27 Nov 2015

MK Convenience Store, alcohol license application

I recently objected to an application to sell alcohol on Oxton Road. That case remains outstanding but a similar application has been made for a premises on Borough Road and I have submitted the comments below.

Re: MK Convenience Store
391 Borough Road
CH42 0HA

Having consulted with residents 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. 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.

3. 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 example I received the following message on Sep 21st:

Dear Pat,
Borough road from Charing Cross on the Oxton road side it's an absolute disgrace with thousands of beer cans and bottles right up to Wirral Spares. The bushes and trees are an absolute eye sore. Why is this allowed to happen time after time ?
J B. Ashford Road

4. There are already numerous retailers selling alcohol in the area.

I would conclude by quoting from a resident of Halcyon Road who responded to my request for comments on this application with the following:

As someone who lives in Halcyon Road, we already have enough trouble with under age youths being sold alcohol and it obviously contributes to the anti social behaviour that we suffer living here. I would deeply object to yet another shop selling alcohol as this area is bombarded with cheap alcohol, ready available, often sold cheaper than a non alcoholic drink. Also this area is blighted by litter from the local public houses, another venue selling what will probably be cheap cans and bottles will only increase the litter we all have to walk through.

Cllr Pat Cleary
Green Party Councillor
Birkenhead and Tranmere ward

19 Nov 2015

Devolution for Merseyside: Where's the mandate?

Tonight I was the only Wirral councillor to vote against George Osborne's devolution deal for Merseyside. My colleague's in Liverpool voted likewise. We all support real devolution but recognise the gaping democratic deficit makes this whole process fundamentally flawed and unacceptable to anyone who calls themselves a true democrat. My specific reasoning is outlined below. Needless to say my call for the people to have their say was rebuffed by Labour and the Tories, all voting together for something the public have had no say on.

Statement on devolution for Merseyside by Cllr Pat Cleary

We live in an overly centralised state. Almost everyone recognises that power is far removed from local communities.

The Green Party strongly believes that a vibrant, healthy democracy has local engagement at its core.

If we look at democratic trends in Scotland and we see an engaged population where people's views matter and their votes really count thanks to proportional voting both to local councils and the Scottish parliament.

Of course, people here see this and they feel left out. They too want their voice heard and votes that are equal across society.

To some extent, the government has twigged this and recognises it needs to do something. But, of course, this government doesn't want what has happened in Scotland to happen here. They don't want real devolution that trusts people to make their own choices for where they live.

Therefore, what we get is an imposed version of devolution where very limited powers are centralised in the hands of a remote mayor rather than a remote minister.

So, in this imposed version of devolution, who asked the people of Merseyside what to ask for?

Who is asking them them whether this Tory version of devolution is acceptable?

Who cares whether people think a metro mayor is a good idea?

In truth, our minority elected government are scared of the people. They are scared to ask them what they really want because they know they will get answers they don't want to hear.

Devolution that is not rooted in democracy will undermine our democracy. It disenfranchises our citizens and gives those who despise politicians more reasons to despise us even more.

I know there is widespread dis-satisfaction with this deal. Our council leader correctly acknowledges that it has been "rushed and politically driven".

But what is completely absent here is any mandate from the people and we don't, as a council, have to accept that.

So, let's ask them. Lets explain why this plan is or isn't worth accepting. Let's ask if they want these powers concentrated in the hands of a mayor with minimal democratic oversight.

They might say "Yes, in the circumstances, this deal really is better than nothing".

They might say "No, bad devolution is worse than no devolution".

But if we don't ask them we potentially face decades of deficit. Not of the financial kind that we hear about every day. Not even of the environmental kind that this devolution report has absolutely nothing to say about. But, rather of the democratic kind that this process is supposedly based around but clearly does not understand.

So I echo the call made by Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society who said yesterday: "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."

Dodging the democratic deficit is neither reasonable or necessary. Legislation enabling this deal will not be passed until next year. Voting for a Mayor in 2017 is clearly not the same as asking people if they wanted one in the first place.

