20 Jan 2016

Hamilton Square aftermath

Following the welcome news that plans for a new road in Hamilton Square have been scrapped, here are four things I think Wirral Council needs to take on board as a result:

1. Some thoughtful pre-consultation soundings would have revealed that this was not a popular proposal. That could have saved countless hours of officer time etc.

The public response has been so overwhelmingly negative that it should set alarm bells ringing as to how such a scheme ever saw the light of day. It, understandably, creates a perception that the council is out of touch with the public and is not managing funds appropriately. There should be a root and branch review on how the scheme originated and how it proceeded to public consultation without informal soundings that would surely have raised fundamental questions about the merits of such a scheme. The Birkenhead constituency committee could have played a role here.

2. Proposals that involve significant public expenditure need a robust evidence base.

The public should reasonably expect that ,where significant sums of money are to be spent, that a coherent public interest case be established. No such evidence was provided for this scheme. It was claimed that the scheme would be "good for local business". However,

- no business case was constructed by calculating the monetary benefits and detriments to local businesses
 - no surveys of local businesses were carried out
 - no evidence has been collected on the effects elsewhere of removing pedestrianisation with the aim of helping businesses. Indeed the consensus is that pedestrianisation usually assists local businesses, and so removing it would be expected to be bad for the local economy
 - no monetary benefit from rerouting buses services has been calculated.

According to Wirral Council's 2020 Vision, the Council aims 'to be the best council in the country'.  The best councils do not spend £1.1M on a scheme without first calculating the net benefits.

3. We need to challenge the outdated view that prioritising traffic flow is a sensible approach.

Funding for the scheme included £400,000 from Merseytravel's "sustainable transport" fund. Appropriating such funds for a scheme that takes space away from pedestrians and allocates it to motor vehicles is beyond satire. I would expect our officers to be well aware of the need to promote active travel and discourage car use. This scheme does the opposite. Yet officers actively promoted this as a sustainable scheme on the basis that it would "allow cycling in front of the town hall", something many have been happily doing for years.

Indeed this scheme should force us to think very carefully about what effective consultation involves. The top-down approach employed here should be a thing of the past but there is a real danger that many of the same mistakes will be repeated in the forthcoming Neptune scheme for the town centre.

4. We need a comprehensive masterplan for Hamilton Square/Woodside

The public response to this scheme indicates immense affection for Hamilton Square something we have also seen recently for Woodside Ferry. This demonstrates the need for a comprehensive masterplan for the historic core of Birkenhead that has the support of the public as opposed to piecemeal measures that may well do more harm than good. I hope that one of the positive outcomes from this scheme will be reappraisal of what makes Birkenhead special and some fresh thinking about how best to enhance it. Indeed, the almost 200 responses to the original scheme consultation contain some excellent ideas from many people who recognise the untapped potential that Birkenhead offers. You can read the Green Party's Vision for Birkenhead here.

1 comment:

  1. Frightening lack of imagination from council officials and members. Did they seriously get around a table and decide to spend public money on creating more access for cars> did no one say, hang on, this isn't a very good idea? Hamilton Square is marooned, it needs connecting with the town centre. Of course it hasn't helped that the council stupidly introduced street parking charges in the hinterland thus ensuring visitors beat a hasty retreat.