Capitalism, urban planning and growth

The thrust of capitalism, so we are told, is that it needs almost continual growth to be successful; the alternative is virtually no growth or worse, recession, where we have been stuck for quite some time. I raise this because it is fundamentally linked to why Green Belt, green spaces and high grade agricultural land are under attack from concrete, bricks and tarmac.

Also, locally here in Sefton, despite the Borough’s population falling by 26,800 between 1981 and 2011 14,004 additional homes were built during that period. The seeming conflict between economic growth and a declining population will, in the main, be explained by separate but related social and economic factors i.e. most of us are living in smaller family units and of course living longer.

‘Between 2002 and 2009, the borough has experienced a 2.75% reduction in its overall resident population.’ – Sefton’s State of the Borough document July 2011.

‘The borough’s declining resident population over this period is in sharp contrast to the national and regional picture, which demonstrated a 4.35% and 1.78% increase respectively’ – Sefton’s State of the Borough document July 2011.

Growth pressures are therefore responsible for the ‘need’ to build more houses in the Borough. In turn, because there is nowhere else to turn (i.e. very little brown field land left that has previously been developed and is presently available for redevelopment) planners are telling us that some Green Belt/high grade agricultural land has to be lost.

We plan for growth from an economic perspective because it is hard wired into just about everything Government/The Treasury thinks and does. The thinking seems to be ‘if we not planning for growth, we are creating recession’. Planning for growth means building things like houses. Building houses needs folks to buy them/rent them. Our falling Borough population should logically have meant we would buy less/rent less houses but our living in smaller family units and living longer has saved the economic (growth) day because less of us require more houses.

As an aside one point that has concerned me for as long as I have been a Sefton Councillor is that Sefton is virtually always compared to other parts of Merseyside to justify some stat or other yet the Borough’s physical connection with Merseyside (Knowsley and Liverpool) is far, far smaller than its lengthy border with Lancashire. Indeed, it is surely the case that the vast majority of Sefton has far more in common in many ways with the Lancashire communities that surround it than it does with much of Merseyside.

Moving on, what’s all this about Sefton’s population starting to rise again because that is what the planners now tell us is going to happen?

Until very recently we have been looking at a continuing potential for Sefton’s population to decline but then, almost out of the blue, planners have told us that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have said that Sefton’s population is to rise due to people moving into the Borough. But how do they make such projections and how reliable are they. Indeed, where do ONS gain the data from to make such a prediction?

On one level these ‘surprise’ projections have been met with a high level of scepticism. Just who will be moving into Sefton, why and indeed when? Is this just taking the numbers of people moving about the UK, adding in migrants from outside of the UK and then giving Sefton a share of the higher population? Surely, it could not be such a crude calculation because logically people moving into Sefton would be doing so because of the availability of jobs either in the Borough or close to it in Lancashire and Merseyside. I have yet to see a reasoned, understandable and reliable explanation as to all the factors that will cause Sefton’s population to go into reverse and start rising again but the ‘fact’ that ONS say it will is going to be a big factor in creating more pressure for house building.

But what about urban planning (whilst we await a clear and credible explanation of why, how and when our local population is to rise)? I recently started to read a book that made comment on such. The book was about an American city in deep crisis – Detroit, but a couple of things jumped out at me that could help to explain why no matter what is going on beneath the waves planners always plan for growth.

‘there seemed to be a bone-deep American reluctance to even flirt with the notion of getting smaller’ and ‘I teach land use and planning and there’s nothing in there about downsizing’ and ‘the assumption is that a population is expanding, so how best to control it’. – The Last days of Detroit – Mark Binelli P 2013

Fundamentally, UK planning policy has been economically led for generations but are we at a cross roads? Surely, environmental sustainability and food production are now the most important things to plan for. Building more houses because we always have done fits with all the major historical imperatives of capitalism but maybe those major imperatives need to change – indeed I become surer that they do every day.

