Regeneration Means Looking After What You’ve Got, As Well As What You Aim For

Plans for a future Mersey Tram are in tatters at the same time as the very real Mersey Ferry landing stage lies under water. More care for current assets and less dispute about proposals still on the drawing board might have served the Liverpool sub-region better. Regeneration is about looking after what we already have, even as we dream about the future.
Transport arrangements in Liverpool have been somewhat topsy turvey of late.
Am I the only person who wonders how we could be letting our main Passenger Ferry landing stage slip into the Mersey at the same time that we are making such a fuss about the ‘loss’ of the proposed Tram?
After five years of plans and plotting it seems the Trams are not to return to Liverpool, at least in the foreseeable future. This is obviously a blow to those who fought to see this mode of transport resurrected in the city, not least the Merseytravel team who had already invested heavily in track and the like for construction.
All was not as it seemed
But then we learnt that not everyone within the city council was enthusiastic about this idea. There are stories of counter-briefings and blame in high places.
And whilst this extraordinary tale was unfolding…. the Liverpool Pier Head landing stage fell into the Mersey River. And the Ferries had to be cancelled for the foreseeable future, all because of an ‘unexpected’ tide.
So not only will people from the starkly less advantaged east of Liverpool not get the rapid transport system which many insisted they had needed in order to develop work opportunities for the future, but also people who currently travel into Liverpool from Wirral to work (or vice versa) suddenly found their transport had, quite literally, been sunk.
Lessons worth learning?
There may be lessons here for everyone; and doubtless different people will conclude differently what these lessons are. But for me it’s this: Don’t let grand plans for the future ruin what’s OK about the present.
Too much of the regeneration agenda, in Liverpool and quite possibly elsewhere, is taken up with filling the front pages of the local papers with imaginative and very likely undeliverable ideas; but far too little of this agenda is concerned with nurturing what we have already, whether this be people or physical resources. The second, ‘nurturing’ option may be less dramatic than the ‘visionary’ first, but it’s equally important.
Visions for the future have produced a blinkered view of the present. Whilst Liverpool City Council, Merseytravel and others made plans and perhaps counterplans about the hugely expensive Tram, not much thought was, it seems, being giving to our already famous Ferries. And now we have neither. Perhaps, with a bit less posturing and a bit more thought, we could have had both.

Posted on March 11, 2006, in Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Liverpool And Merseyside, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Trams, the myth: I too have been involved in their design for both Manchester and Sheffield.
    Sheffield’s in places is a joke, sharing streets with cars / buses limits their effectiveness greatly, and it has made terrible losses. Manchester’s work only because 90% of their suburban routes are on train lines, like Merseyrail. The minute they surface in the centre they are limited to extremely low speeds and being single decked take up excessive road space. (They would kill to put them under ground but can’t afford to, thus surely shattering the tram idyl.)
    Where is the advancement here? A tram around the city centre will average approx 10mph (horse and carriage could do better). Their infrastructure is really expensive, and requires constant upkeep……. all for what? In the Kirkby case: 5 minute improvement in travel time to town compared to current buses which if segregated as much as the proposed trams could have easily matched this performance.
    On top of that they were less than half as fast as the aging Merseyrail. In fact for the cost of one tram line the entire city could have been remodelled for modern eco-friendly buses, or even microtrams.
    Or if you want to have a bit of futuristic vision a monorail similar to those serving the large Japanese cities. No-one’s ever been run over by a monorail, and existing road capacity is not lost to slow moving trains on the road. They are fast and don’t require overhead electrification.
    The whole idea is surely to improve public transport, to get people to use it as a viable option to the car, trams trundling along noisily in the same traffic jams hardly inspires me.
    Forget European analogies, they don’t hold as much water as you think. Many European trams actually go under ground in the centres so as not adding to, or competing with congestion.

  2. My main concern regarding the trams was that whilst they are fine systems for compact cities, Merseytravel were not in the slightest bit interested in the wider, spatial potential such a system could have provided for the city.
    They seemed content to see it trundling through the poorest districts empty all day long, as long as there was a subsidy to do so (as they get for the grossly underused Northern Line). As it was a ‘regeneration project’ rather than an initiative to provide an efficient means of transport, the long term ‘viability’ of the project, through passenger numbers or passenger ticket purchases, was not considered… never mind considered a central aim.
    It would have taken vastly longer to get downtown from Kirkby than it would by train. Many of the areas along the proposed route are not only poverty stricken, but also extremely low density.
    I always had the impression that it was an ill thought out scheme designed to maximise the amount of grant it could pull into Merseytravel’s coffers. The LET’s system could have provided a viable alternative to the public sector scheme but it was rejected before a full analysis was undertaken… again, I felt that this was on a principle amongst those involved in public transport in the city-region that public transport should be publicly owned.
    As a previous post points out there are alternatives that should now be explored. Monorails along Crosby, the North Docks and through downtown to the airport or even Widnes, trolley buses and other guided bus systems, maybe even the comprehensive expansion of the underground system? We already have the underground loop in the most difficult and expensive section in any city, so testing the possiblility of doing a system of cut and cover… with Merseytravel making a killing on ‘air rights’ above the lines and on adjacent sites to develoment that would make the lines more user friendly.
    The potential of linking the cityline to the downtown underground loop to central has been raised in the recent list of alternative public transport possibilities… perhaps this idea should be expanded?
    What ever system, or combination of systems we settle on, surely the core remit should be the provision of an efficient and fast means of getting round… clouding it in aspects of ‘regeneration’ and tackling ‘exclusion’ just confuses the issue and dilutes the potential of any scheme brought forward. If any scheme works within this core remit it would probably go much further in defeating these aims anyway… as an attractive additional benefit, rather than the bogus ‘core rationale’?

  3. As someone who was once involved in those “lumbering” trams in Sheffield, I can say that they are a very useful addition to the infrastructure of that city and are well populated. They offer something better and more appealing than buses. In fact, with a capacity of 88 seated passengrs and up to 162 standing, they are an efficient means of mass transportation. They can also travel faster than buses. The one downside for Supertram in Sheffield is that it simply doesn’t go to enough places (the Meadowhell bias!).
    However, one major point that the bus operators and their supporters conveniently like to gloss over is the terrible emissions that buses pump out. Diesel operated, they give out the most carcinogenic compounds known to man. There is a good reason why Liverpool city centre is an Air Quality Management zone. And there appears very little desire amongst bus operators to transfer over to cleaner fuel. At the CATCH conference last year, the electric / diesel hybrids that bob around the city centre were on show and the ‘powers that be’ were telling me that the operators simply don’t want to know. It was only European funding that had secured that measly tokenistic gesture.
    Anyone who travels on the roads in Liverpool will see just how appaling Liverpool drivers are at respecting bus lanes (anecdotally, it seems worse than anywhere else).
    Believing buses are the future is the really silly position. I suppose all those European cities with great “trains on roads” systems witnessing less car use must be kicking themselves for not ripping up the tracks and relying on buses!!

  4. I think it is widely accepted that trams in their proposed format for Liverpool were no more “Rapid” transit than are buses….. and at massively greater cost than buses.
    In fact only a relatively small investment in buses (conductors, bus lanes etc) would have given the same performance and infinitely greater flexibility, less street clutter, no overhead lines….. all at a fraction of the price of trams. Therefore, the whole city’s public transport system could’ve been updated for less than the cost of one unnecessary tram route to Kirkby.
    I should say that I speak as someone involved in designing the proposed system. If you really think they are the answer go and watch them lumbering around Manchester or even worse: Sheffield.
    Trains on roads is just plain silly!!!!

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