Monthly Archives: October 2018

The Peat Bog Builders

At an informal meeting of circa 70 Halsall residents and a few interlopers from Aughton on Saturday, there was a palpable atmosphere of displeasure as they gathered to discuss the WLBC proposed Local Plan Review. Led by the Chairman and vice-Chairman of the Parish Council , assisted by local resident Nicola Pryce-Roberts sharing her experience of planning gained as an elected member for Skelmersdale South, the enormity of the impact of further development on the local infrastructure became clear.

As we all know by now, WLBC claims that “By releasing enough land for development needs for 30+ years, the Council will be in a better position to refuse any applications for development not in line with the Local Plan”.

Some residents of the Borough, and in particular Aughton, look askance at any claim of the Council refusing applications for development after it appealed the Parrs Lane development, won it, and before the victory was fully enjoyed Parrs Lane is back in the local plan, at a cost (total loss) to council tax of £81,248.35.

As the Director of Planning told me “High Court decisions set no long-lasting precedent for the site, they simply quashed the original Planning Inspectors decisions related to the two appeals and required the appeals to be re-determined. The High Court decisions, and the re-determined appeal decisions, do not guarantee any longer term protection of the site for future development needs. The adopted Local Plan is what sets the policy that safeguards the site for future development needs, and so any new Local Plan may choose to allocate that safeguarded land because those future needs have been realised”. In which case why did WLBC fight for Parrs Lane in the knowledge of consideration of its inclusion in the Local Plan 2050?

And we can all “Submit your comments on the WLBC Local Plan from October 12th to December 13th 2018, to WLBC online using the new online portal at: https://westlancs.citizenspace.com/ (this is the easiest way to comment), or alternatively, proformas can be downloaded from the WLBC website at: https://www.westlancs.gov.uk/ or can be collected from local libraries; or the WLBC Customer Service Points in the Concourse, Skelmersdale; or at 52, Derby Street, Ormskirk and can be returned to WLBC by post using the address on the form”.

A quick look at the Strategic Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment 2018 for Halsall shows Carr Moss Lane land “Site is designated Green Belt therefore it is parked. However, in the draft Local Plan Review Preferred Options document, this site is proposed as a housing allocation (WLLPR policy H2, site HW6). If this is carried forward, the site’s changed status will be reflected in future SHELAAs”. Other land at Carr Moss Lane is “Site is designated Green Belt therefore it is parked”.

Land to the east of St Cuthbert’s Primary School  “Site is designated Green Belt therefore it is parked. However, in the draft Local Plan Review Preferred Options document, this site is marked as part of a proposed alternative housing option. If this is carried forward, the site’s changed status will be reflected in future SHELAAs”. And “Land to north of St Cuthberts Church Halsall. Essentially square site surrounded by trees. Site is designated Green Belt, on the edge of a conservation area and has a scheduled monument at the northernmost point. Therefore the site is parked”.

These sites are of great significance to Halsall. The Halsall School is Victorian, has no facility for more scholars, and newcomers in the new homes will face being bussed out of the area.

A feature of many of the 560 homes proposed is the peat bogs they would be built on, similar to Sefton’s peat bog sites. The Church Commissioners own large areas of the Western Parishes. It might be them, and other land owners, who will stop producing local grown food in the rush for land capital gains. How anyone might think affordable homes will be built on these sites is surely disillusioned?

The suspicion arises that WLBC is paying lip service to the rights of its residents to oppose homes for Sefton as “A statement of common ground is a written record of the progress made by strategic policy-making authorities during the process of planning for strategic cross-boundary matters. It documents where effective co-operation is and is not happening throughout the plan-making process, and is a way of demonstrating at examination that plans are deliverable over the plan period, and based on effective joint working across local authority boundaries. In the case of local planning authorities, it also forms part of the evidence required to demonstrate that they have complied with the duty to cooperate”. Residents should see it all!

Rosie At Beacon Park Golf Course

MP Rosie Cooper made a visit to the Beacon Park Golf Course today to support the Senior Golfers who face the loss of the course and their participation in competitive events due to the ineptitude and inefficiency of Serco Leisure Services Ltd. Seen here with Rosie,   the Club Captain Mike Collins and the Seniors wrote to senior officers of West Lancashire Borough Council to outline their concerns. They wrote “This is a letter of complaint about the illegal landfill situation at Beacon Park Golf Club and Serco’s plans to remove it and place it on the golf course. I can clearly state that if the excess landfill is allowed to be put on the existing course it will be the death of Beacon Park Golf Club.
“We, Beacon Park Golf Club, currently have three teams which compete in local competitions against local golf clubs. A five man team, a thirteen man team and a Seniors team. All with varying degrees of success. The rules of the competitions in which they take part quite clearly state that it should be over 18 holes, over a measured course, under CONGU rules and with players who have CONGU handicaps. 

