Green Space

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.

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Frank Field

I do not normally comment in this blog on matters from outside of the city-region. However, the recent actions and statements of Frank Field, MP, may well have an impact both within our city-region, and on the national scene, with unpredictable consequences for all of us.

Firstly, I must set out my credentials for this. Like Frank, I have more than fifty years membership of the Labour Party, and, like him, have served as a minister in a Labour government. Nevertheless, I can claim no intimate knowledge of the Birkenhead Labour Party, nor am I able to comment on any of the specific charges he has filed in recent days against members of that party. Another point on which we would diverge is Jeremy Corbyn. Frank’s was a critical nomination enabling Jeremy to become leader of the Labour Party. I have openly stated that had I still been in parliament, I would not have nominated Jeremy, amiable although he is. Critically, he is the party’s leader, and I accept the membership’s decision on that.

Before entering parliament, I was the Labour Party’s regional organiser in the north west of England. I recall two instances of Frank’s rather unique approach to party membership and all which that entails. These attitudes of thirty years ago are echoed in his recent performance. In the 1987 general election, he encouraged voters to opt for his friend – Tory MP for Wallasey, Linda Chalker – rather than support the Labour candidate, Lol Duffy. No action was taken against him at that time despite his disloyalty.

The second occasion was the selection of the Labour parliamentary candidate for Birkenhead in 1989. The process ended up with a shortlist of three – Frank; Paul Davies, a union official; and Cathy Wilson, a Militant. Difficulties began at the hustings, held in Birkenhead Town Hall. Frank could not produce a union card as the then rules demanded. I suspected that this was a tactic by Frank to delay the reselection as he did not have the numbers to win. To the rescue came Paul Davies, offering to give me a letter to the effect that Frank was indeed a member of one of his branches – a docks branch, of all things. Problem solved.

When we came to the count, Paul Davies was the clear choice of the membership, with the Militant a very distant third. A very agitated Frank was impatient to go outside to the waiting press to tell them what he would and would not do. I had to implore Frank to at least thank his own supporters for their vain attempts to win him reselection. He did so in a brusque fashion, but still he exited, uttering threats of a by-election to his press audience. His current posture shows little change in Frank’s sense of entitlement to what is effectively a parliamentary sinecure. To me, this is at odds with what he has often condemned as the fecklessness of some of those who view a life on benefits as their entitlement.

Thus, I was not too surprised by Frank’s recent fit of pique. He has form. Back in 1989, he threatened a by-election if his local party’s choice was not overturned. After I left my job as regional organiser, he got his way. This was much to my dismay, and, indeed, to many local party members who had previously supported Frank, but were outraged by what they saw as his political blackmail.

As for Frank’s use of the anti-semitism row to back his vague claims of thuggery in his local party, I am cynical – I think of his own comments on immigration. I can only say what I have said before – that I have never witnessed, in my fifty five years in the Labour Party, any anti-semitism. My biggest concern is that the legitimate fears of those who see a surge in anti-semitism, are being manipulated by some for political reasons, both within and without the Labour Party. Conflating criticism of the Israeli government with anti-semitism has the objective of neutralising public policy towards that government across the political spectrum.