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