Formby residents out in force – Fragoff leads the way

Today, as a member of Sefton’s Councils’ Planning Committee, I attended a site visit to the hugely controversial proposed housing development site off Formby’s Liverpool Road.

The purpose of the visit was to familiarise Planning Committee members with site and the proposal to develop it for housing.

There were a large number of Formby residents out protesting about the proposals which will soon come before the Planning Committee and you could say it is the most significant Green Belt battle in Sefton since the plan to build a canal marina off Lydiate’s Bells Lane.

I took the following photo’s. The first one is of the land as it is presently used for crop growing and other 3 are of protestors and their placards. Two of the photo’s were taken from on-board the bus through rain spattered windows. Whilst I was taking photo’s from inside the bus of the protestors outside of it the Champion newspaper was taking photo’s of the bus with us councillors on it.

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The senior Planning Office present was not at all keen on the Planning Committee members present speaking to the protestors and I got the impression that some of the Committee thought they might get thumped if they got off the bus that was taking us to and around the site. Of course, the protestors were just making their feelings known and nothing untoward happened when we inspected the site.

Save our Green Belt – Labour splits spectaculary over Sefton’s Local Plan

Having adopted very different stances its no surprise that Bill Esterson, Labour MP for Sefton Central and Peter Dowd, Labour Leader of Sefton Council, are on differing pages over the Local Plan but of course they seem to be on differing pages over far more than this according to my internal Labour sources.

I commented recently about Labour-run Maghull Town Council and its weird and wonderful way of trying to carve out what it hoped would be a half decent stance that enabled it to not upset Bootle Labour (those in charge of the Labour Party in Sefton) too much whilst telling them that Maghull folk are a little unhappy over the Local Plan, building on the Green Belt etc. It was a ridiculous muddled compromise.

Shuffling of feet in Labour ranks is now a dance as they try to sell differing messages to differing audiences and there can be little doubt that they are unsettled especially by the activities of environmental campaign group Fragoff who have been making Labour feel very uneasy with their probing of the draft Local Plan.

Now Bill Esterson is calling on Sefton Labour to think again over the Plan. His call could be to embarrass Council Leader Peter Dowd or it could be little more than spin to get the press to run stories that make it look like Labour is fighting the against the Local Plan. It could of course be both. Throwing up a smoke screen is an old trick for cornered politicians. BUT could it be that some Labour Sefton Councillors are thinking of breaking ranks over the Local Plan. That seems unlikely as loyalty to the Party is the first, second and every though of elected Labour politicians and any who are brave enough to break ranks are sent to Siberia for reprogramming or worse.

Or could all this be because Ed Miliband has announced that if he gets into Government he wants to build 200,000 houses by 2020 which, as I have said before, will mean Sefton building around 1,000 houses per year not the 510 that is in the present Sefton Labour preferred Local Plan! Now that’s a message that most of us thought Labour would not want folks to latch onto. But not a bit of it as Labour’s biggest beast in the Sefton jungle, Peter Dowd, has firmly said that he backs Ed Milibands plan – talk about being off Bill Esterson’s message!

If you hear frantic shuffling of feet or suspect some Labour councillors are spinning like tops then you can be assured they are severely rattled.

Bootle Labour wants to build thousands of new houses on prime agricultural land in Bill Esterson’s Sefton Central Constituency and in Southport. Bill says he is defending the Green Belt yet his own Labour councillors from Sefton Central are all but sticking two fingers up at him as they toe the Bootle Labour line . This is going to end in tears.

Maghull Town Council drags itself to be a little concerned about the draft Local Plan for Sefton

Following 2 years of saying nothing about the problematic Local Plan for Sefton Borough finally Maghull Town Council, under its Labour rulers, says excuse me Big Brother Sefton our residents are not completely happy with it. And they all but doffed their caps in saying it!

Now the point here is why has it taken so long and why such a low key response? Well a resident attending Maghull’s Council meeting last Wednesday put his finger on it by saying that it was Bootle Labour Party telling Maghull what was good for it, or words to that effect.

So why did Maghull TC finally act? We can only assume that its Labour rulers realised that saying nothing was no longer sustainable when the draft Local Plan proposes a 25% increase in the number of houses in the Town! The fact that Labour has recently lost two by-elections in Maghull to the Lib Dems, where building on Green Belt was a big issue, had also forced their hand.

The Labour response was built upon what they referred to as a non-biased survey, yet the survey simply reproduced what Sefton’s Planning Department has been saying. There was no alternative view put. That could easily have been done by asking a local environmental campaign group such as Fragoff to have got involved. It was because of such flaws and the fact that we were presented with a survey with no real opportunity to seriously amend it that we opposition members of Maghull Council refused to endorse Labour’s survey.

Yet the results of the survey, flawed as it was, were wholly predictable as Maghull folk who were asked to take part were by a clear majority unhappy with building on the Green Belt, concreting over high grade agricultural land, increasing the size of their Town by 25% etc. etc. If residents had been presented with the environmental side of the story I bet the results would have been even more clear cut.

