Well I have been having a ponder but I suppose the first thing that readers of this posting may say to themselves is that ‘it’s not for you to say but for us to judge’. You could also add that the judgement has already been handed down by my being invited to leave office on Sefton Borough Council by the Park Ward electorate. However, I have been asked a few times since the May elections what I thought of my time as a Borough Councillor so it has started a certain amount of reminiscing on my part, so here goes anyway.
16 years is a long time to recall all the events of note, at least it is for me as I have never kept a Tony Benn type diary of my activities.
Meadows Leisure Centre – Maghull – I led the campaign to have this built going back well before I was even elected to Sefton Council back in 1999. To see it open in 2009 was a delight. To have also assisted in establishing an exhibition space for the Frank Hornby Trust within the leisure centre was likewise an important step forward. Regrets? Two really – in incorporating a new home for Maghull Library within the Leisure Centre I don’t think we fully understood the noise conflict between exercise classes and the expected quiet of the a library. Secondly, I am disappointed that the planned integration between the leisure centre and the leisure facilities in the adjoining Maghull Town Hall have never been taken forward. The intention was for the two buildings to be run seamlessly as far as users were concerned despite them being owned by two different councils. This vision sadly was lost when Maghull Council came under a political leadership with differing objectives.
The Atkinson – Southport – For quite a while I held Cabinet responsibility for the development of this huge project to refurbish 3 adjoining very old and previously poorly upgraded listed buildings into what we see now. I love it and am pleased that it has fulfilled the objectives set for it. Regrets? None really – It cost more than the original budget but frankly we always thought it would. You can’t work on old buildings and expect it to be straight forward because it never is.
Raising the profile of Sefton’s Parish Councils – I put a lot into this as the relationship between Sefton Borough Council and the 10 Parish Councils in its area had been poor and negative for far too long. I renegotiated what we called the ‘Double Rating’ agreement so the Parish Councils who did their own parks and gardens maintenance got paid a sensible amount back from Sefton Borough Council who were also taking money off local residents in those communities but not then spending it in those communities. Regrets? Yes, Labour have reversed the deal and it is now worse than when I renegotiated it. Places like Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree are being poorly treated by Sefton Council!
Maghull North Station – I have been pressing for this to be built for a long, long time so am delighted that the Coalition Government gave 90% of the money required to build it in 2014. I hope it will be constructed in the next 2 to 3 years. Regrets? None.
Switch Island – Thornton Link Road – I was campaigning for this before being elected in 1999 because trying to win a Borough Council ward that included the Parish of Thornton made this a must achieve issue. It took a while and I have said many times that the determination of the people and Parish Council of Thornton was the clincher; what I did was to take the matter to the then regional bodies of government and persuade them to back the project. The Blair/Brown Government sat of fence and never came up with the money but again the Coalition Government gave the final green light and of course a large proportion of the money. It is now all but built. Regrets? Thornton folk and their Parish Council not getting the credit they deserve because others (Labour) keep trying to claim that credit for themselves.
Lydiate Village Centre – It took some years to get the new building constructed after the former Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club building had been burnt down. At the time Sefton Council (the land owners) were not exactly being proactive and helpful. But the determination of Lydiate Parish Council (particularly its Chairman Dave Russell) finally got us there with me steering the issue through Sefton Council. I have to say that Dave together with former Cllr. Andrew Blackburn and Lydiate’s then Parish Clerk (Brian Beaven) were the leading lights in this project, I was simply got Sefton to be positive and supportive. Regrets? None.
Oriel Drive GP Surgery – Aintree – So happy this got built during my time as a Borough Councillor for Aintree Village. Working with Aintree Village Parish Council and the health providers was a delight and the new building was worth all the efforts of many people. Again, I was there to assist others who did far more than I. Regrets? None.
