Plan to build on Green Belt and high grade agricultural land – Labour can point the finger of blame at themselves

Sefton Council’s opposition Lib Dem Group, who have campaigned against the Labour-run Council’s plans to build on areas of Green Belt and high grade agricultural land across the Borough, have welcomed a recent intervention from Coalition Planning Minister Nick Bowles.

Labour have told us that they have no choice but to build on Green Belt and high grade agricultural land, some of which is prone to flooding, but we have said they do have a choice. Now the Minister with Planning responsibilities has effectively backed our stance.

In a letter to the Planning Inspectorate, the body that deals with appeals against planning applications that are turned down by a local authority, dated 3rd March the Minister says ‘local authorities and the communities who elect them, are in charge of planning for their own areas.’ He goes on to say ‘a local authority could adjust a Green Belt boundary through a review of the Local Plan. It must however always be transparently clear that it is the local authority itself which has chosen that path’.

Environmental protestors outside Maghull Town Hall

Environmental protestors outside Maghull Town Hall

So its clear, Labour do have a choice and they made it to build on Green Belt which also happens to be high grade agricultural land in most cases across Sefton. Labour have been far from straight with Sefton residents. They have even put up posters saying ‘Save our Green Belt’ whilst in the Council chamber they have been voting to build on it! No wonder environmental campaign groups like Fragoff have taken the Council on.

We Lib Dems want to save the land, which Labour is going to allow to be built on, to grow food for future generations. Labour wants to plant houses on land that will never be able to support food growing again.

Scrutiny on Sefton Council – All Labour’s pretence of holding the Cabinet to account has been ditched

Because Sefton has a Cabinet style of governance it also has 4 Overview & Scrutiny Committees whose job it is to examine what the 7 person Cabinet is doing. These committees effectively do, or should do, what it says on the tin – scrutinise the decisions of the Cabinet. But are they being allowed to do that?

I commented prior to Christmas on the bizarre events at a Scrutiny Committee held in December where we watched Labour members of the Committee call for a recess so that they could go into a private meeting seemingly with the Labour Cabinet members whom they were supposed to be scrutinising. It ended up with the Labour Council Leader coming back to the Scrutiny meeting to advise that Committee how they should conduct their scrutiny of him and his Cabinet! Indeed, from my perspective, the Leader, who was only there to give evidence to the Committee, effectively took over the Scrutiny Committee meeting and all but ran it himself. The issue was of course Labour’s botched library closures and its refusal to accept volunteer bids to run two of the 7 closing libraries – Aintree and College Road in Crosby.

The Aintree & Maghull Champion newspaper took this up in its 1st January edition but again it was the Council Leader speaking for the Scrutiny process when he said “We agreed to defer the Scrutiny & Review meeting so that we could clarify some of the points raised by the campaigners.’ BUT the point here is that his opinion of the scrutiny process is all but irrelevant because it is he and his all-powerful Cabinet that was supposedly being scrutinised.

Even I had expected Labour to at least go through the motions of running this scrutiny process properly but they clearly don’t give a damn. The Chairperson of the scrutiny committee is the one who should be explaining what went on and why not the Leader of the Council.

A similar scrutiny process takes place in Parliament where Parliamentary Select Committees hold the Prime Minister, Cabinet, senior civil servants etc. to account and often those giving evidence get a rough ride no matter who they are. But in Sefton it seems that the Scrutiny Committees, which all have Labour majorities and Labour Chairpersons, are there to ensure that the Labour-run Council gets an easy ride. This is scandal and an affront to democracy.

But even at an organisational level the meeting looked odd before it started because siting around a horseshoe style table were not only all the Scrutiny Committee but also the Council Officers and Cabinet members who were being asked to give evidence, so the public could not really make out who the scrutineers and the evidence givers were. Interestingly, the library campaigners and the back bench councillors who were also giving evidence were all shunted into the public gallery with a separate table where they had to sit to give their evidence.

It was like a court where the judge, defendants, jury and counsel for the defence were all sitting together in a very chummy way.

