Mersey Tunnels – When a toll reduction is a big let down!

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-42802041

The BBC has the story on its web site – see link above

Now what exactly was Steve Rotherham’s electoral pledge on Mersey Tunnels Tolls? Well I have listened carefully to the video on the Liverpool Echo web site from January 2017 and the pledge was very clear to me – Mr. Rotherham said he was going to reduce the cost of a single (Fast Tag) journey, for Liverpool City Region residents, through the tunnels to £1. No mention of it being only between 7pm at night and 7pm in the morning. Here’s the link to the Liverpool Echo article and video:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/tunnel-trips-1-5-things-12496167

So why has he watered down the pledge? Was it not fully thought through, costed and affordable when the pledge was made?

Is there any wonder folk lose faith in politicians who don’t deliver on pledges – Mr Clegg and his pledge to not increase Labour’s Tuition Fees comes to mind of course!

In my view tolls on tunnels and bridges should all be abolished and the cost of the upkeep of them funded from general taxation.

Building the Mersey Tunnels

The Art Deco portal to Queensway the first Mersey Tunnel

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/17-deaths-250-tonnes-explosive-13696923

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link above

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.

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

I have always been fascinated by the Mersey Tunnels, their history and how they were constructed. This Liverpool Echo article gives an interesting insight into both of them.

Merseytravel – Work due to start on refresh of the Mersey Tunnels Toll System

The Art Deco portal to Queensway the first Mersey Tunnel

From a Merseytravel press release, it may be of interest if you are a user of the Mersey Tunnels

Mersey Tunnel users are set to benefit from an improved travelling experience as work gets underway on a refresh of the toll system in both tunnels next month (September).

Improvements that will be introduced through the refresh, some of which are the result of feedback received from tunnel users, include:

· New toll machines on both the Birkenhead and Wallasey Tunnel toll plazas

· The machines will include an improved positioning of both the coin basket and the “reject coin” slot (making it easier to collect coins not accepted)

· Improved coin analysers, ensuring the cash transaction is quicker for customers.

· A change to the process of the “staffed” lanes, where payment will be taken by the attendant rather than the cash being handed back to them to make payment at the machine – again speeding up the transaction for the customer.

· The introduction of contactless card payment into every lane, to be in operation from early 2018.

· Digital displays to indicate information about your transaction in live time as well as the status of Fast Tag account balances.

· A new, improved website for Mersey Tunnels and the Fast Tag system

A decision was taken to “refresh” the current system rather than wholly replace it, so as to minimise the disruption to the public and also allow long-term planning for any major changes in the future.

Some preparation work has already taken place for the refresh, with two test lanes installed into the Birkenhead Tunnel in late July along with work to update the systems behind the scenes.

The £3.1m scheme will see the current toll machines (which were first installed in 2001) replaced on a lane-by-lane basis from late September to January to minimise disruption for tunnel users, although customers are being advised that there may be some congestion during peak periods while the work takes place.

Once that work in all toll lanes is completed, work will begin to install the contactless card payment equipment into each lane early in 2018.

The new Mersey Tunnels website, incorporated into the main Merseytravel website with a user-friendly interface including a mobile site, is also due to launch in December.

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.

Mersey Tunnel (Kingsway) – 75 miles of new electric cables!

This is the front page of the booklet produced to celebrate  of the opening of Kingsway Tunnel in 1971 when my family walked through it the day before it opened.

This is the front page of the booklet produced to celebrate of the opening of Kingsway Tunnel in 1971 when my family walked through it the day before it opened.

Kingsway Tunnel rewire has begun

75 miles of cable– the equivalent distance of Liverpool to Leeds – will be installed as part of a major £7.5million project to rewire and replace the lighting in the Kingsway (Wallasey) tunnel.

The work started on Tuesday 3rd May is part of an on-going 10 year tunnels investment programme and is expected to take 18 months to complete, with the majority of work taking place overnight, causing minimal disruption to tunnel users.

The existing lighting will be replaced with more efficient LED units with a lifespan of at least 20 years, reducing Co2 emissions by around 450 tonnes per year and making up to £90,000 savings on the electricity bill per annum.

The existing electrical infrastructure will be replaced with modern cables which will be installed in the tunnel invert below the road surface. This will allow easier maintenance, minimising the need for the tubes having to be closed in the future – again maximising convenience for our customers.

Interesting facts

• 75 miles of cable will be installed

• 1600 light fittings will be replaced

• 6.5 miles of cable tray and baskets will be used

• 4.5 miles of steelwork and brackets will support the new installations

The Liverpool City Region approved the investment for the re-wire project in November 2015.

The 1.5 mile (2.4 km) Kingsway tunnel opened in 1971 and was built to accommodate the rise in traffic when the Queensway Tunnel, which was built in the 1930s to carry vehicles between Birkenhead and Liverpool, was unable to cope with the rise in post-war traffic.

My thanks to Sefton Councillor John Dodd for spotting this story

Liverpool City Region – Underwhelmed by lackluster submission for delegated powers

So our 6 Labour Council Leaders from across Merseyside have put in their plea to George Osborne for him to give the City Region some crumbs from his devolution table. I must say I am sadly underwhelmed by their bid though.

This posting is not an attempt to comment on the document page by page but I am picking out things that caught my eye, or are a particular policy interest area for me or where I think the document is deficient.