Decentralising Sefton Borough and empowering its diverse communities – Sefton has always been an uncomfortable mix of diverse communities with little in common and on the back of the Local Government Boundary Commission deciding not to split the Borough up I helped lead a process to try to empower local communities. We set up Area Committees created a Parish Council’s charter and despite the two old parties, whom we shared power with, being highly sceptical of our push to give power away to the people we did make some strides in the right direction. Regrets? Yes, when Labour took control of Sefton they started an inevitable process to recentralise power in their Bootle heartland. They took out 3 Area Committees to create one massive and pointless one in the centre of the Borough. It was never going to work and it still does not work. As for the Parish Charter which was aimed at treating the 10 Parish Councils with respect (and even decentralising power to them) suffice to say that the day it was ripped up in front of the Labour Cabinet by Aintree Village Parish Councillor Peter Gill showed how Labour cared little for those not in their tribal tent.
Fighting for our precious Green Belt and high grade agricultural land – This seems to have been almost a lifetime campaign for me. Just before I got elected to Sefton Council I had headed up a successful campaign in Maghull to stop the Borough Council from allowing a massive area of land to the east of Maghull being concreted over. We won because Maghull Town Council, its local Borough Councillors and residents spoke with one voice that said to Sefton Planners exactly where they could stick their plans! Regrets? Certainly, because I had to re-fight the very same battle again in 2014/15 but this time without the now Labour-run Town Council who sat and watched it wash over them. I made many new friends in the environmental movement but Labour were determined to build on the highest grade of agricultural land in England and we have been defeated. As I pen this posting we can only hope that a Government appointed Inspector has more concern for our food growing land than either Maghull Town Council or Sefton Borough Council.
Fighting to save Woodend Primary School (Maghull) from closure – I attended this lovely school but in the early 2000’s it was struggling because it had so few children in it. Why parents living close to the school were sending their children elsewhere when this great little school had been serving the adjacent community so well I do not know. The fight to save it was being run by the Governing Body led by the redoubtable Andrew Blackburn and being an ‘old boy’ of the school I was right behind his efforts. I recall us delivering advertising leaflets around the southern part of Maghull and beyond to help the school attract more children and was heartbroken when this campaign did not succeed. Regrets? – Losing the fight obviously but also being blamed on a doorstep in Maghull for the closure of Woodend by a lady who clearly felt I had done just the opposite of what I actually had done!
Fighting to raise the profile of our local railways – The Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines are both important for the Sefton and West Lancashire Boroughs. Again this has been an almost lifetime issue for me. Seeing Merseytravel (the Passenger Transport Authority for Merseyside) make little or no progress on these two lines was always a frustration. It was as though they looked upon the lines as not being important to Liverpool so they were not going to put much effort in to developing them. The Liverpool centric approach to transport planning on and around Merseyside has always been to the determent of the large towns that surround Liverpool and here Southport, whilst being in Merseyside, has been poorly served by the Authority they pay to deliver public transport. Regrets? – Not being able to break down the barriers between Merseyside and Lancashire that have held back transportation and other issues since 1974.
Fighting for green issues – Whether it be fighting for our precious Green Belt and high grade agricultural land not to be built upon or seeing Lib Dem run Parish Councils installing solar panels on Maghull Town Hall and Lydiate Village Centre green issues have meant a lot to me. Regrets? – I have always found it difficult to understand why Tory and Labour councillors are generally disinterested in green issues. Labour stuck me as being way off the pace with such matters with the Tories hardly much better.
The fight to save Sefton’s Libraries – A massive campaign but one that was ultimately lost as we could not persuade Sefton’s ruling Labour Group to back off from their closure plans. 7 of Sefton’s 13 Libraries were lost and it was a huge step backwards in my view. Regrets? – Seeing volunteer campaigners being treated so badly by Labour. All they wanted was the chance to try to run their libraries as voluntary undertakings but Sefton Labour would have none of it. So very sad.
I could go on but I have probably mentioned too many issues already. I enjoyed the vast majority of my 16 years as a Sefton Councillor and the 7 I served as Council Leader. Did I make a difference? I would like to think so but that is probably best left to your judgement not to my rose tinted spectacles.