Category Archives: West Lancs

Revealed – Labour’s plan to win West Lancs (rename it Skelmersdale)

I was more than a little surprised a couple of weeks ago when I read the following in a piece on the “Wigan Today” website:


Wigan Today: Cemetery campaign for town

A shortage of graves has prompted a renewed campaign for a new cemetery in West Lancashire.
Rosie Cooper wants a new public facility to be opened at Pippin Street in Skelmersdale so that families no longer have to bear the extra costs of burying a loved one.

All very good… However, I’m pretty certain that there isn’t a Pippin Street in Skelmersdale, and that this refers to the proposed Cemetery to be built by Pippin Street, Burscough. I dismissed the story as a schoolboy journalist error by someone who didn’t know the West Lancs area and forgot about it until I saw this on Rosie’s own website:



Screenshot

The general election next year is going to be difficult for us, particularly in West Lancs where the Tories have a strong hold on all wards in the Constituency outside of the Skelmersdale area (with the proud exception of Bickerstaffe). The bulk of Labour voters live in Skelmersdale and we need to be seen to be delivering – particularly if the town centre plans are scuppered by the new Everton/Tesco development in Knowsley (rumoured to have been agreed by the secretary of state).

It is well known locally that Skelmersdale has run out of burial space and families are forced to have their loved ones buried in neighbouring towns and boroughs.

Rosie has campaigned hard for a cemetery in Skelmersdale since elected in 2005 and last year a planning application was passed for a cemetery in Pippin Street, Burscough, about seven miles (as the crow flies) away from Moorside, Skem – my old patch. To give Rosie credit, she has since campaigned for a new bus route so that families in Skem can visit their loved ones in the proposed Pippin Street cemetery.

However, the newspaper article and website suggest that the local campaigning brains trust has had a stroke (of genius). By simply extending the boundaries of Skelmersdale to take in Pippin Street we can claim to have delivered a new Skelmersdale Cemetery without all the bother of finding a suitable site near the (old) town centre.



View Skem + Cemetery in a larger map

And why should it stop there? We could deliver the long promised hospital by extending the town’s boundaries down Wigan Road (to be fair, it’s a childrens A&E, but it’s a start):


View Skem + hospital in a larger map

In fact, given that on average, someone living in Parbold will live seven to eight years long than someone living in Skelmersdale, we could increase the average life expectancy in Skelmersdale by simply making the town bigger and extending the boundaries out towards Parbold:


View Skem + hospital + parbold in a larger map

It seems to me that this is an campaigning masterstroke. Taking it to the logical conclusion (well one of many) we could take the proposed Skelmersdale cemetery as the new geographical centre and project out seven miles in all directions – creating a new Greater Skelmersdale (Skelmershire?) Delivering for Skem a world-class University at Edge Hill, a beach at what was once Southport, both a childrens and adult A&E, several railway stations and countless other benefits.


View Skelmershire in a larger map

The electoral landscape would also be transformed – pushing the “out of Skem” areas deep into South Ribble and Sefton, and making the whole of what was West Lancs rock-solid Labour areas. Virtually guaranteed to return a Labour MP at the next General Election.

So there you have it. Quite simple really.

Speed limits to be cut on 84 roads across Lancashire

I spotted this today: Speed limits to be cut on 84 roads across Lancashire, a report in the Lancashire Telegraph stating that a two-year County Council study of all the county’s A and B roads has recommended new speed limits for 84 stretches of road.

The newspaper report goes on to say that 13 will be cut in West Lancashire.

This is a different initiative to the reduction in national speed limits that I posted about yesterday, and taken together should make the roads in West Lancs even safer. Once I get a copy of the report I’ll post which roads are recommended for speed changes.

UPDATE:

This is due for discussion at the Lancashire Local meeting on Thursday, agenda here. Scroll down to item 10 on the agenda and you’ll find all the information.

Interesting to see that this is a scheme that has been worked on for the past two years and that it will take up to another two years to be implemented, so not the fastest turnaround ever. The work was kicked off following guidance from the government (“Setting Local Speed Limits” is available on the dti website here), which itself was the result of a number of years work.

These things take a long time to go from national review, to guidance, to local review to implementation, but it will be worth it in the end.

National speed limit to be reduced from 60 to 50mph

It is reported today in The Sunday Times that the national speed limit is to be reduced from 60 to 50mph. Specifically aimed at reducing the death toll on rural roads, this will improve the lives of all those in West Lancashire who live on one of the many national speed limit roads.

Dave Sudworth has already pointed out that this will be good news in Skelmersdale, and it’s true that there are a couple of roads in the town which have the national speed limit. There are other roads in the town that have 40 and 50mph limits but still have terrible accidents – mainly because of the planning and layout of the road.

