Lydiate & Maghull – Those Neighbourhood Plan Referendums – We were given a vote on the wrong Plan!

Here I am looking at what was protected Green Belt and presently still is high grade agricultural land off Lambshear Lane in Lydiate. It’s been reserved as building land in Sefton’s Local Plan.

If you live in either community did you vote in the 2 separate referendums on the Lydiate or Maghull NP’s on 18th December? I did but with little enthusiasm even though I had a hand in putting the Lydiate one together.

Why my lack of enthusiasm? Because these Neighbourhood Plans will have only marginal influence on the big planning issues that people are concerned about. The significant issues were all ‘settled’ when Sefton Borough’s Local Plan was controversially rammed through Sefton Council by its Labour majority.

It’s the Sefton Local Plan that we should have had a referendum on!

I must admit to being baffled by the publicity surrounding the two NP referendums with even our local MP seemingly getting over-excited about them in the Champion newspaper. You’d have thought that these NP’s were game changers in the world of urban planning because of the hype, when in fact they are only very limited in their effect.

Did I vote yes?. Yes, I did. Would it have made any difference if I had not voted for the Lydiate plan or if either of the plans had been rejected? No, not really.

In simple terms, the electorate was given the chance to vote on the wrong plan. Now a vote on Sefton’s Local Plan, which only Sefton Councillors were able to back or sack, would have been very significant and well worth getting excited about. Why? Because that Local Plan defined which parcels of Green Belt and high-grade agricultural land will be built on across Sefton Borough. In other words, it defined 95% of planning guidance for Sefton Borough whilst the public (on this occasion in Maghull & Lydiate) was thrown a ‘democratic’ option to approve, or not approve’ around just 5% of that guidance.

The vast Maghull East urban extension (presently high grade agricultural land) site as seen from Poverty Lane, Maghull

Sorry, I really can’t get excited about a worthy but hardly significant NP for my Lydiate community when I’ve had a hugely controversial Local Plan imposed on me by Sefton Council’s ruling political establishment. The massive Maghull East urban extension, to be built on the highest grades of agricultural land, will still be built – The Maghull NP does not stop that. And in Lydiate, the allocated sites for building houses (again mostly on high-grade agricultural land which feeds us) are unchanged by that community’s NP.

We were thrown one bag of Kevin Carrots to approve or disapprove

As I say the vote was on the wrong plan. We were thrown one bag of Kevin carrots to approve or disapprove of when we should have been considering whether it is wise to build on field after field of them across the joint communities of Lydiate and Maghull.

Labour excited about an Eric Pickles inspired policy

It was also strange how excited the political party (which voted through Sefton’s Local Plan) got about the two Neighbourhood Plans whilst also trying to give the impression that their Local Plan had been nothing to do with them at all. Even odder when you consider that Neighbourhood Plans were promoted by none other than the Tory’s Eric Pickles.

There’s nothing wrong with the Lydiate Neighbourhood Plan, I might add, in case you were wondering. It’s just that the context of it and indeed the importance of it has been completely over-played in my view. I have had nothing to do with the Maghull NP I should add.

We import 50% of our food!- Now do opposition politicians get why I keep banging on about saving high grade agricultural land from development?

Over the past 20 years or so I have consistently fought to stop the headlong charge to build on the highest grades of agricultural land in Sefton Borough. That fight was most recently via its Local Plan process and prior to that it’s Unitary Development Plan in the late 1990’s. But my point here is not just about saving to save Green Belt, worthy though that aim is, it’s about trying to save the land which grows our food!

That we now import 50% of what we eat when only a few years ago it was just a third is surely a big worry as the higher that figures grows the more shaky becomes our food supply sustainability. What’s more the higher that figure grows the worse becomes our environmental sustainability too. This is not a race we want to win unless we want to find ourselves short of food one day!

Here’s an interesting article from the BBC web site (see link below) about the cost of our food and how much we import:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45559594

Building on Green Belt does not provided much at all in terms of affordable housing

Well I’ve been singing that tune for a very long time now, with specific reference to the encroachment onto the Green Belt in Sefton Borough. The BBC has the story on its web site – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-45079648

My major objection to the vast amount of Green Belt being lost to housing in Sefton Borough, especially with regard to the Maghull & Lydiate area, was of course that the land is predominately high grade arable land that grows the food we eat. To sacrifice such land when only around 2% of England is made up of this level of land quality is utter madness to me.

