Sefton’s Green Belt – Labour push ahead with consultation on a Local Plan that is simply not robust enough

Near three hours of debating last night failed to persuade Labour run Sefton Council to seriously think again with regard to their draft Local Plan.

FRAGOFF PUT POWERFULL CASE BEFORE COUNCIL

The evening started with an excellent and in depth presentation from Fragoff the once Formby but now Borough-wide environmental campaign group. This was in support of their petition to the Council and I suppose the real thrust of their message was that the Council is working on flawed and potentially inaccurate information – A view that I share.

We then moved on to the main debate of the night where many councillors from all 3 parties made contributions. The debate split down party political lines with Labour backing Green Belt grabbing for housing and industrial building and both Lib Dem and Conservative members defending the Green Belt. Of course Labour won the debate as they have a majority on the Council but it would be fair to say that they left the Council chamber somewhat battered and bruised.

But we now know who is on which side of the argument as my Group called for a ‘card vote’ where every single Councillor present has to clearly say whether they are for or against a matter.

LABOUR MP’S OWN COUNCILLORS DO NOT TOE HIS PARTY LINE

One of the most telling contributions though was from Cllr. Tony Dawson of Southport who quoted from items on the web site of Labour MP for Sefton Central Bill Esterson. Under the heading ‘Sefton Central Labour Party opposes any plans to build on the greenbelt’ Tony pointed out that the MP had said “The Labour Party is on your side with this. It is my view and the view of Labour Party members that we should not allow our greenbelt to be destroyed.” Tony reminded the Labour councillors present from Sefton Central constituency of this before the vote was taken yet they all then voted to consult on a preferred option for the Local Plan that does involve building on Green Belt land!

LABOUR COUNCILLORS VOTE TO CONSULT ON BUILDING UPON THE GREEN BELT

On the basis that the Labour members of the Council did not vote the way that the MP’s comments would lead you to expect them to vote the question is why does the MP’s web site not make it clear that his councillors would be voting to consult on building upon the Green Belt? The point here is that the MP’s views are actually simply that, views, because the people with the power are his councillors and when given the chance to vote they have consistently not supported his line.

Cllr. Iain Brodie-Browne, Leader of the Lib Dem opposition on Sefton Council responds to Labour’s Local Plan proposals for the Borough

Iain Brodie-Brown

A balance needs to be struck between house building and preserving a sustainable environment and this suggested local plan has, I believe, got that balance wrong. This does not mean we would go to the barricades for every acre of open space. Clearly in order to provide enough homes and jobs, sites like, for example, the former hospital land in Maghull and the Thornton relief road should be developed. In Southport, we have long accepted the need for a considerable number of houses to be built on the former tip at Kew: land which, while open space, was never ‘Green Belt’.

Our priority must be to keep prime agricultural land and to build on the success of the green belt policy in preserving our communities by preventing urban sprawl. We have a duty to future generations to preserve our green and pleasant land. The high grade agricultural land in the borough is an important strategic resource for our country, helping us to maintain food supplies in an uncertain world.

I have no comfort for those who reject all development. We need extra homes. In my surgery I have listened to the desperate circumstance of some local people struggling to find somewhere for their family to live. Research issued by the charity Shelter asserts ‘Without a renewed commitment, there will not be adequate homes to house the families of the future and more people will be living in overcrowded conditions, and stuck on housing waiting lists and in temporary accommodation.’
Like Shelter I believe that the emphasis should be on social rented homes and affordable homes including imaginative schemes like shared equity. The developers may want high profit estates of five bedroom detached houses, we require affordable homes which our children can buy and our elderly can retire to.

It is well known that our borough has a falling population, and the census has confirmed that. So it is important to explain that extra demand comes chiefly because there are more single person households. We are all living longer. Families splitting up – occupying two houses rather than one – means we need more homes to house a falling population .

I share the concerns of the campaigners who have challenged the assumptions behind the statistics used to justify the release of greenbelt land. Nobody has convinced me that our population is going to grow in the way the plan suggests. It seems that Sefton are giving too much weight to the opinion of one particular set of consultants.

I am particularly concerned about proposed building in West Lancs on the boundary with Birkdale. Any new homes there would have an impact on our town as they would look to Southport for schools, hospitals, leisure facilities etc and yet the extra rates and new homers bonus would go to Ormskirk. One of the failings of the plan is its narrow fixation on land within Merseyside. 95% of our land boundary is with Lancashire and not enough thought has been given how development there impacts on us.

