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October 25, 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary


Bill Esterson


The Campaign for The Protection of Rural England has received legal advice that the government’s new Planning Policy Framework puts the green belt at risk. The threat was confirmed in two recent debates in parliament, where the legal opinion was confirmed by a number of MPs.


I first raised this threat last year and it was clear that the Tory-Lib Dem government was in such a rush to allow developers to build that they did not think through the changes to the rules. The consequences for us in Sefton Central are serious indeed. And the cuts to Sefton Council from the government have made things worse.


The Lydiate Marina development is an example of the effect of the cuts. Councillors in Lydiate wanted the marina and planning officers recommended that the marina be built even though it was in the green belt. The same planning officers and councillors were working together to find ways of boosting the local economy and the marina at Bells Lane was one way of helping with jobs and with money for businesses in Lydiate and Maghull.


Because the council officers had responsibility for both economic development and planning it is easy to see how councillors in Lydiate went along with the plans until the planning committee turned them down at the last minute after residents voiced their opposition to the plans.


The Lydiate Marina episode is a prime example of the threat from the Conservatives and Lib Dems when it comes to planning. Developers give large sums of money to the Conservative Party and it is no surprise that we have new planning rules that give developers a big advantage and put the green belt and urban green spaces at risk.


Both Conservative and Lib Dem MPs voted in parliament for the new rules and they need to change their minds next time this is debated by MPs.


Last week I arranged a debate on VAT on Empty Homes. There are 6,000 empty homes in Sefton. Renovation and refurbishment of Empty Homes has VAT at 20%. New homes have zero VAT. However, after two years of being empty, a property owner can apply for VAT to be cut to 5% on renovation of empty homes but it would be better if there was no delay, something that was said in the debate.


One of the fastest ways to kick start the economy is by boosting the building and construction industry. Small businesses could do with a boost and one way of giving this boost is to make it easier for empty homes to be brought back into use. The Cut VAT coalition wants to see VAT cut to 5% on home improvement and  on renovation of property. A cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements is also one of the Labour Party’s five point plan for re-starting the economy and creating jobs. 


It would help many small businesses as well as helping home owners to carry out home improvements. The VAT cut would also help with energy efficiency measures like installing a new boiler or double glazing windows. And of course if more empty homes were renovated the green belt and urban green spaces would be better protected.


Sefton Council has to find £20.5 million of cuts according to this Tory-Lib Dem government and has asked the public for their views on what should be cut. The cuts are too far and too fast and will put many Sefton people out of work as well as cutting services to some of our most vulnerable elderly people.


The Sefton cuts are on top of cuts to health care where waiting lists are already going up and many are finding that treatment is no longer available unless they are prepared to pay for it. The cuts to health care will follow a similar line to those in the US, where 10% of money for patient care goes straight to private health companies for their shareholders. Less money for patient care, means poorer treatment all in the name of privatisation of our NHS, thanks to the votes of Conservative and Lib Dem MPs.


As winter approaches, the impact of the cuts to winter fuel payments will start to hit vulnerable elderly people. Worse than that, energy costs are subject to a postcode lottery with differences of up to £180 on bills in different regions in the UK.
Two households on the same tariff, using the same amount of energy, are charged different amounts. According to research by U-Switch.com, a family in Brentford pay £66 more than a family in Brighton, just for living in a different place?
It shows how out of touch the Government is to claim all the public need to do is shop around to get a better deal. Do they have any idea what it feels like to be ripped off in this way?
We were told by the government there were 400 tariffs – the U-Switch research suggests that there could be 4,000. Fewer, simpler tariffs must be part of the answer.
We need the Tory-Lib Dem Government to end the warm words and stand up to the vested interests in the energy market, and take some real action to bring down energy prices for in Sefton and elsewhere this winter.

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