Councils decide Local Plans, are planning application approvers, sometime land developers & may be social housing providers too!

I’ve long pondered over the various roles associated with land development/housing that are filled by single local authorities.

It was the article below from the Liverpool Echo that made me think about what looks to me like conflicting responsibilities.

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/concerns-raised-over-councils-luxury-22515674

Sefton Council (like all other unitary councils) decided the current Local Plan for the Borough, which in turn designated new pieces of land to be developed. Yes, the government prescribed that councils have such a plan but crucially it’s the councils deciding the parcels of land to be tarmacked and concreted over. Ok, local politicians, across the country, then pull all kinds of stunts to pretend they had nothing to do with taking land out of Green Belt, for example, (as that’s usually very unpopular) via the Local Plan they agreed to. They may even go so far as to oppose planning applications for the land they’ve designated for development! Such is political life but whatever politicians say the decisions about which parcels of land to make available for building were taken by a local council.

So planning applications are decided upon by the same councils who’ve picked the land to be built on. Surely a conflict of interests? Yes, I know, local authority planning committees are at face value run along quasi-judicial lines whereby the members of such committees can’t or should not be influenced by political or party political thoughts and lobbying, but is that really how things work? I’m a sceptic.

But what happens if the very same council sets itself up as a land developer/housebuilder as well as a Local Plan and planning application decider – Surely big conflicts of interest there?

And some local authorities are still social/council housing providers so potentially have a direct say in every part of the process from a piece of land changing from say high-grade agricultural land to it charging rent to the people living in the houses built on such land!

I had such thoughts when I was the leader of Sefton Council some years ago. I was invited to leave the council in May 2015 by the electorate I might add but at least my conscience is clear because I consistently opposed the development of Sefton’s Local Plan due to high-grade agricultural land, which feeds us, being designated for building on, That plan was finally approved after I left the council. Sefton was not a social/council housing provider in the latter years of my being on that council as all the housing stock had been transferred to a housing association called One Vision under pressure from the Blair Government.

Am I right to see all these conflicts of interest and worry about them?

I’m of the view that the designation of land use by local authority areas is taking too many smallish geographical areas and making decisions on them when such decisions actually would be better taken strategically at say a sub-regional level. Look at it this way if say a group of local authority areas, Merseyside may well be a good example, all produce their own Local Plans (what happens now) would it not be better if those land-use decisions were determined over the whole former Merseyside County area? There may be large areas of brownfield land in a couple of local authorities but almost none in others. This means that, under present rules i.e. separate Local Plans, the couple of authorities with large areas of brownfield land have a pretty easy Local Plan process. However, not all their brownfield land needs to be used so some is left undeveloped but in the other adjacent local authority areas with little or no brownfield land their plans can only pick non-brownfield land to be built upon. Do you get my drift? The smaller a geographic area for a Local Plan the more likely it is that poor strategic land-use decisions will be.

In terms of social housing provision, I’d like to see strong tenant-led housing associations separate from local authorities. I worry that housing associations have suffered from neglect and they may well not be fulfilling their original purposes well these days. It would also break a link which can be an issue of conflict of interest to me with local planning authorities.

I’d be interested to hear the views of others…….

What to do with Lancashire before we all lose the will to live!

I’d been wondering where the very, very long-running saga regarding the oft-talked about reorganisation of local government in the County of Lancashire had got to and then picked up on Jim Hancock’s latest blog article which I link below (look for Lancashire Devolution):-

www.jimhancock.co.uk/hancocks-half-page/

I thought the argument about keeping all of the district councils plus a county council had been settled (or is that an imposed settlement) in that like many other areas of England the councils would all be unitary. But it seems that some folk still want to retain the old two-tier council arrangement, 3-tier if you included, as you should, the network of parish councils.

This is a matter I’ve covered before (see links below) and I still hold to the view that John Prescot’s plan to place half of West Lancs District/Borough into Sefton Met Borough and half into Wigan Met Borough had great merit. Yes, I know where you split West Lancs is problematic but surely solvable.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/06/28/lancashire-is-it-about-to-get-an-elected-mayor/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/08/10/lancashire-still-squabbling-over-local-government-changes/

No, trying to keep the district councils and a county council with some convoluted system to make decisions is, in my view, a recipe for going around in circles at best and at worst it could be a disaster for local governance in Lancashire.

