Environmental & Planning Policy must be joined up

Cameron must rethink planning to prevent flooding

A group of experts led by the Landscape Institute have written to David Cameron warning that the Government must not risk future flood prevention by focusing on short-term problems. The experts are calling for planners to adopt a series of measures aimed at tackling the risk of flooding, including measures like planting trees, requiring that all new developments in towns and cities should include flood alleviation and protection measures, and that any new homes built on flood plains must be resilient to flooding. Sue Illman, president of the Landscape Institute, said: “We want the money that is going to be invested spent wisely to give us a proper outcome.” The Guardian reports that dredging of two major rivers feeding the Somerset Levels is due to begin in the next few weeks.

The LGiU produced the above (edited by me) today but that is only part of the story. Fundamentally, the UK problem is that Planning is seen as a predominately economic matter with environmental consequences being very much a secondary consideration. Such has been the case for generations and Governments of all colours have failed to act to bring true harmony between environmental and planning policy making.

The issue has not been highlighted by flooding so much in Sefton, although concern about the potential for flooding was a major consideration in the minds of Formby residents when they recently rose up to fight a new housing development off Liverpool Road. The elephant in the room, or should I say both elephants, are flooding and building on high grade agricultural land. Both are high end public concerns that most Westminster politicians seem to be oblivious of.

Environmental sustainability has to lead the Planning agenda

If Westminster is going to act to curb building in ways that cause flooding they also need to act at the same time to curb building on high grade agricultural land. Environmental sustainability has to be the primary aim with economic growth, important though that is, taking second place.

Developments being built on flood plains – Formby comes to mind!

As Britain endures another weekend of torrential rain and further flooding, figures obtained by The Independent on Sunday reveal that last year local councils allowed at least 87 planning developments involving 560 homes to proceed in England and Wales in areas at such high risk of flooding that the EA formally opposed them. “This is exactly the kind of decision making that has made flooding more of a problem than it should be and that threatens the lives and livelihoods of many people,” the London School of Economics’ Bob Ward comments. Meanwhile, Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, has promised that “everything possible” was being done to help potential flood victims and prepare for the further storms forecast to hit the UK. He also added that the Government was “offering full assistance” to emergency services and local councils – The Independent on Sunday 2nd February, Page; 9

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The photo above shows protestors placards on the hugely controversial Liverpool Road site in Formby where concerns about flooding (as well as loss of Green Belt & high grade agricultural land) have been a big factor in opposition to a proposed new housing development.

With thanks to the LGiU

SAVE OUR GREEN BELT – Judge backs Pickles over landmark Essex decision

News reaches me that a developer has recently failed in a High Court bid to overturn a landmark secretary of state decision to block plans for 165 homes in the green belt at Thundersley in Essex, despite the council only having a 0.7-year housing land supply.

Developer Fox Land and Property Ltd was refused planning permission for development of the site off Glebelands by communities secretary Eric Pickles.

Pickles turned the scheme down despite a recommendation from a planning inspector that permission be granted.

Fox Land had asked one of the country’s top judges, Mr Justice Blake, to over-rule Pickles, quash his refusal decision and order him to reconsider the proposal for the 7.4-hectare site of agricultural land adjacent to the A130.

However, the judge ruled that the secretary of state was entitled to conclude that the harm to the green belt that would result from the development could not be outweighed by the advantages of the scheme in helping meet Castle Point Borough Council’s housing targets.

In the decision, Pickles recognised that the local planning authority, Castle Point Borough Council, could show only an “exceptionally low” housing land supply of 0.7 years.

But he concluded that this did not outweigh the presumption against inappropriate development in the green belt.

Fox Land claimed that there was no local green belt policy in place for the appeal site, because the key provision had lapsed.

And the company argued that, in any event there were nevertheless “very special circumstances” outweighing the harm.

They claimed that the secretary of state wrongly took into account a letter from local MP Rebecca Harris voicing her opposition to the development, without giving it a proper opportunity to respond.

And they argued that there was no factual basis for the secretary of state’s disagreement with the inspector on the issues of harm to the green belt and that he took irrelevant considerations into account.

However, the judge ruled that local green belt policies remained in existence, adding: “Accordingly, the secretary of state was correct to conclude that there remained a green belt within Castle Point.”

He said that the secretary of state had concluded that Harris’s representations “carried little weight”, and continued: “There is no reason to believe either that the representations made any difference to the decision or that the claimant has been unfairly deprived of the opportunity to make any particular response to them. The MP’s views were known at the inquiry and the claimant was able to address them then.”

He found that there was both an evidential and planning policy foundation for the secretary of state’s decision and that he could not conclude that he had reached an irrational conclusion.

