Sefton – Lib Dem Opposition Leader slams Sefton Local Plan

Sefton Council Lib Dem Opposition Group
Leader Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne
24th March 2015

Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne

Liberal Democrat Group response to Sefton Council’s Local Plan

For context and background information we attach our previous submission because much of what we said in it still applies.

MP’s raise concerns about Local Plan

Firstly, two of the Borough’s 3 MP’s have very clearly and publicly expressed great concerns about the Sefton Local Plan. John Pugh MP (Southport) has questioned the reliance of the Borough Council on consultants who have a foot in both camps i.e. developers/land owners and the Council. Bill Esterson MP (Sefton Central) has said the plan should go back to the drawing board because it has not been drawn up in a way that has engaged Sefton’s communities.

Lack of Sustainable Development

Since our previous submission there have been changes to the plan which in our view put the principle of sustainable development at huge risk. We say this as the Borough Council is now proposing to build more houses and in doing so use more Green Belt and high grade agricultural land to achieve this objective. We are far from convinced that a clear case has been made by the Borough Council to concrete over vast swathes of high grade agricultural land which is presently being used to grow our food on.

Threat to high grade agricultural land

Sefton is blessed with having a significant amount of some of the highest grade agricultural land in England yet this Local Plan is aiming to build on it. This is not environmentally sustainable development in our view.

Shaky and ever changing population projections

We continue to have grave doubts over the population projections that the Borough Council is using especially as Sefton’s population has been on a downward trend ever since the Borough was set up in 1974. What’s more the figures have changed with every iteration of the plan and the advice from consultants has changed with it.

Local Plan should have been a joint Plan with West Lancs Borough

We remain concerned at the lack of effective cross-boundary working with West Lancashire Borough Council. This is a matter that we have raised previously and the denials of Planning Officers have not reassured us. We have concluded that the Sefton Local Plan should have been pursued as joint plan with West Lancashire Borough Council as, we understand, has happened in other parts of England. Sefton has a massive boundary with West Lancashire Borough, very significantly greater than its boundaries with Liverpool or Knowsley. The Southport and Lydiate communities, for example, are surrounded by West Lancashire with only their southern boundaries being connected to the rest of the Borough of Sefton. The economic, housing, education, health and social needs of these communities are as much if not more connected to those of their neighbouring communities in West Lancashire as they are to those in Sefton/Merseyside. It is our contention that Sefton Council has failed to work in a progressive way with West Lancashire Borough Council and that it continues to adopt an inward looking Merseyside-centric approach which is to the disadvantage of its diverse communities.

No planning for Southport’s clear transportation needs to east and north of Town

Another concern that we have is so basic in terms of planning for the future of transportation to and from Southport as to beggar belief that it has not been picked up on. We refer to the significant rail and road problems that the Southport community faces to the east and north of the Town. Only recently Sefton Council was successful in pushing Merseytravel to include the Southport-Wigan-Manchester railway line in its Long Term Rail Strategy yet this Local Plan completely fails to address the implications of that positive move. Implications such as the requirement to build a new park and ride station on the outskirts of Southport so to make the line more attractive to Southport residents who work in Manchester. This is a very significant failure in the Plan and fuels our concerns that the development of the Plan has not been community based but imposed on the diverse communities of the Borough by a Bootle and Merseyside-centric Council.

But the concerns we express are larger than just rail related as Southport’s economy is significantly being held back by its access problems to the east and north of the Town. Road issues also need to be addressed and whilst the solutions are in West Lancashire Borough it is clearly the case that the Local Plan is just the place for Sefton to lay out its ambitions for solving these matters. Of course it also shows why the Local Plan should have been a joint one with West Lancs Borough.

If Sefton Council can see that road and rail improvements are required in Maghull (new station and improved M58 Motorway junction) why can’t it see and indeed make the case for such improvements to the road and rail connection to the east and north of Southport?

Maghull (New Town) – It’s far more than an urban extension!

Maghull and Lydiate are to see a huge amount of development via this Plan which is totally out with the housing needs of these two communities. Sites MN2.46/MN3.38 are to add a vast (New Town type) extension to the east of Maghull and this on some of the 2% highest grade agricultural land in England! We continue to argue that this is not environmentally sustainable development and that it is totally out of scale with the housing needs of this part of the Borough.

Lydiate too is to see significant development, again on high grade agricultural land and the semi-rural nature of this community is clearly being put at risk. There is every danger here that the scale of development will see the erosion of the Green Belt between Lydiate and Aughton Civil Parishes.

Housing need

We remain highly sceptical of the Councils view that large numbers of new houses are required and feel they have not produced robust evidence of such need. However, where Sefton does have a housing need is within the affordable/social housing sector and the plan does not indicate a sustainable way of providing such housing. Indeed, through drafts of the plan Sefton has backed away from targets for affordable housing.