“It is Serco’s intention to alter certain aspects of the course during the period of moving landfill. This will alter the length of the course, change the stroke index, possibly reduce the course to less than 18 holes and generally cause havoc with golfers being asked to play games amongst lorries, dumper trucks and bulldozers.

“It would NOT be possible to play any competitive competitions as the course would not meet the CONGU requirements of a measured course, all members handicaps would become inaccurate and illegal which would prevent them also from taking part in competitions at other clubs. The backbone of golf fixtures, both home and away, for all club members would be wiped away in a single stroke. This situation would be for a minimum of at least a full year. The course itself would take much longer to repair itself and return to its previous state.

“The captain of the Seniors team that competes in the South West Lancs Seniors league will be attending a meeting next week to confirm the fixture dates and times for matches next season. As you know it is a league which Beacon Seniors won last year. The captain cannot attend this meeting without informing the other seven clubs involved in the league about the situation that exists at Beacon Park Golf Club. If the landfill takes place, Beacon Seniors will not be allowed to compete in the league next season and defend their title. The course does not meet the rules of the competition.

“The senior members (who form over 60% of the club membership) would leave the club and seek to play golf elsewhere. Other members involved in competitive golf against other clubs would be denied golfing opportunities and seek to play elsewhere.

“Even the most loyal of members who perhaps just play social golf will not tolerate such a situation and seek to play golf elsewhere. There are many other local golf clubs to choose from. Whilst Serco may be working hard with West Lancashire Borough Council in an attempt to minimise the disruption to the course and its members it is too little and too late! I reiterate again that putting the excess landfill onto the course will be the death of Beacon Park Golf Club. The vast majority of loyal members could not play golf in such circumstances and would leave. It is a situation from which the Golf club would never recover. It is a sad situation.

“The reality is that Rupert Soames and his Serco employees have created this sad situation through gross mismanagement, incompetence and financial greed. They, along with Oakland Golf and Leisure have profited handsomely from the landfill situation and we, the golf club members, are left to pick up the pieces. A situation will occur which discriminates against the youth and elderly. The par 3 nine hole course  (the other illegal landfill situation at Beacon Park) is a joke and a health and safety hazard. It is unplayable and local youths will not be able to use. The ‘Seniors Section’ will have to move to alternative golf clubs with increased fees and travelling costs.

“The number of houses available in the Skelmersdale area continues to rise rapidly but recreational facilities continue to shrink. Is this not a concern for the planning department? Please can we have some common sense applied to the current situation?

“Whilst mistakes have been made is it not within the imagination of a really qualified planning department to come up with a solution that does not destroy a 34 year old golf club that was once rated in the top 10 municipal courses in the country. There is a huge drop at the end of the landfilled driving range which, if filled, would reduce the height of the landfill considerably. Could it not be flattened and made into further nature reserves which dog walkers could enjoy and local schools take educational advantage of. If flattened, we have a juniors section that could take advantage of the space to practice chipping and playing on. If flattened it could possibly be used for a football golf course.

“If Serco fails to comply with the notice to remove the excess landfill I am led to believe that they will automatically be convicted and fined £2,500. Can we not let this follow its course then start to rethink the situation and involve the people being affected by the decision, ie the Golf Club Members?

“We, the members, have no political axe to grind. We care passionately about our golf course and enjoy the recreational and social facilities it provides. No matter how well it is done, if the planning department insists on Serco being allowed to dump the landfill on our course it would, I repeat, be the death of Beacon Park Golf Club. It would not matter if the course was like Royal Birkdale in three years time, the resulting chaos, uncertainty and disruption would drive away members and create a situation from which Beacon would never recover.

“Please listen to the voices and opinions of the members, their friends and families. It is a disastrous path that the planning department is following and one which could be easily avoided”.

Visitors to the golf course today might wonder what this picture  depicts? Having dumped the landfill all over the driving range Serco provided these “driving cages” instead. But such is the farcical situation that the cages are unsafe. Golf balls driven against the metal frame have rebounded to the club house and hit the windows. The tapes depict “Health and Safety risk, do not use this facility”. 

