Monthly Archives: March 2018

Work And Pensions Staff Bonuses

  Rosie Cooper MP Labour, West Lancashire
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much was awarded to staff of her Department in bonuses in each of the last three financial years.

 Kit Malthouse MP Conservative, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
In 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 DWP headcount was 89805, 84698 and 83851 respectively. In addition to annual salaries our staff were paid an annual, non-consolidated, performance-related bonus. For the majority of our most junior grades, AA to EO, the amounts were, on average in each year, £463. Total payments were: 2014/2015 £42,132,346; 2015/2016 £40,074,154; 2016/2017 £41,359,617.

Rosie Cooper didn’t mention junior grades in her question. We can only wonder how much the higher graded higher paid staff received in bonuses…we should be told!

No More Politics By Facebook?

As the Facebook data privacy scandal grows ever worse, will it have an effect on local politics? Locally, OWLs use Facebook more than Labour who use it more than Conservatives. Perhaps a $50billions loss of its share price might soon end any market and community value?

But meantime the OWLs raised the issue of “Planning – did you know WLBC officers are considering more than 250 possible housing development sites in West Lancashire? Further, Labour and Conservative councillors are meeting regularly behind closed doors  in a cabinet working group (OWL councillors are excluded) that is drawing up a local plan that aims to build many thousands of new homes in our area and release further green belt. Main party councillors will probably follow instructions and policies laid down by HQ. Independent OWLs vote for their residents’ interests only.

“A new local plan is a long process. The first votes for councillors will take place in the autumn but there will be plenty of other opportunities to help residents make their voices heard loud and clearly. The more councillors we have that are Independent of party whips and free to vote to represent the interests of the residents who elect them the better. There is still time for more Independent candidates in the local elections in a few weeks”.

Cllr John Hodson responded “Cllr Owens either doesn’t understand the Local Plan Review process or is pretending he doesn’t. The Local Plan Cabinet Working Group is just that, a working Group which has to consider ALL inputs into the process before making a recommendation to Cabinet. It is not “secret” [Definition-something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others!] it is confidential [Definition-intended to be kept secret!], for good reason as land values can be drastically altered by designate on for development and so needs to be treated impartially and free from influence. I chair the LPCWG and have not received a single instruction from HQ. It’s not often the OWLs get anything right and on this one they are wrong again!” Ouch!

Landmark Chambers Reports Aughton Success

 NEWS
Inspector dismisses re-determined appeals in West Lancashire. DATE: 23 Mar 2018

An Inspector (Kevin Ward BA (Hons) MRTPI) has dismissed two re-determined appeals by Redrow Homes Ltd and Wainhomes Developments Ltd for in total 400 houses in Aughton, West Lancashire.

On 19 August 2016 Wainhomes’ appeal had been allowed by the previous Inspector but this was quashed by the High Court, see: in R (West Lancashire Borough Council) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2017] EWHC 3451. On 9 December 2016 the previous Inspector had refused Redrow’s appeal. This decision was quashed by the High Court by consent.

Both appeals fell to be re-determined and a re-opened conjoined inquiry was held on 30 – 31 January and 1 – 2 February 2018. The Inspector concluded that West Lancashire had a 5 year supply of land. He also concluded that in calculating completions of housing it was not appropriate to take account of losses of C3 uses (dwelling houses) to C4 uses (HMOs). The debate between the parties on this issue concerned the definition of communal establishments by the Office for National Statistics and in the 2011 census.

James Maurici QC 

acted for the successful local planning authority, West Lancashire Borough Council.

Cycling Funds Abused?

Our local councils, WLBC and LCC, have abysmal records on cycling and road safety. But the non-use, or abuse, of available funding for cycling safety has become the subject of a challenge from OWL  member Cllr Adrian Owens .

He writes about “The saga of the long delayed cycle route from the town centre to Edge Hill”

“As a result of development at Edge Hill, Edge Hill had to provide monies (known technically as Section 106 monies) to mitigate the impacts of development that could not be mitigated through conditions on the development itself. One of these is the impact on roads of travel to and from the University and so monies sit in the Borough Council’s bank to provide a cycle route between the stations in Ormskirk Town centre and the University.

“The County Council (I get a sinking feeling now simply typing those words) is responsible for coming up with a scheme to spend this money. Their West Lancashire Transport Masterplan promised the cycle route would be complete by March 2017. Throughout the period 2015-2017, County Council Officers responsible for this scheme came and went, portfolio holders changed and I and Borough Council officers became increasingly frustrated and yet nothing progressed.

“The County Council came up with a scheme that was elaborate and hundreds of thousands of pounds greater than the budget available and so was shelved. Therefore, last year, working with one dedicated local resident from Ruff Lane, we drew up an alternative, fully-costed scheme which was checked by Quantity Surveyors from a large Civil Engineering company. This would not only have provided a safe route from the bus/rail stations to Edge Hill, but also have provided quality speed calming measures on Ruff Lane.

