Monday, 11 July 2011

Put the G first

Today I started off a meeting with my Director, Nick Kavanagh, and the senior regeneration team with a quote. The quote was taken from "Coaching for Performance" by John Whitmore. It goes, " Goals formed by ascertaining the ideal long term solution, and then determining realistic steps towards that ideal, are generally far more inspiring, creative and motivating." John Whitmore is describing the GROW model, designed to help individuals make decisions about their work or life and how to improve their performance. The GROW model is widely used to help a person to increase their awareness of their situation, take responsibility for their decisions and to make progress in the challenges that face them. Simply put, one learns to start with the Goal one wants to achieve, looks at the Reality of the situation and where one is starting from, examines the Options in front of one and commits one's  Will to take action. The order of the steps  avoids the danger of deriving one's goals from where one is rather than from where one wants to be. One's goals should be kept in mind as one overcomes the limitations of the present reality rather than one's goals being shaped by them.
Regent Road heading towards the Bascule Bridge
Regeneration is about Vision and while reality may impact on the actions one intends to take they should not lead to the abandonment of that vision. The effect of getting this process in the wrong order leads to limitations on both Vision and Action. This is all too prevalent in local government decision making.
Some months ago the management of the Port of Liverpool came to me with serious concerns about the state of Regent Road. This is the main road leading to one of Liverpool's most important industries, fundamental to its character and a foundation stone of its econonomic success; the Port of Liverpool. The proposed Post Panamax development at the Port offers the possibility of restoring its the kind of status it has historically enjoyed. However, the road to the Port has, over many years, been virtually abandoned and the lack of attention to it raises significant threats to the success of the Port.
The Napoleonic Wall along Regent Road
The reality of the situation is Liverpool has £3 million per year to spend on roads . With many priorities to deal with I was initially told that Regent Road was 15th in order of priority . I hasten to add that this list of priorities was based on a sound analysis by officers taking account of many threats to the functioning of Liverpool's strategic highway network and was in way at all a list determined by any kind of whim. However, it did mean that if this reality was to determine the goal then Liverpool would get round to dealing with the condition of Liverpool's Dock Road in fifteen years time. As little had been done over the previous 12 years of the Liberal Democrat administration, and as even a perfect new road is only expected to give up to 20 years major maintenance free use, then one can hardly dare to think what the state of this vital economic artery would look like after a further 15 years.

Computer Graphic of Proposed Post Panamax facility
My response was was to revisit the Goal element of G-R-O-W. My goal in this situation is to keep commerce flowing in Liverpool as the basis of a vibrant economy. The reality of the situation is that we have limited finance to deal with all our priorities. The option chosen was to ask officers to look again at the order of priority and take the economic impact of not taking action into account. The action was committed to and undertaken: the result? well you'll have to wait for the press announcement.

Now as for Sefton Park! 12 years of letting the R determine the G has led to crumbling road infrastructure. Can we possibly put the G first this time?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Find your own hole

My grandfather was a volunteer in the First World War. He joined the Northumberland Fusiliers and operated as a Lewis gunner in all the major battles of the First World War being promoted to corporal. I often talked with him about his experiences but he seldom talked about the horrific things he witnessed while in France. He preferred to show me his collection of Bairnsfather cartoons or tell his favourite joke about the woman coming up to British soldiers shouting "Merci Merci". "There's no mercy in the British Army growled the sargeant."
"Keep yer 'ead still, or I'll 'ave yer blinkin' ear off."

My grandfather was a localist. He was from the north east, worked for the London and North Eastern Railway company and joined his local regiment. He went to war with local people he would know who shared a common local bond. There was a sense amongst my grandfather and his fellow soldiers that they were not only defending Britain's interests but were committed to Northumberland's interests within that wider context.

What would have been entirely "foreign" to my grandfather is the idea that Northumberland Fusiliers could go to war while the rest of the British Army stayed at home. Their localism was grounded in the knowledge that they were also part of a bigger picture.

Well, if you know of a better 'ole, Go to it!
This is probably the nub of the localism question. Where do our real interests lie? With our neighbourhood? with our City? With our Region? With our country? Which is the appropriate level for decisions on regeneration to be made?

Liverpool benefitted greatly from The European Union determining that it should be included in the Objective One programme which brought a lot of resources to the city. It has also benefitted from national UK decisions to fund programmes such as the Single Regeneration Budget. When the UK government decided that the appropriate level for economic development strategy was regional then Liverpool similarly benefitted from North West Development Agency allocation of resources. What we think of as local is not easily defined.

