A battle – rekindle journalism

I was interested to read this piece (see link below) in The Post, Liverpool’s new(ish) online newspaper, which I’ve found very interesting:-

www.livpost.co.uk/p/bored-of-publishing-clickbait-the?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjoxOTMwNDk2OSwicG9zdF9pZCI6NDk2NzAwODEsIl8iOiJiQjllOSIsImlhdCI6MTY0NzI1MTQxNiwiZXhwIjoxNjQ3MjU1MDE2LCJpc3MiOiJwdWItMTA3MDE4Iiwic3ViIjoicG9zdC1yZWFjdGlvbiJ9.nkHp8j3eYvMYEcob_DeiJcpPrKFG054XbqKWUCfSfCU&s=r

My response to Reach and the Liverpool Echo.

I do still visit your Liverpool Echo website from time to time but to be honest, your concentration on crime is really depressing. I want to read interesting, well-researched articles about the Liverpool City Region and some good investigative journalism digging into the dark corners of councils, companies and organisations who would rather such reporting was not happening.

I appreciate that your business model has been turned upside down because of online news and let’s face it who under the age of 65 buys a newspaper these days. A friend of mine who died quite recently was a journalist for local newspapers and he knew the community where I live very well. He immersed himself in the community getting to know all kinds of people and those who represented them. Yes, he was an old fashioned reporter but when he passed away our communities in the East Parishes of Sefton Borough lost a great deal.

I think it fair to say that news reporting (like policing) is done remotely these days and, like the police, reporters are not on the ground where things are happening and they’re not picking up important intelligence/stories. Indeed, this leads to superficial reporting without the depth to it that we all used to enjoy.

Frankly, I have seen the emergence of The Post as a very positive thing that may to some extent help us turn back the clocks with regard to reporting on local/sub-regional matters, if only to some extent.

Please don’t be opposed to what The Post is doing but find ways to work with it. If the reaction of Reach is as described above it sadly reminds me of how the Labour Party reacts to other progressive parties i.e. wanting to crush them. Progressive and open journalism should be a positive thing that makes those with power at any level and in any organisation keep an eye over their shoulder for fear of their not being seen to be doing things for the benefit of our communities and indeed wider society.

Councils decide Local Plans, are planning application approvers, sometime land developers & may be social housing providers too!

I’ve long pondered over the various roles associated with land development/housing that are filled by single local authorities.

It was the article below from the Liverpool Echo that made me think about what looks to me like conflicting responsibilities.

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/concerns-raised-over-councils-luxury-22515674

Sefton Council (like all other unitary councils) decided the current Local Plan for the Borough, which in turn designated new pieces of land to be developed. Yes, the government prescribed that councils have such a plan but crucially it’s the councils deciding the parcels of land to be tarmacked and concreted over. Ok, local politicians, across the country, then pull all kinds of stunts to pretend they had nothing to do with taking land out of Green Belt, for example, (as that’s usually very unpopular) via the Local Plan they agreed to. They may even go so far as to oppose planning applications for the land they’ve designated for development! Such is political life but whatever politicians say the decisions about which parcels of land to make available for building were taken by a local council.

So planning applications are decided upon by the same councils who’ve picked the land to be built on. Surely a conflict of interests? Yes, I know, local authority planning committees are at face value run along quasi-judicial lines whereby the members of such committees can’t or should not be influenced by political or party political thoughts and lobbying, but is that really how things work? I’m a sceptic.

But what happens if the very same council sets itself up as a land developer/housebuilder as well as a Local Plan and planning application decider – Surely big conflicts of interest there?

And some local authorities are still social/council housing providers so potentially have a direct say in every part of the process from a piece of land changing from say high-grade agricultural land to it charging rent to the people living in the houses built on such land!

I had such thoughts when I was the leader of Sefton Council some years ago. I was invited to leave the council in May 2015 by the electorate I might add but at least my conscience is clear because I consistently opposed the development of Sefton’s Local Plan due to high-grade agricultural land, which feeds us, being designated for building on, That plan was finally approved after I left the council. Sefton was not a social/council housing provider in the latter years of my being on that council as all the housing stock had been transferred to a housing association called One Vision under pressure from the Blair Government.

Am I right to see all these conflicts of interest and worry about them?

