We import 50% of our food!- Now do opposition politicians get why I keep banging on about saving high grade agricultural land from development?

Over the past 20 years or so I have consistently fought to stop the headlong charge to build on the highest grades of agricultural land in Sefton Borough. That fight was most recently via its Local Plan process and prior to that it’s Unitary Development Plan in the late 1990’s. But my point here is not just about saving to save Green Belt, worthy though that aim is, it’s about trying to save the land which grows our food!

That we now import 50% of what we eat when only a few years ago it was just a third is surely a big worry as the higher that figures grows the more shaky becomes our food supply sustainability. What’s more the higher that figure grows the worse becomes our environmental sustainability too. This is not a race we want to win unless we want to find ourselves short of food one day!

Here’s an interesting article from the BBC web site (see link below) about the cost of our food and how much we import:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45559594

Protecting our Soil

www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36428361

This is a very serious matter indeed but it rarely gets any coverage in the media. The BBC web site article – accessible via the link above – is therefore worth reading.

By allowing the degrading of the quality of our soil we are in effect taking steps to starve ourselves!

The poor link between environmental and planning policy in the UK is also highlighted as it is the case that land is sometimes deliberately degraded to make it more likely to be developed. Having said that here in Sefton Borough our local Labour rulers (via the Borough’s Local Plan) seem quite happy to make even the highest quality of agricultural land available to be concreted over!

Neighbourhood Plans – Are they Labour’s apology?

Having spent a couple of years on Sefton Council’s Planning Committee as the Lib Dem opposition spokesperson (2013/14 and 2014/15) and fought Labour’s Local Plan for the Borough every inch of the way I now wonder if their enthusiasm for Neighbourhood Plans is their back-handed way of apologising for building on high grade agricultural land?

Green Belt campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall.

Green Belt campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall.

Neighbourhood Plans are a potentially useful but significantly limited tool to plan for the development of a town or village at a very local level but as I have said before, there is no point in doing one unless you know why you are doing it.

They can cost the public purse a lot of money and they involve a huge amount of work and community involvement and in the end a referendum in the designated area. What’s more if they conflict with the local authority’s Local Plan (in our case Sefton Council’s) they get chucked out by a Planning Inspector anyway.

Here I am at Lambshear Lane Lydiate checking out farm land that is coming under threat from house building.

Here I am at Lambshear Lane Lydiate checking out farm land that is coming under threat from house building.

My view all along, as Sefton’s Local Plan was being developed, was that anyone or group in the Borough who wanted to see some specific planning issues included about their community should first of all use the Local Plan process to get such matters included in it. Why? Because it would save having to do a Neighbourhood Plan for your community.

Oddly, Labour chose to seemingly not challenge what Council Officers wanted to see in the Local Plan for Sefton nor to come up with any innovative ideas for the Borough’s diverse communities. Of course they also backed a huge amount of building in the Green Belt on land that is virtually all the best and most versatile land for growing food in England!

Now they want the communities of Sefton to produce Neighbourhood Plans, seemingly to try to mitigate the negative effects of their Local Plan! Certainly that’s how I see the Neighbourhood Plans for the two communities of Maghull and Lydiate, both of which are going to see vast tracts of high grade agricultural land go under concrete and tarmac if Labour has its way.

Maghull Town Council (in Labour’s grip) has been trying to produce its ‘apology’ Neighbourhood Plan for a while now and I have commented before about all the twists and turns of the odd process they have constructed. You may remember they (Maghull Town Council) did a survey but when we asked to see it we were told the data was held by the Labour Party! Then when we pressed the issue we were told it had been destroyed!

Well the Maghull Neighbourhood Plan struggles on but the good folks of the Town seem less than interested in it.

Now Lydiate, also under Labour Control, wants to do one as well and we discussed it at the last Parish Council meeting. All well and good but the clear reason for doing it can only be that they want to mitigate the effects of the Sefton Local Plan that Labour forced through Sefton Council.

I am not opposed to them doing a Neighbourhood Plan in principle but if Labour had not imposed it’s Local Plan on the Borough in the first place then there would be no need for either Maghull or Lydiate to do a Neighbourhood Plan at all.

How all this is meant to grab the hearts and minds of Lydiate folk to want to get involved beats me as an expensive and time consuming process is now in train simply because of Labour’s Sefton Local Plan.

Funny old world is politics…….

History teaches us a great deal – You just would not build on the historically important food growing land around Maghull & Lydiate?

I came across the fascinating web site British History On Line the other day:-

www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/lancs/vol3/pp215-221

www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/lancs/vol3/pp200-208

The above links are direct to the pages relating to Maghull and Lydiate but of course you can search for any community of your choice.

