Will the 20 councillors on Merseytravel mothball the Mersey Ferry terminal at Woodside?

Will the 20 councillors on Merseytravel mothball the Mersey Ferry terminal at Woodside?

                                               

MV Snowdrop (one of the iconic Mersey Ferries) on the River Mersey with Liverpool skyline in the background
MV Snowdrop (one of the iconic Mersey Ferries) on the River Mersey with Liverpool skyline in the background

One of the reasons I have had not had all twelve days of Christmas off, is because next week there are two Merseytravel public meetings.

The one on the afternoon of Thursday 7th January (starting at 2.00pm in the Authority Room, 1st floor, Merseytravel Headquarters, No. 1 Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1BP) is a meeting of all twenty councillors on the Merseytravel Committee (which is now part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority). This committee has councillors from Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral. You might point out that although being called Merseytravel, Halton isn’t in Merseyside but Cheshire (but it is part of the Combined Authority).

The Wirral representatives on Merseytravel are Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour), Cllr Jerry Williams (Labour), Cllr Steve Foulkes (Labour) and Cllr Les Rowlands (Conservative (the two opposition councillors who aren’t in the Labour Party of which he’s one call themselves the Merseytravel Alliance)).

It’s not a long agenda and I am looking forward to the Merseyrail question and answer session, but as you’ve probably guessed this piece is going to be about the Mersey Ferries.

Somebody at Merseytravel paid consultants called Mott McDonald to write a report on the Mersey Ferries. You can read the covering report and consultant’s report on Merseytravel’s website. Mott McDonald also involved two other firms of consultants Peter Brett Associates and Graham & Woolnough.

The bit in the consultants’ report that has been causing a lot of political concern this side of the River Mersey is the part that states,

"Unfortunately, due to the extensive capital investment required in the near future, it is recommended that Woodside terminal is mothballed and the pier infrastructure removed."
 

Obviously this would mean if that was ever decided that the Mersey Ferry would just go between the Pier Head in Liverpool and Seacombe. I presume if that happened that would mean the end of the U-Boat Story tourist attraction which is part of that complex too (all about a German submarine called U-534), the cafe there and Birkenhead would lose out on visitors.

There is an emotional connection people have this side of the water to the Mersey Ferries and I’m sure there are people still alive that remember when it stopped at New Brighton and New Brighton was a bustling seaside resort.

One of the councillors on the Merseytravel Committee, Cllr Jerry Williams is the Heritage Champion and I’m sure he could wax lyrical about how important the Mersey Ferries are for Wirral’s tourism.

For the last twenty-six years the running of the Mersey Ferries has been through a company controlled by Merseytravel called Mersey Ferries Limited. I quote from its latest accounts:

"The results of the company for the year show a loss on ordinary activities before tax of £230,468 (2014 – £243,486). This loss is wholly attributable to the trading activity of the tourism-related business (Spaceport and U534) as the core transport activity continues to receive revenue support grant from its parent undertaking."
 

So, Merseytravel needs to run/market Spaceport and U534 better, whether this means asking people who buy Mersey Ferry tickets if they’d also like to purchase a ticket for Spaceport/U534 and/or just better publicity/marketing anyway Merseytravel have been criticised in the past by their auditors for the tourism side of matters.

However a more detailed look at the accounts shows that Mersey Ferries Limited employ 52 staff (an annual wage bill of £1.6 million) but Mersey Ferries Limited don’t own the Mersey Ferries or the terminals at Woodside, Seacombe and the Liverpool Pier Head.

These assets (the boats and the terminals) are owned by Merseytravel.

I am now going to make a comparison to the business I’m in as this point is raised in the consultant’s report.

As you can’t get to and from a lot of the public meetings I report on by public transport, sadly some means of private transport is vital.

Being somebody with a bit of foresight I put money aside out of what I earn in case there was a major capital expenditure on that front. Sure enough last year the car failed its MOT and I had the money to buy another at a cost of £2,500 (because I’d had the foresight to put money aside). It was only sensible from a management perspective to do this. Of course in the public sector, it would probably be a risk on a risk register.