But where I do agree with what the Lancashire local authorities have put forward is their rejection of a Regional Mayor and I won’t bore you by yet again rehearsing my reasons for saying this. Suffice to say I’m no fan of Regional Mayors whatsoever.

Frankly, and this may sound rather illiberal, the circus has to stop and decisions have to be made otherwise we’ll be discussing this endless process of reorganising Lancashire along with the negative consequences of Brexit for the next 15 years!

Melling – Trying out its new Prescot Rd/Bank Lane safe cycle route

I’ve mentioned this Liverpool City Region project previously (see links below) but now the M58 ‘Ashworth’ Junction to Kirkby part is complete* – here’s my review of it.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/05/02/maghull-to-kirkby-via-melling-a-cycle-path-for-prescot-road-school-lane/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/01/04/melling-new-cycle-path-from-m58-ashworth-junction/

Oh and there’s a related posting about the stone-built bus shelter which now sits between the new cycle path and Prescot Road and had previously been threatened with demolition:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/03/17/melling-prescot-road-bus-shelter-what-on-earths-going-on/

From the M58 ‘Ashworth’ Junction south eastwards towards the Pear Tree Pub there’s a cycle path on both sides of the road (Maghull Lane) up to the junction with Prescot Road. If you’ve read the 2nd link above you’ll note my frustration with the fact that the cycle path on the left-hand side has not been taken round into the Ormskirk bound carriageway of Prescot Road but stops just before the junction! This effectively invites cyclists to rejoin the road at a dangerous point if they’re going towards Aughton/Ormskirk. Bad planning in my view. From this junction, there’s only one cycle path on the right-hand side heading along Prescot Road. The path is wide so easily caters for cycles to pass each other. Here’s a photo looking towards the Pear Tree Pub/junction (in the far distance) with the M58 junction being behind the camera:-

The previously threatened bus shelter**, of significant Melling heritage, which was fortunately saved can be seen in this shot with the Pear Tree Pub in the background.:-

To get around the Pear Tree Pub the cycle path follows Prescot Road at the forked junction and then, via a traffic-lighted crossing, passes to the rear of the pub to join Bank Lane. Here’s the crossing:-

And here’s my final shot looking down Bank Lane where the new cycle path joins a longer-standing one which takes cyclists into Kirkby:-

All in all an excellent piece of cycling infrastructure of the highest quality. Nice to see that it’s fully signed, unlike the new cycle path along the A59/Northway in Maghull. The hedging has been replanted so another environmental tick in the box there.

When the section into Maghull and its North Railway Station is constructed (at some point in the future – I know not when) a valuable complete safe cycling route will have been provided. Oh but please do that short missing section into Prescot Road from Maghull Lane for goodness sake! And on that note I’ll repeat something I often say about cycling infrastructure, it’s all well and good doing these grand and often expensive projects but sometimes relatively minor cycling solutions all over our communities remain unattended to. Identifying and tackling those many small projects needs to be a priority. If Sefton Council wants to know my list then I’ll happily supply it but in case I’m becoming a grumbler let me say again the new cycle path I post about here is most welcome and of high quality.

* The section running into Maghull and its North Railway Station will, I assume, be constructed along with the development of the vast Maghull East Urban Extension.

** Storm Arwen took the roof off this bus shelter and there was a great idea from a local resident to replace it with a living roof. I backed that idea and Tweeted my support for it to Merseytravel which they seemed to like the idea of. I note that the new roof is however not a living one, but what I don’t know is whether this is a temporary fix prior to putting a living roof on. Does anyone know more about this?

Note – Click on the photos to enlarge them

Shakespeare and Prescot

I’ve always had a soft spot for Prescot, the stamping ground of the near-legendary (to me anyway) Cllr. Ian Smith whom I’ve heard referred to as ‘Mr Prescot’ and we’re not talking ‘2 Jags’ here!

The steeple of Prescot Parish Church just as the sun was going down.

