Why isn’t the whole of England Parished?

The purpose behind the 1894 legislation (which Gladstone used to set up Civil Parishes) was to separate civil and religious powers in England (rural England in particular) but since then why has no government seen fit to Parish the whole of England?

To those of us in the parish movement (I mean Parish Councillors) it seems such an obvious thing to do if managing communities effectively at the grass roots is a desirable outcome; which it clearly is. So let’s examine why it has not happened and sadly may well never happen.

Firstly, we live in a significantly centralised democracy and since the Second World War it has probably become more centralised. Power is firmly gripped at Westminster and all governments, no matter what they say before taking office and certainly after they have taken office, seem to fall for the argument that letting the natives do what they want is simply not good for them. For that buzz word localism read ‘we need to let the natives think they are gaining more control over their affairs and the communities they live in whilst not really giving them much at all’.

We can see this played out in planning regulations over generations where centralised policies and edicts are made over how many houses should be built for example, even targets (remember the Regional Strategies) for house building are imposed at times.

But hang on don’t all the main political parties talk about decentralisation and localism? Well yes they do but in practice anything that is devolved is either sent down with strings attached or is a reasonably worthless sop such as Neighbourhood Planning.

Then there is the existing spread of parish councils. Are they a good advert for further and/or real decentralisation? I am sure you can find both good and poor examples to justify an answer either way but frankly the parish councils sector is not well organised, it does not effectively campaign and it is taken little notice of by all governments.

But why is that the case? It is probably because of the extremely diverse nature of parish councils and finding two alike is hard work. Governments like dealing with Districts, Boroughs and County Councils because they are predicable, usually do as they are told and can have their funding put at risk by not following the governmental line. Is there any wonder then that national politicians who think Westminster is the be all and end all of democracy don’t care for a local government sector that is incredibly diverse, sleepy in some quarters whilst too innovative and over active (for Government tastes) in others, is staunchly independent and presently still has fund raising powers that are significantly un-fettered by government?

Take Eric Pickles that blunt and controlling Yorkshire chap. He seems, as a Minister of the Crown, to be pondering on trying to control parish precepts! What business is it of his; a parish precept is a matter between the parish council and the folks who live in that parish. Why on earth would anyone outside of a parish have any wish to interfere in that very local democratic process?

But for my money the problem is that parish councils need to become more credible despite their diverse nature because if they don’t truly local grass roots democracy will never be endorsed by any government in terms of powers available and extending parish councils across all of England. The big question is how do they become more credible and break down the walls of our stifling centralising democracy?

Sefton Council – What’s happened to our grass verges? They are knee deep yet again?

For as long as anyone can remember Sefton Council and its contractors have never really got to grips with cutting the Borough’s grass verges. Each growing season councillors have to complain about the lack of cutting but this year we were wrong footed and given a false sense of hope as the first couple of cuts actually happened!

But sadly things have gone downhill since then and some verges are about as bad as they can get or ever have been at present. What’s more the Highways Agency seem to be in competition with Sefton Contractors as to who can grow the longest grass as the A5036 Dunningsbridge Road is showing grass above knee high.

Grass verge at Dunningsbridge Road, Netherton

Grass verge at Dunningsbridge Road, Netherton

Below is Lydiate Parish Councillor Robbie Fenton measuring the height of the grass at the junction of Liverpool Road and Kenyons Lane Lydiate during a previous Council-run ‘competition’ to see where the longest grass could be grown in the Borough!

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No wonder residents are calling for the Council to get its act together!

June 2021 Note – This posting has attracted some interesting ‘green’ responses in recent weeks and ones that I share the views of. Yes, turning grass verges into wildflower havens is something I think Sefton Council should seriously look into as other local authorities have taken such a course of action. Of course, back a few years ago when this posting was published the issue then was the frustration of Sefton Borough residents who saw their verges being left in an uncut mess when there was no environmental policy driving the matter whatsoever.

Library Closures in Sefton – Labour’s rank hypocrisy

Let’s return to that sad affair of Labour closing many of Sefton’s libraries. The only hope for those libraries earmarked for closure under Labour’s plan would be the local campaign groups battling away to save 5 of the 7 libraries i.e. Aintree, Ainsdale, Birkdale, College Road and Churchtown.

Now, only weeks ago at Sefton Council’s budget meeting an amendment was proposed by the Conservative Group on the Council which we Lib Dems supported. The amendment was to use £150,000, of a £1m fund (which Sefton Council had set aside to help with services that had been cut back) to support the efforts of the library campaign groups across the Borough – all the Labour members voted against this sensible idea.

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At last night’s Sefton Central Area Committee what do you think Labour councillors had the brass neck to suggest? Yes, you have guessed it, the beggars suggested using money from the very fund they had opposed using money from to support the College Road Library campaign Group.

Rank hypocrisy just about sums Labour up!

Reactions to Labour run Sefton Council’s Green Belt Grab

Not surprisingly the plans recently unveiled by Labour run Sefton Council to grab more high grade agricultural land to build upon have gone down very badly.

The Champion newspaper’s East Parishes reporter Jim ‘The News Hound’ Sharpe calls the master plan ‘bonkers’.

