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Our response to Peel Ports' open letter

As the lines of communication with Peel Ports are open (...ish) we wanted to respond to their recent correspondence and the points they raised with another open letter of our own, which you can read below.

Peel Ports CEO Mark Whitworth


To: Mark Whitworth

Peel Ports Maritime Centre Port of Liverpool L21 1LA

From: Stuart Bennett Save Rimrose Valley & Rimrose Valley Friends

Wednesday 22nd September 2021

Dear Mr Whitworth,

Re. An open letter: The Port of Liverpool Access Scheme

I write in response to your letter dated 6th September 2021.

Thank you for taking the time to reply to our own letter dated 20th August. Whilst the contents were disappointing, I believe it is a positive step that you and your company have engaged and commented publicly on this scheme. It was a lengthy letter which warranted a considered response. I wanted to continue this correspondence transparently with another open letter.

Unsurprisingly, no doubt, I would like to take issue with a number of the statements you make; specifically, that we are ‘erroneous’ in highlighting Peel Ports’ level of influence in this scheme and that our assertion that your company is the main driver behind the A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Scheme (not the ‘Sefton Relief Road’ as you put it) is both ‘misplaced and misleading’.

Freedom of Information Requests

As referred to in my original letter, Freedom of Information requests submitted to National Highways (formerly Highways England) revealed email communications from 2017/18 between Peel Ports and their organisation, including the following statement from a representative of your company:

“We have all worked tirelessly to secure the government funding, but if it was to be withdrawn this would be disastrous.”

May I ask what this refers to, if not efforts by Peel Ports to lobby government to fund the Port of Liverpool Access scheme? Both this statement and the tone and frequency of the email exchanges at that time point to a long-established, collaborative partnership. It suggests that this was a prolonged effort, predating National Highways’ preferred route announcement, even its public consultation at the beginning of 2017. May I ask at what point your own independent efforts to secure funding began and when the relationship with National Highways commenced?

Another exchange reads:

“Do let me know if there is anything we can be doing as Peel Ports to support Highways England throughout the legal process.”

The legal process referred to is the judicial review brought by Sefton Council against Highways England on the grounds that they believed a road tunnel should have been presented as an option in its public consultation earlier that year.

May I ask what support your company was willing to offer? Was this offer taken up?

May I also ask what business it is of Peel Ports if a local authority chooses to dispute a government-led project which has a direct impact on its borough and its residents, if you are a mere stakeholder in this scheme?

Peel Ports would not be contributing towards the cost of the project; it would be funded using public money. Why did you feel the need to support National Highways in defending an attempt by the local authority and our elected representatives to pursue what was, at that time, deemed to be a better outcome? Do you not feel that offering support in defending legal action by Sefton Council, the local authority governing the borough in which you operate, undermines and compromises your position when engaging with them on matters relating to the port’s activities going forward? Do you even value Sefton Council’s views on this matter?

Further, do you feel that it is appropriate for a privately-owned company to offer any such support to a government-owned, publicly-funded road building agency when it is set to benefit the most from the proposed scheme?

I am assuming that you were aware of these communications and will have been briefed on their contents before you responded to my letter. If not, they can be found here.

Similarly, a draft set of minutes from a meeting between Peel Ports and Arcadis, National Highways’ former subcontractor in 2019 revealed the following:

  • Peel Ports’ representatives offered to host National Highways' mobile exhibition vehicle on the port's premises due to the 'importance of effective engagement with opinion formers'

  • Arcadis discussed the project's stakeholder engagement strategy with Peel Ports’ representatives

  • Peel Ports’ representatives were interested to know 'what conclusions had been reached' from the stakeholder engagements

  • Arcadis took away an action to find out what stakeholder information could be shared with Peel Ports

  • Peel Ports’ representatives considered offering tours of the port's facilities to 'to those identified as relevant opinion formers and decision makers'

  • Peel Ports’ representatives offer to make introductions to customers who would be able to 'demonstrate the economic importance of the port'

  • Peel Ports’ representatives offer to recommend other stakeholders for National Highways/Arcadis to engage with

In light of the above, we are left wondering how many other, regular stakeholders were privy to this level of detail on National Highways’ stakeholder engagement strategy and how many offered this level of support in order to progress the scheme? How many of these actions were followed up? How many new stakeholders did Peel Ports introduce Arcadis and/or National Highways to in attempts to build wider support for the project?