A couple of years ago, Rosie Cooper organised a transport related “Let’s Talk” session, and I was taken aback by the tales of those who lived on rural roads. Young families with children trying to get to a school just 500 yards away, but petrified of the speeding traffic outside their house and elderly people who are left isolated because of irresponsible driving.

We live on the A59 close to a stretch between Burscough and Ormskirk. The traffic heading up to Burscough starts accelerating well before the speed limit changes, and southbound traffic regularly exceeds 50mph well into the 40mph zone. I know that braking technology on cars has improved, but the regular sight of cars being dug out of hedges and front garden walls suggests that the brain to foot and foot to pedal technology is still somewhere in the stone-ages.

Well done to the government for standing up to the driving lobby and implementing something that will make a real improvement to people’s lives.

Gratuitous hat tip to Dave for spotting this.

Baldock, new deputy mayor, looks forward to discovering world beyond front-door

At last week’s Council meeting it was agreed that Cllr Baldock should be the deputy Mayor of the new West Lancs Borough. Reported in the Southport Visitor he says:

As a North Meols councillor I have not seen many other wards in the district. In my new role I am looking forward to meeting more people from different parts of the area.

I’m sure he’s delighted to be the first deputy Mayor, but to state publically that in ten years as a Council member, a regular member of the planning committee and three years as cabinet member for waste management, he hasn’t seen many other wards in the district is disgraceful.

It’s no surprise though, because week after week, I would despair at Tory councillors who had no idea what was going on outside their own patch. This lack of understanding is why Skelmersdale is left misunderstood and ignored by the Tories and why parts of Ormskirk are left under-represented with semi-detached rural councillors with safe Ormskirk Tory seats.

This narrow-minded parochialism, particularly from an ex-cabinet member, should be alarming to all in West Lancs who want the district to be prosperous and successful.

I welcome the fact that Cllr Baldock is finally getting his head out of the sand, but it stinks that he’s needs the gold chain around his neck to do it.

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Transmitter planning for Skelmersdale

I have a couple of google alerts which send an email when news items are published about Skelmersdale and Ormskirk. My inbox started to overflow this week with reports of last week’s planning meeting and the decision to visit the site of the proposed Skelmersdale digital TV transmitter before granting permission.

Obviously this has to be installed in good time before the digital switchover on the 4th November later this year.

A quick search on the Ofcom site showed that the planning for Skelmersdale was underway in February 2005, four years ago, with the timetable for the digital switchover being confirmed in September that year.

The application for the transmitter in Dalton was received in December 2008 – a delay of well over three years. That stretch of time can’t be explained by investigating the technical issues or alternative sites presented in the report to the Committee.

My experience from being on the planning committee in West Lancs was that it fiercely defended it’s independence, wouldn’t cow-tow to others trying to push it around and always strived to come to the right decision. If they believe they should visit the site, then that’s what they should do. A decision in March would still give over six months for the transmitter to be erected and tested.

The responsibility for getting the transmitter up in good time lies with Ofcom, not with the Council and that’s where any criticism should be directed.

Tories hammering Ormskirk with proposed cuts

Reported in the Advertiser this week – Tories proposing to:

  • Closing the Civic Centre – ending pantos, shows and other entertainment in the town
  • Removing funding for Police Community Support Officers
  • Increasing pest control charges by up to £5 per job
  • Removing the rangers’ service
  • Stopping the annual kite festival
  • Stopping Community Chest grants

Labour colleagues on the District Council saying that the Tories are trying to paint a worst case picture to lower expectations. But it certainly shows where their priorities (don’t) lie.

West lancs services to be slashed in budget?

Bill Taylor, the Chief Executive of West Lancs Council writes occasionally in the localgov website. He writes the following in his latest article District View: Has CPA had its day?

I argued in this column recently that the days of step change improvement are finished, finito, gone for the foreseeable future – the notion that across the piece we can get substantially more for less is plainly ‘tosh’; (obviously we will continue to seek to make efficiency gains when we can but these are not going to bridge the massive financial gaps in councils budgets).

We are, therefore, in a period of retrenchment where services will have to be reduced particularly in non-priority/statutory areas. (my emphasis)

The Council is drafting it’s budget for 09/10 which will be announced in next month’s meeting. Bill leaves us with no doubt that there will be cuts – and gives a good idea where they will be. If he’s citing non-statutory, then I expect big cuts in leisure.

What’s more worrying is that he cites “non-priority areas”. This is arm-waving stuff, what’s a priority today could be dropped tomorrow if they don’t like it. Certainly the Tories in West Lancs have never liked being involved with improving health – they see it as something for the PCT to do. They tried dropping the doctor referral scheme a couple of years ago (and then brought it back after an outcry). I expect that they’ll try something similar again this year.

For the Chief Exec to say that there isn’t any further scope for step change improvement shows how low the Council’s ambition has sunk. To dismiss the idea so glibly has to be a concern to all Council Tax payers in the District and I hope he is put on the spot about it at forthcoming meetings.