Labour in Sefton Central – They really are having an internal war

As a follow up to my recent posting about troubles within the Labour Party in the Sefton Central Constituency of MP Bill Esterson I am now hearing that internal Labour sources are opening talking about internal warfare within the Party.

I suspected there was more to come and it really does look like a massive Labour meltdown is ongoing in Sefton Central.

Save our Green Belt – MP asks an odd Parliamentary question indeed

This recent question asked by our Sefton Central MP had me wondering why on earth he asked it. Read on:-

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central, Labour)

A developer in Lydiate in my constituency has made clear his plans to build in the green belt, despite the existing urban development plan making it clear that it is against the policies. Is not the best way to protect the green belt and valuable urban green space to go back to a system with a more regional approach so that there is not this push for development in the green belt?

What Bill is seemingly asking for here is a return to the way Labour approached land use policy when they were in government. Then we had a Regional Strategy which clearly said that Sefton Borough had to build 500 houses per year. In turn this meant that Sefton would have to start to allow building in the Green Belt!

My advice to Bill is be careful what you wish for!

Not setting the Council tax – My letter to Maghull Town Council leader Caroline Esterson

Below are some extracts from my letter of 7th March to Caroline Esterson – wife of Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson

Dear Caroline,

I am trying to get to the bottom of how the Town Council has put itself in the invidious position of having asked Sefton Council to collect a precept figure for 2013/14 which even as I write simply does not exist and will not do so until the Full Town Council meeting on 20th March approves a budget and precept for 2013/14.

As you will be aware the Parish Councils in Sefton usually set their budgets and precepts for the following year in January or early February yet Maghull Town Council has done neither to date and only intends to do so on 20th March. However, it is very clear that someone acting on behalf of the Council (I know not whom or the date it was done) telephoned Sefton Council informing its Finance Department that the Town Council had set a precept for 2013/14 and even gave them a figure to collect from Maghull’s Council tax payers. Sefton followed that telephone call up with an e-mail requesting confirmation and a copy of the Town Council’s budget.

You will be aware that I raised this issue at Sefton Council’s budget meeting on 28th February because I knew that the information that Sefton was supplying to its councillors in its own budget report, where it referred to the Town Council, was erroneous and indeed completely without foundation. I attach a copy of a letter that Sefton’s Head of Finance circulated on 1st March referring to the matter.

The fact is that the Town Council has not set a precept and should not be trying to pretend that it has prior to actually doing so.

I also raised my concerns at last night’s Town Council Finance Committee meeting and was told at first by Cllr. McKinley, who was chairing the meeting, that a precept had been set and that such was minuted. Cllr. Blackburn pointed out that there were no minutes saying any such thing. I was then told that a ‘direction of travel’ had been agreed and that the precept was not going to increase. I am not sure what this means or who agreed to the ‘direction of travel’ but on the basis that my Group is proposing a reduction in the 2013/14 precept (tabled but not voted upon last night) it certainly is something that has not been discussed at any meeting we have been invited to.

In case there is any doubt, can I make it clear that a Parish Council budget and precept has to be agreed at a meeting of the Full Council and no one acting for the Town Council has the right to anticipate what a precept may be and ask for it to be collected without such authority.

I realise that you may well be operating with what I will call an unofficial Cabinet made up of the Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs. Could it be that this unofficial body, which has no powers what so ever within Parish Council legislation and has not been sanctioned by the Full Council, gave the instruction to report a precept to Sefton Council as the billing authority?

Whatever the circumstances that led to the Town Council acting in the way that it did I would appreciate sight of any documents or minutes where the authorisation was given, to anyone acting on behalf of the Town Council to contact Sefton Council and declare that it had set a precept. If you require a Freedom of Information request to be able to provide me with such evidential material then please make that clear.

Should no documents or minutes exist which authorise the course of action outlined above please detail for me in writing what your understanding is of the process used to declare to Sefton Council that the Town Council had set a precept.

Yours sincerely.

Cllr. Tony Robertson