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Climate change, economics and how not to do things.

On Friday, 12th October, 2018 Peter Dowd MP hosted a meeting at his constituency office with the aim of bringing Rimrose Valley to the attention of the Shadow Cabinet and therefore taking us a step closer to getting our message heard at Westminster.

As well as inviting Rimrose Valley Friends, key members of Sefton Council were also present, including Council Leader, Ian Maher.

The reason for this, particular meeting was because we had the opportunity to meet Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South. You may recognise him from his former roles as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, followed by Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Currently Shadow Minister for the Treasury, he has recently been tasked by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, to develop Labour Party policy in relation to sustainable economics.

Clive Lewis MP

Peter felt that this tied in nicely to the position in which we find ourselves and had contacted Clive, asking whether he would come to visit the area, learn more about Highways England’s plans for Rimrose Valley, the wider context and to meet some of the people involved

It was an interesting and thought-provoking meeting.

Peter Dowd MP

Clive Lewis began by giving some additional background to his role, which is to define how a Labour government would introduce a radical carbon reduction plan, including the transport sector. He explained that the backdrop to this is that there is a growing consensus amongst scientists that the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change doesn’t go far enough and that Government policy should be more ambitious in its attempts to address its effects.

He explained that, as a country, we need to both decarbonise and protect environmental biodiversity.

So, why is all of this relevant to Highways England’s Port of Liverpool Access Scheme?

Well, based on what he has learned of the public consultation, he believes that neither option we were presented with would receive funding from a Labour government.

He stated that all options would need to be far more environmentally sound in order to secure UK Government funding and that the surface road options we were presented with would fail on the grounds of both sustainability and decarbonisation.

This was extremely encouraging to hear and also offers a different perspective to our problem.

Whilst it is relatively simple for us to understand the impact a new road would have on our health and wellbeing, as well as the immeasurable loss of our cherished green space, this was an acknowledgement of the wider impacts that building more roads brings.

It isn’t simply the people of the region who will suffer, but also the wider country and, yes, the planet as a whole.

It is particularly telling that, in all of Highways England’s communications to date, climate change and sustainability have not even been mentioned.

You may remember that Friends of the Earth’s response to the public consultation in February 2017 [1] called the Government Agency out on this:

“The public consultation does not mention climate change at all. What are the impacts of both options on greenhouse gas emissions?

How will port expansion and associated road building or widening lead to a reduction in emissions in line with the requirements of the Climate Change Act, UK carbon budgets and the Paris Agreement?

The transport sector is a key contributor to UK greenhouse gas emissions, and as such the failure to even consider the climate change impacts of the road schemes presented is a major omission.”

How has Highways England responded to these questions?

Complete silence.

Seemingly, the wider environmental impact isn’t even on its radar. It sees itself as having only one job to do: to enable more HGVs to come to and from the Port of Liverpool, with mention of wider benefits to the region seemingly thrown in to appease those who oppose its plans.

The fact that its preferred route destroys a Country Park and ploughs past houses, nurseries and schools is, well, irrelevant.

It has neither the desire, nor the will, to go back to the UK Government and demand more money in order to do a proper job, which would protect the public’s health and the environment.

We are often left wondering; would senior management at Highways England be happy with a similar scheme in their towns, near their homes, schools and workplaces, polluting their air and taking away their green space?

Would they sit back and let it happen? Or, would they call for better options to be put forward?

Food for thought.

But we digress…

The meeting moved on and Clive Lewis wanted to learn more about Sefton Council’s position in all of this. Specifically, he wanted to better understand how it balanced the Port of Liverpool’s expansion – and the assumed bonuses of trade, jobs and wealth creation it brings – with the its duty to protect public health and a desire to preserve green space.

Leader of Sefton Council, Ian Maher

Council Leader, Ian Maher, explained how Sefton Council vehemently opposes the plans put forward by Highways England and how he feels they have been misled, both by Highways England and Peel Ports, who operate the Port of Liverpool.

