Green Belt building – Cameron said he would protect it and Sefton Labour too but it’s going to be built on!

Readers will probably recall that I have long fought the propsals of Sefton Council to build on our Green Belt and high grade agricultural land across the Borough.

A Maghull Town Council leaflet from 1998 - Strangely this time round the now Labour-run Town Council did not fight the Green Belt grab.

A Maghull Town Council leaflet from 1998 – Strangely this time round the now Labour-run Town Council did not fight the Green Belt grab.

Press cutting from 1998 as we fought to protect the Maghull east site from development. We won then, Labour waved the white fag this time around.

Press cutting from 1998 as we fought to protect the Maghull east site from development. We won then, Labour waved the white fag this time around.

Indeed my first campaign to stop planners building on Sefton’s Green Belt was in 1998 – a campaign we won by the way. It’s ironic therefore only to have the very same piece of land we were trying to protect from development, to the east of Maghull, released for building on by our Labour-run Council some 18 years later!

Labour's massive urban extension to Maghull. The rust coloured area was saved from development in 1998 but Labour have voted to build on it now on Sefton Council.

Labour’s massive urban extension to Maghull. The rust coloured area was saved from development in 1998 but Labour have voted to build on it now on Sefton Council.

The same site east of Maghull with crops growing on it on 24th April 2016. Building on it is madness.

The same site east of Maghull with crops growing on it on 24th April 2016. Building on it is madness.

But this trend of developing Green Belt sites seems to be gathering pace despite David Cameron saying the Green Belt is safe with him, or words to that effect. Our local Labour Party also said they would defend it only for their Sefton Councillors to vote to build on it!

The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) recently said this:-

Over 219,000 houses are planned for England’s Green Belt, 60,000 more than in August 2013 when CPRE last made a count.

Having said that I personally found the Sefton Branch of CPRE to be a little slow out of the blocks when it came to standing up to Sefton Labour’s building plans.

So the Green Belt is not safe, our high grade agricultural land is to be built upon and Labour Sefton Councillors who said they would defend it then voted to build on it.

Is there any wonder why folks say politicians can’t be trusted.

Click on the photos/press cutting to enlarge them.

Labour rattled by Independent candidate in Maghull & Lydiate’s Park Ward

Readers will recall that I let slip that Labour had almost lost a by-election in Maghull a few weeks ago to an independent Green Belt campaigner – they clung onto the seat by just 3 votes. This was the election that for some very odd reason the local press decided not to report the result of and that suited Labour down to the ground.

However, I knew they (Labour) would be rattled and therefore it was no surprise that when a Labour election leaflet popped through my door the other day that it was attacking the Green Belt campaigners that they are so frightened of.

Under the heading of ‘Vote Independent, get Conservative?’ Labour are clearly trying to suggest that the independent candidate (in Park Ward) may be a Tory sympathiser. BUT the lady standing as the independent candidate was a Labour supporter until Labour said they would defend the Green Belt but then voted on Sefton Council to build on it! She is fighting Labour because they said one thing and did the opposite.

Bizarre or what?

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.

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…….

Were my 16 years on Sefton Council productive and worthwhile?

Well I have been having a ponder but I suppose the first thing that readers of this posting may say to themselves is that ‘it’s not for you to say but for us to judge’. You could also add that the judgement has already been handed down by my being invited to leave office on Sefton Borough Council by the Park Ward electorate. However, I have been asked a few times since the May elections what I thought of my time as a Borough Councillor so it has started a certain amount of reminiscing on my part, so here goes anyway.

16 years is a long time to recall all the events of note, at least it is for me as I have never kept a Tony Benn type diary of my activities.

Meadows Leisure Centre – Maghull – I led the campaign to have this built going back well before I was even elected to Sefton Council back in 1999. To see it open in 2009 was a delight. To have also assisted in establishing an exhibition space for the Frank Hornby Trust within the leisure centre was likewise an important step forward. Regrets? Two really – in incorporating a new home for Maghull Library within the Leisure Centre I don’t think we fully understood the noise conflict between exercise classes and the expected quiet of the a library. Secondly, I am disappointed that the planned integration between the leisure centre and the leisure facilities in the adjoining Maghull Town Hall have never been taken forward. The intention was for the two buildings to be run seamlessly as far as users were concerned despite them being owned by two different councils. This vision sadly was lost when Maghull Council came under a political leadership with differing objectives.

Former Maghull Lib Dem Councillor Andrew Blackburn who helped me push the Leisure campaign forward.

Former Maghull Lib Dem Councillor Andrew Blackburn who helped me push the Leisure campaign forward.

My old friend, fellow campaigner and former Councillor Bruce Hubbard outside the Leisure Centre

My old friend, fellow campaigner and former Councillor Bruce Hubbard outside the Leisure Centre

Les French (Chairman of the Frank Hornby Trust) with Margaret Carney & Glyn Sands in the Hornby Room at the Leisure Centre.

