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"Only on Planet Esterson!" says Cllr Maria Bennett

Formby Bubble received a response from Cllr Maria Bennet, Chair of Formby Parish Council, regarding MP Bill Esterson's response to her statement which said, "What Planet does Mr Esterson live on!" The saga continues....

Response by Cllr Maria Bennett:

Once again Mr Esterson seems confused. I fail to see what opposing poorly thought through development has to do with the government’s austerity policy and government cuts to the NHS, Police and Adult Social Care. These cuts were begun under the last Labour government, intensified under the Liberal/Conservative coalition and perpetuated for purely ideological reasons under the current government. As Cllr Maher said “Sefton has lost 51% of government funding between 2010 and 2020. This is equivalent to £722 from every household in Sefton, at a time when there are significant pressures in Adult and Children’s Social Care”. I personally did not vote for the cuts and voted against the budget.

As a matter of fact, ALL our local elected representatives have voted for cuts. This is because under law it is illegal for Local authorities to set a deficit budget and carry a deficit forward. Sefton like other authorities have responded to austerity by making cuts and raiding reserves. Indeed, this position was endorsed by this years’ Labour Party conference. Therefore, given these facts it is both disingenuous and insulting to blame the independents for cuts in local services.

The Parish Council has a duty to local residents to make sure the planning rules are properly followed. Sefton Council have admitted that they have not always been enforcing planning decisions or planning policy. I find the assertion that it is somehow wrong to protect residents’ interests by recourse to the law somewhat sinister. There is a general attitude in some quarters which thinks that residents should be excluded from the planning process. Surely Mr Esterson, you are not implying that planners and developers are ABOVE THE LAW. The introduction of the Localism Act has significantly changed the balance in the planning process.

The Parish Council was forced to take legal advice over a Health & Safety matter concerning a railway crossing where Network Rail had incorrectly assessed the risk to the public and Sefton had FAILED to follow planning guidelines. As a result they reassessed the risk and are now examining possible solutions but of course the developers have got away with not funding any additional infrastructure, even though it is clearly needed.

According to Sefton, before the Local Plan, 4% of Formby were at risk of a 1 in 30 flood events. Only Maghull residents had a higher risk! It is by no means clear how the new developments are going to affect this statistic and Sefton’s Planning Department has made no plans to find out! It was shocking that at the recent Liverpool Road Planning meeting not one Labour Councillor knew, that as far as flooding is concerned, Sefton is legally defined as the “Lead Flood Authority” and therefore it is legally responsible in the event of a major flood incident on these new developments. These things might not seem important to developers, politicians and planners but they are very important to our Local Residents. It is a matter of public record that the Labour Party’s Local Plan deliberately targeted the greenbelt, disproportionately targeting Maghull and Formby in the process. Promoting development without providing sufficient infra-structure is at best IRRESPONSIBLE.

Unfortunately, the provision of appropriate infra-structure has been totally inadequate. It is worth repeating that if Sefton adopted a Community Infra-structure Levy like most of England, funds would have been directed to the local communities most affected. If we look at what has happened in other parts of the country it is clear that both Formby and Maghull have lost out on significant funds. I don’t think it is being insulting to ask Mr Esterson why he didn’t think to pressurize Sefton Council on this matter. This is all the more galling given the disproportionate contribution we make to Sefton’s rates.

Instead the Sefton local plan uses the outdated Section 106 system which is technically inadequate for sites like Liverpool Road and Maghull East. This means, for example, that on a site like Liverpool Road, with more than one developer, 2 separate drainage solutions are being applied with two different run-off rates. If it wasn’t for the inspector and the Parish council, we could have ended up with two separate road entrances on a dangerous corner. The idea that the proposed improvements to Liverpool Road are going to deal with the traffic problems along this route is quite frankly FATUOUS.

Interestingly Mr Esterson raises the issue of Formby’s schools. Formby’s Secondary schools are Academies and as such they are not under Local authority control and as I am sure Mr Esterson knows (or should know) have separate funding arrangements. This means that their admissions policies are largely a matter for them. Academies tend to take pupils from a much larger catchment area. These schools have the budget to expand and often form chains. Range High School has always taken children from other areas because its architecture means that it is particularly suited for disabled children. As I am sure Mr. Esterson knows full well the real pressure is on the Formby’s Primary Sector where there are limited options and places, this is a FACT

I welcome the fact that the developers are going to build 89 “Affordable Homes” but how “affordable” they are remains to be seen or indeed whether they will argue viability and get this figure reduced like has happened on many of the sites including the old Powerhouse development. On the most recent development in Formby the cheapest, “Affordable Home was over £200,000. As I said before there is absolutely NO mechanism to direct these homes to local buyers and indeed some could well be bought by investors. Pension Funds are already looking at such schemes.