Benefits Hard To See In Burscough?

A statement about Burscough having benefited from its developments is challenged in Champion letters. Parish Councillor Brian Bailey , of Stanley Ward, lists how Burscough has suffered since the adoption of the current, 2013, Local Plan.

He writes  “Increased frequency of flooding events, with no prospect of any significant improvement in the medium to long term future. Reduced/lack of maintenance by LCC on the A59 and 5209 have left sections in a dangerous condition together with a poor regime of gully cleaning which adds to surface water flooding.

“Closure of the interchange buildingat Burscough Bridge station and the loss of a direct service to Manchester Piccadilly and the airport. On top of this commuters have suffered a spring and summer of misery through train cancellations and bus replacements. Closure of the police station and a complete lack of a visible police presence.

“Funding cuts, again by LCC, have led to reduced services for the elderly in sheltered accommodation. Reduced health care services and no increase in school capacity.

“We now have the Local Plan Review which is actually a very significant addition to the currently adopted plan, and the controlling Labour group at Borough Council trotting out the same tired promises that their predecessors did prior to the 2013 adoption. It is fair to say that maybe the only improvements made in the last five years have been through the hard work and diligence of Burscough Parish Council and certain voluntary groups.

“I would agree with the sentiment in the article that residents should get involved with the consultation and hope against hope that this time the Borough Council will actually listen”.

“But Burscough, like so many other towns, suffers from Lancashire County Council being the “Lead Flood Authority” and takes the leading role in co-ordinating all agencies with responsibility for ensuring that our surface water drainage system is adequate.

“United Utilities manages foul drainage [badly!]and it is their responsibility to ensure that there is adequate capacity. The Parish Council is not aware of any significant investment planned for Burscough’s foul drainage network, despite recurrent surcharges of foul sewage onto our streets.

“Burscough Parish Council has repeatedly voiced concerns that both surface water and foul networks are under-capacity, and that new development may exacerbate existing flooding and may cause further flooding.

“Burscough Parish Council is delighted to work with Burscough Flood Group, an independent group of residents who have researched flooding in Burscough and who have compiled a comprehensive, evidence based register of incidents of flooding in Burscough. Burscough Parish Council have also commissioned drainage consultants, SCP, to provide their opinion of aspects of our drainage network”.

Burscough Flood Group committed itself to a painstaking and thorough investigation providing a most comprehensive reference document, and they now urge professionals across Lancashire to make use of this resource. For their sins in fighting for the town, members have been declared vexatious by the WLBC. They should be honoured instead!

The Historical Political Contrast Of Local Plans

I was reminded today by a friend that on 17th Oct 2013, five years have flown by, I wrote on http://www.westlancashirerecord.com, since deleted by virtue of website  space issues, that “John Hodson Spoke.  Well Worth The Admission Fee”. I copy it below.

“The protestors to the adoption of the Local Plan who heard the debate were impressed that, in his speech, a Councillor for Scott ward John Hodson  had shown a grasp of the situation that was outstanding, and more so by comparison with the dross of the majority party.

“He spoke about the National Planning Policy Framework and about Council’s flawed thinking behind it that was obviously designed to aid developers open up the Green Belt and greenfield sites for their profits. As Cllr Hodson put it, planning is not an obstruction to development, it’s more a question of lenders and the loss of confidence. It is a policy cynically dressed up as ‘Localism’ and that is the exact opposite to what the public understood it to be.

“He suggested that the Local Plan has been only partially produced under the NPPF and so is bound to be flawed. It’s not that it does not meet the test of Soundness under the NPPF, nor is it that it does not meet the test of Legal Compliance under the NPPF, but it is that it does not meet the test of the people who it is mostly going to affect, the residents of West Lancashire. Quite simply it is not the best Local Plan for West Lancashire.

“Cllr Hodson spoke of this Local Plan also letting down the people of Skelmersdale, that less than 50% of development, equivalent to just a few thousand population, is to take place in a Strategic Town Settlement which was originally designed for twice its current population of 45,000 in terms of infrastructure. What did this mean? It means less. Less attraction to potential employers, less attraction to investors, less attraction to major retailers, and less for the people of Skelmersdale New Town.

“But it also does mean more for some, and here we heard Cllr Hodson refer to what the Tories always want for their backers. More profit for greenfield landowners, more profit for developers who get to build where they want to, more safeguarding of the Political bases of certain elected members, the true ultimate NIMBYs.

