19 Feb 2018

Victoria Lodge Hotel Tranmere: Call for Compulsory Purchase

I've sent the letter below to the head of Regeneration at Wirral
Council. It calls on the council to compulsory purchase the Victoria
Lodge Hotel site on Victoria Road in Tranmere and sets out the reasons why.

For the past five years this site has caused nothing but trouble and the
problems are mounting. This is exactly the kind of situation where local
authorities need to intervene.

FAO: David Ball
Head of Regeneration and Planning
Wirral Council
Brighton Street, Wallasey, CH44 8ED


Re: Victoria Lodge Hotel, Victoria Road, Tranmere

Dear David,

As you know, there has been widespread and growing concern about the
Victoria Lodge site for more than five years since it ceased to operate
as a public house. Apart from being an eye-sore, it is a persistent
magnet for crime and anti-social behaviour. The site is regularly
fly-tipped and vandalised. It has been set on fire on several occasions.
There is persistent drug dealing in the vicinity. The police, fire
service and council employees have all given many hours of publicly
funded time dealing with the many issues associated with the site.

In contrast, the behaviour of the site owners has left much to be
desired. The Lodge has never been properly secured. The owners have been
reactive rather than proactive in looking after the property. The
promised planning application to redevelop the site has never
materialised. Private approaches to purchase the site have been
rejected. They have recently indicated that redeveloping the site is not
a priority.

The overall situation has been exacerbated by Magenta Livings closure of
the car park opposite the Lodge. This has turned a public asset into a

My patience and the patience of local residents has run out. We are all
sick and tired of the disregard for the local community and the daily
problems the site brings. We see no prospect of an end to this
situation. The house next door to the Lodge has been empty and boarded
up for two years. How many more homes will suffer this fate?

The time has come to accept that Wirral Council needs to take the
appropriate steps to address this blight on the local community. It is
clearly in the public interest that Wirral Council use its compulsory
purchase powers to acquire the site and secure its long term future. As
you know, the government has recently updated and simplified its
guidance to local authorities on the compulsory purchase process. Now is
the time to act on that guidance.

Consideration should also be given to the future of the car park site
opposite the Lodge.

We therefore ask that you set in motion the necessary steps to acquire
the Victoria Lodge site with a view to its timely redevelopment/reuse
for the benefit of local residents and the wider community of Birkenhead.

We look forward to your response.

With best regards

Pat Cleary
Green Party councillor
Birkenhead and Tranmere

and 36 local residents.

23 Jan 2018

Merseyside Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels

At yesterday's meeting of the Merseyside Pension Fund (MPF) Committee it was unanimously agreed that the fund would take practical steps to reduce its investments in fossil fuels.
This is something I have been pressing for ever since I was appointed to the pensions committee almost three years ago. While it is some way from the full divestment I and the Green Party would like to see, it nevertheless means that millions of pounds will be divested out of fossil fuel companies.

In practical terms, what has been agreed will impact of the fund's investment in passive equities. MPF currently invests over £1.1 billion in UK and US tracker indices. These track the overall stock market and make no allowance for the carbon intensity of these investment.

Now, an initial one-third of these passive investments (circa £370 million) will be moved into low-carbon index trackers. The time scale for this is the next four to five months. The carbon intensity of these investment funds is expected to reduce by 50-70%.

Furthermore, this is just the start. The head of the pension fund has clearly indicated that he wants to see more steps in this direction and measures to further reduce carbon risk in both active as well as passive investments in the future. That is certainly something I will be pressing for.

My understanding is that Merseyside is only the second local authority pension fund to date to actively implement measures to reduce its carbon risk. It is also by far the largest to do so. Hopefully this is just the beginning and other local authority schemes will take similar, urgent steps to reduce the clear risk that holding high carbon assets poses for members of pension schemes. In particular, I am hopeful the MPF's pooling arrangements with Manchester and West Yorkshire will encourage those funds to take a leaf out of Merseyside's book.

This of course is merely part of a global divestment push that has seen many private sector schemes publicly divest from fossil fuels. Just this week, Lloyds of London announced it would no longer invest in coal companies.

The writing is on the wall for fossil fuels. I am delighted and proud that MPF has taken a lead on this and to have played an active role in its implementation.

You can read the detail of what has been agreed under item 9 "Management of carbon risk" via this link.

You can watch the relevant part of the committee debate courtesy of John Brace's video link.

18 Dec 2017

Council leader admits golf is a declining sport

I received the email below today. It includes the extraordinary
admission from the Leader of the Council that golf is a declining sport.
This begs the obvious question as to why Wirral Council has already
spent over £1 million on the proposed golf resort in Hoylake and seems
determined to spend even more?

Dear Councillor,

You will recall at the Council meeting on 11 December, Councillor Kathy
Hodson asked a question of the Leader of the Council regarding 'the
amount of income from the Council's municipal golf courses'.