I’m of the view that the designation of land use by local authority areas is taking too many smallish geographical areas and making decisions on them when such decisions actually would be better taken strategically at say a sub-regional level. Look at it this way if say a group of local authority areas, Merseyside may well be a good example, all produce their own Local Plans (what happens now) would it not be better if those land-use decisions were determined over the whole former Merseyside County area? There may be large areas of brownfield land in a couple of local authorities but almost none in others. This means that, under present rules i.e. separate Local Plans, the couple of authorities with large areas of brownfield land have a pretty easy Local Plan process. However, not all their brownfield land needs to be used so some is left undeveloped but in the other adjacent local authority areas with little or no brownfield land their plans can only pick non-brownfield land to be built upon. Do you get my drift? The smaller a geographic area for a Local Plan the more likely it is that poor strategic land-use decisions will be.

In terms of social housing provision, I’d like to see strong tenant-led housing associations separate from local authorities. I worry that housing associations have suffered from neglect and they may well not be fulfilling their original purposes well these days. It would also break a link which can be an issue of conflict of interest to me with local planning authorities.

I’d be interested to hear the views of others…….

Shakespeare and Prescot

I’ve always had a soft spot for Prescot, the stamping ground of the near-legendary (to me anyway) Cllr. Ian Smith whom I’ve heard referred to as ‘Mr Prescot’ and we’re not talking ‘2 Jags’ here!

The steeple of Prescot Parish Church just as the sun was going down.

I’m also a fan of ‘The Post’ a new online newspaper for Merseyside which has just published an in-depth article about Prescot’s soon to be Shakespeare Theatre. The link below is to The Post article, by Robin Brown, which is well worth a read:-

www.livpost.co.uk/p/whats-past-is-prologue-how-shakespeare

I decided to ask ‘Mr Prescot’ for his views on the project and this is what he says:-

‘We are very supportive of the Shakespeare theatre being built in Prescot. The unique history of the Town demands this investment in its future. The original Elizabethan theatre was sited at the other end of Eccleston Street near a building known a the ‘Flat iron’ for obvious reasons.

We are all looking forward to the opening in 2022. The theatre will attract visitors to Prescot from all over the world. The renovation work to shops in the Town have been in keeping and Eccleston Street offers a café and restaurant atmosphere and is welcoming to visitors both day and night.

Prescot can look to a great future by building on its past, it has important stories to tell and will become an important visitor attraction in the North West.’

Councillor Ian Smith – Prescot North Knowsley MBC & Prescot Town Council

And here’s an interesting link about the project from the Liverpool Echo:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/shakespeares-links-merseyside-new-playhouse-22585829#ICID=Android_EchoNewsApp_AppShare

Liverpool – World Heritage status lost

The ‘3 Graces’ on Liverpool waterfront taken from the new Museum of Liverpool

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link below –

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/liverpool-stripped-world-heritage-status-21104465

Well, as being struck off has been flagged up for quite some years now, the actual removal of World Heritage status almost comes as no surprise. However, I don’t think this backwards step for Liverpool and indeed the whole City Region can be looked at as an isolated matter because for me the governance of Liverpool, which has been so criticised of late, must be a factor (if not a significant factor) in how the city has found itself on the naughty step.

Paul McCartney Concert at Anfield 2008

The heady days of the 2008 European Capital of Culture seem to be a lifetime away, yet it was only 13 years ago! My feeling is that the leadership of Liverpool City Council during recent years is at the heart of this matter. Inward investment is of course crucial for any major city but has Liverpool made the right choices at the right time and with the right investors? I suspect not and the recent governance report (Caller Report) on the City Council may well be a pointer to the failings.

Also, as a regular reader of Peter Kilfoyle’s blog – KILFOYLEONPOLITICS, which has been predicting for some years the mess Liverpool was getting into, has been and indeed still is a sobering experience for me. And I say that as someone who is not of the same politics as Kylfole yet realises that what he has been shouting from the rooftops for a very long time has been all but ignored until turning a blind eye and a deaf ear was no longer possible for the powers that be.

No, looking at the loss of World Heritage status in isolation will lead to the wrong conclusions in my view. Getting the prestigious award back needs to be part of solving the far wider troubles in which the City Council finds itself.

Footnote 4th August – There’s a Guardian podcast on this matter but it will probably not go down well with those who are content with Liverpool losing World Heritage Status –

open.spotify.com/episode/11cZfligeL4oFQkg70pGtq?si=dzUrmfAbR7ykj6eDlC50OQ&dl_branch=1&nd=1

I must say I have been surprised by the significant reaction of many Liverpool folk who are quite ok with losing the WH status and who feel it was a badge of little value.

Bootle job losses

Bootle Crest. This version is fixed to the wall of the Council Chamber in Bootle Town Hall.

