Chris Grayling (Secretary of State for Transport) has responded to Craig Bennett’s letter calling for the A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Scheme to be halted and for better alternatives to be explored.
Unfortunately, Chris Grayling’s reply bears all the hallmarks of having been written by Highways England themselves. It simply repeats everything we’ve heard before and completely ignores many of the concerns raised by Craig Bennett, including:
Why the necessary infrastructure wasn’t properly planned before the Port’s expansion
Why non-road alternatives were not fully explored
Why the budget assigned to the project is so small
How transport is the UK’s biggest and fastest growing source of climate-wrecking emissions
How it has been demonstrated that building more roads makes congestion problems worse, not better
How such a road would poison the air of the surrounding homes, children’s nurseries, playgroups and schools and therefore have a huge, negative impact on the public’s health and wellbeing
How the land is a vital place to experience green space and nature
How it is a valuable, educational resource for local schools and children alike
How it is home to two Sites of Special Local Biological Interest (SSLBIs)
How public money, which was used to create the country park, is set to be wasted
Staggeringly, Grayling didn’t respond to a single one of these points.
Does he care so little about our children’s health that it doesn’t even warrant acknowledgment?
Instead, what did he say? Well, more of the same.
The letter is so detached and bland it reads like a Highways England newsletter and raises far more questions than it answers.
We wanted to take a moment to address and respond to some of the statements made.
Grayling talks about how the scheme is“important to the economic success of Merseyside and the north”.
Where are the figures to support the economic success the Port's expansion - and this road - will deliver? How many jobs? Exactly how much visible and tangible investment will there be in Sefton, other than miles of tarmac?
As we see it, goods are loaded onto the back of HGVs and driven out of the area. We have seen no, verified proof of how this will benefit us, the people of Sefton, just vague statements about “prosperity”.
Also, how exactly do you measure economic benefit against the cost to the public's physical health and wellbeing? What monetary figure makes stunted lung development, asthma and bronchitis cases in our children palatable?
Frankly, it is wrong to even reference this if those same “economic benefits” are not included in Highways England’s cost-benefit analysis when defining the budget, as they themselves told us.
Neither is the cost to our NHS.
We are sick of hearing about how much the Port's expansion and this road will benefit us, when all of the scientific evidence on public health, air pollution and climate change tells us otherwise. If the Port’s expansion is going to be so wonderful for “UK plc”, the Government should assign a corresponding budget and do a proper job.
What we need is more time, more money and a much better vision for Liverpool and the surrounding area in which the Port operates.
Billions are needed to solve this problem, not the £250m we have been allocated.
Grayling goes on to talk about how “local communities and users of the existing A5036 are already affected by congestion, severance, accidents and noise nuisance”.
Conditions alongside the existing route are horrendous, as we have acknowledged all along. This begs the question; why then was widening sections of this route even considered and put forward in the public consultation?
It was never a valid option - either for capacity, or for the health and wellbeing of residents.
We believe that it was included simply so Highways England could say it presented more than one option to public.
Surely, the truth is that they were never going to go for this option, so we were actually given a false 'choice'.
It is perhaps reasonable to conclude that the proposed road through Rimrose Valley was in Highways England’s minds from the outset. Yet they and now the Transport Secretary have the audacity to suggest that re-developing the A5036 was a non-starter?
You would be forgiven for thinking that the Government and its road-building agency think we are stupid.
Perhaps another explanation for presenting this in the first place was to create conflict, pit communities against each other and to ‘divide and conquer’?
Well, whilst people hold many different views on how to solve this problem, we are all united in wanting better air quality and quieter roads for everyone.
In this sense, if this was indeed a tactic, it has backfired.
Air pollution and climate change have never had so much media coverage. The public is well educated and understands the impact road-building and emissions from both HGVs and ships have locally on our environment and health, and globally in contributing to climate change.
In short, “no”, we are not stupid.
Next, the Transport Secretary tells us howthis project is all part of “a multi-modal approach to improving access to the Port of Liverpool”.
Regarding Network Rail's efforts to potentially “double the number of freight trains able to serve the port"; if you pardon the pun, this is a drop in the ocean. In fact, rail freight is a tiny part of how the Port of Liverpool moves goods from A to B today.
When we met with Peel Ports in Spring 2018 they told us that for UK Ports, freight movements by road account for circa. 75% of the overall total, with the balance comprising rail, coastal shipping and inland waterway. Therefore, it follows that the vast majority is transported by HGV. Doubling an already tiny amount is paying lip service to a genuine multi-modal approach. It simply enables people to say 'something is being done'.
The fact of the matter is that there needs to be a fundamental shift from road to rail. This is particularly true in our case, where the Port is located so close to residential areas. How can it be acceptable for the Port to attract so many HGVs and so much pollution to our roads, our homes and our schools and yet we are the ones who have to pay for the solution to the problems it has created - both through our taxes (we will be paying for this road, remember) and the huge cost to our health and wellbeing?
What we need is a solution which takes goods out of residential areas without the need for highly polluting and damaging HGVs on our communities' roads. If this requires more effort by the Port in loading and unloading at depots next to the motorway network, then so be it.
Incredibly, Grayling then has the audacity to reference the public consultation held by Highways England in 2017.
Seriously? Please don't insult our intelligence.
As indicated above, it is clear that there was only ever one serious option. In any case, Highways England ignored its outcome and public opinion.
Next Grayling talks about mitigation and minimising the impact of the proposed road.
As for the requirement in law of no net loss of green space and the implication that this will be ‘found’ or replicated elsewhere, this completely misunderstands what Rimrose Valley is and its location. For many families, it is their front or back garden. Somewhere to walk the dog, ride a bike, kick a football.
Today, people can watch their kids play safely in view of their homes. Replacing this with land elsewhere is absurd.
Alternatively, creating recreational areas on the verge of a 4 lane carriageway would be laughable, if it weren't so offensive.
“Designs being based on feedback from the community”?
The community's feedback was overwhelmingly to leave Rimrose Valley alone.
He concludes by confirming that "there will be a further round of public consultation (which) will form part of the statutory planning process". However, even this talks about ways we can enhance the area “following the construction of the new road”.
Excuse us, but isn’t this putting the cart before the horse?
You could say it’s like signing a contract for a ferry service before checking whether they have any ships.
We’ve said it many times before, but it’s worth repeating.
THIS ROAD IS NOT A DONE DEAL.
The language used by the Transport Secretary and Highways England is designed to make us feel that it is. The fact is that we, the people who are to be affected, have an opportunity to make a powerful statement.
This is why we need every, single one of us to turn out in force when the statutory consultation is announced and deliver one, simple message:
Dear Chris Grayling,
We don’t want your road.
The People of Sefton