Is Warrington really that “crap” ?

Think of a “crap” town. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty you can think of. Whether it’s a hometown you’re bored of, an area where you’ve had a bad night out or a location with a poor reputation, all of these add to the passionate argument of bad towns. Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK, edited by Sam Jordison and Dan Kieran, is a rather humorous approach to towns which are as the definition suggests, “crap”. Now a second edition is underway and amongst the top one hundred worst towns is Warrington. I live there. So is there any real evidence to suggest that the town is worthy of the crap town title?

Before we go any further, we really have to consider the meaning of “crap”. A trusty visit to Etymology Online reveals what the majority know already: “act of defecation” is the 1898 meaning. More widely, The Oxford English Dictionary refers the term as being “something of extremely poor quality.” Therefore, for the purpose of this post, we shall refer to Warrington as supposedly being something of poor quality and not an act of defecation. So, the definition is clear. Now what is exactly “crap” about Warrington?

A comprehensive government survey ranked the town bottom when considering quality of life. Taken into consideration included high unemployment rates, relatively low life expectancy and a failure to safeguard children properly. Poor aspirations also contributed to the results. A sad consequence considering the investment into local training and education for young people and adults alike. In response to the survey, Warrington Borough Council branded it a “shambles” suggesting there was no reality between what the inspectors found and the feelings of residents.

Every town will have its poorer sides. Warrington has hit the headlines over its nightlife. Violence on the streets and cheap prices of alcohol have tarnished the once fairly positive reputation. Staying with the town centre and the apparent high unemployment rate is a direct cause of the recession and down turn. The once thriving Bridge Street area, today, stands only as a gateway of closed shops. Warrington Market, advertised as “Award Winning”, feels more like a deflated arena of stalls compared to the former glory of original market. The new build, according to residents and stall owners, drove regular customers away; today, the hustle of the market is long gone. In fact the hustle of almost all of the previous thriving town centre shopping areas has disappeared.

But it’s not all bad. Where some areas of the town centre struggle others boast with success. The most recent redevelopment of Warrington town centre was the complete overhaul of the tired 1980’s feel of the shopping mall. Refurbished and modernised, the arcade now boasts some of the best high street retailers in a modern and attractive environment. A new bus station, glass fronted and airy, was constructed nearly seven years ago, replacing the dingy environment of the former gateway. Infact, whilst the survey of life quality may have placed Warrington at the bottom, there was praise for transport links.

Inside the revamped Warrington Golden Square

Inside the revamped Warrington Golden Square

The survey stated that the public transport system demonstrated “exceptional performance or innovation that others can learn from.” It’s a true story. Despite some negativity towards the local bus company, drivers being rude and buses being late, the links across town and beyond are very good indeed. The prices…well that’s for another day. The two main train stations, Bank Quay and Central are a key railway links. Bank Quay provides residents with the links to the North and South within a short period of time. Central Station is used more often by commuters and shoppers, travelling to either Liverpool or Manchester. But the line does extend further, placing Warrington firmly on the map in a connected Britain. All of this adds to a business boost for the town.

Ranked 16th in The Santander Corporate and Commercial Banking’s UK Town and City Index, Warrington has been praised for its above average business start-ups and satisfaction amongst employees across the town. Whether it be pubs in the suburbs or small ventures in the town centre, it is clear that businesses are successful. Furthermore, the local retail parks boast some of the biggest stores in the town. At Gemini Retail Park, the second largest Marks and Spencer outside London is a real success story, whilst the first IKEA to be built in the UK is next door. Across the town, retail parks are shining examples of businesses with an optimistic outlook despite the gloomy figures. The future looks bright as well. Building work on the Omega site has begun with warehouses and roads taking shape. It may take nearly thirty years to complete, but the plan is for Warrington to be an international hub as one of Europe’s largest business parks.

An impression of what the new Omega site could look like.

An impression of what the new Omega site could look like.

A key tool in unifying town folk shelves any resemblance to Warrington being “crap”. The history and culture of the town is one that brings pride. There is plenty of history, whether it be the Roman crossing point for the River Mersey, Oliver Cromwell’s residence during the Civil War or the scars at RAF Burtonwood. The key “wire” industry of years gone-by has placed Warrington on the history timeline, whilst strong links still remain to the industrial past. There’s plenty of culture too. The Parr Hall has boasted some the UK’s best known comedians including Jimmy Carr and Peter Kay, whilst The Pyramid arts centre and museum boast much about the pride of the town and also a showcase of what the town can achieve, through projects and links with local schools. Warrington Walking Day, an annual event, sees churches walk together through the streets, whilst carnivals and events all year round see the thriving community spirit.

In sport, the iconic Warrington Wolves team have grown with history to become a force in the Rugby League world. Rugby followers and those who don’t follow alike hold one thing in common – support for their town team. Rowing, Athletics and Rugby Union are also represented in the town strongly, whilst the Warrington Town football team are currently in the Northern Premier League Division One North.

Walking Day is popular amongst residents.

Walking Day is popular amongst residents.

