Pedal Power: Cycle lanes are ‘good investments’ as motorists feel frustrated

Cycle lanes in Warrington are of good investment for the town says the council, despite some opposition from critics who claim the paths are being under-used.

In its bid to encourage more residents to take up cycling and other ‘green’ modes of transport, Warrington Borough Council secured £4.65 million of funding from the government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund. The money will be spent on promoting sustainable and low carbon travel choices, including proposals for additional cycle lanes and paths in and around the town.

A Planning Focus Group discussion in late 2007 reported how only 3% of residents in Warrington used a bike to get to work, whilst cycle paths were described as “horrible” and “disjointed” leaving them with little use. Criticisms of the town approach to cycling and healthier lifestyles led to a town based campaign to encourage more people to cycle. Measures including introducing cycling lessons in to schools and improving paths, lanes and access around the area.

Councillor Dan Price, Labour, Great Sankey North said the money “is a good investment” but told me that “maybe it isn’t the most productive way to spend money.”

He added “getting people out of cars is safer to the community, more eco-friendly, and with the backdrop of rising obesity levels, healthier.”

There are no questions about the council trying to improve Warrington’s infamous traffic congestion problems, alongside making the town ‘greener; even some of the town’s buses are helping the environment. The investment in cycling in Warrington encourages healthier lifestyles, care for the environment and a more environmentally-friendly way of living, in a town that has been bottom of government commissioned quality of life surveys.

Some motorists I have been speaking to say there are “mighty questions” that need bringing up. Many, who regularly drive personal cars, said they support local council investment in cycling lanes, one anonymous person saying about cyclists “they cause too much of a hazard and they are dangerous”. The general sense I got from both group and individual discussion was that there is some frustration toward cyclists who insist on using the busy roads rather than designated paths. At the same time, from those who cycle, I have been told of continued “road rage” from motorists.

In order to find out what was happening on our roads, I spent some time along a busy stretch of road. Close by are schools, leisure facilities, several housing estates, a supermarket, offices and a warehouse. It was a stretch of approximately 1.5 miles of road next door to a refurbished and widened path with a newly created cycle lane. In the short distance I travelled, no fewer than 5 cyclists were cycling in the road, at rush hour, parallel to the council’s investment of safer cycle lanes and paths for them. Two of them wore dark clothing and had little lighting on their bicycles.

This astonished me. There have been many a TV programme where cyclists are shown as the victims of the road. Indeed in Warrington there are still many instances where cars, buses and lorries either purposefully or accidentally put cyclists lives in danger. However, it cannot be ignored that some cyclists are ignoring the purpose built tracks for them to keep them safe and off the roads.

Interestingly, there was little visible anger or ‘road rage’ from motorists. The majority gave adequate room to the road-using cyclist, others indicated. Perhaps rather disillusioned may say the cyclist and, judging by the following YouTube footage from a Warrington cyclist, it is clear to see why there is upset within the cycling community.

The footage is harrowing and some of the cycling charities and organisations I have been researching say that this is a regular occurrence for cyclists. The National Cycling Charity frequently upload videos and images from its users to the website and social media to highlight the problem. Their focus, they say, is to ensure the police conduct “high quality investigations” in to road traffic collisions, as well as ensuring severe sentences are given to offenders to discourage bad driving.

In the balance of the argument, motorists who I have spoken to say they are frustrated that cyclists do not pay to be on the roads and similarly do not have to take tests to use their bikes on their public highway. Whilst councils across the country may invest heavily in cycle lanes, there are some, not all, who do not want to use them.

A waste of investment? Warrington Borough Council, like many others across the country, say they are committed to encouraging more people to use bicycles and other ‘green’ modes of transport. At the same time some cyclists are not using designated safe areas whilst others are forced in to the paths of traffic because there is inadequate space for cyclists to go. Similarly, many drivers give way but others do not. It is clear to see why both cyclists and motorists are driven to frustration when it comes to sharing the same space.

The fear for any road user is that cyclists are being put in danger. All factors including weather, poor driving, lack of cycle lanes, clothing and street lighting are at some level to blame. Examples like the above should strike fear in to council chiefs. Are their segregated lanes working? Are there enough suitable paths? There are many studies which show what should work and what shouldn’t. The Buchanan Report of 1963, Traffic in Towns, highlights how segregation of traffic and pedestrians alike should improve the flow, whilst the Shared Space study from Hans Monderman suggests there should be no rules and that all road users should naturally interact with one another to improve traffic flow.