Merseytravel (according to the consultant’s report) is in the same situation. The Mersey Ferries are getting older, so are the terminals and both are costing more to repair. However being consultants they seem to view everything through the lens of a business and the private sector, all about making money when the public sector isn’t like that.

The sensible thing would’ve been to have a reserve capital fund to pay for these types of issues. I’ll hear on Thursday afternoon more detail.

However back to the Mersey Ferries, from a political perspective Birkenhead’s politicians are united (including Rt Hon Frank Field MP) that mothballing Woodside is frankly (no pun intended) a bad idea.

Now you will probably ask, is this going to be like the annual vote on whether to put up the Mersey Tunnel tolls? Wirral’s four representatives huff and puff and say what a bad idea it will be, vote against it but are then outvoted by the rest of the Merseytravel councillors? Who knows?

However the Mersey Tunnels are why the Mersey Ferries aren’t as well used as they used to be. The Mersey Tunnels were built using borrowed money. In fact if we look at Halton, £470 million was found (who knows what the final cost will be) for a bridge over the River Mersey there.

Compared to the cost of a new bridge, the costs of keeping the ferries and terminals going seem quite small.

When there’s a political will to do something the money can be found!

Indeed the report states having the Mersey Ferries brings wider economic benefits to the City Region.

Now there will be a future, more detailed reports about the Mersey Ferries brought to a future meeting of Merseytravel.

I am going to make a point I have already made at the cost of perhaps sounding unpopular. There is a large surplus on tunnel tolls used to prop up Merseytravel’s budget and save it going cap in hand to the local councils for more money.

My view was that as the Mersey Tunnels (built on borrowed money) adversely affected the popularity and viability of the Mersey Ferries that one should subsidise the other. As I’ve already pointed out the Mersey Ferries are a big draw to tourists and bring wider economic benefits to the region.

The tunnel tolls (which are decided by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority on the recommendation of Merseytravel) have of course been a thorny political issue for a long time. Many people feeling that politicians have forever promised at election time that one day they will be scrapped but that they never are. Indeed political promises were made in the lead up to the General Election and the Combined Authority requested a report (which seems to be a long time in the writing).

However I am going to state my own personal viewpoint now. Whatever the rights and wrongs are over the Mersey Tunnel tolls, it’s one of the few things that Merseytravel/Liverpool City Region Combined Authority can control as the district council treasurers would no doubt be against an increase in the levy on the district councils (yes I realise budgets are ultimately decided by politicians). Although transport (due to the economic benefits it brings) is a priority from national government, Merseytravel can’t expect large increases in its grant.

Mersey Ferries compete against the trains, buses and other forms of transport that go through the Mersey Tunnels. However tourism is a big part of the economy in these parts. Blue Badge tourist guides take groups of people on the Mersey Ferries and transport has always been subsidised. Transport brings economic benefits.

However the consultants don’t see the big picture. They just see it like running a private business whose aim is to make a profit, the public sector ethos is not like that. The public sector runs services for the benefit of the public paid for through taxes.

It would be very sad if the Mersey Ferry terminal at Woodside was lost because of the short-sighted nature of consultants. Yes I was born in Birkenhead and most people see the Mersey Ferries at Woodside as part of the fabric of Birkenhead.

I realise what I have stated about Mersey Tunnel tolls will not be popular, I’m not advocating that they should go up. I just feel that as the Mersey Tunnels were built with borrowed money that it’s an unfair form of competition to the detriment of the Mersey Ferries. Hundreds of millions can be found to build a new bridge across the Mersey, yet much smaller amounts to keep the Mersey Ferries and terminals going can’t? It doesn’t make sense.

If you have any comments or a view on all this, please leave a comment below. If you’d like to come along to the public meeting on Thursday 7th January 2015, the meeting will start at 2.00pm in the Authority Room, 1st floor, Merseytravel Headquarters, No. 1 Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1BP.

If you would like to write to a councillor on Merseytravel, just click on the photo of the councillor you wish to here for contact details.

There are two petitions about this you can sign.

Save Woodside Ferry Terminal (at time of writing 129 supporters) and

Save Woodside Ferry (at time of writing 367 supporters)

A report of what was said at the Merseytravel meeting starts at Cllr Foulkes on Mersey Ferries “we cherish that service and want to maintain it”.