“That speed calming is important. What student or other cyclist  is going to take their lives in their hands by using two wheeled transport with the speeds witnessed on our roads? The 20 mph signs are simply not sufficient. The scheme we costed came well within the amount of monies provided by Edge Hill, yet the County Council rejected it without much consideration because it utilised Knowsley Road which was deemed “too narrow”. Given that Knowsley Road is part of the A570 arterial road and no detailed rationale for this statement about it being “too narrow” being given, I remain of the view that this route should be seriously considered.

“In the meantime we have money sat in the bank; a scheme that is already two years late; no plan in place; no speed calming on Ruff Lane; nor the improved facilities for students and others to cycle. When local residents and councillors take the time and trouble they have, then the County Council needs to adopt a more cooperative and energetic approach. Then perhaps Ormskirk might see at least ONE transport improvement”.

The WLBC list of infrastructure projects is a requirement of CIL Regulation 123. It is therefore known as a ‘Regulation 123 list’, or ‘R123 list’ for short. The WLBC R123 includes “Strategic transport and highways improvements or provision to include: cycle network provision and improvements”.

Can anyone hold out hopes of us being told how much S106 (R123) is available to provide relief of the frustration caused?

Local Political News Impact

9 March 2018 the West Lancashire Conservative Association (WLCA) news of the day was “Labour’s Great Land Grab Revealed”. On 23 March 2018 the news of the day was “Conservative’s Great Parrs Lane Land Development Plan Legally Dismisssed”. On 24 March the WLCA news of the day was “West Lancashire Borough Council have been awarded a grant of £36,000 from the national One Public Estate programme”.

On the grand scale of things perhaps WLCA and its members are oblivious to major news and are reduced to nibbling at the perimeter of local politics? Of these news items which might impact on the upcoming local elections, especially in Aughton Park? Perhaps Cllr Stephenson might be re-writing her latest “Caring And Campaigning For Aughton Park” bumph to explain why she has not rejoiced at the success achieved by the Aughton Residents Group 2012 and their supporters ?

Yesterday In Parliament

 Rosie Cooper MP. “To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, if he make an assessment of the performance of Rossendales in the collection of council tax debts on behalf of West Lancashire Borough Council”.

Rishi Sunak MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government). “The collection of council tax, and enforcement in relation to non-payment of council tax, is a matter for local authorities and the Department does not collect data on the performance of enforcement agents”.

Rossendales  claims to be a leading provider of nationwide judicial services to local government and the public sector, and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marston (Holdings) Limited – Registered No. 01501584. Marston is the UK’s largest judicial services Group with circa 2,000 staff and self-employed agents recovering £300 million per year on behalf of taxpayers, businesses and individuals through ethical and integrated court order compliance. It claims “Lower council tax. Recovering unpaid council tax, for example, keeps council tax bills £100 lower, on average, than they would otherwise be”.

So what is the cost of the Rossendale contract to WLBC? Is Rossendale keeping our council tax bills £100 lower than they would otherwise be? How much council tax debt is WLBC carrying? We should be told.

A Strange Silence?

There is a strange and eerie silence from the five Aughton ward borough councillors tonight about the amazing victory of the Aughton Residents Group 2012 over would-be developers of 400 houses on Parrs Lane. No soundbites or squawks from Sam Currie. No welcome for the victory from Cllrs (2) Westley, O’Toole, and Stephenson, for the will of the people being rewarded. Could it be that there is much gnashing of teeth in Tory Towers? Just asking!

Freedom Of Information Abuse?

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was a boon to anyone wanting public access to information held by public authorities. It does this in two ways: public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities .

The Act has never been available for all public information, in fact it lists 25 matters of Exempt Information, so what is left for the public ? Much of that may be conditional, an exemption may be applicable for which a Public Interest Panel (PIP) may sit to decide whether or not they agree the information should be released. And one undoubted misuse of public information is not to record it, hence the answer will be as follows.

Recently the WLBC Leisure Services refused to supply details of a meeting about the Beacon Park Golf Course because “The Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations only cover recorded information held by public authorities. The Information Commissioner’s website https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-freedom-of-information/receiving-a-request/ advises public authorities that before they decide that they don’t hold any recorded information, they should make sure that they have carried out adequate and properly directed searches and that they have convincing reasons for concluding that no recorded information is held. I am satisfied that the information you requested is not held.

“With regard to the practice of maintaining minuted records of meetings with Serco, I can confirm that frequent meetings and conversations take place between the Council and its numerous partners on a daily basis, which are not formally recorded in minutes. Furthermore, it is not possible, necessary or cost effective for all such conversations and meetings to be so recorded. However, where it is necessary to record minutes of a meeting this will be done and upon request (subject to the legal compliant non-disclosure) will be made available to the public.

“I reaffirm my earlier response in regard to time limits for the completion of re-profiling work. I am unable to provide this information as WLBC are currently awaiting confirmation from Serco as to how they plan to approach the re-profiling”.

Readers might ask why, in the case of a company that receives a large quantity of public money for a 15/18 year contract, it may decide not to record meetings about that public money, or the amount and whereabouts of the 23,375 loads of landfill royalties?

