Same old, same old from the DfT
It has been a few weeks since we received a letter from the Strategic Roads Division of the Department for Transport.
Not the Minister we wrote to.
Nor from an actual person; just a team.
This obviously makes accountability “challenging”.
Who is this faceless team that can fire off letters defending damaging road schemes, without any personal responsibility or interest in the matter?
How is it acceptable that the task of responding to a letter addressed to a specific Minister, about their specific role and our specific situation, be delegated to the very people we are taking issue with?
As we said in our press release, it seems that the DfT gets to mark its own homework.
We have been advised that responding will be a futile exercise and simply generate more of the same.
However, sometimes it can be good to ‘vent’. Sometimes you have to!
With that in mind, we wanted to examine their response here and to explain what each section means to us, our communities and what we’re doing about it.
So, here goes…
“The expansion of the Port of Liverpool is still seen by city region stakeholders as essential for developing the local economy and bringing local employment.”
Ah, these all important “stakeholders”.
This can be fairly accurately translated as those with business links to the port. Many of these will be members of the Liverpool City Region’s Local Enterprise Partnership, or the LEP.
Board members include... yes, you’ve guessed it; Mark Whitworth – CEO of Peel Ports.
Peel Ports, their partners, subsidiaries and every organisation in their supply chain have a vested interest in seeing the Port of Liverpool expand.
Nothing wrong with that, in principle.
However, these continued, vague references to regeneration of the local economy and employment simply don’t cut it, or link to our reality.
How has our local economy – unrelated to the port’s activities – been fairing under the past couple of decades of expansion and Peel’s stewardship of the port?
Are YOU feeling better off as a result of the port’s presence?
Let’s face it, goods arrive at the Port of Liverpool, are loaded onto HGVs and driven out of the borough, while we choke in the fumes.
For our part, we have once again contacted our Metro Mayor to draw his attention to the fact that the DfT and National Highways consistently point to the LCR’s policies of supporting the expansion of the Port of Liverpool and the Freeport vision as justification for their road proposal.
We hope to share more on that soon.
“New housing and development patterns locally also attract peak hour trips to and from Liverpool City Centre, while the nearby suburb of Maghull is growing fast.”
Well, this is a new tactic.
The DfT (and therefore National Highways) are citing housing developments happening locally within Sefton as further justification for the road proposal.
These are developments signed off by Sefton Council who, presumably, consider the necessary infrastructure required to support them before granting approval.
Sefton Council’s official position is that it opposes the Port of Liverpool Access Road proposal.
It is therefore safe to assume that there would have be no reliance on this road being delivered as part of these deliberations.
We have made Cllr Veidman, Cabinet Member for planning, aware of the above.
We are sure that this is something they will want to take issue with at future meetings of the Port Access Steering Group.
“Current air quality and emissions problems, and community severance issues, on the existing route of the A5036 are key drivers for the scheme, requiring a resolution as quickly as possible, but one that does not damage the local economy and strategic role of the Port.”
So, the DfT’s answer to the air quality and emission problems and community severance resulting from ONE OF ITS OWN ROADS is to repeat the mistake elsewhere.
Why didn’t they care about severing the communities along the A5036 when it was built?
Resolving issues as quickly as possible?
What steps have they taken in recent decades to address pollution throughout their ownership of the A5036?
Indeed, what steps are they taking RIGHT NOW?
It is telling that they again conclude this section by referencing the economy and the Port, which we all know is the real driver behind this PORT OF LIVERPOOL ACCESS SCHEME.
“In addition, the A5036 scheme is part of a multi-modal approach to transport issues around the Port of Liverpool, led by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Port Access Steering Group (PASG), where National Highways is represented.”
Yes. Rail should play a much bigger part here.
Yet what has the DfT done?
Stripped back the Integrated Rail Plan, removing plans for a double-tracked line linking Liverpool, Manchester and Warrington which would have taken more and more freight off our roads.
Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.
If they were genuinely committed to a multi-modal approach, rail would see the investment it needs.
And why isn’t the Manchester Ship Canal being used more and more?
The primary ‘mode’ they are interested in involves tarmac… purely because HGVs are Peel Ports’ preferred method of transport.
Pursuing other modes would require more effort and investment on their part; something they are seemingly unwilling to do.
“For many businesses and private travellers, road transport is often the preferred option because of its flexibility. Even with an ambitious transfer of freight, commuters and local transport users onto other modes, roads will continue to make a significant contribution to transport provision for the foreseeable future.”
They will if you keep building them.
Studies have shown that if you build more roads, you get more traffic. It is a self-perpetuating problem.
We need to draw a line in the sand and say “no more”.
This road proposal flies in the face of the Metro Mayor’s and Sefton Council’s plans for active travel, public transport and changing the way we think about getting from A to B.
Again, there is another vested interest in the road proposal going ahead – it keeps the staff of the Strategic Roads Team, National Highways and their various subcontractors in business.
Why would they want to jump off the gravy train?
“National Highways’ scheme represents a significant investment in Liverpool City Region and the North West, and will be designed to support Port growth, Freeport aspirations and the levelling up agenda for the City Region and the North of England as a whole.”
Don’t make us laugh.
You only have to look at where and how these levelling up funds are being allocated to see that, for us, this is nothing more than a soundbite.
Liverpool is being penalised for not returning Conservative MPs at the last election.
Those that did, particularly marginal seats in the north, get the financial rewards.
And a significant investment?
Ours is a paltry budget, stemming from 'old money' NOT the levelling up funds they would have us believe, resulting in the cheapest and laziest possible half-baked scheme anyone could have imagined.