There is now a clear window of opportunity to seek a mandate from the public.

So my question for the leader of the council is simple. Will he do the right thing by our democracy and seek legitimacy for this process by holding a referendum in May 2016 at the same time as the local elections?

13 Nov 2015

Why Wirral Council's plan for Hamilton Square is such a bad idea

I have written previously about the council's crazy scheme for a new road in Hamilton Square. The public response has been incredible with overwhelming incredulity that such a scheme could even get off the drawing board.

The formal consultation on this scheme ends today. Below is my submission:

Hamilton Square re-design - DC-STEP-1516-2

I am objecting to this scheme on the following grounds:

No clear rational whatsoever has been presented for this scheme, no business case, no cost/benefit analysis. When questioned, officers were completely unable to give an underlying and comprehensive reason why this scheme is required and what problem it seeks to address.

The proposal ignores the benefits of the current lay-out. People clearly enjoy the open, traffic free area in front of Birkenhead town hall. It enhances social/formal occasions and improves the working environment for staff in Birkenhead town hall and adjacent businesses. Indeed, the original scheme to pedestrianise this area had broad business support. Where is the evidence that business has now changed its position? If this scheme goes ahead it will make Birkenhead Town Hall a far less attractive location for weddings and other social occasions.

Hamilton Square is increasingly residential in nature, a fact that seems to have completely by-passed the authors of this scheme. In 2010 there were 25 names on the electoral roll for Hamilton Square. In May 2015 there were 54. This number will undoubtedly increase again as several buildings have recently been converted into flats and planning permission for several more has recently been granted. Why on earth would the people living on Hamilton Square want to see Hamilton Street turned into a road? Indeed, not one of the many residents I have spoken with feel this is anything other than a thoroughly bad idea.

The current lay-out was designed to reduce noise, dirt, pollution and vibration. And for very good reasons given the historic nature and immense heritage value of the Square. This scheme will increase noise, dirt, pollution and vibration especially if, as planned, buses and HGVs are permitted to travel the length of Hamilton Street at 30 mph. Officers were unable to give any reassurance about how much traffic was likely to use the new road. No significant provision to reduce/calm traffic on the new road is included. There is clear potential for a new road to become a rat-run for traffic using the Mersey tunnel.

This scheme will increase traffic dangers as it introduces conflict between vehicles and pedestrians where none currently exists. It is perverse in the extreme that Merseytravel is prepared to commit £400,000 of "sustainable transport" funding to a scheme that prioritises motor vehicles at the expense of pedestrians. As Merseyside has the worst road casualty statistics in the whole country and Wirral has an extremely poor pedestrian safety performance It is unacceptable that our council is prepared to spend £700,000 making our streets more dangerous.

There are many, many worthwhile road safety measures that would enhance our communities and help keep them safe - road humps, cycle paths, dropped kerbs. As an example, this £1.1 million would fund an additional 17 puffin crossings across Wirral.

The scheme clearly conflicts with several pledges under the 2020 plan, namely
  • Pledge 16: Wirral residents lead healthier lives
  • Pledge 19: Wirral neighbourhoods are safe
  • Pledge 20: Attractive local environment for Wirral residents

These plans also clearly conflict with Wirral's stated goal to play its part in tackling climate change.

The consultation around this scheme has, to put it mildly, been wholly inadequate. I am told that letters went out informing residents of the drop-in sessions. I have yet to meet any resident who received one. No plans were made available on-line until complaints from myself and others forced a u-turn. Indeed, I was told at the first drop in session that it "was not possible to make the plans available on line". But, somehow, they appeared a few days later. Also, no provision was made for people to submit comments/objections by means other than over the internet. This is clearly and outrageously discriminatory. And, finally, the on-line procedure was so opaque that I had to write-up and distribute clear instructions myself on how people could participate.

