The now Transport Committee of Liverpool City Region was previously know as Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority and Executive and it had (around 10 years ago or more) an unfortunate dabble in trying to bring a modern tramway system into being for Merseyside.
These were the proposed Merseytram routes serving eastern and south Liverpool
Indeed, the whole project failed when the last Labour Government pulled the plug on funding following all kinds of rescue attempts by Merseyside politicians to keep it afloat. Tram tracks had even been purchased and were stored at Hull docks if recall correctly.
This promotional Merseytram bookmark is about all that Liverpool City Region has to show for its big tram ideas.
But this posting is not to rehearse the rise and fall of Merseytram but more to speculate on the consequences of its failure. You see I do try to keep up to date with passenger transport initiatives on Merseyside particularly with regard to rail solutions and the thing is not much has happened since Merseytram and I’m yet to be convinced that any credible initiatives are in the offing.
There are parts of Merseyside and beyond that would welcome extensions of the present heavy rail Merseyrail 3rd rail electrified system and others where a light rail/tram solution would be of huge benefit. For example Liverpool John Lennon Airport is still not connected to the rail network and you could say that when Merseytram was being worked up the fact that the first line was not to go to the airport sealed the fate of the whole project. Another example is the long proposed reopening of the railway branch from Aintree to Bootle for passengers but despite years of talk nothing has happened to progress it.
What I’m wondering is whether the failure of Merseytram really did knock the stuffing out of progressive local transport solution thinking on Merseyside and that since then treading water with the odd new station opening on present railway lines is about the limit of the confidence of transport planners? I say this as cities across the UK are now heavily involved in innovative light rail and tram based solutions to get people about efficiently and to reduce environmental pollution. An example is Nottingham which I visited recently. Their modern tram system is a delight and at only £4 to ride the trams all day it’s cost effective for passengers too.
A Nottingham NET Tram at the Phoenix Park terminus.
I’m not suggesting that the heavy rail Merseyrail system should be replaced by light rail or a tramway, indeed the priority should be to extend it to places like Preston, Skelmersdale and Wrexham. However, alongside that Liverpool and wider Merseyside may well be able to benefit from light rail/tramway developments where extension of Merseyrail is not a sensible way forward.
But where is the ambition, the vision and the green transport revolution for Merseyside? Time for the City Region to stop licking its wounds and start some real transport planning again.
I have always been annoyed by the fact that Merseytravel, the publicly funded passenger transport committee for Merseyside, shows such little interest in the railway line from Southport to the east of the Town.
Northern Rail train standing in Southport Station.
In fact this line is of some considerable importance despite it being run as little more than a secondary line for the past 40 years or so. One of the reasons that Southport developed in the railway age was that Manchester businessmen set up home in the Town because of its excellent railway service. There can be little doubt that the fortunes of Southport are still bound up to some degree in the quality of service on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line so for Merseytravel to be less than interested in it when Southport council tax payers are helping to fund passenger transport costs via their contributions is appalling to my mind.
I helped expose Merseytravel’s could hardly care less attitude to this line during my time as a Sefton councillor when it became clear that it did not even get a mention in the original Long Term Rail Strategy for Merseyside. To some extent that battle was won but with the second iteration of that plan, published last October, the lack of targets for the line raised fears once more that the now grandly named Liverpool City Region was once more little interested in the line or indeed Southport. Indeed, my fears about City Regions sucking power towards the main city to the detriment of the surrounding towns and communities is sadly coming true and I’m not the only one to think that.
But what started this latest rant off about the Southport – Wigan – Manchester Line? Well it came from my picking up a copy of the book ‘Merseyrail Electrics – The Inside Story’ by T B Maund published in October 2001. It’s book I have had a copy of for many a year but I happened upon this:-
‘To secure other reductions in expenditure on railway services, the PTE [Passenger Transport Executive] decided to give the statutory twelve months’ notice to withdraw support from some services. Notice had already been given in respect of the Southport – Manchester services……’
This decision seems to have been taken in 1977/78 and if nothing else it clearly shows that in times when money was tight the PTE were quite willing to withdraw support for the line back then. Some 40 years on it seems that lack of commitment to the needs of commuters in the north of Sefton Borough is sadly just as steadfast.
Note:- Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (PTE) and Passenger Transport Authority (PTA) are what we now know as Merseytravel.
Cllr. John Pugh the Lib Dem Leader of the opposition on Sefton Council and former MP for Southport has hit out at the loss of trains between Southport and Manchester Airport which have been proposed [in the May 2018 timetable] by Northern Trains and Network Rail.
TOWN HAS BEEN LET DOWN
Rail services to Manchester Piccadilly- the university and business sector are being pared back to two to three a day trains- there and back- with the train to Manchester Airport doomed. That’s the result of the new timetables just announced on March 21st by Northern Rail and agreed with Network Rail.
