“From each according to his ability…”
Do you remember the first time you, with a resigned shrug, sighed and muttered, “Well, what can you do?” The first seeds of learned helplessness taking root. It wasn’t always like that, was it? You were going to change the world. But the boy kicked out at the world and the world kicked back a lot fucking harder, didn’t it? What can you do?
For those in the corridors of power, it’s the oldest trick in the book; simply put, injustice thrives on apathy and apathy flourishes in powerlessness. Although the 15-year-old, Morning Star-reading me would be horrified to learn, that’s exactly what happened to me as the years ticked by. The rallies, protests and meetings I was attending weren’t changing anything; the bankers were still getting away with it, ‘dem forriners’ were still being blamed for everything, Everton were still crap. Why bother?
Well, luckily, I live in a city that reminds you why to bother. Disclaimer: I’m in a band. We’re called The Shipbuilders. You might have heard of us, you might not have, but over the past few years, we’ve been lucky enough to know the good people within the creative ranks who get up and stand up. We’ve been part of nights that have raised money and supplies for homeless charities, fundraisers for cancer research, even gigs to save the bees. I don’t say this to paint us as saints (believe me, we’re far from Heaven), but to demonstrate the power of music. What can you do? Well, you do what you can, and in this case, we play gigs. Much has been written about Liverpool’s spirit of protest; from 1911 and gunboats on the Mersey through to chasing fascists out of Lime Street to the Benny Hill theme song – it’s a (rightly) well-worn yarn and, thankfully, one that resonates through the city’s independent art channels.
Which brings me onto the reason I write this piece. Chances are, many reading this fine publication won’t have heard of Rimrose Valley Country Park – I hadn’t before I moved north of Old Swan, but on stumbling upon it, I was taken aback. Here is a green space, tucked away between Bootle and Crosby, that stretches for miles, with a canal running through it. It is home to an array of amphibians, flora, birds and mammals – in the past few months, deer have been spotted there. Deer, in Litherland! Jays, the shimmering, secretive members of the crow family, rarely seen, have recently taken nest there. It’s a green route for families, runners and cyclists, a space for sports and is a genuine haven of quiet in the middle of a busy, built up area.
You can guess what’s coming, can’t you?
In late 2014, following the expansion of the Port of Liverpool, Highways England began considering ways to manage the increased traffic from an already busy port. Why the expansion of the port was given the green light before this was sorted presents the first of many questions, but let’s not focus too much on that bit yet. Despite local protest, Highways England opted that rather than a tunnel, or expansion of any existing routes, the best (read: cheapest) option was to build a dual carriageway through Rimrose Valley. Naturally, this is distressing in itself – green spaces are sacred and diminishing at an alarming rate, you don’t need me to tell you that. Yet the wider implications are more worrying – a recent report examining the quality of air in areas near busy ports and coastal towns estimates that levels of air pollution are four times higher than previously thought. Given that the Port of Liverpool is already one of the busiest in the country, the idea of further contribution to pollution, at the expense of a precious natural reserve, is simply heartbreaking.
It gets better.
Throughout this period, Highways England were adamant that this option was the only one that could ensure no houses would be demolished and no families would be displaced. Residents were assured in person. You’re probably ahead of me here, but sure enough, come Summer 2018 and nearby residents are advised to ring a hotline to discuss CPOs. CPOs are compulsory purchase orders. Basically, you’re selling your house, we’re knocking it down, and there’s naff all you can do. Trebles all round. Mercifully, local MPs are against the road (although Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham is notable by his silence) and the decision to build the road has been taken back to judicial review on the grounds that other options weren’t given enough consideration; but the threat of concrete over grass still looms all too large over the Valley. Rumours abound that staff have already been hired to start work; Highways England are digging their heels (and machinery) into the matter.
Of course, the situation is all too familiar on Merseyside, with developers casting greedy eyes over Sefton Park and Calderstones Park and property valued more than parkland, with scant regard for the people who use them and, you know, breathe in the oxygen from the trees – yet this one feels different. This is a dual carriageway through a Country Park. You simply can’t replace that. You can’t de-pollute the air. You can rebuild houses, but you can’t rebuild homes.
Yet thankfully, as insinuated earlier, there are more than a bunch of us in this city ready to fight this. No less than Mick Head spoke about his disgust at the plans at his recent gig at the Museum of Liverpool. An online petition has garnered over 10,000 signatures, protests have been well-attended and plans are – naturally – afoot for gigs to raise awareness and support for the Valley and the cause, which I have been involved in organising. Plans are not set in stone (or Tarmac) yet, but genuinely big names from the music scene have pledged their support and the numbers are growing by the day.
Information on the campaign can be found on Facebook (Save Rimrose Valley) and updates regarding these gigs will be posted on there; but before then, I’d urge anyone to jump the train to Waterloo and take a stroll through the park and see what we stand to lose.
What can you do? Plug in and make a fugging great big racket about it, that’s what you can do.