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.

29 Oct 2016

Plans for Europa Pools scrapped

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p049xyx1News that plans to redevelop the site around Europa Pools have been scrapped raise many serious questions about the future for the pools themselves and wider Birkenhead.

I discussed these issues with Tony Snell on Radio Merseyside yesterday. You can listen in via this link or click on the BBC logo.  My piece is 41 minutes in.

20 Oct 2016

Council report confirms sharp decline in Birkenhead's retail sector

A council commissioned report into the state of the retail sector in Wirral has confirmed what many of us already know; our shops in Birkenhead are struggling badly. And, the report clearly highlights the main reason why. Out of town developments have sucked business out of Birkenhead and badly damaged the town centre.

You can read the report here. The report to cabinet is here.

Key findings from the report include:
  • Compared with 2012, the market share of Birkenhead town centre has slumped from 28% to less than 17%.
  • The Croft Retail Park in Bromborough has overtaken Birkenhead as the main shopping destination in Wirral.
  • More and more retail expenditure is “leaking out” of Wirral as larger numbers of shoppers travel to Liverpool, Cheshire Oaks and Chester.
  • Retail rents in Birkenhead have fallen since 2008 and this decline is forecast to continue.
This report makes grim reading for Birkenhead. Moreover, the inevitable result of promoting out of town shopping is that our existing town centres suffer. Nowhere has suffered more than Birkenhead.

Astonishingly, we continue to make the same mistakes. Just a few months ago I wrote about the dire implications for New Ferry town centre when Labour and Tory councillors combined to vote through a new Aldi at Port Causeway.

We hear a lot about Labour's ambitious plans for Wirral Waters. For those plans to succeed we need a vibrant, thriving Birkenhead town centre. That was the clear message from Peel Holdings in a briefing to councillors earlier this week. It's high time Labour stopped talking about investing in Birkenhead and started acting. Otherwise we can look forward to more reports like this one in years to come.

18 Oct 2016

Wirral councils monthly newspaper

Following last night's special council meeting Labour will be going ahead with a monthly council newspaper. This is despite strong arguments against. Below are the points I raised in opposition or you can watch John Brace's video from 28:35.

It's a very big step from a survey indicating residents would like to feel well informed to a monthly newspaper paid for by those same residents.

In the supporting information for this proposal it says this newspaper “is a direct response to survey findings.”

In fact it's an indirect response. The council has not directly asked residents if they would favour a monthly council newspaper.

Perhaps this is because they know what the answer would be.

But, for the record, I have already asked that question.

Out of almost 200 responses, 66% says its a bad idea. Only 15% think it's a good idea.

Moreover, where is the evidence this newspaper will actually be read be the people we want to reach?

The proliferation of “no junk mail” stickers on letter boxes is a strong indication that people already receive far more unsolicited mail than they would like.

On page 31 of today's council agenda we are told about “the great Wirral door knock” and what a huge success this was in in referring residents to appropriate services.

Surely the lesson here is that better intelligence about our residents combined with direct outreach is far better than mountains of newsprint that few will read.

Finally, it is self evident that this publication will harm local newspapers. The first business pledge in the 2020 vision is to create and safeguard jobs. This publication clearly threatens existing jobs in the print media.

In conclusion, this publication will:

  • antagonise those residents who don't want it
  • divert resources from more important and effective outreach work
  • not be read by many of the people we are trying to reach
  • impact negatively on existing local newspapers

17 Oct 2016

My response to OFSTED's report on childrens' services in Wirral

OFSTED recently published this highly critical report on children's services in Wirral. This is being debated at a special council meeting this afternoon.

Essentially the report catalogues huge cultural failings within the council. My response, which is copied below, addresses this along with my lack of confidence that the response to date will address those failings.

Alternatively you can watch my contribution to the debate (or at least until the Mayor cut me off!) courtesy of John Brace. I'm 13:10 minutes in.

Response to OFSTED report on children's services in Wirral

National reports on the issue of child protection provide some valuable context to assess this OFSTED report.

We know that referrals to children's social care are rising – up 15% over the past decade. This is hardly surprising given the increasing strain on low-income families.

We know all about the withdrawal of government support and the pressure on local authority finances.

And just last week, the National Audit Office told us that the quality of help for children in need provided by councils has been “unsatisfactory and inconsistent, suggesting systemic rather than local failure”.

In other words, government meddling has made matters worse for vulnerable children.