At what point does a stakeholder cease to be a stakeholder and become a client?

Surely you must concede that these interactions with National Highways and its agents paint a very different picture of the level of your company’s involvement to the one portrayed in your letter?

Alternative Options

I want to address the remainder of your letter which attempts to justify the Port of Liverpool Access Scheme in its current form – in largely economic terms – and seemingly downplays or even dismisses the exploration of viable, sustainable alternatives.

Firstly, it is important that we acknowledge the steps that you are taking to reduce road miles and these are noted. Any attempts to do this are welcomed, we have previously applauded such initiatives and would do so again.

Of course, we recognise that rail and water won’t always be suitable, particularly for customers closer to the Port of Liverpool and of course, we recognise the importance of maintaining an effective supply chain. However, the continued assumption that the remainder must be serviced by HGVs travelling directly to the Port of Liverpool’s entrance simply does not stand up to scrutiny in light of where we are in 2021.

The unique location of the Port of Liverpool in a residential area, the public health emergency in relation to air quality and the urgent need to tackle the climate emergency and protect essential green space make this road proposal archaic and offensive. We are staggered that it is something your company would not only endorse, but actively promote and defend. How do you reconcile this with your company’s commitment to local communities and sustainability, as outlined on your own website? You speak only of the financial benefits of your port’s operations to individuals and families but ignore the societal impact.

In relation to the ARUP report and the options contained within it, why are solutions which are in use in other ports around the world not acceptable to you here in Sefton? Why isn’t the Port of Liverpool worthy of similar investment and similar innovative solutions?

More importantly, if, as you claim, this isn’t and has never been a Peel Ports project and you wouldn’t be paying for it, why do you appear to believe that your company gets to have the final say on the matter?

You state that “it’s an unavoidable fact that commercial supply chains will always opt for the fastest and lowest cost option to meet the demands of the end consumer.” This implies that the proposed road would indeed by faster and more economical, when even this is debatable.

The proposed road would take HGVs down a longer route, creating a brand-new bottle neck at the location where it re-joins the existing A5036 before Princess Way. Any journey time reductions achieved by a new road would soon be lost at this new junction. If National Highways acknowledge the major flaw of their design and miraculously find the funds to revise the route in order to head directly to the Port of Liverpool, this will simply confirm the widely held belief that this project is all about the Port of Liverpool.

Alternatively, if we were to take a leap of faith and assume journey times were reduced in the short term (before the new road itself were to become congested, which it would) it would simply be delivering HGVs to the back of a queue, marginally quicker. We have read with interest about some of the ongoing issues being experienced within the port’s boundaries when handling large amounts of freight. How would any road solve this problem? We have also heard from HGV drivers who say their experience of servicing the Port of Liverpool is dire. Many of your own Google Reviewsconfirm the same. Far better for them to be able to collect and drop off containers at a purpose-built container hub with facilities for drivers next to the motorway network, without clogging up local roads and using residential streets and public car parks to take breaks and use the toilet? We note that no such facilities are provided today at your port.

We believe that the ARUP solutions would remove these problems both from your site and the communities in the immediate vicinity of the port. They would save haulage companies and drivers vast amounts of time, fuel, mileage and money by avoiding the inevitable queues your continued expansion will generate, even if a new road were to be constructed. With some ambition and vision, an inland port could even be accommodated as part of the tax & customs sites being proposed under the Freeport arrangements.

Why on earth would you object to this? Have you even canvassed your customers and partners to see what theirpriorities are in terms of achieving net zero, respecting local communities and the environment? Could it be that these things are a little higher up the agenda of these companies than they are for Peel Ports?

The fact that the solutions proposed would also tackle air pollution in our borough, would massively reduce CO2 emissions and would protect vital green space are wonderful by-products of these truly innovative, sustainable, long-term solutions to your port’s expansion.

