LOCAL PLANNING AND ONSHORE WIND – ERIC PICKLES LETTER TO COUNCILS

Below is the text of a letter that has been written to Councils by Eric Pickles. This is a big issue in the middle part of Sefton and the part of West Lancashire that wraps around Sefton Borough because of the proposal to build a large number of turbines of a similar height to Blackpool Tower! I have posted on this subject before and met campaigners opposing the Lower Alt Wind Farm proposal last Thursday at the Central Sefton Area Committee. I thought It would be useful to reproduce the whole of the letter on this site.

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I am writing to draw your attention to the written ministerial statement I made on 6 June
2013 on local planning and onshore wind. A copy of the statement is attached. This sets
out my intentions for planning practice guidance on onshore wind and compulsory preapplication
consultation for the more significant onshore wind applications.

As you know, wind farm proposals can be unwelcome to local communities and many are
being hard fought through the planning system. I appreciate the challenge for local
councils in reaching decisions which turn on whether a wind farm’s impact is acceptable in
planning terms when the local community is quite clear that it is not. We need to ensure
decisions do get the environmental balance right in line with the Framework and, as
expected by the Framework, any adverse impact from a wind farm development is
addressed satisfactorily. To address this concern, we intend to issue new planning
practice guidance as part of the work we have underway to take forward the Taylor review.

We have set out clearly in the National Planning Policy Framework the importance of early
and meaningful engagement with local communities. We will also amend secondary
legislation to make pre-application consultation with local communities compulsory for the
more significant onshore wind applications. This will ensure that community engagement
takes place at an earlier stage in more cases and may assist in improving the quality of
proposed onshore wind development. This will also complement the community benefits
proposals announced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change today.

I hope these reforms will give a greater say for local people and strengthen the role of
councils in shaping where development should and shouldn’t go.

I have also written to Sir Michael Pitt Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate asking
him to make planning inspectors aware of the statement.

RT HON ERIC PICKLES MP
The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Department for Communities and Local Government
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU
7 June 2013

WRITTEN MINISTERIAL STATEMENT: LOCAL PLANNING AND ONSHORE WIND

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Eric Pickles)
The Coalition Agreement pledged to decentralise power to local people and give local
people far more ability to shape the places in which they live.

Through a series of reforms, this Coalition Government is making the planning process
more accessible to local communities, because planning works best when communities
themselves have the opportunity to influence the decisions that affect their lives.
However, current planning decisions on onshore wind are not always reflecting a locallyled
planning system. Much of this stems from planning changes made by the last
Administration, which is why we introduced the National Planning Policy Framework and
abolished the last Government’s top-down Regional Strategies through the Localism Act.

Following a wide range of representations, including the letter of January 2012 to the
Prime Minister from one hundred Hon Members, and in light of the Department of Energy
and Climate Change’s Call for Evidence, it has become clear that action is needed to
deliver the balance expected by the National Planning Policy Framework on onshore wind.
We need to ensure that protecting the local environment is properly considered alongside
the broader issues of protecting the global environment.

Greater community consultation
We have set out clearly in the National Planning Policy Framework the importance of early
and meaningful engagement with local communities. The submissions to the Call for
Evidence have highlighted the benefits of good quality pre-application discussion for
onshore wind development and the improved outcomes it can have for local communities.
We will amend secondary legislation to make pre-application consultation with local
communities compulsory for the more significant onshore wind applications. This will
ensure that community engagement takes place at an earlier stage in more cases and
may assist in improving the quality of proposed onshore wind development.
This will also complement the community benefits proposals announced by the
Department of Energy and Climate Change today.

New planning practice guidance
The National Planning Policy Framework includes strong protections for the natural and
historic environment. Yet, some local communities have genuine concerns that when it
comes to wind farms insufficient weight is being given to environmental considerations like
landscape, heritage and local amenity. We need to ensure decisions do get the
environmental balance right in line with the Framework and, as expected by the
Framework, any adverse impact from a wind farm development is addressed satisfactorily.
We have been equally clear that this means facilitating sustainable development in
suitable locations. Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong
development in the wrong location.

