Sefton Lib Dems – putting our environment first – Local Plan ‘additional sites’

Sefton Council Lib Dem Opposition Group
Leader Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne

7th August 2014

Liberal Democrat response to the ‘additional sites’ consultation
with regard to Sefton Council’s draft Local Plan

It may well be useful for us to start with a reminder of the Lib Dem approach to Sefton Council’s Local Plan in terms of our previous detailed submission of 26th September 2013. From the headline issues in that earlier submission we will then frame our response to the additional sites for potential development, put forward by land owners and developers.

This is what we said in September 2013:-

Labour’s draft Local Plan for Sefton is inadequate, fails to protect high grade agricultural land and lacks ambition

The Liberal Democrat Group on Sefton Council have major concerns about the draft Local Plan and the preferred ‘Option 2’ put forward by the Labour administration on Sefton Council.

Executive Summary

Our fundamental concerns are:-

• The draft plan lacks robustness in terms of population predictions and therefore the housing requirements flowing from the data used can’t be anything more than vaguely informed guestimates.
• The effect of taking the plan forward based on potentially flawed data means that high grade agricultural land, within Green Belt, will be designated for house building when this may well not be necessary.
• The seeming lack of detailed working with West Lancashire Borough Council is worrying as they are the local authority that Sefton has by far the largest boundary and most significant community of interest with.
• The leading references in the draft plan to Merseyside Councils are misleading and unhelpful because the centre and north of the Borough (the majority of the Sefton) rightly expects the Council to be heavily engaged with West Lancashire as a priority with the southern Merseyside Councils being of less significance for two thirds of the Borough’s population.
• The flawed method of public consultation used by the Council may well have reduced the number of residents who felt able and comfortable to participate in the process.
• The plan is all but silent on some major issues across the Borough that need to be planned for.

GENERAL & BOROUGHWIDE COMMENTS ABOUT THE DRAFT PLAN

Why is 500 the answer again?
The plan’s preferred Option 2 will mean that each year 510 houses will be built in the Borough – this is a remarkably similar figure to the target of 500 houses per year which was previously imposed on the Borough via the last Labour Government’s Regional Spatial Strategy.

Bearing in mind that after the RSS figure was imposed the UK entered into and is still suffering from the effects of a massive economic recession and that the draft plan is allegedly built upon new economic and population data etc. the similarity of the proposed house building figures is at best questionable.

It is also the case that the draft plan seems to indicate a much higher figure (above 660) of houses ‘need’ be built per year. In another context the Council’s public statements say that 5,000 houses need to be built in the existing urban areas. These figures are at best confusing.

Concerns about the quality and accuracy of data
We have great concern about the quality and accuracy of the data used in the production of the options within the plan. This point is made in the context of the Council’s lead consultants, NLP, openly saying at a Local Plan Stakeholder meeting in May of 2013, at Bootle Town Hall that the Borough’s year on year declining population is suddenly going to go into reverse and significantly rise again. What’s more they said to this forum that the rise would be caused by inward migration. When questioned to explain this statement they said that the migrants would be made up of people moving into Sefton from other parts of the UK, people returning to Sefton who had moved away and migrants from outside the UK. To date we have not seen what we accept as credible data to robustly back up these assertions.

Loss of ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land
The Green Belt surrounding Sefton’s diverse communities is almost totally comprised of high grade agricultural land often referred to as ‘best and most versatile’. However, Option 2 clearly indicates that a significant part of this land, which is presently used for the growing of food, will be lost to housing developments if the Council presses ahead and confirms the preferred option of the Labour administration.

Our clear view is that compromising high grade agricultural land is a hugely negative step backwards and that it is environmentally unsustainable.

Urban Extensions
The potential size increases of some communities, e.g. Maghull to increase by nearly 25% and Lydiate by 35% will fundamentally change the character of these parishes. The Local Plan process was supposed to prevent such significant increases and we feel that the scale of the proposals is therefore unacceptable.

Some small Green Belt compromises are possible
We do realise that some land that technically falls within Green Belt can sensibly be developed because it is often not high quality agricultural land.

The Power House in Formby, land east of Southport at Kew, the Pontins site in Ainsdale and the presently vacant Ashworth South site in Maghull are examples of sites where a reasonable compromise can be made. The Power House, Pontins and Ashworth South are clear examples of sites which have previously been built upon to some extent and therefore lend themselves to being developed.

