Northern Metro Mayors – Linking the Liverpool City Region

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Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral; bringing these areas together physically and socially will be the challenge of the Liverpool City Region (LCR).

It’s 22 miles, as the crow flies, between Southport in the North of the region, and Heswall in the South.

Between these two points are a plethora of diverse: communities, identities, socio-economic conditions, political affiliations, histories, industries, and rival football teams.

Bringing these separate communities together for a common purpose is going to be incredibly difficult.

The Mayor of the LCR, Steve Rotheram, appears to have seen this challenge coming from a mile away, adopting a ‘no borough left behind strategy’ in his campaign for the mayoralty.

Liverpool City Region

Steve Rotheram. Credit: Steve Rotheram.

Mr Rotheram expanded on this vision further by saying: “We must harness the talents of all our people and all our boroughs to really fulfil our potential.”

Only then, claims Rotheram, can the LCR “punch its weight” on the national and international stage.

The Labour Mayor is well aware of the animosity that many citizens in his part of the world have towards Westminster, and is keen not to create a Merseyside Westminster.

Mr Rotheram said: “For too long, too many decisions about our future have been taken too far away by people who don’t understand or care about our region.

“Devolution is our chance to begin to fundamentally change that situation.

“It’s about more than important additional powers and financial resources, it is about a new beginning and a new direction.”

However, this assumes that everyone in the LCR intends to pull in the same direction, and that the six boroughs can put aside their differences for the good of the region.

The 6 boroughs of the LCR. Credit: Richie wright1980

The 6 boroughs of the LCR. Credit: Richie wright1980

Charles De Gaulle once said: “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?”

A similar question is posed to the leaders of the LCR; how can they unify six boroughs with distinct identities?

Professor Michael Parkinson, Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Liverpool lays out the task ahead, saying: “It is always a big challenge for places which have been separate in the past, separate identities, separate politicians, separate leaders, separate economies, to realise that they are part of a bigger, single economy.

Liverpool City Region

Prof. Michael Parkinson. Credit: Gareth Jones

“The politics of turf is very, very difficult, it is much more difficult than the politics of economics.”

Professor Parkinson notes that this challenge has been overcome by other city regions, including Helsinki, Munich, and Leon, who put aside their local rivalries.

This is done, not through selling a vague dream of a shining city region on a hill, but through cold hard cash.

Professor Parkinson said: “The challenge is to make the different places, and the leaders of the different places, recognise they have an economic self-interest in collaborating as part of a bigger economy.

“They don’t do it because they like the other boroughs, or because they like the other leaders.”

Part of this pitch includes telling parents that their children can have a better life than them, and that the LCR can once again provide the jobs that the region’s residents need.

Professor Parkinson said: “If you say, ‘look, too many kids have to leave Liverpool because there aren’t enough jobs, too many kids in Liverpool don’t get jobs, too many kids in Liverpool just stay in one part and don’t see the opportunity of getting jobs in other bits of Liverpool or indeed Manchester’; that’s what we’re talking about.

“What you are really doing is appealing to people’s hearts and minds, and saying that your kids will have a better future if we can get this to work.”

Basically, the Professor argues, it is about allowing people to hold onto their local identities but also see the economic advantages of being part of a city region.

As Professor Parkinson puts it, it allows people to say: “I live in the Wirral, I like it, I’m proud of it, I feel it’s my home, but I can also see I’m part of a bigger picture.”

However, as well as economically and socially connecting the region, the LCR has to physically connect the region by improving transport links.

Liverpool City Region

Merseyrail Train. Credit: Richie wright1980.

This responsibility lies on the shoulders of Councillor Liam Robinson, the Chair of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Transport Committee.

Cllr. Robinson believes that the LCR has a strong foundation on which to build, including ‘Liverpool2’, the £400m deep-water container terminal which opened last year, and a policy of ensuring that every built-up area is within 400m of a bus service.

The combined authority is now looking to take buses “onto a whole new level”, with the bus franchising powers handed down to the metro mayor, and to establish a “North, South, East and West” high speed rail connection, incorporating HS2 and HS3.

They are already taking matters into their own hands by borrowing enough money to commission a new fleet of trains, with Cllr. Robinson saying: “We don’t just expect central government to shower us with cash.”

Liverpool City Region

Cllr. Liam Robinson. Credit: Merseytravel.

This more regulated approach, according to Cllr. Robinson, is one of the reasons behind London’s transport success and the “stark difference” between London’s transport network and other British cities.

The other reason being the amount of infrastructure spending in London, which, if replicated in the North, would have similar results.

On Professor Parkinson’s concern about turf politics, Cllr. Robinson said: “I think Michael is right to identify that, and it does occur every now and again, but I think that’s a bit more historical, if I am being honest with you.

“Yes, turf politics exists and exists everywhere, but I don’t think its anywhere near as prominent as it once was.”

Northern rivalries are part of “lazy journalistic stereotypes” as far as Cllr. Robinson is concerned, saying: “For a long time, Liverpool and Manchester have been working very closely together, and right across the North, to Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and so on.

“I like to think that we are all competitive neighbours.

“We like to look over the garden fence and see what is happening next door, just to keep up with the Jones’.

“We recognise that it is in all of our interests to work together, I think that’s a big Northern trait.

“We have a collective view that we prefer things happening up North than perhaps down in London.”

We must wait and see whether Cllr. Robinson and Steve Rotheram will be able to make the trains run on time, and whether the six boroughs will put aside their differences and say, in the words of The Beatles, ‘We Can Work It Out’.

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