Sefton’s Green Belt – It seems it’s not going to be saved

After what seems to have been years of fighting against Labour-led Sefton Council’s Local Plan, which proposes that houses and industrial units will be built on the highest grade of agricultural land, it seems that Labour and the planners have won and we environmental campaigners have lost.

Lydiate environmental campaigners presenting former Lydiate Parish Council Chairman Dave Russell with a petition to try to save the Green Belt from development around Lydiate

Lydiate environmental campaigners presenting former Lydiate Parish Council Chairman Dave Russell with a petition to try to save the Green Belt from development around Lydiate

In the last few days the Planning Inspector’s initial findings have been published and my reading of that document is that the inspector is endorsing a great deal of what our Borough Council wants to do.

The document itself is hardly accessible, even though it is a public document, as it is written in terms that most ordinary folk will not be able to relate to. This was brought home to me when a Lydiate resident said this to me “How are the public supposed to understand that gobbledygook”.

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough's high grade agricultural land from development.

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

The world of planning and planners is a closed one simply because it is full of so much jargon that it is in effect inaccessible to Joe and Jane Public and that in 2016 really is inexcusable.

And in case you think I am being a little unfair here’s a link to the Sefton Council web site which carries the inspectors initial findings:-

www.sefton.gov.uk/media/914339/EX102-SeftonLP_InspectorsInitial-Findings.pdf

Labour-led Sefton Council and those who live in the closed world of town and country planning certainly do live in a very different world to me:-

* Building on the highest grade of agricultural land in the UK on which we grow our food – Is that really a sensible/credible thing to do?

* Potentially increasing the size of communities like Lydiate and Maghull vastly – How will that help with the stretched local services particularly the ever present NHS primary health care/GP crisis?

* Sefton is very low-lying so flooding, as witnessed in Maghull on Boxing Day 2015, is going to be more frequent – Surely it is unwise to build on low -lying land.

And to put the tin lid on it, so to speak, the inspector seems to think that the affordable housing that we do need probably won’t be supplied, in the numbers required, via the Plan or at least that is my reading of his view.

Many of us have been scratching our heads about the supposed housing need. Yes we need affordable housing for young people to be able to get on the housing ladder. Yes we need 1 and 2 bedroom properties because many of us live alone these days and we also need small properties for the retired and elderly to be able to downsize to. We also need more social housing. But will any of this flow from this Plan? It seems unlikely to me.

What we seem to be going to build in Sefton are many more 3 and 4 bedroom properties so increasing our problems not resolving them! It’s as though the Council and planning experts have picked up and looked though the wrong end of a telescope and when this has been pointed out to them they have gone into denial of the obvious.

As an environmental campaigner this is a sad day indeed for the Borough of Sefton but it seems to be a cause for celebration for Labour! Cllr Ian Maher, Labour Leader of Sefton Council, said: “The initial findings from the Inspector are very supportive and subject to a few minor amendments, set us up on a clear path to adopt the plan.” What’s to be happy about, I ask you what on earth is there to be happy about?????

Sefton Local Plan – Meols Lib Dem Councillors Submission

Sefton Local Plan Publication Draft 2015
Consultation response from the three Meols Ward councillors –
Cllr Nigel Ashton, Cllr John Dodd and Cllr Jo Barton

Cllr. Nigel Ashton - This photo was taken during the campaign to try to save the Library from closure.

Cllr. Nigel Ashton – This photo was taken during the campaign to try to save the Library from Sefton Labour’s closure plans.

General comments

1. We do not consider that the population estimates that underpin the Local Plan publication draft are sound. There are assumptions about sudden increases in inward migration that are simply not backed up by credible evidence. The figure of 615 houses a year seems to us to be a considerable over-estimate of the actual need.
2. Producing a Local Plan based on flawed assumptions means that Green Belt land, including high grade agricultural land, is being wrongly designated for housing.
3. Some of the actual need for housing can be met by measures such as reducing the number of empty properties to the national average, taking into account existing brownfield sites earmarked for development, and encouraging ‘flats over shops’ and ‘shared accommodation’.
Brownfield sites
4. We believe that there are existing brownfield sites that can be used for housing without impacting on the prospect for jobs in the future and we welcome the inclusion of the old Phillips site off Rufford Road, Southport for housing development (MN 2.3).
5. It is vital that development at MN2.3 includes ancillary developments such as a school, GP surgery, and shops. This development should also recognise, and be sympathetic to, the heritage of the site of the old Vulcan Motor works.