We are looking to local councils to include in their Local Plans policies which ensure that
adverse impacts from wind farms developments, including cumulative landscape and
visual impact, are addressed satisfactorily. Where councils have identified areas suitable
for onshore wind, they should not feel they have to give permission for speculative
applications outside those areas when they judge the impact to be unacceptable.
To help ensure planning decisions reflect the balance in the Framework, my Department
will issue new planning practice guidance shortly to assist local councils, and planning
inspectors in their consideration of local plans and individual planning applications. This
will set out clearly that:

the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental
protections and the planning concerns of local communities;

decisions should take into account the cumulative impact of wind turbines and
properly reflect the increasing impact on (a) the landscape and (b) local amenity as
the number of turbines in the area increases;

local topography should be a factor in assessing whether wind turbines have a
damaging impact on the landscape (i.e. recognise that the impact on predominantly
flat landscapes can be as great or greater than as on hilly or mountainous ones);
and

great care should be taken to ensure heritage assets are conserved in a manner
appropriate to their significance, including the impact of proposals on views
important to their setting.

I am writing to Sir Michael Pitt, Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate to ask him to
draw this statement to the attention of planning inspectors in their current and future
appeals. I will inform colleagues in local government to assist them in their forthcoming
decision-making.

The new bin tax in Sefton – Yes, paying to have a green bin is another form of a Council tax rise but via the back door!

epd_wheelie_bins_group

Back to that knotty issue of Sefton Council, under its Labour rulers, wanting to charge us all for having a green recycling bin. The consultation is presently on-going but the result is clearly intended to follow that of Labour run Wirral Council.

Apart from the obvious backward step in recycling that this policy change will cause (probably around two thirds of folk will stop using the service) it is also a Council tax rise by the back door.

This issue has not really hit the public’s radar in Sefton yet but I will be surprised if it does not do so soon.

And another thing what is to happen to all those thousands of green bins that virtually every household in the Borough has at present? Sadly Sefton’s green agenda under Labour is looking more than a little brown.

Closure of Lydiate Ambulance Station – Why did Labour sit on the information and say nothing until Lib Dems made it public?

The proposed closure of Maghull Ambulance Station, with the ambulance based there being moved to Buckley Hill Fire Station, is a concern to us all and that is why Cllr. Andrew Blackburn and I made the issue public via the Champion newspaper (24th April) and this blog site.

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But hang on a minute, Labour run Sefton Council knew about this closure at least as long ago as the 12th March (some 6 weeks previously) when they were written to by the North West Ambulance Trust.

On that basis why did it have to take us opposition Lib Dem councillors to ferret out the information and make it public? Why did Labour sit on the information? Why indeed. What’s more it seems that the comrades are now scuttling around raising a petition against the closure that they did nothing about at all until we, with the Champion’s help, put it in the public domain.

That’s not community leadership dear comrades it’s band wagon jumping.

Pugh likens Labour run Sefton to North Korea!

Dr. John Pugh Lib Dem MP for Southport and former Leader of Sefton Council is not known for irrational outbursts; indeed he is a thoughtful man who does not crave media attention as do some politicians. On that basis when someone like John waves a flag of concern we should all take notice.

John waved his flag on the BBC North West Politics TV Programme last Sunday and you can see what he said by popping over to my colleague Iain Brodie-Browne’s Birkdale Focus Blog Site to watch a short video from the show.

Sadly, John has a point as Labour run Sefton is becoming very much like a communist regime. It does not like answering questions put to it at Council meetings and does its utmost not to do so. It will not engage in debate about the policies it is pursuing and it fears being scrutinised by its backbench and opposition councillors.