"They've evidently seen me"
The Government's Localism bill is contentious because of this quandry.  While no one would dispute that decisions should be influenced by and take account of the neighbourhood dimension, the question is whether the best interests of a city are simply the sum total of what is best for its individual neighbourhoods. A practical example of this might be decisions on which roads should be repaired. If decisions were to be made entirely at a localised neighbourhood level what impact would this have on the strategic road network in the city? Would these neighbourhood level decisions take account of the economic interests of the city? Would investment take place in a road to the docks to assist the businesses of the city or be invested in a neighbourhood's residential streets. Or, for example, if a decision were to be made on waste management would individual neighbourhoods' interests make it impossible to establish a rational city wide system of waste disposal in a time when simply digging a hole somewhere in the countryside and filling it up, or tipping it all into the river, is just not acceptable.

We have to recognise that each neighbourhood is not just another Bairnsfather hole.  My grandfather recognised that Northumberland, Durham, Surrey and Essex's interests were bound up in Britain's interests as they headed off for France. Our neighbourhoods' interests are ultimately bound up with Liverpool's economic interests, as Liverpool's are bound up with regional and national interests. Getting the balance right and decision making focus correct will be crucial as we work out in practice how the localism bill will operate.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

"Nobody's child, I'm nobody's child"

In 2003 The Guardian  reported that an elderly lady in Sunderland who had recently died had not been able to use her own street for 20 years. Her street was a dirt track with no street lighting, no drainage and no road surfacing. As her eyesight deteriorated with age her street became a no go area. She lived on an unadopted road.

The article went on to highlight the problem of unadopted roads and streets in Sunderland. These are roads for which local councils have no legal duty to maintain and, having limited resources, generally refuse to do so. If local residents want these roads adopted and maintained by their council,  local authorities have usually required residents to pay for the necessary improvements before they will take responsibility for their maintenance.This is underlined by the 1980 Highways Act which makes local residents the "street managers" of their orphan highways. The cost of doing this is prohibitive for local residents and therefore it simply does not happen. Nationally the Government has estimated that the cost of bringing all unadopted roads to the required standard would be £3 billion. 

In Liverpool in 2005 the then Liberal Democrat Cabinet Member brought a report to the Regeneration Select Committee which, the Liverpool Echo reported, revealed that, because of the costs involved, " hundreds of miles of streets and roadways in Liverpool may never be repaired" and that 120 streets legally designated as unadopted "could never be free of potholes and cracks."

Ullet Road entrance to Sefton Park
In Liverpool the most famous of these unadopted roads are the roads round Sefton Park. Aigburth Drive, Croxteth Drive, Greenbank Drive and others have had cosmetic work done on them in the past but are crumbling so fast that they are rapidly becoming unusable. It has been estimated the cost of bringing the roads around the park up to adoptable standards would be £7 million pounds. When one considers that the local authority has £3 million in total to spend on all currently adopted roads in the whole of the city one seems to be looking at an insoluble problem.

The problem is exacerbated by some of the roads around the park having become being an integral part of the road network. Aigburth Drive in particular carries thousands of cars per day taking traffic to the city centre eventually via Princes Road. In more gentle times the gentry would have accessed the park in their carriages via the gates to the park and slowly perambulated round the beautiful countryside in the heart of the city. Nowadays heavy traffic and ruinous winters combine to destroy the road surface and together with their unadopted status leave the local authority with an immense headache.

But was the cabinet member in 2005 correct? Were officers who said nothing could be done being realistic or were both lacking in imagination. I believe every problem has a solution- the difficulty is often having the imagination to work out the solution, the ability to "sell" the solution and the determination to see it through.

I believe we now have an opportunity to deliver a solution to the conundrum. It will require politicians, officers and , indeed, the citizens of Liverpool to think in a different way and consider the alternatives of both doing something and, even more, failing to act.

Workmen repairing the worst sections of Croxteth Drive last weekend
In recent weeks a number of actions have been taken to start bringing the roads up to standard. The City Council has filled in the major deep pot holes caused by the recent bad winters and last week, using a combination of resources from local businesses and housing assocations matched by city council resources, the Beirut-like surface of Croxteth Drive was repaired. The number of complaints about the roads around the park has reduced markedly as a result.

This is not the full or final solution to the problem of unadopted roads around Sefton Park. The pot holes will reappear as the level of traffic and further ravages of subsequent winters take effect. A more complete solution is called for. It is that solution that the council will consider over the coming month and which will be further reported on in Regeneration Matters. Somehow we have to get round the limitations of the Highways Act 1980, the lack of resources available to deal with the problem and the historic lack of imagination displayed by politicians and officers alike. I believe a solution is within reach. Will we be able to grasp it?