I would never advocate a socialist economic approach as many in the Labour Party and trade union movement do because frankly it simply does not and will not work. But neither am I in any way convinced that ploughing on in the same way as we do now for growth, growth, growth at all cost growth is going to be a sustainable way forward. World resources are in decline, the world population is increasing, environmental catastrophe is just around the corner yet our major worry is economic growth?

The bottom line is that the areas of Sefton that are presently not concreted over are part of a mere 2% of the English land mass that is made up of the best and most versatile agricultural land. Taking more of such land to build on is simply nuts! It may only be 2% or 3% that is lost this time but we have done it before that’s why many of our houses in the Borough are built on what was previously such land. In 10 or 15 years the planners will return and tell us that another small percentage of that diminishing amount of ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land is needed for building and the same cycle will repeat itself. That is not environmental and food production sustainability it is the politics of the mad house. We are not planning for the future, more like failing to plan for the future and Labour, Conservatives and yes even some Lib Dems are not waking up and smelling the coffee.

Planning policy is fundamentally an economic growth tool it needs to become a sustainability tool balanced between the environment, food production and the economy otherwise we are all going to hell in a hand cart.

Green Belt – Proposals to build on it from Sefton Council could see Maghull’s population rise by 20%!

Shocked Lib Dem councillors, who have consistently fought to preserve the Green Belt around the East Parishes communities, of Sefton Borough are horrified at proposals, from Labour led Sefton Council, that could see a massive development of houses and a business park on high grade agricultural land.

We Lib Dems fought for the Poverty Lane site in Maghull in 1998 as this press cutting shows

We Lib Dems fought for the Poverty Lane site in Maghull in 1998 as this press cutting shows

The leaflet that the then Lib Dem run Maghull Town Council delivered to all households in the Town in 1998. That  battle for the Green Belt was won.

The leaflet that the then Lib Dem run Maghull Town Council delivered to all households in the Town in 1998. That battle for the Green Belt was won.

After years of talking, Sefton Council has finally said where it thinks houses and employment sites should be built within the Borough. The sites include a huge swathe of land bounded by Poverty Lane, the M58, the Liverpool-Ormskirk Railway line and School Lane. This massive site was last fought over in 1988 when Maghull Town Council, then Lib Dem run, successfully led the campaign for it not to be developed. Sefton say that over 1,600 houses could be accommodated on this site alone.

Cllr. Andrew Blackburn attended a briefing meeting held by Sefton Council Planners, representing Lydiate Parish Council, and he says “Sefton Council Officers have finalised their proposals on The Sefton Plan. They intend to recommend “Option 2”, which would see approximately 510 new homes built every year between 2015 and 2030. Within the Urban area they believe that around 5,600 homes could be accommodated. This therefore means that roughly 5,700 would have to be built within the present Green Belt.”

As well as the massive Poverty Lane site they have identified the following sites in the East Parishes which, if “Option 2” is approved, will be developed:

MAGHULL
Land bounded by School Lane, Railway Line and Park Lane (presently the site where a Prison had been planned). This site would have 357 residential properties built on it.

AINTREE
Land off Wango Lane, next to Valley Close. This site would have 57 residential properties built on it.

WADDICAR
Land bounded by Waddicar Lane and Rainbow Park. This site would see 141 residential properties built on it.

Land bounded by Waddicar Lane and Leeds/ Liverpool Canal, behind Chapel Lane, and Woodland Road. This site would have 144 residential properties built on it.

URBAN HOUSING
Across the whole of East Sefton it is estimated that there would be 393 residential properties built on various bits of land, like the Damfield Lane development.

“Option 2” RESERVES
These sites would only be used if some of the areas already listed in “Option 2” could not be developed for some reason. However, this does not prevent developers putting in Planning Applications with the hope that, even if Sefton refused permission, Planning Inspectors may grant permission.