A red line through the only patch of green space left in our area.
Again, this is about the Port and the Freeport. Nothing else.
“The roads minister, Baroness Vere, welcomed the ideas contained in the Arup report and it is good to hear that the local authority is progressing plans to develop these.”
We bet she did.
The local authority is doing the DfT’s job.
Why weren’t THEY exploring sustainable solutions to the movement of freight in and out of the port in the first place?
What is the point of the DfT if not to seek these out BEFORE turning to destructive road proposals?
As for Baroness Vere, she did not for one second consider that the road proposal was the wrong option.
When we met, it was clear that she had been briefed by senior staff at National Highways in advance, who had painted our campaign in a bad light; citing threats to workers and linking these to our campaign, when this is completely untrue.
This shameful behaviour demonstrates that widely held concerns over the conduct of this publicly funded organisation go right to the top.
“It is important to highlight that the (ARUP) report was concerned entirely with local movements of containerized freight to inland port facilities. Although container freight at Liverpool is expected to grow significantly in the future, this option alone will not reduce the impact of any other types of freight, nor of other kinds of traffic on the A5036 and local road network, because road freight accounts for only 15% of traffic on the existing route.”
Aaaah, here’s that 15% figure again.
Often quoted by their pals at Peel Ports, this figure is YEARS out of date and was debatable even at that time.
In a post-pandemic world, people’s working lives have changed significantly. Many of us now work from home. Others have lost their jobs completely.
With the Port of Liverpool seemingly flourishing in the face of the pandemic and Brexit, we dispute this figure and await the fresh figures with interest.
This statement also completely misses the point.
The removal of containerised freight frees up capacity on the existing route without building more roads.
This opens the door to bus and cycle lanes for commuters and active travellers, further tackling the issue of excessive car use.
There are other, innovative solutions for the remaining HGVs which would still need to service the report.
Electrification of HGVs along the A5036 would reduce both pollution and CO2 emissions. Indeed, a similar scheme is being pursued in Scunthorpe, funded by the DfT.
Why not here, in Liverpool?
“The Department recognises the importance of Rimrose Valley park to the local community and expect any planning permission given to include requirements on National Highways to ensure that the park continues to be the essential greenspace it is now. National Highways are developing the scheme’s design based on this assumption, not just to gain planning consent, but because it is the right thing to do. National Highways wants to work with the local community to explore options and ideas for maintaining and improving the amenity and facilities in Rimrose Valley.”
Are they serious?
If they truly recognised its importance to local people, they would never have proposed a dual carriageway through the park in the first place.
It is utterly impossible for the park to continue to be the essential greenspace it is now because it would cease to be a park.
It would become glorified verges.
“The right thing to do” would be to go back to their bosses, admit they got this badly wrong and that they are trying to put a road where one doesn’t belong.
You don’t “maintain and improve the amenity” by putting a road through it.
You destroy it.
“We can confirm that National Highways’ proposals are in line with the underlying principles of DfT’s National Policy Statement for Ports, which is intended to “support the fundamental aim of improving economic, social and environmental welfare through sustainable development, recognising the contribution of ports to trade”.”
Despite all the smoke and mirrors, this confirms what we already know… that the scheme is about the Port of Liverpool and its strategic importance to the UK economy.
It is NOTHING to do with the people of South Sefton.
Ask anyone if they prefer a healthy economy, or a healthier living environment and to live 12 years longer in an area with less pollution?
And they don’t get to use the words ‘sustainable development’. Sorry.
“National Highways and the local authorities, Network Rail, Peel Ports and other partners on the PASG are looking at this in light of post-Covid-19 travel demand patterns, freight demand effects of Brexit and the Freeport, and opportunities arising from rail developments and new port technologies.”
Glad they mentioned National Highways and Peel Ports.
Would they care to comment on the Freedom of Information Request which revealed the lengths Peel Ports have gone to, to support the government’s road building agency to build them their access road?
Did Peel Ports lobby the DfT to secure this road proposal? It certainly looked that way.
Oh and again, they’ve withdrawn the promised rail developments, so there’s little point in referencing them, isn’t there?
“National Highways have assured that the scheme will support economic growth and employment in Liverpool City Region as well as reducing congestion, improving safety and reconnecting local communities.”
It won’t reduce congestion – it will stimulate more.
If they actually knew the area they were talking about, they need only look at the A5758 Brooms Cross Road as an example. Intended to tackle the problem; it has made it worse and is congested at rush hour.
You don’t improve safety by building roads for HGVs.
HGVs are responsible for the worst accidents on our roads.
Reconnecting local communities?
The ones they severed in the 1970’s with their original road and want to do again with their new one.
Netherton, Ford and Litherland will be severed from Thornton, Crosby and Waterloo. Seaforth becomes an even more devastated wasteland, bearing the brunt of 2 major roads converging in one place.
We’re just collateral damage though, right?
We’ve been here before, haven’t we?
This latest letter only serves to underline how entrenched road building is in the government’s psyche.
It also reminds us of the scale of the task at hand.
By opposing this road scheme, we are taking on the government’s road building policy.
To do so, we are attempting to change the minds of those in power at Westminster.
This is daunting, but it is worth remembering that we are not alone.
Campaigns up and down the country are taking up the fight and, in Transport Action Network, we have a powerful ally.
Their ongoing legal challenges could slam the brakes on road building as it goes against the government’s own commitment to tackling the climate emergency.
In many ways, this represents our best shot at stopping this road proposal, so if you are able to support their legal costs, you can donate here.
All is not lost, but we need to keep going.