Scrutiny Process

Sefton’s scrutiny process associated with the Local Plan was poor and the work that was done, especially that of Council’s Infrastructure Working Group, seems to have been all but ignored. This working Group raised many questions and concerns but as the Plan went through its final processes within the Council these significant issues were not addressed in a robust way and this leads us to conclude that the scrutiny of the Local Plan was unsound.

Our conclusion – Sefton’s Local Plan, not sound, not effective.

Sefton Council has done what it has been made to do to put a Local Plan together, but it has not done what it needed to do to put together a Local Plan that passes the test of soundness or that addresses the needs of its diverse communities. The Plan is remote and disconnected from the communities it seeks to plan the future of. The failure to work collaboratively with West Lancs Borough Council has been a huge opportunity missed and it means the Plan is not effective.

The Plan is imposed, has little no community support, it is unlikely to deliver the affordable housing that is required. Putting it bluntly it lacks ambition for the Borough and will not help it move forward economically, environmentally or socially.

Councillor Iain Brodie Browne

Some Good news about Sefton’s Green Belt but are some silly games being played out?

Last night at Sefton Council’s Planning Committee two important decisions were made and from my perspective both were very much the right decisions.

Firstly, an application to build on Green Belt land in Melling Civil Parish right up to the boundary with Aintree Village Civil Parish was firmly rejected. The land under threat (to build 100 houses upon) is bounded by the M57 Motorway, The River Alt and Spencers Lane. A map detailing where this site is located is below:-

The site is the upside down triangle just below the middle of this map right next to the M57 Motorway.

The site is the upside down triangle (with A519 on it) just below the middle of this map right next to the M57 Motorway. Click on the photo to enlarge it

Aintree Village Community Action Group came to speak to the Planning Committee meeting (held in Southport Town Hall) to press it to reject this planning application.

Interestingly, Labour voted against the development but I can’t help but feel that they are playing games here. You see it suits Labour to be seen as saving some Green Belt from development as it acts as a smoke screen for those areas of Green Belt they are promoting for development and yes some of those sites are within Melling Civil Parish. Beware that political party claiming, as I am sure they will, that they are defending the Green Belt!

The second site whilst also technically within Green Belt has been covered in my postings a number of times on this blog. It’s the Ashworth South site where there has been general agreement amongst local environmental campaigners that it should be released for development because it has been developed before, was going to be the site of a new prison that had planning permission, and it will provide a much needed second railway station for Maghull. The map below shows the site:-

The large red area is where Labour want to build houses and industrial premises. The orange area is the Ashworth South site.

The large red area is where Labour want to build houses and industrial premises. The orange area is the Ashworth South site. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Readers of this blog will recall that Labour have been all over the place about this site and for reasons no one can understand. They jumped on the band wagon to support the new station but have been unwilling pledge their support for the development of the rest of the site. And one could not happen without the other in that without a financial contribution from the housing development Maghull North Station would be short of the money required to be constructed. This Labour reluctance to support the development of this site was at complete odds with their own draft Local Plan for Sefton which incredibly designates a massive Green Belt site just across the road for hundreds and hundreds of houses and an industrial park.

But last night Labour finally fell into line with everyone else and supported the development of the Ashworth South site for around 350 houses and a new railway station. So why all the ducking and diving on Maghull Town Council by Labour?

So two important decisions were made last night and both went the way that I, my Lib Dem colleagues and local environmental campaigners have been fighting for. Sadly, I suspect they may well be the last of the good news on Sefton’s Green Belt because, unless there is a sea change in Labour’s approach to the Sefton Local Plan, they will be soon be voting for huge developments on it across the Borough.

Money being thrown at Maghull & District by Coalition? – What does it all mean?

I made mention of the Coalition Government funding 90% of the cost of Maghull’s second railway Station in a recent posting and them previously throwing a large amount of money at the presently being built Switch Island – Thornton (to be called Broomscross Road) link road. But there is a also a 3rd project that will ‘benefit’ Maghull and district that the Coalition has recently stumped up £5.5m (again around 90% of the cost) for.

Makes you wonder why the Coalition seemingly loves throwing so much money at the East Parishes part of Sefton, does it not, especially as the previous Labour Government did not put a penny into the pot for any of these three major transportation projects.

The third major project is to make the M58 Motorway junction near Ashworth Hospital/Kennet Prison a full junction as opposed to it being half of one as it always has been. I assume the half junction was a cost cutting saving when the Motorway was originally built?

I recall that my former Lib Dem councilor colleagues Cliff Mainey & Roy Connell campaigned for it be made a full junction some years ago. Cliff/Roy you have got your wish even though it took a few years!

