August 30, 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

 

Bill Esterson

 

Below are some comments that I could have written myself. They were written by Colin Reader, a resident of Maghull and sum up pretty much my own concerns about the government’s new approach to planning applications including the fact that the Conservative-Lib Dem government appears to be opening the door for a free for all, which will let developers build what they like, where they like, including on our valuable green spaces in Sefton both in the countryside and in the towns and villages.

“The White Paper understandably seeks to set out a positive tone towards development and says much about the promotion of appropriate development where it can be shown to be sustainable.  The White Paper says nothing however about challenging planning applications which are considered to be inappropriate.  Assuming that a Local Plan is drawn up with real and valued community input, so that the community has a vested stake in the plan, I can readily envisage a situation in which a planning application differs in some way from what may have been agreed in principal at the Local Plan stage – leading to a view within the neighbourhood forum that the application, as presented, is inappropriate.

"Under the current planning regime, it is beholden on the developer to demonstrate the appropriateness of his proposals through a range of externally commissioned studies or assessments (e.g. Environmental Impact Assessments etc).  Under the regime proposed in the Draft Framework, it would appear to be the responsibility of any objector to demonstrate the grounds on which they feel an application is inappropriate.  Is it to be concluded therefore, that the objector (which in many cases may be private individuals/local residents/neighbourhood forums) shoulders the burden of proving the case against? If this is so, the costs that are likely to arise (commissioning consultant reports etc.) would render any meaningful community engagement out of the question – unless of course, there is some form of funding provision.

"I do not feel it is reasonable to expect communities to engage only with the positive, pro-development stance of the Draft Framework, yet to give those communities no effective means or resources to address unwanted or inappropriate development.  It is naive for the Government to expect NIMBY-ism to disappear overnight – something that seems to be the assumption around which the proposals for community engagement set out in the Draft Framework have been set.  On this basis, it would appear that the Draft Framework provides few safeguards to protect inappropriate development or to recognise local opposition to particular development proposals."

There we have it in the words of Colin Reader, a very real threat to our communities in Central Sefton from the government.

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Congratulations to students across Sefton for their excellent GCSE and A Level results this year. It is a testament to their hard work, the hard work of their teachers and the support of their families, that young people have seen the best ever results this year. Exams are not getting easier; young people are working harder than ever before, supported by what Ofsted has described as the best generation of teachers that the country has seen.

It worries me that ministers plan to make massive changes at a time of such success. We have an improving set of results yet the government is bringing in the English Baccalaureate, which forces young people to study only a narrow selection of subjects regardless of whether the subjects are suitable for what each young person needs for their chosen career. It concerns me that the government may be about to undermine the achievements of young people by focusing only on their approved list of English Baccalaureate subjects. This year’s results show young people are making sensible choices to prepare them for the modern world, with big increases in the sciences, religious studies and economics.

Ministers should listen to the Education Select Committee and introduce more flexibility and choice into the English Baccalaureate. Otherwise, they risk restricting student choice and penalising young people whose strengths and interest lies in the arts, music, ICT, engineering, business and economics. The drop in modern foreign languages is a concern. But the answer is not to force GCSE take-up through the Ebacc. It is to improve language teaching in primary schools and introduce all children to languages at an early age.

For the young people who have worked so hard to get these results, they need help and support to succeed in what is a more competitive and challenging world.

I met a group of year nine students at Maricourt School in Maghull who were extremely worried about the government’s plans. Those wanting to study engineering, hairdressing and catering were all going to see fewer opportunities as their subjects were not on the government’s approved list. Their friends who wanted to study, 'E-Bacc' subjects were worried as well because there will not be enough teachers to teach all the extra students who will now have to study their subjects, which in turn will reduce quality. All in all, the students thought the changes were too far and too fast and no one had asked them or their parents what they wanted.

I am a member of the Education Select Committee. We were told again and again by teachers and by business leaders that the government is wrong when it comes to its changes in education. It is time the government listened to the experts but more to the point it is time they listened to the young people and their families who will suffer if the government is wrong when it comes to the future of education.