Back in 1998 it became apparent that Sefton Council had plans to allow a huge area of Green Belt and high grade agricultural land to be built upon to the east of Maghull. The site was bounded by Poverty Lane, the M58 Motorway and the Liverpool – Ormskirk Railway line; a truly massive area of land.
Unsurprisingly, Maghull Town Council was horrified and immediately launched a community campaign to stop Sefton Council in its tracks. The campaign was successful and the land was saved from being concreted over.
Some 14 years later Sefton Council again looked for land to build upon and surprise, surprise, it came back to have another look at the very same site in Maghull, as the biggest one in the whole Borough it would like to see developed. This time Sefton also added on a site off Melling Lane in Maghull plus two large sites in Lydiate Parish, just down the road.
Maghull Town Council, this time, was all but motionless and at the initial consultation stage did nothing much at all. Quite a policy U-turn from 1998 indeed!
This posting looks behind the astonishing U-turn and shines some light on why the Town Council turned from being determined environmentalists, Green Belt defenders and high grade agricultural land campaigners to a council that seemed to have lost its ‘green’ credentials in a big way.
Firstly, let’s look back at 1998 – the then 20 member Town Council was made up of 18 Lib Dems and 2 Labour. The Lib Dems were clearly seen to be big defenders of Maghull and they realised the perils of such a major development in the Town because of the strain it would put on the local infrastructure, schools, GP’s, dentists, roads, drainage systems etc. They were steeped in being ‘Maghullians’ and saw their task as being one of circling the wagons when an attack came in.
But what about Sefton Borough Council back in 1998 – it was ‘balanced’ with no one party having a majority. This is interesting because it meant that the Council was in effect run by all 3 of the major parties via a form of joint leadership.
The response from the Lib Dem run Maghull Town Council was robust to say the least – Sefton was told to sling its hook! What’s more the Town Council won the day.
Moving forward to 2012ish what had changed? Well Sefton was moving into the grip of sole party control – Labour. Its political power base was and indeed still is Bootle where old fashioned socialism is seen to be medicine that cures all ills. In the days of Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ the Labour councillors could often be heard to say we are ‘Old Labour’; they were certainly not on the same journey as Blair and neither did they seem to demonstrate much in the way ‘green’ credentials.
But what about Maghull Town Council; surely it would re-launch its campaign to save the Green Belt? Sorry, but no; the local elections of May 2011 saw a political landslide hit Maghull with the Lib Dems quite literally being thrown out of office to be replaced by Labour. The now 16 person Council was made up of 13 Labour and 3 Lib Dems. But surely this should not have affected how the Council approached this crucial land development issue? It did because Labour, despite issuing public ‘concerns’ about the Green Belt, were clearly reluctant to fight for it in any meaningful way. Why was this?
Of the 13 newly elected Labour members on Maghull TC 3 were Borough Councillors representing Bootle wards, 1 came from Crosby and 2 came from Aintree. Never in recent times had members of Maghull Town Council come from outside of Maghull or Lydiate. Times they were certainly changing.
So back to what Maghull TC would do in the face of another Green Belt attack from Sefton Borough Council. Well there was a lot of shuffling about and some vague press statements but little else; Maghull Labour was seemingly not prepared to take on Sefton which their political master now ran.
After a lot of running around in circles Labour got the Town Council to agree to do a survey of Maghull resident’s views. Unsurprisingly, the survey showed Maghull folk wanted to defend their Green Belt again. Maghull Labour simply sent the results to Sefton without comment of any significance. The Lib Dems were furious at the lack of fight for Maghull from Labour.
Then an odd and frankly quite ridiculous ruse was thought up by Labour. They proposed that Maghull TC does its own Neighbourhood Plan to complement Sefton Borough’s Local Plan. But hang on a minute Sefton’s Local Plan is the route by which the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land will most likely be built upon. In other words Maghull TC, under Labour, did not campaign against the loss of the land but instead started a process of softening up the community to accept the loss and to plan for it to happen!
Has Maghull been fought for, defended and promoted by Labour or has Maghull Labour simply taken orders from Bootle and carried them out in the Town? I think I know and it does not make me at all proud to be a member of a Town Council that, as far as I am concerned, just gave up fighting for the Town I lived in for 43 years and have represented as a councillor for 29 years.
PS. Lydiate Parish Council has of course fought Sefton’s development plans – Lydiate is Lib Dem run.
PPS. The survey done by Maghull TC is interesting as despite my asking the Town Clerk for all the paperwork/information associated with it I have been informed that the data is held by the Labour Party. How can a survey conducted by a Council end up with the data from it being placed within the control of a political party?