BUT this 3rd project, welcome though it may be at face value, is probably tied to getting that huge piece of land to the east of Maghull developed for housing and business use. Readers will recall that Labour have already voted to build what can only be termed as a massive ‘urban extension’ on a truly enormous scale on that land in the Draft Local Plan for Sefton. Have Labour now inked out the building on that site even before the Local, Plan is finalised? I think we should be told.

Separately, the site Maghull North Station is to be built on can only be said to be confusing because at face value Labour are seemingly opposed to building houses on it (it is called the Ashworth South site) for some odd reason. My previous posting refers at:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/07/22/ashworth-south-site-the-proposed-maghull-north-station/

You see the remainder of the funding for the new station (or quite a bit of it anyway) will most likely come from ‘planning gain’ associated with the building of houses on the rest of this site. Interestingly, all the environmental campaigners locally that I know are quite content for this site to be developed because it has been developed before – Moss Side Hospital previously stood on it. So why Labour have cold feet about developing it when across the road (literally across School Lane) they are ‘ploughing’ on with building more houses on Green Belt land than you can shake a stick at remains a mystery. Can Bootle Labour Party please issue clear guidance and instructions to Maghull Labour, so they know what they are doing please!

So there you have it or put it another way:-

* Switch Island – Thornton Link Road – Not funded by Labour but by The Coalition – It has all-party support and should be finished by Christmas.

* Maghull North Station – Not funded by Labour but by The Coalition – seemingly has all-party support but Labour can’t make their minds up about developing the rest of the Ashworth South site which would enable all the funding to be in place.

* M58 Ashworth Junction – Not funded by Labour but by The Coalition – but have Labour done a deal to build an ‘urban extension’ to Maghull (on Green Belt land) to get the money?

Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers! Posting 3

This is the 3rd and, for now, final of my reviews of Merseytravel and its rail achievements and failures. The first two reviews can be found by following the links below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/01/29/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-1/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/02/19/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-2/

The starting point for this final review is an article in Today’s Railways Magazine of June 2009.

The first and highly significant point made in this article is that the Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) for Merseyside, which had been published a few months before the article by Network Rail, looked at the ‘journey to work area’ for Liverpool and it had concluded that it went well beyond the present Merseyrail boundaries. Shades here of my previously stated concerns about the Liverpool City Region area being far too small to be effective. Preston, Wigan, Warrington, Chester, Wrexham and Flint are mentioned as the real boundaries of travel into Liverpool for work and this demonstrates all too well why insular inward looking politicians have got Merseyside’s transport planning wrong.

Shadows on Merseyrail at Bootle New Strand Station

Shadows on Merseyrail at Bootle New Strand Station

The photo above is amongst my Flickr shots at:-
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

But lets look at the detail of this 2009 examination of Merseytravel/Merseyrail:-

* A 1km extension of the Kirkby Line (Northern line) to Headbolt Lane was being evaluated. I think we have heard of that before and it has still gone nowhere at all.

* A new railway into Skelmersdale (from the Kirkby – Wigan line) was to be investigated. This has popped up again quite recently with Lancashire County Council and West Lancs Borough Council seemingly very keen to get this project moving, but it will cost an arm and leg!

* An extension of the Ormskirk line electrification to Burscough and even Southport was suggested as a possibility for 2014 onwards. The article writer notes that electrification reached Ormskirk in 1913 so there would seem to be little urgency! What could be a small piece of good news is that extending the Northern Line beyond Ormskirk to Burscough is very much on the cards in 2014 probably on the back of major house building in Burscough. Watch this space.

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station. Could a section of this line from Ormskirk to Burscough be electrified soon?

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station. Could a section of this line from Ormskirk to Burscough be electrified soon?

* Bidston – Wrexham and Kirkby – Wigan electrifications. Well, where do we start! The first one has been doing the rounds for a very long time and both of them fit with the real travel to work area of Liverpool. Don’t hold your breath on either of them though.

* The Halton Curve – Yes, you have heard of that before and it got a mention in this July 2009 article. And, not so long ago, Merseytravel announced another feasibility study into reconnecting it to provide a Liverpool Lime Street Chester service.

* The need to run more 6 car trains was looked at. This problem, certainly on the Ormskirk Line, has led to folks abandoning rail travel because of some peak time trains being only 3 cars.

* There was talk of Liverpool Central being too small to cope with the number of passengers that flow through it and indeed the number of trains. Since then the Station has received a cosmetic refurbishment which also cleared as much clutter from the platforms of the Northern Line as possible to improve the passenger environment.

* Construction of a new Station at Maghull North! – Well I have been campaigning for that for a long time and it has still to appear. The article says it was planned for 2010 but sadly that was far too too optimistic and may well have been ‘Merseytravel speak’ i.e. talking things up beyond what was likely to happen.

A Merseyrail electric unit at Maghull Station

A Merseyrail electric unit at the present Maghull Station

* Replacement of the rolling stock in 2014 – Well that did not happen although another upgrade is presently being rolled out of the Class 507/508 EMU’s and they are getting a new ‘graffiti’ livery – well that’s what residents call it!

