Our meeting with Everton Football Club
On Monday, 9th November, we met with representatives from Everton Football Club. This included Colin Chong, Stadium Development Director and members of his team who have responsibility for delivering the club’s new stadium, which is part of The People’s Project.
They were joined by a representative from Mott MacDonald; the consultancy firm appointed to look at the many and varied transport considerations to ensure that fans can get to and from the new stadium. Finally, Frankie Meadows, General Manager of Crosby Stuart F.C. attended to represent the interests of grassroots football; the club being based on Rimrose Valley itself at Brook Vale Recreation Ground.
The meeting took place online and it was both positive and productive.
We’ve summarised the key points below.
Why we wanted to meet
Our reason for requesting the meeting was because Everton Football Club is listed among the stakeholders Highways England’s former sub-contractor, Arcadis, had met with. This was revealed following a Freedom of Information Requests we submitted in relation to The A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Scheme.
Further reference was made to Everton Football Club in the minutes of a separate meeting between Arcadis and Mersey Maritime: an organisation which represents Peel Ports and many other companies operating within the maritime sector across the Liverpool City Region.
We wanted to hear Everton Football Club’s perspective on the scheme, to understand their own meeting with Arcadis and to see if we could establish why they were being referenced elsewhere.
In addition, we were aware of the great emphasis Everton Football Club places on community engagement and supporting grassroots football. We therefore wanted to explain the impact the scheme would have on football – and footballers – in south Sefton.
New Stadium Transport Strategy
Kevin Blakey of Mott MacDonald began by talking us through the project’s Transport Strategy which is a comprehensive document covering the wide variety of measures being explored between the club and the Transport Working Group set up for this project.
This working group is made up of representatives from the LCR Combined Authority, Liverpool City Council, Merseytravel, Merseyrail and Network Rail, among others.
We had read this document in advance and from both our review and Kevin Blakey’s own summary, two things became clear:
1. A huge amount of work has been done on this area of the project
2. Great emphasis is being placed on sustainability in designing and delivering a 21st century transport infrastructure to meet the demands - and the unique location - of a 21st century stadium
In fact, we recommend that anyone who has even a passing interest in sustainable transport read this document. It tackles many of the issues facing our wider transport network head-on, with enhanced public transport, walking and cycling at the forefront of their thinking.
The most important thing to take away from this part of the discussion is that it was communicated to us that the neither the new stadium, nor any of the club’s other assets have any reliance on Highways England’s road proposals.
We were told that the new stadium’s proximity to the motorway network means that it is simply too far away for it to be a factor. In addition, we were informed that, as the club’s fans are predominantly local, they are less likely to be a major contributor to traffic on the surrounding motorway and road network on matchdays. Whilst Goodison is car-dominant, the new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock will not be.
Everton Football Club itself communicated these points to Arcadis, who were acting on behalf of Highways England in this stakeholder meeting in December 2018.
Furthermore, we were told that plans for Bootle Bus Station to become a matchday transport hub, offering a shuttle bus service to and from the new stadium, would have no major impact. In fact, it has been demonstrated through the Transport Assessment submitted with the planning application that matchday car traffic will neither cause a major impact on the local road network, nor parking capacity in Bootle.
This is particularly important, with both the existing A5036 and the proposed exit of Highways England’s dual carriageway being just under 2 miles away from this location.
Rather than negatively impacting the town, the club wants Bootle town centre to benefit from the plans by attracting additional people to the area on matchdays, who will hopefully spend money in local businesses in the process, boosting the local economy.
If we were looking for reassurance, it was much better than we could have hoped for. The response could not have been clearer and any concerns we had that Everton Football Club would have any kind of reliance, or vested interest in the proposed road were answered.
They also disclosed to us that they had met separately with Highways England in March 2019 in relation to their own scheme: The People’s Project.
They did so as Highways England is a statutory consultee in major projects of this kind. They advised that whilst the A5036 scheme was discussed, it wasn’t the purpose of this meeting and Everton Football Club’s stance had not changed.
We appreciated this transparency.
We talked through our concerns regarding how Arcadis has been presenting the project when it has met with those identified as stakeholders.
For example, why hadn’t they communicated to Everton Football Club that this was a government-led proposal, not one being led by the Local Authority, Sefton Council?
Once again, this raises serious questions about whether Highways England or agents acting on its behalf are being completely transparent when discussing the scheme with others.
We explained to the Club that not only is the road proposal opposed by Sefton Council; both impacted constituencies’ MPs oppose it; believing it represents a bad investment and demanding that better alternatives be explored.
We also explained that we were currently awaiting the announcement of the statutory consultation, which is the next phase of the NSIP (Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project) process.
Colin Chong expressed an interest in seeing the Environmental Impact Assessment and other technical documents related to the scheme to form a better view, stating that there appeared to be an opportunity for more detailed consultation than has happened to date.
Impact on Grassroots Football
Prior to the meeting, we shared a map of our area, plotting the football pitches at Buckley Hill, The Liverpool County FA’s new Sefton facility off Edge Lane and Brook Vale Recreation Ground; the home of Crosby Stuart F.C., situated within the parkland itself.
We wanted to demonstrate the impact the road would have on football facilities and discuss the subsequent impact on the health of those using any pitches which may remain if the project were to go ahead.
Colin Chong advised that this level of detail had not been provided to Everton Football Club in their meeting with Arcadis in November 2018.
We found this surprising to say the least as it means that Highways England’s agents were seeking the views of stakeholders on a scheme, at a time when its preferred route was defined, but not then sharing this route with key stakeholders.
Colin Chong and his team were also unaware of the football facilities shown and their proximity to the proposed route.
Yet again, it begs the questions; how are stakeholders meant to make an informed opinion on the scheme?
It was therefore important to hear about this, not from us as a campaign, but first-hand from just one of the clubs that would be impacted.
Frankie Meadows spoke passionately about his work with Crosby Stuart F.C. He explained that the club works with over 400 local children. He also talked about their work promoting disability football and plans to introduce a blind team.
He shared the club’s desire to improve the Brook Vale site, having invested almost £10,000 to date via grants and via their own fundraising efforts.
All of which, he said, would be completely undermined by Highways England’s road proposal, which, he was informed at a consultation event, would see the pitches bulldozed and landscaped, becoming a flood barrier for the proposed road.
He confirmed that Crosby Stuart F.C. has not been contacted or consulted by either Highways England or its subcontractors in any way.
Colin Chong acknowledged the above, as well as our own concerns about the impact of air pollution, particularly for our children. This is both from exhaust fumes and particulates produced by busy roads. He said that the club was committed to supporting grassroots football across the city and that this is something they wished to keep an eye on.
Conclusions & Request for Support
In light of the above, we wanted to test the waters to explore whether Everton Football Club was willing to make any kind of public statement in relation to the road proposal and its impact on football in our borough.
We knew this was unlikely, but if you don’t ask…
Both Colin Chong and Mo Maghazachi, part of Everton’s Communications team said that, whilst a public statement on the matter was unlikely, they were keen to understand what information Highways England had taken away from their meetings and how they may have been portrayed or represented in any of Highways England’s documentation.
Interestingly, they had not been provided with copies of the minutes taken at their meeting with Arcadis. In addition, they could not explain the reference to Everton Football Club in the minutes from the meeting with Mersey Maritime, so were keen to get to the bottom of this.
We took away an action to provide contact information for the Project Team at Highways England, which we subsequently did.
All in all, we feel that this was a constructive and worthwhile meeting.
We also feel reassured that, far from finding an ally to support their road scheme, Highways England will have had to cross yet another stakeholder off their list.