Sefton Local Plan – Labour has concerns about it? Really, then why do they keep supporting it!

The letter below was written in response to the lead article in the Aintree & Maghull Champion on 13th January entitled ‘Concerns at Local Plan put to Inquiry’

Dear Sir,

I read with mounting disbelief the representations made to the Planning Inspector by Maghull’s Labour councillors as reported in the Champion on 13th January.

Yes they were making all the right noises but hang on a minute it is Labour run Sefton Council that is trying to impose its appalling Local Plan on the Borough. What’s more when I was a member of Maghull Town Council Labour members would not vote to reject the Local Plan! Now all of sudden Labour has concerns.

Frankly, this say one thing and then say just about the opposite when Labour thinks folks will have forgotten about their original stance on a matter as important as this is appalling.

Having fought Sefton’s Local Plan, which proposes thousands of houses to be built on high grade agricultural land, areas that flood and Green Belt with Labour councillors supporting for the Plan I find Labour’s concern now very hollow indeed.

Let’s see Labour run Maghull Town Council propose that the Local Plan be completely rejected and for Labour run Sefton Council to do the same then Labour will have clearly done a welcome U turn. Warm words now giving the impression of concerns about the Plan mean nothing unless they actually reject it/withdraw it.

Yours sincerely

Cllr. Tony Robertson

This letter was significantly edited and published in the Champion on 27th January 2016

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.

Sefton Borough – So building thousands of new houses on land that can cause flooding is such a great idea? I think not

Another aspect of the recent flooding which I covered in my Radio Merseyside interview yesterday is the barmy quest of Sefton Council, via its Local Plan, to build thousands of new 3 and 4 bedroom houses on land which will potentially cause more flooding for local communities like Maghull & Lydiate.

The pedestrian bridge over Dovers Brook, Sefton Lane Maghull, became a river itself on Boxing Day 2015..

The pedestrian bridge over Dovers Brook, Sefton Lane Maghull, became a river itself on Boxing Day 2015..

Not only is all the earmarked land high grade agricultural on which we grow our food (and of course its Green Belt) but it will also in my view have a further negative effect on drainage issues around Maghull, Lydiate, Formby and elsewhere in the low lying Borough of Sefton.

Lambshear Lane, Lydiate - Boxing Day 2015

Lambshear Lane, Lydiate – Boxing Day 2015

I wonder what notice of such concerns the Planning Inspector, who is presently reviewing Sefton’s draft Local Plan, will take of such concerns. Was the inspector out and about in flooded Maghull & Lydiate on Boxing Day taking the inability of the local watercourses to cope into account? Will Sefton Council sober up and realise their mad plan to concrete over vast swathes of land could well make future flooding events even worse?

Tories are ‘green’? No but they think we are!

I want this to be the ‘greenest government ever’ trumpeted Cameron when the Coalition Government came to power in 2010.

key_green_laws

Well yes it was probably a reasonable aspiration back then but only because the Lib Dems forced the Tories down a credible ‘green’ route.

However, since the Tories were given an overall majority by the electorate in 2015 they have done nothing but row back on all the environmental steps forward made in the previous 5 years ‘over their dead body’ by those bastard green Lib Dems.

Instead of ratcheting up the green policies as we need to do to save our world from environmental catastrophe they have been doing just the opposite! At best sitting back and saying we will reach our green targets (which were too low to start with) and at worst putting future generations at huge risk of that environmental catastrophe in its many forms. And all because Tory leaders think that Tory voters don’t care much for environmental issues and Cameron’s wafer thin House of Commons majority only cares about making the rich richer.

This is what the Lib Dems wanted to do to tackle climate change at the 2015 general election.

Five green laws:

A Nature Bill: key measures include legal targets for biodiversity, clean air, clean water and access to green space, extending the Right to Roam and establishing new marine and coastal reserves.
A Heating and Energy Efficiency Bill: key measures include building on the Green Deal with a national programme to raise the energy efficiency standards for all Britain’s households. We will legislate to boost renewable and district heating programmes and heat saving standards.
A Zero Waste Britain Bill: key measures include establishing a “Stern Report” on resource use, with binding targets and a clear action plan to reduce waste and end biodegradable landfill.
A Zero Carbon Britain Bill: key measures include introducing a decarbonisation target for electricity generation, expanding the powers of the Green Investment Bank and banning electricity generated from unabated coal.
A Green Transport Bill: key measures include establishing a full network of charging points for electric cars, only allowing low emission vehicles on the roads from 2040 and reforming planning law to ensure new developments are designed around walking, cycling and public transport.

Sadly, the electorate did not agree and backed a Tory party of very different views.

Also sadly Labour hardly makes any noise about environmental/green issues at a national level these days and at a local level their ‘green’ credentials are in tatters since they decided to build on Sefton’s high grade agricultural land.

Green Belt campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall.

Green campaigners outside Maghull Town Hall fighting against their own local authority over building on high grade agricultural land.

So who can stop the Tory’s mad policy plan to seemingly make our world a less safe place now and for certain so for future generations? One day, and that may not be very far down the track, people will say the Tory Government of 2015 – 2020 helped to cause harm instead of trying to stop harm to our world and that is a sad reflection on our times and maybe on us all collectively for allowing such a government to be elected.

We do not deliberately put our children and their children at risk yet collectively we often vote for very short-term matters whilst ignoring the far greater threats that we should be focusing on. Damn that Daily Mail way of viewing our world.

Liverpool City Region – Underwhelmed by lackluster submission for delegated powers

So our 6 Labour Council Leaders from across Merseyside have put in their plea to George Osborne for him to give the City Region some crumbs from his devolution table. I must say I am sadly underwhelmed by their bid though.

