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Future of Metrolink ‘unclear’ as passenger numbers fall and government funding ends

The government bailout received during the lockdown is set to end this October

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Metrolink’s future is ‘unclear’ as government funding ends and passenger numbers plummet, transport bosses have revealed today.

During the Covid lockdowns, Metrolink received a £278m bailout from the government as a result of declining passenger numbers, which have fallen from 45.6m to 30.6m over the last twelve months.

This bailout included a recovery grant of £124m between March 2020 and April 2022, including an extra payment of £20.5m to aid the service until October this year.

However, with the service continuing to experience declining passenger numbers, energy bills soaring to unprecedented costs and the government funding coming to an end, transport bosses have admitted Metrolink’s future is ‘unclear’.

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At the start of this year, Metrolink boss Danny Vaughan warned he couldn’t rule out fare hikes or service cuts, telling the Manchester Evening News that rocketing electricity prices would lead to a £6m increase in operating costs this year.

Vaughan said with other bills and passenger decline factored in, this would result in losses of up to £40m.

Roger Jones, the former chairman of the Bus Services Committee, said there may be an argument for reducing some schedules if cash can’t be found, but said a better direction would be to cut fares to boost subsidy.

He said: “Metrolink has never been properly subsidised which is why fares are higher than we’d like. If the Government won’t make up the deficit we have to find some money through council tax or somewhere.”

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Referencing Andy Burnham’s plan to bring the region’s buses back into public control, Jones added: “If one of the purposes of reducing fares on buses is to get more passengers then maybe we’ve got to do the same thing with trams.

“I think all of us accept that if trams could receive the same subsidy as trains and buses fares would be much lower. But we shouldn’t start cutting Metrolink, it’s taken us so long to expand the network, the last thing we want to see is a reduction.”

Meanwhile, the government has said that operators need to ‘develop effective and financially sustainable networks in light of changing travel patterns post-pandemic’.

Transport Commissioner Vernon Everitt said they remain in ‘continuous dialogue’ with the government about funding for the Metrolink, and that they were grateful for cash already received.

David Dixon / Geograph

He said: “The current funding package runs until October and it remains unclear what will happen after that. What is clear, however, is that we will need further support while we take action ourselves to attract more people to the network and return it to a sound financial footing.

“We have already seen encouraging signs in passenger numbers, especially for leisure trips, and we must continue to offer frequent and reliable transport services as a sustainable alternative to car use in our growing region.

“We are taking decisive action to attract more ridership through the creation of the Bee Network. Single bus fares are being capped at just £2 for adults, and we will also be launching a major new campaign to promote the benefits of public transport.

“We will work with employers to help promote this too. In a little over a year, we will see the first franchised bus routes in operation and we will begin to integrate our value for money fares offer across Metrolink and buses to make everything simpler to use.

“We’ll integrate the local rail network into this in due course too.”

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Government scrap plans to house asylum seekers in Southport Pontins

Ministers are searching for large sites to replace the costly use of hotels to house asylum seekers.

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The UK government has scrapped plans to house asylum seekers in the Pontins holiday resort in Southport.

Sefton Council had opposed converting the resort, in Ainsdale, into asylum accommodation. The authority is understood to have raised a number of objections, including the logistics of accessing the site and the impact it would have on its local tourism.

Southport MP Damien Moore described the proposal for Pontins as ‘completely inappropriate’ and added that an influx of vulnerable families would have added further pressure on local children’s services — already rated ‘inadequate’ by regulator Ofsted.

Ministers are searching for large sites to replace the costly use of hotels to house asylum seekers awaiting decisions while their claims are assessed. The council was approached by the Home Office last year about potentially turning the site into a temporary base, which can accommodate more than 3,000 people, and is still currently used as a holiday resort.

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The government was understood to be close to finalising plans with Britannia, the holiday park’s owner, which would have seen the coastal attraction closed to the public.

A council spokesperson said: “We have now been informed that the Home Office no longer wish to pursue plans to house Asylum Seekers at the Pontins site in Ainsdale. We are awaiting written confirmation of this decision.”

The talks are not understood to have involved Sefton Council or local MP Damien Moore who criticised the government for failing to communicate with him over a key issue affecting his community, saying:MPs should be updated by Home Office officials on how discussions are going.” 

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The government wants to end the reliance on hotels to house asylum seekers who are awaiting decisions on their claims, which the Home Office says is costing £6.8m a day.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick is trying to find larger alternative sites which he says will be cheaper – including former student halls of residence, holiday parks and surplus military sites. But none have yet been given the go-ahead.

A plan to turn a former RAF base in Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire into an asylum centre was also scrapped last summer due to local opposition.