Ruth Allen, chief executive of the Association of Social Workers said: “More early intervention to robustly address concerns rather than waiting for Ofsted failure is a clear message. There is a pressing need for a strategy that enables improvement across all authorities.”

So government must take its share of the blame for failing to support local authorities.

But that does not change or excuse the fact that service provision in Wirral is inadequate.

This OFSTED report reveals a systemic top to bottom failure. There is inadequate case recording on the front line, a failure of middle management to oversee and implement best practice, a failure of senior management to deal with these systemic failures and a clear lack of oversight at the executive and political level.

In short there is a massive cultural failure in how this council operates in terms of one of its basic responsibilities.

And we know from recent history that those cultural failings extend beyond child protection.

Massive culture shift required

What we need is an open, transparent culture where its ok to say “we have a problem”

Its clear from this report that this is not something people within Wirral Council feel able to do. That, to me, represents a huge cultural failing.

And these failings start from the top. The political approach sets the tone for the whole council. That approach is to act generally like everything is fine or as OFSTED puts it there is “a culture of over optimism”.

I had a look back over the cabinet member reports from recent council meetings and what they had to say in respect of our service provision for vulnerable children. In March we were told about an awards ceremony for children in care. In July, there was a paragraph about a play to warn people about the dangers of Extremism. In the light of what we now know, these reports are a clear manifestation of “a culture of over optimism.”

I repeat, it must be ok for people working in this authority to say “we have a problem”.

We all know there are grave problems in our society. We know there are huge and growing demands on council services and less funds to deliver them. People will understand if the council reaches out. We all want to do our best for at risk children.

On page 6 of the report we are told that that there have been six serious incident notifications and two serious case reviews. Why have none of these cases, with appropriate confidentiality, not found their way into the public realm? Why does our first response to a crisis always seem to be reputation management? Surely one of the most important ways of informing the public that help is available is to highlight serious cases when they do occur and project positively how we are responding.

Response must address cultural failings

The response to this report must address the obvious and deep seated cultural failings within Wirral Council.

I wish I had confidence that they will but we have been here before and scathing public reports have changed very little it seems. I don't see any attempt in what has been proposed to seriously addresses our cultural failings.

A glaring example is the unwillingness to change scrutiny arrangements . Our scrutiny arrangements are feeble.

A confident, outward looking council embraces scrutiny. It ensures that opposition councillors chair committees and that every member has the space to properly question officers. It encourages councillors to challenge officers and not simply assume that they are doing a great job. . It should not be the position of any councillor to instinctively defend officers.

Furthermore, and in the light of the obvious failure of the last Improvement Board to address cultural issues, what guarantees can be offered that this new Improvement Board will do any better? Will it again just focus on processes and procedures.

And what measures are being put in place to guarantee that new external scrutiny arrangements will be truly independent? Some might want an uncritical friend as Chair of the local safeguarding board. But that is not what vulnerable children need. They need someone who will speak truth to power even if what they have to say is unpalatable.

Nobody want more reports like this one from OFSTED. But if we don't address our cultural failings we will simply rerun these issues further down the line.

12 Aug 2016

Grange News, alcohol licence application

Grange News at 44 Grange Road West has applied for an alcohol retail licence. Here is the letter I have written in opposition:

RE: Grange News
44 Grange Road West
CH41 4DA

I feel the public interest would be best served by rejecting the licence for this store for the following reasons:

1. There is a well established problem with street drinking in this area. I have witnessed this at first hand many times. Clearly another licensed premises will exacerbate this problem. There are established services in the immediate area such as the YMCA dealing with the fall out from alcohol consumption and we should support them by denying yet more access to cheap alcohol. We should also be mindful of our health related pledges in Wirral's five year plan which specifically aims to "reduce levels of alcohol related ill-health".

2. There are already numerous retailers selling alcohol in the immediate vicinity including:

  • ASDA, 222 Grange Road
  • Bargain booze , 54-56 grange road Ch414da
  • 10 0 clock shop 18 grange mount
  • Freshway 10-12 grange road west ch414da
  • News and booze , 264 Conway street ch414ah
  • Charing cross hotel , grange road west
  • The Cavendish, grange road west
  • Best price grange road west
  • Bollywood Lounge 33-37 Grange Raod West Ch414BY

All this before you consider the additional outlets on Oxton Road. Clearly there is no need for yet another alcohol retailer in this area.

