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Bickerstaffe as car park, Tories as hypocrites

10.25.10 | Comment?

If you’re a Bickerstaffe resident, there’s an interesting statement, to say the least, by Dr John Cater, the Vice-Chancellor of Edge Hill University, in last week’s Ormskirk Champion (not yet online):

I was encouraged to learn from last week’s Champion that one or more councillors are suggesting that West Lancashire and Sefton and many other local authorities in considering a park and ride scheme for workers, shoppers, visitors and those being educated in the Ormskirk area……

In case you didn’t know, junction 3 of the M58 lies in Bickerstaffe Ward.

While understandably enough the Champion takes this statement at face value under the headline ‘Edge Hill backs park and ride’, the sting is in the tail of Dr Cater’s statement:

I would, however, note that such a development – which to be most effective may have to be on green belt land or near to junction 3 of the M58 – may be much more disruptive and take much longer to materialize than the solutions proposed by the university and accepted by the borough council’s professional experts.’

What the Vice-Chancellor is doing here, and very cannily indeed, is putting Tory councillors (for the idea was raised by a Tory) on the spot for their hypocrisy.

Basically, they appear very happy to propose the idea of a car parking on greenbelt when it’s not in their ward, even though in their ward the Inspector ruled broadly in favour of the university’s limited expansion on to the greenbelt back in 2005.

(Indeed it’s interesting that this idea should emerge as a potential solution just months before an election in a Labour-held ward, not too dissimilar to the way that there were sudden accusation of our Labour MP planning to put a travellers’ camp on the Bickerstaffe greenbelt just before the last election in Bickerstaffe.)

In the end, it’s this constant hypocrisy from the Tories on the council which is holding back any move to resolve the traffic flow and parking problems experience by residents and students alike.

The reality is that the council fought its case in 2005, and lost (partially). That is why the university bought the land between its current facilities on Scarth Hill Lane. Applications to build/expand the sporting facilities and car parking towards Scarth Hill, while each application must of course be judged on its own merits, there is no doubt that applications for use of this greenbelt land are much more likely to succeed than hastily thought-up schemes for an area beyond the local politicking concerns of Conservative councillors.

Creating parking on Edge Hill’s land itself also makes more sense in itself than a park and ride scheme near the M58. The key problem in term-time mornings is not actually the volume of traffic on the A570, but the fact that the right filter at the current entrance into the university is far too short. A new entrance further up the road towards Scarth Hill will allow for a much longer right filter to be established, and with appropriate flow once on to university land, a lot of the problems on the A570 will be overcome, in a way that they won’t simply by adding a carpark three miles away.

Of course residents of Scarth Hill Lane, whom I represent (Scarth Hill Lane is on the edge of Bickerstaffe ward) are opposed to the expansion of Edge Hill University. 

Yet I have been honest enough to tell them both that I have a longstanding relationship with the university (I was on the board there till 2007), and am broadly in favour of the expansion. While residents (and indeed their residents’ association) may disagree with me, at least they recognize that I am being pretty straight.

The fundamental disagreement doesn’t stop me seeking to ensure that, as and when development does come, any possible problems (e.g. lighting from the sports fields) are mitigated, or even to ensure that opportunities are seized to improve of current problems (e.g. drainage/septic tank issues).

Compare this to the constant mixed messages given out by the Tories, always trying to tailor their message to the audience at the time.

This, for example, is the ‘message’ drafted for the Regional Development Agency in early 2009 by the Economic Development Division, a Division under the control of the very same Tory councillor who’s so keen to defend ‘his’ greenbelt:

Consequently, the Council would welcome a re-consideration of a longer-term approach to sub-regional transport priorities in 2009 during the preparation of the Integrated Regional Strategy, primarily because the scheme has the potential to deliver wider economic benefits. For example, the by-pass could potentially make a high quality ‘science park’ style development associated with Edge Hill University on land between the bypass and the urban area of Ormskirk attractive to high-tech inward investment (my emphasis).

In fact this draft was never sent because I – despite only bring given one working day to respond to it – wrote to officers suggesting that putting forward in this way the expansion of building right out to the then planned bypass, without any democratic consideration, might not reflect well on the council, and may anger residents considerably.

The draft was changed before the final version went out; not only were Council blushes saved, but the idea that building on greenbelt right out to the bypass should be ‘fair game’ did not go on the public record (experience suggest that such ideas have a way of becoming self-reinforcing, to the point where it becomes accepted wisdom and an inevitability.

While I’m not against the idea of a science park, and the jobs it might bring, in West Lancashire, I’d prefer to see it discussed openly rather than just shoved into a fairly obscure (though important) document.

But even though the draft didn’t go forward because of my 11th hour intervention, I think the fact that the Tory councillor on question ‘signed it off’, while at the same time making great play of his anti-university stance for more local ears, says a lot about the Tories.

While we do not support the expansion of Edge Hill University absolutely uncritically, the Labour group’s position is that the university is good for the town of Ormskirk (just ask a shopowner about what would happen without students) and good for the economy of West Lancashire.  In this context, its limited expansion, as recommended by the Inspector in 2005, is prima facie justified, though of course this prima facie justification shouldn’t have undue influence over planning applications themselves, which should be judged on its own merits.

It is a disgrace that the Tory Council has fudged on the university’s limited expansion plans for so long, and it’s time for a Labour administration to take over, and to do it properly.

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