Monthly Archives: June 2020

Paying Council Tax for Counsel

A jobsworth is a person who uses their job description in a deliberately un-cooperative way, or who seemingly delights in acting in an obstructive or unhelpful manner. The term can also be applied to those who uphold petty rules even at the expense of humanity or common sense. But sometimes enough is seen to be enough. As it is in West Lancashire Borough Council with specific application to the Burscough area floods and the scandal of the Beacon Park Golf Course ruination for the filthy lucre of royalties being paid to Serco et al.

So, as you might expect, better to ask the relatively new Chief Operating Officer, for her guidance as to the circumstances that may arise when West Lancashire Borough Council requires the advice of counsel on matters pertaining to council services as they affect council tax payers.

“In the recent very menial case of the Ashurst Ward elected member who by her ongoing, six months, absences from council meetings, albeit still receiving allowances, was within hours of being dismissed from elected office, WLBC decided it needed the advice of counsel rather than a decision of the WLBC lawyers/legal officers. The cost to taxpayers, £800, was for “The statute does not, at least in its terms, allow a retrospective dispensation to be granted, and the point I have noted in para 13 above, it would be advisable for any decision on dispensation to be taken on 15th April 2020, if at all possible” [Backdated, of course].

“By comparison, in Burscough, homes and streets are often flooded by surface water and raw sewage, yet campaigners against this are driven to despair by the opposition of WLBC and LCC and the failure of United Utilities to provide what should be standard health and safety conditions, enjoyed in most of the borough.

“Also by comparison, Serco Leisure Operating Limited trousers annual contracted payments to provide leisure services which in some instances fall short of acceptable standards, witness cockroaches in swimming baths.

“And at the Beacon Park Golf Course the appalling “development” by landfill to create some illusionary improvements that have destroyed much of the course and facilities has led to the unaccountable creation of royalties, the unaccountability of value added tax on the imported landfill services, and the involvement of companies, partners of Serco Leisure Operating Limited, with records of huge VAT avoidance. How does the WLBC Constitution allow for these condoned contracts/relationships with convicted companies?

“As for the creation by council of Tawd Valley Developments Limited, property developers, there has been much public concern that no elected members serve as company officers, and council tax is possibly at risk without public accountability.

“Noting the ease and speed with which WLBC obtained the advice of counsel for the menial Ashurst elected member case, probably now filed under “public stitch up”, might I, as a council tax payer, be allowed the same facility of a counsel for an inquiry into the upcoming finalisation of the WLBC leisure contract extension, including Beacon Park Golf Course, with Serco; ditto for the hard working members of the Burscough Flooding Group who simply want modern standards of drainage and sewage, and ditto for an examination of the circumstances surrounding what were “secret” committee considerations and decisions of the creation of Tawd Valley Developments Limited without elected member participation?

“All of the above under Freedom of Information Act 2000 if that is what it takes. In the belief that taxpayers are entitled to equality with elected members and officers I would formally ask that WLBC is able to provide counsel with the experience to match the seriousness of the issues raised here”.

Landfill Or Orchids On A Golf Course?

A golf course in Bristol has closed off nine of its 18 holes following advice from an ecologist, after a rare orchid that had grown during the lockdown was found at the venue.

Half of the course will remain out of bounds until the middle of July. This comes at a time when, also due to the lockdown, the demand to play golf has never been higher. A spokesman said ‘the golfers aren’t particularly pleased about it’, although the venue has been praised on social media for prioritising the environment.

The green-winged orchid is assessed as ‘Near Threatened’ in Great Britain and ‘Vulnerable’ in England, existing mostly along the Welsh coastline, but it started to grow at the municipal Ashton Court Golf Course in Bristol during April.

Bristol City Council, which runs the golf course, says it has taken the decision to reduce the number of holes available to play by nine to allow for the plants to seed. It added that it plans to have all 18 holes back open by July 15 and has asked the public to be patient in the meantime.

Meanwhile, WLBC is “In the process of finalising a contract extension with Serco which covers all WLBC facilities including Beacon Park Golf course…finalise the re-profiling of Beacon Park Golf Course and to consider future operational models”. Allowing landfilling for Serco/Oakland Golf & Leisure Ltd to receive untold royalty profits has brought WLBC into disrepute. 

Just what future does Beacon Park Golf Course have in the hands of Serco? Ask us the same question in another five years!

The Splendour Of Martin Mere, Burscough

From the Daily Mail and Dr Michael Ebdy, an amazing story of West Lancashire nature.

“The reed warbler has a number of attributes, including agility and a distinctive singing voice. Intelligence clearly isn’t on the list. Indeed, this one proved spectacularly birdbrained when she returned with a tasty morsel in her beak. Confronted, not by little warblers but a very large cuckoo chick, she didn’t bat an eyelid and dropped food into its gaping beak, believing it was one of her own offspring.

“The images were taken by Dr Michael Ebdy at Martin Mere Wetland Centre in Burscough, Lancashire, who explained the warbler’s action. ‘The instinct to feed is provoked by the red mouth of the chick and is so strong that it overrides the obvious fact that this is not a warbler chick!’ he said.

“The bizarre scene is the result of the cuckoo’s sneaky habit of laying eggs in the nests of other species and leaving the unwitting birds to raise their chicks which then head to Africa in August.