This approach can take the pressure off building on high grade agricultural land. However, such reasonably developable sites within the Green Belt are few.

Lack of detailed working with West Lancs
We understand that West Lancs Borough Council has some concerns about Option 2 particularly with regard to the reserved sites in Lydiate which if developed will leave too narrow a Green Belt with Aughton. We share this concern.

In general we have concerns about the seemingly lack of detailed joint Local Plan development with West Lancs Borough Council. This is evidenced by West Lancs’ comments about the Lydiate reserve sites and the lack of detail in either the Sefton or indeed West Lancs plans to address transportation issues (both rail and road) to the east of Southport.

The fact that the Local Plan process seems not to be developing a common detailed agenda to address traffic congestion between Southport and Ormskirk and the improvement of rail services to and from Southport along the Wigan Southport railway line is regrettable. The reconnection of the Wigan – Southport and Ormskirk – Preston railway lines at Burscough (via the Burscough Curves) is also surprising by its omission from the draft.

Negative impact developments in retail units
Prevention of retail ghettoisation – The Local Plan should aim to restrict the spread of betting shops (particularly given the prevalence of fixed odds betting terminals) and pay day loan shops.

Environmental considerations
Whilst raising issues such as global warming, climate change and sustainable development the plan is far from being ambitious in this crucial area of environmental sustainability. Sefton’s Local Plan and indeed those of our neighbouring Councils need to focus on energy conservation and the highest possible energy-saving/low carbon targets for all new developments. District heating is being embraced in one area of Kew in Southport but this can only be the start. Biomass boilers on a communal basis are another way forward that must be grasped.

Whilst doing this the Council should be seeking effective ways to improve, as far as possible, the Borough’s current stock of commercial and domestic buildings with regard to energy usage.

Should we not also be considering the aims of Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority by pushing hard the policy of encouraging the installation of sprinkler systems in all new commercial property builds in the Borough and retrofitting into older properties?

Shale Gas extraction has to be a major issue for Sefton as exploration work is already happening in neighbouring West Lancashire and the license under which that is taking place also covers parts of our Borough. It is almost certain that the UK will need to exploit this source of fuel within the next few years yet the Local Plan is all but silent on the matter. As the plan is meant to cover the next 15 to 20 years for it to virtually ignore this issue is far from being a sound planning process.

Flooding – the two large greenbelt sites proposed for building in the north of Southport and one of the ‘reserved’ sites in Lydiate are prone to flooding and they add to concerns that the draft plan does not give enough emphasis to flood prevention.

Schools
We fear that planning for future school requirements is not a robust part of the Local Plan and that this needs to be addressed especially if the Council presses ahead with major housing developments. A sit and wait to see what develops approach will be irresponsible where significant developments are to take place especially when half of the Borough is already very close to experiencing stresses with regard to primary school places.

It also has to be held in mind that schools in Sefton are popular for parents from West Lancs, Knowsley and Liverpool to send their children to, so housing developments in those neighbouring council areas will have an impact on the demand for places within the Borough.

NHS Pressure
We have concerns about the impact of major housing developments in the Borough (and indeed in surrounding council areas) as they will have an impact on the capacity of our local NHS facilities and hospitals. The Local Plan needs to addresses the problems that will occur with extra pressure on hospitals, GP surgeries and NHS dentists. These health aspects have to be a major part of all future major planning applications as accessibility to and the capacity of NHS facilities to cope are big issues

The challenges of Liverpool’s greatly declined population
Demand for housing in Sefton and indeed in other Boroughs surrounding Liverpool has been ratcheted up by the city’s ever declining population over many generations since the Second World War. Whilst Liverpool has stemmed that loss it needs to rebuild its lost population and use up brownfield sites across the city for housing. The longer it takes to address this issue the greater the pressure will be on Sefton to sanction the building of houses on its high grade agricultural land. This is a sub-regional matter that urgently needs to be addressed.

Questionable public consultation process
Before the 12 weeks public consultation was embarked upon (July to September 2013) we and indeed independent environmental campaigners from across the Borough raised such concerns but they were not taken on board. We suggested that the planned method of public consultation was inappropriate and would not engage people fully. What concerned us was the need for members of the public to book an appointment to enable them to express their views on the draft Local Plan face to face. We said this was an unreasonable barrier to the consultation process and that it would effectively hold residents at arms length instead of welcoming them into it. We still hold to that view and are concerned that a true picture of the concerns of residents across the Borough may well not have been obtained.

