Sefton – A Review of 2013

Welcome to my review of 2013 for Sefton, a personal trawl through some of the things that made the headlines in a year when the Borough was ruled from Bootle by people who seemed quite out of touch with things to the north and east of Netherton.

Library closures – As 2013 draws to a close I must say that I can’t for the life of me understand what on earth Sefton Council is doing in its seeming mad dash to do all it can to stop volunteers taking over some of its closing libraries.

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again - Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again – Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Many of my posts during 2013 have been about the closure of 7 out of Sefton’s 13 libraries. The closure programme has now concluded and the Borough has lost more than half the libraries it once had, but the remarkable side story to this has been the obstacles that volunteers have faced in their attempts to take over some of the closing libraries.

One would have thought that with ‘localism’ being on the lips of virtually every politician across the land volunteers would be embraced and encouraged yet in socialist Sefton we seem to be in a parallel universe where volunteers are seen to be challenging and unwelcome! Indeed, it is remarkable to see what lengths Sefton will seemingly go to keep the volunteers at a distance.

Maghull Town Council – Well what can you say, 6 of the ruling Labour Party’s councillors resigned in 2013 and 2 more were all but disqualified from office but saved themselves by turning out at the last possible meeting to stop by-elections 8 & 9 of the year!

Aintree & Maghull Champion 12th June 2013

Aintree & Maghull Champion 12th June 2013

The Council also said it had set a precept for 2013/14 when it had done no such thing and, when it finally did set a budget and precept, it took money out of the 2013/14 budget for the Town’s annual fireworks display, voted against an amendment to put the money back in but then held a fireworks display anyway!

What an odd world Maghull Town Council has been since Labour took over in May 2011 and, for the record, I still await responses to the two Freedom of Information requests that I made to the Council months and months ago. Maghull must be the only Council in the UK to have a special dispensation from the Information Commissioner enabling it to ignore FoI requests.

Green Belt and Sefton Local Plan – This one will run well into 2014 and flow over into 2015 but 2013 has seen environmental campaigners (such as FRAGOFF) give Sefton Council a torrid time. Who would have expected a Labour-run Council to propose, for example, that vast areas of Maghull and Lydiate’s Green Belt and high quality agricultural land be concreted over to create massive urban extensions for these communities? Lydiate’s housing could now increase by 35% and Maghull’s by 25% if Labour carries through what it has consulted on in 2013.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP with Sudell Ward Sefton Cllr. Bruce Hubbard at the site in Maghull where Labour run Sefton Council wants to built 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce's Lib Dem team opposes Labour's plans.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP with Sudell Ward Sefton Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, Lydiate Parish Councillor Wyn Maher, Cllr. Jen Robertson and myself at the site to the east of Maghull where Labour-run Sefton Council wants to build 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce’s Lib Dem team opposes Labour’s plans.

In Formby the whole community seemingly rose up to oppose a Green Belt grab there, and with some success too, as the developer ducked out just as the planning application was to go before Sefton’s Planning Committee. Will they be back? Don’t doubt it, developers are not going to give up in their quest to concrete over areas of Sefton’s land which future generations will need to grow food upon.

And don’t forget that the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has been accused of not fighting for the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land in the Borough.

The best of the rest –

The Hawthorne’s Free School – will it be given the chance to try to make a step change in educational attainment in Bootle? Sadly, Sefton Labour just won’t take a positive step and back it. Having been there I am sure it is taking a welcome risk to improve education in Bootle; that’s a risk we should all be backing. And will St Mary’s in Crosby in Crosby follow suit and convert to a Free School? It seems so and as the aim is quality education that has to be a good thing.

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Maghull’s Mad March – Usually quiet leafy Maghull had a bizarre few weeks when gun crime visited the community. Police say it was drug related gang members shooting at each other but what chaos it created in one of Merseyside’s lowest crime areas. It went as quickly as it came but Maghull residents for a short period had the opportunity to see the madness of guns so loved by Americans. The right to bear arms? More like the right to create fear and mistrust in a community/society.

Here I am at Maghull Police Station where the Neighbourhood Policing Team must have had a tough time during Mad March.

Here I am at Maghull Police Station where the Neighbourhood Policing Team must have had a tough time during Mad March.

Southport Pier – It was quite a fright when we leaned that it needed urgent repairs. A landmark like no other in the locality; fortunately it does seem to have a good long-term future.

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The Liverpool Pigeon, A Micro-Pub for Crosby – Now here was an innovative development in 2013 that could herald a new type of pub not joined at the hip to those pub management companies who are strangling the life out of British pubs everywhere.

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HALT – This environmental campaign group sprung up in opposition to the idea of building land-based wind turbines as tall as Blackpool Town on high grade agricultural land between Ince Blundell and Lydiate. I have been happy to support this group.

