29 Sep 2014

Proposed car parks on Conway Street

A recent planning application to build two new car parks on Conway Street, opposite Europa Pools, has been refused subject to appeal. I am very pleased about this and have worked hard to impress upon planning officers and members of the planning committee why this was a thoroughly bad application. You can read a summary of my arguments below. However, it is immensely frustrating that Wirral Council has been selling off various plots of publicly owned land which then come back to haunt us in the form of anti-social proposed developments. It's just another example of how austerity is undermining social fabric, nowhere more so than in Birkenhead.

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As stated in the officer’s report, “there is no requirement for additional parking provision within this locality”. There are currently six council owned car parks within 500 metres and a further four privately operated car parks. In total, these provide 2,187 spaces. The site is extremely close to Birkenhead bus station and Conway Park railway station so there are clear, more sustainable alternatives. The national planning policy framework says local authorities should support a pattern of development that facilitates the use of sustainable transport. This application clearly runs counter to that objective.

This land is designated as primarily residential. Moreover, the established community on Simpson Street/Parkfield Avenue clearly benefit from the grassed area along Conway Street. This is complemented by a similar strip on the opposite side of Conway Street. This provides an important buffer against noise and pollution. This. This will change completely if this development proceeds. I cannot agree with the officer’s view that this development “would not have an adverse impact onto the character of the area or existing residential amenity,”

I am particularly concerned that vehicles exiting the Simpson Street car park will not necessarily turn right onto Conway Street. Traffic here frequently backs up from the junction with Exmouth Street. There will be a clear temptation for vehicles to exit left out of the Simpson Street car park and access Conway Street via Simpson Street and Parkfield Avenue. I therefore cannot agree, as stated in the report, that “there are no highway safety issues relating to the proposal”.


10 Sep 2014

Independence panic arrives in Wirral

The representatives of Wirral’s political establishment will be at Wallasey Town Hall today raising the Saltire to show their support for the No campaign in next week’s referendum.

 

This is great news for Scottish Independence, which the Green Party supports.

 

The more our political elite panics, the more clearly Scots can see what an opportunity independence offers. As one respected commentator has said, voting No would be an extraordinary act of self harm.

 

It shows how out of touch that elite is if they really think raising a Scottish flag in Wirral will persuade anyone to vote No.

 

The referendum is a huge opportunity for Scots to cast off the Westminster yolk and make their own decisions about their own future. Not only that, a Yes vote will cause a constitutional explosion for the rest of the UK giving hope that something approaching a real democracy could emerge in England too.

 

So well done to Cllrs Davies, Rennie and Gilchrist. Their collusion in the growing panic surrounding the No campaign will simply add fuel to the fire of independence.

Wirral's £40 million investment in big tobacco

It's Stoptober time. which if you didn't know, is a national campaign to help people quit smoking.

Wirral Council's right behind it and has some helpful advice on its website.

All well and good and a sensible initiative to promote healthier living.

And an interesting backdrop to the latest set of accounts published by the Merseyside Pension Fund.

Why you might reasonably ask? Well, Wirral manages the Merseyside Pension Fund on behalf of all the councils on Merseyside. It's a serious fund, one of the biggest of its kind in the country with assets totalling £6.4 billion.

That's the kind of money that could do some serious good if invested in those companies working in the green economy - renewable energy, sustainable homes, cleaner transport.

Unfortunately, the Merseyside Pension Fund has some very nasty habits. It's biggest share holding - £40m - is British American Tobacco.

And it's not just big tobacco.

Coming in at number two is HSBC, recently fined $2 billion by the US senate for money laundering and branded a conduit for "drug kingpins and rogue nations".

At #3 is the BG Group which is up to its neck in the push to make the UK the fracking capital of Europe. Perhaps the fund is unaware there is huge opposition to fracking in Wirral across the political divide.

#4 is notorious tax avoider Vodafone.

And, finally, at #5 comes BP, a company synonymous with environmental carnage and just this week ruled to have been grossly negligent by a US court following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

What a shocking list and an absolute stain on the whole of Merseyside but Wirral in particular.

And, with a growing movement to divest from fossil fuels, these holdings represent a huge risk to the current and future beneficiaries of the Merseyside Pension Fund.

7 Sep 2014

Lyndale: A new low for Labour

On Thursday, Wirral’s ruling Labour cabinet voted unanimously to close Lyndale School from January 2016. Several hours of presentations were followed by an extremely brief rubber stamping of a pre-printed motion to close the school.

 

You can read the official Green Party response at wirralgreenparty.org.uk and there is an excellent editorial in the Wirral Globe which castigates Labour for the whole shabby affair.

 

For me, there are a few stand-out features of this case:

 

  • The political oversight has been extremely weak. Cabinet has accepted the view of officers and external consultants without offering any visible challenge. Inevitably, those affected suspect a hidden agenda.

 

  • The official consultation yielded an incredible response, most notably from the Lyndale parents whose detailed submission was a real tour de force. When such a huge response generates zero return it is hardly surprising that the public is incredibly sceptical about such exercises.

 

  • We all know that local government finances are being squeezed but this closure won’t save a penny as funding comes from outside Wirral. Labour rightly blames the government for slashing council funding but that won’t wash in the case of Lyndale. This makes the decision all the more bizarre.

 

It certainly makes a mockery of Labour’s claims to “protect the vulnerable”. You don’t get more vulnerable than the kids who attend Lyndale. No wonder parents were left in tears and the rest of us shaking our heads with disbelief.