* And what about dual voltage, yes that gets another mention so that Merseyrail trains can take power from overhead lines as well as the 3rd rail. And no, it has not happened.

This article was very significantly based on the Merseyside RUS document but readers of my earlier posts will note that Network Rail in effect referred to projects that Merseytravel have been on about for 20 odd years or longer.

And to be fair 2007 saw the biggest financial crash in living memory so looking back it is blindingly obvious that many of the area’s transport schemes that relied on Government money to make them happen were going to be shunted into the sidings until things picked up. But, having said that, I can’t but look at places like Greater Manchester where the transport investment has continued apace despite hard times because Governments of all colours have confidence in the leadership of Greater Manchester and by implication they don’t in you know where!

My conclusion having read the commentary on the railways of the Merseyside area of the past 20 years is that Merseytravel always took a far too optimistic view of what was achievable and thought that if they talked long and hard enough Government money would flow into Merseyside transport. Sadly Merseytram proved the opposite to be the case. In my view poor governance of Merseyside has over the years ensured that investment by Governments in transport could only be limited, but have those in power learned from this? Will they take a trip down the East Lancs Road to see how successful transport planning, governance and investment is achieved?

This promotional Merseytram bookmark is about all that Liverpool City Regional has to show for its big tram ideas.

This promotional Merseytram bookmark is about all that Liverpool City Region has to show for its big tram ideas.

Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers!

Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers! – Posting 1

This is the first of 3 articles I am posting about Merseyside’s rail network and the big ambitions of Merseytravel (The Transport Authority for Merseyside) as played out in the railway press over the past 20 years.

My starting point is an edition of RAIL Magazine dated September 1st 1993 which had a 4 page spread on Merseyside’s local railway network and interestingly a full page advert for Merseytravel. Did the advert buy the article I wonder?

rsz_img_5208

rsz_img_5209

The advert

This advert is interesting as it was in a national railway magazine so was unlikely to bring many passengers to Liverpool’s local rail network

In terms of stand out issues the first is with regard to ‘dual voltage’ which means trains being able to operate from the electrified 3rd rail and from overhead power lines. It says ‘Merseytravel plans to convert 14 units [trains] to dual voltage to run a service extension from Hunts Cross to Warrington Central. This conversion work is planned within the next 5 years’ [i.e. by 1998]. Mm, well that never happened did it and neither did a new proposed service from Ellesmere Port to Liverpool Lime Street via Earlstown which gets a mention as a Merseytravel ‘opportunity’. However, my recent posting about the Halton Curve may indicate a potential resurrection of such a project?

Also on the down side is the Wrexham line extension where the magazine says ‘Electrification plans along the Shotton and Wrexham line are tied in with the recently discussed plans for Conway Park station [this new station has been built]. This could be the first of the system extensions to go ahead, possibly within the next two years’ [i.e. by 1995]. Well it clearly didn’t so the new stations at Woodchurch, one between Upton and Heswall and one to be called ‘Beechwood’ between Bidston and Upon have not happened. The report even talks of Woodchurch Station having ‘good park and ride possibilities with good access from the Wirral motorway.’

‘One outcome [of a study called MERITS] may be a re-emergence of the Liverpool tram in a modern form’. Oh dear, well it certainly did emerge only for the last Labour Government to knock it very firmly on the head! But the article also gives an inkling as to why the tram may not have been a runner when it says ‘One third of Merseysiders already live within walking distance of a station’. I wonder if the writer realised how true that would prove to be?

But what about the airport? The article says ‘One new proposal is for an airport branch’, oh how we all wish that had been achieved!

New stations were an issue back in 1993 as they are now. Eastham Rake [done], Conway Park [done], Brunswick [done], Maghull North [still waiting], Headbolt Lane (Kirkby) [still waiting], Town Meadow (on West Kirby line) [still waiting], Vauxhall (between Sandhills and Moorfields on Northern Line) [still waiting], Marshalls Cross [still waiting], Wavertree Technology Park [done], Huyton Quarry [still waiting] and Carr Mill (all on City Line) [still waiting].

And finally a telling comment ‘Merseyside has been left out of the EPS regional proposals in favour of the more populous Manchester’, together with what may well have been no more than a pipe dream – ‘Merseytravel sees the possibility of starting a sleeper from Liverpool’.

Initial thoughts – No mention of Southport what so ever and its long-standing eastern/northern rail access problems. No mention of extending the Ormskirk Line to Burscough and beyond to Preston. No mention of extending the Kirkby line to Skelmersdale and Wigan. A lot of projects that never got far if at all out of the sidings. Was this hugely ambitious shopping list realistic?

Read on in the next of my reviews that are to follow soon on this blog site.