Formby – Bill seems to be at odds with his Labour Sefton councillors again

www.southportvisiter.co.uk/news/southport-west-lancs/mp-formby-car-park-charging-9919399

The Southport Visiter has the story – see link above

So Labour MP Bill Esterson seems again to be at odds with his fellow Labour Councillors who run Sefton Council; there is a pattern developing here!

Library closures – Bill opposed them but his Labour councillors ignored him and closed them.

Building on the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land – Bill opposed it but his Labour councillors ignored him and voted to build on it.

Parking charges in Formby – ?

I do wish Bill had been motivated to oppose the Tories Welfare Bill recently, like Lib Dem MP John Pugh (Southport) and Labour MP Peter Dowd (Bootle) did, instead of abstaining in the crucial vote because the Labour Party’s official line was to vote neither in favour nor against it. Surely I must speak for Labour councillors in Sefton when I say how disappointed they must have been that he voted a different way to what they surely would have wanted?

Sefton under Labour – Why can Libraries not be run by volunteers?

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/five-liverpool-libraries-handed-over-9765609

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The story of Liverpool City Council handing some of its libraries over to volunteers is on the Liverpool Echo web site – see link above.

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Every time I see a Council handing over its libraries to volunteers to run I say why were Sefton Labour so determined not to allow volunteers to run its closing libraries? It is clearly not a Labour Party thing to keep volunteers at arms length nationally so why in Labour run Sefton?

Aintree Village – Another bid to use Aintree Library for the community gets the brush off from Labour-run Sefton

www.champnews.com/newsstory.aspx?story=3067550&word=&userid=

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The Aintree & Maghull Champion has the story – See link above

How sad but I can’t say I am surprised by Sefton Labour’s latest kick in the teeth for Aintree – at least they are consistent though! But what does surprise me is that the area’s Labour MP is surprised!

Frankly, having seen the previous bid to run Aintree Library using volunteers being given the short shrift by Sefton and then the MP’s objections to his own councillors plan to build on acres of Green Belt being ignored you would have thought that Bill Esterson should have almost been expecting another rejection.

This Labour MP says one thing but his Labour councillors on Sefton say just about the opposite is becoming an unfortunate farce.

PS. I sent this piece to the Aintree & Maghull Champion newspaper but it was not used.

Were my 16 years on Sefton Council productive and worthwhile?

Well I have been having a ponder but I suppose the first thing that readers of this posting may say to themselves is that ‘it’s not for you to say but for us to judge’. You could also add that the judgement has already been handed down by my being invited to leave office on Sefton Borough Council by the Park Ward electorate. However, I have been asked a few times since the May elections what I thought of my time as a Borough Councillor so it has started a certain amount of reminiscing on my part, so here goes anyway.

16 years is a long time to recall all the events of note, at least it is for me as I have never kept a Tony Benn type diary of my activities.

Meadows Leisure Centre – Maghull – I led the campaign to have this built going back well before I was even elected to Sefton Council back in 1999. To see it open in 2009 was a delight. To have also assisted in establishing an exhibition space for the Frank Hornby Trust within the leisure centre was likewise an important step forward. Regrets? Two really – in incorporating a new home for Maghull Library within the Leisure Centre I don’t think we fully understood the noise conflict between exercise classes and the expected quiet of the a library. Secondly, I am disappointed that the planned integration between the leisure centre and the leisure facilities in the adjoining Maghull Town Hall have never been taken forward. The intention was for the two buildings to be run seamlessly as far as users were concerned despite them being owned by two different councils. This vision sadly was lost when Maghull Council came under a political leadership with differing objectives.

Former Maghull Lib Dem Councillor Andrew Blackburn who helped me push the Leisure campaign forward.

Former Maghull Lib Dem Councillor Andrew Blackburn who helped me push the Leisure campaign forward.

My old friend, fellow campaigner and former Councillor Bruce Hubbard outside the Leisure Centre

My old friend, fellow campaigner and former Councillor Bruce Hubbard outside the Leisure Centre

Les French (Chairman of the Frank Hornby Trust) with Margaret Carney & Glyn Sands in the Hornby Room at the Leisure Centre.

Les French (Chairman of the Frank Hornby Trust) with Margaret Carney & Glyn Sands in the Hornby Room at the Leisure Centre.

The Atkinson – Southport – For quite a while I held Cabinet responsibility for the development of this huge project to refurbish 3 adjoining very old and previously poorly upgraded listed buildings into what we see now. I love it and am pleased that it has fulfilled the objectives set for it. Regrets? None really – It cost more than the original budget but frankly we always thought it would. You can’t work on old buildings and expect it to be straight forward because it never is.