3. Alcohol is an undoubted contributing factor to the level of criminal activity in this area. Police figures confirm the high reported instances of crime and the contribution alcohol makes to the overall level of crime. Significant policing resources are required to deal with the adverse impacts that alcohol is having via crime and anti-social behaviour. In the circumstances, another off-licence will exacerbate this problem.

4. Alcohol consumption is a clear source of public nuisance in this area not just as a result of street drinking and anti-social behaviour. The broader environment suffers hugely and I get frequent complaints about the level of litter in the area much of which consists of discarded alcohol containers.

For the above reasons I request that you reject this application.

Cllr Pat Cleary
Green Party Councillor
Birkenhead and Tranmere ward

24 Jul 2016

Death knell for New Ferry?

The decision by Wirral planners and Labour councillors to approve a new Aldi store at Port Causeway off the A41 represents a hammer blow for New Ferry shopping centre. The new store on a designated industrial area with no retail facilities not only represents a clear breech of the Town Centre First policy but also negates Wirral Council's promise to protect employment infrastructure. Located just a mile from New Ferry, the new store will suck millions of pounds out of New Ferry and will also damage the existing retail in Bromborough Village.

At Thursday's planning committee I made a compelling case for refusing Aldi's application. Sadly, only Stuart Kelly from the Lib Dems supported my position. Below you can watch the video of the debate (courtesy of John Brace) accompanied by my detailed arguments against approval.


Reasons for refusal:
As the officer's report makes clear this site is identified as a Primarily Industrial Area. That was very apparent from the site visit and we could see the significant infrastructure in place to support employment. This designation is retained in the draft Core Strategy so the potential loss of employment land is a serious consideration, particularly as the council's own Employment Land and Premises study found a serious shortage of immediately available and serviced employment land. In contrast, it would be difficult to argue that Wirral faces a shortage of supermarkets.

So this site is important in terms of ensuring that, as the 2020 Vision says: “Wirral is a place where employers want to invest and businesses thrive” If we are to approve this application we need good reasons for doing so especially as this site is far from existing retail centres.

So a good starting point would be: Is there a suitable alternative location that would accommodate a similar development?

In doing so we should take account of the guidance from the National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 24 of which states “only if suitable sites are not available should out of centre sites be considered” and also“applicants and local planning authorities should demonstrate flexibility on issues such as format and scale”

The obvious potential site to consider is the former CO-OP in New Ferry which is only a mile from the application site and is in an established town centre. The applicant's reasons for rejecting that site is its irregular shape and lack of connectivity between the store entrance and the car park. Those are hardly insurrmountable challenges. Bear in mind that the applicant will demolish two large buildings as part of this application if approved.

So I would argue that there is a suitable alternative site and we shouldn't let the fact that it doesn't suit Aldi's precise requirements undermine our existing policies supporting town centres and centres of employment.

We also need to take account as part of the retail assessment the negative impact that this application would have on the vitality and viability of existing town centres.

Even on the applicants own figures 8% of the new store's trade would be diverted from existing New Ferry stores and 6% from existing stores in Bromborough Village. There is also a row of shops, including a convenience store, in between these two centres on Coronation Drive which is 5 minutes walk from Port Causeway. 

The existing Aldi in Bebington Road is forecast to lose 27.5% of its trade, which would mean that there would also be fewer linked trips to other shops in New Ferry.  Similarly a further 27.5% of trade is forecast to come from Asda, which would limit the opportunity for linked trips on the Croft Retail Park and generate a lot of additional traffic on Port Causeway.

There will therefore, even on the applicant's own assessment, be a demonstable negative effect on existing town centres.

Basically, if we approve this application it is highly likely that there will be severe stress on existing outlets in New Ferry, Bromborough Village and in between.

Paragraph 27 of the National Planning Policy Framework states that

Where an application fails to meet the sequential test or is likely to have significant adverse impact on town centre vitality and viability it should be refused

Clearly this application fails on both grounds. It should be rejected on the grounds that:

Insufficient information has been provided to demonstrate why alternative premises in New Ferry Town Centre cannot be utilised for the proposed development.  Therefore, it is the opinion of the Local Planning Authority that the sequential test set out in Paragraphs 24 and 27 of the National Planning Policy Framework have not been met and that the proposed development would undermine the vitality and viability of New Ferry Town Centre.