Extra £400,000 investment in West Lancs roads

I rarely quote press releases in full, but this will make a big difference in West Lancs. There are some parts of the District that really need some additional investment in the roads and this is welcome.

From the Lancashire County Council website:

News : Extra £400,000 for West Lancashire’s Highways

WEST LANCASHIRE’S highways are set for a major overhaul following extra investment from Lancashire County Council.

The county council recently awarded an extra £415,350 to carry out additional maintenance and repair works in West Lancashire. This is on top of the £3.5 million the council already planned to invest in the area.

Lancashire Local – West Lancashire has now agreed how the cash will be spent and road safety, pedestrians, crime reduction and highway resurfacing projects will all receive extra investment.

County Councillor Matthew Tomlinson, Cabinet member for sustainable development, explained: “I am delighted that the county council has been able to allocate an extra £5million for highways in Lancashire and that West Lancashire is receiving a large part of the cash.

“Thanks to this an extra 21 schemes will be carried out this year. These are jobs that would not otherwise have got done this financial year, but our local highway team are now able to make some real progress.?

County Councillor David O’Toole, chair of Lancashire Local – West Lancashire, said: “It is very good news, not only that this money has been found, but also that the county council has handed the money over to local councillors to make the decisions on exactly where it is spent. As a county councillor for West Lancashire, and chair of the Lancashire Local, this is a step in the right direction that has allowed us to take control and tackle some of the longer standing projects that we simply didn’t have the money to pay for.?

Some dangerously sensible thinking from Sefton Lib Dems

Perhaps…

Sefton Lib Dems reportedly put forward a motion to Cabinet to build stronger Lancashire links between Sefton and Lancashire. The report on “Birkdale Focus” site unsurprisingly takes a pop at their local Tories for not supporting it, but goes on to say that it was passed in the Cabinet vote.

Their deputy leader is quoted saying:

“… we desperately want to find a way to improve the eastern and northern access into Southport, both by train and car, but the road bottleneck is in Ormskirk and the missing rail link is in Burscough. As both these towns are in Lancashire, we want Sefton to take the lead to work across council boundaries into West Lancs, just as we do to the south of the Borough with the other Merseyside Authorities.”

It remains to be seen what the Tories in West Lancs make of this. If it is just a LD wheeze to out-fox the Tories on Sefton Council, then West Lancs Tories might follow suit and reject the gesture. I hope not.

West Lancs is stuck between Merseyside, Gtr Manchester and Lancashire. It we are serious about getting the investment needed into our infrastructure and towns, then we need to have close working relationships with the neighbouring boroughs.

Relative truth, relative lies

Currently mulling over the truthfulness and not of local politicians at the moment. I had a much longer posting in my head, but I don’t think time will allow… but suffice to say that a letter that we received last week from a local politician has left me wondering if we still actually value truth any more in politics.

This might sound naive, but during 15 years of active political engagement, it’s only in the past few years I’ve come to see at first hand not just a twisting of the truth (which, lets face it, you expect) but outright lies.

The point of a local opposition party is to challenge lies and deceit when it appears, but in West Lancs I think there is a stalemate because there is no third-party to keep the others in check. The local papers don’t scrutinise – partly because you have to get someone to do the digging, which costs money.

A lack of clear responsibility for local services – caused by the split between County and District – gives space for claims and counter-claims to be made with no real authority and no clarity for the population to gauge the truthfulness.

A status quo appears to have emerged where stuff just gets said with no apparent consequence. Free swimming for the under 16’s is just one example. The Tories say that it will cost an extra £100,000 to implement it and so they’re not doing it – when there is very little justification for that statement at all. Does that make it a lie? On the face of it, probably not. If they said it just so that they have something in the local paper which puts the government in a bad light with the aim of keeping control at the District and perhaps gaining votes at the County and General Elections, then yes, that makes it a premeditated lie – but my analysis is just guesswork – so I can’t say one way or the other. I’m pretty certain, though, that I’m right.

The Skelmersdale development is said to be bringing in £350 million investment into the town centre (I may have got that figure wrong), but when questioned that £350 million was the projected _value_ of the town centre when it is completed – not the amount of investment. Is that a lie? Does it matter? It expect that it does if you’re being kicked out of your house to get the development done. Does it matter if the conclusion of the project is a new re-invigorated town centre?

If it becomes OK to mislead on the big things – for the greater good. Does it then follow that we should lie on a personal one to one basis? To gain power, or to maintain power? To avoid people finding out what one really thinks?

Personally, I think I have to go back to Philosophy 101 and Politics 101. But my gut feeling is that where we have politicians willing to be truthful with the public that they serve and who can be trusted on a one-to-one basis, then it’s not just a better functioning local democracy, but we also then will have a better chance of getting the things that the District, the towns and villages, really need.