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Closure of Public Toilets – Sefton tried to shut them but campaigners fought them off. Maghull’s public toilets survive but for how long? Frankly it was a huge disappointment to me that the Town’s own Council refused to invest in them. They were once award winners and could be that again but Maghull TC seems sadly disinterested in them.

Maghull's Lib Dem  toilet campaigners fighting Labour's axe.

Maghull’s Lib Dem toilet campaigners fighting Labour’s axe.

Sefton’s Bin Tax – This has to have been a really mad moment in Sefton’s bid to save money – a proposal to charge residents to have their green bins emptied! Surely anyone with the slightest understanding of the Borough would have known this was a tax too far but the Labour-led Council had to be hit between the eyes (and in the ballot box) with the anger of residents before that Penny dropped. This and the Green Belt land grab were the major reasons why Labour lost two Council by-elections in Maghull during July to the Lib Dems.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labours Green Bill tax for Sefton.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labours Green Bill tax for Sefton.

All years are unique but we certainly have seen some odd events in Sefton Borough during 2013.

PS. A piece of good news is that the expected closure of W H Smith’s shop in Bootle New Strand, which I commented on not so long ago, is not now going to happen.

CPRE – I am troubled by their Sefton Branch approach to the Borough’s Draft Local Plan as are other environmental campaigners.

I have bumped into the Sefton Branch of CPRE before and my experiences have not really been wholly positive. My postings of 23/07/2011, 27/07/2011 & 09/08/2013 refer and it is fair to say that of my 3 previous encounters one was good and two, shall we say were unfortunate.

So whilst I am somewhat sceptical of Sefton CPRE because of my previous encounters this posting is very much about what I will call my forth encounter. It’s to do with their response to the draft Local Plan for Sefton which frankly makes me scratch my head wondering why they are not protecting rural England with the determination that their title would indicate and we could reasonably expect them to be.

You see CPRE are effectively saying that the Green Belt can be breached. In a recent letter to me and indeed other councillors they say. ‘The requirement necessitates the re-designation of some Green Belt land for housing development and we are satisfied that the Council has chosen to re-designate those parcels of land, the loss of which will be least harmful to the purposes served by Green Belt land, and thereby the Green Belt land remaining which will better serve those purposes can be protected from off-plan development.’

To give them their due they do slightly redeem themselves by going on to say that they ‘are critical of the provisional data used by the Council to estimate housing need because they are not based on 2011census data.’

They finish by saying that they have ‘been at pains not to make any recommendations which would conflict with government policy.’

Now hold on a minute I thought the job of CPRE was give grief to Governments of all colours and Council’s too if the countryside is seen to be under threat. Frankly, to have CPRE seemingly bail out before the battle has been won or lost saddens me a great deal.

Sefton CPRE – Now they are in the Green Belt campaigner’s sights

The Sefton Branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England is not making any friends within the environmental campaigners who are fighting to protect Sefton Green belt from Development.

I must admit I was just a little taken aback when I heard that CPRE were backing Sefton Council’s Option 2 for the Local Plan which will mean building on Green Belt and the highest grade of agricultural land in the Borough. I picked on their stance back in May at the now infamous Sefton Council ‘Stakeholder’ meeting where the Council’s consultants, NLP, first got into hot water over their (rising) population stats which I have posted about previously.

But two previous encounters with CPRE in Sefton have made me wonder. One was when our local Labour MP was photographed with a representative of CPRE after the majority of Labour members on Sefton Council’s Planning Committee had voted to support the building of a canal marina, off Bells Lane in Lydiate, on Green Belt land. (It had taken Lib Dem and Tory members voting together to block the application!) That photo was in a Labour Party leaflet dated Autumn 2011 and circulated in Lydiate and Maghull! Why was a CPRE representative appearing in a Labour Party leaflet at all and even more so when Labour councillors had not only backed building on a Green Belt site but had failed to turn up at the subsequent planning appeal where residents supported by Lib Dem councillors were left to fight it off? Odd, well I thought so and I told CPRE of my concerns at the time.

The other incident concerned a CPRE public meeting in Crosby (I think it was in July of 2011) about the Green Belt. The trouble was that the meeting only had political representation from Labour Party speakers! I protested about CPRE’s supposed non-party political stance being compromised by this turn of events at the time and received a very late invitation to join the speakers which I was not able to do.

So whilst I have some reservations about CPRE locally it seems that the campaign group FRAGOFF and the wider environmental movement that has been building in Sefton, because of the Council’s proposals to build on Green Belt/high grade agricultural land, is more than a little unhappy with CPRE’s stance in backing Option 2.

I suspect this issue has more legs in it…………………