The Leader's response to this question is as follows:

"The Council budget for Municipal Golf (Arrowe Park, Hoylake,
Brackenwood, The Warren, Wallasey Beach and Kings Parade) this financial
year, is £284,800. This is the amount of money the Department of Finance
allocate at the beginning of the financial year from the overall Council
budget, to manage and operate (including the grounds maintenance) the
municipal golf offer. We are targeted to spend £1,155,900 (staff,
premises, transport, supplies, recharges) and bring in, in income
£871,100 …….. leaving a shortfall of £284,800 – the Council budget.

Because of the national down turn in the amount of people playing golf,
our income figures have not met the targets set and according to
November's monitoring figures, we are anticipating that the total golf
income will be short of target by about £180k. This projected shortfall
will have to be met from savings elsewhere within the service/Council."

17 Dec 2017

Protecting Wirral's Green Belt

At this weeks's Planning Committee we considered an application to build new housing (31 units in total) in the green belt at Storeton Village as an enabling development to restore the grade II listed Storeton Hall.

I argued strongly that the application was excessive and of a scale not in keeping with the restoration required. It would have created an unsustainable development of 31 new houses with no local facilities. Effectively, Storeton village would have doubled in size.

I'm pleased the committee agreed with me and rejected the application.

You can follow the debate via John Brace's website. My contribution starts here or click on the image above.

12 Dec 2017

Cutting plastic waste in Wirral

Very pleased that my motion calling on Wirral Council to eliminate single use plastic from all its activities was passed unanimously at last night's full council meeting. Below a copy of my speech followed by the motion:

Reducing single-use plastic (SUP) in Wirral
Plastic waste is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of our throw away society. From mountains of litter to the appalling impacts on marine wildlife, there is widespread recognition that our consumption of plastic is out of control and its impacts are severe. Media coverage and the Blue Planet television series have dramatically raised consciousness around this issue. There is a clear public appetite for action.

There is also a practical imperative to dramatically reduce plastic waste. Most of our waste plastic exports go to China. Earlier this year China announced that, from January, it would no longer accept imports of waste plastic.

Consequently, for health, environmental and economic reasons we urgently need to cut our consumption of plastic and improve recycling facilities.

There are numerous examples showing how this can be achieved:
  • The plastic bag tax has cut consumption in England by 85% and shows that robust public action can be highly effective

  • Pub chains including Weatherspoons and All Bar One are removing plastic straws from their outlets

  • Pret a Manger is installing water stations for customers to refill water bottles.

  • Many local authorities are looking to reintroduce public drinking fountains, once a common feature in our towns and cities.

  • France is implementing a range of measures to meet its target of being SUP free by 2020.

Wirral Council has an important role to play by removing SUP from our activities and encouraging local business and the wider public to do likewise. I look forward to the complete elimination of SUP from council activities over the next two years.

The motion passed reads as follows:

Council notes that, in the UK, some 2.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging is consumed annually. Only 40% of this is recycled domestically1. According to recent research, eight million tons of plastic waste ends up in the world's oceans each year, endangering marine life and entering the food chain2. In addition, there is a growing understanding of the risks posed to human health by toxic chemicals present in plastics.

Council also notes that following the introduction of the 5p bag charge in England in 2015, the use of single-use plastic bags dropped by 83% in the first six months.

Council believes that the reduction of single-use plastic would benefit health in Wirral and reduce waste. Council therefore requests the Cabinet to:

1. Develop a robust strategy to ensure Wirral Council phases out single-use plastics (SUP) in its activities within the next two years.
2. Work with partners and other large institutions e.g. the NHS to encourage them in developing similar strategies to reduce SUP.
3, Inform the public of Wirral of the reasons for phasing out SUP and encourage them to switch to alternatives.
(Labour amendment follows)
Council also agrees to:
1. Incorporate the reduction of SUP use into Wirral Council's Waste Minimisation Strategy (regarding entire Borough, not just WBC).
2. Refer all of the recommendations in this motion to Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee with a view to advising Cabinet how they can most effectively
be delivered.
3. Ask the Cabinet Member for Environment to write to the Conservative Minister for Environment, requesting that the reduction of SUP form part of any future
national Waste Management Strategy.

1. Wrap. Plastics Market Situation Report, Spring 2016, p9
2. Science. Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Oceans. Feb 13, 2015.

25 Sep 2017

Wirral councillors reject fair votes

I recently submitted a motion to Wirral Council calling on it to support the campaign for a fair voting system for local and Westminster elections. You can read my motion here.

The motion was discussed at a council committee meeting last Thursday. You can watch the debate courtesy of John Brace's video link.

Although six councillors backed my motion, a similar number opposed and it was voted down on the casting vote of the Chair.

First past the post is manifestly unfair and not fit for purpose. It will be replaced. It's just a question of when. Thankfully there is a growing campaign within the Labour Party to achieve this and a new report has just been published in conjunction with the Make Votes Matter campaign group to that end. It's a shame that a majority of Wirral's Labour councillors voted for the few, not the many and failed to back that campaign.

The six councillors who supported my motion were;
  • Chris Carubia (Liberal Democrat)
  • Adam Sykes and Bruce Berry (Conservative)
  • Mike Sullivan, Anita Leech and Tony Smith (Labour)
The six who voted against were;
  • Ian Lewis (Conservative)
  • Steve Foulkes, Tony Jones, Tom Usher, Louise Reecejones and Paul Stuart (Labour)
Christina Muspratt (Labour) abstained.
Below is a transcript of my address to the committee.