Firstly the laugh out loud moments from the 25 page document:-

We are working together!!!! – ‘We have a proven track record of being able to decide priorities locally’ and ‘We have also proven our ability to work together collectively’. No not made up it’s there in the document! Bearing in mind how our Labour Council Leaders have seemingly squabbled like ferrets in a sack for years in public via the press you wonder whether they were able to keep their faces straight when they signed a document going to Government saying they were now best mates who will stick by each other.

Metro Mayor!- But moving on through this rather uninspiring document which could hardly be said to be innovative or motivating we come to a paragraph on page 3 which effectively gives the Metro Mayor game away. It says ‘We also recognise that the “prize” of devolution may necessitate a “price” to be paid in respect of the government’s stated aim of introducing an elected mayor for the City Region. We are prepared to consider making a change in our local governance arrangements……….’ Is this the Merseyside Labour Council Leaders waving the white flag and falling in behind Joe Anderson, who seems to want to rule Merseyside? Yes I believe it is and in the words of Dave Allen ‘may your God go with you’.

We cost Treasury too much? – There is an interesting and I take it to be accurate statement to the effect that the Liverpool City Region area spends two pounds on public services for every one it raises in taxation and this means the City Region has the largest relative gap between tax raised and public spending in England. £9.5 billion generated for the Treasury but £18.6bn back in public spending. A sobering thought indeed.

More Cuts? – This also caught my eye ‘there are potentially efficencies and cost savings to be gained if greater control and coordination of government funding and activity is devolved to the City Region’. This could be interpreted as room for more cuts of course.

These are the tickets my family were given when we walked through the new (2nd) Tunnel in 1971

These are the tickets my family were given when we walked through the new (2nd) Tunnel in 1971

Mersey Tunnel tolls – One of the ‘Asks’ of government is that ‘Legislative clarity on the ability to utilise [Mersey] tunnel toll income for wider economic development purposes’. That should go down a bundle with residents of the Wirral in particular! This ‘ask’ seems to be linked to another ‘ask’ which requests government to pay off the loans to build the tunnels. Of course a proportion of the toll money is presently used to fund the debt repayments. I think tunnel users would want to know what their extra tax would be paying for if it was not to pay off the loans to build the tunnels. Indeed you could expect them to want lower tolls if the tunnel debts are paid off by government.

The present Merseyrail rolling stock Class 507/8 EMU's) at Southport Station.

The present Merseyrail rolling stock Class 507/8 EMU’s) at Southport Station.

A train ‘ask’ – There an ‘ask’ about our promised (many times) replacement rolling stock for Merseyrail to ‘reduce the financial risks’. This is linked to needing long term certainty over the Special Rail Grant that Merseyside gets each year. A reasonable request I would think here.

A blast from the past a former Ribble Lydiate bound 321 bus in model form. Sadly it's another lost route for Lydiate residents.

A blast from the past a former Ribble Lydiate bound 321 bus in model form. Sadly it’s another lost route for Lydiate residents.

A buses ‘ask‘ is to ‘secure the ability to franchise local bus services, to ensure that they have the required reach, penetration, quality and pricing structure and serve the needs of the Liverpool City Region’. This may well, depending on what it actually means, turn the Tories Bus Deregulation Act of the early 1980’s on its head (or drive a bus through it at least) and not before time I say. BUT bearing in mind that the thrust of this submission to government acknowledges in effect that austerity is here to stay then it does not mean more subsidy for bus services unless of course that is where the tunnel tolls may be siphoned off?

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough's high grade agricultural land from development.

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough’s high grade agricultural land from development.

Housing and Spacial Planning – Some very worthy stuff here but what is so obviously missing? Well as far as Sefton Borough is concerned it’s protection of its high grade agricultural land from development. So is the fact that the City Region is not making a request to government for local powers to protect it the final admission that the City Region and Sefton Council do not want to?

Energy – Some good stuff here about support for the proposed offshore tidal lagoon and also a request for powers to maximise the potential of renewable energy. But even then this is hardly taking the ‘green’ agenda and running with it, surely we should be aiming to be the most energy efficient City Region in Europe? Where’s the ambition to inspire?

City Region Mayor Powers – If there was any doubt that our glorious Leaders are now all but fully behind a City Region Mayor then this quote leaves no room for any doubt:-

*To consider whether an elected Liverpool City Region Mayor should take over the role of the directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner and the role of the Fire Authority.

There are other ‘asks’ about Children’s Services, Education, Cultural Partnership, Health – Wellbeing and Social Care, a Free Trade Zone, European Funding, Skills & Employment and Business Support but I have not touched on those areas in this posting.

My conclusion is that frankly the submission is too bland and it lacks ambition. Here was a great opportunity to lay out a radical plan to fundamentally change the health, wealth and environmental sustainability of Merseyside and it has been an opportunity lost. It strikes me, as a former Council Leader, as one of those documents written by Council Officers and then signed off/rubber stamped by politicians. Even if government gave it the green light on all the ‘asks’ I can’t see it changing the outcomes of Merseyside residents much at all.

I wonder if it will get the green light from government (with a few tweaks along the way) because all the Tories really seem to want is the appearance of devolution and a Metro Mayor. If so government will say they have negotiated a fine deal to empower Merseyside and local council leaders will say they got virtually every possible concession from government and the Metro Mayor has been forced on them. But in the real world not much will change other than we all get that damn Metro Mayor idea imposed on us and another highly paid politician to lord it over us.