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July 13, 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary


Bill Esterson


Developers will find it easier to get permission to build housing estates, offices and retail parks in the green belt according to the government’s latest draft of its National Planning Policy Framework. The new rules which are due to be published in the next few weeks make it much easier for developers and much harder for local councils or for residents to object to plans put forward by developers.

This means that the threat to the greenbelt around Melling, Maghull, Lydiate, Thornton, Ince Blundell and Hightown will be much more real. The government’s changes will make it much harder for Sefton Council to make sure there are enough affordable homes, playgrounds or community centres for local people.

The changes will force Sefton Council to prove that building on the green belt would result in adverse impacts that “significantly and demonstrably” outweigh the benefits. The current planning rules make it very difficult for developers to build on the greenbelt and protect local communities like those in Sefton Central against unrestricted building. Developers will be able to rush through their plans and to ride roughshod over objections because the council will not be given the time to consult local people or make changes to plans submitted by developers.

At present developers have to focus on existing urban areas. If the government gets its way developers will be able to do as they please and concrete over the greenbelt. There will also be no need to make sure housing estates have good bus services, or walking or cycling routes to shops, schools or workplaces.

I fear that the changes will be a developers’ charter and that our rural communities will suffer. The Labour government after the Second World War introduced the greenbelt. I am proud of that achievement. Now I fear that the Conservatives are going to tear up the rules and let the developers loose on the greenbelt in Sefton and further afield.

I would like to congratulate Cllr Ian Maher for starting to bring empty homes back into use. Sefton has twice the national average of empty properties and it makes sense to start to use these homes by working with the owners rather than looking at new estates on the greenbelt. The other opportunity is the former industrial land in Sefton and in neighbouring boroughs. It makes sense to consider options for housing using land which has already been built on before extending the area covered by our towns and villages.

I have been invited to a number of meetings in Sefton Central to discuss the green belt. At those meetings, I will suggest to people that they lobby the government to change its mind about the planning rules. In my view, new development should be for the benefit of existing communities not so that developers can make as much money as quickly as possible.

There are many housing estates in Sefton which were build with inadequate facilities for the residents. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past with new housing estates which don’t give the people living there the services they need to create great communities and let’s make sure that the green belt is not the first place


I hope that we will see a full public enquiry into tabloid journalism and an end to the sordid search for stories of which hacking the phones of Milly Dowler and dead service men and women's families is just a small part.

We need newspapers which act in the public interest and investigate scandals. That is a very different approach to phone hacking and routinely breaking the law in the name of investigative journalism.

The News of the World may have closed but how many other newspapers were involved?

I noticed that one of the senior executives under scrutiny, asked other journalists to consider the effect on his family of the media intrusion. What an irony. The News of the World made no effort to protect families when they were exposing public figures to ridicule as they exposed so called scandals to sell papers.

Many people who work in newspapers are decent, hard working and honest. Local papers such as the Liverpool Echo, Liverpool Daily Post, Crosby Herald, Formby Times and Maghull and Aintree Star do a good job of covering local news and do great work investigating local issues.

The papers on Merseyside manage to stay within the rules and still cover the right stories. The question is why can’t the national tabloid press do the same?

Perhaps they will start to now.

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