Dealing with the short-term ‘pain’ of having to adapt to a fresh approach to freight logistics would be a small price to pay for the huge benefits to be gained from such an approach long-term – not least the additional capacity they could bring, which a road simply would not. Increased cargo handling time would be negated by the time saved by HGVs having to navigate their way through Sefton’s roads and streets and await their call for a container. No road would solve this cumbersome and clunky process.

In terms of the point you raise regarding the location of any inland port, we and CPRE are well aware of our responsibilities to the environment. Our desire for this to be located on a brownfield site is an obvious one.

For absolute clarity, we do not object to the port’s operations, or even its expansion in principle; we simply maintain that Peel Ports must respect the local community and the environment. Something which the Port of Liverpool Access Road simply does not do.

By supporting this road proposal, you have become part of the problem, hence our focus on your company. We are asking that, rather than dismissing it as not suitable for your needs, you see the bigger picture, consider the needs of the surrounding communities, approach the ARUP report with an open mind and embrace the possibilities instead of focussing on the negatives.

In doing so, you would become part of the solution.

The existing A5036 route

The historic figures quoted in your letter indicating that 85% of traffic is unrelated to the port’s activities relies on outdated studies. In any event, this misses the point. As outlined in National Highways own studies, you plan to grow container freight coming through the port by some 300% by 2030, or from roughly 1,000 HGV journeys to 3,000 journeys per day. This suddenly makes the 15% that is attributable to the port-related traffic much, much larger. Not only this, but the kind of vehicles used to service the port is also a crucial factor. HGVs are the worst polluters on our roads and are responsible for the worst accidents.

It is these vehicles which rattle the windows and pollute the air of those living alongside the Princess Way and Church Road sections of the route. Their homes, schools and places of work bear the brunt of the port’s operations and you will find very few fans of Peel Ports in these communities.

National Highways’ masterplan is to simply shift the problem from one place to another, replicating and perpetuating the cycle of roads, pollution and congestion for yet more generations to endure.

Of course, you are correct in highlighting that we do need to tackle non-port traffic, our dependency on cars and do everything we can to encourage a shift to walking, cycling and public transport. These things are part of our campaign’s wider objectives.

The road proposal would cause these efforts irreparable damage. Road construction doesn’t simply cater for demand; it stimulates it. You may find this link and the studies contained within it interesting reading. Not only that, the proposed route would sever and decimate the countless paths and walkways people use across Rimrose Valley, which make it the safe, clean and green active travel corridor it is today.

A mass movement solution would remove container HGVs from the existing route from the day it opened, changing the lives of people living alongside the A5036 overnight. Not only that, but it would also free up capacity on the existing route by removing the largest, dirtiest vehicles from it altogether opening up the potential to implement bus and cycle lanes, making public transport and active travel more and more attractive, safe and viable and further discouraging people from using their cars.

By seemingly resisting attempts to find and deliver an innovative solution to the movement of freight through our borough, make no mistake; it is Peel Ports that is denying these communities the opportunity of a better future.

Where is the vision and dynamism the private sector is renowned for? It is simply not possible to solve a problem by repeating past mistakes.

Why are we engaging with Peel Ports in this way?

I would like to take a moment to explain why we felt it necessary to hold the demonstration last month and for these ongoing communications.

We first met with your organisation in 2018 and came away from that meeting in little doubt over your company’s stance; namely that Peel Ports supported the road proposal, which clearly remains the case.

Despite this, in February of last year, you were invited by Friends of the Earth to take part in a public debate named “The Port of Liverpool & The Climate Crisis” held at the Crosby Lakeside, a stone’s throw from the port’s offices. The panel included Friends of the Earth’s then CEO Craig Bennett, Bill Esterson MP, Cllr Paulette Lappin, myself and John McDonald from Church Road and District Residents Association. It was a perfect opportunity for you to have engaged with local people and to discuss the steps you are taking on climate action. Of course, the Port of Liverpool Access Road was debated. You could have stated the case for the Port of Liverpool in your own words, listened to people’s views, heard their concerns first-hand and responded to these. For reasons unknown to us, there was no representation from Peel Ports and the invitation was ignored.

