Green Belt – Another attack -This time from RIBA

A new report from RIBA [Royal Institute of British Architects] has called for MPs to relax laws protecting green belt land. Parts of the green belt are of “negligible environmental value”, it says, arguing that space for housing is both of significant value and urgently needed. “In these parts of the country the green belt no longer serves its purpose and isn’t appreciated by the local community; this land could be much better used to provide new housing, parks and space for communities to grow and prosper,” it elaborates.

The Times today, Page: 16

I despair, is it that we are turning our backs on the ‘green’ agenda? Certainly around Sefton Borough what is presently designated as Green Belt is also vastly high grade agricultural land. It is not just a buffer that stops communities merging into each other; it is our food basket! In the rush to build more houses we are losing sight of why high grade agricultural land is so important. It is not simply a commodity to be sold and concreted over; it is what will feed our children and our children’s children.

With thanks to the LGiU for the lead to this story.

Maghull Town Council – Quite simply not fighting for the Town

Back in 1998 it became apparent that Sefton Council had plans to allow a huge area of Green Belt and high grade agricultural land to be built upon to the east of Maghull. The site was bounded by Poverty Lane, the M58 Motorway and the Liverpool – Ormskirk Railway line; a truly massive area of land.

Unsurprisingly, Maghull Town Council was horrified and immediately launched a community campaign to stop Sefton Council in its tracks. The campaign was successful and the land was saved from being concreted over.

Some 14 years later Sefton Council again looked for land to build upon and surprise, surprise, it came back to have another look at the very same site in Maghull, as the biggest one in the whole Borough it would like to see developed. This time Sefton also added on a site off Melling Lane in Maghull plus two large sites in Lydiate Parish, just down the road.

Maghull Town Council, this time, was all but motionless and at the initial consultation stage did nothing much at all. Quite a policy U-turn from 1998 indeed!

This posting looks behind the astonishing U-turn and shines some light on why the Town Council turned from being determined environmentalists, Green Belt defenders and high grade agricultural land campaigners to a council that seemed to have lost its ‘green’ credentials in a big way.

Firstly, let’s look back at 1998 – the then 20 member Town Council was made up of 18 Lib Dems and 2 Labour. The Lib Dems were clearly seen to be big defenders of Maghull and they realised the perils of such a major development in the Town because of the strain it would put on the local infrastructure, schools, GP’s, dentists, roads, drainage systems etc. They were steeped in being ‘Maghullians’ and saw their task as being one of circling the wagons when an attack came in.

But what about Sefton Borough Council back in 1998 – it was ‘balanced’ with no one party having a majority. This is interesting because it meant that the Council was in effect run by all 3 of the major parties via a form of joint leadership.

The response from the Lib Dem run Maghull Town Council was robust to say the least – Sefton was told to sling its hook! What’s more the Town Council won the day.

Moving forward to 2012ish what had changed? Well Sefton was moving into the grip of sole party control – Labour. Its political power base was and indeed still is Bootle where old fashioned socialism is seen to be medicine that cures all ills. In the days of Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ the Labour councillors could often be heard to say we are ‘Old Labour’; they were certainly not on the same journey as Blair and neither did they seem to demonstrate much in the way ‘green’ credentials.

But what about Maghull Town Council; surely it would re-launch its campaign to save the Green Belt? Sorry, but no; the local elections of May 2011 saw a political landslide hit Maghull with the Lib Dems quite literally being thrown out of office to be replaced by Labour. The now 16 person Council was made up of 13 Labour and 3 Lib Dems. But surely this should not have affected how the Council approached this crucial land development issue? It did because Labour, despite issuing public ‘concerns’ about the Green Belt, were clearly reluctant to fight for it in any meaningful way. Why was this?

Of the 13 newly elected Labour members on Maghull TC 3 were Borough Councillors representing Bootle wards, 1 came from Crosby and 2 came from Aintree. Never in recent times had members of Maghull Town Council come from outside of Maghull or Lydiate. Times they were certainly changing.

So back to what Maghull TC would do in the face of another Green Belt attack from Sefton Borough Council. Well there was a lot of shuffling about and some vague press statements but little else; Maghull Labour was seemingly not prepared to take on Sefton which their political master now ran.
After a lot of running around in circles Labour got the Town Council to agree to do a survey of Maghull resident’s views. Unsurprisingly, the survey showed Maghull folk wanted to defend their Green Belt again. Maghull Labour simply sent the results to Sefton without comment of any significance. The Lib Dems were furious at the lack of fight for Maghull from Labour.