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Where are the Remembrance Sunday services on the Wirral on the 8th November 2015?

Where are the Remembrance Sunday services on the Wirral on the 8th November 2015?

Where are the Remembrance Sunday services on the Wirral on the 8th November 2015?

                                           

Remembrance Sunday 2012 at the War Memorial Birkenhead Hamilton Square
Remembrance Sunday 2012 at the War Memorial Birkenhead Hamilton Square

There will be many services to mark Remembrance Sunday on the Wirral on the morning and afternoon of the 8th November 2015.

The Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Les Rowlands will be attending the service held at The Cenotaph in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead in the morning and the service at the War Memorial in Thornton Hough in the afternoon.

These are details of when and where the Remembrance Day Services for 2015 will be:

Morning

10.55 The Cenotaph, Hamilton Square, Birkenhead

10 o’clock Christ Church, Kings Road, Bebington, followed by a service at the Higher Bebington British Legion at noon.

10 o’clock St Mary’s Church, Eastham

10.15 St. Barnabas Church, Bromborough

10.30 St. Oswald’s Church, Bidston

10.45 Grange Hill, West Kirby

10.45 St. Peter’s Church, Lower Village, Heswall, followed by wreath laying at The Cenotaph, Heswall

10.30 for The Cenotaph, corner of Maryland Lane and Pasture Road

10.15 for The Parade will leave the Royal British Legion, Wallasey for a 10.55 am Service at the War Memorial, Magazines Promenade, New Brighton

10.00 for Short Service at St. Stephen’s Church followed by 10.45 a.m. War Memorial at Junction of Osmaston Road and Prenton Lane, Prenton

10.45 War Memorial outside the Public Library, Ford Road, Upton

10.45 War Memorial, Port Sunlight Village followed by a service at Christ Church, Port Sunlight Village

If crossing the River Mersey to Liverpool on Remembrance Sunday, larger crowds than usual are expected for the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph, St George’s Plateau because of the ceramic poppy art installation "The Weeping Window" at St Georges Hall. It’s expected there will be large numbers of people there and road closures will be in place by 9.30 in the morning.

Afternoon

2.20 for Service at the War Memorial, Thornton Hough 2.45

The Merseytravel journey planner is useful for the times of public transport when travelling to and from Remembrance Sunday services.

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Councillors on Merseytravel agree to increase upper age limit for MyTicket bus ticket from 15 years to 18 (including those aged 18)

Councillors on Merseytravel agree to increase upper age limit for MyTicket bus ticket from 15 years to 18 (including those aged 18)

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Merseytravel Committee meeting of the 25th June 2015 (item 11 Making Transport Affordable for Young People)

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Merseytravel Committee meeting of the 25th June 2015 (item 11 Making Transport Affordable for Young People)

Merseytravel Committee meeting 25th June 2015 item 11 Making Transport Affordable for Young People Foreground M'travel  officer Middle Row L to R Cllr Jerry Williams, Cllr Steve Foulkes, Cllr Malcolm Sharp, Cllr Terry Shields
Merseytravel Committee meeting 25th June 2015 item 11 Making Transport Affordable for Young People Foreground Merseytravel officer Middle Row L to R Cllr Jerry Williams, Cllr Steve Foulkes, Cllr Malcolm Sharp, Cllr Terry Shields

Councillors on Merseytravel agree to increase upper age limit for MyTicket bus ticket from 15 years to 18 (including those aged 18)

                                            

In a late item on the agenda of Merseytravel’s meeting of the 25th June 2015, was an item titled Making Transport Affordable for Young People and the report for this item is on Merseytravel’s website.

The report recommended an increase in the upper age limit eligible for a MyTicket. The upper age limit of who can purchase a MyTicket is at the time of writing 15 years, but councillors decided to increase this to 18 years (which includes people who are 18 years old) effective from the 19th July 2015. MyTicket is a £2 day ticket for bus journeys launched last year by Merseytravel and MyTickets can be bought on buses from bus drivers.

This follows campaigning by the Liverpool Youth Parliament calling for more affordable bus fares for young people.

