Sefton Council – Draft Strategic Housing Market Assessment Update 2019

The draft report, which is available for comment, is on Sefton Council’s website – see link below:-

www.sefton.gov.uk/shma

This is the general comment I have made in response to the draft assessment:-

I remain concerned that Sefton is not targeting sufficient social housing, single level housing for the elderly/those with disabilities and 1 and 2 bedroomed properties in general both social housing and the ordinary housing market.

At the same time the Council is pursuing building on Green Belt/high grade agricultural land whilst not achieving sufficient housing in the categories I have mentioned above. It is bad enough losing high grade agricultural land to development but doing so whilst not addressing actual housing need in the Borough is particularity upsetting.

I remain far from convinced that building more 3, 4 and 5 bedroomed properties for the normal housing market will in any meaningful way meet actual housing need.

If you wish to comment you can do so by e-mailing this address:-

local.plan@sefton.gov.uk

Housing Crisis – However you look at it the real issue is the lack of social housing

How many times have we watched politicians of all colours wringing their hands in an attempt to look like they are tackling our nationwide housing crisis? Far too many times.

We’ve had ‘Help to Buy’ and all the other incentive schemes to get young folk onto the housing ladder but there’s strong opinion that these initiatives do little more than put more money in developers pockets whilst probably keeping house prices high! But however you cut it none of these politician’s schemes are addressing the real problem – the huge lack of social housing.

Yes, we all know that this crisis had it’s seeds set back when 1980’s Thatcherism brought in ‘Right to Buy’ for council houses because the money raised from the sales was not used to build new council/social housing. It’s now generations since that policy was brought in and each year that passes we fail to build enough social houses for rent.

Not everyone wants to own their own home but many who do will sadly never afford it due to our low wage culture.

The effect of all this has been an explosion in the private rented housing sector, but with rents often much higher than the cost of a mortgage. Of course, those who want to save up for a deposit can’t do so in part because they are paying such large amounts to their private landlords! A housing trap indeed and those who are the poorest suffer the most with poor housing conditions, landlords not doing repairs and eviction when the rents outstrip their ability to pay them. At this point local councils have to pick up the problem of homeless people and this becomes a bigger problem week by week, month by month…..

And let’s not get all rose tinted spectacles about how council housing used to be because in many cases it was poor and it led to the Decent Homes Standard that Blair’s government brought in. Trouble is there are still many homes in the social housing/council housing/housing association sector that still don’t meet those standards.

The regulation of housing associations also looks to be far too light touch with some of them, particularly we are told the larger ones, not delivering decent homes or doing repairs in a timely way. Government only seems interested in scoring housing associations over how many new properties they build and no one is keeping an eye on the standards by which they manage their properties. There’s also a worrying slide towards not having strong tenant participation in the running of housing associations.

So we don’t have anywhere near enough social houses and those we do have are at best patchy in terms of their management/maintenance. At the same time we are sacrificing more Green Belt and high grade agricultural land to build houses, which will be almost all privately owned/privately rented thereby not meeting our real housing needs. And that’s not even adding into the pot that the houses we are building are often 3, 4 & 5 bedroomed properties when we also need 1 and 2 bedroomed houses, bungalows etc. for our aging population.

Housing crisis, we certainly have one, but our politicians have their heads firmly in the sand with their fingers in their ears so what they won’t see and can’t hear is not happening.

Lydiate & Maghull – Those Neighbourhood Plan Referendums – We were given a vote on the wrong Plan!

Here I am looking at what was protected Green Belt and presently still is high grade agricultural land off Lambshear Lane in Lydiate. It’s been reserved as building land in Sefton’s Local Plan.

If you live in either community did you vote in the 2 separate referendums on the Lydiate or Maghull NP’s on 18th December? I did but with little enthusiasm even though I had a hand in putting the Lydiate one together.

Why my lack of enthusiasm? Because these Neighbourhood Plans will have only marginal influence on the big planning issues that people are concerned about. The significant issues were all ‘settled’ when Sefton Borough’s Local Plan was controversially rammed through Sefton Council by its Labour majority.

It’s the Sefton Local Plan that we should have had a referendum on!

I must admit to being baffled by the publicity surrounding the two NP referendums with even our local MP seemingly getting over-excited about them in the Champion newspaper. You’d have thought that these NP’s were game changers in the world of urban planning because of the hype, when in fact they are only very limited in their effect.

Did I vote yes?. Yes, I did. Would it have made any difference if I had not voted for the Lydiate plan or if either of the plans had been rejected? No, not really.

In simple terms, the electorate was given the chance to vote on the wrong plan. Now a vote on Sefton’s Local Plan, which only Sefton Councillors were able to back or sack, would have been very significant and well worth getting excited about. Why? Because that Local Plan defined which parcels of Green Belt and high-grade agricultural land will be built on across Sefton Borough. In other words, it defined 95% of planning guidance for Sefton Borough whilst the public (on this occasion in Maghull & Lydiate) was thrown a ‘democratic’ option to approve, or not approve’ around just 5% of that guidance.

The vast Maghull East urban extension (presently high grade agricultural land) site as seen from Poverty Lane, Maghull

Sorry, I really can’t get excited about a worthy but hardly significant NP for my Lydiate community when I’ve had a hugely controversial Local Plan imposed on me by Sefton Council’s ruling political establishment. The massive Maghull East urban extension, to be built on the highest grades of agricultural land, will still be built – The Maghull NP does not stop that. And in Lydiate, the allocated sites for building houses (again mostly on high-grade agricultural land which feeds us) are unchanged by that community’s NP.

We were thrown one bag of Kevin Carrots to approve or disapprove

As I say the vote was on the wrong plan. We were thrown one bag of Kevin carrots to approve or disapprove of when we should have been considering whether it is wise to build on field after field of them across the joint communities of Lydiate and Maghull.

Labour excited about an Eric Pickles inspired policy

It was also strange how excited the political party (which voted through Sefton’s Local Plan) got about the two Neighbourhood Plans whilst also trying to give the impression that their Local Plan had been nothing to do with them at all. Even odder when you consider that Neighbourhood Plans were promoted by none other than the Tory’s Eric Pickles.

There’s nothing wrong with the Lydiate Neighbourhood Plan, I might add, in case you were wondering. It’s just that the context of it and indeed the importance of it has been completely over-played in my view. I have had nothing to do with the Maghull NP I should add.

Maghull – Council still worrying over problems they did not fight when they had the chance to

My letter to the Maghull Champion newspaper in response to Maghull councillors crying crocodile tears over the massive Maghull East development site:-

Dear Sir,

I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read in the Champion that Maghull Town Council leaders are still worrying over the huge urban extension housing development to the east of Maghull which will go a long way towards making the Town 25% larger.

If Maghull Council had got up and fought for the Town when Sefton Council was developing its Local Plan, which dumps 1600+ houses plus some industrial units on some of the highest grade agricultural land in England, then we may not be in the situation we are now.

I was a member of Maghull Town Council for 30 years and led it to oppose development of the very same land in 1998. We won that fight. Yes, it may not have been won this time around but no serious battle was even fought by Maghull Council, end of.

Yours sincerely

Cllr. Tony Robertson
Member of Lydiate Parish Council

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.