Maghull Labour Councillor Lynn Gatherer told a packed full Sefton Council meeting last Thursday that the Tory-Lib Dem Government was forcing the borough's councillors to build on some greenbelt land - or risk developers coming in and building where they like.
Sudell Ward Labour Councillor Lynn Gatherer was speaking during the debate on Sefton's Local Plan, which is now set to go to full public consultation.
Under the plan, which has been drawn up under the Lib Dem-Tory Government's strict Planning Policy Framework, Sefton will have to build up to 510 homes a year for the next 15 years - up to 150 homes a year are earmarked for Maghull.
Councillors and campaigners heard at the meeting that if Sefton fails to draw up a plan in line with Lib Dem-Tory Government policy - to allow building on greenbelt land - then the Lib Dem-Tory Government will open the door to developers to build where they like.
Speaking in the council chamber, Cllr Gatherer said: "Over the last 30 years we’ve built on average 470 homes every year in Sefton. The experts who have drawn up the various reports believe that we’ll need around 510 new homes every year between now and the end of the 15 year Local Plan.
“According to the experts, this would mean building around 10,500 new houses - there are enough brownfield sites to build around half of these houses while the other half would be built on greenbelt land. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the statistics used to determine housing need and councillors and residents have rightly challenged and questioned the facts and figures. The up to date full population and housing statistics will be published in 2014 and the council will update their housing requirement based on these figures which will cover the full plan period and we have the opportunity to amend the Local Plan timetable – so that the updated figures will be included prior to submission.
"It is possible that the 2014 numbers will show a drop – if they do then Sefton will build less homes than is currently planned in the document. However it’s likely that even with a reduction in numbers, houses will still need to be built on greenbelt land."
Cllr Gatherer argued that if official government statistics, which are due for publication next year, show a smaller population increase, then fewer houses should be built in Maghull to ease potential strain on local infrastructure.
Cllr Gatherer said: "The greenbelt should be protected as much as possible and so if the 2014 figures reduce then I would ask that consideration be given to reducing the numbers being built on the greenbelt and in particular those areas like Maghull which are being disproportionately impacted.
"I’m in favour of building homes and I have no doubt that affordable homes are needed in Maghull. But the town will be receiving 24% of the houses in the plan while it has only a 12% housing need – that would appear to be disproportionate.
"We could see the population of Maghull rise by 20% and I have concerns as to whether the infrastructure will be improved sufficiently to cope with that increase.
"There would be added pressure on local schools GPs, dental surgeries and roads from the main site to the local schools which are narrow, particularly where they pass over the railway line and canal. Residents already express concern regularly about the volume of traffic on the roads the danger to pedestrians who have to walk along the narrow footpaths in the area and there are also worries about flooding."
During her speech, Cllr Gatherer made reference to Lib Dem-Tory planning ministers who are demanding that local authorities like Sefton release greenbelt land for development. Government Minister Nick Boles outraged members of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England just last week when he said councils must allow developers to build on greenbelt.
Cllr Gatherer said: "So yes I have concerns as no doubt do other colleagues about the impact the Local Plan will have on their wards. But under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government's Planning Framework, with its presumption in favour of sustainable development making it easier for developers to build, we have to have a ‘sound’ local plan in place and if we don’t the Tory-Lib Dem planning laws allow developers the opportunity to build wherever they like.
"We’ve seen in the press recently Lib Dem-Tory government ministers admitting that there aren’t enough brownfield sites for all the of the houses that need to be built and that planning inspectors are forcing local councils to accept more housing on greenbelt land.
"So against that backdrop it’s very difficult to protect the greenbelt.
"Nevertheless as councillors we have robustly questioned and challenged at every available opportunity the figures, the selection of the proposed sites and the impact building will have. We need to build more houses, we need to make sure as many as possible are affordable, it’s important for Sefton’s economy that we ensure that jobs which result from this plan are for local workers, we need to make sure the right infrastructure is provided, we need to do all we can to make the plan as proportionate as possible.
"And we need to protect the greenbelt as far as we can - the best way to do that is to have a sound local plan in place."
Cllr Gatherer is now urging all Maghull residents to take part in the public consultation on the Local Plan which starts next week. Details can be found at tinyurl.com/SeftonLocalPlan