As an exercise in local democracy Maghull Town Council’s meeting on 2nd July was very far from being a shining example.
Firstly, we had a ‘debate’ over the so called ‘Maghull Development Plan’ of the Council although to call it a debate would be pushing it. When I raised questions the running Labour Group said nothing and left the Town Clerk to answer me!
TOWN COUNCIL WILL NOT BE DEFENDING THE GREEN BELT
I asked what the line in the plan saying ‘It is a priority of MTC to expand the amount of land owned and controlled by the people of Maghull’ meant. Did it mean the Council had an eye on land to purchase? The answer was vague but seemed to point towards when new developments go ahead in Maghull [on Green Belt & high grade agricultural land?] the Town Council will look to have some land designated for public use. That sounded to me like the Labour-run Town Council has given up the fight (that it never fought) to protect the Green Belt from development.
ALLOTMENTS GIVEN THE CHOP?
And why was there no mention of providing allotments in the Plan? They had been trumpeted from the rooftops not so long ago as a big Labour idea. Again, no response from the Labour members but the Town Clerk told me it was still almost on the table or words to that effect. Well allotments are certainly not in the Development Plan.
NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN IS ‘A SMOKE SCREEN’
We opposition Lib Dems also gave notice that we opposed the Town Council’s Neighbourhood Plan as to us it is nothing more than a smoke screen for building on the Green Belt. This woke Labour up and a robust exchange of views took place with Labour seemingly blaming everyone but themselves for them voting on Sefton Council to build on the Green Belt around Maghull.
ASHWORTH SOUTH SITE – WELL WE REALLY DON’T KNOW WHAT TO THINK – LABOUR
Then we moved on to what turned out to be a farcical discussion about whether or not the Town Council was in favour (or not) of a development of 370 houses on the former Moss Side Hospital site. It is now known as Ashworth South site and was to have been a further new prison under Labour. The prison was cancelled by the Coalition Government.
What we expected was the Labour Group to lay out their views one way or the other but would they do that, not a hope. They waffled around the subject talking about ‘social capital’, whatever that may mean, but ended up saying they wanted the Town Clerk to draw up a response based on individual comments made to her by Council members after the meeting. Based on Sefton Borough Labour’s plan to build on massive swathes of Green Belt around Maghull & Lydiate (and elsewhere in the Borough of Sefton) I could not get my head around why they were so unwilling to say yes or no on this particular site. Local environmental campaigners have already said that they think it is a sensible site to develop. Those same campaigners feel this site is especially the case as this proposed development will help bring forward money to build a second railway station for the Town which Labour had very recently said they supported!
Labour has certainly got cold feet over the site now but why was not explained and no sensible decision was was made by the Council at all.
Then we came to the ultimate in how local democracy should not be practiced and all over a debate about revising the Council’s Standing Orders! Before us were some proposed changes to the Standing Orders from the Labour Council and frankly there were 3 changes we Lib Dems were not at all happy about.
YOU CAN’T ASK A QUESTION IF YOU DON’T PAY THE COUNCIL TAX BILL – BUT THEY BACKED OFF
A Labour member jumped in first over one of the proposed changes and said just what we were going to say, so the change was agreed by an amendment unanimously. I would add that what was before us, in the original draft, was quite appalling in that it said (or the effect of what it said) was that only the person who pays the Council Tax bill in a Maghull household could ask a question of the Council. What about those residents who live in properties across the Town but whose name is not on the Council tax bill? It would have gagged them, but thankfully Labour backed down.
YOU CAN’T PETITION THE TOWN COUNCIL ANY MORE ABOUT A MAGHULL MATTER!
We then moved on to an amendment about petitions being presented to the Council or at least that is what we Lib Dems thought we were doing. I spoke to the change we wanted to make because the draft in front of us unbelievably said that petitions could only, in future, be about matters for which the Town Council has responsibility. The words ‘or which affects the township’ were to be removed. This meant that Maghull residents could no longer bring a petition to the Council about a community matter.
OPPOSITION COUNCILLORS STOPPED FROM MOVING AMENDMENTS!
At first Labour started to respond to me but then the Town Clerk jumped in and said that I could not move my amendment because when we dealt with the previous one we had also approved all the amendments before us! We knew this was not the case and my colleague Andrew Blackburn explained why it was not the case but Labour said the Clerk was right and that the matter was closed. Some angry exchanges then took place as we were livid at not having the matters before us properly debated and voted on.
AKIN TO NORTH KOREAN DEMOCRACY
So there you have it. A phrase used recently to describe some appalling guidance from the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) was that it was akin to North Korean guidance. I think that suitably rounds up how we Lib Dems felt when we left that terrible Council meeting. It was nothing for the Council to be proud of at all and it makes you wonder or possibly understand why to date 8 Labour councillors have resigned from the Council since Labour snatched control of it in May 2011.
And my views about all this:-
• Maghull Council is in the firm grip of Bootle Labour Party.
• This must be the first time in 110 years of there being a Maghull Council that it has said it will not receive petitions about matters to do with the Town other than for what the Council directly controls. This surely must be unheard of across the Parish/Town Councils across England.
• Allotments have been all but dropped but no one was going to say so.
• The Green Belt around Maghull will not be saved by Labour.
• Labour has no idea what they think about the Ashworth South site or at least if they have they will not tell anyone.
Appalling, utterly appalling, but they keep getting away with it.