|The famous Lawnmower Museum which gets post addressed to Stockport|
A rare thing happened last week, the town spoke with one voice. The packed town hall meeting agreed that in developing the town there were a number of key challenges:
- Rail links to the North and East
- Maintaining the line to Manchester Piccadilly and Airport
- Improving roads to the North and East
- Promoting the town's name and a commensurate dropping of the failed and hated 'Seftonisation' approach
- make the most of the legacy : Lord St., The Pier, Botanic Gardens etc
- the town is a place people want to live and commute from
- as with past generations we need to 'chase the sea' as it disappears on the western horizon and to that end there was universal enthusiasm for the idea of a energy producing tidal lagoon which would reach out to where the beach now is
- the promised tram to link Central 12, Chapel Street station, Lord St., Neville Street, Ocean Plaza and the Prom
Over a hundred folk packed into the council chamber at the town hall to discuss the strategy for the town produced by a firm of consultants. (I have always liked David Penhaligon's definition of an expert-someone who comes from 50 miles away.) The standard of the discussion was extremely high. Many people had thought deeply about the future of the town and the steps that need to be taken. We had hoteliers, architects, retailers, transport campaigners, the guerrilla gardeners who have done so much to beautify Lord Street/Botanic Gardens/Rotten Row etc, cyclist, motor cyclists, bird watchers, retired Sandgrouder who had come back home and Ollie from the Champion newspaper and many others besides.
Very quickly a consensus emerged that the key impediment to our economic development was the poor transport links to the town especially coming from the north and the east-bearing in mind that we have the Irish Sea on west side of the town- that represents 95% of the land boundary with which we have problems.
First let us look at rail link. We have been repeated failed by the sub region's transport planning. It is centred on the city. Large towns like us that seek to attract visitors from Manchester, Preston, Wigan and all point other than through the narrow corridor to the south have been ignored. Dr Jim Ford gave voice to the concern that we have been sold out again by Merseytravel. A review of the routes that form part of the northern franchise has seen proposed improvement in all of them, except one. The line into our town from Manchester Airport, Bolton and Piccadilly looks destined to be cut. Once again the demand of the city have led them to ignore our plight. Let us be clear the existing rolling stock and track are a disgrace, You could not seriously suggest that anyone approached the town by train from that direction, it would most certainly put them off.
Through the narrow corridor to the south there is a regular train service. It is excellent for commuters but for day trippers, conference goers, weekenders, and those struggling with luggage it is not so good. This is not least of all because the 40 minute journey is punctuated by stops every couple of minutes and the trains are not built for taking passenger luggage.
In what ever direction you travel by rail the connection to a mainline, north, south or east is, shall we say, awkward.
The same is true by road. If we were to target visitors within an hour's drive of the town that would not represent many people to the north and east. This is despite the presence of large urban conurbations near to us. The roads are not fit for purpose. If you come from the M58 the chances are that you will be held up in the bottle neck that is Ormskirk. Travelling from the north is not a lot better.
It is therefore our number one priority to sort out the transport links. It doesn't matter how good our 'offer' is if it is nightmare to get here. Mind you once you arrive the communication within the town is equally poor. We were promised that the Pier tram would be extended up through Ocean Plaza, Chapel Street and Central 12
There was sustained applause for all those who wanted to have the town's name better promoted. There were numerous examples of people not having heard of us, even our prestigious attraction the National Lawn Mower Museum gets post addressed to Stockport.
My colleague, Tony Dawson, recently emailed me a link to a Demos Report 'Talk of the Town'. The report looks at the fate of towns on the periphery of Cities. Surprise, surprise they do appreciably less well in socio economic development that the Cities. Although the impact was observed in the North and the South it was appreciably more pronounced in the north -particularly on Merseyside. Whilst reading report I noticed a reference to work undertaken by ONS which identified that the people had a preference to live in towns with a clear sense of identity -which makes the repeated attempts by bureaucrats to absorb our identity into a city 20 odd miles away. This confirms the point made by Mr Woodward from the public gallery that ours is a town people choose to live in and commute from-and not just to Liverpool but (despite the atrocious road and rail links) Manchester, Preston and Wigan. In this context there was much discussion about neglect of the town, the impact of out of town shopping, and the excellent work volunteers carry out to maintain the things that enhance 'liveability' and wellbeing in the town-the Lord Street guerrilla gardeners, the Rotton Row Project, Botanic gardens etc .
There was universal agreement over the creation of an energy producing tidal lagoon. This would give us back our beach provide an even bigger venue for the 24 yacht race as well as the environmental aspect of clean, sustainable energy production . Indeed the promotion of 'green tourism' was a theme. There is general disappointment that 30 years on from saving the marshes the Marshside RSPB reserve has very few facilities- two hides and a porta-loo
I will return to this issue. In the meantime let us be proud to promote the town's name. We are Southport not North Sefton and we lie on the estuary of the River Ribble.