When honesty isn’t always the best policy
OPINION: When honesty isn’t always the best policy: Highways England’s approach to delivering new road is so inconsistent and shambolic, it begs the question; has it actually been planned this way?
In an era of fake news and alternative facts, should we be at all surprised at the latest developments in Highways England’s plans for the proposed road?
Its u-turn on the necessity of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) to accommodate its unwanted road is a distressing and unwelcome development.
However, it has given us the opportunity to shine a light on just some of the statements and mixed messages we have heard in recent times, with a few alternative facts of our own thrown in for good measure.
1. Working with the Community
What they said:
The following is taken from Highways England’s March 2018 Newsletter:
“We will continue to work with local representatives to identify opportunities to improve the overall environment for people in the area – both within the Rimrose Valley and along the current A5036. We aim to work alongside local community groups, to identify opportunities to enhance the remaining areas of the valley and also any areas along the existing route.”
What has happened:
To date, we have been invited to just one session, to discuss mitigating the impact of the road. You may remember that we rejected this invite on the grounds that we oppose the road entirely and called for Highways England to return with more sensible, less destructive proposals.
We did hold a meeting with Tim Gamon and Carl Stockton of Highways England, which was at our request having discussed Rimrose Valley with Tim Gamon on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show. We wanted to establish whether they were open to any kind of compromise and to gauge first hand whether they were genuinely willing to listen to the public, which pays their wages.
We made it quite clear beforehand that mitigation wasn’t up for discussion. We wanted to discuss alternative solutions and to see how fully these had been explored.
Instead, we had to listen to – you’ve guessed it – their plans to mitigate the impact of the road. Furthermore, they were at pains to point out that a tunnel simply COULDN’T be built.
Why? The short and simple answer is the cost of the scheme.
It was our meeting. We set the agenda. They ignored us.
Incredibly, it seems that they actually expected us to deliver their message to you. In a letter written to one of our supporters back in April, Tim Gamon expressed his disappointment that their reasoning wasn’t relayed to the community:
“…which is rather unfortunate as it means that the local community have been deprived of some vital information which would assist them in making an informed choice as to whether a tunnel solution would be the best solution to solve the problems with congestion on the existing road.”
Just let that sink in.
Highways England suggested that Rimrose Valley Friends withheld information from the public, preventing it from making an informed decision.
What about their own behaviour surrounding information which was made available to the public during the consultation process?
This is what Friends of the Earth made of Highways England’s approach, in their formal response to the public consultation process:
“Vital information on the benefits and effects used to inform the consultation brochure is not in the public domain, therefore the public are being asked to ‘choose’ a route based on limited information. It is far too late to release reports containing the economic and environmental assessments after the public consultation has closed. If Highways England view this as a genuine opportunity for local residents to shape the decision then far more detailed information must be made available for the public consultation.
Friends of the Earth requested a copy of the air quality survey data which was used to base the conclusions on air quality impacts but these are not currently publicly available. There is no assessment so far as we can see on how either option would impact on legal air quality obligations. This is a major omission for a public consultation.”
Dare we say that this makes Highways England’s letter a little hypocritical?
In any event, the public made its decision. It was informed, based on the limited information it was given.
Highways England ignored it.
As for continuing to work with community groups, at the first hint of opposition, Highways England has gone back on a commitment made to Rimrose Valley Friends to notify us when the exploratory work on Rimrose Valley will commence. Senior Project Manager Carl Stockton did so, citing the safety of its workforce and sub-contractors, having become aware of our intentions to protest.
We believe that this is nothing but a smokescreen.
The fact is, Highways England should ALWAYS have been aware of our intentions and our legal right to protest, as it would be with ANY organisation associated with protecting the environment, on ANY scheme they’ve worked on. EVER.
It is our opinion that using our protests as justification for going back on a commitment to share information with us is disingenuous, at best.
It is difficult to understand why this is the case. We can only assume that it is to maximise the element of surprise when exploratory work begins and is an attempt to prevent us from being ready to stand up for ourselves.
Based on gatherings we have held to date, we’re confident that our community is engaged and ready to protest in a positive and peaceful manner. We continue to work with the police to ensure that we do everything possible to deliver respectful and legal protests.
If Highways England feels threatened by protestors made up of children, parents, grandparents and dogs, this speaks volumes.
2. Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs)
What they said:
During the public consultation process, Highways England assured people that there would be NO residential CPOs. When asked directly by the Chair of RVF how it would be possible for traffic to pass through the narrow strip of land alongside the railway line at Brookvale, where it would meet Princess Way WITHOUT the need for CPOs, Highways England’s Senior Project Manager, Carl Stockton, explained that they’d worked out that the narrow space would be sufficient, with only one industrial unit possibly needing to be acquired.