My eye was taken by these particular two references to Maghull and Lydiate:-

Maghull is an agricultural township, situated in flat country fairly well supplied with trees, generally grouped about the villages and farmsteads. The land is divided into arable and pasture, the latter mostly to the west, whilst numerous market gardens thrive on a light sandy soil. Crops of potatoes and other root crops, wheat and oats are successfully cultivated.

Lydiate – The country is chiefly agricultural, occupied by market gardens and fields, where potatoes and cabbages alternate with wheat and oats. The soil is sand loam over a subsoil of peat. Pastures are found principally in the low-lying parts westwards.

As an environmental campaigner these two short but telling comments on the joint communities of Maghull & Lydiate reinforce my view that building on some of the very best agricultural land in England (where only 2% is of such a high standard) is utter madness. Sadly though this is exactly what Sefton Council has in mind and on a massive scale too!

A recent sunrise over the presently farmed land off Poverty Lane, Maghull. I wonder how many sunrises the crops will see in the future as the land has sadly been designated to build hundreds and hundreds of houses on (plus an industrial estate) by Sefton Council despite it being some of the 2% very best agricultural land in England.

A recent sunrise over the presently farmed land off Poverty Lane, Maghull. I wonder how many sunrises the crops will see in the future as the land has sadly been designated to build hundreds and hundreds of houses on (plus an industrial estate) by Sefton Council despite it being some of the 2% very best agricultural land in England. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

This blog site has exposed the wrong-headed approach to house building in Sefton many, many times before and together with with local groups like the Maghull & Lydiate Action Team and Fragoff (a Formby based environmental campaign group) we continue to make the case for not building on the very land that grows our food.

The next stage in the process will be starting soon when an Inspector, appointed by the Government, will look in detail at Sefton Council’s building plans and decide whether they will be approved or not. I can’t say I am particularly optimistic about the outcome of this process though.

We can only hope that the Inspector realises how important the high grade agricultural land is not only to us here in Sefton but to the whole of the UK. We are importing environmentally unsustainable amounts of food now so building on our best agricultural land can only make this worse.

Lydiate – Latest on those wind farm proposals – Developer to hold consultation event 5th August

Readers will recall that this is a subject I have commented on numerous times before.

My last posting is available via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/07/04/ince-blubdelllydiate-what-ever-happened-to-those-wind-farm-proposals/

To recap, Coriolis Energy submitted a proposal for a wind farm at Lower Alt a couple of years ago (to the west of Lydiate and east of Ince Blundell on land in West Lancashire) but subsequently it fizzled out. At the time, Lydiate Parish Council, Ince Blundell PC and many other groups and residents objected to the proposal.

cropped-Lydiate-Parish-Council-Logo-e1372273297819

This is what Lydiate PC submitted to West Lancs Council in response to the original proposal:-

Lydiate Parish Council, having taken account of local concerns and the recent public exhibition held in the Parish, wish to raise the following concerns and objections to the plan that is presently before West Lancs Borough Council.

• We have significant ecological concerns regarding the location of the proposed development. They relate to negative potential impacts on bird species and designated breeding sites within Sefton and within West Lancashire.

• In our view the plans do not consider the effects of the proposals on the agricultural land. There is a high proportion of ‘Best and Most Versatile’ agricultural land in the area and its potential loss is a significant concern.

• The area in which the development is proposed is low lying and thinly populated. The landscape has wide open views. The local character of the landscape will be hugely and negatively impacted on by this proposal.

• Noise generated by the proposed development is a significant concern.

• Shadow Flicker – again a significant concern of Lydiate residents.

As I suggested in my last posting Coriolis are now looking at their proposal again and they have booked the Lydiate Village Centre to hold a public consultation session on Wednesday 5 August 2015 (2pm to 4pm).

Maghull Town Council – Covering Labour’s tracks by smoke, mirrors and a Neighbourhood Plan

A letter in the Aintree & Maghull Champion recently having a pop at the Lib Dems because we opposed the funding of a Neighbourhood Plan for Maghull, from Cllr. McKinley the Labour leader of Maghull Council, could not go without a response.

These voluntary plans can cost a huge amount of public money; some have cost over £70,000. We opposed the idea because of such potential costs and the fact that the Labour-run Council has still to say why they want to do a Neighbourhood Plan.

It is of course Labour politicians who are proposing to build hundreds and hundreds of houses on prime agricultural land and Green Belt around Maghull & Lydiate (and elsewhere across the Borough). They are doing that via the Sefton Local Plan.

Our suspicion is that this Neighbourhood Plan lark is an attempt to cover their tracks and to waste more scarce public money in the process. So far they have put £10,000 down to start a Maghull Neighbourhood Plan. We opposed this and proposed, at the Town Council’s budget meeting, that the money would be far more wisely spent supporting the Maghull in Bloom volunteers and Maghull’s Youth Coffee Bar.

Cutting grants to Volunteers to fund a Neighbourhood Plan vanity project appalls us.