I’m also a fan of ‘The Post’ a new online newspaper for Merseyside which has just published an in-depth article about Prescot’s soon to be Shakespeare Theatre. The link below is to The Post article, by Robin Brown, which is well worth a read:-

www.livpost.co.uk/p/whats-past-is-prologue-how-shakespeare

I decided to ask ‘Mr Prescot’ for his views on the project and this is what he says:-

‘We are very supportive of the Shakespeare theatre being built in Prescot. The unique history of the Town demands this investment in its future. The original Elizabethan theatre was sited at the other end of Eccleston Street near a building known a the ‘Flat iron’ for obvious reasons.

We are all looking forward to the opening in 2022. The theatre will attract visitors to Prescot from all over the world. The renovation work to shops in the Town have been in keeping and Eccleston Street offers a café and restaurant atmosphere and is welcoming to visitors both day and night.

Prescot can look to a great future by building on its past, it has important stories to tell and will become an important visitor attraction in the North West.’

Councillor Ian Smith – Prescot North Knowsley MBC & Prescot Town Council

And here’s an interesting link about the project from the Liverpool Echo:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/shakespeares-links-merseyside-new-playhouse-22585829#ICID=Android_EchoNewsApp_AppShare

Maghull/Ormskirk – Cracking 1960s railway photos & beautiful paintings

The other day I had a chance meeting with a fellow Flickr user/photographer, formally residing in Maghull and back visiting relatives, and it led to me being able to make this posting.

Via my encounter, I found out that they’d commissioned two paintings of the local railway scene in the 1960s as a visible reminder of those happy days growing up in the steam era.

The paintings have been created from two of their own original photos of Liverpool Exchange to Glasgow trains. Here are the photos and paintings, first at Maghull, then at Ormskirk:-

If you’d like to see more 1960s/steam era photos have a look at this link to their Flickr photo album:-

www.flickr.com/photos/filmanddigital/albums/72157692716023844

I think readers of this posting will agree that both the original black and white photos and indeed the paintings are of the highest quality so you’ll not be at all surprised that I asked for permission to share them. I am, of course, delighted that my request met with agreement.

Notes – Please click on each photo/painting to enlarge for viewing. You’ll notice a couple of subtle additions to the Ormskirk painting. If you only want to look at old images from Maghull, just type in Maghull Railway Station or Maghull North in the box at top right-hand side of the Flickr link marked ‘Photo’s, people or groups’, to which there are 14 assorted images. The images are all under “creative commons licence”. Therefore, if anyone wants to download them for their own personal use, they are free, but for commercial use, a fee must be agreed in advance!

Bridges, bridges & more footbridges

I blogged a while back about Lydiate footpath No.5, which links Southport Road to Eagar Lane, as a bridge over a stream needed replacing. Here’s a link back to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2021/07/01/lydiate-footpath-no-5/

Well, it took a bit longer but the new bridge is now in place. However, concerns have been raised that the step up to the bright blue bridge is too high at around 14 inches**. Lydiate Parish Cllr. Edie Pope* tells me that a Sefton Council officer agrees it’s too high a step so I’m guessing that an additional step will be added? Here’s Edie at the bridge:-

I’ve been wondering why the bridge is bright blue as not so far away a couple of footbridges on paths linking Lydiate, The River Alt and Ince Blundell have also just been replaced and they are a far more discrete brown colour – see below:-

No, I’m not asking for a repaint, just curious about why some footbridges are brown and some blue.

* A section of this footpath actually runs along the boundary of Cllr. Edie Pope’s Church View Farm and she tells me that at some point in the distant past before she owned the land the footpath seems to have been moved from one side of the stream to the other. This must be back in Lancashire County days i.e. well prior to local government reorganisation in 1974. This being the case, if the path had been on the other side of the stream, there would have been no need for a bridge.

** Many local footpath bridges have steps up to them and I have previously pondered on this, amongst other reasons, being a form of obstruction to deter motorcycles. Our historic footpath network in England has never been disability friendly so such steps usually don’t make the paths any more inaccessible. It’s only very modern public rights of way where disability has been/is catered for.