Then an odd and frankly quite ridiculous ruse was thought up by Labour. They proposed that Maghull TC does its own Neighbourhood Plan to complement Sefton Borough’s Local Plan. But hang on a minute Sefton’s Local Plan is the route by which the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land will most likely be built upon. In other words Maghull TC, under Labour, did not campaign against the loss of the land but instead started a process of softening up the community to accept the loss and to plan for it to happen!

Has Maghull been fought for, defended and promoted by Labour or has Maghull Labour simply taken orders from Bootle and carried them out in the Town? I think I know and it does not make me at all proud to be a member of a Town Council that, as far as I am concerned, just gave up fighting for the Town I lived in for 43 years and have represented as a councillor for 29 years.

PS. Lydiate Parish Council has of course fought Sefton’s development plans – Lydiate is Lib Dem run.

PPS. The survey done by Maghull TC is interesting as despite my asking the Town Clerk for all the paperwork/information associated with it I have been informed that the data is held by the Labour Party. How can a survey conducted by a Council end up with the data from it being placed within the control of a political party?

Population of England to reach 61m by 2037 – It’s an environmental crisis

According to estimates from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) the population of England is projected to grow at double the pace of the rest of the UK over the next 23 years. By 2037 it is estimated that more than 61m people will live in England – a rise of 16%. In contrast, 1.9m will reside in Northern Ireland (up 10%), 5.7m will live in Scotland (+9%) and some 3.2m people will make their home in Wales (+8%). Almost two thirds of the increase will be a result of immigration, either through newcomers arriving or the increased birth rate of migrants who have arrived in recent years.

The Times, Page: 15 – 5th June 2014

My problem with this issue is the environmental effect. We are a small island that can’t, in my view, continue to sustain an ever expanding population whatever the cause of that expansion may be. A rising population leads to more housing being built on high grade agricultural land, which in turn makes us a less sustainable nation for food production.

I don’t subscribe to the UKIP and right wing Tory view which I think tries to make racism more palatable. This is not a race issue it is a significant environmental, green and sustainability issue that we ignore at our peril.

Brownfield aid required

A study for the Civitas think-tank suggests the UK has enough so-called brownfield space for 2.5m houses to be built, however, the Government has not provided enough incentives for developers. The group suggests tax breaks to help developers absorb the costs of cleaning up brownfield sites and suggests subsequent profits from builders would see an increase in corporation tax flow to the Treasury.

This is an interesting study because, if the conclusions are right, there is a clear pointer towards stopping building on high grade agricultural land such as the Green Belt of Sefton which is predominately made up of it.

I have long argued that environmental and planning policy in the UK are not properly married up (and have not been for generations) and the consequence of this is that high grade agricultural land gets built on when there are undeveloped brownfield sites elsewhere. Surely building needs to take place where the brownfield sites are rather than this daft idea of putting more food growing fields under concrete.

Maghull Town Council – Covering Labour’s tracks by smoke, mirrors and a Neighbourhood Plan

A letter in the Aintree & Maghull Champion recently having a pop at the Lib Dems because we opposed the funding of a Neighbourhood Plan for Maghull, from Cllr. McKinley the Labour leader of Maghull Council, could not go without a response.

These voluntary plans can cost a huge amount of public money; some have cost over £70,000. We opposed the idea because of such potential costs and the fact that the Labour-run Council has still to say why they want to do a Neighbourhood Plan.

It is of course Labour politicians who are proposing to build hundreds and hundreds of houses on prime agricultural land and Green Belt around Maghull & Lydiate (and elsewhere across the Borough). They are doing that via the Sefton Local Plan.

Our suspicion is that this Neighbourhood Plan lark is an attempt to cover their tracks and to waste more scarce public money in the process. So far they have put £10,000 down to start a Maghull Neighbourhood Plan. We opposed this and proposed, at the Town Council’s budget meeting, that the money would be far more wisely spent supporting the Maghull in Bloom volunteers and Maghull’s Youth Coffee Bar.

Cutting grants to Volunteers to fund a Neighbourhood Plan vanity project appalls us.

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.