In August campaigners opposed to the building of a new dual carriageway in Sefton protested outside the Port of Liverpool, now the CEO of owner Peel Ports has responded. Tony McDonough reports
Port of Liverpool boss Mark Whitworth says the company is being made an unfair target by campaigners opposed to the building of a new dual carriageway in Sefton.
While acknowledging the port owner Peel Ports supports the plan for the upgrade to the current A5036, Mark Whitworth insists it is wholly a Highways Agency project that is mostly designed to alleviate congestion unrelated to the port.
In August hundreds of people came out for a public demonstration against the road plans organised by the Save Rimrose Valley campaign. Bootle Labour MP Peter Dowd joined the demonstration along with representatives from the countryside charity CPRE, Friends of the Earth and Asthma UK.
They delivered a letter to the port addressed to Mr Whitworth, Peel Ports chief executive, demanding the company withdraw its support for the road and get behind a “truly sustainable solution”.
In 2017, Highways England proposed a new dual carriageway cutting through the existing Rimrose Valley Country Park. It claims the road would actually reduce pollution. There has already been public consultation on the plan but many local people claim all the options are unacceptable.
Now, in an open letter to Stuart Bennett of the Save Rimrose Valley campaign, Mr Whitworth has said it is unfair for the campaigners to target Peel Ports because the project is not the responsibility of the company.
Speaking after the demo in August, Mr Bennett said: “The march’s purpose was to disrupt the Port of Liverpool’s operations and to shine a light on Peel Ports’ major stake in this road proposal, despite their public silence on the matter.”
However, Mr Whitworth writes: “I have to make it clear that the basis upon which you have undertaken your campaigning regarding Peel Ports thus far is, unfortunately, an erroneous one.
“For the avoidance of doubt, I have to stress that the relief route proposal is a project which has been assessed, conceived and taken forward by the National Highways agency.
“It is not and never has been, a Peel Ports project. Indeed, detailed studies have underlined that between 85% to 90% of the traffic assessed for this project is in no way connected with port operations…. I cannot stress strongly enough that your ongoing attempt to paint our organisation as the main driver behind this project is misplaced and misleading.”
In the last few years Peel Ports has invested hundreds of millions into the Port of Liverpool. The £400m Liverpool2 deep water container terminal is equipped to handle 95% of the world’s biggest container vessels.
Over the past year the port has won a significant volume of new business. This means more freight coming in and out of the port, putting pressure on local transport infrastructure. So the road upgrade would certainly benefit the port.
In the letter, Mr Whitworth also said: “Having assessed the Highways Agency’s initial proposals, we came to the clear and obvious conclusion that the relief road would represent a very significant overall positive development for the future of the region.
“For that reason, we have been happy to contribute to the ongoing project, as have many other stakeholders who can see the manifold benefits of this significant infrastructure investment for current and future generations.
As a major employer and economic contributor to the regions we operate in, we take our responsibilities within the local community very seriously. We have a long history within Sefton and it is one that we are proud of, having been able to provide stable futures for local families within the community for many decades.
“Currently over a third of our workforce lives within the borough – including members of my own senior leadership team – and 80% of our workers live within the Liverpool city region. We are actively looking to grow the team, with recruitment for 150 people under way at the moment, and anticipate many of those vacancies will be filled by local people.”
He claimed that for every job the company provides, it estimates that there are a further three roles within the wider community. And he added the company had made “strenuous efforts” to promote other modes of transport in and out of the port, including rail and via the Manchester Ship Canal to Salford.
“In addition, we actively promote the use of ports closest to the end destination,” said Mr Whitworth, thus further reducing road miles and carbon emissions and also provide many services, “including storage and warehousing to offer customers smart choices to help reduce the amount of trips they need to make.”
He went on: “We believe that whilst providing benefit to the Port of Liverpool, the proposed relief road would undoubtedly bring much needed improvements to the surrounding areas and wider region.
“That is why we have supported the request for the road and we have sought to work alongside stakeholders in the Sefton area to ensure the best possible solution can be developed, meeting the needs of all road users.
“Ultimately, though, the decision on where this new road will be located lies with National Highways. As a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, the planning process is fully transparent and it is important to underline that local residents have statutory opportunities to provide feedback and comment on the proposals.”