There is one event that unifies people like no other. The IRA bombing of 1993 in Warrington town centre left two young children dead and countless more injured. In the wake of the atrocity, schools, students, parents, teachers, churches, politicians and many more stood shoulder to shoulder to support the families, friends and loved ones of the victims; The Peace Centre was set up in memory of Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball. The centre continues to offer learning services to young people with opportunities to connect and express. Annual events in the town which mark the solemn anniversary unite town people, whether it be children at school, parents at work, shoppers or social network users. United in grief, hundreds mourn the victims but admire the work and progress that has been achieved by the families to reach peace. The events of the past twenty years are held with pride and affection towards those involved and the legacy achieved.

Warrington extends much further from the negative stereotypes of a gloomy suburban town. Yes, there are some divisions between living conditions, housing conditions and even road conditions, but Warrington does bridge that gap with its community involvement to create one unified town. When the survey outlined how aspirations were low, there are two factors. Yes, the environment you live in, but also the person themselves. Anybody can achieve regardless as to how “crap” their town is. Look at Chris Evans, from Warrington. Pete Waterman, from Warrington. Sue Johnston, from Warrington. The list goes on.

The Omega project is a promising development. Warrington Borough Council recently gave the go ahead for a new regeneration project of the town centre. Proposals include a new cinema, new eateries and an improvement of town centre leisure and recreational activities.

The original question was about whether Warrington or any town for that matter is “crap”. Stereotypes will always be present as will divisions. But if you strip to the reality of where you live and see what is actually happening, I’d say Warrington was better than “crap”.

Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK will be available from online retailers.
For more information on what to do in Warrington, visit http://www.warrington.gov.uk

The great railway robbery…again ?

Dr Beeching stands with the report into railway cuts.

Dr Beeching stands with the report into railway cuts.

Virgin Trains now operate the West Coast Mainline

Virgin Trains now operate the West Coast Mainline

Today is a historic day in British transport news. Not necessarily the best news, but on this day, 27th March, fifty years ago, Dr Richard Beeching announced huge cuts to the railway industry. The decisions included closing 5,000 miles worth of track, thousands of railway stations and cutting thousands of jobs. The reason? Because Beeching saw the rival, the car, bring passenger numbers down on the railways. Today, the need for railways is greater than ever before.

Many people see Beeching as a man who destroyed the rail industry in Britain. The operator of the railways, British Rail, were losing millions of pounds per year. In fact, it was previous governments who made the decisions to go ahead with the cuts. Beeching was simply the man behind the report into the government changes, not the man who wanted them to happen. Whether he pushed for the cuts to happens remains a matter of divisions.

Fifty years on and there plans to reinstate lines which were closed, including links between Edinburgh and the Scottish borders, Cambridge and Oxford, and at last the Portishead railway may reopen to serve the people of Portishead.

Today, however, the railway industry is a very different place. British Rail, the previously public owned operator, is no more and many of the main routes in the UK are privatised. These include the West Coast Mainline running between London and Glasgow now operated by Virgin. Whilst the route remains mainly untouched from the previous nationalisation eras, the railway network is now a huge multi billion pound business with private companies competing for the most money. Increases in rail fares are a reflection on the system which requires constant upgrades and maintainance work, whilst delays and disruption also cost millions to the operators and Network Rail every year.

Soon, however, the East Coast Mainline, currently in public ownership, is to be privatised, as the franchise goes up for sale. Previous operators, National Express, couldn’t afford to run the line and by 2009, one of the main intercity routes was back in the public hands. Now it seems that companies including Virgin and First Group will be competing for the right to run the Eastern railway route. A similar previous bidding process was run in 2012 for the West Coast Mainline – After 15 years operating the route, Virgin Trains were denied the rights to run the line after the government approved a £5.5bn payment bid from First Group, who stated they would carry more passengers than the previous operators. Soon after that announcement, the government backtracked, blaming financial mistakes. The bid was cancelled due to an investigation. Virgin Trains were reawarded the line to run until 2017 when another bidding process can take place. The selling of the East Coast Mainline will take place before 2015, along with fifteen other franchises, wiping out the remaining publicly owned rail networks.

And with that, the government also announced at the beginning of 2013 that the plan for a new high-speed rail link between London and the North will go ahead. It will take at least another twenty years to see the completion of the new line which will see travelling times between Manchester and London reduced by a half. The government says this will be good for business’, employment and tourism. However, many of the concerns of the people I have spoken to is that there is no need for a new line which will destroy local eco-systems. Many travellers want to see an investment in new rolling stock for the mainly short, urban journeys which are undertaken everyday. Passengers say that want value for money, something they believe they are not receiving.

Whilst the railway may be an expensive mode of transport, the need for the train is greater than ever. Many lines and rolling stock are well over capacity, resulting in what some customers describe as a poor experience. The fact is that train fares will continue to rise, next year being the eleventh on a row, and whilst some believe this is unfair, the government, train operators and Network Rail claim the money is spent on ensuring the railways are safe and properly maintained. Many more increases in fares will be needed for a real revolution of British railways.