Highways England’s Public Information Events were a shambles - a PR exercise that backfired
It has been almost two weeks since Highways England’s public engagement events. We asked you to send us whatever information you’d managed to glean from these sessions, so we could try to make sense of what these were all about.
We did this because it was very hard – if not impossible – to determine whether anyone in the room from either Highways England or their chosen contractor partners knew what they were talking about. The format of these events didn’t help either.
In short, they were a shambles.
There was no presentation with a clear update on the project; it was hard to work out who was in charge and who was working for whom. The pop-up banners contained errors, with incorrect captions to photos. No new literature was handed out, just copies of the recent newsletter, which itself contained errors about the timing of the events.
Wherever you looked and whoever you spoke to, there was no escaping just how badly and hastily arranged these events were.
We challenged a member of Highways England’s staff on this.
What about the inconvenient timing? Why didn’t you secure locations at weekends, or during half-term? Why such little notice?
There were no answers.
The most we could get out of them was an admission that they could have been planned better.
Which is what we were telling them.
So, what did we get?
Two busy rooms full of various representatives from various companies, all dressed in Highways England t-shirts, which simply added to the confusion.
6 hours of different conversations, different questions and inconsistent answers, depending upon who was spoken to, at what time of day.
If this was indeed meant to be a charm offensive and an opportunity to reassure the public that progress has been made and that plans are well underway, it failed. Spectacularly.
It soon became clear that little more is known today about the proposed road through Rimrose Valley, than it was at the beginning of 2017 and Highways England’s last consultation.
In fact – and incredibly – in the intervening time, they’ve gone backwards.
The preferred “Option B” road presented to the public and selected by Highways England in Autumn 2017 is now ‘dead in the water’, having been determined as being ‘unsustainable’.
Quite an admission.
A new company, RPS, has been given the job of designing ‘a more sympathetic route’.
Which completely misses the point that you cannot ‘sympathetically’ put 4 lanes of traffic through a park and still call it a park.
At the time of writing, they still do not know what route any road is to follow through Rimrose itself. They don’t know how to connect the road to the port and they don’t know how to solve ‘the problem’ that is Princess Way – the community we have been highlighting as being blighted by ANY of the proposals we have seen so far.
In summary – they don’t know what they are doing.
They were only present to talk about 'surveys and boreholes'.
It has been two and a half years since Highways England’s last public engagement with Sefton communities about this scheme and they expected NO questions on the route and its negative impacts?
There was a lot of anger, upset and confusion; particularly at the event held in SING Plus Centre, where nearby residents would be most impacted by any road design.
Could anyone answer their questions and allay their fears for their homes, their futures, their lives?
We heard worried resident after worried resident naming the street they live on and referencing the wider congestion issues being experienced on other roads in the area.
There were simply no answers.
There was no local knowledge.
Just a group of people from outside of the area, who have been given the unenviable task of building a road where there isn’t room for one.
They don’t know the route; they can’t say who will be most impacted; they are no further on.
Trying to pick the bones out of all this confusion has been very, very hard.
We’ve pulled out some of the ‘highlights’ below.
However, please be aware that this information differed from person to person, so please don’t assume anything is factually correct.
Who was there?
Staff from Highways England, including Senior Project Manager, Carl Stockton, Project Manager, Dan Healy and newly-appointed Assistant Project Manager, Paul Burrows
Staff from Kier; the company appointed by Highways England to build the proposed road
Staff from RPS; the latest company to be tasked with designing the route and to undertake the various surveys detailed in HE’s newsletter
The 'Men in Tweed'. We can only assume that these were security and/or surveillance. This is because they were extremely evasive to the point of being amusing, giving different answers each time we asked them who they were, including: “health & safety”, "hotel guests", "road users", "admin", "meeting facilitators", and "logistics"
There will be 18/19 boreholes drilled at some point in November
These will be situated in/around the lower section of the park; where the former landfill site was located
Many of you flagged concerns about the public’s safety and the environmental risks of disturbing this ground and releasing hazardous substances into the atmosphere
There was no detail in the responses received; simply ‘this will be done safely’. We will be following up on this separately
Many questioned the timing and frequency of the ecological and wildlife studies taking place on Rimrose itself. Isn’t autumn/winter the WORST time to be doing this kind of work? Summer-visiting bird species have left, bats will be hibernating. Don’t they know this already?
Just 2 days a month having been allocated for this work. How can that be a comprehensive study?
