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’s Local Plan – A Maghull resident puts his concerns into verse

This was written as a follow up to a previous verse that was published in the Champion Newspaper.

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.

RIP Maghull and Lydiate Part Two.

In 2012 you published my letter,
An obituary for our town, in verse.
After five weeks of public inquiry,
The situation has become far worse.

It will be like the Viking invasions,
As builders destroy our community town,
With the blessing of council and planners,
Unless the Inspector gives the thumbs down.

Your local groups attended every hearing,
To plead your cause, with experts, at great cost,
Whist the appearances of local councillors,
Were limited, four or five days at most.

With plans to surround us with fields full of houses,
There will be nowhere to soak up excess rain
So living in a flood risk area,
Boxing Day floods will soon happen again.

Local traffic will come to a standstill,
As vehicles creep along roads, nose to tail.
At peak times you may be overtaken,
By a rather athletic looking snail.

Make no mistake, we’ll all be affected,
We will all be in the same plight.
Because at least until 2030,
We will all live on one huge building site.

Despite all their eleventh hour protests,
Please don’t believe what your councillors say.
The reason we’re in this situation,
It’s had their support, each step of the way.

Malcolm Gore,
Concerned Resident.

Lydiate – A January Parish Council meeting goes around the houses again over a Neighbourhood Plan for the village

From the Lydiate Parish Council meeting held on 26th January in Lydiate Village Centre.

Each Lydiate Parish Council now starts with a 30 minute pre-meeting about the promised Lydiate Neighbourhood Plan, although it often stretches to an hour or more.

Lydiate

Now readers of this blog will know by now that I’m sceptical of Neighbourhood Plans not least because it is often the case that folks who promote them seem to think they can achieve far more with an NP than they actually can. Wishful thinking I am sorry to say.

I am not saying NP’s are a bad thing but please, please be realistic as to what can be achieved by having one.

The fact is that if the Independent Planning Inspector, who is presently reviewing Sefton Borough Council’s appalling Local Plan, decides to back that plan in any significant way then vast swathes of Green Belt and high grade agricultural land around Lydiate (and elsewhere in the Borough) will be concreted and tarmaced over.

Lydiate having a Neighbourhood Plan in place will not change that. I fear that some folks don’t seem to grasp this fundamental fact. Indeed, I have posted before regarding comments made to me about ‘how important it is for Lydiate to have a NP because it will stop building on the Green Belt’ or words to that effect. This is of course utter nonsense.

So what can an NP do for Lydiate? Well it may be able to say don’t build houses on that field, build them on that one down the road instead. It may be able to influence the infrastructure problems that Lydiate will face if it massively expands as we presently fear may be the case. A Lydiate NP could ask for yet more houses to be built but it can’t demand that less are built than what is in the Borough’s Local Plan.

So having got those fundamentals clear what is happening in terms of developing Lydiate’s NP? Well within the next few months every Lydiate household will be getting a leaflet inviting them to participate in an on-line survey about the future of Lydiate. From the results of that survey the Parish Council should be able to determine what the priorities of Lydiate folk are for the future of their community.

Trouble is this process may either raise expectations about what can be achieved too high or indeed Lydiate residents may not take part because they think the process is not going to achieve anything much. Neither of these significant possibilities will take Lydiate forward so the survey and promotional leaflet has to hit the right notes or it will be ignored.

And oh please no launch photo with beaming local political worthies telling Lydiate folk the NP process will change Lydiate for ever as that really will put the tin lid on it! And please, please please, don’t say a NP will do things that it can’t do, keep it realistic and maybe folks will engage in it knowing its limitations and the sensible possibilities of a Neighbourhood Plan.

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

Lydiate – Another Green Belt dilemma? Probably not in this case

A planning application has been made to Sefton Council to develop a small piece of land off Southport Road for a handful of houses. The site is at Oaklea Riding Stables

Trouble is the land is technically in Green Belt so you can imagine my initial concern. However, closer examination of the site leads me to think that the land in question has previously been developed and it is not high grade agricultural land.

In a much smaller way it reflects the situation at the Ashworth South site in Maghull that was once where Moss Side Hospital stood. That site was recently granted planning permission for housing and those of us involved in the environmental movement and who have been fighting Sefton Council’s mad rush to concrete over vast acres of food growing land in the Borough agreed that it was a sensible site to build on.

On that basis this much smaller site must also be a reasonable compromise to be developed.

Of course, I don’t want the racing gallops to be in any way compromised by this development of previously built on land. The watch words for me are to protect Green Belt and high grade agricultural land at all costs but I am not blinded to the need to make the odd compromise where land in Green Belt has already been built upon.

It goes without saying that I remain utterly opposed to Sefton Council’s plan to take huge swathes of high grade agricultural land out of food production so that more 3 and 4 bedroom houses can be built. That is the policy of the mad house.

Sefton Borough – So building thousands of new houses on land that can cause flooding is such a great idea? I think not

Another aspect of the recent flooding which I covered in my Radio Merseyside interview yesterday is the barmy quest of Sefton Council, via its Local Plan, to build thousands of new 3 and 4 bedroom houses on land which will potentially cause more flooding for local communities like Maghull & Lydiate.

The pedestrian bridge over Dovers Brook, Sefton Lane Maghull, became a river itself on Boxing Day 2015..

The pedestrian bridge over Dovers Brook, Sefton Lane Maghull, became a river itself on Boxing Day 2015..

Not only is all the earmarked land high grade agricultural on which we grow our food (and of course its Green Belt) but it will also in my view have a further negative effect on drainage issues around Maghull, Lydiate, Formby and elsewhere in the low lying Borough of Sefton.

Lambshear Lane, Lydiate - Boxing Day 2015

Lambshear Lane, Lydiate – Boxing Day 2015

I wonder what notice of such concerns the Planning Inspector, who is presently reviewing Sefton’s draft Local Plan, will take of such concerns. Was the inspector out and about in flooded Maghull & Lydiate on Boxing Day taking the inability of the local watercourses to cope into account? Will Sefton Council sober up and realise their mad plan to concrete over vast swathes of land could well make future flooding events even worse?