Sefton – A Review of 2013

Welcome to my review of 2013 for Sefton, a personal trawl through some of the things that made the headlines in a year when the Borough was ruled from Bootle by people who seemed quite out of touch with things to the north and east of Netherton.

Library closures – As 2013 draws to a close I must say that I can’t for the life of me understand what on earth Sefton Council is doing in its seeming mad dash to do all it can to stop volunteers taking over some of its closing libraries.

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again - Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again – Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Many of my posts during 2013 have been about the closure of 7 out of Sefton’s 13 libraries. The closure programme has now concluded and the Borough has lost more than half the libraries it once had, but the remarkable side story to this has been the obstacles that volunteers have faced in their attempts to take over some of the closing libraries.

One would have thought that with ‘localism’ being on the lips of virtually every politician across the land volunteers would be embraced and encouraged yet in socialist Sefton we seem to be in a parallel universe where volunteers are seen to be challenging and unwelcome! Indeed, it is remarkable to see what lengths Sefton will seemingly go to keep the volunteers at a distance.

Maghull Town Council – Well what can you say, 6 of the ruling Labour Party’s councillors resigned in 2013 and 2 more were all but disqualified from office but saved themselves by turning out at the last possible meeting to stop by-elections 8 & 9 of the year!

Aintree & Maghull Champion 12th June 2013

Aintree & Maghull Champion 12th June 2013

The Council also said it had set a precept for 2013/14 when it had done no such thing and, when it finally did set a budget and precept, it took money out of the 2013/14 budget for the Town’s annual fireworks display, voted against an amendment to put the money back in but then held a fireworks display anyway!

What an odd world Maghull Town Council has been since Labour took over in May 2011 and, for the record, I still await responses to the two Freedom of Information requests that I made to the Council months and months ago. Maghull must be the only Council in the UK to have a special dispensation from the Information Commissioner enabling it to ignore FoI requests.

Green Belt and Sefton Local Plan – This one will run well into 2014 and flow over into 2015 but 2013 has seen environmental campaigners (such as FRAGOFF) give Sefton Council a torrid time. Who would have expected a Labour-run Council to propose, for example, that vast areas of Maghull and Lydiate’s Green Belt and high quality agricultural land be concreted over to create massive urban extensions for these communities? Lydiate’s housing could now increase by 35% and Maghull’s by 25% if Labour carries through what it has consulted on in 2013.

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, Lydiate Parish Councillor Wyn Maher, Cllr. Jen Robertson and myself at the site to the east of Maghull where Labour-run Sefton Council wants to build 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce’s Lib Dem team opposes Labour’s plans.

In Formby the whole community seemingly rose up to oppose a Green Belt grab there, and with some success too, as the developer ducked out just as the planning application was to go before Sefton’s Planning Committee. Will they be back? Don’t doubt it, developers are not going to give up in their quest to concrete over areas of Sefton’s land which future generations will need to grow food upon.

And don’t forget that the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has been accused of not fighting for the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land in the Borough.

The best of the rest –

The Hawthorne’s Free School – will it be given the chance to try to make a step change in educational attainment in Bootle? Sadly, Sefton Labour just won’t take a positive step and back it. Having been there I am sure it is taking a welcome risk to improve education in Bootle; that’s a risk we should all be backing. And will St Mary’s in Crosby in Crosby follow suit and convert to a Free School? It seems so and as the aim is quality education that has to be a good thing.

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Maghull’s Mad March – Usually quiet leafy Maghull had a bizarre few weeks when gun crime visited the community. Police say it was drug related gang members shooting at each other but what chaos it created in one of Merseyside’s lowest crime areas. It went as quickly as it came but Maghull residents for a short period had the opportunity to see the madness of guns so loved by Americans. The right to bear arms? More like the right to create fear and mistrust in a community/society.

Here I am at Maghull Police Station where the Neighbourhood Policing Team must have had a tough time during Mad March.

Here I am at Maghull Police Station where the Neighbourhood Policing Team must have had a tough time during Mad March.

Southport Pier – It was quite a fright when we leaned that it needed urgent repairs. A landmark like no other in the locality; fortunately it does seem to have a good long-term future.

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The Liverpool Pigeon, A Micro-Pub for Crosby – Now here was an innovative development in 2013 that could herald a new type of pub not joined at the hip to those pub management companies who are strangling the life out of British pubs everywhere.