But when it came to actually doing something positive with the survey Labour were yet again unwilling to be community leaders. Instead of making it very clear that the Town Council of Maghull was fundamentally opposed to the draft Local Plan, as opposition Lib Dems proposed, they meekly decided to just tell Sefton Council that Maghull is a little unhappy and please don’t be upset with us for saying this!

If that’s community leadership then I am yet again a Dutchman!!!

The Aintree & Maghull Champion Headline of 9th October ‘TOWN COUNCIL ‘YES’ TO DRAFT LOCAL PLAN’ just about sums up what the Town Council has done because its decision was all but a yes with reservations instead of reflecting what its own survey had shown!

Green Belt – Maghull Town Council – On the really big issue of the day Labour has failed Maghull

Labour is in the dock over their Green Belt building plan, as we saw only too well in their by-election losses of last Thursday, but when they won control of Maghull Town Council in May 2011 they knew this juggernaut was hurtling towards them, yet they did nothing.

If the Council had remained Lib Dem run the clear plan was to launch another campaign to save the local Green Belt around the Town just as had been successfully done in 1998. But Labour did nothing; they did not even make a submission to Sefton Council in the summer of 2011 in defence of the Green Belt when all the other parish councils in the Borough did.

Why did the Town Council offer no leadership? Where was the Town Council when in 2011 the community was saying just what it did in 1998 – No Green Belt building?

What Labour doesn’t seem to be able to grasp is that they are running the Council that represents the people of Maghull and it is not just another committee of Sefton Central Labour Party. It is their responsibility to stand up for the Town against all-comers. Just because Labour also happens to run Sefton Council does not mean that they have to agree with what Bootle Town Hall does or indeed tells them to do! Just because Peter Dowd, the Labour Leader of Sefton, also sits on Maghull Town Council does not mean they can’t challenge him; surely they should be challenging him if his policies do not fit with what Maghull folk want to see happening.

When I was Leader of Sefton Council I wanted and indeed saw strong independently minded Parish and Town Councils robustly promoting and defending their communities. I did not ask for nor did I want them to sit back and say ‘OK Big Brother Sefton we will stay quiet or do your bidding’.

When Peter Dowd and indeed his two fellow Bootle Labour Sefton Cabinet member colleagues attend a Maghull Town Council meeting their only interest is the people and town of Maghull. Why else would they have stood to be elected to Maghull Town Council in 2011 but to put Maghull first?

Sadly, Maghull has been let down by Labour because they have not stood up for the Town against Sefton Council and this sit back and watch stance has led to Sefton thinking Maghull is not bothered. On that basis it is no surprise that Sefton Council has proposed the biggest Green Belt housing development for Maghull!

Sefton’s Local Plan consultation – A war of words between Council and environmental campaigners breaks out over accuracy of newspaper ‘wrap-around’

Sparks have been flying between Council Officers and local environmental campaigners over Sefton’s launch material published as a wrap-around to the Borough’s newspapers this week.

Having seen both sides of the dispute I fear that the Council is not providing information that is clear and understandable. It is obviously the case that their words are open to different interpretations.

Sadly, the first round of consultation, held in 2011, did not go too well and with the second round of 12 week consultation having just started my fear is that it will not go well either.

I have said before that the ability of the Council to put Local Plan information clearly before the public is the problem. I have no doubt that some of the issues are complex and interrelated but if there is to be a successful 2nd period of consultation it needs to be via a process whereby all those who wish to engage can reasonably easily get to grips with the important issues. My former councillor colleague David Tattersall, an expert in communicating messages, always said the council was not good at explaining things clearly to residents.

The Council will do itself no good at all if it looks like all it is doing is blinding folk with stats and information that residents can’t make any sense of.

And the facts are important as we are talking about a document that will have a huge impact on the Borough for many years to come. Our Green Belt is under threat again, high grade agricultural land could well be built upon and Labour, who run Sefton Council and have said they would not support Green Belt developments, has been voting to do just opposite.
The fact that the lid has come off already is sadly no surprise.

I think I will be returning to this subject quit a bit……………………….

Save our Green Belt – the 2nd consultation stage starts on Labour’s Green Belt Grab

Across the Borough of Sefton weekly newspapers have been hitting the door mat of thousands of residents telling them, via wrap around advertising pages, that the Council is ‘all ears’. But is it?

Certainly the Green Belt campaigners who are fighting to stop the Labour run Council from allowing the concreting over of it don’t think so. Indeed, they tell me it is like talking to a brick wall especially when they try to point out to the Council that the stats it is using for population growth are, putting it at its simplest, WRONG. The importance of the stats is that they say Sefton’s population, which has been dropping for years, is about to rise again meaning more houses need to be built. The Green Belt campaigners are convinced the stats are not robust and I share that view.

What‘s more the ‘consultation’ process, which was challenged at the last Full Council meeting as being to restrictive seems to be still just that, i.e. no one took any notice of the criticisms.

All ears? Well what do you think……………………………………