Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 17, 2018

A Council By Any Other Name

A.B of Skelmersdale writes to the Champion  to continue the argument with Cllr Neil Furey about Skelmersdale becoming a “Town Council”. He points out the petition is a mechanism for forcing a review. He probably knows Skelmersdale has more borough councillors than any other single part of the borough. But one major difference would be that it would be normal for town councillors to live in or near the area, unlike borough councillors.

In England, since the Local Government Act 1972, town councils are the specific name given to civil parish councils, where the civil parish council has declared itself by resolution to be a town council. Local council is a universal term for community, neighbourhood, parish and town councils, and are the first tier of local government. There are 10,000 local councils in England with over 30% of England parished.

West Lancashire has 20 Parish Councils and one Parish meeting. These cover all of the borough except for Ormskirk and Skelmersdale. In our “Reminiscences of Skelmersdale 2003” we continue to report on what Colin Pickthall MP said in Parliament “I am fascinated by my hon. Friend’s account of the way in which his roundabouts came into being. Skelmersdale in my constituency is similarly covered with roundabouts,  which came about in a slightly more enterprising way. The new town was built on an old mining area, so the roundabouts were put on the top of the old pit shafts. The whole of Westminster could fit into some of the roundabouts. They have wonderful flooded pits in the middle of them, which kids fish in. They are the closest thing to leisure centres that any of them have seen. When kids moan, “There’s nothing to do in Skem,” I say “Go and fish in the roundabout,” and they do.

Mr. McWalter Is my hon. Friend saying that there is nothing else to do in Skelmersdale?

Mr. Pickthall “Not after dark. I am a fully paid-up member of the new town whingers group. If one has something to whinge about, one whinges. As well as having some positive things to say about our new towns, we have a lot to complain about as well. Therefore, I was delighted when the Select Committee decided to do a study on the new towns, and even more pleased when I read its report, because it hit all the right notes. To some extent that identified disadvantage for Skelmersdale has been addressed in recent months. It would be churlish of me not to welcome that, because the money that has come from the Government through the RDA will do a great deal of good. Skelmersdale has 42,000 people and, like other towns that have been mentioned, its growth was stopped in the 1970s.

“I believe that it was stopped deliberately so that Skelmersdale did not qualify for further help to build its town centre or its hospital. Land is still set aside for a hospital. The town will never get it, but the entire population of Skelmersdale believes that I will deliver the hospital at some point in the future. They will probably get rid of me if I do not. I certainly have no chance of doing it. Skelmersdale has no rail link, although railway lines pass close to it. It has lousy bus services, especially into the big estates around the town.

“It has the sort of town centre that my hon. Friend the Member for Telford described in the report, a description that he has repeated this afternoon: it is rather like an out-of-town mall dumped into the middle of the town, with no civic centre characteristics at all. There is no cinema. There was a small theatre, under county council provision, but it is about to be shut. There are sports centres but there is no community life in Skelmersdale centre after 6 o’clock in the evening. Several of my hon. Friends have made the same point about their towns. That makes towns of such size very difficult places to live in.

“Skelmersdale is helping, whether consciously or not, the Government’s programme for affordable housing and better housing, because all round the edge of it huge new private estates are being built. The houses are very nice. If they were in the south-east of England, they would be worth £250,000 apiece, but in that area they are relatively low-cost houses. They are improving the town and avoid the mistakes that were made in the building of the existing new town. There are many thousands of them. However, we could end up with quite a nice dormitory area all round the edge of Skem, like a big doughnut, with a rotting core of the old new town, without a town centre. That prospect does not cheer me up at all.

“It must be remembered that new towns such as Skelmersdale represent work still in progress. They are not a finished job; they have never been capped off. Debts are paid off, but cash from assets is still being taken out by the Treasury. I still maintain, despite the reports and the nice things that I have said about English Partnerships, that those assets should be used to help to finish off the new towns—in the nicest possible way. They should be used to make them the living communities that the Government say that they are anxious to construct. That enormous task will be very difficult, but many people out there are willing to take it on, and most of them are elected”.

No doubt the debate with Cllr Furey will continue?

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