Notice of Motion: Fair Votes

I trust the motion speaks for itself in terms of highlighting the manifestly unfair allocation of seats in the recent general election. Once again, our outdated First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system is shown to be completely unfit for purpose for a population that is more diverse, better educated and far less tribal than in the past.

While it's easy to identify the failings of FPTP as a voting system the broader consequences for society are less well understood. I'm going to highlight some of these consequences all of which are supported by relevant academic reports:

More people vote under proportional representation (PR) systems. Turnout for PR elections is typically 5-8% higher than under FPTP. This is hardly surprising as the wasted vote syndrome synonymous with FPTP is a huge disincentive to vote. At the last local elections in Wirral, turnout was just 35%. In Scotland, where the single transferable vote system has been in use for local elections for a decade, turnout is 12% higher than in Wirral.

PR voting systems, which encourage consensual decision making, tend to reduce income inequalities. Among the 35 OECD countries the only three that use FPTP - Canada, the UK and the USA - all rank poorly on the income inequality index. The UK ranks 29 out of 35.

FPTP is the world's worst electoral system for gender balance in politics. The share of women in parliament is only 32% and falls way short of countries with proportional voting systems. Every country in the world with more than 40% female MPs uses a form of PR. Across England, only 33% of councillors and 17% of council leaders are female.

FPTP is bad for the environment. Studies have found that countries using proportional voting systems have higher environmental standards and scored, on average, six points higher on the Yale index which measures a range of environmental outcomes.

FPTP encourages conflict. Military expenditure is consistently higher for countries using FPTP and almost twice as high as for countries with fully proportional voting systems. Furthermore, countries with PR tend to have significantly less involvement in armed conflict. PR countries require broader consensus before being lead into conflict by the executive.

And finally, under FPTP, elections are determined by a small number of swing voters in a few marginal seats. Financial resources are targeted at such voters which means money talks far more loudly in our disproportionate system than under PR.

There are a few common myths about FPTP which need to be addressed:

It is promoted as leading to stable government. In fact, we have averaged one unplanned election every ten years over the last century. Countries with FPTP have elections slightly more frequently than those with PR.

Secondly, it is entirely possible to retain a constituency link under PR. The Electoral Reform Society recommends larger constituencies electing 4-6 MPs under a single transferable vote system. In this case, Wirral would be a single constituency returning four MPs.

Thirdly, the AV referendum vote in 2011 was not a referendum on proportional representation. AV is not proportional and produces similarly perverse outcomes as FPTP. In fact, opinion polls consistently show overwhelming public support for a voting system where seats match votes.

Councillors, FPTP is way past its sell-by date. It is a dead weight stifling our democracy. As the excellent Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform report into PR puts it:

"It is no exaggeration to say that proportional representation is a prerequisite of a properly functioning democracy in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few."

I hope you agree and urge you to support my Motion.

16 Sep 2017

Proposed McDonalds for central Birkenhead

A planning application for a new drive through take away on Milton Pavement in central Birkenhead has been submitted to Wirral Council. The Wirral Globe has run an article on this. The plans can be viewed via this link and inserting the application number: APP/17/00982.

At this stage, I have submitted the following comments to planning officers. I will be following progress on this application very closely.
  • It seems that access into the shopping centre has to be made by walking through the car park which is hardly ideal.
  • it would appear that vehicles would cross pedestrian routes not once but twice and this might not be clear to anyone unfamiliar with the area. I think there are highway safety issues here.
  • The landscape proposals are extremely modest and could be greatly improved.
  • Reallocating land from retail/pedestrians to vehicles would seem to contradict council policy in terms of sustainable/active travel. This is particularly relevant here given the proximity to rail and bus services.
  • Are colleagues in regeneration being consulted on this? A development with questionable scope for linked shopping trips may not sit well with existing plans/aspirations for the area.
  • There are already McDonalds outlets at Charing Cross and Rock Park. Perhaps you could clarify any cumulative impact policies that might be relevant here?

If the restaurant were to be be moved to the east side of Milton Pavement mall and mirrored so that the access faced onto the mall, the drive thro' access could then be taken from the car park roundabout and leave by the Birkenhead Market Service Road. 

The building would then screen the ugly back view of the market, the waste storage would be at the back, the pedestrian mall would have no dangerous cross circulation with traffic. The proposed parking would now be sited on the present footprint of the restaurant, and would be accessed from the service area behind B&M.

Doing this avoids the poorly arranged access to the roundabout, all the nebulous and conflicting circulation, maintains Milton Pavement as a way into the Pyramids, and would allow some much better landscape detailing to enhance the maintained Mall access. 

Given that there is so much parking around the Pyramids I would have thought that the surplus land would be much better used to create an attractive landscape setting for the restaurant and entrance to the shopping area. Some of the coffee houses in the precinct have used their external space for sitting outside, admittedly for smokers, but it does make the precinct look more welcoming.