“Cllr Hodson made an impassioned statement that we should be clear about the ownership of this Local Plan. He asked, does it belong to the People of Ormskirk? Does it belong to the people of Halsall? Does it belong to the people of Burscough? Does it belong to the people of Skelmersdale? Does it even belong to the people of West Lancashire? His answer was a firm No, it belongs ONLY to its creators and advocates, the Tories of West Lancashire and their National Cohorts in Government. Not to mention their land developer donors.

“For that reason, he said, “I am proud to say that I will be voting “Against” this Local Plan which is not worthy of the people of West Lancashire, and I request a recorded vote by name”.

“This contribution was worth the admission fee…my contribution to the hospitality enjoyed by the freeloaders in the Westley Arms”.

Now, about that admission fee! It was free, but it came at a cost of police presence to control the protestors. Just like September 2018. We didn’t threaten councillors, we protested against lack of democratic participation in the process. As did Cllr Hodson. He must now tell us what has changed since 2013. Why does Skelmersdale not own HIS local plan? It can’t be political, can it? Has the dross of the THEN majority party been draped around the NOW majority party? Probably!

There Are Contract Conditions And There Are Serco Conditions

Believe it or not, and having watched and reported on the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill scam as it evolved for around 5 years, WLBC  uses a “Conditions Of Contract (Works/Services)” system. Not that you would recognise it as applied if at all to the Beacon Park Golf Course “works”.

In its definitions, it includes, as the title above shows, contracts for works and services. The term ‘contractor’ shall mean the person, firm or company to whom the Purchase Order is issued. And, “The words ‘works/services’ include all works/services covered by the Purchase Order”.

In “Quality”, “The contractor  shall carry out the works/services exercising all reasonable skill, care and diligence that could reasonably be expected from a person who is properly qualified and competent in respect of the particular works/services which are the subject of this Purchase Order”. [Serco? Unqualified and incompetent in respect of Beacon Park Golf Course?]

In “Indemnity”, “The Contractor shall indemnify and keep indemnified the Council from and against any and all loss, damage or liability (whether criminal or civil) suffered and legal fees and costs incurred by the Council resulting from a breach of this contract by the contractor (his employees or agents)”.

In “Insurances” “Without prejudice to its liability to indemnify the Council the contractor shall maintain at its own cost all relevant insurances which shall include Employers Liability – £10m any one incident Public Liability – £5m any one incident Where works/services involve specification, advice or design: Professional Indemnity – £2m any one incident”.

In “Failure To Provide Works/Services”, “Where there is a breach of the contractor’s obligations under this contract incapable of remedy or the contractor fails to remedy a breach capable of remedy immediately upon being required to do so by the Council the Council may (but is not obliged to) terminate this contract”. [Serco the subject of a Breach of Conditions notice].

In “Insolvency And Bankruptcy”, “If contractor becomes insolvent [As did DTC Leisure without WLBC knowing it!] or bankrupt or (being a company) makes an arrangement with its creditors or has an administrative receiver or administrator appointed or commences to be wound up (other than for the purpose of amalgamation or reconstruction), Council may, without prejudice to any other of his rights, terminate the contract forthwith by notice to contractor or any person in whom the contract may have become vested”.

In “Fraud Etc”, “The Council may cancel this contract and recover from the contractor the amount of any loss resulting from such a cancellation, if the Contractor shall have offered or given or agreed to give to any person any gift or consideration of any kind as an inducement or reward for doing or forbearing to do or for having done or forborne to do any action in relation to the obtaining or execution of this contract or any other contract with the Council. The Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 1916 applies to any fee or reward the receipt of which is an offence under Section 117(2) of the Local Government Act 1972”.

In “Variations”, “The Council will be free to request any reasonable variations relating to the works/services and the contractor must comply. Valuation of those variations will be on a fair and reasonable basis”.

In “Assignment And Sub-Letting”, “The contract shall not be assigned by contractor nor sub-let as a whole. Contractor shall not sub-let any part of the work without Council’s written consent, which shall not be unreasonably withheld. Contractor shall be responsible for all work/services carried out by all sub-contractors”. [Beacon Park Golf Course landfill was sub-let/outsourced to Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd the landfill experts at dumping rubbish while receiving royalties]

In “Progress And Inspection”, “Council’s representatives shall have the right to inspect all works/services (both complete and in progress never to be completed as at Beacon Park Golf Course ) at any reasonable time and without notice. Any inspection on behalf of Council shall not relieve contractor from any obligation under the contract”.