22 Mar 2016

Fossil fuel divestment within the Merseyside Pension Fund

Divestment from fossil fuels is a key plank of Green Party policy in dealing with climate change. Since being appointed to the Pensions Committee that oversees the Merseyside Pension Fund (MPF), I have pushed for this issue to be addressed with a view to reducing the fund's exposure to fossil fuels. This is not just an important ethical concern. As the Governor of the Bank of England and many others have pointed out, investors in coal, oil and gas risk their assets becoming worthless if action on carbon emissions progresses as it must do if we are to secure a safe climate.

Yesterday's committee included a detailed report on carbon risk. You can read that report here. You can also watch the debate as it happened via this link. My contribution begins at 08:30.

While full divestment from fossil fuels is a long way off, I am hopeful and will continue to press for reduced exposure to fossil fuels within the MPF. Developing expertise around climate risk also gives Merseyside the opportunity to take a real lead on this issue and in time promote the use of pension funds to green our economy.

My sincere thanks to John Brace for providing this video.

18 Mar 2016

Proper consultation on future plans for Birkenhead

Last Monday's council meeting included a motion on regeneration, specifically referencing plans for Birkenhead. Notable in its absence was any reference to consulting the people of Birkenhead on the plans which will dramatically their lives.

With the help of Lib Dem councillor for Oxton Alan Brighouse I put forward the following amendment which commits the council to meaningful consultation with the people about future plans for the town including the more immediate scheme for the Europa Pools area:

Council believes that the prospects for the regeneration of Birkenhead will be strengthened
if proposals are developed through an open and meaningful consultation with local residents,
if the Constituency Committee is consulted at the earliest stages of any projects, and that
effective, timely and widespread consultation is undertaken  about future investment plans.
Officers be requested to develop mechanisms to establish this for consideration. 

My amendment was passed unanimously and I will be holding the council to its word in the months and years ahead. Below is a copy of my speech in delivering the amendment:

My thanks to Cllr Brighouse for seconding this amendment

Many will have seen the Move Ahead Birkenhead literature and website which has recently been promoted. It has several positive features in terms of its long term aspirations for Birkenhead. It focuses on the right areas – the incredible potential of Woodside and the river front area, Birkenhead's amazing heritage assets, the sad decline of Birkenhead market and how it could be revived.

It also asks the right questions such as how we can revive the waterfront and link it and Hamilton Square to the rest of Birkenhead. How do we create an attractive town that people from outside Birkenhead want to visit. How do we create an attractive environment for people who live and work in Birkenhead and, crucially in my view, how do we exploit Birkenhead's position as the main public transport hub for all of Wirral. There is a strong contintental influence which is very welcome given that urban space in much of Europe is far better planned than in this country.

To quote directly from their literature:

This is a conversation that involves everyone who lives, does business, visits or simply cares about the town. Because we believe it's high time we learned from our past – and looked to the future.

And while it is right and proper that we should have high aspirations for Birkenhead there are also many, many lessons to be learned from the past.

The most recent has to be the thankfully withdrawn and deeply unpopular road scheme for Hamilton Square. If this scheme had been presented in outline form at an early stage to the constituency committee it could have been strangled at birth and much time and aggravation saved. So let's make much more effective use of the constituency committees across Wirral as a sounding board for important proposals.

The Hamilton Square scheme was also a very clear example that when you prioritise traffic movements you get bad town planning. The best town planning is based around people. If you create a pleasant environment for people lots of other good stuff happens.

And that's why this amendment explicitly calls for "open and meaningful" consultation with the people.

On that score and referring back to Move Ahead Birkenhead they recently held a three day publicity exercise in The Pyramids. Unfortunately, only 48 hours notice was given through local media. I as ward councillor wasn't notified. The Birkenhead and Tranmere Neighbourhood Forum and other community groups were not notified. Anybody without internet access was very unlikely to know anything at all about it.

If residents are not consulted properly it is self evident that they are likely to form negative views about the motivation behind these plans.

Which leads me to my final point. While the long term objectives for Birkenhead are excitingly aspirational the near term proposals for Europa Boulevard contain several controversial features. Apart from replacing an existing leisure facility which is less than 20 years old, the over provision for car parking in an area with excellent public transport links is very disappointing. A drive through McDonalds at the centre of the plans surely sends entirely the wrong message about how we should plan and perceive the future for Birkenhead.

So let's start as we mean to continue, by listening to the people we serve and giving them the best possible investment that meets their needs and our aspirations for Birkenhead.