What has happened:
It now transpires that Highways England has issued letters to approximately 10 residential properties (and, we’ve been led to believe, 5 businesses), explaining that as the project has evolved, they have suddenly realised the land is not wide enough at that point.
Anyone with even the smallest bit of knowledge of the area could have told them this from the start, and based on reports we have received from our supporters, we know that people did tell them at the time of the public consultation.
This begs the question; is it really the case that they have realised this only now? Or should it have known all along that CPOs were going to be required? Could it be that the bad publicity around CPOs was simply too much information to share during the public consultation?
It raises serious questions as to whether the Government Agency, funded by YOU, has effectively misled the local community to further its objectives.
We have learned that residents are to be offered the market value of their home, plus 10% in compensation.
For anyone who wants to use this as an opportunity to move, we are happy for them.
However, what about those who wish to remain? This isn’t compensation. It’s an enforced payment. There is no option to say ‘no’.
Furthermore, what about the residents who aren’t facing CPOs, but will be living right next to the proposed road? Not only do they lose the green space and clean air on their doorstep, they must live with the consequences of Highways England’s disastrous road for years to come.
But don’t worry! We are told that, once the road has been built and in use for 12 months, remaining residents may be eligible for compensation for the loss of value to their homes.
This does not apply to the period when it is under construction.
As we understand it, it takes into account considerations such as noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke, artificial lighting and solid or liquid discharge on to your property.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
However what isn’t covered is the loss to the value of property caused by the destruction of Rimrose Valley.
The landscape, tranquillity and beauty of the land which were once a draw and a selling point to prospective purchasers, become quite the opposite.
3. Tunnel Options and CPOs
What they said:
You may remember that, in its March newsletter, Highways England added a helpful FAQs section. This was a direct result of our meeting, as it addressed many of the issues and concerns we raised with Carl Stockton and Tim Gamon. In its explanation as to why a tunnel option was never progressed, they claimed that a tunnel:
“…might also involve the compulsory purchase and demolition of up to 200 homes and businesses.”
The operative word here is ‘might’.
What has happened:
Given Highways England assured the public that its preferred route would involve NO CPOs, which has since risen to a minimum of 10, and in light of its subsequent behaviour in ceasing communications with us; are we honestly expected to believe that the above figure hasn’t simply been plucked out of the air to justify its chosen scheme, which – however it chooses to dress it up – is the cheapest, quickest, most destructive option.
Further support for this belief can be found in Carl Stockton’s recent letter to the Liverpool Echo in its issue on Sunday, 5th August, 2018.
In it, he writes:
“We have never made ‘assurances’ there would be no requirement to buy property. In developing the option we said we didn’t think we’d need any – but, not unusually, as the actual design has evolved, it’s become clear some land is needed involving 11 properties (compared to up to 250 for a tunnel)”
Hang on a second.
So, Highways England’s response to the Liverpool Echo drawing attention to its u-turn on CPOs required for its road is to ‘up the ante’ and add another 50 properties to their finger in the air estimate of the number required for a tunnel.
Where exactly is this figure coming from?
Where are the plans?
Who was commissioned to prepare them?
What was their brief?
What alternative routes were explored?
Will Carl Stockton simply increase the number of CPOs each time the plans come under more scrutiny?
In our meeting with Highways England, Carl Stockton and Tim Gamon wafted plans for two tunnels under our noses, seemingly in an attempt to reassure us that a tunnel had been considered.
However, they refused to let us take copies of these plans away with us to enable us to study them in detail, on the grounds that they were confidential.
One thing we did manage to spot was the date of the plans.
In other words, one month before the announcement of its preferred scheme.
If this is the documentation it intends to rely on in court in order to support its case that a tunnel was considered but discounted, we sincerely hope that the date of these plans is noted.
On the face of it, it smacks of an attempt at the 11th hour to pull something together to address calls for a tunnel from both the public and from Sefton Council.
The fact is, Highways England has NO interest in pursuing any alternative which doesn’t come within their budget. As a reminder, this is a paltry amount compared to similar schemes in the South.
£4.4 to £6.2 billion for the Lower Thames Crossing.
£1.4 billion for a tunnel under Stonehenge.
What are WE worth?
What is OUR clean air and physical and mental health worth?
What is OUR environment and wildlife worth?
£250 million, apparently. As stated in Highways England’s March 2018 Newsletter.
Although even this figure seems to have been reduced to “£200 million” in Carl Stockton’s same letter to the Liverpool Echo.
Again, where has this latest figure come from?
Why the reduction?
Who is accountable for these inconsistencies?
Why is no reference made to the latest figures on Highways England’s own website, which lists the cost as between £163m and £335m?
We must always bear in mind that this road is considered by the UK Government to be a major infrastructure route as part of its national Road Investment Strategy. It is being delivered primarily to support the Port of Liverpool. We are not talking about a route that is intended solely to serve or benefit the local people, yet we are the ones expected to bear the loss to our environment and our health.
