The perils of being in power – Fragoff give Labour both barrels

There’s no doubt that being in power means taking the blame for things sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly but it can be tough at the top as Sefton Labour Party are finding out following their Local Plan proving to be highly unpopular.

Of course they have brought this all on themselves by starting off the Local Plan process by telling folk they were going to save the Green Belt from development and then voting consistently to build on that same Sefton Green Belt.

You would have thought they could have learned from a previous close scrape of a similar nature with urban green space land off Damfield Lane in Maghull where they said they were going to fight the extra-care development and ended up voting for it to be built! But it seems lessons were not learned and the sin was repeated with the Sefton Local Plan.

Labour’s say one thing but do the opposite has really upset environmental campaigners in the Sefton Central Constituency and it led directly to the creation of a new campaign group and political party – Fragoff in Formby. Not only that but Fragoff won a seat on Sefton Council last May that Labour thought was a nailed down certainty for another Labour yes person who would follow orders from their Bootle bunker.

But Fragoff have spread their brand of environmental campaigning and it has been hurting Labour in Maghull, Lydiate, Aintree and Melling just as it has done in Formby.

It goes without saying that Fragoff’s agenda has been very similar to that of the opposition Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council. Labour’s troubles are about to get worse and all because they said one thing and then did the opposite. Watch as the story unfolds.

Sefton Lib Dems – putting our environment first – Local Plan ‘additional sites’

Sefton Council Lib Dem Opposition Group
Leader Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne

7th August 2014

Liberal Democrat response to the ‘additional sites’ consultation
with regard to Sefton Council’s draft Local Plan

It may well be useful for us to start with a reminder of the Lib Dem approach to Sefton Council’s Local Plan in terms of our previous detailed submission of 26th September 2013. From the headline issues in that earlier submission we will then frame our response to the additional sites for potential development, put forward by land owners and developers.

This is what we said in September 2013:-

Labour’s draft Local Plan for Sefton is inadequate, fails to protect high grade agricultural land and lacks ambition

The Liberal Democrat Group on Sefton Council have major concerns about the draft Local Plan and the preferred ‘Option 2’ put forward by the Labour administration on Sefton Council.

Executive Summary

Our fundamental concerns are:-

• The draft plan lacks robustness in terms of population predictions and therefore the housing requirements flowing from the data used can’t be anything more than vaguely informed guestimates.
• The effect of taking the plan forward based on potentially flawed data means that high grade agricultural land, within Green Belt, will be designated for house building when this may well not be necessary.
• The seeming lack of detailed working with West Lancashire Borough Council is worrying as they are the local authority that Sefton has by far the largest boundary and most significant community of interest with.
• The leading references in the draft plan to Merseyside Councils are misleading and unhelpful because the centre and north of the Borough (the majority of the Sefton) rightly expects the Council to be heavily engaged with West Lancashire as a priority with the southern Merseyside Councils being of less significance for two thirds of the Borough’s population.
• The flawed method of public consultation used by the Council may well have reduced the number of residents who felt able and comfortable to participate in the process.
• The plan is all but silent on some major issues across the Borough that need to be planned for.


Why is 500 the answer again?
The plan’s preferred Option 2 will mean that each year 510 houses will be built in the Borough – this is a remarkably similar figure to the target of 500 houses per year which was previously imposed on the Borough via the last Labour Government’s Regional Spatial Strategy.

Bearing in mind that after the RSS figure was imposed the UK entered into and is still suffering from the effects of a massive economic recession and that the draft plan is allegedly built upon new economic and population data etc. the similarity of the proposed house building figures is at best questionable.

It is also the case that the draft plan seems to indicate a much higher figure (above 660) of houses ‘need’ be built per year. In another context the Council’s public statements say that 5,000 houses need to be built in the existing urban areas. These figures are at best confusing.

Concerns about the quality and accuracy of data
We have great concern about the quality and accuracy of the data used in the production of the options within the plan. This point is made in the context of the Council’s lead consultants, NLP, openly saying at a Local Plan Stakeholder meeting in May of 2013, at Bootle Town Hall that the Borough’s year on year declining population is suddenly going to go into reverse and significantly rise again. What’s more they said to this forum that the rise would be caused by inward migration. When questioned to explain this statement they said that the migrants would be made up of people moving into Sefton from other parts of the UK, people returning to Sefton who had moved away and migrants from outside the UK. To date we have not seen what we accept as credible data to robustly back up these assertions.