This posting is not an attempt to comment on the document page by page but I am picking out things that caught my eye, or are a particular policy interest area for me or where I think the document is deficient.

Firstly the laugh out loud moments from the 25 page document:-

We are working together!!!! – ‘We have a proven track record of being able to decide priorities locally’ and ‘We have also proven our ability to work together collectively’. No not made up it’s there in the document! Bearing in mind how our Labour Council Leaders have seemingly squabbled like ferrets in a sack for years in public via the press you wonder whether they were able to keep their faces straight when they signed a document going to Government saying they were now best mates who will stick by each other.

Metro Mayor!- But moving on through this rather uninspiring document which could hardly be said to be innovative or motivating we come to a paragraph on page 3 which effectively gives the Metro Mayor game away. It says ‘We also recognise that the “prize” of devolution may necessitate a “price” to be paid in respect of the government’s stated aim of introducing an elected mayor for the City Region. We are prepared to consider making a change in our local governance arrangements……….’ Is this the Merseyside Labour Council Leaders waving the white flag and falling in behind Joe Anderson, who seems to want to rule Merseyside? Yes I believe it is and in the words of Dave Allen ‘may your God go with you’.

We cost Treasury too much? – There is an interesting and I take it to be accurate statement to the effect that the Liverpool City Region area spends two pounds on public services for every one it raises in taxation and this means the City Region has the largest relative gap between tax raised and public spending in England. £9.5 billion generated for the Treasury but £18.6bn back in public spending. A sobering thought indeed.

More Cuts? – This also caught my eye ‘there are potentially efficencies and cost savings to be gained if greater control and coordination of government funding and activity is devolved to the City Region’. This could be interpreted as room for more cuts of course.

These are the tickets my family were given when we walked through the new (2nd) Tunnel in 1971

These are the tickets my family were given when we walked through the new (2nd) Tunnel in 1971

Mersey Tunnel tolls – One of the ‘Asks’ of government is that ‘Legislative clarity on the ability to utilise [Mersey] tunnel toll income for wider economic development purposes’. That should go down a bundle with residents of the Wirral in particular! This ‘ask’ seems to be linked to another ‘ask’ which requests government to pay off the loans to build the tunnels. Of course a proportion of the toll money is presently used to fund the debt repayments. I think tunnel users would want to know what their extra tax would be paying for if it was not to pay off the loans to build the tunnels. Indeed you could expect them to want lower tolls if the tunnel debts are paid off by government.

The present Merseyrail rolling stock Class 507/8 EMU's) at Southport Station.

The present Merseyrail rolling stock Class 507/8 EMU’s) at Southport Station.

A train ‘ask’ – There an ‘ask’ about our promised (many times) replacement rolling stock for Merseyrail to ‘reduce the financial risks’. This is linked to needing long term certainty over the Special Rail Grant that Merseyside gets each year. A reasonable request I would think here.

A blast from the past a former Ribble Lydiate bound 321 bus in model form. Sadly it's another lost route for Lydiate residents.

A blast from the past a former Ribble Lydiate bound 321 bus in model form. Sadly it’s another lost route for Lydiate residents.

A buses ‘ask‘ is to ‘secure the ability to franchise local bus services, to ensure that they have the required reach, penetration, quality and pricing structure and serve the needs of the Liverpool City Region’. This may well, depending on what it actually means, turn the Tories Bus Deregulation Act of the early 1980’s on its head (or drive a bus through it at least) and not before time I say. BUT bearing in mind that the thrust of this submission to government acknowledges in effect that austerity is here to stay then it does not mean more subsidy for bus services unless of course that is where the tunnel tolls may be siphoned off?

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.

Housing and Spacial Planning – Some very worthy stuff here but what is so obviously missing? Well as far as Sefton Borough is concerned it’s protection of its high grade agricultural land from development. So is the fact that the City Region is not making a request to government for local powers to protect it the final admission that the City Region and Sefton Council do not want to?

Energy – Some good stuff here about support for the proposed offshore tidal lagoon and also a request for powers to maximise the potential of renewable energy. But even then this is hardly taking the ‘green’ agenda and running with it, surely we should be aiming to be the most energy efficient City Region in Europe? Where’s the ambition to inspire?

City Region Mayor Powers – If there was any doubt that our glorious Leaders are now all but fully behind a City Region Mayor then this quote leaves no room for any doubt:-

*To consider whether an elected Liverpool City Region Mayor should take over the role of the directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner and the role of the Fire Authority.

There are other ‘asks’ about Children’s Services, Education, Cultural Partnership, Health – Wellbeing and Social Care, a Free Trade Zone, European Funding, Skills & Employment and Business Support but I have not touched on those areas in this posting.

My conclusion is that frankly the submission is too bland and it lacks ambition. Here was a great opportunity to lay out a radical plan to fundamentally change the health, wealth and environmental sustainability of Merseyside and it has been an opportunity lost. It strikes me, as a former Council Leader, as one of those documents written by Council Officers and then signed off/rubber stamped by politicians. Even if government gave it the green light on all the ‘asks’ I can’t see it changing the outcomes of Merseyside residents much at all.

I wonder if it will get the green light from government (with a few tweaks along the way) because all the Tories really seem to want is the appearance of devolution and a Metro Mayor. If so government will say they have negotiated a fine deal to empower Merseyside and local council leaders will say they got virtually every possible concession from government and the Metro Mayor has been forced on them. But in the real world not much will change other than we all get that damn Metro Mayor idea imposed on us and another highly paid politician to lord it over us.

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…….