Here’s why the Liverpool Underground needs a circle line

A Merseyrail train at Liverpool Central. Image: Chris McKenna/Wikimedia Commons.

In a previous column on these pages, I argued that a priority for the Liverpool City Region metro mayor should be the completion of the “Circle Line”, which uses part of the original Liverpool Outer Loop Line, on the Liverpool Underground.

The work to extend, electrify and modernise this part of the network was originally commenced in the 1970s – the full project was never completed. For the train enthusiasts out there, here is a fuller explanation of what the Circle Line is.

Image: Dave Mail.

The red line on this excellent map are the yet to be restored section of the Circle Line; the green line is the already completed section. For example, here’s a picture of (mothballed) West Derby station: 

Image: Sue Adair/Wikimedia Commons.

And here’s the Grade II listed (and, operational) Hunts Cross: 

Image: El Pollock/Wikimedia Commons.

There are many tens of thousands of people living along the mothballed Liverpool Outer Loop Line. These would be, almost exclusively, new customers for the Liverpool Underground, bringing an enormous amount of new income to the network. The Circle Line, which would use only part of the Liverpool Outer Loop Line, would connect anyone who lives near it easily and conveniently with everywhere on the Liverpool Underground network.

For example, a young, non-car owning person could easily and conveniently commute from Norris Green to anywhere within Greater Liverpool for work, just as how someone from West Kirby or Formby can do at the moment. This would open up greatly increased work opportunities available to such a person.


The initial incarnation of the Circle Line should connect Hunts Cross station to Rice Lane station eight miles away, and include the six extant stations, to conclude the already two-thirds completed project. 

The journey time from Norris Green Broadway to Central station, in the city centre, would be 15 minutes using the current train fleet (that’s based on the next station along, Rice Lane’s journey time to Central station currently being 12 minutes).

The Norris Green resident would also benefit from interchanges at: Rice Lane station for Kirkby and Skelmersdale; Kirkdale station for the Ormskirk Line; Sandhills station for the Southport Line; Central/Moorfields stations for the Wirral Line; Broad Green station for Lime Street and St Helens; Hunts Cross station for Warrington; Liverpool South Parkway for Chester, North Wales and Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Extrapolating from current journey times, the longest journey to Central station going north would be from Knotty Ash station and would likely take 21 minutes; going south, the longest journey would be from Childwall station, and would likely take 23 minutes. Customers could also interchange at Broad Green, to take the existing City Line straight into the city, if they preferred.

I would suggest that the realistic walking catchment area for each station would be a half mile radius from the station – a maximum 10 minute walk – although many more commuters might get a lift to their nearest station, to commute the rest of the way by train.

The benefits of the Circle Line would also go far beyond only accessing the city centre. Broad Green station is less than 10 minutes walk from Broadgreen Hospital; Knotty Ash station would be next door to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital (one of the largest children’s hospitals in the country), and may be better renamed to Alder Hey station.

Norris Green Broadway station would be 20 minutes walk from Liverpool Football Club via ‘96 Avenue’; Kirkdale station is 15 minutes walk from Everton Football Club; Vauxhall station would be less than 10 minutes walk from EFC’s potentially transformational new multi-purpose stadium, and all of the many facilities that would be likely to develop around that area; and so on.

The Outer Loop, as proposed in the 1970s. Image: Merseytravel, via John Burns.

So what would the estimated cost be? To provide a 20 minute frequency service around the Circle Line would require four trains at £9m per train, i.e. £36m. (The frequency could be increased on match/event days.)

Given that most of the expensive infrastructure is already in place, using an estimate of £15m per mile for the build gives a total of £120m. However, it is worth bearing in mind here that the imminent new train fleet will also be capable of being battery powered on non-electrified sections of track, thus potentially reducing this cost significantly.

So an – admittedly rough estimate – of the cost at this stage would therefore be £150m, including trains. Of course this doesn’t include everything – stations would need to be renovated, and so forth. Nonetheless, this initial estimate is probably more accurate than the initial estimates for both the Edinburgh tram scheme and the London Olympics.

A very rough idea of where the new line would fit into the current network. Image: David Arthur/Wikimedia, vandalised by CityMetric.

If one mile was built every five years the Circle Line would be fully complete in 40 years time. Or, to put it another way, if this approach had been chosen in the 1970s, when the work to extend, electrify and modernise the network started, the full Circle Line project would be completing soon.

Broadway, adjacent to the Liverpool Outer Loop Line in Norris Green, is a densely populated area and has always been a social and economic hub attracting people from miles around. Re-opening the station there would place a large population within a 15 minute train journey of Central station.

However, Broadway station would also be close to the start of “96 Avenue” and would be LFC’s main station. On this basis it would probably be most beneficial to start with the section from Rice Lane to Norris Green Broadway.

New trains. Image: Merseytravel.

The Circle Line, from Rice Lane station to Rice Lane station via part of the Liverpool Outer Loop Line, Hunts Cross station and the city centre, would be 19 miles long. This means that a full loop of the Circle Line – using the faster, brand new, recently ordered train fleet, which will be rolled out across the network in 2020 (pictured above) – would take 39 minutes. The longest journey time to Central station on it would therefore be less than 20 minutes. These are very acceptable journey times.

We’ve waited long enough. It’s time Liverpool got its circle line.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’.

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A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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