I spent my whole working life in Bootle as a civil servant, or more precisely as a PCS trade union officer looking after the interests of civil servants, so to see significant job losses in the town in both the public and private sectors troubles me.

It’s a subject I’ve blogged about previously on the back of the announcement of the loss of civil service jobs in Bootle. Here’s a link back to my most relevant posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/11/05/bootle-yet-more-civil-service-jobs-to-be-withdrawn/

And now things on the Santander front look more than a little gloomy too as the long-promised redevelopment of the former GIRO building in Netherton has been cancelled. The Liverpool Echo has an article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/huge-new-75m-santander-bootle-20252021

As I’ve said time and time again, public sector and in particular civil service jobs were brought into Bootle in the 1960s and 1970s to boost job opportunities in a town that was struggling with the demise of the docks and associated industries. To now remove those civil service jobs elsewhere (in HMRC’s case into central Liverpool) makes no sense to me at all. Those jobs and those at Santander will have had a positive effect on the local economy, indeed I’ve often thought that without the thousands of civil servants in Bootle’s mini-Whitehall the Strand Shopping Centre would have encountered serious trading problems many years ago.

Bootle New Strand shopping centre

Removing public sector jobs from Bootle can only make regenerating the town a much bigger job and the investment in jobs that would have flowed from the Santander project makes that tough job even tougher.

As an aside, I also wonder how big an influence the Liverpool City Region is on the sucking of jobs into central Liverpool. My fear is that Liverpool’s gains are at the expense of its surrounding towns…….

My thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting

Why cyclists really do need the police to step up

Cyclists know that the police are stretched and that Bobbies are hardly ever seen on cycles these days but police forces across the UK turning what amounts to a blind eye to the antics of some drivers is unforgiveable. Sadly, it seems dangerous drivers who put cyclists at risk are only really tackled when they have done some harm rather than them being targeted when seen driving dangerously near a cyclist.

The link below from Cycling UK is about using video evidence to help prosecute dangerous drivers but whilst being quite specific sadly it shows how UK police forces are reluctant to take dangerous drivers to task when they threaten the safety of cyclists:-

www.cyclinguk.org/article/roads-policing-review-failures-video-evidence

And sadly as if we needed reminding why the safety of cyclists needs to be a priority the Liverpool Echo put this article on its website only yesterday.

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/woman-cyclist-critical-condition-after-19006592

Let’s hope the injured woman survives and gets well again but let’s also not forget that a cyclist (a retired policeman) was killed on Wood Ln/Causeway Ln in Great Altcar only weeks ago as was former Melling Parish Councillor Alison Doyle a couple of years ago in Aughton’s Bold Lane. That’s 3 serious road accidents involving cyclists in a small geographic area and there will be others with non-life threatening consequences that go unreported. I blogged about Alison’s accident at the time:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/08/20/aughton-fatal-accident-on-bold-lane/

Speeding and close passing of cyclists are often the cause of such accidents that’s why it looks like the Highway Code is about to be changed to say that at 30mph drivers should give 1.5m of space when overtaking a cyclist. Another related issue is drivers overtaking cyclists who then see vehicles coming towards them on the other carriageway. Their reaction is to swerve back into their lane as though the cyclist whom they are overtaking has just vanished! If pulling a caravan or trailer this can hit the cyclist but even a car on its own swerving back into the lane can have a similar consequences. The massage is don’t overtake a cyclist if you’ve not got room to do it safely. Anything else is not unfortunate its dangerous driving!!!

Some drivers, a very small minority, don’t only drive dangerously around cyclists but they do it deliberately to intimidate them. I’ve been shouted at to ‘get off the road’, I’ve been all but run off the road by drivers passing within a coat of paint of my handle bars. I’ve even had drivers overtaking me and then slamming on their brakes! I’m told that some drivers hate cyclists, well if they do they really shouldn’t have a driving licence should they.

I’m a driver myself although I try to use my car as little as possible for environmental reasons on short journeys. And yes of course there are terrible cyclists out there swerving in out out of traffic, jumping red lights, riding on pavements etc. I saw one near Meols Cop Station a couple of days ago in Southport. But of course it’s probably the case that a poor driver is also a poor cyclist.

All we want is UK police forces to target bad drivers far more than they do and yes persecute the illegal cyclists too; I don’t have a problem with that. And remember the dangerous driver that knocks a cyclist off may well hit a pedestrian or crash into your car; they’re not just bad drivers around cyclists.

My thanks to Andrew Blackburn for the lead to this posting