Which way is Labour facing over Sefton’s Green Belt? – Both ways!

I am having trouble knowing which way Labour is facing over Sefton’s Green Belt.

First we have the Labour run Council proposing to allow building on Green Belt land (which is subsequently endorsed by Labour Sefton Councillors on an Overview & Scrutiny Committee – 28th May) but we are also treated to those Labour policies seemingly being publicly rejected within days by Labour Party members led by an Andy Wilson.

Forgive me but I sense a stunt in progress here similar to one pulled by Labour over the hugely controversial Damfield Lane site in Maghull. There, only last year, Labour councillors said they were fighting to stop the proposed development only for Labour councillors to vote the development through!

We could all do without another carry on like that; it is not community leadership but raising false hopes and band wagon jumping of the very worst kind. It’s a Labour run Council that is proposing to build on the sites that it has identified within the Green Belt; no one else picked those sites.

Sefton Planning Committee approves Local Plan for consultation

The Labour dominated Planning Committee of Sefton Council last night voted to approve what I believe to be a flawed draft Local Plan.

The 8 Labour members of the Planning Committee all voted in favour of the Local Plan with its proposal for substantial building in the Green Belt. 4 Lib Dems and 1 Conservative voted against.

From my perspective the flaws are:-

• Too easily giving in to pressure to release high grade agricultural land for development.
• That in 15 years time the Council will most likely revisit the process and yet more ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land will be lost.
• Dubious population growth statistics in a Borough where the number of residents has been dropping for years.
• That the population growth projections seem to be built on inward migration into the Borough when there is no evidence of this actually happening.
• A lack of detailed coordination with the West Lancashire Local Plan.
• Too much concentration on the Merseyside perspective when the majority of Sefton’s boundary is with Lancashire.
• Selecting sites for development in the Green Belt where concreting over the high grade agricultural land will forever stop the land being used for food production.
• The plan is simply not ‘green’ enough. The balance between economic development and sustainable environmental planning has not been struck.

Sefton Council’s Local Plan – A guest posting from the Lib Dem Opposition Leader on the Council – Cllr. Iain Brodie-Browne

Iain Brodie-Brown

We Lib Dems feel that the views of local residents are hugely important. We understand why Labour run Sefton Council’s proposals to allow building on Green Belt are extremely unpopular.

We do not oppose all house building, indeed we encourage it on the Borough’s brown-field sites, as there is a need for more housing -in particular low cost homes.* However, building on high grade agricultural land, which is how virtually all of Sefton’s Green Belt is categorised, is environmentally unsustainable.

There is a balance to be struck between the need for more low cost housing, especially in Southport, and environmental sustainability. We believe that the balance has not been struck by Sefton Council’s present proposals and will be seeking to take the pressure off the Green Belt as the Local Plan goes through the Council’s processes over the coming months.

We will be arguing for the Local Plan to become the ‘greenest’ plan in England; that is one that champions the continued farming of some of the best and most versatile agricultural land in the whole country. We will challenge some of the questionable population predictions for the Borough to ensure they are both robust and realistic.

Lib Dems have consistently fought to retain Sefton’s Green Belt. Indeed during the last round of potential ‘Green Belt grabbing’ in 1998, when the present Unitary Development Plan was being put together, we successfully fought off planners and developers who were trying to release a huge parcel of land to the east of Maghull. That very same piece of prime agricultural land is a developers target this time around. Our campaigners will be fighting for it yet again.

We believe in localism, indeed we have championed it for generations when other parties were not interested in it. Local people have to comfortable with Sefton’s Local Plan or it will simply be the Council’s plan that is imposed upon its residents.

* For example we approved the development of land at Kew in Southport.

Reactions to Labour run Sefton Council’s Green Belt Grab

Not surprisingly the plans recently unveiled by Labour run Sefton Council to grab more high grade agricultural land to build upon have gone down very badly.

The Champion newspaper’s East Parishes reporter Jim ‘The News Hound’ Sharpe calls the master plan ‘bonkers’.

