Community ‘Fair Deal Campaign’ pits Maghull Labour v Sefton Labour

Having been involved in politics here on Merseyside since 1980, one of the many things I’ve learned is that whilst the Labour Party fight like ferrets in a sack internally they always, always try to put forward a united front in public.

But hey, things may be changing as Maghull Labour are rightly trying to turn the screw on big brother Sefton Labour. You’d expect it to end in tears for Maghull Labour but let’s give them credit for standing up to Sefton Labour. I have a feeling that the Maghull Town Council/Sefton Borough Council relationship may be getting a little fractious.

So what’s the conflict all about? Well, a community ‘Fair Deal campaign’, with Labour-run Maghull Town Council taking the lead, has been launched because, well to put it bluntly, Sefton Council (also Labour controlled) has in my view been diddling the communities of Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village* for a few years now

And by the way, for the benefit of any doubt, I’m very much supportive of the campaign. My recent blog posting regarding ‘Double Rating’ makes the point and here’s a link to it:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2022/02/14/double-rating-maghull-lydiate-aintree-a-history-of-ups-and-downs/

I also had a letter published in the North Liverpool Champion newspaper on 16th March on the same subject.

Here are some scans of the campaign leaflet that’s presently being delivered around Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village (you’ll need to click on each scan to enlarge for reading):-

As I pointed out in both my blog posting (linked above) and in my letter to the Champion Newspaper, whilst austerity was the reason given for the ‘Double Rating’ being withdrawn in reality the formula for it simply needed adjusting to take into account Sefton Borough Council’s reduced expenditure on its own parks and gardens. The total withdrawal of DR was simply wrong and I opposed Labour’s move to do that when I was a Sefton Councillor because it meant Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree Village council taxpayers were being disadvantaged. Here’s the relevant part of the submission made by Lydiate Parish Council explaining that very fact:-

a) To continue to make the payments but at a lower level commensurate with the reduced standards of grounds maintenance that the Borough has already budgeted for and may well budget for in the future. This option would mean that all of Sefton’s communities would be treated the same by the Borough Council no matter whether the parks and gardens are run by Borough or Parish Council.

Looking at the party politics is interesting because the area of Sefton Borough covered by this campaign is known as the East Parishes and it has 3 Borough Council wards – Park, Sudell and Molyneux. Until recently these 3 wards had 3 Labour members in each (total of 9) but 2 of the councillors (1 in Park, 1 in Molyneux) have parted company with Labour, sitting now as Independents. I suppose the question is what will the 7 East Parishes wards Labour members of Sefton Council do if the issue comes to a vote on the Borough Council? This question assumes, of course, that Labour-run Sefton Council doesn’t capitulate and pay up, which I hope they will.

Anyway, back to the campaign. You’ll have noticed the reference to the ‘New Homes Bonus’, ‘Section 106’ and the 1700 new homes to be built in Maghull from the scanned leaflet. The issue for me here is that as a former Maghull Town Councillor myself, I ran the successful campaign to stop the very same ‘Land East of Maghull’ being developed back in 1998**. I didn’t see Labour-run Maghull Town Council opposing/campaigning against Sefton Council’s most recent and successful bid to build on the land, which they (Sefton) won, almost without a shot being fired! In other words, there’s a certain amount of shutting stable doors after the horse has bolted going on here.

So there you have it, the party political tectonic plates are shifting in Labour-run Sefton and in ways that would have seemed inconceivable not so long ago. My feeling is that all may not be well with Keir Starmer’s seeming bid to take the Labour Party to a centre-right position in UK politics and this may be causing some of the local Labour Party unrest. If all this unrest resolves a great injustice for the East Parishes council taxpayers of Sefton Borough then some good will have come from it.

* I note Melling Parish Council is seemingly not involved in this campaign and wonder why. I say this as at one time Melling PC did get some Double Rating money for the wild-flower meadow they maintained on Melling Rock. Maybe they no longer have responsibility for it?

** That was during the development of what was then called the Sefton’s Unitary Development Plan. The new plan, which this time has approved the building on this vast piece of high-grade agricultural land, is called the Sefton Local Plan. I opposed the Local Plan as a Sefton Councillor (and after I’d been invited to leave the council by the electorate) as this piece of land is high-grade agricultural land that grows the food we eat.

Councils decide Local Plans, are planning application approvers, sometime land developers & may be social housing providers too!

I’ve long pondered over the various roles associated with land development/housing that are filled by single local authorities.

It was the article below from the Liverpool Echo that made me think about what looks to me like conflicting responsibilities.