A full copy of our September’ 13 submission is available to read on our Sefton Focus web site at:-

www.tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2013/10/01/lib-dem-response-to-labours-green-belt-grab-for-sefton-sefton-local-plan-draft-should-be-rejected/

The additional sites

General Principles

Unsurprisingly, we are opposed to development on the vast majority of the addition sites as indeed we remain opposed to the development of many of the sites that the Council, under its Labour leadership, has already indicated that it wishes to see developed.

Our principles and approach have not changed in that we oppose Green Belt development in all but very specific circumstances such as those mentioned in our original submission. This is what we said in September 2013 on that matter:-

The Power House in Formby, land east of Southport at Kew, the Pontins site in Ainsdale and the presently vacant Ashworth South site in Maghull are examples of sites where a reasonable compromise can be made. The Power House, Pontins and Ashworth South are clear examples of sites which have previously been built upon to some extent and therefore lend themselves to being developed.

Couple with that our overriding concern that virtually all the undeveloped land in the Borough is high grade agricultural land that should be protected from development so that it can be used to grow food for future generations.

These principles are what frame our approach to the Local Plan process as a whole and therefore the vast majority of the ‘additional sites’ fall foul of our environmental sustainability test.

To illustrate our concerns we have conducted a review of the proposals for the East Parishes part of the Borough because it sadly details our concerns only too well. Whilst there are of course ‘additional sites’ across Sefton that land owners want to concrete over this part of the Borough is clearly being targeted by developers. Should they get their way the impact on the East Parishes communities could be catastrophic.

Sites in and around the East Parishes communities – Maghull, Aintree Village, Lydiate & Melling.

There are some truly vast sites here that developers wish to see built upon and a real danger that communities will merge into one another and lose identity if the proposals are taken forward.

* Site AS17 – The Peel Holdings proposals for a logistics park to the east of the M57 and adjacent to Switch Island and Brewery Lane in Melling are a huge concern to us. The land is presently being farmed because it is high grade agricultural land and there are, in our view, no sound reasons to agree to this development. The landscape of rural Melling would be lost forever as acre upon acre of high grade agricultural land would be lost to an industrial development. The traffic implications of this upon rural Melling would be huge indeed.

* Sites AS12/AS14 – These two huge sites to the west and east of Lydiate/Maghull fall within a similar category to AS17 in that they are both high grade agricultural land that is presently being farmed. To turn them over to housing is unthinkable in environmental sustainability terms. AS14 is right next to SR4.48 (Tyson’s Triangle) which Sefton Council has already designated as a ‘reserve’ site for development in its own draft Local Plan. Bearing in mind that a further and much larger ‘reserve’ site (SR4.47) is the other side of SR4.48 this would have the effect of vastly increasing the size of Lydiate’s population. Just developing the two reserve sites will increase Lydiate’s size by 35%! What’s more AS14 will develop Lydiate right up to the West Lancashire (Aughton) boundary and we are aware that West Lancs Council already have concerns about the two ‘reserve’ sites for this very reason. Taking the 3 sites together Lydiate would be subject to an urban extension of considerable proportions.

* Site AS15 – We urge great caution in approaching this site for development. It is prone to flooding as the flood events of September 2012 demonstrated with many homes in Fouracres, Maghull being under water. These flooded properties are adjacent to this site and they risk being flooded again if Dovers Brook ‘overtops’ due to it being unable to run into an at capacity River Alt. Our understanding is that this site is rich in wildlife and there have been previous proposals to turn it into a nature reserve, which seems a far more sensible use for the land. We oppose development here.

* Sites AS18, AS19, AS21 and AS22 – Should these sites be considered for development it will mean that Aintree Village will see a vast increase in its size and it will be developed right up to the M57 Motorway. Bearing in mind that AS17 will potentially develop land on the other side of the same Motorway this will have the effect of considerable urban sprawl with Aintree Village losing the semi-rural surroundings that it presently benefits from.

* Site AS23 – This will, if it is developed for housing, have the effect of joining Aintree Village to Liverpool as it is very close to the Sefton/Liverpool boundary. This will lead to a position whereby presently separate communities merge into each other and as a consequence lose identity. This site needs to retain its open aspect.

Site AS24 – This is split into two sites that seemingly share the same reference number. The smaller (westerly site) has mostly been developed in previous times so is not problematic in our view. Indeed, it shares a similar status to the Ashworth South site SR4.26) in our opinion. The larger (easterly) site has not been subject to previous development and therefore fails our environmental sustainability test; it should not be released for development.

