Great divides? Community boundaries – Mean a lot, mean a little?

I have often pondered on boundaries especially those associated with local government. What forms a boundary, why was it chosen and who chose it?

Here are two boundaries close to my Lydiate home. One is with Maghull and the other with Aughton:-

Maghull Brook - On the left Lydiate (and me) - on the right Maghull.

Maghull Brook – On the left Lydiate (and me) – on the right Maghull.

Sudell Brook - On the left Lydiate - on the right Aughton

Sudell Brook – On the left Lydiate – on the right Aughton

In both cases the boundary is obviously a stream and this can often be the case with local government boundaries where watercourses have been chosen to divide communities up.

The boundary between Maghull and Lydiate simply divides the two Civil Parishes of Lydiate and Maghull and the only real obvious difference this creates is the amount of Council tax or Precept that the residents of these two communities pay to either Lydiate Parish Council or Maghull Town Council. Both Civil Parishes are in Sefton Borough and both are a part of the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside.

The Lydiate – Aughton boundary is of far greater significance though as it is all but an invisible barrier rather than a boundary because Aughton Civil Parish is in West Lancashire Borough and the County of Lancashire. The world does not look any different on either side of Sudell Brook but in fact it is as the Sefton Borough – West Lancashire boundary has, since 1974, become a local government barrier. Why you can almost hear senior council officers saying ‘we are a Metropolitan Borough [Sefton] and they are just a County’ and of course the reverse will apply too. Sadly, whilst I may well be exaggerating here the reality is that since 1974, in local government terms, Sefton’s communities and those in West Lancashire have mainly planned for their futures in glorious isolation – a great divide indeed.

Considering the massive boundary between West Lancashire and Sefton you would think there would be a huge amount of cross-border co-operation and planning for the joint communities. You would think so but I assure you there is not.

I recall during my time as Leader of Sefton Council I went to Ormskirk to meet the Leader of West Lancs Council to try to kick-start closer working relationships but it seems that those who followed us have not developed things further. What sense does separate transport planning in the two Boroughs make? Environmental protection issues must be similar surely? Health issues surely do not stop at a stream do they? Why we even have an NHS Hospital Trust on split between Southport and Ormskirk either side of the great divide.

I recall when Sefton and West Councils were planning for building on the Green Belt and on the highest grade of agricultural land in England that I started to ask questions about how closely the two two planning departments were sharing and consulting each other. The answers I got were hardly an example of close cooperation in my eyes and I wondered if the contact was little more that phone calls with one side saying ‘we are doing X’, ‘well we are doing y’, ‘OK speak again next year maybe’.

The bottom line is that Merseyside and Lancashire are very different worlds in local government terms. Is this something that is hammered into local government officers from an early age akin to religious indoctrination? Whatever the case it is very much to the disadvantage of communities which are near to a significant local government boundary in my view.

Ormskirk – End of the Line – Well end of two lines actually

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

The market town of Ormskirk (famous for its gingerbread and for having a very rare Parish Church with both a tower and a steeple) nestles in a rather awkward spot sandwiched between Preston, Southport, Liverpool, Skelmersdale and Wigan. And by awkward I mean with regard to its transport connections with surrounding communities. It also has one of the oddest present day railway configurations you could come up with (although it shares such a configuration with Kirkby on Merseyside as you will find out later in this posting) if you wanted to restrict folk’s ability to travel by train.

I tracked down some traditional Ormskirk gingerbread at DC Scott & Sons in Church Street and very nice it is too.

WP_20160430_15_56_43_Pro r

For reasons best known to the railway planners of the 1960’s the through Liverpool – Preston line was severed at Ormskirk. So now you can get a train from Liverpool to Ormskirk and return with a frequency of every 15 minutes most of the time. You can also get a train from Ormskirk to Preston and return with a frequency of, well let’s be polite, not very often! The trains even meet end on at Ormskirk Station with a noticeable few feet of former railway track that has been removed.

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

Ormskirk’s crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

And here’s a second shot of the missing link taken by my Flickr friend mwmbwls:-

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo by 'mwmbwls' borrowed from Flickr.

At face value those railway planners were seemingly keen for Ormskirk folk to go southwards towards Liverpool but not at all keen for the Town’s residents to travel northwards towards Preston. That’s pretty much the only conclusion you can come up with. Or could it be that the good Berger’s of Preston said look do us a favour British Rail keep that Ormskirk lot out of our community by offering them a really poor train service to Preston. Or could it even be that Ormskirk folk have deep seated reasons not to want to go to Preston? Neither of these possibilities is realistic and in the real world faceless railway planners just beggared things up in an era when running down our railways was the popular sport of the day.

Talk now is of the 15 minute frequency electrified line from Liverpool being extended deeper into rural West Lancashire to reach Burscough and ultimately even on to Preston. Well to be fair there has been talk of this for 30 years or more but less than nothing has happened so far.

