Why are people objecting to the Hoylake Golf Resort plans?
Regular readers of this blog will know that this blog has covered Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s efforts to find land for a new fire station first in the centre of Greasby and now on the outskirts of Saughall Massie. However, a much larger threat to Wirral’s greenbelt has received little media attention so far.
The plans for a Hoylake Golf Resort cover an area of 357 acres in the greenbelt. Wirral Council own about 189 acres which they lease to farmers. Hoylake Municipal Golf Course occupies a further 106 acres (which is also owned by Wirral Council). The remaining ~63 acres are owned by private landowners. These landowners have signed agreements with Wirral Council to sell their land if planning permission is granted for the Hoylake Golf Resort.
However the Open Championship came to Wirral in 2014 and went with no announcement. Instead a year later in 2015 Wirral Council announced that the Nicklaus Joint Venture Group had been awarded preferred developer status.
Commenting on the plans for a Hoylake Golf Resort local councillor Gerry Ellis stated, “As a concept, it’s a wonderful project that could bring much employment to the area and provide excellent new facilities for residents and visitors to enjoy. However, I see many problems ahead which are likely to slow down or even derail the development. Many objectors are already raising their concerns about loss of Green Belt, disturbances to wildlife, potential flooding problems and lots of other issues.
I’m keeping an open mind on it and waiting with interest to see the planning application and other detailed proposals of the developers which are due to be revealed within the next few months.”
One of my favourite authors, Isaac Asimov when editing books of science fiction stories (or even his own stories) used to add an introduction to each story. This is an introduction to a piece by a guest blogger (in future these introductions will probably be shorter).
Many moons ago, I started and ran a video games website (single-handed) that had more readers each month than the Wirral Globe has now. Just in case anyone considers that a “hobby”, I was paid for it, just as I earn money from writing this blog.
Visitors to that website used to submit content (there was a forum too) and believe me having to edit a submission from a teenager who completely ignores any of the rules of grammar and doesn’t use full stops was a stretch.
For a while I’ve been thinking of a new feature on this blog similar to the letters page of the newspapers where users can submit content. After all (apart from a submission by Leonora who I’ve tried to gently encourage to write again) readers of this blog have had to put up with me for the last five years!
I have asked a number of people to write a guest post, however Nick Lauro has been the first to thankfully say yes!
Compared to the experience above, editing Nick Lauro’s submission has been a dream by comparison. I have only made one very minor edit!
His piece is about something that I’ll refer to as a “bread and butter” issue of political activists or a politician and reminds me of a similar problem I tried to sort out once on the Beechwood estate. Writing any more than that about it would spoil the surprise.
By Nick Lauro
Is it really too much to ask? It’s not as though I’m asking for the air fare and the accommodation costs for a trip to China, it’s just a couple of street lamps that need fixing! So began my speculation, as I pondered in the dark about exactly how much of Wirral council taxpayers’ money it costs to send a van and a couple of engineers out to repair a street lamp or two.
It all started around the end of September when unusually, my little cul-de-sac was plunged into darkness by the simultaneous failure of not one, but two lamp posts. Not the end of the world, maybe a bit on the Victor Meldrew side of petty but nevertheless, a valid security risk to my fellow neighbours whose houses sit next to the shrouded, wooded scrubland that provides an obvious getaway/hiding place, for even the most feckless burglar. It’s not the first time a street light has failed over the 11 years I’ve lived in the road, and has always been an easy problem to rectify; contact council, report faulty light, wait a few days, light fixed.
Reporting a faulty street light is as simple as visiting the Wirral council website and filling in an online form that rewards you with a message of acknowledgement much preferable to hanging on the end of a telephone waiting to speak to an overworked, underpaid, first line support employee from an understaffed department. After you’ve completed the reporting process, you sit and wait for the lights to come back on again or in this case, not… four plus weeks and two ignored Tweets later, darkness still prevails when the sun goes down and my train of thought drifts toward ideas of austerity, cuts and a local authority so fiscally challenged, they can no longer provide the same level of service for our most basic of urban requirements. But wait; there is much talk in the local press about my locality being saved from oblivion by the universal panacea for all cash strapped local authorities a ‘Golf Resort’. We have a white knight upon his steed, bringing us promise of regeneration and our council coffers once again, overflowing with bullion surely enough to restore Wirral’s street furniture to working order for years to come?
Alas, our saviour and two of his executive salaried colleagues have departed in what looks to be a strategically planned exit, taking between them, some £500,000 of council taxpayers’ money in remunerations. Who will save us now, from further fiscal disaster? Who can keep the dream alive for ‘Wirral Waters’? Will the money to fix two dodgy street lamps down my road ever be found?
Seriously folks, when an organisation funded by money from the public purse our money can seemingly see fit to play the sort of boardroom games more in keeping with the style of premier league football managers, it is easy to feel bitterly short-changed. The recent monetary machinations carried out by our most highly paid public servants, only serves to cast suspicion and doubt on their ability to even find the money to change a light bulb.
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Wirral Council’s Cabinet met for the first time after the elections and unusually there were many members of the public. The item the public were there to hear was whether Wirral Council would be support the transfer of properties from Beechwood and Ballantyne Community Housing Association to Liverpool Housing Trust.
A petition of 250 residents of the Beechwood and Ballantyne estate opposed to the transfer of houses to Liverpool Housing Trust was given to the Councillor George Davies (Cabinet Member for Housing) half an hour before the meeting started. He said, “I should refer this back to Beechwood and Ballantyne Housing Association to reflect upon and that we defer any decision on this item this evening and bring it back to a future Cabinet, hopefully by the 29th of June.”
