Sefton Borough – Building on Green Belt and the land that grows our food

I light of Labour supporters continuing to blame everyone else for Labour-run Sefton Council voting to build on Green Belt and high grade agricultural land across the Borough, here’s my recent letter to the Champion newspaper:-

Dear Sir,

Interesting how Labour supporters and councillors still try to defend their Sefton Councillors voting to build on Green Belt and high grade agricultural land around Maghull & Lydiate and indeed in other places across Sefton Borough. Their line of defence seems to be ‘the government made us vote for it’ or words to that effect.

Well when I was a Sefton Councillor representing Maghull & Lydiate until 2015 I did not feel in any way compelled to vote for building on Green Belt and the land that grows our food, indeed I kept voting against it! Had I won my seat again in 2015 I would have continued to oppose it.

Sefton Council allocated the sites that are down for development, no one else. My advice to Labour supporters is stop blaming others and accept responsibility for what Labour-run Sefton Council decided to do.

Yours sincerely

Tony Robertson

Sefton’s Green Belt – It seems it’s not going to be saved

After what seems to have been years of fighting against Labour-led Sefton Council’s Local Plan, which proposes that houses and industrial units will be built on the highest grade of agricultural land, it seems that Labour and the planners have won and we environmental campaigners have lost.

Lydiate environmental campaigners presenting former Lydiate Parish Council Chairman Dave Russell with a petition to try to save the Green Belt from development around Lydiate

Lydiate environmental campaigners presenting former Lydiate Parish Council Chairman Dave Russell with a petition to try to save the Green Belt from development around Lydiate

In the last few days the Planning Inspector’s initial findings have been published and my reading of that document is that the inspector is endorsing a great deal of what our Borough Council wants to do.

The document itself is hardly accessible, even though it is a public document, as it is written in terms that most ordinary folk will not be able to relate to. This was brought home to me when a Lydiate resident said this to me “How are the public supposed to understand that gobbledygook”.

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough's high grade agricultural land from development.

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough’s high grade agricultural land from development.

The world of planning and planners is a closed one simply because it is full of so much jargon that it is in effect inaccessible to Joe and Jane Public and that in 2016 really is inexcusable.

And in case you think I am being a little unfair here’s a link to the Sefton Council web site which carries the inspectors initial findings:-

www.sefton.gov.uk/media/914339/EX102-SeftonLP_InspectorsInitial-Findings.pdf

Labour-led Sefton Council and those who live in the closed world of town and country planning certainly do live in a very different world to me:-

* Building on the highest grade of agricultural land in the UK on which we grow our food – Is that really a sensible/credible thing to do?

* Potentially increasing the size of communities like Lydiate and Maghull vastly – How will that help with the stretched local services particularly the ever present NHS primary health care/GP crisis?

* Sefton is very low-lying so flooding, as witnessed in Maghull on Boxing Day 2015, is going to be more frequent – Surely it is unwise to build on low -lying land.

And to put the tin lid on it, so to speak, the inspector seems to think that the affordable housing that we do need probably won’t be supplied, in the numbers required, via the Plan or at least that is my reading of his view.

Many of us have been scratching our heads about the supposed housing need. Yes we need affordable housing for young people to be able to get on the housing ladder. Yes we need 1 and 2 bedroom properties because many of us live alone these days and we also need small properties for the retired and elderly to be able to downsize to. We also need more social housing. But will any of this flow from this Plan? It seems unlikely to me.

What we seem to be going to build in Sefton are many more 3 and 4 bedroom properties so increasing our problems not resolving them! It’s as though the Council and planning experts have picked up and looked though the wrong end of a telescope and when this has been pointed out to them they have gone into denial of the obvious.

As an environmental campaigner this is a sad day indeed for the Borough of Sefton but it seems to be a cause for celebration for Labour! Cllr Ian Maher, Labour Leader of Sefton Council, said: “The initial findings from the Inspector are very supportive and subject to a few minor amendments, set us up on a clear path to adopt the plan.” What’s to be happy about, I ask you what on earth is there to be happy about?????

Sefton Local Plan – Labour has concerns about it? Really, then why do they keep supporting it!

The letter below was written in response to the lead article in the Aintree & Maghull Champion on 13th January entitled ‘Concerns at Local Plan put to Inquiry’

Dear Sir,

I read with mounting disbelief the representations made to the Planning Inspector by Maghull’s Labour councillors as reported in the Champion on 13th January.

Yes they were making all the right noises but hang on a minute it is Labour run Sefton Council that is trying to impose its appalling Local Plan on the Borough. What’s more when I was a member of Maghull Town Council Labour members would not vote to reject the Local Plan! Now all of sudden Labour has concerns.

Frankly, this say one thing and then say just about the opposite when Labour thinks folks will have forgotten about their original stance on a matter as important as this is appalling.