Dr. John Pugh Lib Dem MP for Southport

Dr. John Pugh Lib Dem MP for Southport

Dr John Pugh the Lib Dem MP for Southport says the plan will create a ‘hollowed out sprawl’.

Maria Bennett of Formby Residents Action Group (Fragoff) says ‘Sefton’s plan is completely flawed’

Tonight at Maghull Town Hall a large number of concerned residents and environmental campaigners mixed in with folks who have seen through Labour’s con-trick of one part of that Party in Sefton promoting the green belt grab whilst the others condemn it, turned out to voice their concerns.

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 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 as they did last time Sefton Council tried to earmark the site for building land

The meeting was of the first of the quite ludicrous Central Sefton Area Committee i.e. everywhere that is not Bootle or Southport in the Borough. I wondered what would happen as Labour like to hush up and crush up protestors as Aintree Library campaigners found out when they attended a meeting of the former East Parishes Area Committee trying to stop Labour from closing their library.

Like back then the protestors were out in force because they thought that their community leaders were off on a course of action which would damage their community. Well they were right over the Aintree Library (although the community may well have stopped the closure by taking it over themselves) and many, many folks think they are right now to fight Labour every inch of the way over the Green Belt grab.

This is what happened. The campaigners asked 3 questions about the detail of the proposals under Labour’s Local Plan. Did they get any answers? No. My Lib Dem colleagues and I deliberately sat and watched because we wanted to know what the Labour councillors present would do. In effect Labour said they did not know the answers to the questions and would get back to the questioners. Well at least the questioners were not shouted at but answers there were none!

Fighting to Protect the Green Belt – A guest posting from Cllr Nigel Ashton (Liberal Democrat, Meols Ward)

Green belt land is a precious resource and we must fight to protect it. The need for new housing can be met by building on brownfield sites and other non-protected areas. There are viable alternatives to building on green belt, but in producing their local plan Sefton has gone for the easy option. Once green belt land is built on it is lost forever.

Many local residents feel very strongly about protecting the environment. During a previous consultation in 2011, more people attended the drop-in session in Churchtown than anywhere else in the whole of Sefton. There was also a huge turn out at the Lydiate drop-in session – Editor.

There is a highly controversial proposal in my own ward (Meols) to build on green belt land off Bankfield Lane, near Three Pools. The original version of the local plan would have put over 300 houses on this site. My Lib Dem colleagues and I put forward a very strong case against this, particularly as the site is subject to flooding and is very good agricultural land. We have had a partial victory, as the Council has reduced the proposal to 120 houses, but we will carry on pushing to protect this land completely.

There is very strong public opposition to building on the land surrounding the Old Links Golf Course, which is also green belt. There was a huge meeting when this was first put forward and nothing has happened since to change people’s minds. I expect to see a great deal of public protest.”

I made my first speech in the council chamber on the subject of protecting the green belt and it is an issue that has remained of great importance to me. Together with my colleagues, I will continue to fight to get proposals to build on the green belt removed from Sefton Council’s local plan. I urge everyone to have their say during the public consultation which is taking place from July – September.”

Capitalism, urban planning and growth

The thrust of capitalism, so we are told, is that it needs almost continual growth to be successful; the alternative is virtually no growth or worse, recession, where we have been stuck for quite some time. I raise this because it is fundamentally linked to why Green Belt, green spaces and high grade agricultural land are under attack from concrete, bricks and tarmac.

Also, locally here in Sefton, despite the Borough’s population falling by 26,800 between 1981 and 2011 14,004 additional homes were built during that period. The seeming conflict between economic growth and a declining population will, in the main, be explained by separate but related social and economic factors i.e. most of us are living in smaller family units and of course living longer.

‘Between 2002 and 2009, the borough has experienced a 2.75% reduction in its overall resident population.’ – Sefton’s State of the Borough document July 2011.

‘The borough’s declining resident population over this period is in sharp contrast to the national and regional picture, which demonstrated a 4.35% and 1.78% increase respectively’ – Sefton’s State of the Borough document July 2011.

