Green Belt – Can anyone tell me what the Tories and Labour are up to?

Last Thursday’s Sefton Council meeting was farcical and not just because of the latest in the Merseytravel saga that I have already posted about.

The most important thing happening in the Borough at present (certainly in the eyes of its citizens) is Sefton Council’s consultation on the future of our Green Belt. With this matter firmly at the front of Lib Dem councillors minds we put down the following motion to the Council meeting:-

  “This Council:(1)      congratulates the Government on abandoning the artificial targets for housing imposed in the Regional Spatial Strategy by the previous administration;(2)      recognises the fact that Sefton MBC can currently identify sites that will meet identified housing demand for the next ten years without encroachment on green belt land;

(3)      notes the present Council policy against green belt development;

(4)      acknowledges that Sefton MBC is required to present a broad indication of housing supply for the years beyond 2021 and, in connection with this, instructs the officers to quantify:

a-     the increase in the number of households which would be obtained by reducing the number of empty properties in Sefton to the national average

b-     the potential increase in accommodation achievable through progressing ‘homes above shops’ and contraction in retail space with re-designation of property to housing

c-     the potential impact of further windfall ‘brownfield’ or derelict sites and possible impact of variations in household and dwelling mix per hectare. “

You would think that it would draw all-party support based on how keen local politicians say they are to save the Green Belt. However, the Tories refused to discuss it and left the Council Chamber during the debate and Labour actually voted against it!

What the Tories were up to beats me and the more they tried to explain why they would not participate in a debate about the Green Belt the less we understood what on earth they were on about. Suffice to say that they ran away from a vital local matter at a crucial time.

As for Labour, they have been all over the place on this subject in recent times. I have already posted about how on Maghull Town Council (where they have a majority) they refused to make a detailed submission to the Core Strategy consultation process that ended a couple of weeks ago. And of course we all know that under the last Labour Government 500 houses per year were to be imposed on Sefton as a building target without so much as a by your leave and that this would have led to building on the Green Belt. What’s more no representative from Labour attended the Planning Appeal Hearing at Bootle Town Hall about Lydiate Marina and if that was not a front line Green Belt battle I don’t know what is!

So a sensible motion backing up the concerns of Sefton residents was defeated by a combination of Conservatives running away from the matter and Labour refusing to back the concerns expressed by residents. We raised the fact that we need to protect Grade 1 Agricultural Land, why residents were concerned about what they saw as a poor consultation process and why our Green Belt is so important. All we got in response was nothing from the Tories as they had run for the hills and what amounted to little more than verbal abuse from Labour who only wanted to talk about the Government’s draft planning policy document which is presently out for consultation. Not one Tory or Labour councillor got up to talk about resident’s concerns regarding the Green Belt consultation process.

Darling lets another the cat out of the Labour bag

Despite Labour or at least many Labour supporters and activists still sticking to the mantra of there is no need for cut backs in public expenditure and them still very much promoting the ‘spend and borrow and everything will be all right’ spin, senior Labour figures continue to tell a very different story.

This time it’s the turn of former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling whom I must admit I did not see in a very good light at all during the early years of the financial crisis. However, we can all be wrong and the recent pronouncements of Mr Darling seem to shine him in a better light in that he clearly wanted to cut borrowing in half. He also says that Gordon Brown was in denial about the need to rein in spending. In other words Mr. Darling is telling us that Brown would not listen and act decisively.

Whilst times are very hard indeed now the bottom line is still that we are all suffering more than we ever needed to because Labour when in Government did not tackle the financial crisis as it developed.

I personally hold Labour responsible for the deep cuts in public services; they borrowed too much and spent too much. Jobs are being lost now to pay for what they did or indeed did not do.

Save us from those damn claims companies!!!

Some time ago I blogged about calls I was getting from claims companies following an accident that my car had with a police car. The accident was 3 years ago but last week I got another call from another company called One Claims or 1 Claims or some such like. Like all the others they clearly wanted to see if they could get me a few bob in compensation for injuries etc. and I wasn’t even in the car! It happened in the middle of the night outside my house and I am sick and tired of such companies ringing me up, knowing many things about the accident/me and offering me their ‘help’.

What I want to know is who is selling/providing information about me to these companies? Is it whomever I was insured with back then, the companythat repaired the car or the Police or all of them? And if this is happening to me surely it is happening to many other drivers. Wasn’t the data Protection Act was meant to stop this damn harassment?

To be read by Sefton Labour Party

Dear Sefton Labour Party,

I hear that you are investigating me and what I consider to be my prejudicial interest in the appointment of a contractor who is doing some work for Maghull Town Council.

Sorry you will find this rather boring but as it was me who told you about my ‘interest’ a few weeks ago it is rather bizarre that you are now having me checked out, don’t you think?