Loss of ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land
The Green Belt surrounding Sefton’s diverse communities is almost totally comprised of high grade agricultural land often referred to as ‘best and most versatile’. However, Option 2 clearly indicates that a significant part of this land, which is presently used for the growing of food, will be lost to housing developments if the Council presses ahead and confirms the preferred option of the Labour administration.

Our clear view is that compromising high grade agricultural land is a hugely negative step backwards and that it is environmentally unsustainable.

Urban Extensions
The potential size increases of some communities, e.g. Maghull to increase by nearly 25% and Lydiate by 35% will fundamentally change the character of these parishes. The Local Plan process was supposed to prevent such significant increases and we feel that the scale of the proposals is therefore unacceptable.

Some small Green Belt compromises are possible
We do realise that some land that technically falls within Green Belt can sensibly be developed because it is often not high quality agricultural land.

The Power House in Formby, land east of Southport at Kew, the Pontins site in Ainsdale and the presently vacant Ashworth South site in Maghull are examples of sites where a reasonable compromise can be made. The Power House, Pontins and Ashworth South are clear examples of sites which have previously been built upon to some extent and therefore lend themselves to being developed.

This approach can take the pressure off building on high grade agricultural land. However, such reasonably developable sites within the Green Belt are few.

Lack of detailed working with West Lancs
We understand that West Lancs Borough Council has some concerns about Option 2 particularly with regard to the reserved sites in Lydiate which if developed will leave too narrow a Green Belt with Aughton. We share this concern.

In general we have concerns about the seemingly lack of detailed joint Local Plan development with West Lancs Borough Council. This is evidenced by West Lancs’ comments about the Lydiate reserve sites and the lack of detail in either the Sefton or indeed West Lancs plans to address transportation issues (both rail and road) to the east of Southport.

The fact that the Local Plan process seems not to be developing a common detailed agenda to address traffic congestion between Southport and Ormskirk and the improvement of rail services to and from Southport along the Wigan Southport railway line is regrettable. The reconnection of the Wigan – Southport and Ormskirk – Preston railway lines at Burscough (via the Burscough Curves) is also surprising by its omission from the draft.

Negative impact developments in retail units
Prevention of retail ghettoisation – The Local Plan should aim to restrict the spread of betting shops (particularly given the prevalence of fixed odds betting terminals) and pay day loan shops.

Environmental considerations
Whilst raising issues such as global warming, climate change and sustainable development the plan is far from being ambitious in this crucial area of environmental sustainability. Sefton’s Local Plan and indeed those of our neighbouring Councils need to focus on energy conservation and the highest possible energy-saving/low carbon targets for all new developments. District heating is being embraced in one area of Kew in Southport but this can only be the start. Biomass boilers on a communal basis are another way forward that must be grasped.

Whilst doing this the Council should be seeking effective ways to improve, as far as possible, the Borough’s current stock of commercial and domestic buildings with regard to energy usage.

Should we not also be considering the aims of Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority by pushing hard the policy of encouraging the installation of sprinkler systems in all new commercial property builds in the Borough and retrofitting into older properties?

Shale Gas extraction has to be a major issue for Sefton as exploration work is already happening in neighbouring West Lancashire and the license under which that is taking place also covers parts of our Borough. It is almost certain that the UK will need to exploit this source of fuel within the next few years yet the Local Plan is all but silent on the matter. As the plan is meant to cover the next 15 to 20 years for it to virtually ignore this issue is far from being a sound planning process.

Flooding – the two large greenbelt sites proposed for building in the north of Southport and one of the ‘reserved’ sites in Lydiate are prone to flooding and they add to concerns that the draft plan does not give enough emphasis to flood prevention.

We fear that planning for future school requirements is not a robust part of the Local Plan and that this needs to be addressed especially if the Council presses ahead with major housing developments. A sit and wait to see what develops approach will be irresponsible where significant developments are to take place especially when half of the Borough is already very close to experiencing stresses with regard to primary school places.

