Regional economic regeneration – It’s done the rounds so many times!

My good friend Bob Robinson recently pointed me towards the podcast linked below:-

open.spotify.com/episode/0BkowQ14PrKsFwsTQAregb

Bob’s take on it and indeed the whole issue of how governments keep on making the same mistakes over targeted regional investment are summed up here:-

‘This is a 50-minute podcast and is the most accurate description of the chequered history of UK regional development, I have ever heard. I carry the scars as I was involved in submitting business cases to: the North West Development Agency (Improving Construction Industry Safety), the South West Development Agency (Construction Skills development) and the Welsh Development Agency (Redeployment of Military facilities}. I watched their rise and fall. I also was seconded for a period to support the DTI’s “Rethinking Construction Programme” following on from the 1998 Egan Report into the root and branch need to reform the construction industry. Listening to this podcast suggests we are making the same mistakes over and over again. Regional policy has been a half-hearted inconsistent shambles for years and this fiasco, as evidenced by the ongoing rows about the Manchester Rail Network, is set to continue.’

I can’t but agree with Bob’s assessment having listened to the very interesting podcast and taken his concerns on board. UK policy in so many critical areas is subject to far too many twists and changes meaning nothing gets bedded in before an incoming government wants to shake it all up again. The NHS and Education are a couple of glaring examples but this blog piece is about regionalism and how we invest in areas most in need of investment – ‘Levelling Up’ being the latest incarnation of it.

I’ve blogged about such issues before so there’s a danger I could well repeat myself here; if so my apologies. My experience as a Sefton Borough Councillor from 1999 to 2015 and particularly my period as Council Leader from 2004 to 2011 inform my views.

There’s little doubt that the North West Development Agency was the big beast with regard to most if not all large scale projects whilst it was in being. It sat rather uncomfortably aside the North West Regional Assembly as Blair was going about his decentralisation of power and public money from Westminster. His was the first government to really embrace regionalism aside from the efforts of ‘Tarzan’, the ‘Minister for Merseyside’, Michael Heseltine during the previous Tory years under Thatcher and Major.

That we live in one of the most centralised countries in the developed world says a lot so Heseltine and Blair were kicking against a well-ordered position stoutly defended by virtually all Labour/Tory politicians and of course the Civil Service. Liberals had seriously woken up to regionalism and devolution many years before them I might add so in general, we welcomed such initiatives whilst usually being of the view they were too small in scale, done to people rather than them being consulted and not far-reaching enough. Of course, we were right!

Blair got stuck or got bored with regionalism and devolution and it kind of fizzled out well before the job was done particularly in England. Ignoring the Brown years where nothing much happened on this agenda it took the Coalition Government to have another go and I think it fair to say that they only succeeded in adding to the dog’s breakfast of English regionalism and devolution. City Mayors and City Region Mayors were their big idea and I opposed them from day one as I still do now. My many previous blog postings on this subject go before this one so I’ll link one that seems pertinent below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2021/03/02/more-elected-mayors-will-not-address-north-south-divide/

So the podcast is very much to the point and sadly the majority of our English politicians still love that we are overwhelmingly ruled from Westminster. Apart from crumbs from their table, they will want it to stay that way too!

Until the UK fully embraces regionalism and very significant devolution of powers and spending from Westminster we’ll continue to be badly governed.

More perspectives on the World Heritage Status loss in Liverpool

The ‘3 Graces’ on Liverpool waterfront taken from the new Museum of Liverpool, which may well be one of the planning compromises too far?

I’ve posted about this previously and here’s a link back to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2021/07/21/liverpool-world-heritage-status-lost/

Scouser opinions on the move/loss seem to be, as a generality, – ‘we did not ask for WHS’, ‘it was of no value’, ‘glad it’s gone’, ‘who cares the visitors will still come’ etc. etc.

Here’s a Scouser having his say having given the matter significant consideration – be prepared for a long read – Phil, an Everton fan and good friend of mine, does not have a short button!:-) –

phlhldn.blogspot.com/2021/08/the-liverpool-blitz-and-if-you-know.html

And here’s a quite different perspective, one that my professional historian relative agrees with –

sevenstreets.substack.com/p/unescos-binned-us-off-what-next-for

I’m not a Scouser as I only came to live on Merseyside aged 10 in 1968, so I’m not sure how long it will be before I’m adopted. My perspective is one of looking at the management of Liverpool City Council over quite a number of years and thinking along the lines of, ‘with better local management this rather sad (to me) situation need not have happened at all’.

Heritage is very important to me and I despair of old buildings and landscapes being lost so that another developer can make a quick Buck. Liverpool has changed massively since the dark days of the 1970s/1980s but I’m far from convinced that politicians and planners for the City really do have a strategic plan to carefully weave in new developments so they don’t compromise historic views and landscapes.

Other historic cities manage to do this successfully, or at least more successfully, so what’s gone wrong in Liverpool? Yes, planning laws and policy have been progressively (or is that more appropriately regressively) ‘relaxed’ over many generations by UK governments of all colours, in the name of speeding up the timescale of new developments. The trouble is, with historic landscapes, this rush to build anything cheap as fast as possible will clearly lead to unfortunate compromises. Personally, I’d rather see strengthened planning policies, especially ones adopted at a local level, so that due consideration and indeed protection can be given to historic buildings, Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas etc. etc.