Turning to Southport, it has just a couple ‘additional sites’ put forward by developers and land owners for inclusion as development land in the Local Plan, but both sites illustrate and reinforce our environment first approach to the Local Plan process:-

Site AS01
– This Meols site is an extension of site SR4.02. We objected to the development of SR4.02 in the last round of consultation. AS01 will simply develop a much larger area which is presently Green Belt land. Our clear view is that neither of these adjacent sites should be developed for the total of around 420 houses that are proposed because there is an obvious and altogether acceptable alternative. That alternative site is the old Philips factory site.

Site AS02 – This Birkdale site, right next to the Liverpool – Southport railway line, is another one where the environmental considerations are of great significance and a recent bio-diversity report on it makes compelling reading. It may not be, in this case, high grade agricultural land but the bio-diversity factors brought out by the report mean that we strongly oppose any development on it.

Conclusion

We have not commented on every ‘additional site’ in the Borough but have used specific examples to illustrate our concerns and principles.

Translating the sites to a map of the East Parishes communities quickly leads you to the conclusion that semi-rural nature of these separate villages and the Town of Maghull will all but be lost by the Council’s draft proposals. To add in the majority of the ‘additional sites’ would simply stick the final lid in the coffin of these separate, proud and semi-rural communities.

We do appreciate that some additional housing (particularly social housing and particularly so in the north of the Borough) will be required in the coming years but a more innovative approach is required than simply looking for the nearest green field and stamping it for concreting over.

We urge the Council to rethink its approach to development land and the need for housing across the Borough along the lines of our submission of September 2013.

Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group
Sefton MBC

Fragoff – A powerful message about the number of houses really needed in Sefton

To see the pain of the faces of Labour campaigners and councillors when Maria Bennett took a seat on Sefton Council in Formby last May was a delight. You see, in my opinion, Labour had bet on yet another ‘yes’ person being elected under their banner to do the bidding of Bootle Labour Party. But it was not to be as Formby rose up to defend its Green Belt and high grade agricultural land from Labour’s attacks on it and independent Maria stormed to victory.

Now I have got that little rant off my chest this is why I am posting this particular blog piece. As the latest consultation period has come to an end on the notorious Sefton Local Plan Maria’s hard hitting and well informed FRAGOFF group has produced a very interesting fact and it is this (I quote directly from FRAGOFF’s submission to Sefton Council on the ‘additional sites’ consultation):-

‘We would like to point out that since the Draft Local Plan was submitted for consultation the 2012-based Subnational Population Projections have been released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). These figures suggest that the 2010 data used to inform that Draft Local Plan has significantly over estimated the increase in population in Sefton over the designated time span. We would therefore now expect sites to be withdrawn from development and suggest that we should not be considering any additional sites until a new evaluation is made based on the most up to date figures.’

This really is one of those told you so moments as both FRAGOFF and the Lib Dems questioned in detail the robustness of the projected population growth figures when the draft was being put together and we were effectively ignored.

It will be interesting to see what happens next because you can bet that Labour will soon be claiming black is white and that they never supported the figures that they backed when they voted for the Draft Local Plan!

Maghull TC – Lib Dem Opposition Group’s response to ‘additional sites’ consultation – Sefton Local Plan

Here is our submission regarding the ‘additional sites’ as they affect the Civil Parish of Maghull. Informed readers may wonder about the first paragraph of our submission as an article on this very blog site from last Saturday indicated that Maghull Town Council was indeed trying to cobble together a submission on the very last day of the consultation (8th August). Whether anything was sent in by the Town Council your guess is as good as mine but this submission was was sent off on the 6th August whilst the Labour-run Town Council was seemingly asleep on the job you might say!

I will soon publish the submission of the Lib Dem opposition councillors on Sefton Council.

*****

Maghull Town Council Liberal Democrat Group of Councillors

Submission to Sefton Council’s ‘Additional Sites’ Consultation – August 2014

We make this submission as an opposition group on the Town Council as the Council itself has, at least to our knowledge, not discussed the matter or indeed made any comments. This reflects Maghull Council’s reluctance to make a detailed submission in previous rounds of consultation on Sefton’s Local Plan.

For completeness our view on the already ‘approved’ sites for development in Green Belt and on high grade agricultural land (sites SR4.49 & SR4.27) in Maghull remains that they should not be developed because of the principles we detail below.