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/concerns-raised-over-councils-luxury-22515674

Sefton Council (like all other unitary councils) decided the current Local Plan for the Borough, which in turn designated new pieces of land to be developed. Yes, the government prescribed that councils have such a plan but crucially it’s the councils deciding the parcels of land to be tarmacked and concreted over. Ok, local politicians, across the country, then pull all kinds of stunts to pretend they had nothing to do with taking land out of Green Belt, for example, (as that’s usually very unpopular) via the Local Plan they agreed to. They may even go so far as to oppose planning applications for the land they’ve designated for development! Such is political life but whatever politicians say the decisions about which parcels of land to make available for building were taken by a local council.

So planning applications are decided upon by the same councils who’ve picked the land to be built on. Surely a conflict of interests? Yes, I know, local authority planning committees are at face value run along quasi-judicial lines whereby the members of such committees can’t or should not be influenced by political or party political thoughts and lobbying, but is that really how things work? I’m a sceptic.

But what happens if the very same council sets itself up as a land developer/housebuilder as well as a Local Plan and planning application decider – Surely big conflicts of interest there?

And some local authorities are still social/council housing providers so potentially have a direct say in every part of the process from a piece of land changing from say high-grade agricultural land to it charging rent to the people living in the houses built on such land!

I had such thoughts when I was the leader of Sefton Council some years ago. I was invited to leave the council in May 2015 by the electorate I might add but at least my conscience is clear because I consistently opposed the development of Sefton’s Local Plan due to high-grade agricultural land, which feeds us, being designated for building on, That plan was finally approved after I left the council. Sefton was not a social/council housing provider in the latter years of my being on that council as all the housing stock had been transferred to a housing association called One Vision under pressure from the Blair Government.

Am I right to see all these conflicts of interest and worry about them?

I’m of the view that the designation of land use by local authority areas is taking too many smallish geographical areas and making decisions on them when such decisions actually would be better taken strategically at say a sub-regional level. Look at it this way if say a group of local authority areas, Merseyside may well be a good example, all produce their own Local Plans (what happens now) would it not be better if those land-use decisions were determined over the whole former Merseyside County area? There may be large areas of brownfield land in a couple of local authorities but almost none in others. This means that, under present rules i.e. separate Local Plans, the couple of authorities with large areas of brownfield land have a pretty easy Local Plan process. However, not all their brownfield land needs to be used so some is left undeveloped but in the other adjacent local authority areas with little or no brownfield land their plans can only pick non-brownfield land to be built upon. Do you get my drift? The smaller a geographic area for a Local Plan the more likely it is that poor strategic land-use decisions will be.

In terms of social housing provision, I’d like to see strong tenant-led housing associations separate from local authorities. I worry that housing associations have suffered from neglect and they may well not be fulfilling their original purposes well these days. It would also break a link which can be an issue of conflict of interest to me with local planning authorities.

I’d be interested to hear the views of others…….

A tribute to ‘Pat from Lydiate’

For the last 5 years, one of my Borough councillors for Park Ward of Sefton Council has been Independent Pat O’Hanlon. She effectively took up as a Borough councillor as I bowed out of being one in 2016.

I got to know Pat as she was one of quite a few environmental campaigners who came together from across the political spectrum to oppose high-grade agricultural land being taken out of the Green Belt in Sefton Borough for development via the Sefton Local Plan; a fight I had long been involved with myself as regular readers of this blog site will be aware. Pat came from a Labour/socialist background but had left the Labour Party due to its stance on this hugely controversial issue. Indeed, she didn’t just leave Labour she stood against them and took a Sefton Council seat off them in Park Ward.

I liked working with Pat as she reminded me of another previous councillor for Park Ward – Lib Dem Robbie Fenton – who was tenacious and very determined to pursue any and every issue brought to her attention. Like Robbie, Pat did not seek the limelight as a councillor, she just got on with the job and she did it very well.

I was disappointed when it became apparent that Pat would not be contesting her Park Ward seat this May as politics needs the Pat’s and Robbie’s of this world who don’t give a damn who they take on.

Before Pat was elected she gained the nickname ‘Pat from Lydiate’ as a consequence, I think, of an interview on Radio Merseyside. She was also a very significant campaigner against asbestos pollution and I think it fair to say she gave both Sefton Council and the Health and Safety Executive a real run for their money over it.

Well done Pat, I’d be surprised if anyone who’d approached you during your term of office as a borough councillor had anything but good things to say about you. You more than did your bit for Lydiate, Maghull and the local environment; enjoy your retirement.

Lydiate – Tyson’s Triangle to be built on

Tyson’s Triangle – March 2021

It must have been back in the 1980s that the triangle of farmland bounded by Liverpool Road, Kenyons Lane and the A59 (Northway) in Lydiate became known as Tyson’s* Triangle, indeed I seem to recall there was an advertising hoarding up for a while in that company’s name which led directly to it being dubbed Tyson’s Triangle.