When I put the question to Cllr Price about motorists and cyclists disregard for each other, he said “without a comprehensive cycle network with specific lanes, you will never solve that problem.”

For years there have been comical instances involving cycle lanes. From those that last less than 50 yards to those that are impassable. But this is a serious issue. The increase in traffic on the roads should not be leading to cyclists competing for space and putting their own lives in danger. Whilst I can praise the council for its work on encouraging safer cycling, it is difficult to understand why some choose to ignore it.

Figures of Rospa (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) say at least 19,000 cyclists are involved in accidents on Britain’s roads. That figure has continued to rise given the increase of cyclists in recent years. With the rising and long-lasting population, the future of our roads seems certain to get busier and busier. And so the steps to safer road use today could save lives for generations.

Have your say
Whether a cyclist or motorist, tell us what your experiences are. What could be done to improve road safety? Could councils better spend their money elsewhere?

YouTube video source: PeowPeowPeowLasers

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Warrington MP changes opinion on HS2

The on-going dispute over whether a high speed rail link will benefit the North West economy has grown more controversial, with Warrington South MP David Mowat changing his position on the project.

In a letter published to the Warrington Guardian, Mr Mowat reiterates his support for HS2 that will take commuters between London and Manchester in less than an hour and a half. However he has brandished plans to motor through his Warrington constituency as a waste of money.

The MP has stated that although the line may only be in the constituency for a mile, the cost of building new infrastructure such as large viaducts, bridges and track curves will total £1bn. A “spur” of track will link the high speed track with the West Coast Mainline at High Legh near Wigan. Mr Mowat writes that there is no case for the part of track, saying that there will be little economic benefits. So why the sudden change?

The announcement of his new stance comes nearly twelve months after the MP told Warrington that the town would benefit from the high speed line, despite criticism for having no stop in the town yet ploughing through the Cheshire countryside. It could be said that the view to say “Warrington will benefit from HS2” is slightly disfigured, since the case has not been made 100% clear to the town. With no direct stop to one of the largest towns in the region, it becomes terrifyingly scary that high speed commuters will be subject to existing lines that run at substantially lower speeds and rolling stock that is below par for a leading transport country.

For those residents totally against high speed rail reaching the UK, Mr Mowat’s comments do little to bridge the divides. Whilst he may suggest the “spur” isn’t worth the money, there is no indication that the MP is to push new plans to ensure Warrington benefits or lobbying for a station in the town.

An extraordinary oversight that has been made when it comes to high speed rail in Warrington is the link to the Omega site at Burtonwood. Omega promises to be one of the largest and best business parks in Europe within the next three decades, costing £1bn and creating over 25,000 jobs. It is, therefore, right to question why the proposed high speed route does not come close to the site or Warrington as a whole. For what could be an incredible position in Europe, commuters travelling to the site will either have to travel to Manchester on the high speed link, depart south of the region, or travel on slower lines. Plans have gone on display in Warrington to create a new “transport hub” in the Chapelford Village. The station will still be a ten minute drive from the Omega site and will sit on the often delayed and slow Manchester – Liverpool line. It is difficult to see why investors and continental business leaders would locate to a site that will not offer a direct link to a rail project that will span a generation.

David Mowat writes that he has contacted the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to push his point that the small section of track will not be an economic benefit, stating “here’s one idea which will save £1bn straight away.” The leaders of HS2 have been told they must reduce costs. Whilst the protestors will still strain to have their voice heard over the politicians, in Warrington David Mowat is certainly keen to please his leader with both eyes open on the next general election.

To read Mr Mowat’s letter, visit http://www.warringtonguardian.co.uk/news/10835241.High_Speed_Two_should_happen___but_do_we_need_spur__MP_says/

Ed Miliband in Warrington

Ed Miliband listens to the people of Warrington.

Ed Miliband listens to the people of Warrington.


Labour leader Ed Miliband began his shift from leader of opposition to his dreams of future Prime Minister with a visit to Warrington on Friday with promises to the town’s people.