Growth pressures are therefore responsible for the ‘need’ to build more houses in the Borough. In turn, because there is nowhere else to turn (i.e. very little brown field land left that has previously been developed and is presently available for redevelopment) planners are telling us that some Green Belt/high grade agricultural land has to be lost.

We plan for growth from an economic perspective because it is hard wired into just about everything Government/The Treasury thinks and does. The thinking seems to be ‘if we not planning for growth, we are creating recession’. Planning for growth means building things like houses. Building houses needs folks to buy them/rent them. Our falling Borough population should logically have meant we would buy less/rent less houses but our living in smaller family units and living longer has saved the economic (growth) day because less of us require more houses.

As an aside one point that has concerned me for as long as I have been a Sefton Councillor is that Sefton is virtually always compared to other parts of Merseyside to justify some stat or other yet the Borough’s physical connection with Merseyside (Knowsley and Liverpool) is far, far smaller than its lengthy border with Lancashire. Indeed, it is surely the case that the vast majority of Sefton has far more in common in many ways with the Lancashire communities that surround it than it does with much of Merseyside.

Moving on, what’s all this about Sefton’s population starting to rise again because that is what the planners now tell us is going to happen?

Until very recently we have been looking at a continuing potential for Sefton’s population to decline but then, almost out of the blue, planners have told us that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have said that Sefton’s population is to rise due to people moving into the Borough. But how do they make such projections and how reliable are they. Indeed, where do ONS gain the data from to make such a prediction?

On one level these ‘surprise’ projections have been met with a high level of scepticism. Just who will be moving into Sefton, why and indeed when? Is this just taking the numbers of people moving about the UK, adding in migrants from outside of the UK and then giving Sefton a share of the higher population? Surely, it could not be such a crude calculation because logically people moving into Sefton would be doing so because of the availability of jobs either in the Borough or close to it in Lancashire and Merseyside. I have yet to see a reasoned, understandable and reliable explanation as to all the factors that will cause Sefton’s population to go into reverse and start rising again but the ‘fact’ that ONS say it will is going to be a big factor in creating more pressure for house building.

But what about urban planning (whilst we await a clear and credible explanation of why, how and when our local population is to rise)? I recently started to read a book that made comment on such. The book was about an American city in deep crisis – Detroit, but a couple of things jumped out at me that could help to explain why no matter what is going on beneath the waves planners always plan for growth.

‘there seemed to be a bone-deep American reluctance to even flirt with the notion of getting smaller’ and ‘I teach land use and planning and there’s nothing in there about downsizing’ and ‘the assumption is that a population is expanding, so how best to control it’. – The Last days of Detroit – Mark Binelli P 2013

Fundamentally, UK planning policy has been economically led for generations but are we at a cross roads? Surely, environmental sustainability and food production are now the most important things to plan for. Building more houses because we always have done fits with all the major historical imperatives of capitalism but maybe those major imperatives need to change – indeed I become surer that they do every day.

I would never advocate a socialist economic approach as many in the Labour Party and trade union movement do because frankly it simply does not and will not work. But neither am I in any way convinced that ploughing on in the same way as we do now for growth, growth, growth at all cost growth is going to be a sustainable way forward. World resources are in decline, the world population is increasing, environmental catastrophe is just around the corner yet our major worry is economic growth?

The bottom line is that the areas of Sefton that are presently not concreted over are part of a mere 2% of the English land mass that is made up of the best and most versatile agricultural land. Taking more of such land to build on is simply nuts! It may only be 2% or 3% that is lost this time but we have done it before that’s why many of our houses in the Borough are built on what was previously such land. In 10 or 15 years the planners will return and tell us that another small percentage of that diminishing amount of ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land is needed for building and the same cycle will repeat itself. That is not environmental and food production sustainability it is the politics of the mad house. We are not planning for the future, more like failing to plan for the future and Labour, Conservatives and yes even some Lib Dems are not waking up and smelling the coffee.

Planning policy is fundamentally an economic growth tool it needs to become a sustainability tool balanced between the environment, food production and the economy otherwise we are all going to hell in a hand cart.