The report above comes from Planning Resource and I am grateful to a local environmental campaigner for pointing towards it.

www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1227685/judge-backs-pickles-landmark-essex-decision#disqus_thread

Now then – Does this explode the myth that Green Belt has to be built upon in Sefton? Well it’s certainly a significant shot in the arm for the Borough’s environmental campaigners who are desperately trying to save our Green Belt and protect high quality agricultural land from being built upon. Trouble is here in Sefton the Labour-led Council wants to develop land for housing and that includes building on Green Belt land too. They (Sefton Labour) need to drop this policy so that a real fight to save the Green Belt can take place.

Maghull/Aintree Green Belt attack comes in from Peel Holdings

www.crosbyherald.co.uk/news/crosby-news/2014/01/02/port-of-liverpool-developers-call-for-70-hectares-of-green-belt-land-to-be-released-68459-34191563/

The Crosby Herald has the story – see link above.

Most of the land around the communities of Lydiate, Maghull, Aintree and Melling (known as the East Parishes part of Sefton Borough), that is undeveloped, is high grade agricultural land and most of it is under attack to be developed by land owners, developers, land banks etc.

Now Peel Holdings whats to develop land between Maghull and Aintree as a ‘Strategic Employment Location’. If memory serves me correctly this is a similar area of land to that which was previously put forward as an alternative site for the hugely controversial TESCO mega rebuild of Kirkby Town Centre.

Would any high grade agricultural land be left in Sefton if the developers and land owners got their way? Whats the point of having employment sites for future generations when there will be nowhere for those future generations to grow their food?

Interestingly, and on a more positive note, the same Crosby Herald article says that Peel Holdings share the concerns of Sefton Lib Dems about the need to develop the railway line into the docks as an alternative to more road building through Bootle.

Sefton – A Review of 2013

Welcome to my review of 2013 for Sefton, a personal trawl through some of the things that made the headlines in a year when the Borough was ruled from Bootle by people who seemed quite out of touch with things to the north and east of Netherton.

Library closures – As 2013 draws to a close I must say that I can’t for the life of me understand what on earth Sefton Council is doing in its seeming mad dash to do all it can to stop volunteers taking over some of its closing libraries.

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again - Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again – Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Many of my posts during 2013 have been about the closure of 7 out of Sefton’s 13 libraries. The closure programme has now concluded and the Borough has lost more than half the libraries it once had, but the remarkable side story to this has been the obstacles that volunteers have faced in their attempts to take over some of the closing libraries.

One would have thought that with ‘localism’ being on the lips of virtually every politician across the land volunteers would be embraced and encouraged yet in socialist Sefton we seem to be in a parallel universe where volunteers are seen to be challenging and unwelcome! Indeed, it is remarkable to see what lengths Sefton will seemingly go to keep the volunteers at a distance.

Maghull Town Council – Well what can you say, 6 of the ruling Labour Party’s councillors resigned in 2013 and 2 more were all but disqualified from office but saved themselves by turning out at the last possible meeting to stop by-elections 8 & 9 of the year!

Aintree & Maghull Champion 12th June 2013

Aintree & Maghull Champion 12th June 2013

The Council also said it had set a precept for 2013/14 when it had done no such thing and, when it finally did set a budget and precept, it took money out of the 2013/14 budget for the Town’s annual fireworks display, voted against an amendment to put the money back in but then held a fireworks display anyway!

What an odd world Maghull Town Council has been since Labour took over in May 2011 and, for the record, I still await responses to the two Freedom of Information requests that I made to the Council months and months ago. Maghull must be the only Council in the UK to have a special dispensation from the Information Commissioner enabling it to ignore FoI requests.

Green Belt and Sefton Local Plan – This one will run well into 2014 and flow over into 2015 but 2013 has seen environmental campaigners (such as FRAGOFF) give Sefton Council a torrid time. Who would have expected a Labour-run Council to propose, for example, that vast areas of Maghull and Lydiate’s Green Belt and high quality agricultural land be concreted over to create massive urban extensions for these communities? Lydiate’s housing could now increase by 35% and Maghull’s by 25% if Labour carries through what it has consulted on in 2013.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP with Sudell Ward Sefton Cllr. Bruce Hubbard at the site in Maghull where Labour run Sefton Council wants to built 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce's Lib Dem team opposes Labour's plans.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP with Sudell Ward Sefton Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, Lydiate Parish Councillor Wyn Maher, Cllr. Jen Robertson and myself at the site to the east of Maghull where Labour-run Sefton Council wants to build 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce’s Lib Dem team opposes Labour’s plans.

In Formby the whole community seemingly rose up to oppose a Green Belt grab there, and with some success too, as the developer ducked out just as the planning application was to go before Sefton’s Planning Committee. Will they be back? Don’t doubt it, developers are not going to give up in their quest to concrete over areas of Sefton’s land which future generations will need to grow food upon.

And don’t forget that the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has been accused of not fighting for the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land in the Borough.

