A balance needs to be struck between house building and preserving a sustainable environment and this suggested local plan has, I believe, got that balance wrong. This does not mean we would go to the barricades for every acre of open space. Clearly in order to provide enough homes and jobs, sites like, for example, the former hospital land in Maghull and the Thornton relief road should be developed. In Southport, we have long accepted the need for a considerable number of houses to be built on the former tip at Kew: land which, while open space, was never ‘Green Belt’.
Our priority must be to keep prime agricultural land and to build on the success of the green belt policy in preserving our communities by preventing urban sprawl. We have a duty to future generations to preserve our green and pleasant land. The high grade agricultural land in the borough is an important strategic resource for our country, helping us to maintain food supplies in an uncertain world.
I have no comfort for those who reject all development. We need extra homes. In my surgery I have listened to the desperate circumstance of some local people struggling to find somewhere for their family to live. Research issued by the charity Shelter asserts ‘Without a renewed commitment, there will not be adequate homes to house the families of the future and more people will be living in overcrowded conditions, and stuck on housing waiting lists and in temporary accommodation.’
Like Shelter I believe that the emphasis should be on social rented homes and affordable homes including imaginative schemes like shared equity. The developers may want high profit estates of five bedroom detached houses, we require affordable homes which our children can buy and our elderly can retire to.
It is well known that our borough has a falling population, and the census has confirmed that. So it is important to explain that extra demand comes chiefly because there are more single person households. We are all living longer. Families splitting up – occupying two houses rather than one – means we need more homes to house a falling population .
I share the concerns of the campaigners who have challenged the assumptions behind the statistics used to justify the release of greenbelt land. Nobody has convinced me that our population is going to grow in the way the plan suggests. It seems that Sefton are giving too much weight to the opinion of one particular set of consultants.
I am particularly concerned about proposed building in West Lancs on the boundary with Birkdale. Any new homes there would have an impact on our town as they would look to Southport for schools, hospitals, leisure facilities etc and yet the extra rates and new homers bonus would go to Ormskirk. One of the failings of the plan is its narrow fixation on land within Merseyside. 95% of our land boundary is with Lancashire and not enough thought has been given how development there impacts on us.
If we want to preserve important Green Belt sites like Moss Lane in Churchtown, or Ainsdale High School as well as the high grade agricultural land around Formby and Maghull then we have to look again at ‘brownfield’ sites in our towns and cities. This must include Southport and my colleague John Pugh MP has already made suggestions about this. In addition there has been a dramatic decline in the populations of our cities since the war and they too can and should be the focus of new development.