But none of this lets Liverpool City Council off the hook though as the ‘Caller Report’, limited in scale as it was, has recently pointed a very critical finger at the Council’s activities, not least in the area of regeneration, property management, highways, and planning. Some Liverpool folk may well not want World Heritage Status back, I accept that, but I really do hope they want their City Council to get back on track in the area of regeneration and planning at least.

Historic buildings don’t exist in isolation, they sit in landscapes and the buildings close to them, in particular, need to be sympathetic in their design. My view is that Liverpool lost the art of fitting historic buildings in with new developments quite some time ago and yes the Museum of Liverpool was, for me at least, probably the start of the misstepping of regeneration and planning in the City.

Liverpool – World Heritage status lost

The ‘3 Graces’ on Liverpool waterfront taken from the new Museum of Liverpool

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link below –

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/liverpool-stripped-world-heritage-status-21104465

Well, as being struck off has been flagged up for quite some years now, the actual removal of World Heritage status almost comes as no surprise. However, I don’t think this backwards step for Liverpool and indeed the whole City Region can be looked at as an isolated matter because for me the governance of Liverpool, which has been so criticised of late, must be a factor (if not a significant factor) in how the city has found itself on the naughty step.

Paul McCartney Concert at Anfield 2008

The heady days of the 2008 European Capital of Culture seem to be a lifetime away, yet it was only 13 years ago! My feeling is that the leadership of Liverpool City Council during recent years is at the heart of this matter. Inward investment is of course crucial for any major city but has Liverpool made the right choices at the right time and with the right investors? I suspect not and the recent governance report (Caller Report) on the City Council may well be a pointer to the failings.

Also, as a regular reader of Peter Kilfoyle’s blog – KILFOYLEONPOLITICS, which has been predicting for some years the mess Liverpool was getting into, has been and indeed still is a sobering experience for me. And I say that as someone who is not of the same politics as Kylfole yet realises that what he has been shouting from the rooftops for a very long time has been all but ignored until turning a blind eye and a deaf ear was no longer possible for the powers that be.

No, looking at the loss of World Heritage status in isolation will lead to the wrong conclusions in my view. Getting the prestigious award back needs to be part of solving the far wider troubles in which the City Council finds itself.

Footnote 4th August – There’s a Guardian podcast on this matter but it will probably not go down well with those who are content with Liverpool losing World Heritage Status –

open.spotify.com/episode/11cZfligeL4oFQkg70pGtq?si=dzUrmfAbR7ykj6eDlC50OQ&dl_branch=1&nd=1

I must say I have been surprised by the significant reaction of many Liverpool folk who are quite ok with losing the WH status and who feel it was a badge of little value.

50 years of the 2nd (Wallasey) Mersey Tunnel

This is the front page of the booklet produced to celebrate the opening of Kingsway Tunnel in 1971.

I’ve posted a couple of times in the past about the Mersey Tunnels and as the second, Kingway Tunnel, is this week celebrating its 50 anniversary it seemed appropriate to re-run (see links below) those postings:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/10/06/building-the-mersey-tunnels/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/05/08/mersey-tunnel-kingsway-75-miles-of-new-electric-cables/

These are the tickets my family were given when we walked through the new (2nd) Tunnel in 1971, the day before it opened to vehicles.

Sadly, I don’t have any photos of us walking through the tunnel on what I can still recall as a very exciting day indeed. Even now when I drive through either tunnel, probably 3 or 4 times a year, I think back to that walk-through with my Mum and Dad. Yes, the Mersey tunnels are both very significant pieces of engineering to marvel at.

Liverpool – An ongoing political crisis via 3 blog sites

Liverpool Town Hall

What to do with Liverpool City Council? A question many have asked for many a year as it seems to be one of those councils that lives and breathes crisis and pretty much has done throughout living memory.

Here’s former BBC North West journalist Jim Hancock’s take on things:-

jimhancock.co.uk/hancocks-half-page/

Another blogger with plenty to say about Liverpool City Council is former Walton Labour MP and Neil Kinnock’s man in Liverpool during the Militant era, Peter Kilfoyle. His blog site is accessible via this link:-

kilfoyleonpolitics.wordpress.com/

Then there’s veteran Liverpool Lib Dem councillor Richard Kemp who has lived through pretty much every Liverpool City Council crisis from the inside since goodness knows when:-

richardkemp.wordpress.com/

If you follow these 3 blogs you’ll probably come to a reasonable perspective on how local government works or indeed does not work in Liverpool – enjoy……….

Sinking of the MV Derbyshire

I’m sure I must have heard about the sinking of this ship at the time it went down (40 years ago – September 1980) but it was a visit to Merseyside Maritime Museum’s new ‘Life on Board’ exhibition which brought the tragedy into focus.

I blogged about my September visit to ‘Life on Board’ and here’s a link back to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/09/18/life-on-board-exhibition-at-mersey-maritime-museum/

I then came across this video on You Tube which I found very interesting and informative:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeRjGPI9S_8

Clearly the ship (originally named Liverpool Bridge) had very significant connections with the Port of Liverpool and its tragic loss in the South China Sea is rightly honoured by National Museums Liverpool.