Wirral Change Sew Together

I was really pleased to attend the Sew Together exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery today. It's the culmination of a nine month project involving 160 people from across Wirral run by the lovely people at Wirral Change.

The exhibition features eight patchworks, each one representing a different ethnic community in Wirral. The picture shows me with Malena Eriksson-Lee from Wirral Change and the Arabic patchwork.

This is the culmination of a process that has taught many people valuable life skills and encouraged them to repair and re-use fabric. It's a great antidote to our throw away society and I am sure the self esteem of those who participated has been really lifted by seeing their work on display.

The exhibition runs until May 1st and you can find it in gallery 11 at the Williamson. More details here.

3 Mar 2016

Statement on Wirral Council Budget for 2016-17

Tory assault on local government is terrifying.

The cabinet report to this budget outlines the government's continued and intensified attack on local government and the blatant unfairness in how councils like Wirral are targeted. The Green Party concurs with that view.

Specifically we have a government which, this year, that can only extract £12 million in tax from the world's largest corporation (Apple) while Wirral sees its funding slump by a further £28 million.

A government that brags about Google's 10 year tax contribution of just £130 million while, in just half that time, Wirral has lost over £150 million.

Clearly this government has no concept of fairness and its policies can only lead to yet more despair and inequality. I echo the calls from Caroline Lucas for a progressive alliance to stop the terrifying prospect of a further decade of Tory rule.

Outsourcing is not the answer

Until then we are faced with making the best of a very bad deal. The Green Party pays tribute to all those council staff who do their best every day to serve the people of Wirral. We recognise that retaining and nurturing in-house talent and experience is vital for the future of public services.

Just yesterday a Guardian investigation showed that in 36% of cases, councils found that delivering services in-house could save more than outsourcing to commercial companies in long-term partnerships. Our own experience in street lighting has shown that outsourcing can lead to a sharp reduction in the quality of service and much higher than expected costs. I hope we will learn from that in future particularly in regard to Girtrell Court.

And when we look at the many service cuts which our grant reduction forces upon us people will, inevitably question our spending priorities. They will, quite rightly, question our levels of executive pay and in-house expenditure be it for furniture, taxi fares or Executive Support Officers. They will question the large sums already devoted to converting farm land and green belt to golf courses and tarmac.

Freezing council tax has played into George Osborne's hands

This time last year I spoke out against accepting government bribes to freeze council tax. The reality is that three years of that policy has significantly eroded our tax base. Had we taken a different path we would not now have to endure the anguish around Girtrell Court and the threats to many other vital services. We could have reversed the unfair imposition of council tax on the very poorest in our borough.

Austerity: there is an alternative.

The Green Party opposes the austerity programme imposed by the Tories and supported in principle by Labour since 2010. We believe that vital public services should be properly funded by ensuring that major corporations and rich individuals pay a fair share of tax, something all political parties should embrace.

5 Feb 2016

MK Convenience Store, alcohol license approved

I reported previously on my objections to an alcohol license application for 391 Borough Road. I attended the hearing on January 21st. I am disappointed that a license has been granted albeit with certain additional conditions.

The hearing report is copied below:

Dear Councillor Cleary,


I refer to the Licensing Act 2003 Sub-Committee held on 21 January 2016.

In determining the application the Licensing Act 2003 Sub-Committee had regard to the Licensing Objectives, the Council's Statement of Licensing Policy and the Statutory Guidance issued under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003.

Members of the Licensing Act 2003 Sub-Committee had regard to the submissions made on behalf of the applicant by Mr Craig, and had regard to the representations made by the responsible authorities including Public Health, Environmental Health and Trading Standards. Members also had regard to a representation submitted by Councillor Pat Cleary, Ward Councillor, on behalf of local residents and a written representation submitted by a resident.

In determining the matter, Members gave consideration to the measures proposed by the applicant within the application.

In his submission, Mr Craig, set out that the applicant was prepared to amend the application to include further conditions to address the concerns expressed by the parties, in particular, the sale of alcohol to street drinkers, sale of alcohol to persons under the age of 18, the sale of cheap super strength alcohol, the competency of individuals involved in the sale of alcohol at the premises and the times during which alcohol would be sold at the premises.