Les French (Chairman of the Frank Hornby Trust) with Margaret Carney & Glyn Sands in the Hornby Room at the Leisure Centre.

The Atkinson – Southport – For quite a while I held Cabinet responsibility for the development of this huge project to refurbish 3 adjoining very old and previously poorly upgraded listed buildings into what we see now. I love it and am pleased that it has fulfilled the objectives set for it. Regrets? None really – It cost more than the original budget but frankly we always thought it would. You can’t work on old buildings and expect it to be straight forward because it never is.

A Crossens Canoe on display at The Atkinson in Southport

A Crossens Canoe on display at The Atkinson in Southport

Raising the profile of Sefton’s Parish Councils – I put a lot into this as the relationship between Sefton Borough Council and the 10 Parish Councils in its area had been poor and negative for far too long. I renegotiated what we called the ‘Double Rating’ agreement so the Parish Councils who did their own parks and gardens maintenance got paid a sensible amount back from Sefton Borough Council who were also taking money off local residents in those communities but not then spending it in those communities. Regrets? Yes, Labour have reversed the deal and it is now worse than when I renegotiated it. Places like Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree are being poorly treated by Sefton Council!

Maghull North Station – I have been pressing for this to be built for a long, long time so am delighted that the Coalition Government gave 90% of the money required to build it in 2014. I hope it will be constructed in the next 2 to 3 years. Regrets? None.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Switch Island – Thornton Link Road – I was campaigning for this before being elected in 1999 because trying to win a Borough Council ward that included the Parish of Thornton made this a must achieve issue. It took a while and I have said many times that the determination of the people and Parish Council of Thornton was the clincher; what I did was to take the matter to the then regional bodies of government and persuade them to back the project. The Blair/Brown Government sat of fence and never came up with the money but again the Coalition Government gave the final green light and of course a large proportion of the money. It is now all but built. Regrets? Thornton folk and their Parish Council not getting the credit they deserve because others (Labour) keep trying to claim that credit for themselves.

Cllr. Geoff Howe and a young me in this @2001 shot marching with Thornton residents. My placard says '83% of Thornton residents want a relief road'.

Cllr. Geoff Howe and a young me in this @2001 shot marching with Thornton residents. My placard says ‘83% of Thornton residents want a relief road’.

Me with the then Coalition Government Roads Minister Mike Penning sealing the deal to get the Link Road built in 2010

Me with the then Coalition Government Roads Minister Mike Penning sealing the deal to get the Link Road built in 2010

Works starting on the new Link Road

Works starting on the new Link Road

Lydiate Village Centre – It took some years to get the new building constructed after the former Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club building had been burnt down. At the time Sefton Council (the land owners) were not exactly being proactive and helpful. But the determination of Lydiate Parish Council (particularly its Chairman Dave Russell) finally got us there with me steering the issue through Sefton Council. I have to say that Dave together with former Cllr. Andrew Blackburn and Lydiate’s then Parish Clerk (Brian Beaven) were the leading lights in this project, I was simply got Sefton to be positive and supportive. Regrets? None.

Former Lydiate Parish Councilors Tony Fenton and Pat Foster outside the old Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club

Former Lydiate Parish Councilors Tony Fenton and Pat Foster outside the old Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club

Cllr. Edie Pope outside Lydiate Village Centre

Cllr. Edie Pope outside Lydiate Village Centre

Oriel Drive GP Surgery – Aintree – So happy this got built during my time as a Borough Councillor for Aintree Village. Working with Aintree Village Parish Council and the health providers was a delight and the new building was worth all the efforts of many people. Again, I was there to assist others who did far more than I. Regrets? None.

Me, Terry Baldwin, Jack Colbert and Peter Gill - July 2012 at the formal opening of the new GP Surgery

Me, Terry Baldwin, Jack Colbert and Peter Gill – July 2012 at the formal opening of the new GP Surgery

Decentralising Sefton Borough and empowering its diverse communities – Sefton has always been an uncomfortable mix of diverse communities with little in common and on the back of the Local Government Boundary Commission deciding not to split the Borough up I helped lead a process to try to empower local communities. We set up Area Committees created a Parish Council’s charter and despite the two old parties, whom we shared power with, being highly sceptical of our push to give power away to the people we did make some strides in the right direction. Regrets? Yes, when Labour took control of Sefton they started an inevitable process to recentralise power in their Bootle heartland. They took out 3 Area Committees to create one massive and pointless one in the centre of the Borough. It was never going to work and it still does not work. As for the Parish Charter which was aimed at treating the 10 Parish Councils with respect (and even decentralising power to them) suffice to say that the day it was ripped up in front of the Labour Cabinet by Aintree Village Parish Councillor Peter Gill showed how Labour cared little for those not in their tribal tent.