Councillors from both the ruling Labour Group on Merseytravel and an opposition councillor welcomed the change to the MyTicket upper age limit.

Commenting on the recommendation, Councillor Les Rowlands (Conservative, Wirral Council) said, "I very, very welcome the report. It’s nice to see Merseytravel leading the way for affordable travel for teenagers. I think it’s one of the biggest problems teenagers face actually getting transport around so this goes a long way towards helping that. So that is absolutely superb. "

Cllr Mary Rasmussen (Labour, Liverpool City Council) said, "I think it’s absolutely amazing what the officers have managed to achieve. You know with us there shoving you all the way, I know we’ve been a pain, but quite rightly. I think the people we need to really thank though is every kid that’s stopped us in the street and said to me ‘Do you know what Mary? It’s not fair! I can’t afford to do! I can’t get to school. I can’t do this, do something about it’ and do you know we actually have but don’t forget to thank them along the way. It was them that helped us get here. Well done."

Councillor Steve Foulkes (Labour, Wirral Council) also welcomed the move and said, "Let’s be careful how we talk about it. Some people are saying eighteen, up to eighteen. It’s up to a person’s nineteenth birthday. So let’s not undersell the product in any way, shape or form. Up to their nineteenth birthday MyTicket will apply, I think we need to you know blow the trumpet loud and clear."

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Mayor of Wirral Cllr Les Rowlands' theme for the year will be the "growing elderly population on Wirral"

Mayor of Wirral Cllr Les Rowlands’ theme for the year will be the "growing elderly population on Wirral"

Mayor of Wirral Cllr Les Rowlands’ theme for the year will be the “growing elderly population on Wirral”

                                               

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The new Mayor of Wirral for 2015-16 Cllr Les Rowlands gives his first speech as Mayor

Mayor of Wirral Cllr Les Rowlands 18th May 2015
Mayor of Wirral Cllr Les Rowlands 18th May 2015

This continues from Cllr Steve Foulkes on being Mayor "it’s the first time in my life I’ve been genuinely liked as a politician".

In Mayor Les Rowland’s first speech as Mayor of Wirral (which starts at 6 minutes & 39 seconds into the video above , he said he was “delighted and proud to follow in the footsteps of so many who have held this position of Mayor, the first citizen of the Borough”. He spoke of the charities and organisations he and the Deputy Mayoress had visited in the previous year and that the “the work that goes on around us unseen every day is truly amazing”.

He thanked the previous Mayor (Cllr Steve Foulkes) and Mayoress (Elaine Nolan) for “their efforts during their Mayoral year” and that they would be a “hard act to follow”. The Mayor gave them his blessings for their forthcoming wedding.

Mayor Les Rowlands thanks Sue Carroll, her team, Nick and the drivers who “looked after them during the year with dedicated professionalism”. He also thanked Tony Hope and his team.

His theme for the year would be the “growing elderly population on Wirral”. Mayor Les Rowlands spoke about his 86-year-old mother and how proud he was of her.

Continuing he explained the theme in more detail, “Growing old has its numerous problems, but by far the worst is the loneliness that comes with age. To have someone to talk to even once a week, I have often heard said it is wonderful. So this year I would like my Council to encourage everyone across the Borough to take a look around their community, identify elderly person to adopt for a quick chat or offer to get a bit of shopping. Believe me it will mean so much just to know somebody is there.

I will be throughout the year inviting the elderly and lonely to the mayoral chamber for a cup of tea and a chat. I would like the time to visit homes for the elderly and show our ongoing support and commitment. I would like my Council to encourage throughout the many policies the building of stronger links and the strengthening of our elderly communities.”

The first charity he would be supporting would be the North West Air Ambulance, who were “truly a life saver”. His second charity was the Clatterbridge League of Friends who raises funds for Clatterbridge Hospital. The third charity would be the Wirral Alzheimer’s Society who support people with dementia.

Mayor Les Rowlands thanked people for their patience and for their support throughout the year. Over the next few days he would have the pleasure of meeting the Queen at the palace and that they were invited on board the Queen Mary [2] by Cunard to thank Wirral and Liverpool for hosting the Three Queens event.

He invited everyone to stay for the rest of the evening’s entertainment, which including a choir and a singer and he hoped people would have a great evening.

