As far as Christmas presents go, Highways England’s press release on 21st December, 2017 was something Scrooge himself would have been proud of. Their announcement that a tunnel solution will not even be considered (in response to Sefton Council’s judicial review) couldn’t have been timed any better… assuming that its main purpose was to cause maximum upset, worry and outrage amongst those living in and around Rimrose Valley over the Christmas period.
It certainly made for interesting reading, even if it was very much ‘more of the same’. Unsurprisingly, Highways England has persisted with their ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, attempting to pit the community living alongside the A5036, against those who want to defend and protect Rimrose Valley for the benefit of everyone in Sefton and beyond. As you will no doubt have seen, they offer an almost utopian vision of “how the current A5036 could be transformed if replaced by a bypass”. The key word in that sentence being “could”, which should ring alarm bells for all of those living alongside the road. Their artist’s impression contained not a single HGV (no one truly believes the current A5036 corridor will be lorry-free, do they?) and was roundly mocked amongst the Rimrose Valley Friends Facebook group. One member, Lee O’Brien, went as far as submitting his own, alternative vision of what the future A5036 would look like, which we include here, in all its glory!
Despite its defiant and antagonistic tone, there really was nothing new in Highways England’s press release; simply a restatement of their intent to press ahead with plans to build the road and the dismissal of a tunnel option as too expensive – despite no, proper analysis having been done, citing some disingenuous figures in the process. Interestingly, the road appears to have been re-branded as a ‘bypass’. Perhaps ‘dual carriageway’ hinted too much at the frightening prospect of a full-blown motorway running past people’s front doors in the not-too-distant future? It remains one of our biggest concerns that, in pursuing a surface road option, they are future-proofing the project, giving them the ability to widen the road in order to deal with even more traffic in years to come. Shouldn’t Highways England simply be more honest, call it the M57 now and be done with it?
The Champion chose to lead with this story on 27th December, 2017, giving it huge prominence as headline news, whilst simply regurgitating the press release word-for-word and presenting no, alternative view. Again, this resulted in an enormous backlash from the readership and prompted many people to contact the newspaper to complain about how the story was presented. It was therefore hugely encouraging to see the same level of prominence given to the public’s reaction to Highways England’s statement in their 3rd January issue. Coverage included a significant amount of content taken directly from the letters and emails they received… and, of course, Lee’s artist’s impression, which was wonderful to see on the front page. We applaud everyone who took the time and effort to do this – it’s a huge statement of intent by the community reflecting the strength of feeling out there and something that we, as the Road Action Group, are simply unable to do on our own. We hope that it inspires more and more people to do the same throughout our campaign.
The reason that coverage of the opposing view is so critical is that, as a local, free newspaper, The Champion has a huge reach – landing on the doormats of tens of thousands of homes in this area each week. Printing the Highways England press release, with no counter-argument, only reaffirms the fears and feelings of resignation amongst some sections of the community that a road through Rimrose Valley is a ‘done deal’. To be absolutely clear, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It also fuels growing suspicions out there that organisations such as Highways England and Peel Ports have a direct line to the editorial office of local and regional media, whereas opposing views and stories are often confined to the middle pages, or letters columns, at best. Once again, therefore, we congratulate and thank The Champion for redressing the balance and for giving you a voice.
All of this ties in with one of the biggest issues we are up against. Every one of us is going to have to work incredibly hard to change the mentality of “it’s going to happen anyway”, or “they’d never build a tunnel here” to one that is much more positive and willing to challenge authority. If everyone took the view that Highways England (and therefore the UK Government) can do whatever they like and that the road will go ahead no matter what we do to oppose it, then yes, it is indeed a done deal. Thankfully, we and the vast majority of Rimrose Valley Friends refuse to share this view. Success stories do exist. Plans to build roads have been defeated before and we will be doing everything in our power to ensure that ours becomes another success story. If we fail, it won’t be for the lack of trying. So, next time you’re discussing the future of Rimrose Valley with family, friends and colleagues, why not make it a new year’s resolution to challenge any pessimistic views and refuse to be amongst those who are resigned to this happening?
We’d like to use this opportunity to reassure those of you out there who may view a period of silence as a lack of action. Yes, we are a group of volunteers, but we don’t hide behind that, nor use it as an excuse for inactivity. The truth of the matter is that we have been working extremely hard on how to move the campaign forward throughout 2018 and beyond. Ironically, in issuing their latest press release, in which they effectively tell us how it’s going to be, Highways England has opened the door to us being much bolder, aggressive and ambitious in our own plans. To go back to the Scrooge analogy, it’s now our mission to make sure that the press release issued in December comes back to haunt them. The truth is that we are being sold short. There are huge inconsistencies in what Highways England are doing in other parts of the country, versus what they are proposing to do on our doorsteps. We will be calling them out on this and holding them to account.
In addition to this, we will be challenging the Government itself on their very public pledges in relation to public health and the environment. Only last week, PM Theresa May announced a 25 year plan to improve the environment which, she claimed, her Conservative party have always taken seriously. How does this pledge square with the wilful destruction of our vital green space? Millions of trees to be planted to create a ‘Northern Forest’? Exactly how does this sit with ripping up existing trees in a beautiful, tranquil Country Park, used by the whole community for exercise, routes to and from schools and work and for the simple enjoyment of nature and wildlife? The answer? It doesn’t. You can expect us to be making some noise about this, too.
As a reminder, our campaign is based on just two objectives, which, although simple, will require a lot of hard work to achieve.
The first is to change the minds of the decision-makers in Westminster. This means that we have to make the plans to destroy Rimrose Valley not just local, but national news. This is because no amount of local activism, on its own, will achieve what we all want, which is a road-free Rimrose Valley. We have to make the Secretaries of Sate for Transport and the Environment aware of our argument and get them to change their minds. We aren’t relying on our politicians to fight our corner, or placing all our faith in a successful outcome of the Judicial Review being brought by Sefton Council. We have been taking our own, independent steps to raise awareness of our cause and we hope that the media activity you will see over the coming weeks and months will demonstrate our commitment to doing this. Rest assured, we will be bringing these to your attention and asking for your involvement when the time is right, but won’t be detailing all our plans from the outset. Social media will become a huge part of what we do and you will be able to help directly by liking, re-tweeting, sharing and commenting on all of the content we will be producing. A dedicated website will become the central hub for all our activities. We are very excited at what we have in store.
The second objective is to bring the community together and to promote Rimrose Valley as a place to be used and enjoyed by everyone. Again, work is underway on numerous activities, some of which were detailed in our updates towards the end last year. We draw inspiration and ideas from your posts and comments on both the Friends Facebook community group and the Campaign News page, so keep them coming! However, as you will understand, we simply cannot deliver everything we would like to, nor follow up on every idea. Instead, we are working smarter and focussing on those activities we feel will have the biggest impact and the highest levels of engagement. This is where you come in. If you have a burning desire to demonstrate, protest, and bring the public together in a peaceful, positive (and legal!) way… to show people how much you care about Rimrose Valley, you should all feel empowered to go for it! By all means contact us to see if we can do it for you, or help you out in any way… but if that isn’t possible, do not be put off or view this as us not caring enough. Follow the lead of all of those who responded to Highways England’s press release in such a passionate and positive manner and you will be surprised at what can be achieved.
On that positive note, it seems fitting to wish you all a belated Happy New Year and to encourage everyone who cares about Rimrose Valley to fight for its future. We will be spending 2018 and beyond doing just that.