Maghull – We shouldn’t even be building on this land!

The vast Maghull East site seen from Poverty Lane presently used for growing crops but under Sefton Council’s Local Plan it is to be covered with housing.

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/controversial-plans-build-841-homes-18569259

There’s every danger that you’ll be shouting back at me that I’m a broken record here especially if you agree with house building on Green Belt and on high grade agricultural land which feeds us. However, if you agree with me that building on such land is very wrong indeed then read on.

During my time as a Maghull Councillor I led the first campaign to save this land from development in the late 1990’s:-

Press cutting from 1998 as we fought to protect the Maghull east site from development. We won back then but Labour did not fight for the land the 2nd time around.

A Maghull Town Council leaflet from 1998 – That fight to stop Green Belt building was won.

We won that battle but developers and planners always had their eye on it and when they came back for 2nd go as part of the Sefton Local Plan the now Labour-run council did not run a similar campaign and Sefton Council chose the land to be built on.

So now we are left arguing over the detail of how the land will be developed rather than this high grade agricultural land continuing to grow the food that we eat! What makes it even worse is that the chances are that the vast majority of the houses to be built won’t even meet the real local housing shortage anyway as it’s in the social housing sector where the need actually is.

I despair I really do. All I can say is that during my time as a Sefton Borough and Maghull Town Councillor I fought to keep this land from development along with many other local environmental campaigners such as Peter Greener and Pat O’Hanlon. Planning and land use policies in the UK are an utter mess and they have been for generations now. When are we going to wake up to climate change, global warming and real housing need in the social housing sector? When are we going to start to value the land that grows our food?

‘The police have better things to do than’………

This is probably a phrase that many of us have used when we’ve heard about an incident which is either of no consequence to us or is one we regularly participate in but which is actually against some law or regulation.

So when we say it are we in reality saying ‘well I would break that law too’ or ‘that law should be abolished because I regularly break it’; is it actually simply an expression of our frustration or even selfishness? Let’s see what you think the Police ‘have better things to do than’ – here are 5 examples:-

Enforcing speed limits?
Stopping pavement parking by drivers?
Tackling cyclists who ride on pavements?
Prosecuting motorists with no Road Tax or insurance?
Fining people who break ‘lockdown’ rules?

I could go on, but I think you’ll have got my drift by now i.e. if we park on pavements we won’t want the police/local council to enforce the regulations on it will we? However, if we are a pedestrian/blind/disabled/or pushing a pram we probably will want them to. The same applies to the other ‘crimes’ I’ve listed and indeed potentially many that I’ve not.

In short we’ll often be affronted by the anti-social/criminal behaviours of others whilst conveniently ignoring our own less than community minded activities. Indeed, can we sit on both sides of the fence by for example grumbling about the vehicle on the pavement when we’ve had to step into the road to get around it whilst dumping our own car on any pavement available when we want to park close to the chippy, hairdressers, chemist etc. etc.? The answer, of course, is yes we can!

Oh and one final thing, why are many of the things we can react to in this way associated with travel and how we go about it?

Sefton Church – Grade I Listed building visited by thieves

A visit to the Maghull Community Facebook page earlier today brought me some sad news as I learned that St Helen’s Parish Church (known more as Sefton Church locally) had been visited by thieves who had stolen stone flags from a path at the rear of this historic Grade I Listed Building.

I’ve blogged about this magnificent church a number of times before, not least because I was once a choir boy there for about 3 years around 1970. The fact that I now consider myself to be an atheist does not take anything away from my regard for this historic church which, being in the village of Sefton, our present Borough is named after.

Theft from churches is nothing new of course as miscreants have been stealing lead from church roofs for as long as there have been churches. But never the less it always causes an outcry when it happens and when you add to the sad story that this is the only Grade I Listed Building in Sefton Borough it’s hardly surprising that locals are up in arms.

I consider this church a part of my personal history not least because I met some lovely people associated with it during my time in the choir. What’s more our daughter Jen studied the building during her university course and the church authorities were very helpful to her.

