Sefton Council’s Core Housing Strategy has highlighted two potentially conflicting priorities. The need for affordable housing and the need to protect our green spaces.
Many of you have contacted me to say you don’t want to lose the greenbelt. You have also told me that any new development should include roads, buses, shops, schools and new doctors' surgeries. You have also told me that you value the existing communities in Sefton Central and the fact that they are separate with countryside in between them. I hope that the planners take a good look at where new housing can go without building on our green space and I also hope that they listen to you. We clearly need affordable housing for many young adults who still live at home or for the thousands chasing each available home with One Vision Housing. But this pressure has to be balanced with the needs of those who live and work in our existing communities.
The majority of constituents who have written to me recently have written about the NHS. Most of the people who have written to me have told me of their concerns at the health service reforms. The government has a bill going through parliament called the Health and Social Care bill and it has just completed the committee stage.
The bill includes plans to give groups of doctors the responsibility for their own budgets. Most doctors who have contacted me would rather spend their time treating patients rather than managing budgets. It strikes me the plans will create more red tape not less and will leave doctors with less time for being doctors as they have to do more administration. One constituent who wrote to me told me: “I'm worried that these changes mean the NHS would promote more competition and privatisation, at the expense of patient care. I am also concerned that such huge changes are being pushed across the whole NHS without being carefully trialled first.”
David Cameron and Nick Clegg are to tour the country to try to persuade people that they are right about these reforms. I hope that Nick Clegg comes to Sefton so that you can discuss the changes to the NHS with him and tell him how important our NHS is to you.
I met the Police Borough Commander, Chief Supt Ian Pilling to talk about some of the issues which you have raised with me. He has promised to follow up complaints about anti-social behaviour and petty crime in Maghull and Formby. I also asked him about how Merseyside Police are cutting 20% from their budget.
Mr Pilling reminded me about the recruitment freeze and about the fact that so far, he has been able to keep the level of police because the latest recruits have only just joined. It will be next year that we start to see cuts in the numbers of police as those who retire or resign will not be replaced. In two years' time, the government will stop paying for the 600 community support officers. That is when we will really notice the fall in the number of police on our streets, I suspect.
One comment which has been made to me by staff in the NHS, by police officers and by council staff is about the loss of experienced staff. The cuts mean that many of the staff who are being made redundant are the most experienced. This is because they are often the highest paid and the nearest to retirement. The concern is that the loss of many senior staff in one go will leave police, fire social services and education with a shortage of experience, a potentially dangerous situation and an argument for a more planned approach to the cuts along with the economic impact of cutting too fast.
I have applied for a debate on the impact of government cuts to emergency services on public safety. With Crosby coastguard station under threat, with 800 police officers and 600 community support officers under threat and with the second fire engine at Crosby under threat, it struck me as very odd that the government had not carried out a risk assessment about the impact on public safety of the cuts to the emergency services. If the debate takes place it will be interesting to see what the level of risk is likely to be after the cuts and whether this was taken into account before the decision was taken about how fast and how deep to cut.
It would be very worrying indeed if Sainsbury’s were to walk away from Crosby Village having had their first planning application rejected last year. Seven thousand people signed a petition against the plans because of the size and scale of the proposed new supermarket. I met the Chief Executive of Sainsbury’s and his senior colleagues recently. From what they told me, I would be surprised if they did walk away from Crosby at this stage.
I suggested that they should work closely with residents and traders in Crosby to make sure that the next plans they submit are in keeping with what the community wants to see. I understand that Sainsbury’s worked with the community in Neston recently in planning their new store there, so perhaps we should be optimistic for the future development of Crosby including Sainsbury’s involvement.