858381676

A Merseytravel consultation event previously held in Maghull.

A Merseyrail electric unit at Bootle New Strand Station.

A Liverpool bound 507 EMU approaching the Crescent Road level crossing in Birkdale, Southport.