Merseyside has 8,528 empty houses but don’t worry Sefton Council will allow even more houses to be built on high grade agricultural land!

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 Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link above

This Echo article really brings home what the local housing crisis is all about and why building thousands of 3 and 4 bedroom houses for sale on Sefton’s Green Belt and high grade agricultural land is certainly not the answer.

What’s more Merseysiders only need a 42% pay rise to enable them to get on the housing ladder to buy the new houses that we are going to sacrifice our Green Belt and decimate some of the best agricultural land in England for.

The big gap in the Merseyside housing market is for social housing and affordable rent housing generally but hey let’s just keep building houses that Merseysiders can’t afford to buy or rent because it looks like we are addressing the housing problem when we not doing any such thing!

Formby – Parish Council blasts Labour-run Sefton’s parking charges

Readers may well remember that Labour-run Sefton Council is in the process of bringing in parking charges for this popular car park in Formby Village. Indeed, the issue has already split Labour locally with their Sefton Councillors backing the parking charges whilst the local Labour MP is publicly opposing them! So much for Labour unity, although if you read my previous posting you will notice that there has not been much Labour unity locally in recent times.

My previous posting on this matter can be accessed via the link below:-

Formby Parish Council are leading the campaign against the charges but Formby also has 4 Labour Borough councillors! The Parish Council is run by people independent of the main political parties who are all experienced community and environmental campaigners. What’s more they gained that experience by opposing the same Labour-run Borough Council’s Local Plan which aims to concrete over vast swathes of Green Belt and high grade agricultural land across the Borough.

Sumner Road Car park - Formby (1)

This was the scene in Sumner Road car park yesterday (17th October) afternoon where vehicles can presently be parked for up to 2 hours without charges. A traffic warden was clearly doing his rounds checking that no one was overstaying their welcome.

Sumner Road car park - Formby

Neighbourhood Plans – Are they Labour’s apology?

Having spent a couple of years on Sefton Council’s Planning Committee as the Lib Dem opposition spokesperson (2013/14 and 2014/15) and fought Labour’s Local Plan for the Borough every inch of the way I now wonder if their enthusiasm for Neighbourhood Plans is their back-handed way of apologising for building on high grade agricultural land?

Green Belt campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall.

Green Belt campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall.

Neighbourhood Plans are a potentially useful but significantly limited tool to plan for the development of a town or village at a very local level but as I have said before, there is no point in doing one unless you know why you are doing it.

They can cost the public purse a lot of money and they involve a huge amount of work and community involvement and in the end a referendum in the designated area. What’s more if they conflict with the local authority’s Local Plan (in our case Sefton Council’s) they get chucked out by a Planning Inspector anyway.

Here I am at Lambshear Lane Lydiate checking out farm land that is coming under threat from house building.

Here I am at Lambshear Lane Lydiate checking out farm land that is coming under threat from house building.

My view all along, as Sefton’s Local Plan was being developed, was that anyone or group in the Borough who wanted to see some specific planning issues included about their community should first of all use the Local Plan process to get such matters included in it. Why? Because it would save having to do a Neighbourhood Plan for your community.

Oddly, Labour chose to seemingly not challenge what Council Officers wanted to see in the Local Plan for Sefton nor to come up with any innovative ideas for the Borough’s diverse communities. Of course they also backed a huge amount of building in the Green Belt on land that is virtually all the best and most versatile land for growing food in England!

Now they want the communities of Sefton to produce Neighbourhood Plans, seemingly to try to mitigate the negative effects of their Local Plan! Certainly that’s how I see the Neighbourhood Plans for the two communities of Maghull and Lydiate, both of which are going to see vast tracts of high grade agricultural land go under concrete and tarmac if Labour has its way.

Maghull Town Council (in Labour’s grip) has been trying to produce its ‘apology’ Neighbourhood Plan for a while now and I have commented before about all the twists and turns of the odd process they have constructed. You may remember they (Maghull Town Council) did a survey but when we asked to see it we were told the data was held by the Labour Party! Then when we pressed the issue we were told it had been destroyed!

Well the Maghull Neighbourhood Plan struggles on but the good folks of the Town seem less than interested in it.

Now Lydiate, also under Labour Control, wants to do one as well and we discussed it at the last Parish Council meeting. All well and good but the clear reason for doing it can only be that they want to mitigate the effects of the Sefton Local Plan that Labour forced through Sefton Council.

I am not opposed to them doing a Neighbourhood Plan in principle but if Labour had not imposed it’s Local Plan on the Borough in the first place then there would be no need for either Maghull or Lydiate to do a Neighbourhood Plan at all.

How all this is meant to grab the hearts and minds of Lydiate folk to want to get involved beats me as an expensive and time consuming process is now in train simply because of Labour’s Sefton Local Plan.

Funny old world is politics…….

History teaches us a great deal – You just would not build on the historically important food growing land around Maghull & Lydiate?

I came across the fascinating web site British History On Line the other day:-

The above links are direct to the pages relating to Maghull and Lydiate but of course you can search for any community of your choice.

My eye was taken by these particular two references to Maghull and Lydiate:-

Maghull is an agricultural township, situated in flat country fairly well supplied with trees, generally grouped about the villages and farmsteads. The land is divided into arable and pasture, the latter mostly to the west, whilst numerous market gardens thrive on a light sandy soil. Crops of potatoes and other root crops, wheat and oats are successfully cultivated.

Lydiate – The country is chiefly agricultural, occupied by market gardens and fields, where potatoes and cabbages alternate with wheat and oats. The soil is sand loam over a subsoil of peat. Pastures are found principally in the low-lying parts westwards.

