COMMENT: The unelected men and women in grey suits, controlling our future
As you may remember, we recently shared a list of just some of the stakeholders Highways England, or agents acting on its behalf, have met with to discuss The A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Scheme.
These ranged from the obvious, like, you know, Peel Ports; owners and operators of the Port of Liverpool and primary beneficiaries of a project funded by OUR money, to perhaps less obvious entries like Everton FC and Hugh Baird College.
A helpful supporter picked up on this, requested copies of the minutes from some of the meetings which had taken place and sent them our way. You can do the same – just visit www.whatdotheyknow.com and follow the simple steps to get hold of all manner of documents from public bodies.
(You might be wondering why we didn’t do this ourselves? Well, at that time, we’d apparently max’d out our Freedom of Information Request limit with Highways England and they got the hump.)
In any event, as always seems to be the case with Highways England and this project, these latest minutes (albeit from 2018) make for yet more interesting reading.
We’ve already shared a story on Highways England’s meetings with two of these stakeholders: the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association.
This revealed that both organisations want to see the provision of 24/7 driver facilities as part of the scheme.
This was news to us as these facilities have not featured in any proposals shared to date.
However, is it any real surprise that this road, being built specifically for HGVs to travel to and from the Port of Liverpool, would include an ‘end game’ of delivering facilities for these drivers?
This article relates to meetings held with two other organisations:
Atlantic Gateway Alliance
Although they are possibly less familiar to us, each is powerful in its own right.
So, who are they?
According to the minutes, the Atlantic Gateway Alliance represents“a cocktail of assets of unique quality. Its existing and planned infrastructure network offers a distribution model that is close to customers but operating in a global context, and capable of building on a complex, professional supply chain”.
Clear as mud.
For a better description, you can read more about it here.
In a nutshell, the Atlantic (or Ocean) Gateway Alliance is a masterplan to expand the Port of Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal and link up (read ‘bulldoze’) the North West in order to compete with the South of England.
And we’ll give you one guess at who’s behind it all?
That’s right, none other than Peel Group.
Erm, whilst simultaneously being responsible for bulldozing a country park in Liverpool.
But let’s ignore that.
Furthermore, its board is made up of:
“…influential senior representatives of the public and private sectors (including Liverpool City Region LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership), MAG (Manchester Airports Group) and United Utilities) and chaired by the Head of Corporate Projects at Stobart Group.”
So, we have Arcadis and Highways England meeting with a key stakeholder which is run (indirectly) by the same people who own the Port of Liverpool, with a board consisting of other entities with a vested interest in seeing road links improved to the port to get their views on whether or not the road proposals are a good idea and something they could support?
We wonder what the outcome was?
The minutes give us a few pointers. Here are a few nuggets, with some commentary from us.
“Those present were interested to consider how the project can be supported”
What with them set to make a lot of money from it and all…
“Atlantic Gateway understood the process for route selection and agreed the technical proposal was sound”
So, presumably they all had degrees in civil engineering?
“They welcomed the plan to deliver 10m wide underpasses (to the road) to address community safety”
What a bizarre thing to pass comment on for a corporate behemoth with designs on developing the entire North West of England. Like they care and like this has anything to do with THEM.
“(They) recognised the challenges of winning community support”
At least they got that part right
“(They) thought it important to realise the locality was a series of small complex and diverse communities who valued their individual identity and did not necessarily recognise the economic and social advantages of better connectivity”
Wow. Could they BE any more patronising?! In other words, those thickos who live around here can’t possibly comprehend that we’re set to make a lot of money out of this road and they will obviously benefit from this.Indirectly. Somehow. At some point in the future. Trickle down economics and all that?
“It was important to position the project as a long-term sustainable infrastructure project”
Good luck with that…
“(Ref. job creation) There could be great benefit in working with training providers presently based in Sefton… There may be a prospect of engaging with the port operators, Peel on such a strategy. 'B', a Director of Peel as well as an Atlantic Gateway board member offered to facilitate.”
So, let’s get this straight… the enigma that is ‘B’, a Peel Director sits on the board of Atlantic Gateway and volunteers to speak with Peel to see if they can help sell the job benefits of a scheme that will directly benefit Peel Ports and Atlantic Gateway? Talk about a stitch up.
“(The project) offered the additional possibility of leaving a lasting legacy of an enhanced community asset – a much improved and managed urban park which could address community aspirations for health, education, nature conservation and recreation activities.”
We wonder if the person who came up with that line managed to type this without laughing…
“The project faced the challenge of demonstrating how an open space, bisected by a road could be planned to build better long-term engagement and participation.”
