Despite the ongoing challenges 2020 continues to present, we’ve been very busy behind the scenes making sure we pursue every possible avenue to raise the profile of our campaign – and our plight – here in Sefton.
This was helped recently through MP for Bootle, Peter Dowd, arranging a meeting with the new Shadow Transport Minister with responsibility for roads, Matt Rodda MP.
You may remember that we had a similar meeting with his predecessor in Westminster earlier last year? As positive as that felt at the time, it was followed by a general election, the ongoing Brexit saga, a global pandemic and a leadership contest within the Labour Party… so it’s understandable that it became difficult to follow this up, to put it mildly.
This latest meeting, albeit over Zoom, felt productive.
Matt Rodda began by summarising Labour’s current position in relation to roadbuilding. Importantly, he is aware of the government’s pledge to spend £27bn on roads and of the legal challenge being brought against this by Transport Action Network. He and his team are questioning whether this is the best use of taxpayer’s money, which is a good start.
He believes that the focus should be more on maintaining the existing road network better and preferably not building new ones. He stated that better public transport and active travel also have big roles to play in solving the problem and reducing our reliance on cars. Again, this was encouraging to hear.
His team are also researching the imbalance of expenditure in different areas of the UK. We’ve recently seen the North-South divide rear its head again in the news in relation to the furlough rates offered to the Liverpool City Region, in comparison to the rest of the country. The same applies, but worse, to spending on infrastructure projects. Much, much worse, in fact. We get SEVEN TIMES LESS budget per head than our friends down south.
The last time we checked, we don’t pay seven times less Income Tax… Road Tax…
The Shadow Transport team is researching the viability of moving freight onto rail which is obviously highly relevant to our own situation. The fact is that successive governments, blue AND red have ignored this issue for decades whilst European countries have left us behind. It’s about time this was addressed.
For our part, we provided as much background on the project and the issues in our area as possible.
It was really important for us to explain both the local and wider impact.
This is because without being able to tie this into national and even global issues such as air pollution, Brexit, freeports, the UK’s CO2 emissions and the climate emergency, we risk being viewed as simply a local issue, when we’re anything but.
One of things which resonated most was the unique location of the port in a residential setting.
We told Matt Rodda that this isn’t a port operating out of an industrial estate on the outskirts of town.
The closest residents can literally see ships and cranes when they open their curtains each morning. They breathe in the fumes of ships and HGVs alike and have to live with the noise and light pollution generated by its 24/7 operations.
We acknowledged that “something” needs to be done, but explained that we passionately disagree with the proposed solution and the fact that we have been excluded from having any input into what solutions were on offer.
He was interested to learn about Sefton Council’s opposition and that of our MPs.
He was also interested when we explained that we’re not only fighting the government’s Department for Transport and Highways England.
We explained how we believe that Peel Ports and other privately owned organisations with a vested interest in the port’s operations have had – and continue to have – way too much influence in proceedings.
We’ve subsequently shared the findings of our Freedom of Information Requests with his team.
We communicated how it feels like decisions by the Port of Liverpool and the government are being taken with no consideration for the impact they would have on local people’s lives.
We repeated our calls for the Port to engage with communities and to proactively seek a sustainable solution to the problems it is creating; not simply to sit back and wait for their taxpayer-funded road.
As this is 2020, it was impossible to ignore the impact and relevance of COVID-19. We explained how vital green spaces are for the public’s physical and mental health – even more so since March and how Rimrose Valley has been busier than ever.
We shared Friends of the Earth’s recent report which lists Sefton communities among the most green space-deprived areas of England.
We discussed air pollution levels and the fact that 4 clean air management zones were already in place and this would only get worse with the port’s plans for growth and more and more HGV traffic.
We discussed the environmental destruction this would cause – both in terms of biodiversity locally, but also CO2 emissions and the UK’s climate emergency declaration.
All in all, we covered a lot of ground.
So, what was the outcome?
This is what was said in response.
The Shadow Minister highlighted that he was aware that progress is being made in our city region and that good work is being done on buses and trains. This will be more noticeable if/when public transport use returns to the levels seen before the first lockdown.
We agreed with this, but explained how, for Sefton residents, such initiatives would be completely undermined by a destructive and damaging road full of HGVs (the worst polluters on our roads), which would set us back decades.
He was extremely sympathetic to our cause and expressed an interest in using the A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Scheme as a case study when challenging existing government policy.
He advised that each member of the Shadow Transport team has access to their counterparts in government and he saw an opportunity to engage Robert Courts MP, the current Maritime Minister on this issue.
He also believed that this is something the new Shadow Transport Secretary, Jim McMahon MP, needs to be aware of, as well as his immediate colleagues, working on maritime, rail and green initiatives.
Again, this was welcomed.
He concluded by asking what alternatives exist to the proposed road?
We explained that, for us, rail was never on the agenda, despite a network of existing and disused rail lines being in existence.
We believe that this was primarily for reasons of cost but explained that this is also complicated by presence of a nature reserve within the port’s boundaries (a potential location for a rail hub), which is protected.
We discussed examples of freight solutions in foreign ports, offering Rotterdam and Singapore as examples.
BUT, we explained, it all comes back to the central issue that the Government went wrong (either knowingly, or unknowingly) at the very first hurdle by instructing Highways England.
And THIS is where we need his help.
We need to push back on a decision taken behind a desk in Westminster with absolutely no regard for, or understanding of, where we live and the issues the Port of Liverpool’s existing operations are causing in our area, let alone its plans to grow even further and its desire to become a freeport.
We came away from the meeting believing that Matt Rodda had grasped some of the strength of feeling against this scheme.
We look forward to continuing to work with him in the future.