It also has to be held in mind that schools in Sefton are popular for parents from West Lancs, Knowsley and Liverpool to send their children to, so housing developments in those neighbouring council areas will have an impact on the demand for places within the Borough.

NHS Pressure
We have concerns about the impact of major housing developments in the Borough (and indeed in surrounding council areas) as they will have an impact on the capacity of our local NHS facilities and hospitals. The Local Plan needs to addresses the problems that will occur with extra pressure on hospitals, GP surgeries and NHS dentists. These health aspects have to be a major part of all future major planning applications as accessibility to and the capacity of NHS facilities to cope are big issues

The challenges of Liverpool’s greatly declined population
Demand for housing in Sefton and indeed in other Boroughs surrounding Liverpool has been ratcheted up by the city’s ever declining population over many generations since the Second World War. Whilst Liverpool has stemmed that loss it needs to rebuild its lost population and use up brownfield sites across the city for housing. The longer it takes to address this issue the greater the pressure will be on Sefton to sanction the building of houses on its high grade agricultural land. This is a sub-regional matter that urgently needs to be addressed.

Questionable public consultation process
Before the 12 weeks public consultation was embarked upon (July to September 2013) we and indeed independent environmental campaigners from across the Borough raised such concerns but they were not taken on board. We suggested that the planned method of public consultation was inappropriate and would not engage people fully. What concerned us was the need for members of the public to book an appointment to enable them to express their views on the draft Local Plan face to face. We said this was an unreasonable barrier to the consultation process and that it would effectively hold residents at arms length instead of welcoming them into it. We still hold to that view and are concerned that a true picture of the concerns of residents across the Borough may well not have been obtained.

A full copy of our September’ 13 submission is available to read on our Sefton Focus web site at:-

The additional sites

General Principles

Unsurprisingly, we are opposed to development on the vast majority of the addition sites as indeed we remain opposed to the development of many of the sites that the Council, under its Labour leadership, has already indicated that it wishes to see developed.

Our principles and approach have not changed in that we oppose Green Belt development in all but very specific circumstances such as those mentioned in our original submission. This is what we said in September 2013 on that matter:-

The Power House in Formby, land east of Southport at Kew, the Pontins site in Ainsdale and the presently vacant Ashworth South site in Maghull are examples of sites where a reasonable compromise can be made. The Power House, Pontins and Ashworth South are clear examples of sites which have previously been built upon to some extent and therefore lend themselves to being developed.

Couple with that our overriding concern that virtually all the undeveloped land in the Borough is high grade agricultural land that should be protected from development so that it can be used to grow food for future generations.

These principles are what frame our approach to the Local Plan process as a whole and therefore the vast majority of the ‘additional sites’ fall foul of our environmental sustainability test.

To illustrate our concerns we have conducted a review of the proposals for the East Parishes part of the Borough because it sadly details our concerns only too well. Whilst there are of course ‘additional sites’ across Sefton that land owners want to concrete over this part of the Borough is clearly being targeted by developers. Should they get their way the impact on the East Parishes communities could be catastrophic.

Sites in and around the East Parishes communities – Maghull, Aintree Village, Lydiate & Melling.

There are some truly vast sites here that developers wish to see built upon and a real danger that communities will merge into one another and lose identity if the proposals are taken forward.

* Site AS17 – The Peel Holdings proposals for a logistics park to the east of the M57 and adjacent to Switch Island and Brewery Lane in Melling are a huge concern to us. The land is presently being farmed because it is high grade agricultural land and there are, in our view, no sound reasons to agree to this development. The landscape of rural Melling would be lost forever as acre upon acre of high grade agricultural land would be lost to an industrial development. The traffic implications of this upon rural Melling would be huge indeed.