If we want to preserve important Green Belt sites like Moss Lane in Churchtown, or Ainsdale High School as well as the high grade agricultural land around Formby and Maghull then we have to look again at ‘brownfield’ sites in our towns and cities. This must include Southport and my colleague John Pugh MP has already made suggestions about this. In addition there has been a dramatic decline in the populations of our cities since the war and they too can and should be the focus of new development.

Sefton’s Green Belt – Campaigners trying to save the Green Belt meet at Lydiate Village Centre

Last night I attended one of the meetings organised by local Green Belt campaigners at Lydiate Village Centre together with Cllr. Andrew Blackburn and Cllr. Edie Pope.

As an environmental campaigner I think it fair to say that most folks who know me realise that I have been fighting for the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land not to be concreted over for many years. Indeed, I led the fight to stop Sefton Council from releasing one of the very sites they presently want to release now, back in 1998.

We won that battle back then but this time with Labour having a majority on Sefton Council and them voting to build on the Green Belt the fight will be even more of an uphill battle than it was in 1998.

What’s more in 1998 the then Lib Dem run Maghull Town Council backed the campaigners and delivered a leaflet around the whole Town promoting protection of the Town’s Green Belt. And this is where the other significant difference is because in 2011 when Sefton Council publicly launched its Local Plan review Maghull Town Council (now Labour run) did not even make a submission to the Borough Council in defence of the Town’s Green Belt! No wonder the biggest piece of Green Belt that is up for development in the whole of the Borough is in Maghull. What you can’t be bothered to defend is easily lost.

And so to the meeting last night, it was organised by Fragoff the now prominent leading local Green Belt protection group that originally came together because of potential Green Belt loss in Formby.

rsz_lvc_-_fragoff_meeting_19_06_13

Lydiate Village Centre was full for the first (7.00pm) of the two advertised meetings and I would guess that the hall had 130 local people in it. A second meeting was due to start at 8.00pm but I had to leave at this point due to another appointment.

Fragoff have certainly done some in depth homework as they have developed their significant challenge to Sefton’s Local Plan and the meeting was a rehearsal, for the benefit of Maghull and Lydiate residents, of that work.

What interested me most was a matter that I have seriously pondered on ever since it popped out at a Sefton Council run ‘Stakeholders’ meeting on 8th May this year. It is with regard to Sefton’s population. I have posted about it before but it concerns Sefton’s falling population which we are told is about to go into reverse and start rising again due to inward migration. Consultants working for Sefton Council told those of us at the Stakeholders meeting that despite a more or less year on year population drop in the Borough for as long as most of us can remember they had advised the Council to expect the population to start rising due to people moving into the Borough from elsewhere. But who are these people, when are they coming and where are they coming from?

A break-down of population statistics discussed last night seemed to indicate that in terms of people from outside of the UK Sefton attracts around 100 per year according to present Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures so that is unlikely to be the source of the suggested population increase. So where does it come from and why is it important. Where the population increase credibly comes from I, like many others, am yet to be advised but it is important as anticipated population increases fuel the ‘need’ for more housing. More housing puts Green Belt land under pressure.

I have been keeping a close eye on Fragoff’s efforts for a long time now so I knew about their work in detail but it was clearly new to many residents attending the meeting. What it showed me, as I expected, is that there is a hugely sceptical Sefton population out there that is far from convinced about our Labour led Council’s plan to allow the building of houses on Green Belt and high grade agricultural land.

The profile of this vital local matter is bound to increase as we enter a second round of public consultation and Sefton Council’s Local Plan gets put under the public’s microscope again.

One interesting last point – There were no Labour councillors present at the meeting that I could identify.

Labour’s troubles in Sefton Central – It’s Carry on Councillors!

Labour have swept virtually all before them in elections in the Sefton Central Constituency since 2010 yet they seem vulnerable, unhappy with each other and riven with internal disputes.

At an MP Council Leader level, despite the odd smiling photo in the press, it is seemingly common knowledge that MP Bill Esterson and Sefton Borough Council Leader Peter Dowd simply don’t get on. And a question on many lips is who actually controls Labour Parish, Town and Borough Councillors? Some Labour sources say the MP’s office pulls all (too many) of the strings whilst others say that Bootle Labour Party holds all the power. Whatever the case there certainly seems to be a big internal battle going on.

In Formby Labour’s councillors seem to be in a continually fractious relationship with a vocal community group called Fragoff who are trying to save Green Belt land from development.

