Is it any wonder that crooks – particularly those of the white collar type – believe that they can act with impunity? Two very different stories have emerged this week which put into sharp perspective the utter failure to do their duty of those whom we expect to act as public guardians. They cannot plead ignorance of the facts – if they do, it would certainly rank as culpable ignorance.
Firstly, excellent reporting by Matt O’Donoghue of Granada Television, dug out the details of the Fox Street Village debacle, one of many failed – or failing – Liverpool development projects. Matt pointed out that the building itself was a death trap with people still living in it (shades of the Paramount building). The developers had simply ignored the planning conditions set on the project. Moreover, the same developers had unilaterally decided not to provide the promised car parking. Instead, a fraction of the planned capacity was put on land designated as green space in the development. They had also failed to pay Liverpool Council £1 million in Section 106 fees – money due to a city council strapped for cash. Another dismal tale of council ineptitude on Mayor Anderson’s watch. All credit must go, however, to Granada who have exposed this scandal to a wider audience, just as they did with Chinatown.
In contrast, I refer you to the current edition of “Private Eye”. Now, I have long been a supporter of this publication’s efforts to shine a light on the hypocrisy and corruption which bedevil our society. Imagine, therefore, my shock upon reading the long list for the Paul Foot Award for 2019, an award dedicated to the recognition of those in the fourth estate who have pursued wrongdoing wherever it has raised its pernicious head. Bang in the middle sits a nomination for the Liverpool Echo!! It reads that the Echo “persistently tackled the multiple failures of developments in Liverpool’s city centre”. To coin a phrase, I was gobsmacked. Was it an “Eye” mickey take, I wondered? Tragically, not. This Echo is the local paper which has actively promoted the very developments which have ripped off so many, and which have sullied the good name of the city of Liverpool. These are the very people who have ignored the countless pleas of defrauded investors , refusing to open their eyes and their minds to the corruption all around them. It is an absolute travesty to even include the Echo in the long list. It merely serves to confirm my view that the fourth estate is, with one or two noble exceptions, at its all time lowest ebb.
Meanwhile, other councils in the city-region appear to be stumbling along since the local elections in the same old lack lustre way. A keen, young, trainee journalist , ran a story on the attempts of developers St. Modwen to off-load their commitments to Kirkby town centre back onto Knowsley Council. This led to him receiving a lengthy email from the council Leader, admonishing him for writing a fallacious article. Hey presto, within two weeks , the council announces that it is taking back the St Modwen leases, putting its own spin on the situation. Undoubtedly, the initial reaction of the Leader was with one eye on the local elections; but what does that say for transparency and trust?
Similarly, one of the intrepid band trying to preserve the green space at the Oglet foreshore on the Halton-Liverpool border, has been trying without success, to discover exactly what are Halton’s plans for the area. What is it that Halton Council – and Liverpool Council, together with the airport – is trying to hide about the green space involved, land much coveted by Peel? Again I ask: what price transparency? Small although it might appear in the wider scheme of things, it is a timely reminder of the salience of green space as a political issue across the whole city-region.
Generally, green space is being sacrificed for housing, whilst brownfield sites are often ignored. I understand the extra costs often associated with brownfield sites but there are other issues involved. For example, the emphasis is on houses for sale whilst social housing remains a secondary priority. As developers want the best return, they will focus on the most desirable areas in which to build. That means “desirable” in terms of profits. Other factors fall way behind in their scale of things. Do you think that the developers clustering around the potential of the Waterloo Dock, for example, give a care about Liverpool’s World Heritage status? Do those desperate to build on the green belt give a toss about the associated environmental degradation? They want profits, pure and simple. Meanwhile, the award-nominated Echo has little to say on these people, other than praise for the money grubbers. What a sorry state of affairs!