My response to this tweet requires more than 280 characters, so I’ve written this blog.
I’ll attempt to answer this question in three parts:
- What is the context for this question?
- How would things be different now if I had been MP for Bootle?
- Given that we are where we are, what would I do if I was elected as MP for Bootle on 12th Dec 2019?
1. What is the context for this question?
In 2002, Sefton BC Technical Services Department; Sefton BC Planning Department; Liverpool City Council; The Highways Agency; Strategic Rail Authority; Merseytravel; and Atlantic Gateway commissioned and oversaw a £500,000 study which analysed road access to the port of Liverpool. This report concluded that, if nothing was done, pollution and congestion levels around the A5036 would become intolerable. The reviewers examined all the ways forward which could relieve this situation and they concluded that a road should be built through Rimrose Valley. (Reference: Port of Liverpool Strategic Transport Access Study – Final Report 2004).
By 2014 Cancer rates in Linacre Ward had become the highest in England with Litherland Ward close behind (Reference: The Litherland and Linacre Ward Profiles currently available on Sefton Borough Council Website), with rates being around 30% higher than those in the areas of the UK with the highest deprivation scores (Reference: Cancer Research deprivation-gradient statistics).
The A5036 is now often gridlocked. Further expansion of Seaforth docks is planned in the near future, so the situation is now urgent. This doesn’t just an inconvenience for local residents and commuters, it is a health issue – vehicles stuck in traffic generate higher levels of pollution and CO2 than they would if moving efficiently.
To tackle this, Highways England are in the process of overseeing the creation of a design for a road through Rimrose Valley. But – the proposal to build a road through Rimrose Valley is understandably extremely unpopular with many local residents and my own party.
Our local Labour political leadership have consistently buried this issue from public view and delegated it to officers of Sefton Borough Council to ‘deal with’. The actions that officers have attempted to implement are detailed in paragraph 3.2 of the feasibility study for their latest proposal which is for a ‘Sefton Clean Air Zone’. Nobody knows what impact, if any, their efforts have had because there has been no public oversight of them and reliable, transparent systems for measuring their impact have not been in place. There has been no effort from Labour to build a culture of collaboration and consensus. My reading of the research suggests that work done by the EU to reduce pollution from container ships will have had far more impact on local pollution levels in Bootle than anything done here (Reference: April 2018 Concerted EU Action reduced air pollution from shipping in European coastlines and ports). I can’t find any reference to local politicians or executives even being aware of this.
2. How would things be different now if I had been MP for Bootle?
I would have fought for residents’ right to know what’s going on, I would scrutinise what’s proposed (and the rationale for it), and work with the community to try to help to create better ways forward. I believe absolutely in full and inclusive consultation on all challenging issues (Reference: Healthcare Coproduction – A Personal Account by Rebecca Hanson) because, in my experience of such challenges (which is substantial), this is the only way that situations like this can be turned around. By that I mean that it is that this is the only way forward which could lead to an outcome other than a road being built through Rimrose Valley.
I cannot predict what this kind of consultation would have found but I would expect initial outcomes of it to have included:
- A shared public understanding of the rationale for the road.
- A shared focus on creating deliverable alternative options such as constructing Seaforth Docks with some kind of link to the road network at or beyond Switch Island.
- The debunking of time and energy-wasting myths about unfeasible proposals.
- The proactive questioning of all experts involved to encourage them to think ‘outside the box’ and come up with creative, deliverable suggestions.
- Consultations with experts from ports around the world facing similar challenges.
- Wider thinking about ways of tackling the pollution issues around the docks and the road network.
- Ensuring that very detailed pollution monitoring is taking place and is available for public scrutiny.
- Ensuring that detailed pollution monitoring is used to quantify the impact of any actions taken to reduce pollution, so everyone knows what’s been effective and what hasn’t.
- A huge amount of work on using the raised awareness of the pollution issues in the Bootle constituency (which would be achieved by accurate monitoring of pollution levels and through open consultation on these issues) to encourage people to take their own actions to reduce pollution, such as buying less polluting cars, using public transport, cycling, walking and carsharing and so on.
- An increase in public trust in those in authority because everything which is going on is publicly reported, scrutiny is welcome and those who have ideas and expertise to offer are warmly invited in, so that they contribute all they can.
- Substantial work to ensure that national policy on the development of port-related national infrastructure is made fit for purpose.
This is what Bootle’s MP and other elected politicians could and should have added – as the bridge between residents, and the professionally commissioned work of officers.
3. Given that we are where we are, what would I do if I was elected as MP for Bootle on 12th Dec 2019?
Without a fresh approach, it seems clear that the road through Rimrose Valley is destined to go ahead.
However, I would set up an intensive process to try to ensure that these democratic processes that have been so painfully absent take place immediately with tremendous energy, transparency, inclusivity, with proper resource and with my personal oversight. I would do my utmost to facilitate a better solution. As part of this process I would ensure that anyone who has ideas which may be viable has their suggestions fully investigated, with all ideas and investigations being published so that everyone knows what’s going on and can make further suggestions given what’s already been considered.
A final , personal note:
Some will accuse me of trying to make political capital out of this issue. Some will attack me personally. Be wary of people who do either. This blog is a genuine attempt to improve the future of what happens in this Constituency through detailed, scrutineering politics which is precisely what opposition parties should do. It is our role to raise concerns about things which should be better and offer to do them better because unless somebody does, they don’t improve, and it matters tremendously that they should. In the spirit of openness, I welcome your comments & criticism – but please be wary of those who trade in hate & abuse. Many talented people are being put off entering politics because of the personal attacks politicians are being subjected to – and we must do better.
Rebecca Hanson. 1 December 2019. After a long night of counselling Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidates who’ve been receiving death threats.