Specific objections

6. We have particular objections to the inclusion of two Green Belt sites in the north of Southport as housing allocation – site MN2.2 land off Bankfield Lane / Three Pools and site MN2.4 land off Moss Lane.
7. Our objections to both these sites (MN2.2 and MN2.4) are on three grounds:
• Flood risk – the area is in a flood zone. Sefton’s own flood risk prevention strategy warns against inappropriate development. Climate change will make things worse.
• Agriculture – the land is prime farming land. We need to grow more of our own food. There is a strategic national interest in preserving good farming land.
• Wildlife – the area is a recognised Local Wildlife Site.

Cllr Nigel Ashton
Cllr John Dodd
Cllr Jo Barton
25 March 2015

Sefton – Lib Dem Opposition Leader slams Sefton Local Plan

Sefton Council Lib Dem Opposition Group
Leader Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne
24th March 2015

Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne

Liberal Democrat Group response to Sefton Council’s Local Plan

For context and background information we attach our previous submission because much of what we said in it still applies.

MP’s raise concerns about Local Plan

Firstly, two of the Borough’s 3 MP’s have very clearly and publicly expressed great concerns about the Sefton Local Plan. John Pugh MP (Southport) has questioned the reliance of the Borough Council on consultants who have a foot in both camps i.e. developers/land owners and the Council. Bill Esterson MP (Sefton Central) has said the plan should go back to the drawing board because it has not been drawn up in a way that has engaged Sefton’s communities.

Lack of Sustainable Development

Since our previous submission there have been changes to the plan which in our view put the principle of sustainable development at huge risk. We say this as the Borough Council is now proposing to build more houses and in doing so use more Green Belt and high grade agricultural land to achieve this objective. We are far from convinced that a clear case has been made by the Borough Council to concrete over vast swathes of high grade agricultural land which is presently being used to grow our food on.

Threat to high grade agricultural land

Sefton is blessed with having a significant amount of some of the highest grade agricultural land in England yet this Local Plan is aiming to build on it. This is not environmentally sustainable development in our view.

Shaky and ever changing population projections

We continue to have grave doubts over the population projections that the Borough Council is using especially as Sefton’s population has been on a downward trend ever since the Borough was set up in 1974. What’s more the figures have changed with every iteration of the plan and the advice from consultants has changed with it.

Local Plan should have been a joint Plan with West Lancs Borough

We remain concerned at the lack of effective cross-boundary working with West Lancashire Borough Council. This is a matter that we have raised previously and the denials of Planning Officers have not reassured us. We have concluded that the Sefton Local Plan should have been pursued as joint plan with West Lancashire Borough Council as, we understand, has happened in other parts of England. Sefton has a massive boundary with West Lancashire Borough, very significantly greater than its boundaries with Liverpool or Knowsley. The Southport and Lydiate communities, for example, are surrounded by West Lancashire with only their southern boundaries being connected to the rest of the Borough of Sefton. The economic, housing, education, health and social needs of these communities are as much if not more connected to those of their neighbouring communities in West Lancashire as they are to those in Sefton/Merseyside. It is our contention that Sefton Council has failed to work in a progressive way with West Lancashire Borough Council and that it continues to adopt an inward looking Merseyside-centric approach which is to the disadvantage of its diverse communities.

No planning for Southport’s clear transportation needs to east and north of Town

Another concern that we have is so basic in terms of planning for the future of transportation to and from Southport as to beggar belief that it has not been picked up on. We refer to the significant rail and road problems that the Southport community faces to the east and north of the Town. Only recently Sefton Council was successful in pushing Merseytravel to include the Southport-Wigan-Manchester railway line in its Long Term Rail Strategy yet this Local Plan completely fails to address the implications of that positive move. Implications such as the requirement to build a new park and ride station on the outskirts of Southport so to make the line more attractive to Southport residents who work in Manchester. This is a very significant failure in the Plan and fuels our concerns that the development of the Plan has not been community based but imposed on the diverse communities of the Borough by a Bootle and Merseyside-centric Council.

But the concerns we express are larger than just rail related as Southport’s economy is significantly being held back by its access problems to the east and north of the Town. Road issues also need to be addressed and whilst the solutions are in West Lancashire Borough it is clearly the case that the Local Plan is just the place for Sefton to lay out its ambitions for solving these matters. Of course it also shows why the Local Plan should have been a joint one with West Lancs Borough.

If Sefton Council can see that road and rail improvements are required in Maghull (new station and improved M58 Motorway junction) why can’t it see and indeed make the case for such improvements to the road and rail connection to the east and north of Southport?

Maghull (New Town) – It’s far more than an urban extension!

