Southport – Betting on a bright future for our local seaside town

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its website – see link below

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/seven-reasons-2019-could-southports-15593282

A really positive article here which can only help our local seaside town – well done Liverpool Echo

Sunset -As seen from the end of Southport Pier

But what else could help Southport develop its potential? Well, a bypass around Ormskirk would be a big boost as would regaining the once excellent rail link to Wigan and Manchester which has seen very poor services in recent times.

Remember Southport was built on the success of its railway connection to the east because Manchester business people came to live in the Town due to its once excellent and reliable trains to Manchester. Restoring reliable, comfortable, fast and regular trains on this line could work wonders for Southport. And reconnecting Southport to the north and Preston would be a welcome positive step as well and all it will take is the rebuilding of a short section of connecting track at Burscough.

Departure board at Southport Station.

The Liverpool City Region and indeed Sefton Council needs to stop looking at the Lancashire boundary, which surrounds most of Southport, as a no-go barrier and instead see it as an opportunity. For too long Southport has been held back by an invisible on the ground local government boundary. The transport solutions to help Southport develop are mostly in Lancashire and it’s not rocket science to see what they are!

Sefton Focus Review of 2018

It’s always interesting to look back at a year just ending – lessons can always be learned from history (even very recent history) but that’s a piece of traditional advice many of our present-day politicians really seem to struggle with.

So let’s look back at the past 12 months via 12 Sefton Focus postings – each month has a link back to my original posting. It’s my personal take on 2018:-

January – A celebration of everything Hornby:-

In the Hornby Room at Meadows Leisure Centre Maghull – Michael Portillo with Frank Hornby Trust Chairman Les French as seen on TV this year.

Well, I had to start this review with the TV programme which put Maghull firmly on the map. I refer of course to the Town being a part of one of Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys celebrating the life and works of Maghull’s most famous resident – Toy maker Frank Hornby:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/01/18/maghull-hornby-as-seen-on-tv/

February – Pavement Politics:-

We Libs are known for our ‘pavement politics’ so it’s no surprise that in February I was going on about pot-holes! Sadly, as we shall see later, a pot-holed/poorly maintained road which I mentioned back in Feb’ ended up being a contributory factor to a cyclist’s death later in the year.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/02/26/the-state-of-our-road-surfaces-on-your-bike/

March – Youth and CAB make way for Police:-

The move of Maghull’s Police Station from Westway into Maghull Town Hall, facilitated by Labour-run Maghull Town Council, made my blood boil because a successful CAB help point (still not replaced when we were told it would be) and a unique youth facility (a Youth Coffee Bar run by local young people) were both lost to make way for the boys and girls in blue.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/03/24/maghull-cheering-on-the-new-police-station-no-remembering-what-we-lost-to-rehouse-the-police/

April – Oh for decent services on the Southport-Wigan-Manchester line:-

Departure board at Southport Station.

Railways have always been of great interest to me and I’ve been a member of OPSTA for many years now. Their campaigning to bring about a decent train service from Southport to Wigan and Manchester has been long-running and as I type it still is. This was the state of things back in April BEFORE the complete melt-down of the May timetable changes. Note – I think it fair to say that Merseytravel have now upped their game a little regarding services on this line but the reliability of it (It’s run by Northern Trains) is still very poor indeed.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/04/18/southport-loss-of-trains-to-manchester-airport-and-piccadilly-seems-merseytravel-has-form-here/

May – Did Merseytram burn Merseytravel’s fingers?:-

This promotional Merseytram bookmark is about all that Liverpool City Region has to show for its big tram ideas.