The “Contractor shall comply with all statutory and other provisions to be observed and performed in connection with the works/services”.

In “Freedom Of Information” “The contractor will supply forthwith any information requested by the Council in accordance with its responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 2000”.

In a “Transparency Clause” “The Contractor acknowledges that the Council adheres to the Communities and Local Government Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency (“the code”) in particular but not limited to the obligation to publish data (which includes costs, Contractor Information and transaction information) on all expenditure over £500. Notwithstanding any other term in this agreement/contract the Contractor hereby consents to the Council publishing this information relating to this agreement/contract with the Contractor for public inspection and the Council shall not be held liable for any loss, damage, harm or other detriment caused”.

So where, we might ask, has WLBC transparently published this information relating to this agreement/contract with the Contractor for public inspection? Answer “The information you have asked for is commercial in confidence”. Expletive deleted!

A Doctor Writes

A West Lancashire Doctor

has provided this commentary about the effect of the West Lancashire Preferred Options document (new draft local plan) which is out for public consultation until 13th December 2018. Our West Lancashire  provides it unedited and verbatim to aid debate during the consultation period.

Hospital Services
Contrary to press statements by Labour councillors recently, the proposed homes will not ensure a future for any local hospital services. Hospitals are best able to provide specialist services at scale and this scale is populations of around 500000 people. This development and other proposed developments in Sefton will not push the population to near that figure.

This means that as the population grows there is no guarantee that hospitals will reconfigure and expand. This will mean additional strain on an already critical system. I have had 2 emails this week already asking me NOT to send anybody to A&E at Southport. The system will almost certainly buckle under this stress.

You will hear that we plan to train / recruit many new Doctors and Nurses, this is simply not going to impact the system any time within the next 15 years. Even at that stage the workforce may remain critical. As you may know a recent initiative to recruit from Europe netted us a few hundred if that out of the 6000 needed.

Primary Care
As you may know the average waiting time to see a GP is about 2 weeks countrywide and this is the average in W Lancs. The service is under pressure most practices would love to close their list but only a three line whip and pressure from NHS England together with threats of removal of enhanced services prevent this. The workforce is not growing as fast as the retirements from practice are coming. Artificial Intelligence and Apps may help and may reduce waiting times but a massive influx will actually mean a significant increase in waiting times and will negatively impact healthcare access for local residents. Retirements are coming thick and fast and many GPs are choosing locums across many practices and CCG boundaries.

There are several initiatives afoot, these relate to organisation geography and centralisation of services. Increasing access will work for this defined population but unless the incoming residents for the proposed development are hand-picked health care professionals then expect further delays. In our practice we strive to constantly improve access for our patients what we cannot plan for is a random unplanned boost in population. No amount of integrated care, robo docs and virtual nurses will allow for that.

Community Services
Again there is a limited workforce, it is weeks to see a dietician. Not from lack of will, more from lack of dieticians. Community nurse posts stand vacant, across the board staff will explain the pressure that mounts especially as Hospitals and Primary care clog up.

Mental Health services
Large changes are afoot and service redesign is being planned for the residents of West Lancs. No one has mentioned or even contemplated the effect of thousands of new residents, I haven’t seen a plan for this mainly because there is scant information, population analysis, demographic prediction and estates analysis.

In short this plan will be at the very least challenging for the local health services in the current climate and at the worst a disaster. Let us have just 2 winters without an orange red black or whatever alert from local hospitals, and then even consider this. The NHS can barely withstand winter and this comes like clockwork every year how will it plan for an unspecified number of occupants in an unspecified number of homes planned to be implemented over any time over 30 years?

21st October 2018

MEPs’ Golden Goodbyes

Every British member of the European Parliament  will be given a golden handshake of at least £45,600 after Brexit with some long-serving MEPs pocketing as much as £182,400 from Brussels.

UK MEPs were briefed by officials in Strasbourg, who confirmed each one would get a “transitional allowance” of a payment of £7,600 for each year they have worked at the parliament. The payment is capped at a maximum of 24 months and a minimum of six months.

There are 73 UK MEPs, meaning that even at the most conservative estimate, the total paid out will be about £3.3 million. Other estimates put the figure to be paid after 29 March 2019 as high as £5.3 million.

Cheap as chips, good riddance! Oh, whoops, how many will end up in the “upper doss house” at Westminster?