In Maghull, where do you start; it seems to be one internal problem after another with 7 Labour councillors resigning from Maghull Town Council in just 2 years and that same Council having 4 Labour Leaders in the same 2 year period. Indeed, when Labour gained control of Maghull Council in 2011 they won 13 of the 16 seats but to date 6 of the original 13 have resigned and 1 who was co-opted to replace the first to resign has also packed in.

Across the Constituency the MP talks about Labour opposing developments in the Green Belt but Labour councillors are clearly on a different agenda as they consistently vote to build on Green Belt.

Labour’s Green Belt woes started in Lydiate when some Labour councillors voted to allow a canal marina to be built on Green Belt land. Then, however, Labour had yet to gain a majority on Sefton Council and they were out voted by a combination of Lib Dem and Tory councillors who blocked the planning application. It did not and has not stopped Labour trying to give the impression that they didn’t vote to build on the Green Belt when of course they did.

Returning to Maghull, Labour backed residents who were opposing the development on a significant piece of open green space in the heart of the Town only for Labour Councillors to vote to give the development planning permission.

Also in Maghull there is the strange question of why the Labour run Town Council decided not to make a submission to Sefton Borough Council in defence of the Green Belt during the 2011 Local Plan consultations. Who or what spooked them and made them decide not to make a submission when one had been written up by a Labour councillor? Bearing in mind that the biggest of all the Borough’s Green Belt housing and industrial developments is planned by Labour run Sefton Council to be in Maghull it makes that lack of a submission from Maghull Town Council look all the more devastating.

In Blundellsands and Aintree Labour run Sefton Council proposed closing 2 libraries and has since confirmed the closures. The Labour MP opposed his own councillor’s closure proposals so Labour had a foot in both camps again.

Now across Sefton Labour are planning to charge residents for having green waste recycling bins and this proposal is proving to be about as popular as snow at harvest.

So how are they getting themselves in such a mess? It is probably their brand of band wagon popularism as they seem willing to back anyone who knocks at their door even when they surely must realise they will end up letting some of them down. They seem to think that because of austerity folks will vote Labour no matter what they do; a we can get away with anything sort of approach?

Now, however, Miliband and Balls have effectively pulled the rug from under their feet by saying that Labour will to a large extent follow the financial austerity policies put in place by the Coalition.

Labour craved power in Sefton and eventually got it on the back of saying that austerity was not necessary, that the Coalition was evil in pursuing it and that under Labour such savings and cuts would not happen. Now the very foundation of their band wagon popularist approach has been undermined, by their own Party leaders.

Will there be more internal Labour troubles in Sefton Central, I suspect you can almost bet on it.

Which way is Labour facing over Sefton’s Green Belt? – Both ways!

I am having trouble knowing which way Labour is facing over Sefton’s Green Belt.

First we have the Labour run Council proposing to allow building on Green Belt land (which is subsequently endorsed by Labour Sefton Councillors on an Overview & Scrutiny Committee – 28th May) but we are also treated to those Labour policies seemingly being publicly rejected within days by Labour Party members led by an Andy Wilson.

Forgive me but I sense a stunt in progress here similar to one pulled by Labour over the hugely controversial Damfield Lane site in Maghull. There, only last year, Labour councillors said they were fighting to stop the proposed development only for Labour councillors to vote the development through!

We could all do without another carry on like that; it is not community leadership but raising false hopes and band wagon jumping of the very worst kind. It’s a Labour run Council that is proposing to build on the sites that it has identified within the Green Belt; no one else picked those sites.

Sefton Planning Committee approves Local Plan for consultation

The Labour dominated Planning Committee of Sefton Council last night voted to approve what I believe to be a flawed draft Local Plan.

The 8 Labour members of the Planning Committee all voted in favour of the Local Plan with its proposal for substantial building in the Green Belt. 4 Lib Dems and 1 Conservative voted against.

From my perspective the flaws are:-

• Too easily giving in to pressure to release high grade agricultural land for development.
• That in 15 years time the Council will most likely revisit the process and yet more ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land will be lost.
• Dubious population growth statistics in a Borough where the number of residents has been dropping for years.
• That the population growth projections seem to be built on inward migration into the Borough when there is no evidence of this actually happening.
• A lack of detailed coordination with the West Lancashire Local Plan.
• Too much concentration on the Merseyside perspective when the majority of Sefton’s boundary is with Lancashire.
• Selecting sites for development in the Green Belt where concreting over the high grade agricultural land will forever stop the land being used for food production.
• The plan is simply not ‘green’ enough. The balance between economic development and sustainable environmental planning has not been struck.