There is no evidence here of any joined up thinking about what can be done to enhance Hamilton Square and how this fits into a broader vision/plan for the wider area. Fundamentally, Hamilton Square/Woodside/Market Street has been undermined by poor decision making in the past. This has seen the centre of town dragged away from its historic core and, inevitably these key assets have suffered. This scheme will merely heap further suffering on the Square by creating a giant roundabout blighted by more noise, pollution and damage to its historic architecture.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the overwhelming mass of Wirral residents oppose this plan and regard it as a giant waste of public funds. I urge you to withdraw it immediately so we can avoid wasting even more time and resources and instead concentrate on planning a sensible vision for Hamilton Square and the surrounding area. The Green Party has already laid out such a vision and I urge you to consider it as part of a broader push to consult properly and build consensus with all key stakeholders about what is best for the future of Hamilton Square and the whole of Birkenhead.

Pat Cleary
Green Party councillor
Birkenhead and Tranmere

6 Nov 2015

How to waste £1.1 million in Hamilton Square

Wirral Council is consulting on plans to establish a new road in front of Birkenhead Town Hall, Hamilton Square. Traffic would run both ways for the entire length of Hamilton Street.

This will completely change the character of the area and I  know that many local residents and businesses are very unhappy about this. It also represents a shocking waste of £1.1 million at a time when public services are being cut left, right and centre.

What does the scheme involve?

Opening Hamilton Street to traffic along its entire length including the area in front of the town hall

How much will it cost?

£1.1 million. £700k from Wirral Council, £400k from Merseytravel

Why is the council proposing this?

A good question and one that council officers I spoke to at the first drop-in session were unable to answer satisfactorily. It seems to be some kind of half-baked idea to "liven up the square". Instead it will have the opposite affect. It is beyond doubt that increased traffic discourages people from using public spaces. The scheme clearly conflicts with several pledges contained in Wirral's recently released five year plan most notably with respect to healthier living and safe neighbourhoods.

Frankly, the council has found a pot of money and, instead of consulting properly about how the money should be spent, has told their highways department to come up with something. Unsurprisingly, they have developed a scheme which is purely focused on motor vehicles and addresses a problem that does not exist. There is already ample provision for traffic flow in the area. If anything, Hamilton Square needs more pedestrianisation, not less.

The fundamental issue is that poor town planning has sidelined the square by shifting the town centre away from its historic centre i.e. Hamilton Square/Market Street. This scheme does absolutely nothing to address that. Indeed there are many excellent ideas to regenerate the area none of which think increasing traffic flow around Hamilton Square is a good idea.

What's wrong with this scheme?

Everything. Effectively Hamilton Square will be a giant roundabout. Traffic volume, noise and pollution will increase. Residents and visitors will no longer be able to use the public space in front of the town hall. Weddings and other functions will dry up resulting in a loss of revenue to the council. The £1.1 million cost of the project is a colossal waste of public funds.

How to make your voice heard

It is vital that anyone opposed to this scheme takes part in the consultation. Wirral Council has not made this as easy as it could be so please follow these steps by November 13th at the latest:
  • Go to www.wirral.gov.uk/highways
  • Click on "Comments and objections about new traffic schemes"
  • Enter your contact details
  • On the next page enter the name of the scheme ("Hamilton Square re-design") followed by the scheme number - DC-STEP-1516-2
  • Then select "object to the scheme" from the drop down menu
  • You then need to state your reasons for objecting. This could be as simple as "extra noise, pollution, loss of amenity, waste of public funds" or you can, of course, give your own reasons.
Shockingly, there is currently zero provision for anyone without internet access to contribute to this consultation. If this affects you please contact me asap and I will ensure your views are included.

The last of two drop-in session where you can view the plans takes place in Birkenhead Town Hall on Tuesday, November 10th, 3-7pm. Wirral Council has failed to provide on-line access to the plans for those who can't attend. However, Wirral Green Party has created one. To view the plans visit http://bit.ly/20rDAqD