In May I mused about the lack of significant public transportation developments across the Liverpool City Region and pondered on whether the failed Merseytram project burnt Merrsytravel’s fingers too hard.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/05/25/merseytravel-did-merseytram-knock-the-stuffing-out-of-innovative-progressive-transport-planning-in-the-city-region/

June – Canal Breach in Melling:-

The Leeds Liverpool Canal breached in the Waddicar part of Melling during June, stopping the many pleasure boats that use the canal during the summer season. The canal was closed for quite a few weeks whilst repairs were undertaken by the canal and River Trust.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/06/13/melling-canal-breach-this-mornings-photos/

July – How accessible is the new Maghull North Station?:-

I penned this posting a few weeks after the new station was opened. The level accessible route into the station has now been provided although there’s still no dropped kerb for cyclists off School Lane.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/07/23/maghull-its-new-north-station-an-accessible-interchange/

August – The sad death of a local Councillor and cyclist:-

The August posting links directly back to the one I highlighted in February i.e. the fatal accident involving Melling Parish Councillor Alion Doyle who was cycling on one of the lanes in Aughton which I raised concerns about back then. A stretch of this lane, maybe a 100 yards or so, is still in terrible condition this December and I have raised this with Lancashire County Council. Such a sad loss of life. RIP Allison Doyle.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/08/20/aughton-fatal-accident-on-bold-lane/

September – The battle against fracking:-

Being an environmental campaigner the battle against Fracking is important to me as it is to many others. This month’s chosen posting is about Lydiate Parish Council gaining information from the volunteer campaigners against fracking. And yes, Lydiate PC did subsequently agree to put £500 to one side to help the volunteer Moss Alliance with their legal costs.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/09/27/lydiate-parish-council-gets-insight-into-fracking/

October – Building on high-grade agricultural land, which feeds us, is the politics of the madhouse:-

The vast Maghull East urban extension (presently high grade agricultural land) site as seen from Poverty Lane, Maghull

Another environmental campaign that I feel passionately about. That governments and councils (of any political colour) can allow building on the highest grades of agricultural land, which grows the food we eat, is utterly mad to me – a subject I have blogged about many, many times…..

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/10/15/we-import-50-of-our-food-now-do-opposition-politicians-get-why-i-keep-banging-on-about-saving-high-grade-agricultural-land-from-development/

November – Ormskirk to Preston Line – The worst performing in the UK?:-

Ormskirk Station – The train in the foreground is Preston bound (when it’s not being replaced by a bus). The one behind it is Liverpool bound.

As the year dragged on for the poor long-suffering passengers of Northern Rail questions began to be asked about whether the line from Ormskirk to Preston could possibly be the worst performing in the UK. The question was taken up by BBC News with particular reference to a whole week without a single train running on the line. Performance can only improve in 2019, it just could not get any worse.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/11/23/northern-trains-could-the-ormskirk-preston-line-be-the-most-poorly-performing-in-the-uk/

December – The battle to try to save Rimrose Valley Country Park from Highways England’s plans for a new road:-

Idyllic view of Rimrose Valley Country Park

And to close 2018 a subject I have oft-blogged about, the campaign to try to stop Highway’s England building a new road to the Port of Liverpool through Rimrose Valley Country Park. There have been many angles which I have reported on but the bizarre tangle Sefton Council’s Tory Group have got themselves into takes a lot of beating.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/12/04/rimrose-valley-country-park-are-sefton-tories-backing-highways-england-plan-for-new-road-through-it/

Northern Franchise trains are really struggling at present, so much so….

northernfailapp.co.uk/

So much so that one disgruntled traveller has created the app – available via the link above – to record the failings of the north’s biggest train operating company. You may wish to access the app if you travel on Northern’s trains.