A Crossens Canoe on display at The Atkinson in Southport

A Crossens Canoe on display at The Atkinson in Southport

Raising the profile of Sefton’s Parish Councils – I put a lot into this as the relationship between Sefton Borough Council and the 10 Parish Councils in its area had been poor and negative for far too long. I renegotiated what we called the ‘Double Rating’ agreement so the Parish Councils who did their own parks and gardens maintenance got paid a sensible amount back from Sefton Borough Council who were also taking money off local residents in those communities but not then spending it in those communities. Regrets? Yes, Labour have reversed the deal and it is now worse than when I renegotiated it. Places like Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree are being poorly treated by Sefton Council!

Maghull North Station – I have been pressing for this to be built for a long, long time so am delighted that the Coalition Government gave 90% of the money required to build it in 2014. I hope it will be constructed in the next 2 to 3 years. Regrets? None.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Switch Island – Thornton Link Road – I was campaigning for this before being elected in 1999 because trying to win a Borough Council ward that included the Parish of Thornton made this a must achieve issue. It took a while and I have said many times that the determination of the people and Parish Council of Thornton was the clincher; what I did was to take the matter to the then regional bodies of government and persuade them to back the project. The Blair/Brown Government sat of fence and never came up with the money but again the Coalition Government gave the final green light and of course a large proportion of the money. It is now all but built. Regrets? Thornton folk and their Parish Council not getting the credit they deserve because others (Labour) keep trying to claim that credit for themselves.

Cllr. Geoff Howe and a young me in this @2001 shot marching with Thornton residents. My placard says '83% of Thornton residents want a relief road'.

Cllr. Geoff Howe and a young me in this @2001 shot marching with Thornton residents. My placard says ‘83% of Thornton residents want a relief road’.

Me with the then Coalition Government Roads Minister Mike Penning sealing the deal to get the Link Road built in 2010

Me with the then Coalition Government Roads Minister Mike Penning sealing the deal to get the Link Road built in 2010

Works starting on the new Link Road

Works starting on the new Link Road

Lydiate Village Centre – It took some years to get the new building constructed after the former Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club building had been burnt down. At the time Sefton Council (the land owners) were not exactly being proactive and helpful. But the determination of Lydiate Parish Council (particularly its Chairman Dave Russell) finally got us there with me steering the issue through Sefton Council. I have to say that Dave together with former Cllr. Andrew Blackburn and Lydiate’s then Parish Clerk (Brian Beaven) were the leading lights in this project, I was simply got Sefton to be positive and supportive. Regrets? None.

Former Lydiate Parish Councilors Tony Fenton and Pat Foster outside the old Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club

Former Lydiate Parish Councilors Tony Fenton and Pat Foster outside the old Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club

Cllr. Edie Pope outside Lydiate Village Centre

Cllr. Edie Pope outside Lydiate Village Centre

Oriel Drive GP Surgery – Aintree – So happy this got built during my time as a Borough Councillor for Aintree Village. Working with Aintree Village Parish Council and the health providers was a delight and the new building was worth all the efforts of many people. Again, I was there to assist others who did far more than I. Regrets? None.

Me, Terry Baldwin, Jack Colbert and Peter Gill - July 2012 at the formal opening of the new GP Surgery

Me, Terry Baldwin, Jack Colbert and Peter Gill – July 2012 at the formal opening of the new GP Surgery

Decentralising Sefton Borough and empowering its diverse communities – Sefton has always been an uncomfortable mix of diverse communities with little in common and on the back of the Local Government Boundary Commission deciding not to split the Borough up I helped lead a process to try to empower local communities. We set up Area Committees created a Parish Council’s charter and despite the two old parties, whom we shared power with, being highly sceptical of our push to give power away to the people we did make some strides in the right direction. Regrets? Yes, when Labour took control of Sefton they started an inevitable process to recentralise power in their Bootle heartland. They took out 3 Area Committees to create one massive and pointless one in the centre of the Borough. It was never going to work and it still does not work. As for the Parish Charter which was aimed at treating the 10 Parish Councils with respect (and even decentralising power to them) suffice to say that the day it was ripped up in front of the Labour Cabinet by Aintree Village Parish Councillor Peter Gill showed how Labour cared little for those not in their tribal tent.

Fighting for our precious Green Belt and high grade agricultural land – This seems to have been almost a lifetime campaign for me. Just before I got elected to Sefton Council I had headed up a successful campaign in Maghull to stop the Borough Council from allowing a massive area of land to the east of Maghull being concreted over. We won because Maghull Town Council, its local Borough Councillors and residents spoke with one voice that said to Sefton Planners exactly where they could stick their plans! Regrets? Certainly, because I had to re-fight the very same battle again in 2014/15 but this time without the now Labour-run Town Council who sat and watched it wash over them. I made many new friends in the environmental movement but Labour were determined to build on the highest grade of agricultural land in England and we have been defeated. As I pen this posting we can only hope that a Government appointed Inspector has more concern for our food growing land than either Maghull Town Council or Sefton Borough Council.

