Save our Libraries – Birkdale Library

I think it fair to say and I think I said it myself when it first became apparent, some months ago, that Sefton Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) wanted to take over the Library, that I was at best uncomfortable with the idea.

Cllr. Iain Brodie-Browne

Cllr. Iain Brodie-Browne at Birkdale Library

You see I look upon Sefton CVS as being there to support volunteers yet in Birkdale they went over the heads of the volunteers who had come together to try to save the Library and put in a bid of their own. This is hardly supporting volunteers, more seeing an opportunity.

Sefton CVS is one of the biggest CVS’s across the Country and I know that in some quarters there is a fear that it has grown into too much of a business and not enough of being a volunteer organisation. And I must say that I have heard such concerns over a number of years.

Moving on, please take a look at Birkdale Focus the blog site of Cllr. Iain Brodie-Brown as the consequences of the CVS bid to take over Birkdale Library seem to quite profound indeed.

Sefton Council – The lack of scrutiny of the Executive (Cabinet)

My Leader on Sefton Council, Cllr. Iain Brodie-Browne, has previously raised this issue in the context of all of the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee Chairs being held by Labour councillors when the Council is also Labour run.

The party political system and party loyalty can clearly get in the way of in-depth scrutiny so having those in charge of the scrutiny being from the same party as those they are scrutinising is not ideal. Indeed, it is often the case in local government that those doing the scrutiny are scrutinising their own party political bosses! Of course the opposite could also be true in that opposition politicians could act irresponsibly in a scrutiny role if they are looking to score points rather than genuinely scrutinise things.

In Parliament the Chairs of Select Committees are from all parties no matter which party or parties are in power and this seems to work well. For example, in the present Parliament, we have seen Labour chairs of Select Committees sensibly pushing at issues such as big corporations and their financial responsibilities. All in all I think we generally see the chairs of Parliamentary Select Committees as acting reasonably impartially.

Returning to Sefton Council, the problem is that the executive (Cabinet) is not only all Labour but all 7 of them represent wards within the Bootle Constituency. The need for serious scrutiny of their work is therefore required for geographical reasons on top of the usual reasons for scrutiny.

My point in raising this again now is that at the last Sefton Council meeting the chairs of Overview and Scrutiny Committees all submitted written reports of what their Committees had been looking into over the past 12 months. The reports were accepted but they were, in my view, hardly an exercise in holding the Cabinet to account. One report in particular made me wonder as it said things like:-

‘have built strong relationships with the four Cabinet Members whose portfolios are with our terms of reference.’

‘we have continued to welcome update reports from Cabinet Members’

‘the Committee are briefed on current Cabinet Member activities.’

‘It allows Committee to make judgements and offer assistance to the Cabinet Members where they agree it’s required.’

Is that what we want to see? Whilst there seems to be a good working relationship between the scrutineers and those being scrutinised, surely that is not what scrutiny is all about? To my mind Cabinet Members need to be looking over their shoulders at times wondering if they are going to be challenged and knowing that the scrutiny committees really do leave no stone unturned.

Sorry, cosy scrutiny on a one party run Council seems nothing much like scrutiny at all to me and having opposition politicians in control of some scrutiny functions is clearly required.

Merseyside Police Commissioner comes under fire over decision making figures

The Southport Visiter has the story.

MERSEYSIDE Police Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy has come under fire after making just six decisions in five months.

The figures released in a national survey led two Southport councillors to question the role of the woman charged with tackling local crime.

Simon Shaw, a member of Merseyside Police and Crime Panel and a Birkdale councillor, led the criticisms at Southport’s Area Committee meeting last Wednesday. The complaints stemmed from an article written by Lib Dem leader Iain Brodie-Browne based on the survey’s findings, which posed the question ‘what does our Police Crime Commissioner do, exactly?’

Cllr Shaw said: “According to their own official websites some commissioners had taken 40, 50, or even more decisions in their first five months in office. In contrast Jane Kennedy had made just six reported decisions.”

Editor’s comment – From my perspective the fact that our Merseyside Police Commissioner has appointed a press secretary on £45K per year in the financial times that we find ourselves is simply wrong.

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 Council’s Local Plan – A guest posting from the Lib Dem Opposition Leader on the Council – Cllr. Iain Brodie-Browne

Iain Brodie-Brown

We Lib Dems feel that the views of local residents are hugely important. We understand why Labour run Sefton Council’s proposals to allow building on Green Belt are extremely unpopular.

We do not oppose all house building, indeed we encourage it on the Borough’s brown-field sites, as there is a need for more housing -in particular low cost homes.* However, building on high grade agricultural land, which is how virtually all of Sefton’s Green Belt is categorised, is environmentally unsustainable.

There is a balance to be struck between the need for more low cost housing, especially in Southport, and environmental sustainability. We believe that the balance has not been struck by Sefton Council’s present proposals and will be seeking to take the pressure off the Green Belt as the Local Plan goes through the Council’s processes over the coming months.

We will be arguing for the Local Plan to become the ‘greenest’ plan in England; that is one that champions the continued farming of some of the best and most versatile agricultural land in the whole country. We will challenge some of the questionable population predictions for the Borough to ensure they are both robust and realistic.

Lib Dems have consistently fought to retain Sefton’s Green Belt. Indeed during the last round of potential ‘Green Belt grabbing’ in 1998, when the present Unitary Development Plan was being put together, we successfully fought off planners and developers who were trying to release a huge parcel of land to the east of Maghull. That very same piece of prime agricultural land is a developers target this time around. Our campaigners will be fighting for it yet again.

We believe in localism, indeed we have championed it for generations when other parties were not interested in it. Local people have to comfortable with Sefton’s Local Plan or it will simply be the Council’s plan that is imposed upon its residents.

* For example we approved the development of land at Kew in Southport.