He referenced earlier meetings back in 2014 in which Peel Ports made promises of significant developments in sea and rail freight infrastructure to support the Port’s expansion, including increased use of the Manchester Ship Canal. It is his view that these claims have since been made to look ridiculous, with neither option having been developed in any, meaningful way. There has simply been no, concerted attempt to take HGVs off the region’s roads.

Cllr Maher went on to state that he believes the people of Sefton are being short changed and that the only real beneficiary from the road is Peel Ports, with NO tangible benefits to the local community. Rather, the opposite; there will be a huge, long-lasting and negative impact on the public’s health and well-being.

He explained that, given the Port’s expansion was going to happen and that this would have a negative effect on traffic congestion, the Council were in a position of having to “make the best of a bad deal” and therefore pushed for a fully bored tunnel option or a “cut and cover” to be included in the consultation.

In its dealings with Highways England, he stated that they were assured that this would be the case. The fact that it wasn’t even presented to the public is what has formed the basis of the Council’s Judicial Review, on which we await the Judge’s ruling.

Even though any tunnel option represents another new road, the Council’s position is that it at least saves the green space and allows for emissions to be controlled via the use of filters on ventilation shafts.

It was therefore the “best” option available, NOT for the Port of Liverpool or Highways England, but for the people of the region and for the environment. He concluded that the £250 million budget allocated to the scheme was never going to be enough to do a proper job when compared to similar schemes in the South, but that Highways England has always used this as their reasoning for not pursuing a tunnel option.

Since the route was announced, the Council has sought to block and frustrate Highways England at every turn, refusing access to the land for its proposed exploratory work.

Rimrose Valley. Photo: John Hegarty

In response, Clive Lewis picked up on the £250m budget and said that he was aware of Highways England’s existing cost-benefit criteria, agreed that it is too narrow and that it doesn’t take into account the wider costs to communities and health services. He stated that the criteria would be revisited under a Labour government and that less tangible costs would be considered.

However, he acknowledged that this doesn’t help us in the here and now.

He was particularly interested to learn that the Port of Liverpool’s expansion hasn’t been universally welcomed with open arms by the Council and the communities in which it operates. Having heard that the vast majority of the freight will be loaded onto trucks and moved around the country, he could see that many of the economic benefits will be felt elsewhere, not within the locality and understood how this could leave the local population feeling short-changed.

He was also surprised to learn that many view the Port’s expansion and promised investment and job creation as a red herring. Cllr Trish Hardy, Cabinet Member for Communities and Housing said that the latest “guesstimate” is that just 80 to 120 highly skilled jobs will be created as a result of the Port’s expansion. She added that any lower skilled jobs which may previously have existed at the Port have been lost to automation.

Both she and Cllr Ian Maher have, at various points in recent years, heard Peel Ports talk about figures of 20,000 jobs across the North West as a result of the Port’s expansion and regeneration across the region.

They are yet to understand where these will come from. Clive Lewis agreed that such claims were highly questionable.

This echoes many of the views we hear on our social media forums, so it was good to learn that the Council shares these concerns.

We then had an opportunity to provide a brief update on our campaign, progress made to date and the challenges that we face.

We explained how we feel that Highways England’s conduct has been unacceptable from the outset. We talked about the public consultation and how we believe the Government Agency clearly took a “divide and conquer” approach in presenting just two, equally poor options, aimed at dividing communities. We talked about how we feel our suspicion was backed up by its subsequent actions in spending public money on an artist’s impressions of how the existing A5036 route could be transformed in the future. The Council confirmed that Highways England has absolutely no power or say in whether or not this would be delivered. Clive Lewis was extremely sympathetic to this view.

We then updated him on the recent “Hands Across the Valley” demonstration, the incredible turnout, the publicity it attracted and the fact that it was the largest anti-road demonstration in recent memory [2]. We wanted to try and convey just how much opposition is out there. We explained that we feel we have made big steps in raising awareness and encouraging the surrounding communities to engage with the campaign, to fight for the park’s future and that this needs to continue.