We believe that this is completely unacceptable.
As is the fact that Highways England’s newsletters, paid for by US have been handed to OUR children via OUR schools.
Why should we accept such disparity between the North and the South, on the grounds of a hugely flawed and arbitrary cost-benefit calculation, which doesn’t take into account the cost to the state (including the NHS) the pollution and sickness this road will bring? Nor the supposed billions of pounds worth of trade the Port of Liverpool’s expansion promises to deliver. Nor the ‘carrot’ of hundreds or even thousands of local jobs which can never be explained or demonstrated each and every time we ask.
Another of its stated disastrous consequences that a tunnel might result in includes:
“…the construction of ventilation shafts and power sub-stations every kilometre through the Rimrose Valley.”
We sincerely hope they’ve told the good people of Stonehenge and the Lower Thames Crossing about THEIR ventilation shafts and sub-stations.
Put simply, we are being sold down the river, which is ironic really, when it is the desire to accommodate the Port of Liverpool’s expansion which is at the heart of this.
4. The future of the A5036 corridor
What they are saying:
We have learned from the sessions that Highways England has held with residents over recent weeks that it is now making some pretty fanciful claims as to what the future will hold for those living alongside sections of the A5036. One resident was told that ALL traffic will be encouraged to use the proposed road through Rimrose Valley. That penalties will be issued to HGVs using the A5036 corridor. That sections of the road will become 20mph and reduced in width. That there will effectively be a “tree-lined boulevard”.
We want to make it absolutely clear that, as a campaign, we are calling for a solution to this problem which results in better living conditions for ALL communities – including those along the A5036.
Whenever we discuss Highways England’s claims about this route, we aren’t trying to meddle in other people’s business, belittle any arguments, or play down the terrible conditions that people along that route suffer today.
However, it is ABSOLUTELY our duty to draw attention to what we believe is Highways England’s ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, which we feel has been a deliberate, tactical approach to this situation from Day 1.
Promise one section of the community a better future.
Promise the other a worse one.
In other words, try to create conflict and division in order to push through the desired outcome.
Shame on them.
What they have previously said:
The fact of the matter is that Highways England is in NO position to determine the future of the A5036 corridor.
They have previously told us that, should the proposed road be built, responsibility for the old route would be handed back to Sefton Council and it will be for THEM to decide what happens next to that route, NOT Highways England.
That’s Sefton Council.
As in the same Council which has brought the Judicial Review against Highways England, calling for a tunnel option to be presented.
Having met with Sefton Councillors, they tell us that they are opposed to the road and are doing everything they can to stop it in its current form. In comments made to the Liverpool Echo on Sunday, 29th July, Cllr Ian Maher stated:
“(Highways England) have come up with a half baked idea. The park will be destroyed and many people’s homes will be compulsorily purchased so they can build this road. You have a Judicial Review coming up in October. They are ignoring the whole process and it is just full steam ahead. The way they are dealing with residents is disgraceful. It is all being done to save money and to hell with the consequences. There is an arrogance in Highways England that I find difficult to take. If we were in the South East, this would have been fully funded by the Government.”
So, why is Highways England putting out statements about the future possibilities of the A5036 in their newsletters?
Why is it spending public money on artist’s impressions of what the road COULD look like, when it is not their decision to make?
To try and create conflict and confusion amongst communities.
To offer false hope.
To try and divide and conquer.
We believe that Highways England is trying to ‘sell’ their solution to whoever will listen, but they will have ABSOLUTELY NO POWER OR INFLUENCE to see it through.
We have to point this out.
5. The road HAS to go ahead, before funding is lost.
What they are saying:
Highways England is telling us that it simply MUST press ahead with the project, as Government funding is only ring-fenced until 2020.
It is the Judicial Review which will determine whether Highways England and therefore the UK Government must go back to the drawing board. In choosing to ignore this process, we feel that Highways England is displaying a disregard for our courts and our legal process. As they told us in our meeting with them, they are letting their lawyers sort it out and sticking to existing timescales. Lawyers presumably paid for by… YOU.
If the Judicial Review means that they unable to commence construction by 2020 then, frankly, that is no fault of ours and it simply CANNOT be used as an argument, or as a means of persuading the public that it will ‘miss out’ on crucial investment.
As both Peter Dowd MP and Sefton Council stated in their recent meeting with us, there is no point in having investment in our region if it isn’t GOOD investment, which delivers not only prosperity, but also protects the health and wellbeing of the residents who live and work in the region and are the people responsible for making it thrive.
Put simply, Highways England should have carried out its research, planning and consultation work correctly to begin with and then they wouldn’t have this obstacle set to derail the timeline. Beginning by offering more than TWO terrible and untenable ‘options’ in its laughable public consultation – the outcome of which they conveniently chose to ignore.
