The Stockport Steps War


Every working day, I have to go up and down the steps out of Mersey Square, Stockport, at the side of the Plaza Theatre/Cinema, to get to work.
Mersey Square is in the centre of Stockport, which, in turn, is in the centre of the Mersey basin, the same Mersey that Liverpool claims as its personal property. To get out of it, north or south, means a long climb.
There are fifty four steps up beside the Plaza, and it’s a point of pride for me, no matter the weather nor my state of generalised exhaustion, to climb them in one. They’re built in a series of twisting and turning flights.
The bottom section consists of twelve steps, eight of them broad and sweeping, the top four quite narrow, between projecting bays, and the space is further divided by a metal rail splitting this flight in two.
About two months ago, a stone rim slab broke on this flight. It was at the top of the broad steps, central to the narrower space above, and obviously dangerous to anyone coming down in a hurry, especially at night when the street lighting isn’t of the best. It would be very easy to step on this missing slab, and fall head first down into the Square.
So the Council blocked it off to enable them to make repairs and render the stairs safe again. Hazard tape was strung across the top and bottom of this half-flight, with the other side unobstructed. Within a day, it had been torn down.
The Council re-affixed it. It was torn down again. It brought in barriers, metal and plastic barriers, to straddle the approaches and close them off, with additional tape for those bits that weren’t covered. The tape was torn away and people forced their way past the barriers to go down the damaged section.
The Council kept trying. Every couple of days, it would come back and re-position the barriers, trying to indicate that this short section of stairs, twelve steps in total, was cordoned off for being dangerous, and every time these barriers were shifted, toppled over, folded up, moved, to open up these steps to traffic past this potentially dangerous, broken step.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the steps were closed and people were being forced to go a longer and less convenient way round. All that was closed, in theory, was the left hand half of the steps. The right hand half was open at all times. But, and this is what appears to be the point at which the rebels took offence, the right hand half was further away from the town centre. To use it meant going round the other side of the railing, at the cost of possible four or five extra steps having to be taken, and a delay of as much as two seconds in their progress up or down these steps.
And this war waged for weeks. Every time the left hand path was blocked off, the forces of opposition would unblock it again, refusing to accept this shackle upon their convenience, insisting on running the risk of tripping and breaking their ankle, or the ankle of any person happening to be below them when they were precipitated from the heights.
Or was the protest political? Was it a stand for libertarianism, and the right of the people to make their own decisions, free from the nanny state and its attempts to hinder their natural freedom by guiding them in this fascistic course? After all, the time and effort involved in continually breaking or shifting those tapes and barriers far outweighed the time and effort saved by not having to go round by the detour.
No, I think it was sheer, misguided laziness.
At the moment, the War may have come to an end. The barriers have not been reinstated. A preliminary layer of tar, already being kicked down the steps, fills in the gap of the missing slab brick. It looks ugly as anything, a cheap, tatty bodge, but maybe it’s what it takes to bring the war to an end and let both sides get on with something that makes a modicum of sense.
If it doesn’t, you’ll hear another report on this conflict.
For Author for Sale Blog, this is Martin Crookall, in Mersey Square.

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