Neighbourhood Plans – Are they Labour’s apology?

Having spent a couple of years on Sefton Council’s Planning Committee as the Lib Dem opposition spokesperson (2013/14 and 2014/15) and fought Labour’s Local Plan for the Borough every inch of the way I now wonder if their enthusiasm for Neighbourhood Plans is their back-handed way of apologising for building on high grade agricultural land?

Green Belt campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall.

Green Belt campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall.

Neighbourhood Plans are a potentially useful but significantly limited tool to plan for the development of a town or village at a very local level but as I have said before, there is no point in doing one unless you know why you are doing it.

They can cost the public purse a lot of money and they involve a huge amount of work and community involvement and in the end a referendum in the designated area. What’s more if they conflict with the local authority’s Local Plan (in our case Sefton Council’s) they get chucked out by a Planning Inspector anyway.

Here I am at Lambshear Lane Lydiate checking out farm land that is coming under threat from house building.

Here I am at Lambshear Lane Lydiate checking out farm land that is coming under threat from house building.

My view all along, as Sefton’s Local Plan was being developed, was that anyone or group in the Borough who wanted to see some specific planning issues included about their community should first of all use the Local Plan process to get such matters included in it. Why? Because it would save having to do a Neighbourhood Plan for your community.

Oddly, Labour chose to seemingly not challenge what Council Officers wanted to see in the Local Plan for Sefton nor to come up with any innovative ideas for the Borough’s diverse communities. Of course they also backed a huge amount of building in the Green Belt on land that is virtually all the best and most versatile land for growing food in England!

Now they want the communities of Sefton to produce Neighbourhood Plans, seemingly to try to mitigate the negative effects of their Local Plan! Certainly that’s how I see the Neighbourhood Plans for the two communities of Maghull and Lydiate, both of which are going to see vast tracts of high grade agricultural land go under concrete and tarmac if Labour has its way.

Maghull Town Council (in Labour’s grip) has been trying to produce its ‘apology’ Neighbourhood Plan for a while now and I have commented before about all the twists and turns of the odd process they have constructed. You may remember they (Maghull Town Council) did a survey but when we asked to see it we were told the data was held by the Labour Party! Then when we pressed the issue we were told it had been destroyed!

Well the Maghull Neighbourhood Plan struggles on but the good folks of the Town seem less than interested in it.

Now Lydiate, also under Labour Control, wants to do one as well and we discussed it at the last Parish Council meeting. All well and good but the clear reason for doing it can only be that they want to mitigate the effects of the Sefton Local Plan that Labour forced through Sefton Council.

I am not opposed to them doing a Neighbourhood Plan in principle but if Labour had not imposed it’s Local Plan on the Borough in the first place then there would be no need for either Maghull or Lydiate to do a Neighbourhood Plan at all.

How all this is meant to grab the hearts and minds of Lydiate folk to want to get involved beats me as an expensive and time consuming process is now in train simply because of Labour’s Sefton Local Plan.

Funny old world is politics…….

Is there a housing shortage? Well both yes and no seem to be the right answer

The link above is worth clicking and the document is interesting reading.

Westminster politicians keep on telling us we are short of housing, so much so that many folk simply do not question whether they are right any more.

This research confirms to me what I have always thought i.e. we have too much of the wrong types of housing. The problem areas are too few 1 & 2 bed properties and not enough affordable and social housing.

On this basis and taking Sefton Council’s astonishingly poor Local Plan into account why on earth are we going to end up with masses of 3 & 4 bedroom properties being built on high grade agricultural land and Green Belt in the Borough when what we really need is not that kind of property at all! Sefton’s housing need reflects the national situation but our daft Labour-run Council just does not see the picture. Why?

My feelings are that Labour have been led by the nose by planning officers and have not taken the time to understand the Borough’s real housing issues at all. Maybe there is some of following the national trend going on within Sefton Labour too; a simplistic let’s get on and build houses (any houses?) and worry about the consequences later? Whatever the case our Council leadership have got it very wrong as few 1 & 2 bedroom properties will be built, affordable housing has all but been kicked into the long grass and there don’t seem to any plans at all to bring forward any social housing developments.