Dr. John Pugh Lib Dem MP for Southport

Dr. John Pugh Lib Dem MP for Southport

Dr John Pugh the Lib Dem MP for Southport says the plan will create a ‘hollowed out sprawl’.

Maria Bennett of Formby Residents Action Group (Fragoff) says ‘Sefton’s plan is completely flawed’

Tonight at Maghull Town Hall a large number of concerned residents and environmental campaigners mixed in with folks who have seen through Labour’s con-trick of one part of that Party in Sefton promoting the green belt grab whilst the others condemn it, turned out to voice their concerns.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP with Sudell Ward Sefton Cllr. Bruce Hubbard at the site in Maghull where Labour run Sefton Council wants to built 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce's Lib Dem team opposes Labour's plans

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP with Sudell Ward Sefton Cllr. Bruce Hubbard at the site in Maghull where Labour run Sefton Council wants to built 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce’s Lib Dem team opposes Labour’s plans as they did last time Sefton Council tried to earmark the site for building land

The meeting was of the first of the quite ludicrous Central Sefton Area Committee i.e. everywhere that is not Bootle or Southport in the Borough. I wondered what would happen as Labour like to hush up and crush up protestors as Aintree Library campaigners found out when they attended a meeting of the former East Parishes Area Committee trying to stop Labour from closing their library.

Like back then the protestors were out in force because they thought that their community leaders were off on a course of action which would damage their community. Well they were right over the Aintree Library (although the community may well have stopped the closure by taking it over themselves) and many, many folks think they are right now to fight Labour every inch of the way over the Green Belt grab.

This is what happened. The campaigners asked 3 questions about the detail of the proposals under Labour’s Local Plan. Did they get any answers? No. My Lib Dem colleagues and I deliberately sat and watched because we wanted to know what the Labour councillors present would do. In effect Labour said they did not know the answers to the questions and would get back to the questioners. Well at least the questioners were not shouted at but answers there were none!

Maghull Town Council – 3 more Labour Councillors resign bringing the total to 7 in just 2 years!

Bizarre is about the best description of what has been happening on Maghull Town Council in recent times but with 7 resignations in 2 years, all from the ruling Labour Group, what other comment could you make?

As an opposition member of the Town Council even my mouth was agape when I heard that another 3 had put their cards in on top of the 4 that had already thrown in the towel. What’s more one of the resigning number was the Council Leader until last week’s AGM (and had been Town Mayor just a year ago) and another had been co-opted onto the Council to replace the first of the 7 Labour Councillor to resign.

The really odd part about these resignations is they all signed up to be local councillors for a period of 4 years yet just half way through that term more than 50% of the 13 Labour members have given up and walked away. Of course, I appreciate that councillors resign because they move away, become ill or have to look after someone close to them who is ill but none of the resigning councillors has pointed to such difficulties.

The other interesting fact is that all 3 of the most recent batch to go are locals from Maghull & Lydiate. If it had been the 3 Bootle Sefton Borough Councillors chucking in the towel you could almost understand it as those poor beggars were just making up the numbers when oops they got elected!

But what could the cause of the resignations be? Could they be upset because Labour run Sefton Council is targeting the Green Belt around Maghull for development? Could it be a massive internal fall-out within the Labour Group? Could it be because the Labour Council has been trying to cut things like the yearly Town firework display? Could it be all these things and more? Oh to be a fly on the wall of a Maghull Town Council Labour Group meeting but you would have to duck the flying blood as it hit the walls!

Maghull Town Council – How many Leaders?!

Labour won the election to take over the running of Maghull Town Council in May 2011 by taking 13 of the 16 seats – we Lib Dems taking the other 3.

Labour’s problem was that it was pretty obvious from the start that they had not expected to take control of the Council and many of them did not want to be Maghull councillors. One came from Crosby, two from Aintree and 3 were and still are Bootle Labour Borough Councillors – all 6 were clearly making up the numbers on the Labour slate rather than being dedicated to the Maghull community.

Since then 4 Labour members (the one from Crosby, the 2 from Aintree and more surprisingly one from Maghull), a quarter of the Council, have resigned and been replaced by 4 new Labour councillors. The first one was via the dodgiest co-option, in my view, you are ever likely to come across and other 3 via by-elections forced upon the ruling party by the opposition.

Also since May 2011 the Town Council has had 4, yes 4, Leaders of the Council. First we had Maurice Byrne, then Caroline Esterson (wife of Sefton Central MP Bill), then Sandra Williams and just last week Patrick McKinley was elected as Leader. This is quite some turn-over and must point to difficulties within the ruling Party. Indeed, the 3rd Leader who only left office at the AGM is not now a chair or vice chair of any committee and she is not replying to my correspondence about FOI requests that seem to be being improperly politically interfered with.

The word on the streets is that the ruling Labour Group is still far from being a happy bunch of campers and that further resignations can’t be ruled out according to my sources.

I don’t think any of us will be surprised if there are more internal ‘difficulties’ within the ruling political group.

Above is how I finished the draft a few days ago but before I published the posting word reached me of another 3 Labour councillors resigning including the last Leader of the Council! More to follow on that I think.