18 May 2017

Borough Road demolition begins

I've pressed hard for several years now to see an end to the eye-sore
buildings on Borough Road by Birkenhead Library.

It's therefore very pleasing to see that demolition has commenced on
schedule.

Hopefully this area will have been transformed by the end of this year
to the benefit of everyone who lives in and visits Birkenhead.

17 Feb 2017

Where there's muck there's brass

I've been looking at Wirral Council's litter enforcement programme. This has been prompted by several ward residents contacting me claiming aggressive and unfair approaches from the council's enforcement contractor Kingdom Securities.

I have no problem with people being fined for littering but there are legitimate questions to ask about the way this policy is being enforced and whether it possibly has more to do with raising money than tackling the underlying causes of littering.

We know the overwhelming majority of fines relate to cigarette litter. The minutes from the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committe of November 30th last year confirm this (see page 5). The report states that "80-85% of fines issued were to do with cigarette litter"

The sums raised are substantial with £95,000 raised in a single month according to this report. How much of this leaks out of the borough to Kingdom's owners?

I asked for a break down of fines issued by ward. I didn't quite get that but the information below is, nevertheless, instructive. It shows Birkenhead way ahead of all other areas with over 50% of all the fines issued coming from the Birkenhead area. Wallasey comes next. This means that the overwhelming amount of money raised is coming the poorest parts of the borough. Of course these may also be the areas with the biggest litter problem. But, where is the evidence that fining predominantly low income smokers makes a meaningful contribution to reducing litter on our streets?

The figures below show the number of fines issued for littering in Wirral by Kingdom Resources since its contract with Wirral Council commenced in July 2015. The total number of fines issued is 18,047.

Bebington 535
Bidston 290
Birkenhead 7237
Birkenhead & Tranmere 431
Bromborough 1657
Clatterbridge 5
Claughton 51
Eastham 59
Egremont 1
Frankby 5
Greasby 8
Heswall 278
Hoylake 104
Irby 4
Leasowe 67
Liscard 584
Meols 16
Moreton 808
New Brighton 1549
New Ferry 11
Oxton 18
Pensby 34
Port Sunlight 4
Prenton 196
Rock Ferry 849
Seacombe 316
Spital 2
Thingwall 2
Thurstaston 3
Tranmere 311
Upton 784
Wallasey 1564
West Kirby 244
Woodchurch 20

5 Jan 2017

We want our Lauries back

A campaign to take back community control of the Lauries Centre, Claughton Road, Birkenhead has been launched. Evidence has emerged that the Lauries has been taken over by the local chamber of commerce and is not fulfilling its original purpose as a public asset for the community of Birkenhead. A formal complaint signed by myself and local residents has been submitted to Wirral Council. This alleges that council officers and Labour councillors have failed to properly manage the Lauries and protect the public funds invested in the centre.
 
Below you can read the complaint text in full as submitted by the non-political Birkenhead and Tranmere Neighbourhood Planning Forum. This was sent on December 9th. A response from Wirral Council is awaited.

STAGE 1 COMPLAINT: OPERATION OF THE LAURIES LIMITED LEASE

We, the undersigned, ask that the issues outlined below are dealt with in accordance with Wirral Council’s complaints procedure.

As this complaint contains concerns about the conduct and actions of councillors and officers of the Council we would appreciate your early response regarding how this will be investigated and, if corrective and/or disciplinary action is required, what procedures will apply.

We would also appreciate the opportunity to meet with the person appointed to deal with this complaint in order to provide any necessary clarification and to assist in the resolution of this matter at the earliest stage of the Council's complaints procedure. We consider that you are obliged to provide for this in order to meet the Councils 2020 Vision commitment to openness and transparency.

Background to complaint
Early in the year 2000 community representatives, Councillors and Council officers met in the old YMCA building to discuss which community objectives for capital expenditure under European Objective 1 (Round 2) and Single Regeneration Budget (Round 6) should be prioritised. At that meeting two headline capital projects were decided upon that would provide community meeting spaces at zero or very low cost for community groups across the Birkenhead Ward (pre 2003 boundary). These capital projects were The Lauries Project and the St James Centre. Both buildings were constructed, thereby fulfilling the principal objective of community representatives.

On 29 September 2005 the Council leased The Lauries Centre to The Lauries Limited for a period of 125 years.

The lease defines the permitted use of the building as use: “only for the purposes of a community centre, a neighbourhood college (including workshops), a café/snack bar, offices and meeting rooms, conference and events...in furtherance of the Tenant's aims and objectives as set out in its memorandum and articles of association...being in brief the promotion of any charitable purpose for the benefit of the community of Birkenhead and areas surrounding and in particular the advancement of education the promotion of good health and providing a focus for development and regeneration.

The lease therefore specifically links its own terms with those of the memorandum and articles of association of The Lauries Limited.

