Southport and its railways – a victim of the 1960’s Beeching era and Local Government reorganisation of the 1970’s.

The 1960’s loss of the Southport – Preston Line, should it still be there, would be laughed at these days but gone it has even though it was electrified to Crossens. It must rank as one of the most bizarre Beeching era losses.

Then in the 1970’s Southport suffered again, this time at the hands of local government reorganisation. Many hold the view that Southport was added into Merseyside as a party political fix and this is probably the case because the Borough of Sefton, which I led for 7 years, is geographically most odd. It is that odd geography that has caused a continuing and ongoing transport problem for Southport.

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

This photo is amongst my Flickr photo’s at
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Having lost its rail connection to the north the Town has been left with one high quality line to Liverpool and one poor quality one to Wigan and on to Manchester. The problem being that virtually all of the line east of Southport is in West Lancashire where Lancashire County Council is the transport authority. So to get the Southport – Wigan line upgraded it clearly needs West Lancs Borough and Lancashire County Councils to make it a priority – they have failed to do that ever since 1974 when the Merseyside – Lancashire boundary was erected. I say failed but, from their perspective, why should they look upon the Southport tourist economy as being a priority as Southport is not in Lancashire’s area of responsibility.

Then there’s the Burscough Curves; two very short sections of curved track that if reconnected could bring back a Southport – Preston railway service and a Southport – Ormskirk service to boot. Again, this is not a priority for Lancashire’s politicians and seemingly may never be such, but it is a huge priority for Southport.

So Southport at least from a rail perspective as lost out all ways round and finding a solution when that solution is in Lancashire has proved to be all but an insurmountable barrier for 40 years, despite the campaigning of Southport’s MP’s and its councillors.

When the railways first reached Southport Manchester businessman came to live in the Town because of its excellent rail links to Manchester – excellent is not what you would call the service these days!

My contention is that until the West Lancashire area becomes a unitary authority and joins the other Merseyside Authorities as an equal partner Southport’s rail challenges may not be given much more than tea and sympathy. And sadly this seems to have been the stance of Merseytravel (the Passenger Transport Authority, then Integrated Transport Authority and now little more than a Committee of the Merseyside Joint Authorities) since 1974.

Southport has been served up a raw deal in the modern day rail era but, we must not let the challenges daunt us, tough though they may be. The Southport economy will continue to be held back if the battle is not eventually won.

The original article was written for OPSTA’s magazine ‘Connexion’ of April 2014.

www.opsta.btck.co.uk/

Sefton Liberal Democrat Councillors response to Lancashire County Council’s West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan

Our 20 strong political Group on Sefton Council has made the following submission to Lancashire County Council in response to their draft West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan. We have made it in the context of our concerns about transport difficulties in accessing Southport from the east and north – see previous posts on this subject.

January 2014

Taking the major points from the Masterplan over which we take a differing view to the draft document our comments are as follows:-

Traffic management within and direct traffic through Ormskirk

The Plan says 3 significant things:-

1 Tackle congestion in Ormskirk town centre, building on options outlined in a recent study to manage and reduce traffic, focused on making walking and cycling more attractive options, including a new and innovative cycle hire scheme.

2 A complementary route management plan would realise the potential of a new Thornton to Switch Island link road in Sefton to provide a better route for traffic travelling between the M58 and Southport.

3 The plan rules out pursuing a bypass of Ormskirk as a recent study has shown current congestion is largely caused by local traffic, limiting the benefit of a bypass and meaning that a combination of other proposals as outlined in the Masterplan will be more effective.

Our view is that the market Town of Ormskirk remains a traffic barrier for vehicles travelling from the M58 to and from Southport. This is a long term problem but one that the Masterplan does not effectively address in our opinion.

We can understand the wish to try to encourage Ormskirk residents to walk and cycle more but doubt that as a realist ambition it will have the step change effect that is required to substantially reduce traffic in and around the Town centre.

We also doubt that the somewhat optimistic suggestion that Southport bound traffic will use the soon to be built Thornton to Switch Island will be a game changer either as the length of the route to Switch Island and then on to Southport is considerable. This is not a realistic solution or even partial solution to the problems faced by M58 – Southport traffic and congestion within Ormskirk. It can only have benefits at the margins.

