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  1. Published on: 03/05/2021 12:46 PMReported by: rogerblaxall
    Local rail campaigners say that they are 'shocked but unsurprised' to discover that proposals threatening Southport's direct link to Manchester Piccadilly have been described as unworkable by consultants who are part of the very body that put them forward.

    A Department of Transport (DfT) led consultation gave three options which all resulted in the removal of the vital train service, leading it to be denounced by the 'Hand Off' Rail campaign as a stacked deck against Southport.

    The Dft is the main agency in the Manchester Recovery Task Force (MRTF) which presented the options and there has been a virtual news blackout on the results of the consultation which closed in early March, and on the next stages to follow.

    Now though rail campaigners have learnt that the consultants being used to help in the project, Steers, have effectively admitted that the DfT-led plan has hit the buffers, leaving government officials further exposed on the issue.

    Local Labour councillors Greg Myers and Gordon Friel started the 'Hands Off' campaign and say it is about time that the government also realised that this was a highly flawed plan, as the danger was not fully over yet Cllr Myers explained:

    "We are delighted, shocked but unsurprised that this plan has finally been recognised by some parties working on it for what it is - a simply unworkable and ridiculous idea."

    "It was a stacked deck against Southport from the start and both Sefton Council and the Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram have already thoroughly rejected it. Of course, it does beg the question of how such a huge public consultation could present undeliverable options in the first place?"

    "What is more important though is what happens next. This is the second time in recent years that this government and its officials have tried to remove this service by stealth, so what will they come up with next is the big question?"

    Sefton Council's representative to the Liverpool City Region Transport Committee, Cllr Friel, added:

    "The situation is even worse this time around because removing this service would cause further damage to the local economy at a time when it is already very fragile due to the pandemic. Not only that but it will actually go some way to undermining the funding which the Southport Town Deal Board and Sefton Council worked so hard to secure."

    "The DfT's reluctance to properly tackle the congestion problems in the Castlefield Corridor is at the heart of this issue, once again they are trying for a quick fix to reduce traffic there at Southport's expense."

    "What it actually needs is infrastructure spending and a proper management plan for a viable solution - not tinkering around the edges and threatening services to Southport, or any other town or city in the north for that matter."

    Cllr Myers went on to say that the town's MP needed to "step up" on this issue and stop hiding the involvement of his government in the continued threat, commenting:

    "We've been really happy to work with local rail passenger group OPSTA on opposing this threat, sadly we have not had the same cooperation from the town's Conservative MP."

    "Despite us appealing for a united local front in opposition to this plan, what he actually did was fail to engage. Even worse, when we asked via his Facebook page for him to sign the online petition we'd started to raise awareness of the threat to the town, he not only failed to do so but the petition was removed from the page - twice."

    "When I challenged his staff about deleting it, I was given the non-sequitur response that Damien Moore had written to the MRTF consultation. Some might think this hardly earth-shattering activity and it definitely didn't justify actively preventing local residents from being aware of the problem or the petition, which was aiming to show the strength of Southports opposition to this threat."

    "It's astonishing that the MP would hide it from local people in this fashion, especially given he is also supposed to be working with OPSTA on this issue and this was an OPSTA-backed campaign."

    "Writing a letter or not, or having meetings behind closed doors or not, if you are consistently hiding where the real threat is actually coming from as the town's MP does, then I'd suggest that you are not properly opposing it but are actually de facto assisting it."

    "We realise that the MP does not want to draw attention to his government colleagues and their role in this continued threat but he must act in the best interests of the town, not his party publicity machine - even if he does have to be pressed to do so by others."

    "What he needs to do now is step up and finally call out these repeated attempts by the DfT to help put a full stop to this threat. He must also make crystal clear that the next step should be a firm commitment from the Department for Transport that there will be no further attempt at removing this vital direct rail link between Southport and the south of Manchester and the towns along the route.

    "It can't be a case of third time lucky for the DfT, as it would be nothing but misfortune for Southport."

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