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Serial rapist from Bolton set for release from prison

He is set to walk free next month

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A serial rapist is set to be released from prison despite an appeal from the justice secretary.

Andrew Barlow, 66, who lived in both Bolton and Oldham, became Britain’s most wanted man after a string of sex attacks on women and girls between 1981-1988. Barlow was jailed for life in 1988 with a minimum term of 20 years, for 11 rapes, three attempted rapes and a range of other offences.

But now he is set to walk free next month after a decision made by the Parole Board, after it rejected an application from Dominic Raab to cancel the scheduled release of the repeat offender. However, the decision may be challenged through an appeal to the High Court.

A spokesperson for the board said: “We can confirm that a panel of the Parole Board has directed the release of Andrew Barlow following an oral hearing. Parole Board decisions are solely focused on what risk a prisoner could represent to the public if released and whether that risk is manageable in the community.”

Barlow targeted teenaged girls and young mothers mainly in the Manchester area, where he lived during the decade. He broke into victims’ homes, used weapons to threaten them – and in one case to cause injury – before assaulting them often while their children were in the same house.

The sex offender was dubbed the ‘Coronation Street Rapist’ after attacking several women in terraced houses reminiscent of the ITV soap’s setting. Barlow, also known as Andrew Longmire, was convicted and jailed in October 1988 when he was aged 32.

After serving more than 34 years in jail, the Parole Board determined on December 12th 2022 that he could be released. Mr Raab applied to the board for reconsideration on January 17th, arguing that the panel had ‘failed to take proper account of the evidence regarding risk and in particular the expert psychology evidence’.

 

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The Parole Board heard how Barlow’s behaviour had been ‘good for many years’ while in prison and he had worked on educational and vocational qualifications – he had also taken part in ‘accredited programmes’ to address sex offending.

It concluded that a plan that put strict limitations on his contacts, movements and activities would be ‘robust’ enough to manage Barlow in the community. The board rejected Mr Raab’s application, saying that ‘there has been no misdirection of law’ and that it had considered ‘all the evidence’.

The board said: “The whole panel would be aware of the correct test and the panel was chaired by a very experienced retired Judge who also has considerable experience of parole hearings and applying the statutory test.” 

Barlow’s attacks included the rape of a 26-year-old woman in her Sheffield home, while her three-year-old daughter hid terrified behind a settee. He threatened the woman with a screwdriver before carrying out the attack.

In 2021, following the rearrest of double murderer Colin Pitchfork, the Justice Secretary said he wanted to see a more cautious approach to future parole decisions. Pitchfork, who raped and killed two teenage girls in the 1980s, was recalled to prison in November 2021 – two months after being released.

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Heartbroken wife of great-grandad who ‘vanished’ on canal walk makes plea 

‘I need you, I just want you home.’

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The wife of a great-grandad who went missing after going out for a walk over a month ago has issued a desperate plea to bring him home.

Peter Baglin, 55, left his home in Boothstown on December 28th after telling his wife of 30 years Michelle that he was just going out for a walk and would be ‘home soon’. That would be the last day Mr Baglin was last seen on CCTV at a garage in Mosley Common near Worsley, Greater Manchester.

In the days that followed, after police deployed huge search teams to the local area, trawling through woodland, using drones, and dive teams in the canal, not a trace of Mr Baglin has been found, Greater Manchester Police say.

His phone, hat and headphones along with tobacco, his bank cards and house keys, were found the following day along a towpath by the Bridgewater Canal, on Vicars Hall Lane. Mrs Baglin has again spoken of her heartache over Peter’s sudden disappearance and in a desperate plea for her husband to come home, she said: “I need you, I just want you home.”

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Mrs Baglin has described her husband’s disappearance as a ‘living nightmare’ and that it’s like he’s just ‘vanished’, saying: “”He’s vanished. Literally you’d never think of it in this day on Earth where we’ve got such technical things, that a person could disappear.”

She said he had gone out for a walk and was later seen buying whisky in the garage’s CCTV footage, and that a short time later they chatted on the phone. She said that he had promised to be home shortly and told her: “I love you, you’re my world.”

However, Mrs Baglin later became worried after further phone calls to him went unanswered. She then decided to go out looking for him before reporting him missing. Mrs Baglin said she fears Peter, a grandfather of four and great-grandfather of one, may have been listening to music along the canal embankment and fallen.

Mr Baglin often went out for a walk and this was not unusual for him to do as his wife said: “He does go for walks quite regularly.

“He’ll put his headphones on and he can walk for a good few hours. It wasn’t unusual for him to do that. What was unusual is that he didn’t come home. I’m praying that he’s somewhere safe.”

Police said Mr Baglin also has ties to the Devonshire area and joined his wife in appealing for anyone with information to contact them.

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