Having fought Sefton’s Local Plan, which proposes thousands of houses to be built on high grade agricultural land, areas that flood and Green Belt with Labour councillors supporting for the Plan I find Labour’s concern now very hollow indeed.

Let’s see Labour run Maghull Town Council propose that the Local Plan be completely rejected and for Labour run Sefton Council to do the same then Labour will have clearly done a welcome U turn. Warm words now giving the impression of concerns about the Plan mean nothing unless they actually reject it/withdraw it.

Yours sincerely

Cllr. Tony Robertson

This letter was significantly edited and published in the Champion on 27th January 2016

Sefton Local Plan – Overview & Scrutiny Committee get first stab at it

This is Bob McCann of Formby making representations to the Committee from Formby Green Belt campaigners.

This is Bob McCann of Formby making representations to the Committee from Formby Green Belt campaigners.

Last night saw Sefton Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee take a reasonably detailed look at the latest draft of the Local Plan for Sefton. At this point I should say that I had half expected the majority Labour members of the Committee to want to close the meeting down without much scrutiny taking place and I was not the only one expecting that. Our fears were based on the same Committee not being willing to give Library closures the detailed scrutiny that many of us thought that issue deserved a few months back. However, on this occasion the delving into the Local Plan was reasonably detailed.

The meeting did not resolve anything really but then again that was not its purpose. Teasing out understanding of the Plan, highlighting potential errors etc. was more its purpose.

Two petitions were spoken to by Green Belt campaigners from Maghull/Lydiate and Formby. Bob McCann who spoke on behalf of the Formby campaigners is pictured above making his representations. Both Bob and Pat O’Hanlon from Maghull/Lydiate spoke passionately about how they felt the latest draft of the Sefton Local Plan would devastate the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land.

The Committee then went through many questions from members of it to Planning officers and some interesting exchanges took place,some of which stood out.

A couple of members, led by Lib Dem Fred Weavers, raised the school places pressures that they thought would flow from building large numbers of houses. They were hardly convinced by Officer assurances that the number of children locally would not really rise. Their concern was because as the majority of houses to be built will be likely to be 3 and 4 bedroom (where developers gain the biggest profit) then families would move into them thereby raising the numbers of children requiring school places.

A question about the huge urban housing extension (hundreds of new houses on high grade agricultural land!) to the east of Maghull together with a business/industrial park drew the response that the business park would in effect parallel the M58 Motorway to the east of the site. This had not popped out before to my knowledge.

Many other issues were raised, not least of which were flooding, capacity of roads and pressure on NHS services.

I had expected local MP Bill Esterson to be there, following his recent press release which I commented on yesterday, to put pressure on the Labour members but he was not.

Whether the Labour members, who are under a lot of pressure to to stop supporting the Plan, were given food for thought I don’t know. One can only hope.

The Local Plan now goes forward to the Council’s Planning Committee in January.

PS. The local press did not attend at all; most odd to me because of the importance of the issues being discussed.

Meet Cllr. Maria Bennett

Maria is an independent councillor elected on Thursday to represent Formby’s Ravenmeols Ward. The BBC has the story via this link:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-27538691

rsz_maria_bennett

Maria is a formidable environmental campaigner whom I have got to know over the past couple of years. Indeed, we Lib Dems were so impressed with the work of her FRAGOFF environmental group that we decided not to put up a candidate against her in the elections.

It is pleasing that she won and by a substantial margin too. You can imagine how delighted Sefton Labour Party were to see her elected to Sefton Council!

May I wish Maria all the best and my congratulations on her well deserved victory.

Lib Dems defend our Green Belt, fight for our libraries and oppose Labour’s £46 Green Bin Tax

For anyone who cares about our environment, the amount of local taxation we pay and closure of libraries supporting the Labour Party would be simply out of the question this year in Sefton.

Since Bootle Labour grabbed control of the Council they have:-

* Voted to build on the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land
* Tried to bring in an additional £46 Green Bin Tax on every household in the Borough
* Closed 7 local libraries and stopped volunteers from running two of them.

We Lib Dems have fought Labour all the way over all these policies and so have two prominent local independent candidates – Peter Gill in Molyneux Ward (Aintree Village, Melling and southern Maghull) and Maria Bennett in Ravenmeols Ward (Formby). We have been happy to work with these two community activists.

What have the Tories done? Does anyone know? In the Sefton Central Constituency wards the options, in my view, are very clear :-

* back the Lib Dems to fight for our Green Belt
* support the Lib Dems to say ‘NO’ to Labour’s £46 Green Bin Tax and
* and stand with the Lib Dems to send Labour a very clear message that we will not put up with library volunteers being treated so disgracefully

However, in Molyneux and Ravenmeols wards, where the Lib Dems have stood aside, I suggest you Support the independent candidates (Peter Gill – Molyneux and Maria Bennett – Ravenmeols) because they are fighting the same local battles that we Lib Dems are fighting.