The Southport line to Wigan and Manchester is on schedule to be the only place in the north to LOSE services under Northern Powerhouse plans
Former MP, Cllr. John Pugh stated, “It is hard not feel angry with the way we have been treated and strung along. We have had warm words from Rail Ministers and the Secretary of State for Transport but the downward spiral in our services and connectivity continues just the same.
I have no confidence that Sefton Council or the Merseyside City Region has even broken sweat to fight our corner
We don’t need any more patronising waffle from the government, rail companies or anyone else. The fact is that we are being strung out to dry- a corner of the north that needs to finds its own voice.
We cannot quietly stand by and let our connections with the business quarter of Manchester and the airport just wither.
Editors View:- John is obviously right and I share his skepticism about what the Liverpool City Region and its Transport arm Merseytravel have been doing or indeed not doing to both keep the present level of service on the line and promote Southport’s trains to Wigan, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. I go back to the first draft of the first ever Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy where the line did not even get a mention! At the time I was a Sefton Councillor and I pushed the Council to demand that the line be included. That Long Term Rail Strategy has now been updated (October 2017) and surprise surprise the line hardly gets a mention at all again. Must we conclude that rail connectivity for Southport (which is in the Liverpool City Region) to the east and the north of the Town is of no interest to the powers that be? Sadly I think we must!
The article is on Jim’s blog site accessed via the link above
I remember Jim, as others will, from his BBC North West Regional News days and respect his views. I’m sure he and other devolution skeptics (and I include myself here) are right to think that government is not that keen on the process of devolving power to the regions of England, except that is when it suits them to be able to blame the regions for whatever the troubles of the day are.
It might seem odd me being a Liberal, having been brought up on a diet of power needing to be exercised at the lowest possible level of government, but I opposed the devolution deal for the Liverpool City Region. I opposed it as it was a second if not third rate deal that was hardly worth having. My views have not changed.
Yes we now have a City Region Mayor but for me that post, whomever holds it, is a bit like the Police and Crime Commissioner one in that no one really thinks either will bring any positive change to Merseyside.
What has also concerned me since first hearing that government wanted a city region mayor for Merseyside is that it would make the sub-region more Liverpool centric with the towns and communities surrounding Liverpool always playing second fiddle. I’ve seen little to change that point of view either. Bringing more power and influence to Liverpool is often at the expense of its surrounding communities.
Devolution as presently practiced in England is indeed half hearted and deeply flawed.
And later on the same day that I published this posting I found that Cllr. Richard Kemp was on a similar theme:-
I mentioned this subject back in August; here’s a link to that previous posting:-
I now hold a summary of the responses that were made to Merseytravel who are coordinating this piece of work for the Liverpool City Region:-
Summary of Responses:
Consultation on the draft Rights of Way Improvement Plan 2018-2028 was undertaken over summer 2017. Copies were available to view on Merseytravel’s website as well as at council one stop shops and public libraries across the Liverpool City Region. The consultation closed on the 29 September 2017. There were 26 responses received on this consultation. The majority of responses were supportive of the draft Rights of Way Improvement Plan. Key issues raised in the responses included:
• Well maintained network
• Insufficient short term schemes
• Links across the Liverpool City Region (LCR) and locally
• Managing conflicts between different users
• Inclusive high quality network
• Better prioritisation of schemes
• Monitoring and evaluation
• Consultation on detail of individual schemes with relevant stakeholders
• Consistent standard across LCR Rights of Way network
• Definitive Map continuous review
• Anti-social behaviour
• Resources such as dedicated Rights of Way Officer needed in each Council
• Issues with wider Highways and public realm issues rather than Public Rights of Way and clarity with other public access routes
• Joined up network of bridleways for equine sector
• Proposals for new schemes
• Consultation process and access for non-internet users
• Availability of Rights of Way information both on internet and for non-internet users
• Clarify access for public to Definitive Map via Council Offices
• Linkages with land use and spatial planning
The responses are now being taken into account as the Liverpool City Region partners update the document and prepare the final version. The final version will be published in late March 2018.
Yes I know, many of those Lib Dem manifesto pledges that Labour voters rejected in the Mersey Metro Mayor election of a few months ago seem to have been picked up as policy by the newly elected Labour Mayor of Liverpool City Region. Just look:-
Not exactly the same words but you could not read Carl’s manifesto without saying hang on a minute! And what will Labour voters think of it; they seemingly rejected Carl’s policy options only last May!
Politics is a funny old world at times but this made me smile because much of what Lib Dem candidate Carl Cashman stood for in the Metro Mayor is now seemingly official Labour policy on Merseyside. Carl should be pleased as imitation is the best form of flattery, or so they say.
But of course just picking up Carl’s ideas is one thing making them happen in a meaningful way is quite another! Maybe Steve Rotherham needs to appoint Carl as his special advisor for implementation of the Lib Dem manifesto:-)))
Picture Credit of lead photo – Charlie Green