And now to bring this all up to date. Not so long ago Sefton Borough Council published its Local Plan which defined land use across Sefton for around the next 15 years or so. This plan replaced what was previously know as a Unitary Development Plan. The major changes with regard to the new plan were that various sites across the Borough were taken out of Green Belt and in effect opened up to development/building. Tyson’s Triangle is one such site.

Readers of this blog site will know that I worked to oppose the emerging Sefton Local Plan during my latter years as a Sefton Councillor (I ceased to be a Sefton Borough councillor back in 2015) for Lydiate but that in the end I and the other environmental campaigners whom I worked with lost that fight.

And I mention this all now why? Well, moves are clearly afoot to press on with the building of 300+ dwellings on the land with a draft site plan of the proposals being made available to Lydiate Parish Councillors this week.

I’ve got past the raw anger I once felt at high-grade agricultural land (which much of the former Green Belt to be built on has been) being sacrificed for building but still feel that both government and council have failed to value some of the best food-growing land in England.

So built upon this site will be no matter what I or anyone else thinks; the die has sadly been cast. The only arguments now are about the site layout, the access roads to it, flooding mitigation etc. etc.

OK, I’m still angry really it’s just not as raw!

* I’m guessing that Tysons were possibly the first developers to have an option on this site should Sefton Council take the land out of Green Belt but if I’m wrong please shout out.

CPRE confirm what we anti-Local Plan campaigners have long thought

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall (June 2013) trying to save Sefton Borough’s high grade agricultural land from development.

I have said many times that there is no need to build on high grade agricultural land across England. As a Sefton Councillor, a Maghull Town Councillor, Lydiate Parish Councillor and then after coming off both Sefton & Maghull Councils I fought alongside environmental campaigners opposing the Sefton Local Plan which designated high grade agricultural land for house building. We LOST….

This is a matter I’ve blogged about far more times than I care to recall but the underlying feeling of those of us opposing Local Plans across England was that there must be sufficient brownfield sites to deliver the housing* we have long been told is urgently required. However, the process to identify building land and indeed land use generally has always been flawed. Scoping it out on a council by council area basis has been looking thorough the wrong end of the telescope for me. In my view it should have been done and needs to be done at a regional level. The old process was called Unitary Development Plans but they then morphed into Local Plans although still tackled on a council by council basis.

This article on CPRE website is very interesting and informative:-

www.cpre.org.uk/news/theres-already-enough-suitable-land-to-meet-targets-for-new-homes-we-find/ **

And as CPRE say in a Tweet today – BREAKING: We’ve found that there is enough brownfield land for 1.3 million homes – enough to meet government housing targets for the next five years.

There is already enough land to build the homes we need – so why deregulate the planning system?

* Of course we campaigners against the Sefton Local Plan were not just concerned about the concreting over high grade agricultural land, but what kind of houses would be built anyway. Many of us were of the view that the real housing need in England is in the social housing sector. On that basis councils, like Sefton, were not only sacrificing the land the feeds us for housing but they were not even gaining much if any social housing in the process!

** Whilst this article is mainly focused on the Tory plan for further planning deregulation (build what you want where you want) it, in my view, also exposes the flawed nature of Local Plans and their predecessor Unitary Development Plans.

Maghull – We shouldn’t even be building on this land!

The vast Maghull East site seen from Poverty Lane presently used for growing crops but under Sefton Council’s Local Plan it is to be covered with housing.

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/controversial-plans-build-841-homes-18569259

There’s every danger that you’ll be shouting back at me that I’m a broken record here especially if you agree with house building on Green Belt and on high grade agricultural land which feeds us. However, if you agree with me that building on such land is very wrong indeed then read on.

During my time as a Maghull Councillor I led the first campaign to save this land from development in the late 1990’s:-

Press cutting from 1998 as we fought to protect the Maghull east site from development. We won back then but Labour did not fight for the land the 2nd time around.

A Maghull Town Council leaflet from 1998 – That fight to stop Green Belt building was won.

We won that battle but developers and planners always had their eye on it and when they came back for 2nd go as part of the Sefton Local Plan the now Labour-run council did not run a similar campaign and Sefton Council chose the land to be built on.

So now we are left arguing over the detail of how the land will be developed rather than this high grade agricultural land continuing to grow the food that we eat! What makes it even worse is that the chances are that the vast majority of the houses to be built won’t even meet the real local housing shortage anyway as it’s in the social housing sector where the need actually is.

I despair I really do. All I can say is that during my time as a Sefton Borough and Maghull Town Councillor I fought to keep this land from development along with many other local environmental campaigners such as Peter Greener and Pat O’Hanlon. Planning and land use policies in the UK are an utter mess and they have been for generations now. When are we going to wake up to climate change, global warming and real housing need in the social housing sector? When are we going to start to value the land that grows our food?