As an environmental campaigner these two short but telling comments on the joint communities of Maghull & Lydiate reinforce my view that building on some of the very best agricultural land in England (where only 2% is of such a high standard) is utter madness. Sadly though this is exactly what Sefton Council has in mind and on a massive scale too!

A recent sunrise over the presently farmed land off Poverty Lane, Maghull. I wonder how many sunrises the crops will see in the future as the land has sadly been designated to build hundreds and hundreds of houses on (plus an industrial estate) by Sefton Council despite it being some of the 2% very best agricultural land in England.

A recent sunrise over the presently farmed land off Poverty Lane, Maghull. I wonder how many sunrises the crops will see in the future as the land has sadly been designated to build hundreds and hundreds of houses on (plus an industrial estate) by Sefton Council despite it being some of the 2% very best agricultural land in England. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

This blog site has exposed the wrong-headed approach to house building in Sefton many, many times before and together with with local groups like the Maghull & Lydiate Action Team and Fragoff (a Formby based environmental campaign group) we continue to make the case for not building on the very land that grows our food.

The next stage in the process will be starting soon when an Inspector, appointed by the Government, will look in detail at Sefton Council’s building plans and decide whether they will be approved or not. I can’t say I am particularly optimistic about the outcome of this process though.

We can only hope that the Inspector realises how important the high grade agricultural land is not only to us here in Sefton but to the whole of the UK. We are importing environmentally unsustainable amounts of food now so building on our best agricultural land can only make this worse.

Sefton’s foggier Local Plan – Another guest posting from Peter Greener

The mist has not cleared and the fog thickens by the day! Lydiate resident and environmental campaigner Peter Greener writes:-

I don’t know if the DCLG [Department for Communities & Local Government] have issued their more detailed stuff yet [for Sefton Borough] but I’d be interested to know how many single households there are for a start and sizes of younger families in greater detail.

For example, the DCLG talk about increased numbers of older people living by themselves. But where these people come from is of interest. And why do they now require housing? If they come from larger houses in Sefton what happens to those houses? Have they been sold or on the market? Does an increase in older people living by themselves mean they need new houses building for them?

There seems to be a lack of precise information coming from our [Sefton’s] planning department and as has been pointed out some of NLP’s [Nathaniel Litchfield & Partners – consultants working for Sefton Council] work appears to ‘fit’ some ‘desired’ outcome.

When FRAGOFF representatives and I sat down with Steve Matthews and Alan Young [Sefton Council Officers] to discuss the Local Plan they agreed that fewer people on the waiting lists for housing were in ‘need’ of housing. But I cant recall seeing this written down!

So as the DCLG have “thrown a spanner in the works”, I think more information should be forthcoming from them. After all, now the Labour controlled [Sefton] Council is saying it’s all the Government’s fault (for the umpteenth time). In his interview with Tom Martin in the Champion Cllr. Maher said the Government’s told Sefton they need to build over 1000 houses per year. I tweeted the Councillor asking which member of the Government told him that. So far, no answer has been forthcoming. I tweeted Tom Martin and asked him had he asked the councillor which member of the Gov had told him that Sefton should up their build rates (no answer from Tom Martin either).

There have been so many twists and turns in the concoction of a Local Plan that I forget where we are at and why we got there and the finger always seems to point back at the DCLG projections, NLP’s interpretation and the Council’s unwillingness to invoke the protection of Green Belt/farmlands offered in the planning regs.

Well Peter’s last paragraph is the killer for me as how on earth can any ordinary member of the public get their heads around Sefton’s Local Plan process? When people like Peter Greener can’t and they have spent many hours, weeks and months trying to do so no wonder the fog is getting thicker and sadly the amount of building on high grade and Green Belt agricultural land in the Borough becomes ever greater!

Elections – My second rabbit in the headlight moment and another close encounter with Cllr. Tim Hale

I first won a seat on Sefton Borough Council in 1999 in Molyneux ward (which was then made up of Aintree Village, Melling, Thornton, Ince Blundell and Sefton Parishes) by taking it from Labour.

The Labour candidate and sitting councillor back then was a friend of mine and fellow trade union officer! I genuinely felt bad about beating him. His name? Tim Hale.

16 years later and the boot was almost on the other foot as I was in the process of losing my Park Ward (Lydiate, Sefton & Lunt Villages and western Maghull) Sefton Council seat to a Labour candidate whilst Tim was in the process of winning a seat for the Labour Party in Formby’s Ravenmeols ward.

I think it fair to say that Tim expected to lose to Formby’s new environmental movement party FRAGOFF but he just scrapped in some 16 years after I took his Sefton Council seat off him!

We had a long chat about the old days as trade union officers in the Civil Service and of course how bad we both felt on a personal level about me taking his Sefton Council seat all those years ago.

But there was another a parallel with the 1999 election count for me. My mates in the Lib Dems have always ribbed me about the look on my face when I won in 1999 – they call it my rabbit in the headlight moment as I and indeed they were shocked that we had won a seat we did not expect to pick up until the following round of local elections. Of course I was also pondering how I was going to be able to look my old friend Tim in the face again!

Well it happened again in last week’s Parish Council’s election count – another rabbit in the headlight moment for me. What was it? My winning a seat on Lydiate Parish Council again. Winning was just not a possibility in my mind; Labour were going to sweep the board and that was that. Imagine my complete shock when I was told I had been re-elected to Lydiate Parish Council, I was utterly speechless for a few moments and did my second rabbit in the headlight moment at an election count.

My best wishes to Tim. On a political level I obviously did not want him to win as I have worked closely with Fragoff with whom I share many environmental concerns. On a personal level I am happy for Tim who has been out of office for 16 years all because of me! I also realise that Tim has been dealing with the illness of a close family member in recent times and hope his long awaited return to Sefton Council is just the thing to lift his family’s spirits.