LYDIATE
Land bounded by Lambshear Lane, Sandy Lane, Moss Lane and Liverpool Road. This site would have 819 residential properties built on it. It was indicated that the developer who is interested in this site is very keen, and may submit a planning application no matter what Sefton agrees in its policy.

The petition being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council next to the threatened development site

The Lib Dem raised petition being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council next to the threatened Lamshear Lane development site in March this year

Land bounded by Kenyons Lane, Liverpool Road and Northway (locally known as Tyson’s Triangle). This site would have 257 residential properties built on it.

MAGHULL
Land bounded by Leeds/Liverpool Canal, Willow Hey, Melling Lane and M58 Motorway. This site would have 89 residential properties built on it.
These proposals will go to various Sefton Council meetings and then they will go out to public consultation from mid July through to August.

Says Andrew “Maghull and the communities around it will face the largest hit! The scale of the proposed developments is truly shocking, especially as the land on which they are proposed to be built is the highest grade agricultural land in England. Only 2% of the English landmass is high grade agricultural land; it is utter madness to consider further building upon it.”

In 1988, as Leader of Maghull Town Council, I led the campaign to stop Green Belt development in and around the Town and readers of this blog will recall that I have recently challenged the Interim Labour Leader of Maghull Town Council to say what she will now do having abstained during the last big Green Belt battle.

This is an official map of agricultural land qualities in Sefton's East Parishes. It shows that virtually all the land that is presently undeveloped is the best and most versatile agricultural land.

This is an official map of agricultural land qualities in Sefton’s East Parishes. It clearly shows (orange and red areas) that virtually all the land that is presently undeveloped is the best and most versatile agricultural land.

The bottom line here is that we could end up with 20% more houses in Maghull if these plans go ahead; clearly such a move would change the character of the community and the best and most versatile agricultural land in England would be concreted over. As an environmental campaigner I am utterly horrified.

Lib Dem Cllrs. Andrew Blackburn and Robbie Fenton with our March 2011 East Parishes map which informed the community which Green Belt sites were being looked at by Sefton Council for development.

Lib Dem Cllrs. Andrew Blackburn and Robbie Fenton with our March 2011 East Parishes map (delivered to virtually every house in Lydiate, Maghull, Sefton & Lunt Villages, Melling and Aintree Village) which informed those communities which Green Belt sites were being looked at by Sefton Council for development.

The only non-controversial site in the list for the East Parishes is the one where the previous Government had said it wanted to build a new prison, on former Ashworth Hospital land.

Sefton’s Green Belt – Why does the total of houses to be built always reach 500 or there abouts?

Back some years ago the previous Labour Government (you will find Sefton Labour Party totally in denial about this) had a Regional Strategy which imposed a house building target on Sefton of 500 new houses per year. That Regional Strategy was abolished by the Coalition Government but just hold onto that 500 house building target as we move on.

For a number of years Sefton Council has been developing what it used to call its Core Strategy (no one knew what that was) and now calls its Local Plan. In effect this is, at least the part of it that most folks are interested in, a land use policy for the Borough and when it is finally adopted in 2015 it will replace the present Unitary Development Plan.

Core Strategy, Local Plan, Unitary Development Plan – all the same thing really but with a few changes at the margins.

Remember that 500 house to be built per year that I mentioned before? Well, would you be surprised if I told you that after all the work to date, all the studies, all the paid consultants and even some public consultation in 2011 (to be repeated soon) the figure for houses to be built is still just over 500 per year!

Years have gone by, we have been hit by the worst recession in living memory, the Borough’s population has fallen (one of the biggest falls in the UK) yet here we are still ‘needing’ to build 500 houses per year.

It could make you think that all Sefton’s sums add up to 500 no matter what figures and factors are included in the calculations. No wonder folks are sceptical about what a realistic house building figure for the Borough really is.

And when most of the land that is down to be built on is part of the 2% of England that is high grade agricultural land is there any wonder that no one believes the Council’s stats and sums?

