Each of the six boroughs within the Liverpool City-Region has recently experienced an explosive reaction to “development” proposals. There can be no doubt that the mix of local politics, developers and green belt is a very volatile combination indeed. Throw in allegations of dodgy dealings, and that reaction can be almost nuclear. Take, for example, the vexed issue of the encroachment of building onto the green space of Calderstones Park in Liverpool.
Granted, this is not strictly speaking a green belt issue like those of Wirral, Sefton, and St Helens. It is, however, fuelled by the same battle between private profit and public amenity. It appears that two original objectors to the plans of Redrow Homes and Liverpool Council, to stretch development into the heart of the park, switched to supporting the proposals. What, other objectors asked, stimulated this change of heart? Was it the award of grants to them (£300,000 to the Reader Group; and at least £120,000 to the Beechley stables) by the Steve Morgan Foundation (Mr Morgan being the head honcho of Redrow Homes)? Was it, as it now transpires – at least, in part – pressure brought to bear by the council (who, of course, claim otherwise)?
Either way, it leaves an extremely sour taste in the mouths of many voters. It is little wonder that opposition intensifies as suspicion grows. It is a fact that this popular resistance to the diminution of green space is not just limited to our city-region. Recent events in the adjacent authority of West Lancashire demonstrate just how widespread is the concern of voters about “development” proposals, and critically, what voters see as the absence of objective and meaningful consultation.
Naturally, when it suits an organisation – be it in the public or the private sector – it will claim support based on consultation. How trustworthy such claims are, will always be a matter of debate. For example, there has been coverage lately of proposals for tower blocks of flats in the Baltic Triangle. Quite apart from the whole debate on the type of housing which ought to be built (low rise houses for those in need?), we should examine the claimed support for such proposals. In this instance, it is said to come from the Baltic Triangle C.I.C (community interest company), as if it speaks for all interested parties. I note that a senior director of this CIC is a former Council employee, Ms Erika Rushton. She is also on the board of another CIC which I have written about, the Beautiful Ideas Company. This is still embroiled in controversy concerning the accounts of car parks on council land close to the Anfield and Goodison Park football grounds.
The self-styled developers of the plans in the Baltic Triangle are called Legacie. This “company” was first registered on March 17th, 2015. Its development arm was set up on August 13th, 2018.What bothers me is that there appears to be no obstacle to any company, created for any purpose, being permitted to operate without any apparent due diligence about their probity, experience or finances – or that of its principals – being done. I well recall the mayor posing for “Echo” pictures with the principals of a company days after its registration (June 16th, 2015) at Companies House. He was contracting with them to establish restaurants in his vanity project of the Cunard Building. That company, named “Astutus”, only lasted until November 22nd, 2016. Needless to say, there were no obvious positive results from the mayor’s laissez-faire approach to off-the-shelf companies.
A local authority must be rigorous in its dealing with the private sector, especially with developers. It is delusional to think that there is some kind of mutuality of interests – just consider Peel’s recent attack on Wirral Council. Developers are in things for the money – plain and simple; and there appears to be a lot of it swilling around, notwithstanding austerity. Is it any wonder, therefore, that crooks are attracted to development? Lots of money, no due diligence, and weak regulation make it an ideal marketplace for the dishonest and the disreputable.