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.

Lydiate Parish Council backs 2 prominent environmental campaign groups – Fragoff and H-ALT

Lib Dem run Lydiate Parish Council is impressed by the campaigning of Fragoff and H-ALT, both of whom have organised community meetings in Lydiate.

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Fragoff was born in Formby to tackle the scourge of potential building on Green Belt land but they have widened their geographic area to help and work with environmental campaigners across the Borough who are fighting to preserve Green Belt and high grade agricultural land from development.

www.fragoff.co.uk/

H-ALT are another environmental campaign group formed to fight the massive wind farm turbines proposed to be built on land between Lydiate and Ince Blundell and, like Fragoff, they have organised a recent well attended community meeting in the Parish of Lydiate.

www.h-alt.info/

To assist both voluntary groups in their further campaigning Lydiate Parish Council is donating £50 to each organisation.

HALT meeting in Lydiate last week – Was the MP in disguise?

This week’s Aintree & Maghull Champion tells us that the Labour MP for Sefton Central, Bill Esterson, was at the HALT group’s public meeting last week held in St Thomas Primary School. See my previous postings on this wind farm issue.

Really, was he in disguise or hidden away? I certainly did not see him there and neither did the other Lib Dem councillors who were there. Most odd indeed.

You can find out more about the campaign against the West Lancs based wind farm at

www.h-alt.info

lydiateparishcouncil.gov.uk/objections-to-wind-farm/

HALT – back to the Wind farm campaign meeting in Lydiate

I promised to come back to this matter having not had time to write up what Kevin Sharpe and Colin Reader said in their respective presentations to the campaign meeting in any detail earlier this week. And it’s worth reviewing as it helps put things in context. These are the notes I made and they are not in any particular order.

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• The first big issue is that the land proposed for these monster wind turbines is high grade agricultural land in Green Belt, hardly the place to build them you may think and you would in my view be right. Interestingly, West Lancs Council Policy EN2 seems to back this view up.
• The National Planning Framework (NPF) says that renewable energy developments are inappropriate in Green Belt.
• In Lincolnshire a Valuation Tribunal has said that property close to turbines can be devalued.
• People living in Sefton and Ince Blundell Villages (and I think Lunt) did not get the mailing from the company proposing to build the turbines. I had picked up on this myself following a chat with a Sefton Village recently when I gave her a copy and she said it had not been seen in the Village before.
• Colin took us through a report by REF in Denmark about the performance of wind turbines, the thrust of which seemed to indicate that they start off at around 25% efficiency but within 18 years are down to small single figures of efficiency. Can’t claim to understand the background to this myself.
• The land owners are the Trustees of the Leverhume family.
• There will in fact potentially be 26 masts as 2 will be wind monitoring masts.
• Whist all this is about land in West Lancashire, that happens to be surrounded by Sefton communities, the draft Local Plan for Sefton, which I have posted about many times, does indicate that a renewable energy area in the adjoining land within Sefton Borough is being considered as well.
• The height of the masts will be 136.5m.
• The planning application for the site is expected to be submitted to West Lancs Council any day now.

It was nice to be able to support these genuine community campaigners because they are fighting for the high grade agricultural land via HALT that many others are fighting for via the Sefton Local Plan. Indeed, Colin Reader is prominent in both campaigns!

I hope these notes are of use to readers and my apologies to Kevin and Colin if I have noted any of their comments incorrectly – please shout if I have.

lydiateparishcouncil.gov.uk/objections-to-wind-farm/