December 4, 2012

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A packed meeting at the Professional Development Centre in Formby heard from Mike McComb about his plans to sell the Powerhouse site in Formby to a developer. 

Mike McComb answered a number of questions as did councillors and parish councillors. 

Residents had many concerns about the proposal. Mr McComb explained that the site is an eyesore and a magnet for anti-social and criminal behaviour. Development of the site already has planning permission and it looks like a different planning application will see houses rather than flats. 

Residents asked about affordable housing and it was clear that as things stand the development would have limited affordable housing in order for the proposed developer, Bellway Homes to be interested. 

The point was made that development of a previous industrial site like the Powerhouse should not be used as a the thin end of the wedge in allowing development elsewhere in the green belt. I agree. 

The discussions about the development of the Powerhouse at the public meeting showed the conflicting pressures in Formby and across Central Sefton. Developers want to build and make as much money as possible. As a result they are reluctant to build affordable homes either to rent or to buy, yet this is what is needed by many people in Formby and across Sefton. 

What developers are offering appears to have little to benefit the existing community. The discussion also demonstrated the pressure to build on green belt land. We have many empty homes in Sefton. We also have former industrial sites including the Powerhouse. Residents made clear that these should be developed first and that empty homes should be renovated or replaced with new homes before even considering going into the green belt. 

This will cost a lot of money and will take a big shift in government policy. At present we have government ministers saying they want more building in the countryside. That can only mean one thing in Sefton. Massive building in the green belt. All of which is music to the developers’ ears as they can make more money from building in green belt than on former industrial brown field sites which cost a fortune to decontaminate.

But there are other ways to proceed. The Bank of England has given the banks billions of pounds through a process called quantitative easing. This money is being used by the banks to recover from the losses they incurred through their reckless lending in the financial crisis. 

But very little of that money is finding its way into the real economy in the form of loans to small businesses, even though the government promised this would happen and even though it is vital for jobs and growth. Instead of giving the money to the banks for them to hold onto, it would be better to use the money to build the affordable homes needed by young adults living at home or on friends' sofas or in hostels. 

It would be better to build homes for pensioners wanting to down size, which would free up family sized homes. And it would be better to give thousands of unemployed construction and building workers jobs. 

That money could also be used to decontaminate the former industrial land that developers say is too expensive for them to use and to build homes at low rents or to part rent/part buy or for affordable homes to buy. It could be used to renovate empty homes or demolish and rebuild them. 

I don’t pretend to be an expert on how this would work but I do know we need affordable housing and I do know we should be protecting the green belt. 

An idea like the one I mentioned above might be one way of achieving both in Sefton.

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