Take the Full Council meeting held last Tuesday. There were two debates initiated by the oppositions Lib Dems. The first was an attempt to open up the Council’s scrutiny process by having some of the scrutiny committees chaired by opposition councillors. The comrades opposed this but failed to give a single reason why they opposed it. Yes their Leader ranted on, for the benefit of his all too quiet troops who are rarely allowed to engage in debate, about this that and the other but he failed to address the point of the debate. Labour then voted to keep their closed shop very much closed.

We then moved on to a second debate where we again pressed for a 10% reduction in the wages paid to the 7 Cabinet members of the Council to assist with the Council’s need to make savings. Unsurprisingly, the comrades were having none of that even though the money we were trying to save was targeted at bringing back some decent democratic representation in the centre of the Borough where Labour have merged 3 Area Committees used by residents to raise concerns about very local matters. The merger was sold as a cost cutting measure but makes no sense at all – what on earth have communities like Formby, Maghull and Crosby got in common apart from all being within the vast middle of the Borough? So Labour again opposed the proposals but without giving a single reason why they thought that keeping more money in the Cabinet’s pockets is more desirable than improving engagement will local communities. No Labour member representing Crosby, Formby or Maghull rose to back their communities but they all voted to keep money in their Cabinet bosses pockets.

And it’s not just on Sefton Council where Labour closes down information channels. Take little Maghull Town Council where a matter was referred to the Police by the Labour run Town Council a few months ago but we opposition members have been unable to obtain the background documents (despite an FoI request) or the detailed reasons for that referral. Yes, the Police decided to take no action but who was under investigation – staff, people who worked for or with the Council? And what about Maghull Cricket Club? We think Labour are trying to use it as a cash cow to gain higher rents from but even another FoI request has yet to reveal what the Town Council’s objectives are in trying to change a legal agreement with the Club.

On a wider Merseyside platform you can also look at what went on with Labour run Merseytravel in the very recent past and where it seems another big financial scandal is about to be dragged from the undergrowth any day now.

So John Pugh MP has a significant point to make even though at face value it may seem like he is a politician simply throwing a little mud at his opposition. Unless Labour start to open up the local councils they run they will end up being accused of more North Korean type approaches to local democracy.

Animals in Need, Melling – An update

The struggle of this animal charity to keep a pitch for their fund-raising stall in Maghull’s shopping centre seems to be drawing support from far and wide.

I have had e-mails from residents asking me to do all I can to help the charity and of course I will do that.

I await a detailed response from Sefton Council which seems have refused to issue a street trader license to the charity for a pitch on public land. The charity had always pitched their stall on land which presently is in the ownership of a the company (Maghull Group) that owns the shopping centre buildings on the northern side of Westway but it has been asked to move on by the owner.

The obvious alternative site would be on a part of the land in the shopping centre that is under the ownership/control of Sefton Borough Council but I am told that the Council has refused to allow this and I need to get to the bottom of why the Council has refused. I am told that the Council’s initial view was that it would agree to the charity using public land but that it then changed its mind.

As a further alternative I have put the charity in touch with the other major land owner in the shopping centre (London and Cambridge Properties) to see if they can offer a site for the fund-raising stalls that have become such a feature of Maghull over the last 15+ years.

More news when I get it.

Green Waste Recycling – Sefton Council plans to charge you

http://suemcguire.mycouncillor.org.uk/

My thanks to Cllrs. Sue McGuire and Pat Keith (both Cambridge ward of Sefton) for giving this ill thought out policy some prominence. You can read their concerns, which I share I would add, via the link to their blog above.

epd_wheelie_bins_group

My old chum and former Maghull Lib Dem Cllr. Roy Connell has also raised concerns with me recently about the consultation process on Sefton’s web site. Roy’s concern, and again I share it, is that it is consultation after the event which does not give residents who participate in it any real opportunity to comment on the principle of charging for the collection of green waste.

Roy is of course right and the policy move is clearly not consistent with the Council’s green agenda as previously outlined by its former Lib Dem Cabinet members for the Environmental portfolio David Tattersall and Simon Shaw. Indeed, Sefton under Labour is clearly moving away from such a green agenda.