We concluded, however, with the warning that we are up against the clock and that we need help to reach decision-makers at Westminster, as it is only those in power who are in a position to stop this. We therefore welcomed any influence he may be able to bring about, specifically, getting this on the agenda of the Shadow Transport and Environment Secretaries.

There then followed a brief update on the Judicial Review from David McCullough, Sefton Council’s Chief Legal Officer. He confirmed that the case is a narrow, legal argument based on the commitments made surrounding the 2014 feasibility study, mentioned above. The contention is that there was a legitimate expectation that a tunnel option would be included and in not presenting this to the public, it was an unlawful consultation. At the time of writing, we await the Judge’s ruling.

Clive Lewis concluded the meeting with a number of comments and observations. He said that he felt Regional Investment Banks under a Labour government (in other words, devolved funding powers) would make it very difficult for such a scheme to be approved in the future. He also believes that it would help to address the shortfall in the Council’s transportation budget. The ability to deliver better and cleaner public transportation, along with measures to tackle congestion and domestic car use could go a long way to easing the problems on our existing roads, without the need to build even more.

He summarised his position by saying that he feels that this Highways England Scheme and Rimrose Valley’s situation could become a case study and be used by his team an example of what is going wrong under today’s system.

In terms of next steps, he was to report back to John McDonnell with a view to scheduling a follow up meeting with us. We will therefore be keeping in touch with Peter Dowd and share any updates with you as and when they arise.

After the meeting concluded, Peter took Clive to visit Rimrose Valley, where he was able to see the land for himself and get a proper feel for it, so he knows exactly what we’re all fighting for. This is fantastic, as it offers far more context than any documents or maps can provide.

Meetings like this are so important.

However, you may be asking ‘Why are all your dealings seemingly with Labour?’ In fact, we have received a number of queries along these lines.

Well, the simple answer is that it just so happens that the affected constituencies each have Labour MPs and fall under a Labour-led Council, all of whom oppose the road and have therefore been more visible to date.

It’s important that we state that we are not a mouth-piece for either our MPs, or the Council.

Anyone who attended our “Hands Across the Valley” event in September will have understood that they are more than capable of speaking out against Highways England’s plans to destroy the Valley and hold their own, strong views.

It’s equally important that we make it clear that we have no interest in promoting the politics of the Labour Party, or ANY, single party for that matter. We are simply reporting the statements made during the meeting.

So, even though this was a Labour-centric meeting, we want to take the opportunity to assure all of our supporters that we are actively striving to engage with the other, main political parties and are keen to work with ANY political entity, of any colour, which supports our campaign. We have recently approached the Sefton and Liverpool branches of the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and the Green Party, requesting that they publicly back our campaign and help us to fight for a better future for our communities.

We look forward to sharing any statements from them in the future.

This is because what is happening is relevant to ALL of us, no matter what our political persuasion. Having Labour MPs simply means that we are able to leverage their support for the campaign to help us gain access to the relevant members of the Shadow Cabinet.

Far from being a partisan, one-party approach, this is a conscious and deliberate decision on our part. Should there be a general election which results in a change of Government, we need Rimrose Valley to be on the opposition’s agenda long before critical decisions are made and it’s too late for any new Government to stop the plans from going ahead.

In taking this approach, we hope that we are able to shine a light on both this terrible Highways England scheme and the plight of Rimrose Valley, at Westminster. Everything we are doing is aimed at taking us a step closer to those in power.

What is happening on our doorstep is part of a much wider problem in our region and the country as a whole. We’ll continue the fight until someone; somewhere agrees that this has to stop.

For the sake of the people, the environment… and yes, our planet.



[1] “A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Scheme – Public consultation

Submission from North West Friends of the Earth (Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland)” Feb 2017

[2] Source: “Hands Across the Valley” was held on Saturday, 29th September and was attended by MPs Bill Esterson and Peter Dowd, along with representatives from Sefton Council and Friends of the Earth. Chris Todd, Campaign for Better Transport & Roads to Nowhere campaigner also attended and gave his view on the scale of the protest.

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