Labour’s troubles in Sefton Central – It’s Carry on Councillors!

Labour have swept virtually all before them in elections in the Sefton Central Constituency since 2010 yet they seem vulnerable, unhappy with each other and riven with internal disputes.

At an MP Council Leader level, despite the odd smiling photo in the press, it is seemingly common knowledge that MP Bill Esterson and Sefton Borough Council Leader Peter Dowd simply don’t get on. And a question on many lips is who actually controls Labour Parish, Town and Borough Councillors? Some Labour sources say the MP’s office pulls all (too many) of the strings whilst others say that Bootle Labour Party holds all the power. Whatever the case there certainly seems to be a big internal battle going on.

In Formby Labour’s councillors seem to be in a continually fractious relationship with a vocal community group called Fragoff who are trying to save Green Belt land from development.

In Maghull, where do you start; it seems to be one internal problem after another with 7 Labour councillors resigning from Maghull Town Council in just 2 years and that same Council having 4 Labour Leaders in the same 2 year period. Indeed, when Labour gained control of Maghull Council in 2011 they won 13 of the 16 seats but to date 6 of the original 13 have resigned and 1 who was co-opted to replace the first to resign has also packed in.

Across the Constituency the MP talks about Labour opposing developments in the Green Belt but Labour councillors are clearly on a different agenda as they consistently vote to build on Green Belt.

Labour’s Green Belt woes started in Lydiate when some Labour councillors voted to allow a canal marina to be built on Green Belt land. Then, however, Labour had yet to gain a majority on Sefton Council and they were out voted by a combination of Lib Dem and Tory councillors who blocked the planning application. It did not and has not stopped Labour trying to give the impression that they didn’t vote to build on the Green Belt when of course they did.

Returning to Maghull, Labour backed residents who were opposing the development on a significant piece of open green space in the heart of the Town only for Labour Councillors to vote to give the development planning permission.

Also in Maghull there is the strange question of why the Labour run Town Council decided not to make a submission to Sefton Borough Council in defence of the Green Belt during the 2011 Local Plan consultations. Who or what spooked them and made them decide not to make a submission when one had been written up by a Labour councillor? Bearing in mind that the biggest of all the Borough’s Green Belt housing and industrial developments is planned by Labour run Sefton Council to be in Maghull it makes that lack of a submission from Maghull Town Council look all the more devastating.

In Blundellsands and Aintree Labour run Sefton Council proposed closing 2 libraries and has since confirmed the closures. The Labour MP opposed his own councillor’s closure proposals so Labour had a foot in both camps again.

Now across Sefton Labour are planning to charge residents for having green waste recycling bins and this proposal is proving to be about as popular as snow at harvest.

So how are they getting themselves in such a mess? It is probably their brand of band wagon popularism as they seem willing to back anyone who knocks at their door even when they surely must realise they will end up letting some of them down. They seem to think that because of austerity folks will vote Labour no matter what they do; a we can get away with anything sort of approach?

Now, however, Miliband and Balls have effectively pulled the rug from under their feet by saying that Labour will to a large extent follow the financial austerity policies put in place by the Coalition.

Labour craved power in Sefton and eventually got it on the back of saying that austerity was not necessary, that the Coalition was evil in pursuing it and that under Labour such savings and cuts would not happen. Now the very foundation of their band wagon popularist approach has been undermined, by their own Party leaders.

Will there be more internal Labour troubles in Sefton Central, I suspect you can almost bet on it.

What a carry on – The new Sefton Central Area (Farce) Committee met in Maghull last night

Well I said from day one that it would be more like a conference than what a truly local Area Committee should be and so it proved. Just look at how many people there were in that large room and they are not all on the photo!

rsz_area_farce_committee_06_06_13

Formby residents had to go all the way to Maghull to raise concerns about traffic regulation orders in their own patch which previously were dealt with in Formby.

A Crosby traffic issue was dealt with in Maghull instead of in Crosby ….. I could go on but you get my drift!

The meeting started off with many public questions about very local matters in Formby and Aintree, wind farm issues in Ince Blundell and green belt concerns just about everywhere. The worrying point was that virtually no questions got answers despite them being submitted in some cases many weeks ago. One chap said he had submitted a question to the new Area Committee 8 weeks ago but still no one was able to answer his adult care provision concerns. What’s more he is a well known senior Labour Party activist! If he can’t get the Labour Council to take note of his concerns what chance the rest of us?