Save our Green Belt – MP asks an odd Parliamentary question indeed

This recent question asked by our Sefton Central MP had me wondering why on earth he asked it. Read on:-

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central, Labour)

A developer in Lydiate in my constituency has made clear his plans to build in the green belt, despite the existing urban development plan making it clear that it is against the policies. Is not the best way to protect the green belt and valuable urban green space to go back to a system with a more regional approach so that there is not this push for development in the green belt?

What Bill is seemingly asking for here is a return to the way Labour approached land use policy when they were in government. Then we had a Regional Strategy which clearly said that Sefton Borough had to build 500 houses per year. In turn this meant that Sefton would have to start to allow building in the Green Belt!

My advice to Bill is be careful what you wish for!

SAVE OUR GREEN BELT – What the Leader of Sefton Council said at the Maghull Town Council meeting last week

The Leader of Sefton Council put down what looked to me very much like a clear marker at the Maghull Town Council meeting last week and it was a marker that will not go down well with Green Belt campaigners.

Labour Councillor Peter Dowd, who I have known for many years and on a personal level get along with, told the Town Council (which he isalso a member of) that in relation to future house building he was very much of the view that some of it would be built on land that is Green Belt.

He was clearly trying to put a message across and I must admit that I wondered who Peter was really speaking to. He did not make his remarks in a party political way what so ever, indeed he seemed keen to ensure that no one thought he was doing so. But the more I have pondered on what he said the more I have wondered if the message was meant for his own followers and indeed the Sefton Central Labour MP. I say this in the context of Labour doing some pretty outlandish things in relation to the Green Belt in recent times. My posting of the 11th of February refers.

I have known Peter long enough to realise that what he said was said with a purpose.

SAVE OUR GREEN BELT – Labour hype about Green Belt/Green Spaces – what brass neck!

I mentioned not so long ago a Labour publication that is doing the rounds in the Sefton Central constituency called Sefton Voice and the frankly ludicrous article about the closure of Sefton Council’s libraries which is being pursued by the Labour run Council.

But there was another but this time more subtle attempt to spin a bit recent history. In an article about the Green Belt we see a picture of three Labour councillors who represent Maghull walking across a green space. The impression that Labour wants us to pick up from this is that they are fighting for Green Belt and green spaces. The other picture shows Sefton Central’s Labour MP and his 3 Formby Labour councillors. Again a pro-Green Belt impression is being pushed yet the independent Green Belt campaign group in Formby seems highly unimpressed with what all 6 of Formby’s Borough Councillors (there are two Tories and one Independent in addition to the 3 Labour councillors) are doing to protect their Green Belt.

If we cast our minds back to two quite recent events, one in Lydiate and one in Maghull the actions of Labour, as opposed to their spin, has not been as ‘green’ as that Party seems to think we are.

This snow covered field is where Labour councillors voted to allow a canal marina to be built off Bells Lane, Lydiate

This snow covered field is where Labour councillors voted to allow a canal marina to be built off Bells Lane, Lydiate

In Lydiate, Labour councillors on Sefton Council’s Planning Committee voted to build a canal marina on Green Belt land. The only reason it did not happen is because at that time Labour did not control the Council and opposition parties voted together to stop it. It then went to a Planning Appeal where the developer tried to overturn the Council decision. No Labour councillors turned up at the two day hearing and it was left to residents and Lib Dem councillors to fight the developer. The battle was won but under Labour the planning permission would seemingly have been given.

In Maghull, Labour brought residents together to fight a development on a significant piece of urban green space in the heart of the community, off Damfield Lane. Labour brazenly marched them up to the top of the hill and then abandoned them by voting for the planning application!

The more they spin the more they expose their ‘say one thing do another’ approach. Oh and by the way, in case you may be thinking that I would be saying this because I am in opposition to Labour, consider this. A lady, who said she was a Labour Party member, got up to denounce the actions of Labour at a Planning Committee meeting that dealt with the Damfield Lane project; I know because I was there!