“Dr Ebdy, a GP who recently came out of retirement to help fight coronavirus, said ‘The cuckoo’s behaviour is called brood parasitism and is remarkable in several ways. Firstly, the cuckoos lay different coloured eggs to mimic those of the various birds acting as hosts. Secondly the parent’s instinct to feed is provoked by the red mouth of the chick, and is so strong that it overrides the obvious fact that this is not a warbler chick! Lastly, the parent cuckoos fly back to Africa in July. The chicks do so in August, never having met their parents, yet somehow they know where to go. Amazing”.

The No News WLBC

It seems that news of the voluntary redundancy of the previous WLBC Director of Development and Regeneration, John Harrison, has still not reached a “Principal Planning Officer”. It happened in the seismic and dynamic “July 2019” major restructuring process “which will take more than a year to implement”.

Well here we are, June 2020, and apparently John Harrison is still signing off planning matters. Did he really leave? We should be told! Perhaps there is a cardboard cut-out on his old seat?

The alternative is that WLBC has no funds to replace the Planning Department top and tail letter notepaper, But emails can be changed! Wakey wakey!

No Covid-19 Deaths In Lancashire/West Lancashire

No new Covid-19 deaths were recorded at hospital trusts operating in Lancashire in today’s daily NHS England figures.

It is the third time this week that no further deaths were reported at Southport and Ormskirk Hospitals NHS Trust, and the fourth time this month.

Although any day when no announcement is made is good news, it should be noted that there is regularly a delay in reporting deaths and that weekend numbers are typically delayed further.

As The Rain Lashes Down Today Burscough Will Flood By Neglect

We might recall the government funded new repair and renew grant schemes, to provide grants of up to £5,000 to home owners, businesses and communities that were flooded. The grants were to implement flood resistance and resilience measures to minimise the impact of any future floods. They would not provide funding support for general repairs.  

In fact some such grants were made to some residents of Burscough.

Of course much of this could and should be avoided if United Utilities provided what the Water Industry Act 1991 (the “1991 Act”) requires them to do. By its own admission in published High Court papers, UU wrote

“The starting point for considering UU’s powers under the 1991 Act are the duties which those powers are provided to serve. UU’s general duty is provided under section 94 of the 1991 Act, and includes a duty not just to operate a sewerage system, but to improve and extend it and to maintain the sewers:

“(1) It shall be the duty of every sewerage undertaker— (a) to provide, improve and extend such a system of public sewers (whether inside its area or elsewhere) and so to cleanse and maintain those sewers and any lateral drains which belong to or vest in the undertaker as to ensure that that area is and continues to be effectually drained; and (b) to make provision for the emptying of those sewers and such further provision (whether inside its area or elsewhere) as is necessary from time to time for effectually dealing, by means of sewage disposal works or otherwise, with the contents of those sewers.”

“UU has an obligation to drain its areas, no matter what the population of that area or the rate of growth of that population. In order to conduct its operations and meet its regulatory requirements, UU is required to invest into building new, and maintaining existing, infrastructure sufficient for it to meet the necessary regulatory standards”.

UU actually stated that to be so in the High Court case, which it won. By what sleight of hand is UU, with the connivance of WLBC and LCC, not carrying out its Water Industry Act 1991 duties in Burscough?

As one Burscough resident wrote, to WLBC “I am left unconvinced that WLBC are prepared to give sufficient weight or consideration to the concerns of Burscough Residents, and in particular those threatened with the increased frequency and severity of flood when Planning issues are considered. It is not too difficult for anyone to realise and conclude that WLBC will not permit anything to come between them and the revenue, (which is counted in the many £millions) they are rewarded with as development progresses through Burscough.

“Your response highlights yet again, the refusal to accept responsibility for the decisions made in relation to flooding matters, I have yet to see in amongst the many replies from you the words “Yes, that is our responsibility, we will deal with it”. Just about every point raised is answered with deflecting the issue to someone else, such as United Utilities or the Environment Agency or The LLFA. You call yourself “Partners”, in my book, that means sharing responsibility and “Working closely with our Partners” does not mean blaming them or saying it has nothing to do with you so “it is not our problem”.

“The questions I asked in the e-mail were in general not related to the information provided by other parties, but were mainly based upon how WLBC views the validity of the content and processes it. The e-mail is focussed on just what level of verification of accuracy it exercises to ensure that all documentary evidence used in Planning Applications is “Sound”. This is an entirely reasonable expectation of all Residents, and at this moment in time, given your responses, you appear to have failed with astounding regularity.

“I would ask you to look at the questions I asked again, this time, please look at what WLBC’s position is rather than dismiss them as someone else’s problem.
“Your last paragraph, if I am reading it right, seems to indicate that you find addressing the concerns of flood victims rather tiresome, well it may be for you, but I can assure you it is nowhere near as tiresome as spending months repairing the damage caused by flood or enduring the anxiety experienced every time there is a storm and wondering whether it is safe to go to bed as I did yet again last night”.

The ignorance of WLBC is shown by the inclusion of this paragraph to the resident, case 2020/289 dated 17 June 2020 “If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your original letter and should be addressed to: John Harrison, Assistant Director Planning, 52 Derby Street, Ormskirk, L39 3NU”.

Perhaps John Harrison is back at work in WLBC after taking voluntary redundancy of £90,616 some time ago?

Boris As Fat, Or Fit, As A Butcher’s Dog?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says that he will be “doubling down” on his pledge to “level up” the distribution of wealth across the country, promising to spend tens of billions of pounds on building hospitals, schools, housing developments, broadband and road and rail infrastructure.

Declaring himself “as fit as a butcher’s dog”, the PM also called for restraint as lockdown eases and the hospitality industry starts to reopen its doors, warning that large groups were potentially risking strict localised lockdowns.

Fit to drop, by the looks of him?