Prior to the meeting there was a large lobby/protest outside the meeting venue (Maghull Town Hall) by folks wanting to stop Sefton Council allowing building on the Green Belt. What interested me was that apart from us Lib Dems no one seemed to want to engage with them at all. Here is a photo of the green belt protestors.

rsz_green_belt_protestors_outside_maghull_th_06_06_13

I posted yesterday about the Labour members who are promoting the plan to build on the Green Belt not answering detailed questions about their Council’s plan in the public question time session of the Area (Farce) Committee but later on I was taken aback at the response a chap from Crosby got from Labour. He had come out to Maghull to quite reasonably ask that the councillors from the 4 Crosby Wards dip into their ward funds to help finance his campaign group who are trying to save Collage Road Library from Labour’s axe. He got a positive from Andrew Tonkiss a Lib Dem member of Victoria Ward but he got short shrift from a Labour member for Manor ward who seemed most put out that the chap had not contacted him personally before turning up at the Area (Farce) Committee to ask for financial support. In the end Labour, who have a large majority on the Area (Farce) Committee, wanted to take it away and give it a mull over. Wow, that is really backing a community initiative! By the way it was during that discussion that Labour members made the suggestion that money from a £1m slush fund be made available to library campaign groups when they, yes they, had all voted not to make such funds available at the recent budget meeting!

Did local democracy get a boost from that farcical Area Committee meeting last night – a resounding NO! Were Labour able to prove that the merging of the 3 former Area Committees (Formby, Crosby & Sefton East Parishes) into one huge Area Committee for everywhere outside of Bootle and Southport was a step forward – a resounding NO!

Sefton’s Local Plan – A resident reminds me of my posting of 6th December 2012

Its 5 months since I wrote that particular posting but what I said is still valid in my view.

I went to a presentation last week in Bootle Town Hall about the emerging findings of something called the ‘Consequences Study’ which is being undertaken by planning consultants NLP for Sefton Council. It seems reasonably clear to me from that event that the house building ‘requirement’ for Sefton is being built (sorry for the pun) upon a significantly rising population created in no small part by predicted inward immigration into the Borough from elsewhere. That ‘from elsewhere’ is what ONS (Office of National Statistics) are trying to predict, although not in my view with any great certainty.

There was a chap at the presentation from Thornton Parish Council and he asked about such ONS projections and their validity. His point, I think, was that ONS will have taken immigration into the UK together with UK residents moving around and extrapolated an answer for each local authority area but that can’t be much more than sticking a finger up in the wind as how on earth can anyone know how many immigrants will want to settle in Sefton as opposed to anywhere else?

The bottom line for me is that despite all the work and studies the house building ‘requirement’ for Sefton is little more than informed guesswork. But, when the best and most versatile agricultural land in England is at stake, if it gets built upon, it seems environmentally daft to me to put it at risk based on highly questionable/unpredictable population stats.

My guts tell me that preserving that mere 2% of England’s land mass that is such high grade agricultural land and which makes up the vast majority of Sefton’s Green Belt has to be the priority for feeding future generations.

Despite my strong attachment to environmental sustainability I am trying to keep an open mind about Sefton’s Local Plan as it begins to emerge, but it is hard going.

My thanks to the local resident from Lydiate for raising this with me again.

Save our Green Belt – MP asks an odd Parliamentary question indeed

This recent question asked by our Sefton Central MP had me wondering why on earth he asked it. Read on:-

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central, Labour)

A developer in Lydiate in my constituency has made clear his plans to build in the green belt, despite the existing urban development plan making it clear that it is against the policies. Is not the best way to protect the green belt and valuable urban green space to go back to a system with a more regional approach so that there is not this push for development in the green belt?

What Bill is seemingly asking for here is a return to the way Labour approached land use policy when they were in government. Then we had a Regional Strategy which clearly said that Sefton Borough had to build 500 houses per year. In turn this meant that Sefton would have to start to allow building in the Green Belt!

My advice to Bill is be careful what you wish for!