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.

Seaforth Docks – Port Access – Highways England Consultation

I trotted along to Maghull Library yesterday to hear what Highways England had to say via their consultation process about either/or significantly increasing the capacity of Dunningsbridge Road (A5036) and/or building a new road to the docks down through Rimrose Valley Country Park.

The busy A5036 thunders over the Leeds Liverpool Canal in Litherland but the oasis of Rimrose Valley Country Park sits the other side of this manic highway to Seaforth Docks.

The busy A5036 thunders over the Leeds Liverpool Canal in Litherland but the oasis of Rimrose Valley Country Park sits the other side of this manic highway to Seaforth Docks.

I suppose that the obvious thing that hit me was that the consultation was just Highways England. Where was Network Rail? Why not a consultation on all the options to get freight to and from the docks encompassing road, rail and the ship canal? An impression of lack of joined up thinking was being demonstrated to me by Highways England going it alone.

I suspect that Sefton Council’s ‘don’t touch this issue with a barge pole’ type approach has something to do with the lack of a joined up thinking. Surely if Sefton was doing anything but sitting back and watching what is going on it would be insisting on the various potential deliverers of transport solutions doing their stuff in partnership.

Red and blue cranes at Seaforth Docks

Now don’t get me wrong Bootle Labour Party have been running from this issue as long as I can remember – 10 years or more I would guess. Trouble is Bootle Labour Party also run Sefton Council so their influence on this very controversial issue is everything. But as we have seen for a long time now sitting on the fence is about the best the Council has managed as it hopes the public will give Highways England a good baseball batting instead of them.

But all of this kicking the issue back into the long grass each time it rears its head is not leading a community it is hiding behind the community and leaving it to fight its own battles.

Interestingly, it seems that local Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson may be leaning towards those who oppose a new road being built down Rimrose Valley Country Park? Well at least that is my reading of his seemingly supporting an artist who is donating 10% of the sales from her work to the Rimrose Valley Friends Group who oppose the road planned through their County Park (Champion Newspaper 2nd March).

Where that puts Bootle Labour Party I don’t know but then again Sefton Central Labour and Bootle Labour not getting on is old news.

So that’s the politics of the issue but what about the proposals of Highways England? From listening to their representatives at the event in Maghull Library they appreciate only too well how controversial their proposed plans are and how Sefton Council is firmly sat on the fence. I got the impression they are doing their thing on their own because no one else is doing any wider more holistic consultation.

Their plans for the Dunningsbridge Road (A5036) could include flyovers or tunnels at the major junctions to enable traffic to flow far better than the present start stop caused by 7 sets of traffic lights. It could also include extra traffic lanes where it is possible to fit them in. They also see the lot of the pedestrian and cyclist as being a big issue and of the road in effect becoming even more of an un-crossable barrier (north/south) than it is now. It’s certainly not pedestrian or cyclist friendly now, so they are not wrong on that aspect.

One of the display posters in Maghull Library showing (dotted line) the potential route of the new road proposed by Highways England.

One of the display posters in Maghull Library showing (dotted line) the potential route of the new road proposed by Highways England.

With the proposed new road, I get the impression that Highways England think it has to be built as they were very clear that their thoughts are that the A5036 will not deliver enough freight capacity even if it is upgraded as far as is possible. To environmental campaigners like me this is a terrible prospect.

But what about the environmental issues. We all know that diesel particulate pollution of our air is a big issue and that with increased HGV traffic the only outcome can surely be more air pollution challenges. And how about noise and vibrations from rumbling HGV’s; that’s going to get worse too. There are not going to be any environmental positives here, only mitigations that will top-slice the worst of them. And that’s where rail and water come in, if the Port Access Steering Group is really going to lead a green solution.

If rail is going to be a serious solution, which I think it has to be, it will have to be electrified so that polluting diesel locomotives are not used. It means that the Bootle Branch will have to be brought back into use and new connections made at either end of it so that the national railway network can be accessed.

And then there’s the issue of taking barges up and down the Manchester Ship Canal to distribution facilities along it. Is this going to be much more than a token gesture? I hope not.

I fear that all the eggs are presently in the Highways England basket and with Sefton Council shuffling very uncomfortably on their fence it is going to take the good folks of Seaforth, Litherland, Netherton and Bootle to get their local leaders off that fence and fighting for them.

But even that is not the whole picture because of course Peel Ports want to build massive logistic facilities in Melling alongside the M57 and even further up the M58 in Skelmersdale. Wherever those facilities end up being built will mean huge HGV traffic flows in and around those communities too. So this involves folk in Melling, Aintree Village and beyond as well and even more high grade agricultural land being concreted over than is already proposed in Sefton Council’s awful Local Plan.

Seen in a field in Melling where locals are fighting the Peel Ports/Holdings proposals for a huge logistics park on what is presently farm land.

Seen in a field in Melling where locals are fighting the Peel Ports/Holdings proposals for a huge logistics park on what is presently farm land.

Is this going to be a huge economic boost for Sefton and a massive environmental disaster at the same time? But what if the port is unsuccessful in gaining the extra business that it is hoping for? In those circumstances it could be just one huge environmental disaster.

Very big issues here. Yes, as an environmental campaigner I am hugely sceptical of Highways England’s plans and proposals but this issue needs some leadership from Sefton Council. Are they listening?

Rimrose Valley – The road down the middle of it – The subject Labour has hoped would go away

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/public-meetings-over-proposed-200m-10842216

Rimrose Valley Country Park - Picture c/o the Liverpool Echo

Rimrose Valley Country Park – Picture c/o the Liverpool Echo

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above

I have posted about this many times before. My last posting is available below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/12/23/south-sefton-rimrose-valley-country-park/

This has long been the subject that Labour-led Sefton Council has not wanted to discuss let alone vote upon. Their approach seems to have been one of the odd bit of hand wringing, the odd mutter along the lines of -don’t talk about i – and a hope that the Highways Agency (now Highways England) will cop the blame for it. If that passes for community leadership then I’m a Dutchman.

But with a couple of info-leaflets doing the rounds in recent times from Highways England and now some public events it will be interesting to see Labour councillors hopping from one foot to the other whilst trying not to commit themselves. Or am I being too cynical?