Soon after what had been acclaimed an “impressive” party conference, in which Labour reaffirmed its supporting policies for the most vulnerable in society, the leader toured the North West promoting the party promise of freezing gas and electricity prices as energy firms continue to increase tariffs despite reporting huge profits. Miliband’s visit to Warrington was certainly made high profile by his arrival; a media scrum dashed any hopes of a quiet entrance yet the party leader certainly ensured the voters were at the heart of his campaign.

The little over an hour Mr Miliband was in the town’s Stockton Heath Morrisons store certainly made convincing reading for any political analyst. Concerned, sympathetic and humorous are some of the traits I identified in my first meeting with the politician. Noting the importance of Warrington in party politics, in-particular the Warrington South seat, Miliband began with pledges to abolish the controversial bedroom tax if his party is elected at the 2015 general election. Describing it as a “hateful tax”, so called ‘hedge cuts’ will be removed to fund for the abolition. The concern I see at present is that the abolishing of the tax seems like Labour’s one shot wonder; it takes pride of place in their manifesto and the leader’s emphasis on the decision makes it seem like there is little else to offer the ordinary voter. The abolishing of a divisive tax will impress many of those in Warrington who are ‘feeling the pinch’ as the cost of living keeps on rising, but there was little confirmation on how the party aims to crack down on those who actively cheat the benefit and taxation system.

From one controversy to another, I tackled Ed Miliband on the HS2 project which will introduce high speed rail between London, Manchester and Leeds. I questioned what many believe is a waste of government spending, worth the best part of £50bn, and whether more of that fund should be spent on existing overcrowded networks and improving the quality of services. Mr Miliband told me he “was in support of introducing high speed rail to this country” yet added “more investment” was needed for the current infrastructure, paving the way for more trains in and around Warrington, as well as more projects including electrification of more lines across the region. For Warrington, the building of the Omega business site has begun and promises to be a leading European hub. Yet it seems incredibly bewildering that the UK’s proposed high speed network will not serve the town. A “review” of HS2 has been promised by the Labour party which could see benefits to the growth of our local economy or the scrapping of the highly controversial project.

Economic growth is on all party manifestos and certainly both the Conservatives and Labour have helped many of Warrington’s unemployed get into or back into work. The Warrington South seat is a marginal and vital swing seat for the outcome of an election. I have been told by Labour Party sources that parliamentary candidate Nick Bent “will” win the seat. Mr Miliband’s visit to the town certainly won’t be the last and it certainly won’t be the end of high profile government figures visiting the town. But what about his pledges to the issues that have concerned Warrington residents?

High on the agenda of those who were at the meeting was social care. Many acknowledged that under the current coalition and previous Labour governments there had been not enough support and recognition for social workers who are on the frontline of protecting vulnerable residents of the town. Mr Miliband pledged that his party would “raise the status of the profession” and that there would be confident “defending” of the role of social workers. However, with even the Department of Health admitting it cannot afford a 1% pay rise for NHS staff in England, the future for all departments and local governments in raising the profile of such frontline work seems bleak.

Keeping children safe is key for any government and in his promises the leader said more must be done to allow parents to work and look after their children. The current 15 hours of free childcare will increase to 25, making it “better for parents” said Miliband. He questioned how any parent can look after children and work. Explaining that the levy on banks will increase, the party leader ensured that those who can afford to pay higher levy’s will. For those children already in education, Ed Miliband was confronted by a large group of young people from a mixture of Warrington’s Further Education and Sixth Form colleges. When told how students feel “stressed” at the thought of ‘end of year exams’, the leader turned to the crowd in a simple yet important show of hands. 100% of those at the event agreed that modular exams and coursework will benefit students and the leader certainly agreed, confirming he “would look to change” the decision made by Education Secretary Michael Gove whom Mr Miliband had described as a man believing “education is for a few people not everybody”. Miliband also added that politics needed to be added to the curriculum in a bid to engage more young people with local government how decisions made in Westminster affect everybody.