Earlier this year it came to our attention that public access to the building had been curtailed, the café had been closed down and it was rumoured that the Wirral Chamber of Commerce had annexed the building. This has since been confirmed because on its website the Wirral Chamber of Commerce now promotes The Lauries Centre as one of its “unique and exclusive office centres”. This makes it clear that the building is now used exclusively for commercial purposes, rather than for the purposes that together define the permitted use of the building, as set out in the lease.

Potential breaches of the lease and company mismanagement
Companies House records show that on 31 May 2015 all of the existing directors of The Lauries Limited (including Cllr Brian Kenny) resigned en masse and two new directors, Paula Basnett and Asif Hamid, who are both closely associated with Wirral Chamber of Commerce, replaced them.

The articles of association of The Lauries Limited require only one third of the directors to resign at each annual general meeting. So, the resignation of all directors was unusual to say the least. The articles of association also require a minimum of five directors to be in post at any one time. Once this was drawn to the attention of Paula Basnett, three new directors were appointed (Patricia Crocker, Katherine Eugeni and Sharon Stanton).

According to the articles of association, those three new directors may only remain in post until the next annual general meeting, when their appointment may only be extended by a vote of members of the company. The question of membership of the company is therefore also a key issue.

On behalf of the Forum our chair wrote to the Company Secretary, Paula Basnett, on 6 November 2016 requesting membership under the provisions of Article 1.3 of the company’s articles of association. The Forum also requested other information that the company is supposed to maintain, namely:
  • The company’s membership admissions policy
  • A membership application form
  • A list of current membership classes and their respective subscription fees
To date, no reply to this letter has been received.

The Forum was then approached by a former member of The Lauries Limited, who showed us a letter written in 2009, in which one of the directors at the time dismissed all of the remaining 36 members of the company, offering to refund the balance of any subscriptions paid.

The available evidence indicates that the company has had no members since 30 November 2009. However, it is members of the company who elect directors at each annual general meeting. If there have been no members since 2009 then all directors appointed after 30 November 2009 were occupying those positions unlawfully, as are the current directors. If there are no members, then the company has been operating outside of its own articles of association for a substantial period of time and would therefore appear also to be in breach of its lease with the Council.

Substance of complaint
We believe that the available evidence demonstrates that The Lauries Limited is operating outside of the parameters laid down in its articles of association, which in turn means that the terms of its lease with the Council have been breached. This unlawful operation of the company appears to have been ongoing since 30 November 2009.

We assert that Cllr Jean Stapleton, who was a director of The Lauries Limited continuously from 18 May 2003 until 31 March 2015 was a party to company mismanagement and breaches of the lease that occurred during this time.

We assert that Cllr Phil Davies, who was a director of The Lauries Limited from 6 January 2005 until 18 May 2013 was a party to company mismanagement and breaches of the lease that occurred during this time.

We assert that Cllr Brian Kenny, who was a director of The Lauries Limited from 17 February 2009 until 31 May 2015 was a party to company mismanagement and breaches of the lease that occurred during this time.

In the light of the evidence obtained by the Forum and public records, it is alleged that Councillors Davies, Kenny and Stapleton were party to unlawful decisions, either knowingly or through negligence, in a manner that betrayed the commitment to community control and ownership enshrined in the memorandum and articles of association of The Lauries Limited.

It appears that Councillors and Council officers have failed:
1) in their duty to ensure that a significant public asset is managed in accordance with the terms of a lease agreement;
2) to effectively monitor the extent to which The Lauries Limited has been and is being operated in accordance with its memorandum and articles of association, and
3) to safeguard the use of public funds invested in the construction of The Lauries Centre.

Given these apparent failures we have further concerns that the sub-leases of the building, which require Council approval, may not comply with the terms of the principal lease.

In particular we are concerned if market rents are not being applied to sub-leases made to commercial companies.

We request that all of the concerns raised in the foregoing paragraphs are investigated by the Council and that arrangements are put in place to ensure that The Lauries Limited is henceforth operated fully in accordance with its memorandum and articles of association and that the lease is properly policed.

The Forum will co-operate fully with the Council’s investigation, including providing copies of the evidential documents referred to in this letter, if the Council cannot obtain them elsewhere.
Yours sincerely

signed by:

Cllr Pat Cleary Birkenhead & Tranmere Ward Councillor and nine other local residents.

7 Dec 2016

Furious residents attack council leader over sale of Conway Street land

I have written previously about Wirral Council's cack-handed sale of prime land on Conway Street near Birkenhead town centre and the deliberate vandalism of the site by its new owners SIP car parks.Since then the council has failed to take any effective measures to force a clean up of the site. Unsurprisingly, local residents are disgusted at the council's behaviour. I am pleased to see that 25 local residents have signed the letter below to the leader of the council and copied in the other two ward councillors.It will be interesting to see what response, if any, they receive.

Dear Cllr Phil Davies,

We are concerned residents writing to you about the state of the land on Conway Street that borders Simpson Street and Parkfield Avenue. This land is in a completely unacceptable condition especially for such a prominent location. It has become a magnet for litter, fly-tipping and vermin. We should not have to put up with this.