These are the principles which guide our response to the Local Plan in general and, in this case, the ‘additional sites’ consultation:-

Our starting point is the loss of ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land
The Green Belt surrounding Maghull is almost totally comprised of high grade agricultural land often referred to as ‘best and most versatile’.

Our clear view is that compromising high grade agricultural land is a hugely negative step backwards and that it is environmentally unsustainable.

An Urban Extension
The potential size increase of Maghull will be nearly 25% and that’s simply based on Sefton Council’s draft Local Plan proposals (particularly site SR4.27) and not taking account of the ‘additional’ sites which land owners and developers wish to see added to this. This is, in our view, an urban extension not simply letting a little Green Belt be concreted over.

Environmental considerations
Whilst the draft Local Plan raises issues such as global warming, climate change and sustainable development it is far from being ambitious in this crucial area of environmental sustainability. Sefton’s Local Plan and indeed those of our neighbouring Councils need to major on energy conservation and the highest possible energy-saving/low carbon targets for all new developments. District heating is being embraced in one area of Kew in Southport but this can only be the start. Biomass boilers on a communal basis are another way forward that must be grasped.

Whilst doing this Sefton Council should be seeking effective ways to improve, as far as possible, the current stock of commercial and domestic buildings with regard to energy usage.

Shale Gas extraction has to be a major issue for Sefton as exploration work is already happening in neighbouring West Lancashire and the license under which that is taking place also covers parts of our Borough. It is almost certain that the UK will need to exploit this source of fuel within the next few years yet the Local Plan is all but silent on the matter. As the plan is meant to cover the next 15 to 20 years for it to virtually ignore this issue is far from being a sound planning process.

Flooding – Maghull is low lying and prone to flooding. Houses in Sefton Lane and in Fouracres have recently been flooded when Dovers Brook over-topped in September 2012. We would point out that Additional site AS15 is on land immediately adjacent to Fouracres.

Schools
We fear that planning for future school requirements is not a robust part of the Local Plan and that this needs to be addressed, especially if the Council is determined to press ahead with major housing developments in and around Maghull. A sit and wait to see what happens approach is irresponsible where significant developments are to take place, especially when half of the Borough is already very close to experiencing stresses with regard to primary school places.

It also has to be held in mind that schools in Maghull are popular for parents from West Lancs, Knowsley and Liverpool to send their children to, so housing developments in those neighbouring council areas will have an impact on the demand for places within Maghull.

NHS Pressure
We have concerns about the impact of major housing developments in the Maghull (and indeed in surrounding council areas) as they will have an impact on the capacity of our local NHS facilities and hospitals. The Local Plan needs to addresses the problems that will occur with extra pressure on hospitals, GP surgeries and NHS dentists. These health aspects have to be a major part of all future major planning applications as accessibility to and the capacity of NHS facilities to cope are big issues

These general principles are our over riding concerns and they lead us to make the following comments on the major ‘additional sites’ as they affect the Civil Parish of Maghull.

Site AS12 To the west of South Meade, West Meade, Green Lane, Rigby Road & Turnbridge Road, Maghull – This huge site to the west of Maghull is high grade agricultural land and Green Belt that is presently being farmed.

To turn it over to housing is unthinkable in environmental sustainability terms.

AS12 is vast stretching from behind and to the west of South Meade all the way to the Lydiate Civil Parish boundary and on past it to Lydiate’s Bells Lane. If approved it will, like the already provisionally approved site SR4.27 to the east of Maghull, form another massive urban extension.

We fear that the consequence of approval of AS12 will be that the former track bed of the Cheshire Lines Railway will, by default, become the boundary of housing to the west of Maghull and the semi-rural nature of the community in that part of the Town will be lost for good.

Further Green Belt encroachments would sadly be inevitable so development of this site is simply unacceptable in our view.

Site AS15 – Behind The Crescent & Fouracres, Maghull – As mentioned above this site is prone to flooding as the flood events of September 2010 demonstrated with many homes in Fouracres, Maghull being under water. These flooded properties are adjacent to this site and risk being flooded again. Our understanding is that this site is rich in wildlife and there have been previous proposals to turn it into a nature reserve, which seems a far more sensible use for the land.

Our view remains that these two sites are inappropriate for development because they are both in Green Belt, AS12 is being farmed and AS15 is prone to flooding.

Cllrs. Tony Robertson, Andrew Blackburn, Bruce Hubbard, Jen Robertson & Jane Day.

6th August 2014