Our firm view is that the economy of Southport and its tourist trade in particular will continue to be held back if a long term highway solution is not found to counter the narrow and congested roads within Ormskirk.

Rail solutions are also required

The Plan makes three significant points:-

1 Investigate options and prepare a business case for electrification of the Ormskirk to Preston railway line to fulfil its potential as a commuter route.

2 The plan also makes the case that it would not be feasible at present to pursue reinstatement of the railway curves at Burscough due to lack of a robust business case, but that nothing will be done to stop them being reopened in future if circumstances change.

3 Linking Skelmersdale to the rail network with a new rail station and bus interchange in the town centre.

We are fully supportive of the first point but would also wish to make the case for similar treatment of the Southport – Wigan Line i.e. that it needs serious investment to better serve the rural population of West Lancashire and the tourist economy of Southport. Whether the line can be electrified needs to be assessed but with potential changes within Greater Manchester to the line that is presently used by trains from Southport and West Lancs to access Manchester and its airport we need to seriously look at all upgrade options. If Greater Manchester improves the line from Manchester through to Atherton in a way that makes the present service from West Lancs and Southport to Manchester one that may need to truncated at Wigan then the economies of Southport and West Lancs will be put at a considerable disadvantage.

We also remain sceptical of negative thinking about the Burscough Curves because the advantage to communities in both Sefton and West Lancs of remaking the connections could be considerable. With the possibility of running trains from Ormskirk to Southport and Southport to Preston the reinstatement of the curves is far too greater a prize for Sefton, Lancashire CC and West Lancashire to put to one side. Indeed, the prize is of far wider benefit as communities on the eastern side of Sefton such as Aintree Village and Maghull could easily get a train that started in Liverpool and reached Southport via Ormskirk and Burscough. We urge Lancashire CC and West Lancashire Councils to reconsider shelving the Burscough Curves and to relaunch the campaign to get them reconnected via a partnership with Merseytravel, Liverpool City Region and rail campaign group OPSTA.

With regard to the 3rd issue, the provision of a rail connection into Skelmersdale, we are supportive of this project although realising it will be one requiring a massive financial investment. For it to work properly it will however require the presently truncated line at Kirkby to be opened up so that electric trains can run right through to Wigan as well as serving Skelmersdale. If Kirkby remains the end of the Merseyrail electrified service the advantages of reconnecting Skelmersdale to the rail network after many, many years will be far less effective.

And whilst making comments on the excellent idea of reconnecting Skelmersdale with the railway system we can’t but note that reconnecting the Burscough Curves and making significant improvements in the Southport, Burscough, Wigan, Manchester route would be of a far less expensive. Our point here is to suggest that in aiming for the Skelmersdale connection whilst shelving the more financially modest but equally important other project is missing a vital opportunity.

Finally, we would draw attention of readers of this consultation response to the motion discussed and agreed at the Sefton Council meeting held on 23rd January 2014 which tried to address issues raised in the West Lancs Highways and Transportation Masterplan and wider ones in the Sefton/West Lancashire transportation area.

“This Council
(1) welcomes new investment in road and rail but is concerned that the transport plans of local transport authorities, including that of Lancashire County Council, should give appropriate priority to the transport needs of the Borough of Sefton and people travelling into the Borough from places outside Merseyside
(2) recognises the economic importance to the Borough of transport links to Lancashire and Greater Manchester
(3) commits itself to work in conjunction with West Lancashire Borough Council and Lancashire County Council to engage further with neighbouring transport authorities to ensure these links are preserved and enhanced
(4) requires a report to be prepared for and submitted to Cabinet at an early date indicating how these aims may best be achieved.”

Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne
Lib Dem Leader
Sefton MBC

Ruff Wood Ormskirk

This small but pleasant woodland area to the east of Ormskirk is behind Edge Hill University and close to a local landmark water tower that can be seen from miles away.

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An interesting web page from West Lancs Council:-
www.westlancs.gov.uk/leisure__tourism/parks_and_play_areas/countryside_parks/ruff_wood,_ormskirk.aspx

How about this, a Water Tower Appreciation Society:-
bwtas.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/ormskirks-water-towers.html

Here are two shots of the wood taken a couple of weeks ago. At its heart is an old stone quarry, the vertical walls of which can be clearly seen.

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