Members heard from Trading Standards, Environmental Health and Public Health regarding their lack of confidence that alcohol could be sold responsibly at these premises. This view had been formed following a visit to the premises by Environmental Health and Trading Standards on 8 November 2015 when the applicant had demonstrated a lack of understanding of the requirements of the Licensing Act 2003. Having heard the submissions of Mr Craig on behalf of the

Applicant, Officers indicated that it was evident that the applicant had progressed in her understanding of her responsibilities attached to the sale of alcohol. Officers accepted that the Applicant was willing to undertake training to address both the gaps in her knowledge and to ensure that any employees at the premises were trained in the sale of alcohol.  Members were informed that the applicant had a place on a training course, due to be delivered by Trading Standards, relating to underage sales, on 26 January 2016.

Evidence was submitted to Members that the premises is located in very close proximity to the YMCA, which provides a controlled drinking environment for street drinkers. Members were also advised that the premises is surrounded by several hot spots for alcohol fuelled violence. It was the view of each of the Responsible Authorities that there is demand for individuals working at the premises to exercise a high level of competency when involved in the sale of alcohol at these particular premises.

In determining the application, Members had particular regard to the fact that the Responsible Authorities, having made representations regarding the management of the premises and their concerns that the licensing objectives were not being upheld were satisfied that through training and the willingness of the applicant to engage with all parties including the YMCA and Merseyside Police that their concerns could be addressed. Their concerns were further addressed in consequence of the applicant's willingness not to sell cheap super strength alcohol.

Members therefore resolved to grant the application with the following hours:

Sale by Retail of Alcohol

Sunday to Saturday        09:00 to 22:00

Hours Open to the Public

Sunday to Saturday        07:00 to 23:00

The Licensing Act 2003 Sub-Committee determined that in addition to the appropriate conditions proposed in the Operating Schedule the following conditions be applied to the licence:

Any person working at the premises, must hold a minimum of a level 1 accredited qualification relating to the sale of alcohol to underage persons, or equivalent before being involved in the sale of alcohol at the premises.

Refresher training must be undertaken at least every 6 months. Written records of this training must be kept at the premises and made available to an Authorised Officer upon request.

The premises must maintain a refusals log book recording both challenges and refusals in respect of the sale of alcohol. An incident book must also be kept.  These log books must be made available on request to an Authorised Officer to ensure that they are being used.

Beer, lager or cider with an ABV above 6.5%, in plastic bottles or cans, must not be sold at the premises.

Beer, lager or cider must not be sold in single cans.

No sale of alcohol must be made to customers who are known street drinkers.

A till prompt system, to be agreed with the Licensing Authority,  must be implemented and maintained at the premises in order to alert staff to check the age of any purchaser attempting to purchase alcohol.

In determining the matter Members have also taken into account Section 11 of the Guidance in respect of the review mechanism provided by the Licensing Act 2003 when problems associated with the Licensing Objectives occur after the grant of a Premises Licence.

4 Feb 2016

Council still failing residents over Conway Street land

I've written before about land on Conway Street, Birkenhead opposite Europe Pools. This was stupidly sold off by Wirral Council in 2014 and the new owner completely trashed the site last year as part of a failed bid to gain planning permission for a car park.

Nearby residents are naturally furious about this. To make matters worse the site has predictably become a magnet for litter and the owner - SIP Car Parks - is doing nothing about this.

I have therefore written to the council's head of regeneration demanding the council takes immediate steps to force the land owner to keep the site tidy and consider repurchasing the land via compulsory purchase. Here is an extract from my letter:

As you are aware in 2015 this land was dug up and all adjacent trees felled leaving it in a very sorry state and generating huge anger among local residents. This anger has intensified of late as no attempts to reinstate the land have been made and, even worse, it is now becoming a magnet for fly-tipping. Assorted rubbish on the land is not being cleared.

Given the appalling behaviour of the developer, the degree of public distress and the council's decision to sell the land in the first place this needs to be a priority for attention. Wirral Council needs to use every means at its disposal to force the landowner to behave responsibly. Consideration should also be given to compulsory purchase to return this land to public ownership so that it can be properly managed, not least given its strategic location.

I can only hope that lessons have been learned from the decision to sell the land in the first place and that the land owner's behaviour will be taken into account in the future.

20 Jan 2016

Hamilton Square aftermath

Following the welcome news that plans for a new road in Hamilton Square have been scrapped, here are four things I think Wirral Council needs to take on board as a result:

1. Some thoughtful pre-consultation soundings would have revealed that this was not a popular proposal. That could have saved countless hours of officer time etc.