The recent meeting in Halsall about flooding raised another issue of FoI, inasmuch as Cllr Hodson reported “When questioned as to why the Flood Forum met in private rather that with public present and that there were no minutes of the meeting kept (quite a bit of disquiet about this, what’s the secret etc) he [Paul Blakely of LCC] went on to explain that a) the discussions were of a highly technical nature b) that there was Commercial sensitivity around certain issues, but mainly c) Data Protection as sensitive information would be aired about individual properties and their circumstances in regard to compensation/claims etc. This seemed to go a long way to reassure people that there was at least a plausible explanation for how the Flood Forums were arranged”.

I frankly found that matter of discussions “being of a highly technical nature” quite condescending, as did Gavin Rattray, Secretary of the Burscough Flooding Group who offered his thoughts on it “I would always question the sense and efficiency of allowing public bodies to meet in secret, at our expense, for our benefit and for them to keep their discussions and decisions secret afterwards. If Robert Maxwell was alive and in charge we all know he would be screaming data protection from the rooftops. Local and central government committees meet weekly in public and manage to overcome exactly the same and more issues of technicality, confidentiality and data protection. Supposed will and determination won’t overcome the secrecy and self interest of WLBC and LCC, the secrecy and profit greed of UU; and the diminished role of the EA.

“Whilst it’s good to talk, as “for turning a corner” I truly hope I’m wrong but that is impossible without a change of direction; meeting with just one desperate community before the May election is hardly that. There are many other desperate communities being ignored that need to see a change in attitude and direction, evidenced by action”. 

 

Parrs Lane Redrow Appeal Defeated By ARG

Aughton Residents Group 2012 completed the double with news of the Redrow decision “Appeal Decision Inquiry Held on 30-31 January and 1-2 February 2018 Site visit made on 2 February 2018 by Kevin Ward BA (Hons) MRTPI an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State Decision date: 22 March 2018

Appeal Ref: APP/P2365/W/15/3132596 Land to the north west of Parrs Lane, Aughton, Lancashire. The appeal is made under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 against a refusal to grant outline planning permission. The appeal is made by Redrow Homes Ltd against the decision of West Lancashire Borough Council. The application Ref 2015/0329/OUT, dated 30 March 2015, was refused by notice dated 30 June 2015. The development proposed is residential development of up to 250 dwellings with access. This decision supersedes that issued on 9 December 2016 which was quashed by order of the High Court.

Decision 1. The appeal is dismissed.

Conclusions 107. None of the triggers for Plan B have been activated and the proposed development conflicts with Policies GN2 and RS6. It would involve the loss of a significant area of BMV agricultural land and conflicts with Policy EN2. The Council can demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites. Relevant policies in the Local Plan are not out of date in terms of paragraph 49 of the NPPF or for any other reason. Under these circumstances the presumption in favour of sustainable development contained in paragraph 14 of the NPPF does not apply. Material considerations do not provide a justification for granting planning permission. For the above reasons and taking account of other matters raised I conclude that the appeal should be dismissed. Kevin Ward. INSPECTOR

Aughton Residents Group 2012 Win Parrs Lane Victory

 In a truly astonishing victory the Aughton Residents Group 2012 and Peter Richards and the West Lancashire Borough Council Planning Department, supported by Labour Planning Portfolio holder John Hodson have defeated the Parrs Lane appeal for development by Wainhomes. Despite the appalling lack of support from the Aughton Tory councillors, ARGs  Colin Atkinson, Ian Forbes, David Willman, and  Peter Cullington have fought on and on to this amazing outcome. 

Appeal Decision Inquiry Held on 30-31 January and 1-2 February 2018 Site visit made on 2 February 2018 by Kevin Ward BA (Hons) MRTPI an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State Decision date: 22 March 2018

Appeal Ref: APP/P2365/W/15/3132594 Land to the east of Prescot Road, Aughton, Ormskirk, Lancashire. The appeal is made under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 against a refusal to grant full and outline planning permission. The appeal is made by Wainhomes Developments Ltd against the decision of West Lancashire Borough Council. The application Ref 2015/0335/HYB, dated 30 March 2015, was refused by notice dated 30 June 2015. The development proposed is a hybrid application – full planning application for the erection of 50 dwellings and associated works and outline application including details of access for development of up to 100 dwellings plus 295m2 of D1 uses. This decision supersedes that issued on 19 August 2016 which was quashed by order of the High Court.

Decision 1. The appeal is dismissed.

“Conclusions 111. None of the triggers for Plan B have been activated and the proposed development conflicts with Policies GN2 and RS6. It would involve the loss of a significant area of BMV agricultural land and conflicts with Policy EN2. 112. The Council can demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites. Relevant policies in the Local Plan are not out of date in terms of paragraph 49 of the NPPF or for any other reason. Under these circumstances the presumption in favour of sustainable development contained in paragraph 14 of the NPPF does not apply. Material considerations do not provide a justification for granting planning permission. 113. For the above reasons and taking account of other matters raised I conclude that the appeal should be dismissed. Kevin Ward INSPECTOR”.