A petition against building on Green Belt being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell the then Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council in 2013.

A petition against building on Green Belt being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell the then Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council in 2013.

Fighting to save Woodend Primary School (Maghull) from closure – I attended this lovely school but in the early 2000’s it was struggling because it had so few children in it. Why parents living close to the school were sending their children elsewhere when this great little school had been serving the adjacent community so well I do not know. The fight to save it was being run by the Governing Body led by the redoubtable Andrew Blackburn and being an ‘old boy’ of the school I was right behind his efforts. I recall us delivering advertising leaflets around the southern part of Maghull and beyond to help the school attract more children and was heartbroken when this campaign did not succeed. Regrets? – Losing the fight obviously but also being blamed on a doorstep in Maghull for the closure of Woodend by a lady who clearly felt I had done just the opposite of what I actually had done!

Fighting to raise the profile of our local railways – The Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines are both important for the Sefton and West Lancashire Boroughs. Again this has been an almost lifetime issue for me. Seeing Merseytravel (the Passenger Transport Authority for Merseyside) make little or no progress on these two lines was always a frustration. It was as though they looked upon the lines as not being important to Liverpool so they were not going to put much effort in to developing them. The Liverpool centric approach to transport planning on and around Merseyside has always been to the determent of the large towns that surround Liverpool and here Southport, whilst being in Merseyside, has been poorly served by the Authority they pay to deliver public transport. Regrets? – Not being able to break down the barriers between Merseyside and Lancashire that have held back transportation and other issues since 1974.

Southport Station

Southport Station

Fighting for green issues – Whether it be fighting for our precious Green Belt and high grade agricultural land not to be built upon or seeing Lib Dem run Parish Councils installing solar panels on Maghull Town Hall and Lydiate Village Centre green issues have meant a lot to me. Regrets? – I have always found it difficult to understand why Tory and Labour councillors are generally disinterested in green issues. Labour stuck me as being way off the pace with such matters with the Tories hardly much better.

Solar panels on Maghull Town Hall roof

Solar panels on Maghull Town Hall roof

The fight to save Sefton’s Libraries – A massive campaign but one that was ultimately lost as we could not persuade Sefton’s ruling Labour Group to back off from their closure plans. 7 of Sefton’s 13 Libraries were lost and it was a huge step backwards in my view. Regrets? – Seeing volunteer campaigners being treated so badly by Labour. All they wanted was the chance to try to run their libraries as voluntary undertakings but Sefton Labour would have none of it. So very sad.

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I could go on but I have probably mentioned too many issues already. I enjoyed the vast majority of my 16 years as a Sefton Councillor and the 7 I served as Council Leader. Did I make a difference? I would like to think so but that is probably best left to your judgement not to my rose tinted spectacles.

Libraries – Just look at this innovative project in Wigan

book-cycle.org/wigan

Ever since Sefton Council ran into its library funding problem and then seemed to lack the will and imagination to reinvent community libraries around the power of volunteers I have been looking at other places where volunteer library projects were given an opportunity to flourish.

Sefton’s Labour Council simply turned its nose up at volunteer bids to run Aintree and College Road Libraries if you recall (see many previous postings on this blog site). Instead of encouraging them they were made to jump through so many hoops only then to be told they had failed the test and to sling their hooks.

Aintree Library - Now up for sale by the same Council that shut it!

Aintree Library – Now up for sale by the same Council that shut it!

Well, as I have said before such negative thinking is not replicated elsewhere. Indeed, in Wigan a Labour run Council there has worked with volunteers and just look at this result:-

IMG_0001

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If it can work in Wigan why were Labour so determined that volunteer library ventures would not be given a chance to succeed in Sefton?

Sefton – Labour blocks move to set up a Community Library fund

It looks like Sefton Council will finish the present financial year with money unspent and probably it will be a significant underspend. Yes, I know this seems odd with all the Council cut-backs but there you have it.

So considering how much trouble there has been over library closures and the refusal of the Council, under its Labour rulers, to allow volunteers to run closing libraries the opposition Lib Dem group on Sefton made a budget proposal last week. Our plan was to set aside £250,000 of any 2014/15 underspend to assist those residents who are trying to set up community libraries. Sadly, Labour, who have a majority on the Council, voted to oppose it.

But I suppose you have to say that at least Sefton Labour are consistent in their anti-volunteer library stance even though no one outside of their ever more isolated Bootle bunker has any idea why they have adopted this negative policy.