I wonder where the stone flags will turn up? If you’re getting some laid any time soon please think about where they may have come from. It would be nice if the thieves were caught but my guess is that’s probably unlikely. However, if the church needs to raise funds to get them replaced I for one am willing to chip in.

Tony McCalmont-Woods RIP

Tony was a Conservative councillor in the Maghull area of Sefton Borough in the 1980’s and 1990’s. If memory serves he represented Park Ward for a number of years until the late 1980’s when a political power shift took place in the Maghull & Lydiate area and the Lib Dems came to the fore.

Tony was also a member of Maghull Town Council which is where I came to know him following my election to that Council in a by-election in 1985. Again, if memory serves, I think he continued to be a member of the Town Council until the late 1990’s.

My memories of him are of a chap who always wore a business suit and tie as was quite usual for gentlemen of his and my Dad’s generation. Indeed, my Dad (George Robertson) and Tony knew each other well as both were members of the former Conservative Club in Maghull – It became Kensington House Sports & Leisure Club.

In Town Council meetings Tony was always very business-like in his approach to matters and I, as a fresh faced young Liberal, looked upon him as a big beast in local politics. I was once told that Tony was expected to rise through the Conservative ranks on Sefton Council but this did not happen because of the change of political wind in Maghull & Lydiate towards the SDP/Liberal Alliance and then the Lib Dems.

I recall a conversation with him at some civic event when I asked him about his serious approach to pretty much all Council business and he laughed out loud taking me by surprise as a different side to his stern character surfaced. It wasn’t long after this that some new play equipment was being ordered by the Council and Tony was very keen that it should be galvanised to make it longer lasting. It then became a bit of regular political banter as some wag would add on to something Tony had said along the lines of ‘and get it galvanised’.

Tony also had his very own political opponent in the guise of Cllr. Audrey Beattie as every now and then they would have a reasonably ‘good natured’ set to over some matter or other much to the amusement of other members of the Town Council.

During my very last conversation with well known local journalist Jim Sharpe, a few weeks before he died a couple of months ago, he asked me whether I’d heard anything of Tony in recent times as he understood him to be quite unwell.

I did not serve on Sefton Council with Tony as he had left that Council before I was elected to it in 1999 I might add.

The last time I saw Tony was a few years back in Morrisons Maghull shop. We had a chat about the old days and he commented on how the political rug had been pulled from under his party’s feet by the Lib Dems and that Labour had now done the same to the Libs in Maghull. How true that comment was.

I was not close to Tony but I hope my recollections and memories of him, if only at the margins, illustrate the man, the politician and the local councillor.

Lancashire – Is it about to get an elected mayor?

Map of the Borough of West Lancashire.

Jim Hancock has the posting on his blog site – see link below:-

jimhancock.co.uk/big-changes-for-lancashire/

Jim, as ever, has an interesting and informative take on the long running saga about how Lancashire will be run in the future. It is to put it bluntly a dogs breakfast of a local governmental mess presently as I guess most will agree. Trouble is there’s been no consensus to agree how to sort out the mess which pre-dates John Prescot’s attempt resolve it as Deputy Prime Minister many years ago. Those with long memories will recall he wanted to split West Lancs and put half of it in Wigan Met Borough and half of it into Sefton Met Borough. It went nowhere and neither has any other plan it seems at least up until now?

My gripe with Jim, as those who know me will expect of me, is that he seems to back Metro Mayors and I can’t abide them. Jim says this ‘The success of the elected mayors in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region may finally have ended the squabbling in Lancashire over an elected mayor with a combined authority.’

Well Jim if having an elected mayor for the Liverpool City Region has been a success I would not like to see failure. Not enough devolved powers (I have often referred to the LCR deal as 3rd rate) and putting them in one persons hands is simply wrong to me. And just what has our elected mayor done that could not have been achieved without us having one?