Fighting for our precious Green Belt and high grade agricultural land – This seems to have been almost a lifetime campaign for me. Just before I got elected to Sefton Council I had headed up a successful campaign in Maghull to stop the Borough Council from allowing a massive area of land to the east of Maghull being concreted over. We won because Maghull Town Council, its local Borough Councillors and residents spoke with one voice that said to Sefton Planners exactly where they could stick their plans! Regrets? Certainly, because I had to re-fight the very same battle again in 2014/15 but this time without the now Labour-run Town Council who sat and watched it wash over them. I made many new friends in the environmental movement but Labour were determined to build on the highest grade of agricultural land in England and we have been defeated. As I pen this posting we can only hope that a Government appointed Inspector has more concern for our food growing land than either Maghull Town Council or Sefton Borough Council.

A petition against building on Green Belt being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell the then Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council in 2013.

A petition against building on Green Belt being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell the then Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council in 2013.

Fighting to save Woodend Primary School (Maghull) from closure – I attended this lovely school but in the early 2000’s it was struggling because it had so few children in it. Why parents living close to the school were sending their children elsewhere when this great little school had been serving the adjacent community so well I do not know. The fight to save it was being run by the Governing Body led by the redoubtable Andrew Blackburn and being an ‘old boy’ of the school I was right behind his efforts. I recall us delivering advertising leaflets around the southern part of Maghull and beyond to help the school attract more children and was heartbroken when this campaign did not succeed. Regrets? – Losing the fight obviously but also being blamed on a doorstep in Maghull for the closure of Woodend by a lady who clearly felt I had done just the opposite of what I actually had done!

Fighting to raise the profile of our local railways – The Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines are both important for the Sefton and West Lancashire Boroughs. Again this has been an almost lifetime issue for me. Seeing Merseytravel (the Passenger Transport Authority for Merseyside) make little or no progress on these two lines was always a frustration. It was as though they looked upon the lines as not being important to Liverpool so they were not going to put much effort in to developing them. The Liverpool centric approach to transport planning on and around Merseyside has always been to the determent of the large towns that surround Liverpool and here Southport, whilst being in Merseyside, has been poorly served by the Authority they pay to deliver public transport. Regrets? – Not being able to break down the barriers between Merseyside and Lancashire that have held back transportation and other issues since 1974.

Southport Station

Southport Station

Fighting for green issues – Whether it be fighting for our precious Green Belt and high grade agricultural land not to be built upon or seeing Lib Dem run Parish Councils installing solar panels on Maghull Town Hall and Lydiate Village Centre green issues have meant a lot to me. Regrets? – I have always found it difficult to understand why Tory and Labour councillors are generally disinterested in green issues. Labour stuck me as being way off the pace with such matters with the Tories hardly much better.

Solar panels on Maghull Town Hall roof

Solar panels on Maghull Town Hall roof

The fight to save Sefton’s Libraries – A massive campaign but one that was ultimately lost as we could not persuade Sefton’s ruling Labour Group to back off from their closure plans. 7 of Sefton’s 13 Libraries were lost and it was a huge step backwards in my view. Regrets? – Seeing volunteer campaigners being treated so badly by Labour. All they wanted was the chance to try to run their libraries as voluntary undertakings but Sefton Labour would have none of it. So very sad.

rsz_protesting_about_library_closures_-_southport

rsz_al_collins_at_a_save_aintree_library_public_meeting_on_26th_october_12_2

I could go on but I have probably mentioned too many issues already. I enjoyed the vast majority of my 16 years as a Sefton Councillor and the 7 I served as Council Leader. Did I make a difference? I would like to think so but that is probably best left to your judgement not to my rose tinted spectacles.

Green belt “under siege”

A study by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says that the number of homes planned for the country’s green belt has increased 38% in less than two years. Nearly 220,000 houses are planned for green belt land – up 61,000 on CPRE’s last count in August 2013.

In its analysis of nine English regions, the CPRE paper shows that councillors and planning inspectors have signed off major releases of Green Belt land over the past 19 months.

This is the huge area of agricultural land that Sefton Council intends to put under concrete to the east of Maghull.

This is the huge area of agricultural land that Sefton Council intends to put under concrete to the east of Maghull.

Readers will know that as an environmental campaigner I have mixed views about CPRE – I have often said that its Sefton Branch disappointed me with it approach to this crucial ‘green’ issue. Frankly, I think they failed to put Labour-led Sefton Council under pressure during its Local Plan process which will lead to large areas of Green Belt and high grade agricultural land being put under concrete in the Borough.

But never the less this information from CPRE nationally certainly hits the spot and it makes you wonder what on earth we are doing to precious high grade agricultural land and why!

With thanks to LGiU for the lead to this article