As Friends of the Earth highlighted in its formal response, the public was given a “false choice” with critical information on the impact to public health and the environment withheld.
The negative consequences of not addressing the traffic problem in good time will be Highways England’s responsibility, not ours and we sincerely hope they are instructed to halt the existing plans until a far more suitable solution is found.
Therefore, we eagerly await the outcome of the Judicial Review and we will respect the legal process.
6. Some of the other things we’ve learned from the Highways England sessions – including plans for mitigating the impact of the road – that we wanted to share with you:
It has committed to replacing the lost green space*
*Within a THREE MILE radius. They have a statutory obligation to do this.
It will create a new children’s play area near Broom’s Cross*
*Oh great! A play area a couple of miles north of Rimrose Valley? No more problems being disrupted by your kids playing within eyesight and earshot, this will be perfect for children who live near… well… Broom’s Cross and who love the smell and taste of traffic fumes in their lungs. Join the queue for that one. We also understand that football pitches at Buckley Hill are set to be lost. What have our kids done wrong, exactly?
There will be a 2 metre high fence along the entire route*
*Presumably not only an attempt to tick the health and safety box and drown out the din, but also to hammer home just how much the road will sever communities in two, destroying the cohesion and physical links that exist today.
There will be a cycle lane alongside the road*
*Brilliant! Because who needs a tranquil, safe, traffic and pollution-free path through a country park, when you can take your chances alongside HGVs, vans, cars, motorbikes? It begs the question: Does Highways England have even a BASIC grasp of the need to encourage green forms of transport, and the harm caused to cyclists by breathing the pollution of other road traffic?
There will be 6 lanes at exit*
*Really? Six? It will be interesting to see how they intend to squeeze these in. Are we to watch this space for more CPOs?!
In responding to concerns about pollution, Highways England is claiming that, as modern vehicles will have lower emissions, this will help reduce pollution levels on the proposed road through Rimrose Valley*
*Yes, it’s great that vehicles will, over time, continue to be less polluting than they are today.
It’s funny how Highways England will use the same argument in reverse when it suits them.
Did you know that one of the reasons they provide for opting to destroy Rimrose Valley rather than accommodating more traffic on the existing A5036 corridor is because of the increasing pollution levels?
They aren’t simply shifting the problem from one place to another at all. Honest.
So, there you have it.
Quite a lot to take in, isn’t it?
We’ll try and summarise it all for you.
Highways England’s current plan involves the compulsory purchase of homes and business, when it said it wouldn’t. It is no longer engaging with our organisation, when it said it would. It is spending a fraction on our region compared to those in the South and is warning us that the clock’s ticking on this ‘investment’. It is promising better conditions to one section of our community, (having admitted previously that it wouldn’t be responsible for delivering it) whereas it actually intends to shift the problem from one area to another. Its plans for mitigation include making children travel miles further for recreation, kids and cyclists inhaling toxic pollution… and the creation of a physical barrier between our communities.
Is all of this just incompetence?
Is it simply that the Highways England juggernaut is oblivious to its impact?
Or, are we cynical enough to think this could be deliberate?
Is Highways England being instructed to deliver the quickest, cheapest and laziest solution to meet a national infrastructure requirement by our own Government?
Are the needs of big business being placed ahead of the health and wellbeing of the people in our region? A reminder of the project name: “The A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Scheme”.
If justification for the above is that hundreds or even thousands (depending on which report you read) of new local jobs are to be created, where is the material evidence of this?
Whilst we keep an open mind about this, we have to continue to challenge Highways England, as it is they who are trying to force these plans through.
In trying to convey just how far out of touch Highways England is, we can do no worse than refer once again to our good friend Carl Stockton’s letter to the Liverpool Echo, in which he writes:
“We’re not high-handed. Our staff have tried to involve everyone, including the Friends of Rimrose Valley. And we urge everyone to get involved in the statutory phase - the project is an opportunity to deliver a better quality of life for thousands alongside the existing route and also transform the park.”
Based on everything we’ve said above, we’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to what this actually means.
How much more incentive do we all need to fight these plans?
We are worth MORE.
We deserve MORE.
We MUST be heard.
Link to HE’s March 2018 Newsletter Media & Documents, Newsletters: https://highwaysengland.co.uk/projects/a5036-port-of-liverpool-access/
HE Letter to RVF Supporter dated 4th April, 2018. Copy available on request
North West Friends of the Earth’s Response to Public Consultation. Copy available on request
Liverpool Echo, Sunday 5th August
Official costs for HE Lower Thames Crossing: https://highwaysengland.co.uk/lower-thames-crossing-about/
Official costs for HE Stonehenge Tunnel: https://highwaysengland.co.uk/projects/a303-stonehenge-amesbury-and-berwick-down/