At the end of August people in Sefton, Liverpool, were devastated to learn that Highways England’s preferred option for upgrading access to the port of Liverpool is to build a new road through the heart of their local country park.
Highways England ran a consultation on the A5036 earlier in the year, but only offered people the choice between two very damaging options where the local community effectively lost out whichever one was picked. Option A involved upgrading the existing road which runs through an already heavily congested corridor and would have brought even more traffic and pollution for local residents. Option B involved building a new road through Rimrose Valley Country Park, severing the park into two narrow strips, shattering its tranquillity and destroying its clean air.
Not surprisingly, neither option was very popular. Indeed as Highways England’s own report states:
“Most respondents indicated they did not like either of the options and would rather see another option chosen. The most commonly mentioned alternatives were:
- Make better use of the rail network as opposed to building new roads
- Build a new road tunnel”
Despite this, Highways England hasn’t reconsidered its proposals but has decided to plough ahead anyway. And with less than a third of respondents to the consultation having supported option B, it is likely to be in for a rough ride. Residents have already set up an online petition against the proposals and are planning further actions.
What is disappointing is that people’s health and quality of life barely register as important considerations. Yet, elsewhere in Europe this is not the case.
Take, for example, the A4 motorway in The Netherlands, which goes from Rotterdam to The Hague and onto Amsterdam, a situation not dissimilar to Liverpool: connecting a major port to its hinterland. A section between Schiedam (a suburb of Rotterdam) and Delft has recently been completed, running through residential areas and open countryside.
Did the authorities in The Netherlands propose anything as outrageous as Highways England? No, they have tunnelled the A4 between the residential areas and sunk the road in the open countryside so that it is virtually invisible. So why can’t Highways England tunnel the A5036 into the port of Liverpool, or the Government prioritise a greater emphasis on putting freight on rail, over and above what is already planned? Are people in Europe worth more than us Brits? No I don’t think so but you have to wonder about a Government that treats its citizens so badly.
It seems that in this country, new infrastructure can only be delivered if it causes great destruction. While some of us thought that the highly damaging roads of the past such as at Twyford Down (M3) or the Newbury Bypass (A34) were behind us, it seems that Highways England has other ideas. What with the threat to the South Downs National Park (A27), Stonehenge World Heritage Site (A303), junction ‘improvements’ at the A3/M25 interchange threatening RHS Wisley or ancient woodland, and many others, it seems that people and important cultural and environmental assets carry little weight with decision makers.
This decision in Liverpool shows everything that is wrong about the Government's roads programme and transport policies. It cannot build its way out of congestion and continuing this approach is threatening important cultural assets. When will this discredited approach be abandoned?
Instead of promoting expensive and damaging new roads, the Government should look at other options, such as better rail services for freight and commuters which would cut traffic and be better news for the environment and the economy. The bloated budget for new roads could be better spent improving the environment around existing roads, not destroying it further.
In the meantime, it seems that Government is set on forcing its plans through with little or no consideration as to what best serves the country’s interests, which must include the impact on people’s health and well-being.