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October 4, 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary
Donors from construction, including Aggregate Industries, one of the "big five" building companies in Britain, have given more than £200,000 to the Conservative Party in the last year.
At the same time, Conservative government ministers have met senior property and construction industry figures 28 times since the general election, as against 11 meetings with environmentalists, while considering a major change to planning regulations. The draft National Planning Policy Framework has been criticised for containing a "presumption in favour of sustainable development", and critics such as the National Trust and Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, fear firms are preparing to seize the chance to win permission to build on the green belt.
Conservative Minister, Eric Pickles' Department for Communities and Local Government has been accused by environmentalists and the Daily Telegraph of "loading the dice" in favour of developers. No wonder.
There are a number of ways in which we can avoid having to build in the countryside or on greenspaces in our towns and villages. One is to build on former industrial land, so called brownfield development. Another is to renovate the thousands of empty homes we have. In Sefton alone there are 6,000 empty homes. In my view we should be using empty homes and building on brownfield land before even considering greenspace or green belt land. But the new Planning Framework changes all that, which is why I will be opposing government plans to build on the green belt when parliament resumes after the Conservative Party Conference.
Crosby Coastguard is threatened with closure by the government. This will mean the loss of many staff with years of experience and local knowledge. Government ministers admit that this loss of local knowledge will put lives at risk. That is why the government has reprieved coastguard stations around the coast but not at Crosby. The shipping industry is worried at the closure of Crosby Coastguard especially as there are big plans for the expansion of the Port of Liverpool. The oil and gas industry is against the closure and so is anyone who runs a fishing boat or sails for pleasure. The closure of Crosby coastguard would leave the coast around Liverpool without a coastguard station. It would also leave the whole of the North West of England and West of Scotland without a coastguard station. That whole stretch of coast would be covered by Belfast coastguard. Staff in Belfast admit that they don’t know the area and have expressed their concern.
The government plans to build a Maritime Operations Centre in Southampton. Staff at Crosby with the support of their union, have pointed out that such a centre could be put in the existing Crosby station with a small extension of the building for a fraction of the cost of building a brand new centre in Southampton. It sounds like common sense to keep Crosby as it must be cheaper to use the Crosby building which the Coastguard agency owns rather than start from scratch. And especially when the Crosby building is also used by the Coastguard surveyors and has a search and rescue centre attached. The government says it wants to make the coastguard more efficient. Well the staff and union at Crosby have devised a plan which does just what the government says it wants. The government would be foolish not to give the Crosby plan serious consideration.
Well done to everyone in Aintree who helped with the Macmillan Cancer “World’s Largest Coffee Morning”. Thanks also to Carole Mitchell, the chair of the parish council for inviting me. Macmillan is a great charity and I was really pleased to see that there was so much support from the people who turned up during the day in support of the event.
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