For the record, my manager where I work is related to the contractor and as soon as that became known to me I made such information available to the Town Clerk of Maghull Council and told everyone who needed to know not to involve me in any dealings with this contractor.

For what it is worth I did not appoint the contractor and should you choose not to believe me then please report me to the Standards Board for England. You have said nothing to my face yet I have been told about your investigations by two sources so far.

And can I also thank you for reading our Lib Dem web sites and FOCUS leaflets. It is pleasing that you feel the need to wave around and quote from FOCUS leaflets and our web sites at Sefton Council meetings. We hope you gain some useful information from them and find some band wagons to jump on.

Yours sincerely

Sefton Lib Dems

Merseytravel – The farce continues

Last night at Sefton ‘s Full Council meeting we may have started to unravel what on earth went on within Merseyside’s Integrated Transport Authority when it dropped, out of the blue I would add, any involvement in bringing Merseyrail’s infrastructure under its own control.

A bit of history first. Taking Network Rail out of the management of our local rail network and putting all the work/responsibilities under Merseytravel has long been a policy of Merseytravel and it has been supported by all 3 political parties, many in the rail industry and by both the previous and current Governments. However as the Coalition Government was granting this long held wish Merseytravel backed out in June 2011. It did so via a rushed motion at a Merseytravel meeting which was not backed by any reports and opposition Lib Dem and Conservative members had no idea why the Labour led Authority had done a very surprising U turn on the matter. Attempts to gain coherent explanations since then have been unsuccessful hence my motion to Sefton Council of last night.

So what did I learn from putting the motion, which unsurprisingly Labour voted down. Well I learned that The Labour Chairman of Merseytravel is at odds with his Director General over the matter as Cllr. Dowd (senior) told us all that he disagreed with Merseytravel’s officers over the project. Bear in mind that Cllr. Dowd has previously supported it!

I learned that Cllr. Dowd’s (both of them i.e. Mark the senior one who Chairs Merseytravel and Peter the junior who is Leader of Sefton Council) think that instead of saving money as was always the aim of the project it could have cost Merseyside’s Council Tax payers £30m! Now where does that figure come from? Well it seems to be the current cost for Network Rail to maintain the Merseyrail system and the implication of their contributions to the debate indicated to me that they have taken the view that the £30m Network Rail spend on our local rail network (and which is paid by Government) would cease to be funded by Government. If they are correct I would like to see why they have come to this view.

The debate was ill-tempered and frankly that fact that I had to put the motion down says a lot about how many of us view Merseytravel. My own view is that instead of being a delivery agent for the 5 Metropolitan Councils on Merseyside it is an organisation that does not feel the need to justify itself to anyone and has become detached from the Councils. I have posted before about the frustrations of Council Leaders Chief Executives on Merseyside about how to bring Merseytravel into line and this latest incident shows why such concerns are held.

To be told during the debate that the Labour Group on Sefton Council had been fully briefed on why Merseytravel had made its spectacular U turn just takes the biscuit because if you  are not a Labour councillor gaining any explanation of the policy switch has been all but impossible! Sefton Council has 4 councillors on Merseytravel – 2 Labour, 1 Lib Dem and 1 Conservative, yet the Lib Dem and the Conservative both say they have never had an explanation for what went on in late June. Indeed they both say they had been at a briefing session for councillors who are members of the Merseytravel only hours before Labour announced the ‘back out’ and at that briefing Merseytravel officers were still selling the project and the savings it would generate to the councillors!

So I suppose the big question is who is right? Would the project have made savings for Merseyside’s Council Tax payers as we all thought it would or would it have cost up to £30m? Or was there more to this than meets the eye? More investigations are required and a meeting with Mersytravel’s Director General is on the cards. Like many other things with Merseytravel this will run and run……

A challenge from a local builder – Give me well trained apprentices or give me the youngsters so I can train them myself straight from school

Yesterday I was talking to a builder who works in the Borough. He is well respected within his trade and I had a good think about what he said to me. It would be inappropriate for me to name him here but I assure you these comments are very much a genuine expression of what he said.

It all started with us talking about the new school/college season starting and he commented that he would soon get calls from colleges asking if he could take on an apprentice, something he has regularly done in the past I understand. However, his concern is quite fundamental i.e. he would much rather take on a young person straight from school as an apprentice than one that has already been studying building at collage. When I asked him why he said that problem was that he felt more able to teach a youngster from scratch as opposed to one he feels has already picked up some bad habits at college that he has to correct. He was clearly questioning the courses run at colleges and felt that they were not up to the standards he felt they should be.

I suppose he was proposing a more work bases leaning process rather then a college based one; a traditional approach one could say. Now there is a brick to add to the wall of colleges so to speak!