Where was the innovation within the Sefton Local Plan to convert unused retail space into dwellings for example on a significant scale. To have taken this course could have taken pressure off the Green Belt. But no innovation just a plan to build more 3 and 4 bedroom houses based on dubious population stats on high grade agricultural land!

You simply could not make this farce up.

The arrogance of power – Sefton Labour

I hope my Lib Dem Group did not act in an arrogant way when we were the largest party on Sefton Council. And I say this now we are the largest opposition group on the Labour-run Council.

My reason for saying this is because Labour don’t seem to get the fact that for democracy to flourish on a Council the scrutiny of the all powerful Cabinet needs to be managed by councillors who are not of the same political party as the Cabinet.

Tonight Labour voted down a Lib Dem proposal for the Audit and Governance Committee to be chaired by a councillor from the largest opposition group.

Without a check on Labour’s activities Sefton will slide further down the route towards a one-party state and that can be in no ones interest other than the ruling Bootle Labour elite.

Tory or Labour – Placing political chums and taking out opposition ones; it’s what they do

I am surprised that some commentators seem surprised when the Tories or indeed Labour take opportunities to shift a person who represents an opposition sect to slot in another one from their own sect. It happens all the time, indeed just look at American politics where it is expected of them and they are weak if they don’t do it when the party political guard changes after an election!

What should happen of course is that the best person for the job should be in the job no matter what their own political views are. Although even I would draw the line placing a well suited person in a high ranking job if they held extremist views.

But this removing of opposition people happens at a local level too. Just look at Maureen Fearn. Utterly devoted to Linaker Primary school in Southport, as a Governor, for many years. But when Labour took control of Sefton she was removed in favour of an unknown Labour supporter. It’s the kind of politics that we Liberals try to stand against, although I am sure someone can point to an over important Lib Dem who has pulled such a stunt!

Credit Unions – why are Sefton Labour so dismissive of them?

I mentioned a few days ago about Labour councillors at last week’s Sefton Council meeting being far from supportive of credit unions. Yes, I was surprised too!

Liberals are supportive of them and I helped fight to get one established within my own trade union during my activist days. They are without doubt a positive way forward especially when the alternatives are considered i.e. pay day loan companies and worse loan sharks who prey on the poor and vulnerable.

The reason this came up at the Council meeting was that a Labour motion about pay day loan companies and fixed odds betting terminals did not mention credit unions at all.

Iain Brodie-Browne

My Leader Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne thought the motion needed beefing up by including the role of Credit Unions who operate under a capped interest rate. In Iain’s words:-

“I should have known better. The Leader of the Council will ‘taken no lectures’ from the likes of me. A quick check on Wonga’s website showed that for a £400 loan for a month you would pay interest of £131.21p representative APR of 5,853%. The same loan from London Mutual Credit Union would cost £8 APR 26.8%. To express it another way if you borrowed £400 for a month from Wonga you would have to repay £531.21p. If you borrow from the Credit Union £408. Got it?: It is a good deal if, as anti poverty campaigners say, you are poor and need credit. There is not a bank in the country who could set and administer a small short term loan for just £8. All this is pretty recent, Partners Credit Union introduced an almost exactly similar product on 3rd January.

Well Labour speaker after Labour speaker got up to condemn my proposal! It was ‘outrageous’, ‘immoral’ how could I suggest such a thing etc. etc.”

The odd, really odd, part about the motion (if you try to ignore the fact that Labour changed the law to allow the proliferation of fixed odds betting terminals in bookies!) was that Labour councillors were arguing against the very cap on interest rates that Labour had put in place so that pay day type loans could be made available by credit unions.

These ridiculous arguments were being put forward by socialists who represent the poorest wards in the Borough and whose constituents desperately need local credit unions to take up the short-term pay day type loans and offer them to those trapped by massive interest rates or worse a baseball bat for those who can’t repay! Abandoning the poor by talking down the solution to their credit problems comes to mind…..

The arrogance of power

You can read more about Iain’s views at