Maghull and Lydiate are to see a huge amount of development via this Plan which is totally out with the housing needs of these two communities. Sites MN2.46/MN3.38 are to add a vast (New Town type) extension to the east of Maghull and this on some of the 2% highest grade agricultural land in England! We continue to argue that this is not environmentally sustainable development and that it is totally out of scale with the housing needs of this part of the Borough.

Lydiate too is to see significant development, again on high grade agricultural land and the semi-rural nature of this community is clearly being put at risk. There is every danger here that the scale of development will see the erosion of the Green Belt between Lydiate and Aughton Civil Parishes.

Housing need

We remain highly sceptical of the Councils view that large numbers of new houses are required and feel they have not produced robust evidence of such need. However, where Sefton does have a housing need is within the affordable/social housing sector and the plan does not indicate a sustainable way of providing such housing. Indeed, through drafts of the plan Sefton has backed away from targets for affordable housing.

Scrutiny Process

Sefton’s scrutiny process associated with the Local Plan was poor and the work that was done, especially that of Council’s Infrastructure Working Group, seems to have been all but ignored. This working Group raised many questions and concerns but as the Plan went through its final processes within the Council these significant issues were not addressed in a robust way and this leads us to conclude that the scrutiny of the Local Plan was unsound.

Our conclusion – Sefton’s Local Plan, not sound, not effective.

Sefton Council has done what it has been made to do to put a Local Plan together, but it has not done what it needed to do to put together a Local Plan that passes the test of soundness or that addresses the needs of its diverse communities. The Plan is remote and disconnected from the communities it seeks to plan the future of. The failure to work collaboratively with West Lancs Borough Council has been a huge opportunity missed and it means the Plan is not effective.

The Plan is imposed, has little no community support, it is unlikely to deliver the affordable housing that is required. Putting it bluntly it lacks ambition for the Borough and will not help it move forward economically, environmentally or socially.

Councillor Iain Brodie Browne

Why are Sefton’s Labour councillors not campaigning for the communities that elected them?

In the south of the Sefton Borough Aintree, College Road, Litherland & Orrell Libraries have all been shut down by Labour-run Sefton Council as part of its savings drive. All these closures have been in wards with at least one Labour member yet Labour councillors have, as far as I know, been at best distant from the community campaign groups trying to find a sustainable way forward for the libraries. 3 more libraries have also been closed by Labour in Southport wards where there are no Labour councillors.

We all knew the Council needed to save money but to close libraries was Labour’s choice. However, when community bids came in to run Aintree and College Road Libraries, using volunteer help, what on earth made Labour councillors rejected those bids?

Lib Dems fighting for Aintree Library

Lib Dem campaigners fighting for the Libraries that Labour shut. Labour even stopped volunteers from reopening two libraries!

Then there’s the Green Belt. In Maghull, Lydiate, Formby, Thornton & Southport (which, as noted above, does not have any socialist councillors) community campaigns are trying to stop the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land from being concreted over. Sadly, it is Labour-run Sefton Council that is proposing to allow the building.

A petition being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council next to a threatened Green Belt development site.

A petition being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council next to a threatened Green Belt development site.

And what about the Green Bin tax that Labour wanted to impose on Sefton residents. That needed a huge community reaction (and the loss of two Labour council seats in Maghull) to make Labour back off but they have only deferred the imposition of this local tax and we await them trying again to impose it.

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

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labour’s Green Bin tax for Sefton.

Libraries, Green Belt and the Green Bin tax are massive community issues yet Labour councillors are not standing with the residents who elected them, indeed they seem firmly stood against residents.

Save Green Belt, build in Slough? – Is the basis of this argument transferable ‘up north’?

The Times columnist Alice Thomson suggests that homes should be built in areas where there is already infrastructure, and not on green and pleasant land. She pinpoints areas such as Bracknell, Croydon, Woking and Slough as ripe for development and adds that building in these areas will revive them. Ms Thomson notes that it would be more exciting to build new garden cities but says the dithering over HS2 and Heathrow’s third runway has shown that it will be at least two decades before anyone will be able to agree on the site of these towns, let alone start building the roads to connect them. She also suggests that empty buildings on the high street are transformed into residential areas, particularly for the elderly.
The Times, Page: 27 Today

Well we clearly don’t want the green [belt] and pleasant land around Sefton built upon. And of course I mean the rest of us here i.e. excluding Labour Sefton councillors who propose to build on it.

Thompson clearly has latched onto some interesting issues here and I particularly like her suggestion, which has been put forward in Sefton previously, about using empty high street retail buildings for residential use.

With thanks to the LGiU for the link to the Times article