July 27, 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

 

Bill Esterson

 

Parliament was recalled to discuss the phone hacking scandal. The news that News International journalists had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler and the phones of the relatives of dead service personnel brought a sense of revulsion and disgust from most people.

It has often struck me that the stories which the tabloid press have printed for many years caused distress to many innocent people regardless of whether the stories involved phone hacking or not. People buy the newspapers to read the sensational stories written in them. As a result we all have a responsibility for the actions of the likes of the News of The World.

In my view the time has come for newspapers to stick to news and to spend less time on unearthing stories about the private lives of the rich and famous or for that matter those caught up in tragedies like the London bombings.

People in Merseyside may feel they can tell the rest of the country “I told you so” when it comes to the behaviour of The Sun and News of The World. The way that The Sun treated the Hillsborough victims and their families was a disgrace and people in our part of the world have remembered what The Sun wrote.

That’s why people here still do not buy The Sun. I have called for the behaviour of The Sun (and other newspapers) over many years to be considered as part of the enquiry into the media which was announced in parliament. It is to be chaired by a judge, Lord Leveson. I hope that he will look at The Sun and its treatment of the Hillsborough families all those years ago as part of his enquiry.

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I attended a meeting organised by the Campaign For The Protection of Rural England at Crosby Civic Hall.

The CPRE reminded us why we have green belt and why it is so important in Sefton. They also reminded us of the leaked plans of the government to lift restrictions on developers.

The green belt keeps a natural gap between our towns and villages. It provides opportunities for leisure and it is crucial in making sure we keep our farmland. In my view, we must protect the green belt.

The council is considering its Core Housing Strategy and says we need 480 new homes per year. The question is where to put them?

I think that we need to challenge the assumption that we need so many houses. We need jobs and we need to consider the environment. There are many brownfield sites in Sefton, many but not all are in Bootle.

Sefton has thousands of empty homes.

In my view, we should make use of former industrial land. This may mean spending money on removing contamination. But that is a better option than building on green space either in our towns or outside them.

The roads, the schools, the doctors surgeries and the sewers would all struggle to cope if we expanded. Therefore it is vital that we look at the impact of building houses on these other services. Most of us live at sea level and the threat from climate change is a very real one.

I wonder whether this issue has been considered sufficiently by planners or developers?

At the meeting in Crosby, we had representatives of Bellway Homes. They admitted that building on green belt land is cheaper than building on brownfield land where they have to pay first to make the land fit for purpose. The council planners need to find ways of resisting the siren calls of developers to let them build on green belt and make sure that alternatives are considered.

Merseycare has recently suggested 300 homes at Parkbourn in Maghull and there is a bigger site next the prison. The council should look at options like this before letting the green belt go. My big worry about this issue is that if the council does not protect the green belt, the government will allow developers to do what they want.

The leaked plans from Eric Pickles show that the government wants developers to have more freedom and to be able to build what they want unless local people can prove there are alternatives. The threat from government is very real. Sefton Council has a challenge on its hands but unless it meets that challenge the green belt could be gone for good in large parts of the borough.