Many local residents vote for independents locally and for the main parties nationally it is therefore disappointing to see our elected representatives so confused. Taking Mr. Esterson at face value he seems genuinely confused about how Local Government works and even more confused about the planning process. Planning is a complex problem-solving process which does not lend itself to playing politics. Can I suggest that Mr Esterson immerses himself in planning laws and reads up on it, it makes good bed time reading. Trying to defend something that you know nothing about is a dangerous game and only opens the door for you to be ridiculed.

Will Mr Esterson be so quick to have his photograph taken next to all the flooding and traffic problems that has been caused by his party, but can I remind him not to fall into the same trap as the government minister, who visited the flooding down South, and forgot his wellies. Clearly neither the Conservatives or Labour can be trusted to act in the interests of their local community as both sides have been complicit in the failures of the current situation.

Cllr Maria Bennett

Chair of Formby Parish Council

FRAG (Formby Residents Action Group)

Story last week in this saga....

Formby Bubble received a response from MP Bill Esterson, regarding the statement made by Cllr Maria Bennett, Chair of Formby Parish Council on 10th October which said: "What Planet does Mr Esterson live on!"

The statement from MP Bill Esterson reads:

Responding to the personal attacks from a Parish Councillor, Formby’s MP, Bill Esterson, said: “The Independents have supported the Conservatives who have made all the cuts to council, school, police, fire and NHS services. These cuts have hit Formby hard."

"The Independents and Conservatives voted against road improvements for Liverpool Road. They voted against better drainage for Formby residents as well. And the Independents supported further cuts in services when they decided that they would rather the council spend taxpayers money on legal fees than on care of the elderly or street cleaning or grass cutting."

"The Independents opposed plans for 89 affordable homes for local people and are simply wrong about school places. 400 children go to Range High School alone from outside Formby. There are more than enough school places for more children to live in Formby."

"It was disappointing that the chair of the parish council felt it appropriate to stoop to name calling and personal attacks. If the Independents had their way, the developers would appeal to the government, they would be able to build houses without planning conditions and the council would have to spend thousands on legal fees, instead of on already stretched services."

"It was the Conservatives who changed the planning rules to make life easier for developers. The Independents are doing the Conservatives dirty work for them and supporting the cuts in services by voting with them. Voting with the Conservatives is making matters worse for Formby not better.”

Original statement received by Cllr Maria Bennett on 10th October 2018: -

Formby Bubble received a statement from Cllr Maria Bennett, Chair of Formby Parish Council regarding our story about Bill Esterson blaming Conservative Councillors and Independent Councillors for so many homes being approved in Formby.

Cllr Maria Bennett said:

"Once again Mr Esterson seems confused about the nature of the planning process and how the numbers of houses were arrived at for Formby. It is true that the Conservative government’s planning policy makes it easier to build on the greenbelt. However, it was the Labour Party which deliberately targeted the greenbelt, disproportionately targeting Maghull and Formby. This was despite the fact that there was a considerable amount of unused Brownfield land available in other parts of the borough. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the CPRE, local activists and the good judgement of the Inspector, Sefton would have built thousands more houses on the greenbelt than they needed."

"It also appears that Mr Esterson has a selective memory, “Two Jags John Prescott” the Labour Deputy Prime Minister started the pendulum swinging in the Developers’ direction when he took away the rights of third parties like local communities to appeal against planning decisions enabling developers to ride roughshod over the local community and what they want. We have a system were developers can appeal if they are refused but the local community can’t appeal. This must be the only system in the country where only one party has a right to appeal."

"Mr Esterson says the new house building around Formby will bring vital new infra-structure and help reverse the cuts. This is absolute nonsense; the only new infra-structure will be the bare minimum required to build the new housing estates. There will be no extra school places, no road improvements along Liverpool Rd/Cross Green, no extra medical services and no improvement to Formby’s crumbling surface Water Management Plan."

"The only way Formby would have benefited from these developments was if Sefton, like most of England, had adopted the Community Infra-Structure Levy. This levy would have enabled Sefton to spend the money from developers where most of the development was taking place. It would have enabled Sefton to take a strategic approach. Instead a lot of the money has gone elsewhere in the borough. Since it is Sefton Central constituents who are going to bare the brunt of this development it seems strange that during the Local Plan hearing Mr Esterson had nothing to say on this, important issue."