One supporter had little or no confidence that the public would have access to any of the results
The “Commonplace” online survey is being used not only to observe usage, but will directly affect the route that is chosen through the valley – the implication being that less frequently used parts are more likely to be used for the route
It seems you can take your pick from any of the following:
They are now considering a tunnelled section along the lower half of Rimrose – either directly to the Port, or to the Port roundabout; OR
They are now considering extending the road above ground and continuing it adjacent to Princess Way, not ruling out further CPOs; OR
They are now considering moving sections of the railway to accommodate a new route; OR
They are now considering exiting along Beach Road
There will be bridges over the dual carriageway and children will be expected to walk to and from school over these
How’s that for reassurance?
The government’s climate emergency declaration, commitment to preserving green space and air pollution targets
We asked them to feedback to their management, right the way up to DfT and Secretary of State for Transport that a road is not the right answer for our communities
In response, we were told that we should do this via our MPs and politicians. We explained that we were doing this and repeated our request
No clear answers as to how building this road – or any new road – sits with these competing goals
Others accepted this goes against environmental objectives, but they are ‘servicing demand’ and ‘following an instruction’ from the Department for Transport
·Another conceded that roads ‘go against everything we are being told about the climate crisis’
Regarding emissions, one person has told us that they appear to be factoring in a reliance on people moving to electric/hybrid vehicles and haulage companies renewing their fleet with greener vehicles. Asked if that assumption is based on actual figures/measurements they were told that it was mostly based on their projections, combined with fact that electric cars are now more affordable
The A5036 vs Rimrose Route
We asked again how they could offer “Option A” and happily consider widening sections of the A5036 and make living conditions far worse, and yet now use that as justification for choosing “Option B”. They avoided answering
Then, another round of take your pick:
HGVs would be ‘encouraged’ but could not be forced to use the new road; OR
Traffic calming measures will make the existing route unsuitable for HGVs; OR
The existing route will become single carriageway and be for domestic vehicles only; OR
There could be no guarantee that we won’t end up with two, 4-lane roads, servicing the Port of Liverpool
One person had concerns that ANY route would re-join the A565 and pointed out that this is already congested. They were told that this road was not in their remit, they are only concerned with traffic flow on the A5036 and the flow of traffic on the new road
So the knock-on effects of whatever they intend to build aren’t their problem? That explains a lot about the success of the Broom’s Cross road
Wouldn’t traffic calming measures on the existing route disrupt traffic flow – more stop/starts and more pollution? Told it would be 'addressed at consultation'
If the current 4-lane route is full, how can replacing it with another 4-lane route cater for capacity now and the projected increase? 'No lights, so better flow'
Could it handle a projected 400% increase in port traffic and corresponding domestic vehicle increase? Told it would be 'addressed at consultation'
They are aware that the traffic flow data is now over two years old and need to ask Kier Highways to carry out new surveys
The sessions themselves
It was hard to speak with anyone and it was impossible to know who was who
Representatives were surrounded by too many people – there was no opportunity to ask questions
They were just a PR, box-ticking exercise
Many people took issue with everyone wearing Highways England t-shirts and how this made it difficult to identify each person’s role or company
Many wanted assurances that their feedback forms would be recorded and taken into account
Many expressed concerns about whether this would be done
Peel Ports’ influence
Senior Project Manager Carl Stockton distanced HE from Peel and blamed Sefton Council for no longer chairing the Port Access Steering Group which could have explored multi-modal options
However, he went on to say that Network Rail only offered £2-3m for enhancements, which would rule out any rail solution
Representatives of RPS conceded that the name of the project ‘tells a tale’
Many were told that this isn’t about Peel, it’s about domestic vehicle use and its predicted rise
Many were told that Peel are just a stakeholder – HE staff discuss the scheme with them, but do not work closely with them
The 'assumption that this is purely for the benefit of Peel is wrong' - it's about “uplifting the economy” and improving air quality and yet the biggest problem seems to be linking the new road to the Port entrance. Which of these is true?
For an ‘Information Event’ there seemed to be very little, if any, information to hand.
Back to the drawing board Highways England, in more ways than one.
If you were left frustrated by these events or weren’t able to attend them and want your voice heard, make sure you let them know about how much you value Rimrose Valley and what you think of their plans via the Commonplace page:
If and when they start drilling, join us in protest. Details will be shared on our social media.