As you are no doubt aware, this land was sold by Wirral Council in early 2014. It was sold to SIP Car Parks, a company that specialises in building and operating car parking facilities. It must therefore have been obvious to the council what the purchaser would want to do with this land. As subsequent planning applications and appeals have shown, this site is totally unsuitable for car parking. Why, therefore, did the council sell to such a company?

Subsequently the land has been dug up, all the surrounding trees cut down and the entire site has been left in an appallling condition. This happened over 15 months ago. Yet nothing has been done to force the owner to make good their damage to this land and maintain it in an appropriate conditiion.

We are appalled at how Wirral Council has behaved. Such a prominent site should never have been sold in the first place, should never have been sold to such an unsuitable company and should never have been allowed to deteriorate into such an appalling state.

As our ward councillor and leader of the council we hold you directly responsible.

We demand prompt and comprehensive answers to the following questions:
  • What action is being taken now to improve the condition of this site?
  • What action is being taken to secure its long term future and ensure the site is properly maintained or used for the wider benefit of the community?
We look forward to hearing from you.

6 Dec 2016

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority

Arrangements for the Liverpool City Region Authority are being finalised this month and debated tonight by Wirral Council. Well, they were due to be debated but the dysfunctional outfit that Wirral Labour is they abused their majority to deliberately shut me out and refused to let me speak. How that makes them look anything other than completely ridiculous only they will know. 

Unsurprisingly, Wirral Leaks has its own unique take on this sorry affair.

Anyway, here's my take on what's wrong with the devolution arrangements and what needs to be done to put things right.


This time last year I said "It would be a huge mistake for these important decisions about local democracy to be made behind closed doors. It's vital the public in the region get a say - otherwise, these devolution plans risk floundering and becoming an unpopular mess."

That remains just as true today. Most people tell me that they don’t know the Authority exists. If they do know about it they feel they have no say in it at all.

And they’d be right – they have no directly elected representatives to talk to about it.

And its not just me saying that. The House of Commons Local Government Committee said, “There has been a significant lack of public consultation, engagement and communication at all stages of the decision-making process.

But it doesn't have to be like that.

By refusing an elected assembly to hold the Mayor to account we have, at least, the opportunity for a more direct engagement with residents as to how they would like the city region to develop and how their funds should be spent. We could use the potential offered by modern technology to engage with people in ways that other cities around the world are already pioneering.

In Madrid, for example, the mayor has ring-fenced a “participatory budget”, to be decided through online polling, with proposals submitted via local assemblies. In the latest round, €24m has been allocated on projects as varied as a centre for people with Alzheimer’s, child care, tree planting and the restoration of fountains and public toilets.

Its interesting that, when offered the choice, people tend to prioritise public spending that improves their quality of life.  What we have here is a narrow focus on economic growth that never has and never will, on its own, address the multiple challenges we face such as inequality and environmental decay.

Keeping the Mayor and Authority honest


We all know what this document represents – our city region will be run by a grand committee of the Labour party chosen by the Labour Party. It will hobble around on one economic leg when we really need four strong legs – social, environmental, economic and democratic.

So I would urge everyone to look beyond these top-down scrutiny arrangements and embrace a more inclusive model. The Green Party proposes a public forum with direct responsibility for scrutiny and spending decisions and including representation from voluntary, community, small business and trade unions to hold the mayor and Authority to account. 


That way we might actually get the kind of devolution we deserve.

7 Nov 2016

Letter to the press: Benefit Cap

From today the next phase in the government's attack on welfare kicks
in. A £6,000 cut in maximum annual benefits means that, for thousands of
families, their housing benefit will no longer cover their rent. As
housing benefit is paid after all other benefits, larger families with
more children will be hardest hit. This is effectively a sibling tax.
Children from our poorest families will be forced deeper into poverty.
Many will be made homeless.

Given Wirral Council's public failure to protect our most vulnerable
children this is deeply worrying. An already inadequate service will
come under more pressure. Furthermore, all councils have a statutory
duty to accommodate the homeless. Tory welfare cuts will cost Wirral
Council millions in temporary accommodation costs over the coming years.
This will mean further cuts to services across the board as increasing
funds are diverted to deal with rising homelessness. Of course, the cost
in human misery for many of our poorest families will be far greater.

30 Oct 2016

End in sight for derelict buildings by Birkenhead library?

For quite some time I have been pressing for action on the  long-standing eye sore buildings by Birkenhead Library on Borough Road. I met again with council officers recently for an update. As a result I can report:
  • Compulsory purchase orders to secure ownership of the last few buildings are now complete.
  • Legal measures to facilitate demolition of the buildings should be in place by February/March.
  • Demolition will take around 10 weeks and will commence as soon as the disconnection of utilities is complete.
  • Planning permission to landscape the area has been granted and this will take around four weeks post demolition.
This is very positive news and I am hopeful that this area will finally have been transformed by mid-2017. I will continue to press officers to ensure this remains a top priority.