But my other big gripe, which admittedly may not apply in Lancashire with it having no major cities, is that regional mayors operating from a big city have a detrimental effect on surrounding towns. Just ask Southport or Bootle or St. Helens or Birkenhead. A good example of my concern is the thousands civil service jobs being taken out of Bootle and centralised in Liverpool for HMRC. The jobs were put in Bootle for a very good reason in the 1960’s and 1970’s i.e to address an unemployment black spot and help the local economy. Taking them out reverses that piece of good work. And what has our City Region Mayor done to try to put a stop to this process?

Maybe as a Liberal I see the concentration of power in a single persons hands as fundamentally wrong but Tories and Socialists see otherwise? Maybe also as a Liberal I see true devolution of power very differently to the crumbs off the governmental table which is the present format of devolution. Frankly, no I don’t see Lancashire having an elected mayor being a big positive for a newly formatted local government structure in the county.

I like Jim’s commentary on politics in the North West of England and he’s often both well informed and right. However, we’ll have to agree to disagree that having an elected mayor in the Liverpool City Region has been a success. Indeed, I would go so far as to say it has been an abject failure for the majority of LCR – a bit like the present local government arrangements have been in Lancashire for a long time now.

If regional mayors are the solution you’re asking the wrong question.

Sefton Council – Going bust?

Sefton Council Logo

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/merseyside-council-faces-27m-black-18487709

Bootle Town Hall

For as long as anyone involved in local politics can probably remember local authorities have shouted from the roof tops at every government of every colour that they don’t understand them and the pressures they are under. Usually and indeed during every one of my 15 years as a Sefton Borough councillor the underlying cause of this shouting was associated with the ever spiraling cost of adult social care and children in care. This time the causes are very different but like the ever present and rising costs of social care the effect will be similar across many if not all local authorities. Indeed, this has led the Local Government Association to to say that local authorities will go bust, which if I recall correctly, is actually illegal as they are not permitted to run deficit budgets.

The underlying problem is that local authorities for the most part are actually just agents for the delivery of government prescribed services. They have many statutory duties to do this that and the other although the level/standard to which they do these functions is often not prescribed so one local authority will major on one thing but another will put more effort into another etc. etc.

There’s surprisingly little room for maneuver and that’s why party political changes within local authorities only see changes at the margins, over 90% of the policies/spending won’t and don’t change with differing political council leaderships.

But returning to Sefton, that most odd of virtually all local authorities from a geographical perspective, is it doing the best that it can during the pandemic? Well that’s a difficult question to answer as like all one-party states and governments it will only tell you what it wants to tell you and what it has no choice but to tell you. But here are my thoughts.

Sefton is far too centralised with virtually everything being controlled and directed from Bootle Town Hall via a small political elite in the every bottom corner of this vast Borough. It has dismantled all the previous community related infrastructure for delivery of services to the extent that it has gone back to a ‘one size fits all’ at best. You could say a typical old socialist model of local government.

The buying of Bootle Strand Shopping Centre for a huge amount of money a couple of years back was not only a financial risk to the whole Borough and it’s Council tax payers (should the deal go wrong) but it also defined where the local authority’s priorities were i.e. Bootle, Bootle and Bootle. There are significant fears that this particular chicken could be coming home to roost soon as the value of that retail property falls.

Sefton is slow to react and ponderous and it’s always had a tendency to be so. I suppose this relates very much to its centralised nature and to me it has often seemed unwilling to innovate in a meaningful way. When it did innovate it was at a community level but as I say that level has been all but snuffed out.

I don’t don’t doubt that Sefton, like many local authorities, is in very deep financial trouble as a consequence of the pandemic on top of austerity. Whether it could have been in even a slightly better position if it were run differently is the question no one can really answer. Having said that those of us who are advocates of decentralised and more transparent local government may well say it probably could be better placed if only at the margins.

That the slow moving and ponderous oil tanker which is Sefton Council will continue and will survive one way or another is all but a given. However, with its finances badly holed at the waterline and it being permanently moored at Bootle Docks it will also continue to fail to deliver the kind of modern day services its diverse communities require, except that is for its generally much appreciated domestic waste and recycling doorstep collections.