"I agree with Mr. Esterson about the disastrous Tory cuts but I cannot possibly see how building more houses without the appropriate infra-structure is going to help matters. As a matter of fact, the local residents’ groups have continually complained about the lack of affordable housing and the tendency to build too many large homes in Formby. In fact, under Sefton’s Local Plan for every two affordable homes you have to build seven marketable homes. By choosing to build a disproportionate number of homes on expensive greenbelt land the Sefton Labour group automatically excluded many low-income families."

"Mr Esterson says that the new Housing will go to Local People. There is no mechanism in planning law to make this happen. At the Local Enquiry Sefton largely justified the number of houses they were planning to build on the basis of inward migration, without this there would actually be very little need to build any houses. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Local People will benefit from these houses."

"I turn to the Liverpool Road site. The development of this site will not improve the existing surface water flooding problems. The developers drainage solution will require a constant maintenance regime and as such is a hostage to climate change. At best it could be said to make it no worse. The developer to the south of the site seeks to run water off into the sewer system, a system that United Utilities has admitted to having a flood problem."

"The proposed junction is unlikely to prove a long-run solution given other developments in the area. Further money will have to be found to prevent traffic backing up as far as cross-green. As far as Bracken Way is concerned I am surprised that it passed the Exception Test for building on flood land and I would be even more surprised if the new homes will get insurance."

"The residents are not against building homes affordable or otherwise, but it is a question of sustainable development, building the right homes in the right places."

Cllr Maria Bennett

Chair of Formby Parish Council

FRAG (Formby Residents Action Group)

This is the Original story by MP Bill Esterson:

Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson hit out at Formby Conservative and Independent councillors for their support of government planning rules, which led to the approval of 304 new homes in the town.

The MP said the opposition councillors were clearly against improvements in the roads and drainage that residents have been calling for and last week’s vote against the new homes was a reminder of their support for cuts in council services, like rubbish collections as well as care for the elderly and disabled people in Formby.

The MP said: "The Conservatives and the Independent Councillors are against better roads and against better drainage in Formby. They also want more cuts to services to the elderly and disabled as well as poorer quality bin collection, street cleaning and grass cutting. They clearly want expensive, executive housing in Formby, with no affordable homes to rent or buy for local people.

“Last week’s vote shows yet again that the Conservatives and Independents say one thing but do the opposite. Their own government changed the planning laws in favour of developers. Councils who reject planning applications from developers are likely to lose on appeal at great cost in legal fees and with no chance of insisting on better roads, drainage or affordable homes for local people. The money spent on legal fees means cuts to council services and when developers win on appeal they don’t have to stick to the conditions put on planning applications about roads, drainage or the number of affordable homes to be built. The choice for the planning committee was between homes for local people if the application went through or expensive executive housing if it was won on appeal. The choice was between road improvements for the people of Formby and better drainage if the application went through the committee or more traffic, poorer drainage and cuts to the bin collection and care for the elderly if the Conservatives and Independents had their way.

“Government planning rules mean that developers can build where they like and what they like. The Conservative Government has passed a developers charter that makes it far easier to build on the green belt but the houses they want are expensive, executive homes. The government has made clear that houses are going to be built at Liverpool Road and at Brackenway. The question is whether those homes can be for Formby people and whether there can be improvements in road and drainage infrastructure. Sadly, the Conservatives and Independents are siding with the government and with the developers. Labour members of the committee are siding with residents in Formby on homes and infrastructure and in minimising the impact of the disastrous cuts in council budgets that the Conservatives have inflicted over the last eight years.

"The Liverpool Road development includes substantial flood risk mitigation to deal with surface water run-off and road widening at the Liverpool Road roundabout to deal with traffic flow. If this application had been turned down by Sefton Council it would have led to a costly appeal. The Conservatives and Independents clearly want the council to spend money on planning appeals, scarce resources that should be being spent on services.

"The Independents claim to be opposed to development but what they are proposing is for developers to take their applications direct to the government where they would get passed without the extensive conditions that the council can impose, conditions that will improve drainage for surrounding properties and improve road layouts to deal with traffic issues.

"The Conservatives opened up the planning system so that more houses can be built but they don't want it in their own back yard. The Independents vote with the Tories on Sefton Council and both parties are entirely wrong to oppose important infrastructure, along with affordable homes."

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