On the topic of employment, the ‘zero hour’ contracts in some work places were described as “wrong” by the Labour leader, before launching a rather child-like impression to declare that hosts Morrisons were “good employers”. Certainly true yet it felt rather cheesy and desperate from a man faring well in opinion polls. More would be done to ensure regular hours meant a regular contract for thousands of employees. When questioned as to how he would improve the so called “demoralising” experience of job centres, Ed Miliband began by suggesting that the Conservatives lead people to believe that those on the “dole” and in job centres are “scroungers”; he confirmed that under a Labour government, these people would have “support not criticism” when looking for jobs. A comment that was welcomed by the Labour grown crowd.

Many of the policies that Mr Miliband talks about are in touch with Warrington. The vast majority of those students and adults alike who attended gave rapturous applause to promises of raising the stigma of mental health and ensuring each individual family are given tax breaks. For me, as an aspiring journalist, his character was certainly warm and genuine; that was the feeling amongst many I spoke to after the event. Back in 2010 when he was first elected, much of the media was critical toward his stance and appeal, yet from beneath the shadows has grown a man who looks, acts and feels like a Prime Minister in waiting.

Certainly the visit of the Labour leader was exciting for an ordinary Friday morning. Recent weeks have seen Ed Miliband roll from beneath the carpet and into the front of political debate. The Labour party conference was a success by any means and the row between the leader and The Daily Mail took any hope of interest the Prime Minister had wished for away from his party meeting. The way in which Miliband has attacked the media has shown the growth from a timid character to a powerful opposition to David Cameron. His visit to Warrington was engaging and full of promises. Although, he was one of the first to pledge his support to the Warrington Wolves in their final over the weekend, Mr Miliband will be hoping his dreams of success do not go in the same sour direction.

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

Town remembers terrorist attack, 20 years on.

Bridge Street today. The River of Life serves as a permanent memorial to the victims of the attack.

Bridge Street today. The River of Life serves as a permanent memorial to the victims of the attack.

The scene on Bridge Street on 20th March 1993, when the bombs exploded.

The scene on Bridge Street on 20th March 1993, when the bombs exploded.

Hundreds of mourners have flooded the town centre of Warrington this week to remember the victims of the 1993 IRA bomb attack which claimed two lives and injured many more. A special service was held on Saturday 16th March to remember and pay tribute to those who were killed and injured in a planned attack which began a huge revolution in the process for peace.

The bombers struck on Saturday 20th March, the Saturday before Mother’s Day. A weekend which saw Warrington town centre busy with shoppers in the early Spring sunshine. Two coded messages were received indicating that bombs were planted outside a Boots store. Police had been put on alert, whilst emergency procedures took place at the Liverpool branch. The two bombs, planted in two separate litter bins, exploded within seconds of each other outside the branch in Warrington, sending panicked shoppers at the scene of first explosion into the path of the second attack. The bins acted almost like a large hand grenade, with shrapnel being blown in all directions.

Three year old Jonathan Ball and twelve-year-old Tim Parry were fatally injured in the attack; Both of these faces have since been the focal point of the programme for peace, not just in Warrington, but across the UK and The Republic of Ireland.
Speaking at the special ceremony held at the scene of the attack, father of Tim, Colin Parry spoke of how the ‘Peace Centre’, set up Tim and Jonathan’s memory, has helped his family. He stated how “good had come out of evil” and that the work of the Peace Centre had made a “real and unique difference” to the peace process.

On the Wednesday of the same week that the special memorial service took place, hundreds more people gathered to stand shoulder to shoulder, in silence, paying their respects, tributes and memories twenty years on. Balloons and white doves were released into the Warrington skies – a simple gesture which acknowledged the grief of victims’ families and the grief the town of Warrington felt and still feels today.

It has been an incredible exposure of strength that both families have shown in the aftermath of the terrorist attack which has shaped the history of Warrington. Not only is The Peace Centre a landmark in the town, but the centre for young people, is a landmark for peace in all four corners of the UK.

The Bridge Street area of the town has been transformed into a street of remembrance of the victims and the day that shook Warrington. The ‘River of Life’ which runs the length of the street recognises the history of the town but also serves as a permanent memorial to the two young victims and the dozens more who were injured.

54 people were also injured in the attack. An attack which still dominates the minds of those who were in Warrington at the time of the attack and those who live in and around Warrington today. Twenty years on, the victims are not forgotten, the process for peace continues.