We can answer that one for you: It can’t.
“Atlantic Gateway urged the project team to consider this in its broadest extent as it could facilitate multi-organisation collaboration which had not been achieved to date.”
In other words, sort your s**t out; this is costing us money.
“Arcadis indicated that… a Statement of Common Ground between Atlantic Gateway and the A5036 project would be welcomed.”
We bet it would. This closing sentence in the minutes of the stakeholder meetings facilitated by Arcadis is a recurring theme, and sounds increasingly desperate every time.
To summarise, a huge infrastructure project, powered by Peel Group and no doubt lobbying the highest levels of Government to fund and deliver this for them, is seemingly giving the thumbs-up to a project to build a dual carriageway for HGVs to move freight containers arriving from across the globe.
Who’d have thought it?
What about Mersey Maritime? What is this organisation and what does it do?
According to the minutes, “Mersey Maritime is one of Europe’s most influential maritime cluster organisations, representing the interests of 1,700 maritime, logistics and energy businesses on Merseyside, many could be regarded as customers of the A5036 scheme.”
Their website lists a number of “key partners”. And guess who’s on there?
Of course, Peel Ports and Peel Land & Property.
They’re a close-knit bunch, aren’t they?
We also know that it works closely with the Department for Transport.
This will explain their schmoozing event earlier this year when they invited Maritime Minister, Nusrat Ghani MP, to come and see them. We flagged this via our letter to the Minister, which you can read here.
We were left wondering how many of our elected representatives were at that event? Or was this one for the ‘moneymen’ and by invitation only?
As with the previous set of minutes, the organisation’s references to and understanding of the scheme completely fail to acknowledge the very real and tangible impact this would have on people’s lives.
Again, some excerpts with commentary from us:
“Although essentially local in nature, the strategic regional and national importance of the scheme is understood”
The locals, their environment and their health concerns are collateral damage. This is for the greater good (of the economy).
“A resident’s interest group had pledged to oppose the proposal. They had succeeded in winning support from local councillors and MPs and appeared to have access to funding.”
Nice to know that we’re being mentioned in despatches…
“They expressed concern that the name of the project suggested to local people it was a commercial plan led by Peel Ports, owner/operator of the Liverpool2 facility.”
That’s because it is; fronted by Highways England and their bosses at the DfT. Our Freedom of information requests revealed how Peel Ports ‘worked tirelessly’ to secure government funding. We can safely assume that they will have been helped by the Atlantic Gateway Alliance, run by Peel Group who are effectively their parent company. Or is it a sister company? There are so many iterations of Peel companies, it’s hard for us to keep track. Hard for HMRC, as well. Sorry guys, you’ve been rumbled.
“Mersey Maritime recommended engagement with Everton Football Club who had relevant experience to share.”
Noted – and thanks for the tip off. We’re following up on this.
“It was important for the (Highways England) project team to better understand existing local economic development initiatives, collectively known as “The Dunnings Bridge Road Growth Corridor”.
We bet it is. This is because they need to spin this road as being for the wider economic benefit of the region, not just about the port. Which is a tricky thing to do when you’ve called the project the Port of Liverpool Access Scheme.
“Mersey Maritime believe the objectives of the scheme are consistent with their aims and would be happy to engage with the project team in future activity. This could involve delivering a presentation at a monthly members’ meeting, making representations on the project’s behalf, or speaking at a dinner.”
Nice work, if you can get it, eh? We wonder what was on the menu? A large helping of taxpayer money, with a side order of environmental apocalypse?
And this last point sums up our situation in a nutshell.
Here are two powerful and influential organisations with direct links to Peel Ports, Peel Group (and other companies with a vested interest in seeing a road built to the Port of Liverpool) the Liverpool City Region and the UK Government, rubber stamping their approval of a scheme; the impacts of which they would simply never have to live with.
None of them democratically elected and (we’re taking a wild guess) none of them from our community, or at least we bet none who live under the shadow of Peel Ports’ cranes and the invisible clouds of pollution which flow from their ships and the HGV traffic used to service them.
The fact is that the people making these decisions have money in the forefront of their thinking and decision-making processes.
This would be just about palatable if it was accompanied by a genuine desire to work with and look out for the people who live in the communities in which they make their money.
But there isn’t.
What is clear from the minutes – and many others we’ve seen – is that our campaign and YOUR opposition is having an effect.
If they thought that the communities surrounding Rimrose Valley and across this part of Sefton would be a pushover, they can think again.