The news that the Environment Agency is having its budget cut by the coalition government and will not be able to support flood defence work to the same degree as before is a big worry for all of us in Sefton. I have raised this in parliament and will continue to press the government on its justification for cutting this vital service, which ultimately protects everyone in Formby, Hightown, Ince Blundell, Lydiate, Maghull, Aintree, Melling and Crosby. The cuts could leave people's homes vulnerable to flooding and threaten farm land and crops.
At a time when we know climate change is going to affect the risk of flooding, a fact identified in the Environment Agency’s own report, we are seeing proposals to scale back the pumping activity which is currently at the core of the flood defences in Sefton, particularly at the Lower Alt.
The Environment Agency report also states that Sefton's agricultural land will be used as makeshift flood plains. But Sefton boasts some of the best grade one agricultural land in the country. We should be using this land to grow our own food to become less dependent on foreign imports and reduce the rocketing price of food. Please take part in the consultation and let the Conservative/Lib-Dem government know what you think of the plans to cut back on our flood defences. You can find the consultation online at http://bit.ly/rhyYEC
I met Sainsbury’s Head of Town Planning, Sue Wilcox, to hear what she had to say about their approach to Crosby. Sue told me that they have started from scratch and want to hear what the local community has to say. Sainsbury’s say they want ideas from groups like AbetterCrosby as well as from traders, shoppers and residents. To give Sainsbury’s credit, they appear to have learned from the fisaco of their approach over the last 18 months, where they found massive opposition to the idea of a store which dominates the village centre. I made the point that most people want Sainsbury’s to be successful in Crosby. Equally, I made it clear that people need to feel included in the plans. This time round, hopefully, Sefton Council, Sainsbury’s and the community in Crosby will work together in the interests of teh community and of Sainsbury’s.
I spoke in the debate on BBC Local Radio in Westminster Hall. The debate was very well attended, with over 50 MPs from all parties supporting their local radio station. BBC Radio Merseyside has more listeners than any other radio station. It has more than twice the number of listeners as Radio 4, yet the BBC is planning to keep Radio 4 in tact, while cutting 20% of the budget for Radio Merseyside. This will mean the loss of up to 15 jobs and fewer programmes. Many elderly and disabled people rely on BBC Radio Merseyside and it is the poorest in our community who listen to local radio most. The BBC are being forced to make these cuts because of decisions taken by the coalition government to cut the licence fee. It was worrying that the government minister who replied to the debate appeared to treat the issue as something of a joke. He dismissed concerns which were raised by a number of MPs including me about the loss of jobs and about the impact on our most vulnerable people. He was very rude to me when I asked him to respond to those concerns. It is a big worry that government ministers appear not to be interested in local radio and not to be interested in the views of the 325,000 people who listen to BBC Radio Merseyside.