The same ‘visionary’ railway severing was also visited on Kirby in Merseyside. There at Kirkby Station, on the Liverpool – Wigan line is a similar missing section of track. But, like with the Ormskirk – Preston Line, there is now talk of extending the electrified railway to Skelmersdale, which will even mean a couple of miles of brand new track bed will have to be laid where no track has been before. Radical transport planning indeed although it’s worth remembering that Skelmersdale (the old town) did once have a railway and station (on the former Ormskirk – St Helens line) but it was abandoned and built on for the Skem New Town. Yes, Skem was deliberately built without a railway connection and Station in the 1960’s and 1970’s but unsurprisingly it now needs one.

But returning to Ormskirk which is in West Lancashire and a part of Lancashire County i.e. it is not a part of Merseyside like Liverpool and Southport*. You may be starting to get my drift here in that Lancashire County Council’s transport planners are responsible for how folks get in and out of Ormskirk so why have they not addressed the ridiculous railway severing? It’s not as if they have not had time to get around to it; they’ve had since local government re-organisation in 1974. That’s over 40 years!

As a transport planning body goes Lancashire County Council must be a rum lot because neither have they addressed the need to reconnect the Burscough Curves where the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines cross each other just west of Burscough. Just a few hundred yards of track being put back would mean that Ormskirk folk could go to Southport by train. Wouldn’t that be nice.

It’s the lack of vision that beggars belief especially as Ormskirk can be very congested at times of good weather because drivers from far and wide are trying to navigate its narrow roads to get to Southport. So yes you’ve guessed it Lancashire’s County Council has not come up with a credible package to have a by-pass around the Town east to west either but that’s another story.

By rail Ormskirk is only well connected to Liverpool. It’s poorly connected to Preston and not connected at all to Southport, Skem or Wigan. You could not make this up. It’s a funny old transport world in that oft forgotten part of Lancashire called West Lancs. Time to go chew on a piece of gingerbread me thinks.

* West Lancashire does have an ‘associate’ seat at the Liverpool City Region table but that seems to mean they get to watch what goes on (usually a lot of bickering, if we understand how Merseyside politics works or probably does not work) without having to buy a ticket. In other words poor old West Lancs is a second class passenger at that table.

Both of my photos are amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Southport & West Lancs – Its transport deficit

www.southportvisiter.co.uk/news/southport-west-lancs/we-need-better-transport-forgotten-11053533

This is an issue I have covered many times before but the link above to an article in the Southport Visiter is well worth a read.

Interesting to see a Tory MP getting involved (although it has to be said that she also voted for the cuts to disability allowances recently on the very very down side) in this issue. To date it has seemed to have fallen to John Pugh the Lib Dem MP for Southport to lead the fight with Rosie Cooper the Labour MP for West Lancashire helping him out, to push this transport issue forward.

John Pugh MP

But this is not just about Transport because there is every chance that by creating powerful City Regions based on cities like Manchester and Liverpool that surrounding towns and communities will be even more marginalised than they have been previously.

I have posted about how Merseytravel the public transport body for the Liverpool City Region is not stepping up to the plate for Southport. Is that because it is a Liverpool based organisation? Why can’t it stand with Southport folk who are trying to stop their trains to Manchester Piccadilly being re-routed to Manchester Victoria Station? Is it because Southport is not important to Liverpool’s politicians? Sadly I think we all feel we may know the answers to these questions.

So good luck to John Pugh and his rainbow coalition of MP’s in their quest. Without such campaigning everything will get sucked into the major cities. Some devolution deal!

Lancashire Enterprise Partnership – The Lancashire Strategic Transport Prospectus – Posting 2 – We are not connected to Southport!

My first posting on this prospectus of a few days ago is available via this link:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/02/17/lancashire-enterprise-partnership-the-lancashire-strategic-transport-prospectus-january-2016-posting-1-the-superport-implications/

Moving on page 19 of this weighty document is a map of Lancashire and some of its surrounding areas and Sefton gets a mention. Well a mention is putting it a bit strongly – the word Sefton is on the map and it is right where you would expect to see the name Southport!

Having said that even within West Lancashire Ormskirk and Burscough are not named on this map, although Skelmersdale is. Oh and the title of the map ‘ Lancashire’s arc of prosperity’.

Sadly, this map probably confirms the theory that I have had for some years in that council boundaries seem to be seen as barriers to pretty much everything. How on earth can the communities of West Lancashire develop when those in the north and east of Sefton Borough (Southport, Formby, Maghull, Lydiate etc.) are in a different plan? It makes no sense at all.

The Burscough Curves are in West Lancashire. This historic shot of them is from when they were in place in 1960's. How come the reinstatement of the curves and the Southport - Wigan Manchester line does not get a mention in the LEP Transport Prospectus?