But of course that very same land is also in Sefton’s Green Belt, so Maghull’s vast urban extension (see lead photo) which is down to be built to the east of the Town in due course means that both high quality food growing land and Green Belt will be lost for ever.

The large red area is the ‘Maghull East’ urban extension to the Town. The M58 Junction 1 is in grey – top right with Prescot Road running north to south on the far right of the map.

Of course I know that we have a housing crisis and I realise that Governments, Councils and many individuals are happy to sacrifice food growing high grade agricultural land to get what they see as much needed housing. But hang on a minute where is the housing crisis in reality? It’s mainly with the affordable housing and the social rented sector and it’s because of the lack of such housing that huge pressure is put on the rest of the housing market.

We are kicking our precious food growing land and Green Belt into touch to gain the very sort of housing that we are not crying out for!

So what do we need? We need really affordable housing and social rented housing because the roots of our housing crisis are well planted within the right to buy legislation of the 1980’s. That the money raised from the sale of what were council houses was not used to build more social housing has substantially created the problems we are now living with. On that basis much of the house building required is affordable and social housing but it’s not! it’s more 3, 4 and 5 bedroomed houses for sale and we are kicking our precious food growing land and Green Belt into touch to gain the very sort of housing that we are not crying out for!

Maghull’s massive urban extension site

I have photographed this (infamous)* site a number of times so that there’s a record of it as prime high grade, productive agricultural land before the bulldozers arrive at some point in the future. But it is a huge site bounded by Poverty Lane, the M58 Motorway, School Lane and The Liverpool – Ormskirk railway line so it’s hard to get a good shot of it all. Here’s my latest attempt:-

The photo was taken from the Ashworth Motorway Junction bridge and you can see the vastness of the site, which will soon be filled with around 1600 houses and an business park. Some welcome the houses, I morn the loss of high grade agricultural land that feeds us and would have fed future generations. I don’t see how you can celebrate building on such land when there is brownfield land across the county available to build on. Sorry I’m an environmentalist.

* infamous to those who fought to save it from the bulldozers that is.

Click on the photo to enlarge it

Maghull – 1 & 2 bedroom properties are required BUT………

My frustrations with Sefton Council’s Local Plan are well documented on this blog site. Having spent more years than I care to recall fighting it; I lost of course as did many other campaigners across the Borough.

It’s not that we don’t recognise the need for housing locally, as our opponents often try to portray our campaigning, its that we see the need to protect some of the very highest grades of agricultural land in England from being concreted over. But the other clash was actually about the type of housing to be built in the Borough. The poster below on fencing surrounding the the Ashworth South Site in Maghull sums up the problem:-

If we have to lose land for housing (in fact nearly everyone was happy for the Ashworth South site to be developed) then at least make it for types of housing that we actually need. Yes I’m sure 4 and 5 bedroomed properties will sell but they are hardly a priority for the Maghull & Lydiate part of the Borough. We need single level 1 and 2 bedroomed properties for the elderly to move into to free up family sized houses together with small properties to get young folk on the housing ladder. And of course we need more social housing for rent as the housing ladder is actually beyond the pockets of many young folk these days even if they are in work.

Yet despite these rather obvious housing needs we seem to have the worst of all worlds. Other than the Ashworth South site a great deal of high grade agricultural land (which grows the food we eat) is going to be used for house building particularly in Maghull, but where will the housing be that we actually need?

Housing and land use policy in the UK is without doubt a complete mess. I despair I really do…..

Sefton Borough – Building on Green Belt and the land that grows our food

I light of Labour supporters continuing to blame everyone else for Labour-run Sefton Council voting to build on Green Belt and high grade agricultural land across the Borough, here’s my recent letter to the Champion newspaper:-

Dear Sir,

Interesting how Labour supporters and councillors still try to defend their Sefton Councillors voting to build on Green Belt and high grade agricultural land around Maghull & Lydiate and indeed in other places across Sefton Borough. Their line of defence seems to be ‘the government made us vote for it’ or words to that effect.

Well when I was a Sefton Councillor representing Maghull & Lydiate until 2015 I did not feel in any way compelled to vote for building on Green Belt and the land that grows our food, indeed I kept voting against it! Had I won my seat again in 2015 I would have continued to oppose it.

Sefton Council allocated the sites that are down for development, no one else. My advice to Labour supporters is stop blaming others and accept responsibility for what Labour-run Sefton Council decided to do.

Yours sincerely

Tony Robertson