The public response has been so overwhelmingly negative that it should set alarm bells ringing as to how such a scheme ever saw the light of day. It, understandably, creates a perception that the council is out of touch with the public and is not managing funds appropriately. There should be a root and branch review on how the scheme originated and how it proceeded to public consultation without informal soundings that would surely have raised fundamental questions about the merits of such a scheme. The Birkenhead constituency committee could have played a role here.

2. Proposals that involve significant public expenditure need a robust evidence base.

The public should reasonably expect that ,where significant sums of money are to be spent, that a coherent public interest case be established. No such evidence was provided for this scheme. It was claimed that the scheme would be "good for local business". However,

- no business case was constructed by calculating the monetary benefits and detriments to local businesses
 - no surveys of local businesses were carried out
 - no evidence has been collected on the effects elsewhere of removing pedestrianisation with the aim of helping businesses. Indeed the consensus is that pedestrianisation usually assists local businesses, and so removing it would be expected to be bad for the local economy
 - no monetary benefit from rerouting buses services has been calculated.

According to Wirral Council's 2020 Vision, the Council aims 'to be the best council in the country'.  The best councils do not spend £1.1M on a scheme without first calculating the net benefits.

3. We need to challenge the outdated view that prioritising traffic flow is a sensible approach.

Funding for the scheme included £400,000 from Merseytravel's "sustainable transport" fund. Appropriating such funds for a scheme that takes space away from pedestrians and allocates it to motor vehicles is beyond satire. I would expect our officers to be well aware of the need to promote active travel and discourage car use. This scheme does the opposite. Yet officers actively promoted this as a sustainable scheme on the basis that it would "allow cycling in front of the town hall", something many have been happily doing for years.

Indeed this scheme should force us to think very carefully about what effective consultation involves. The top-down approach employed here should be a thing of the past but there is a real danger that many of the same mistakes will be repeated in the forthcoming Neptune scheme for the town centre.

4. We need a comprehensive masterplan for Hamilton Square/Woodside

The public response to this scheme indicates immense affection for Hamilton Square something we have also seen recently for Woodside Ferry. This demonstrates the need for a comprehensive masterplan for the historic core of Birkenhead that has the support of the public as opposed to piecemeal measures that may well do more harm than good. I hope that one of the positive outcomes from this scheme will be reappraisal of what makes Birkenhead special and some fresh thinking about how best to enhance it. Indeed, the almost 200 responses to the original scheme consultation contain some excellent ideas from many people who recognise the untapped potential that Birkenhead offers. You can read the Green Party's Vision for Birkenhead here.

12 Jan 2016

Supporting Junior Doctors

This morning I attended the junior doctor's picket at Arrowe Park hospital to show solidarity with today's strike action. I'm pictured here with Charlotte Elliott, one of the local strike organisers.

Green MP Caroline Lucas has written an excellent summary of why the Green Party is backing junior doctors. You can read her thoughts here.

6 Jan 2016

Hamilton Square campaign update

As a result of our campaign against the new road plan for Hamilton Square, Wirral Council has launched a new consultation including an alternative scheme that keeps the pedestrianised area in front of Birkenhead Town Hall.

However, the original road scheme remains an option. It is therefore vital that as many people as possible take part in the new consultation.

What does the new consultation involve?

There are now three options on the table:

Option A: Is the original scheme which would see a new road built in front of the town hall and two-way traffic introduced along Hamilton Street. The cost of this scheme is £1.1 million.

Option B: This is the new option. A new cycle way would be incorporated in front of the town hall but,otherwise, this area would remain traffic free. Existing car parking adjacent to the town hall would be retained. Changes to the junctions closest to the town hall would give vehicles increased access to the Square from Duncan Street and Hamilton Street. Duncan Street would remain one-way. No cost has been given for this option other than it would be within the overall budget of £1.1 million.

Option C: Leave the square as it is.

To view the original and the new plans please visit:


Or use this short link: http://bit.ly/1NYDHmU
Then follow the links to complete the associated questionnaire which can be found at:


This will allow you to express a preference between the different options. The survey closes at noon on January 15th.

Also, Two drop in sessions have been arranged running from 3pm until 7pm on 7th and 8th January at Birkenhead Town Hall. Members of the council's regeneration and highways teams will be on hand to answer questions and explain the proposals.

Please do take part. It only takes a few minutes to complete the questionnaire and we need as many voices as possible to be heard to ensure the original and immensely damaging road plan is buried once and for all.