It was interesting to hear the chair of Aintree Parish Council vent his spleen on the radio today. The targets of his ire included Sefton Council, the local MP, Peter Dowd, and the Peel group. His complaint was actually simple – he believes that favoured developers – in this case Peel – have their interests preferred to those of local residents. Perhaps he has a point.
This is not an unusual charge. There is often a tension between the plans of developers, and local people and small businesses. In these days of austerity, irritation is often compounded by the needs of local authorities to attract inward investment, sometimes to the outrage of constituents with a particular axe to grind. It can be very difficult to maintain a balance between the need for that investment and the wishes of voters; but there are always lines that ought not to be crossed.
The sheer volume of planning applications can be a problem in itself, creating an illusion of progress whilst lacking the substance that the electorate expects. Such is the case with the huge number of projects in Liverpool for the erection of flats for students. These leave many voters cold. They see the profit for developers and builders in these projects, as well as a useful utility for the universities. They do NOT see where the benefit is for local council tax payers or for local people in need of homes.
Above all else, there is one red line which must NEVER be crossed – that of health and safety. All of these buildings must be safe for those who use them. Yet I have seen correspondence which raises deep doubts about one of these student blocks which raises major concerns. If building regulations are being ignored in this case – and that is the core of the allegations that I have seen – then it may also be the case elsewhere in the area. It concerns a block of city-centre flats built by the highly questionable company PHD1 (which I have written about before, with its criminal connections), and “completed” by an associated company of equally doubtful provenance, Pinnacle Student Developments.
The upshot is that there is a block of flats housing c. 150 students which might well be a danger to them. Alarmingly, the reports which I have read allege that the “finished” building did not get the necessary certification to clear it for occupation. That is, it did not have the required certificates of compliance to meet the building regulations. Moreover, commissioned structural engineers refused to endorse clearance of the “completed” structure.
Now, I am not an engineer, nor do I have the professional expertise to make an informed judgement on the building in question. I do, however, have respect for the professionals who have expressed their concern, and take on board their judgement. I wonder how, therefore, such situations can arise? Is it that councils are under such pressure that they are unable to apply their own building regulations to these speculative projects for which they have given planning permission; or is there some other explanation?
One problem appears to be that any scam artist can set up a development or building company, and operate it with comparative impunity. In addition, due diligence appears to have been dispensed with, in a gadarene rush to accept any old proposal of investment, regardless of the characters and records of the so-called company’s principals, or of the sources of their finance. This has to stop!