The Burscough Curves are in West Lancashire. This historic shot of them is from when they were in place in 1960’s. How come the reinstatement of the curves and the Southport – Wigan Manchester line does not get a mention in the LEP Transport Prospectus?

Strangely though on page 34 there is acknowledge of the need to connect (by rail) Skelmersdale to Liverpool so why not the need to connect Southport to Ormskirk and Preston?

More on this in posting 3 to come along soon.

Lancashire Enterprise Partnership – The Lancashire Strategic Transport Prospectus January 2016 – Posting 1 – The SuperPort implications

There’s some interesting, encouraging and indeed worrying information (or the lack of it) in this 47 page prospectus. I will cover the various aspects in 3 separate postings because they are all worth a mention in their own right.

The words Norther Powerhouse litter the document as they seem to every public sector paper from t’north these days. I assume this is to either keep or get George Osborne on side rather than the authors being enthusiastic about it?

The first thing that jumped out at me was a reference to Skelmersdale on page 12 not least because of the connection with the Liverpool SuperPort project. The relevant text says this:-

Skelmersdale in West Lancashire is closely linked to the Merseyside economy and is able to offer major sites for logistics and distribution companies keen to take advantage of the opportunities being generated by the opening of Liverpool SuperPort. This is supported by research commissioned by Peel Ports and the Liverpool City Region has highlighted the need to increase large market-attractive sites to take advantage of Atlantic Gateway opportunities.

rsz_1aintree__melling_sites

This is interesting not because it is new news but because it shows how far the tentacles of the SuperPort project spread. Readers will probably know that a huge piece of Green Belt/high grade agricultural land in Melling, next to the M57, is firmly on Peel Ports agenda for similar purposes and that Sefton Council has, for now, kicked the issue into the long grass.

rsz_photo0839

The problem will of course be how all the freight that lands in either or both of Melling and Skem actually gets to Seaforth Docks. Of course this will all have to happen in reverse too. The A5036 is the only road from the ends of the M57 and M58 motorways. Fools some years ago took up the rail connection and Highways England are now promoting a new road straight down the middle of Sefton’s Rimrose Valley Country Park as their preferred option to addresses the ‘need’ for a new freight route!

Never has so much Green Belt and green space been under more threat in Sefton, than via these proposals and of course Sefton Council’s own appalling Local Plan.

Sefton Council – We will try to build the houses on another Council’s patch

This is my 4th and for the moment last posting about the huge house building problem that will seemingly be foisted on the Borough of Sefton and more precisely on Maghull, Lydiate, Aintree and Melling if our Labour rulers can’t find an out of Borough solution.

My last posting is available via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/07/08/sefton-borough-what-on-earth-do-you-do-when-you-may-need-to-build-up-to-1290-houses-per-year-in-the-borough/

The report of council officers to our Sefton Labour rulers says ‘in order to meet a significantly higher land requirement it would be likely that land would have to be identified in adjacent Boroughs’. Those adjacent Boroughs are West Lancashire (which Sefton has by a long way the biggest boundary), Knowsley and Liverpool – from where the crisis seems to have been created, via poor counting in the first place! The officers go on to tell the comrades about the ‘Duty to Co-operate’ with neighbouring Councils. Now then where have we read about that before?

Here I am at Lambshear Lane Lydiate checking out farm land that is coming under threat from house building.

Here I am at Lambshear Lane Lydiate checking out farm land that is coming under threat from house building.

We read about it in earlier submissions made in opposition to Labour’s Local Plan for Sefton because we Lib Dems were accusing the Council and indeed its neighbouring authorities of all but ignoring this duty to co-operate! But now the ‘duty to co-operate’ is all of a sudden an imperative. Well the record on this ‘duty’ is poor in my view so how much hope can we really hold of West Lancashire Borough Council and Knowsley Borough Council chipping in to build a few thousand houses for Sefton on their own patches?

But are we missing an obvious solution here i.e. building the extra houses in Liverpool? Well yes we may be but thereby hangs the other problem, it is folk wanting to leave Liverpool to live in Sefton that seemingly creates the crisis in the first place, or so we being told. Surely that means that if the houses are built anywhere but in Sefton (Maghull, Lydiate, Aintree & Melling) then they will be in the wrong place? Answers on a post card to Sefton’s Planning Department who seem to be in need of some inspiration!

Oh and by the way Knowsley and Liverpool are also part of the Liverpool City Region (West Lancs is only a non-voting member of it) with Sefton and is that not the same City Region where the Labour Council Leaders could probably not agree much at all? Will ‘Duty to co-operate’ really trump the usual Labour turf wars?

Those statisticians with their ever moving figures and guesstimates may well have pointed a loaded gun at the communities that make up Sefton East Parishes and the Labour rulers of Sefton. Watch this space as the crisis develops.