The best of the rest –

The Hawthorne’s Free School – will it be given the chance to try to make a step change in educational attainment in Bootle? Sadly, Sefton Labour just won’t take a positive step and back it. Having been there I am sure it is taking a welcome risk to improve education in Bootle; that’s a risk we should all be backing. And will St Mary’s in Crosby in Crosby follow suit and convert to a Free School? It seems so and as the aim is quality education that has to be a good thing.

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Maghull’s Mad March – Usually quiet leafy Maghull had a bizarre few weeks when gun crime visited the community. Police say it was drug related gang members shooting at each other but what chaos it created in one of Merseyside’s lowest crime areas. It went as quickly as it came but Maghull residents for a short period had the opportunity to see the madness of guns so loved by Americans. The right to bear arms? More like the right to create fear and mistrust in a community/society.

Here I am at Maghull Police Station where the Neighbourhood Policing Team must have had a tough time during Mad March.

Here I am at Maghull Police Station where the Neighbourhood Policing Team must have had a tough time during Mad March.

Southport Pier – It was quite a fright when we leaned that it needed urgent repairs. A landmark like no other in the locality; fortunately it does seem to have a good long-term future.

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The Liverpool Pigeon, A Micro-Pub for Crosby – Now here was an innovative development in 2013 that could herald a new type of pub not joined at the hip to those pub management companies who are strangling the life out of British pubs everywhere.

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HALT – This environmental campaign group sprung up in opposition to the idea of building land-based wind turbines as tall as Blackpool Town on high grade agricultural land between Ince Blundell and Lydiate. I have been happy to support this group.

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Closure of Public Toilets – Sefton tried to shut them but campaigners fought them off. Maghull’s public toilets survive but for how long? Frankly it was a huge disappointment to me that the Town’s own Council refused to invest in them. They were once award winners and could be that again but Maghull TC seems sadly disinterested in them.

Maghull's Lib Dem  toilet campaigners fighting Labour's axe.

Maghull’s Lib Dem toilet campaigners fighting Labour’s axe.

Sefton’s Bin Tax – This has to have been a really mad moment in Sefton’s bid to save money – a proposal to charge residents to have their green bins emptied! Surely anyone with the slightest understanding of the Borough would have known this was a tax too far but the Labour-led Council had to be hit between the eyes (and in the ballot box) with the anger of residents before that Penny dropped. This and the Green Belt land grab were the major reasons why Labour lost two Council by-elections in Maghull during July to the Lib Dems.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labours Green Bill tax for Sefton.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labours Green Bill tax for Sefton.

All years are unique but we certainly have seen some odd events in Sefton Borough during 2013.

PS. A piece of good news is that the expected closure of W H Smith’s shop in Bootle New Strand, which I commented on not so long ago, is not now going to happen.

Green Belt comes under concerted attack as Labour-run Sefton signals building bonanza

Just weeks after Sefton Council closed its 3 month consultation on Labour’s proposals to release vast swathes of land around Maghull & Lydiate and across the Borough for building, it has emerged that developers are queuing up to put forward plans to concrete over even more land around our communities.

Petition being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council next to a threatened development site in Lydiate.

Petition being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council next to a threatened development site in Lydiate.

Only recently Lib Dem councillors were tipped off about outline proposals to build on a huge area of land to the west of Lydiate/Maghull from Bells Lane down to the Green Park Estate. What’s more land to the north of Kenyons Lane on the eastern side of the A59 is also now firmly in a developer’s sights. These sites are in addition to the ones already put forward by Labour for development in Maghull & Lydiate.

Environmental protestors outside Maghull Town Hall

Environmental protestors outside Maghull Town Hall earlier this year

These proposals are highly likely to be just two of a number to build on Sefton’s Green Belt and high grade agricultural land. They all need to be made public when Sefton Council publishes details of the submissions made to it during the recent consultation period. We Lib Dems are demanding that all such information is released by the Council without delay.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP surveys the present high grade agricultural land/Green Belt to the east of Maghull where a massive urban extension is being proposed Labour-run Sefton Council

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP surveys the present high grade agricultural land/Green Belt to the east of Maghull where a massive urban extension is being proposed by Labour-run Sefton Council

We said that Labour’s gung ho ‘let’s build thousands of houses’ approach would lead to Green Belt, and high grade agricultural land, being put under concrete that’s why we have been working with environmental campaigners across the Borough. No one should underestimate the impact that massive urban extensions will have on the character of Sefton’s communities, its schools, roads and medical/dental facilities.

A protestor in Formby where a developer wants to build of Green Belt/high grade agricultural land. The plan was withdrawn days before it went to Sefton's Planning Committee but no one thinks it is the end of the push to develop this land of Liverpool Road.

A protestor in Formby where a developer wants to build on Green Belt/high grade agricultural land. The plan was dramatically withdrawn days before it went to Sefton’s Planning Committee but no one thinks it is the end of the push to develop this land off Liverpool Road.