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.
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.
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.
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.
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?