With thanks to Alan for the lead to this posting

City Regions and their Metro Mayors – Middle aged white men! Big diversity issues here but the concept of City Regions is flawed too

ciltuk.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Focus/Mayors.pdf?utm_source=http%3a%2f%2fciltemail.org.uk%2fcilt2011lz%2f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Focus+_+May+_+2018&utm_term=How+have+the+metro+mayors+changed+British+politics%3f+%7c+May%27s+Focus+is+out+now!&utm_content=22855&gator_td=iT217sLHzHCoAXs18511elTuBZj1y%2bUBNsQ2o7DKf48Ic4IydWBQNaS7%2fFOG2l2wyKQc4JXZU1IwHtb%2bpWgqMLq5FmgGg%2b0arS69lo9I6mhxB3EwtEt8pRb3rC8KyWS2Hs0%2bO4QDHRDiyF8uROrzpNskgsTlxZ1gq3d5tjGKKoeO55z6Y6P5Szll43dbyFFILza%2fFcHZo3LJ9DDTp8PbDQ%3d%3d

The article is on the web site of Logistic and Transport Focus and is available via the link above

So many white middle aged men, yet most of them will be representing very ethnically diverse regions of England – regions where around 50% of the population will also be women I might add. A diversity disaster is my first thought.

I have always opposed the concept of City Regions and elected Mayors for a number of reasons. I don’t support the idea of concentrating power in the hands of one person, whomever that person may be, as it is a poor form of representation which does not deliver good democracy. Secondly, the devolved powers (certainly as far as the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside are concerned) are 2nd or even 3rd rate. But probably more than anything else I see power and resources being pulled into the heart of a City Region often at the expense of its surrounding towns and communities.

I can’t comment of the other City Regions as I’m not well enough informed but looking at my own Liverpool City Region I see two obvious examples of a pull to the centre and a disregard of an important issue to an outlying town.

The pull to the centre is the removal of around 3,000 civil servants from a deprived area into Liverpool City Centre. The losing community here is Bootle where a mini-Whitehall had been established over many years starting in the 1960’s. Yes some civil servants will be left in Bootle but why on earth take 3,000 of them out to place them in a crowded city centre where property is more expensive and the parking charges faced by poorly paid civil servants are high. Surely a lose lose situation especially when you take away the spending power of 3,000 workers from the Bootle retail economy. What did the Liverpool City Regional do about this? Well whatever it was it was ineffective because decisions made in the real Whitehall could not be overturned? Or was it that despite the huffing the puffing by the powers that be locally it actually suited some to concentrate jobs in Liverpool City Centre?

My second example is of an outlying Liverpool City Region Town effectively being left all but unsupported, by any meaningful regional intervention, over an important transport link. The link is the railway line and service from Southport to Wigan, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport which is about to suffer from a poorer service due to decisions being made by Network Rail, Northern Rail and the railway industry generally. The problem has been known about for a long time so it has not been a quick decision that has been difficult to address in a short timescale. Yet the main campaigners against the move to downgrade Southport’s rail service to Manchester have been two voluntary organisations – OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Assn) and Southport Rail Transport Forum. Where exactly has the Liverpool City Region and its Transport Committee Merseytravel been during this process and what have they done to defend the loss of an important rail link to Manchester Airport and a much reduced service to Manchester Piccadilly? But looking back further to when the Liverpool City Region produced its first Long Term Rail Strategy the Southport – Wigan – Manchester Line did not even get a mention! That had to challenged and it was (successfully to some degree) but the 2nd iteration of this plan, published only last October, clearly makes the line little more than less than important to the City Region.

So my view remains that the concept of City Regions and City Region Mayors is badly flawed and that it can work to the disadvantage of towns surrounding a big city area. That neglect can manifest itself by things being drawn towards the centre or by issues in outlying towns being all but ignored. Look at it like this City Regions, as they are presently set up, are a bit like the overheated economy of the South East – a magnet for money to the City with crumbs from the city’s table finding its way to the outlying areas. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that as a rule of thumb any investment in an outlying City Region area will only happen if it is also to the advantage of the main hub.

Oh and just in case you’ve forgotten the other big issue – the City Region Mayors are all middle aged white men, just think on that.

Note – Both of the examples I have focused on above are within Sefton Borough

Southport – Loss of trains to Manchester Airport and Piccadilly, seems Merseytravel has form here!

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.

Sefton Council’s opposition leader on Southport’s loss of rail services

Southport Station

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!