April 17, 2012

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It looks like an agreement has been reached between the oil companies and the tanker drivers. 

This is welcome news as the panic at the pumps we saw a few weeks ago was no fun for anyone and the ill-advised suggestion by a government minister to stockpile petrol at home certainly didn’t help, especially when a woman was seriously hurt decanting petrol in her kitchen. 

 
The good news that a strike appears to have been avoided will come as a relief to everyone but the potential dispute is a reminder of the high cost of petrol and diesel which hits drivers and businesses very hard. The high cost of oil means that we all pay more to drive and that in turn means transport costs go up for business. Consumers have to pay more as a result. So any moves to cut the cost of fuel are welcome. 
 
One way to do this would be to cut VAT as it would have an immediate effect on fuel prices. VAT was put up after the election. If VAT was cut back to 17.5%, which is where it was two years ago, that would cut 3p off a litre of fuel. 
 
The finance bill is going through parliament in the next few days and I will be supporting efforts to amend the legislation to cut the cost of fuel by cutting VAT.
 
 
Changes in planning law were brought in two weeks ago. I met Greg Clark, the government minister responsible for the changes, and asked him to confirm what the changes mean in practice. 
 
The main change is the presumption in favour of development. This means that far more planning applications will be approved by councils as developers are given a much stronger position in law. 
 
Another change was the level of detail in the planning guidance. This means that the new guidance is open to legal interpretation, which means that those who can afford to spend most on legal advice will do best out of the new system. 
 
So the big developers are likely to get what they want and to be able to build new housing estates across Sefton. This is because Sefton Council has very little money so will not be able to afford to defend itself against legal challenge if it turns down planning applications. This will mean that potential developments including those between Formby, Crosby and Maghull are now more likely. 
 
There is a big opportunity for big business with the planning changes. That means that those of us who live in Sefton Central, who want to defend our communities will have to fight hard to protect ourselves. Developers would prefer to build on green belt land or on urban green spaces like Duke Street Park in Formby because it is easier than building on former industrial land or renovating some of the existing 6,000 empty homes in Sefton. 
 
I believe that the new homes which are needed should be built on former industrial land and that empty homes should be used before green space or countryside. The worry is that the developers will see the opportunity to make huge profits at our expense. Other issues include whether roads, drains, schools or doctors could cope with an influx of new developments. These issues need to be considered. My worry is that the new rules are not sufficiently robust to protect the existing community. 
 
One of the concerns about major developments in my view is that the developers only consider the impression they want to give to potential house buyers. They tend to ignore the needs of the people who live there already. I am determined not to let that happen in Sefton Central and I will be campaigning on this issue over the coming weeks, months and years. I hope that residents can work together to make sure development only takes place where it should.
 

The other big vote in parliament this week will be on reforms to legal aid. The House of Lords has amended the legislation to make sure that children and disabled people are protected and that they have proper legal representation. 
 
At a time when more children than ever are being taken into care, it is vitally important that the family courts work properly and that the most vulnerable children in our society are protected. 
 
The original proposals could have seen children unable to gain full legal representation. One of the big problems faced by children is the delays in the courts. 
 
Taking away legal support would not speed this up and would not speed up the adoption of children who desperately need families. I will be supporting the amendments proposed by the House of Lords.