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HALT – This environmental campaign group sprung up in opposition to the idea of building land-based wind turbines as tall as Blackpool Town on high grade agricultural land between Ince Blundell and Lydiate. I have been happy to support this group.

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Closure of Public Toilets – Sefton tried to shut them but campaigners fought them off. Maghull’s public toilets survive but for how long? Frankly it was a huge disappointment to me that the Town’s own Council refused to invest in them. They were once award winners and could be that again but Maghull TC seems sadly disinterested in them.

Maghull's Lib Dem  toilet campaigners fighting Labour's axe.

Maghull’s Lib Dem toilet campaigners fighting Labour’s axe.

Sefton’s Bin Tax – This has to have been a really mad moment in Sefton’s bid to save money – a proposal to charge residents to have their green bins emptied! Surely anyone with the slightest understanding of the Borough would have known this was a tax too far but the Labour-led Council had to be hit between the eyes (and in the ballot box) with the anger of residents before that Penny dropped. This and the Green Belt land grab were the major reasons why Labour lost two Council by-elections in Maghull during July to the Lib Dems.

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

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

All years are unique but we certainly have seen some odd events in Sefton Borough during 2013.

PS. A piece of good news is that the expected closure of W H Smith’s shop in Bootle New Strand, which I commented on not so long ago, is not now going to happen.

St Mary’s Crosby – It could well be Sefton’s second Free School

The Crosby Herald has the story:-

www.crosbyherald.co.uk/news/crosby-news/2013/11/14/st-mary-s-unveil-plans-to-become-a-free-school-68459-34046954/

Following hard on the heels of The Hawthorne’s in Bootle, Crosby’s St. Mary’s School looks set to become the second Free School in the Borough. And two schools from more differing communities you would go a long way to find despite them being only a couple of miles apart as the crow fly’s.

www.stmarys.ac/

And I wonder how Labour will react? In favour, against, both at the same time? Well you never know because as I have said before they really can’t make up their minds up about Free Schools. You can almost see the two positions with Social Democrats within Labour liking this Liberal and indeed liberal education approach, whilst socialists say no we can’t control it, we only want education run by the state.

Free Schools – My visit to The Hawthorne’s in Bootle

I have posted before about why Liberals are in favour of Free Schools and as we have one (a high school) on our doorstep in Bootle which was established not so long ago I thought it was time to find out more about it.

An e-mail to the School and the visit was fixed up for yesterday. This was what I found and my views on the School.

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Firstly the School was very clean and tidy, both outside and in. The welcome was very friendly and the soothing classical music played in the reception area was a delight.

I was introduced to head Teacher Lynne Wise and we had a detailed chat about how the School came to be set up and the challenges of that process.

The formation of this Free School came after Sefton Council had announced that it was closing two High Schools in Bootle. In effect parents decided to make a stand to try to help bring high quality education to a community with significant deprivation issues.

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No one should underestimate the determination of the parents and the personal risks they ran in trying to set up this School and let’s face it they did it in the face of at best disinterest from Bootle Labour and at worst downright opposition.

But the aim of the project is very simple – quality education. You can’t fault that aim no matter where you stand on the political spectrum in my view. We all want the best education for our children and the parents who set up The Hawthorne’s certainly went the extra mile to try to deliver it.

However, the struggle is far from over as the School needs to attract more young people to it as the education destination of choice. And this will not be an easy task as for many years now a fair chunk of Bootle parents have been sending their youngsters to high schools in Maghull and Crosby as they have sought a choice in education that they have felt has not been available to them in Bootle.

I must admit that having visited the School, spoken to its Head Teacher and walked around the classes listening to the lessons I am impressed with what the School is trying to do. Of course, OFSTED are the ones who need to be impressed and they are very hard to please indeed these days. Witness St Andrews C of E Primary in Maghull as a recent example of how tough OFSTED inspections are these days. Fortunately, St. Andrews came out stronger, but it was tough.

So a tough fight is still there for The Hawthorne’s but it would be nice if the Bootle councillors could get behind the School to make sure it is a success. They may well think that all education should be provided by the state (the School is state funded, I might add) and that the local authority should control every aspect of it on behalf of Government but the world is changing in case they have not noticed. Why even their own Labour Party says it is in favour of Free Schools now.

If schools like this can’t thrive it will be setting back educational choice and attainment in a deprived community and that’s hardly going to give Bootle youngsters a better start in life.

www.thehawthornesfreeschool.co.uk/