* Sites AS12/AS14 – These two huge sites to the west and east of Lydiate/Maghull fall within a similar category to AS17 in that they are both high grade agricultural land that is presently being farmed. To turn them over to housing is unthinkable in environmental sustainability terms. AS14 is right next to SR4.48 (Tyson’s Triangle) which Sefton Council has already designated as a ‘reserve’ site for development in its own draft Local Plan. Bearing in mind that a further and much larger ‘reserve’ site (SR4.47) is the other side of SR4.48 this would have the effect of vastly increasing the size of Lydiate’s population. Just developing the two reserve sites will increase Lydiate’s size by 35%! What’s more AS14 will develop Lydiate right up to the West Lancashire (Aughton) boundary and we are aware that West Lancs Council already have concerns about the two ‘reserve’ sites for this very reason. Taking the 3 sites together Lydiate would be subject to an urban extension of considerable proportions.

* Site AS15 – We urge great caution in approaching this site for development. It is prone to flooding as the flood events of September 2012 demonstrated with many homes in Fouracres, Maghull being under water. These flooded properties are adjacent to this site and they risk being flooded again if Dovers Brook ‘overtops’ due to it being unable to run into an at capacity River Alt. Our understanding is that this site is rich in wildlife and there have been previous proposals to turn it into a nature reserve, which seems a far more sensible use for the land. We oppose development here.

* Sites AS18, AS19, AS21 and AS22 – Should these sites be considered for development it will mean that Aintree Village will see a vast increase in its size and it will be developed right up to the M57 Motorway. Bearing in mind that AS17 will potentially develop land on the other side of the same Motorway this will have the effect of considerable urban sprawl with Aintree Village losing the semi-rural surroundings that it presently benefits from.

* Site AS23 – This will, if it is developed for housing, have the effect of joining Aintree Village to Liverpool as it is very close to the Sefton/Liverpool boundary. This will lead to a position whereby presently separate communities merge into each other and as a consequence lose identity. This site needs to retain its open aspect.

Site AS24 – This is split into two sites that seemingly share the same reference number. The smaller (westerly site) has mostly been developed in previous times so is not problematic in our view. Indeed, it shares a similar status to the Ashworth South site SR4.26) in our opinion. The larger (easterly) site has not been subject to previous development and therefore fails our environmental sustainability test; it should not be released for development.

Turning to Southport, it has just a couple ‘additional sites’ put forward by developers and land owners for inclusion as development land in the Local Plan, but both sites illustrate and reinforce our environment first approach to the Local Plan process:-

Site AS01
– This Meols site is an extension of site SR4.02. We objected to the development of SR4.02 in the last round of consultation. AS01 will simply develop a much larger area which is presently Green Belt land. Our clear view is that neither of these adjacent sites should be developed for the total of around 420 houses that are proposed because there is an obvious and altogether acceptable alternative. That alternative site is the old Philips factory site.

Site AS02 – This Birkdale site, right next to the Liverpool – Southport railway line, is another one where the environmental considerations are of great significance and a recent bio-diversity report on it makes compelling reading. It may not be, in this case, high grade agricultural land but the bio-diversity factors brought out by the report mean that we strongly oppose any development on it.


We have not commented on every ‘additional site’ in the Borough but have used specific examples to illustrate our concerns and principles.

Translating the sites to a map of the East Parishes communities quickly leads you to the conclusion that semi-rural nature of these separate villages and the Town of Maghull will all but be lost by the Council’s draft proposals. To add in the majority of the ‘additional sites’ would simply stick the final lid in the coffin of these separate, proud and semi-rural communities.

We do appreciate that some additional housing (particularly social housing and particularly so in the north of the Borough) will be required in the coming years but a more innovative approach is required than simply looking for the nearest green field and stamping it for concreting over.

We urge the Council to rethink its approach to development land and the need for housing across the Borough along the lines of our submission of September 2013.

Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group
Sefton MBC

You know what I will be doing today – Voting Liberal Democrat

Lib Dems fighting for Sefton's Libraries

Lib Dems fighting for Sefton’s Libraries

Fighting Labour's proposed £46 Green Bin Tax on Sefton households households.

Fighting Labour’s proposed £46 Green Bin Tax on Sefton households.

Working with the community to try to save our Green Belt from Labour's development plans.

Working with the community to try to save our Green Belt from Labour’s development plans.

3 very good reason for me (and you?) to vote Liberal Democrat today.