Nominations were invited for Deputy Mayor. Councillor Phil Davies proposed Cllr Pat Hackett as Deputy Mayor, Councillor Jeff Green seconded the proposal of Cllr Pat Hackett as Deputy Mayor. There were no other nominations, so Councillor Pat Hackett was elected as Deputy Mayor.

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Cllr Steve Foulkes on being Mayor "it's the first time in my life I've been genuinely liked as a politician"

Cllr Steve Foulkes on being Mayor “it’s the first time in my life I’ve been genuinely liked as a politician”

Cllr Steve Foulkes on being Mayor “it’s the first time in my life I’ve been genuinely liked as a politician”

                                                   

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Annual Meeting of Wirral Council (Part 1) 18th May 2015

Councillor Steve Foulkes giving his outgoing speech as Mayor at the Annual Meeting of Wirral Council (18th May 2015)
Councillor Steve Foulkes giving his outgoing speech as Mayor at the Annual Meeting of Wirral Council (18th May 2015)

It was a return to the traditional venue of the Civic Hall at Wallasey Town Hall for the annual meeting of Wirral Council to elect a Mayor.

Outgoing Mayor Cllr Steve Foulkes started his last speech as Mayor by thanking many people who had helped him during his time as Mayor. Over £32,000 had been raised in support of the charities chosen by him (Stick ‘N’ Step, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and Wirral Foodbank). He also made an appeal for councillors and employees of Wirral Council to enter the Mayor’s lottery.

Matthew Lewis (Mayoral cadet) receives a certificate from Mayor Steve Foulkes (18th May 2015)
Matthew Lewis (Mayoral cadet) receives a certificate from Mayor Steve Foulkes (18th May 2015)

Matthew Lewis (the Mayoral cadet) was then awarded a certificate by the Mayor (as pictured above).

Mayor Steve Foulkes continued by paying tribute to the Deputy Mayor and Deputy Mayoress. He said that meetings of all councillors had gone well this year as people had been polite to each other and respected each other. Together with the Deputy Mayor they had been to six hundred different engagements. He went on to say “and finally it’s the first time in my life I’ve been genuinely liked as a politician”. Highlights of his year included the Open Golf Championship and WWI commemorations and he referred to Wallasey Town Hall’s history during WWI as a hospital.

Here are two of the jokes he told:

“It’s only recently I heard the tale that we were mentioned in the Arthurian tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. You may remember that?

We’re described, the Wirral’s described as a mysterious, forested place inhabited by man and beast that God cannot love. It’s good to see the Wirral PR team still in action in the thirteenth century!”

followed by

“This story is about the river streets. A guy coming home, anyone know the river streets in the north end of Birkenhead? Yeah? A guy’s coming home, he’s a little bit tiddly, he finds a dead body of all things in the street.

So in the old days when we had phone boxes, he goes to the phone box and he rings up. ‘Yes sir, what’s the incident?’ He said, ‘I’ve found a dead body’ ‘Give me your name sir’ ‘Yes I’ll give you my name’ ‘Now we need to know exactly where the dead body is, where is it sir?’ He says ‘I found the dead body in Buccleuch Street’ ‘Well sir, I’m afraid you’re going to have to spell that for us, can you spell Buccleuch Street?’

Phone goes dead, two minutes later the guy comes back puffing and panting. ‘It’s alright la, I’ve dragged the body into Avon Street.'”

Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative Leader) proposed Cllr Les Rowlands as Mayor and gave people a few insights into Cllr Les Rowland’s childhood and career. He said the charities that Cllr Les Rowlands had picked for fundraising during his Mayoral year would be the Clatterbridge Hospitals League of Friends, North West Air Ambulance and the Alzheimer’s Society.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem Leader) seconded Cllr Green’s nomination of Cllr Les Rowlands as Mayor.

As there were no other nominations Cllr Steve Foulkes declared Cllr Les Rowlands elected as Mayor. The meeting was then adjourned so that Cllr Les Rowlands could put on the Mayoral robes and return.

Continues at Mayor of Wirral Cllr Les Rowlands’ theme for the year will be the "growing elderly population on Wirral".

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