As a result of the press coverage of this event, we believed we had made some progress. Your Group Planning Director (cc’d) followed up with myself and Estelle Worthington, Friends of the Earth’s Regional Campaigner and efforts began to arrange a meeting with our politicians with the intention of inviting other community groups from the area. However, we were subsequently informed that the Port Access Steering Group had reconvened and that “this is the bona fide forum for all Liverpool City Region stakeholders and related agencies to interface and update”. The implication being that a meeting with us – and other community groups – was no longer deemed a priority.

We have obviously enquired about the possibility of ourselves and other community groups being added to the Port Access Steering Group, but imagine that to be highly unlikely, given the make-up of this group.

In other words, there have been opportunities to engage with us and others more directly and privately and to discuss and explore options more productively, but these have been passed up.

Our position

The information you provided around the economics of this project, the needs of your business and your reaffirmed support for the road proposal completely ignore the impact this scheme would have on people’s lives which was the overriding message in our original letter to you.

Your website has lengthy sections on Peel Ports’ commitment to sustainability and local communities yet, having read your letter, you are apparently comfortable with the prospect of a proposal which would lead to a further deterioration in air quality in South Sefton and the destruction of vital green space, which is the only respite many people have from these conditions today. It is no exaggeration to say that this was a lifeline to many during the Covid-19 pandemic and that this lifeline is at risk.

Your company’s core values list honesty, integrity and personal responsibility as priorities.

If a third of your workforce are from Sefton, let’s assume that a good proportion live in the immediate vicinity of the port. If that is the case, we would expect your duty of care to your employees to extend beyond the port’s gates.

I wanted to end with another excerpt from the 2019 minutes mentioned above, namely:

‘Peel Ports had their own networks in the locality and were monitoring community attitudes’

What are these networks telling you now about community attitudes towards Peel Ports and this road proposal?

If you value their views, we suggest that rather than dismissing our campaign, claiming that we are the ones misleading local communities and ‘doubling down’ on your support for the road proposal, there is still a golden opportunity to pull back and to do the right thing.

If doing the right thing results in a little inconvenience to Peel Ports, we would suggest that it is high time to take that on the chin. Doing so could transform how you are viewed in this borough and also prove that there is some integrity and personal responsibility right at the top of your organisation.

I passionately believe that we can solve many of the problems we are facing today and create a brighter future for everyone here in South Sefton and have a successful Port of Liverpool. I don’t believe for one second that you do not care about people’s health and wellbeing, our local environment, or even the planet. However, you cannot ignore the connections between the road proposal, your port and each of these things.

Again, I am asking you to reconsider your support for this road, for your team to work positively and proactively with the council on the next phase of the ARUP report and to listen and act upon the concerns and needs of South Sefton communities. For my part, I am always open to meeting and discussing the above and to representing our communities’ views as positively and productively as I can.

Stuart Bennett

on behalf of Rimrose Valley Friends and the Save Rimrose Valley Campaign

cc: Steve Rotheram; Peter Dowd MP; Bill Esterson MP; Cllr Ian Maher; Cllr John Fairclough; Stephen Watson; Stephen Birch; Warren Marshall; Estelle Worthington

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23. Sept. 2021

Personnel within the Highways AGENCY, politicians and civil servants within the Department of Transport and likewise Peel Port Managers come and go. Those responsible are usually long gone when the result of ill-considered long term plans had irreparable consequences,

particularly the Landscape and the local communities, indeed future generations.

At present the person RESPONSIBLE for the decision is Baroness, Charlotte de Vere of Surbiton, who headed Cameron's failed attempt to REMAIN in the EU, and is married to the Conservative Party's chief fund raiser and current CEO.

Accompanying Cameron, the then Prime Minister, on his failed trade mission to China was billionaire John Whittaker, the visionary businessman and Chairman of the Peel enterprises, including Peel Ports container dock. Though currently…

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