Cllr Ann McLachlan (ward councillor for the residents who signed the petition) added, “As late as yesterday and until mid-afternoon today I do know that negotiations and consultation were being undertaken with the community to allay and address fears that they had and my understanding was they had been largely addressed and that there was satisfaction regarding outstanding matters, so it has come as a shock to us to hear there is now this petition.
However Chair, if this further short period of consultation does seek to address those concerns, whatever they may be then I think it will be time well spent. Clearly I will want to address the report when it does come back to Cabinet in three weeks time.”
Cllr Phil Davies explained that a decision would be deferred to “give us more opportunity to try and get to the bottom of the issues that the signatories are concerned about and obviously with a view to try to come to some agreement in time hopefully for the next Cabinet meeting”.
Cabinet agreed to defer a decision to the 29th June (its next meeting).
Agreement was given by Cabinet to demolish the buildings of the former Foxfield School site in Douglas Drive, Moreton. Foxfield School has moved from Douglas Drive to a new site in Woodchurch that opened in March. Wirral Council hope to sell off the former site for Foxfield in Moreton and are applying for government permission to do so.
Cabinet agreed a recommendation to confer Freedom of Entry status on the Wallasey Sea Cadets (TS Astute) and HMS Astute (a nuclear powered submarine). A decision on Cabinet’s recommendation will be made at a future special meeting of Council.
Making it clear that this was “not a proposal to sell of the municipal golf courses” Wirral Council’s Cabinet agreed to look for a “delivery partner” for its golf courses (except Hoylake). Wirral Council subsidises its golf courses by £330,000 a year and Cabinet hopes that in future the subsidy won’t be needed. A report will come back to a future Cabinet before any further decision is made.
A policy on smoking that bans smoking (including e-cigarettes) “anywhere on any Council site by all staff, contractors, visitors and the public” was agreed. The new policy extends the ban on smoking to outside as well as inside Council buildings.
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The year started with a look at why Martin Morton had called on Cllr Pat Williams, Cllr Moira McLaughlin and Cllr Denise Roberts to resign. I also published the accounts for Birkenhead Market Limited (who lease Birkenhead Market from Wirral Council) and a letter gagging Councillor Gilchrist.
After the Merseytram matter hit the buffers, Merseytravel was left with property that it didn’t want or need. The first story is about what happened when they tried to sell it off. The second story is the first about Lyndale School and how when the first Cabinet decision got called in, the call in committee had to ask Council to add extra people to it who’d been left off in a “constitutional oversight”. The third story was about the court battle between Wirral Council and Upton Park Pony Association. Upton Park Pony Association were given a year to leave Fernbank Farm (which is owned by Wirral Council).
Mark Latham from Wirral Street Pastors told councillors on Wirral Council’s Licensing Act 2003 Committee about his experiences of Birkenhead’s night life and alcohol (19th March 2014)
It may seem strange now, but in March the government were consulting on changes to the filming public meetings law. Some changes were made to the draft regulations and a right to live commentary during meetings was removed. Some new criminal offences were also added to the same legislation (but not to the section about filming). The “open and transparent” story was about the Chief Executive, in a 4 page letter, upholding an earlier decision at internal review to refuse a Freedom of Information Act request for the minutes of the Standards Working Group of the 17th December 2013. The last story was about the Wirral Street Pastors organisation and what Mark Latham had to say at a public meeting about Birkenhead’s night life.
113 candidates stood in the Wirral Council elections and only 23 of these were later elected. However if you’re interested who they were then there’s a list of names. The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority met for the first time on April 1st and chose Cllr Phil Davies as Chair. The third story is my rebuttal of a (mainly) false complaint made about me by a Lib Dem.
May had two elections in it. The first was where one councillor to Wirral Council was elected for each ward (except one that elected two due to a recent resignation in Greasby, Frankby and Irby). The second election was for 8 Members of the European Parliament for the North West region. The Lib Dems lost their only MEP in the region Chris Davies and ended up with no Members of the European Parliament in North-West England. Brian Kenny (Labour) lost his council seat in Birkenhead and Tranmere to Pat Cleary (Green Party). Ian Lewis (Conservative) lost his council seat to Treena Johnson (Labour) in Leasowe and Moreton East. Labour also gained in Pensby and Thingwall (the seat was held by an independent formerly a Lib Dem who wasn’t standing).
So the net result was that Labour increased its number of councillors from 37 to 38 (a majority of seats on Wirral Council is one party having 34 or more councillors). The Conservatives decreased their number of councillors from 22 to 21. The Lib Dems stayed on six and the Greens increased from no councillors to one.
In June I started publishing some of the court papers to do with the Fernbank Farm case including Wirral Council’s particulars of claim. During filming a public meeting of the Licensing Act 2003 Committee Cllr Steve Niblock insisted on me stopping so I moaned to Surjit Tour about it. The last story was warning about the effects on the health of the children at Lyndale School if the Lyndale School were to be closed.
July was all about golf because of the Open Golf Championship. First the email of Graham Burgess was claimed to be “fraudulent” by Surjit Tour (who referred to it as the “Open Gold Championship”). Then five minutes later Surjit Tour tried to recall the email. Then BBC Radio Merseyside had a caller asking about the story. Wirral Council’s press office then managed to tell BBC Radio Merseyside two contradictory versions of events over a short period of time. However don’t worry Cllr Walter Smith came on the radio and told everybody how in his day job as a tailor he had enjoyed “lavish hospitality” at the golf!
Treasury Building (Wirral Council), Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, 19th August 2014 (you can click on the photo for a more high-resolution version)
Phil Ward came in for criticism for the way he’d chaired the Lyndale School consultation meetings. As part of the 2013/14 audit I made public the £1,872 Wirral Council had spent on Robin Hopkins of 11KBW to make sure that they didn’t have to give out information to a Freedom of Information Act requester in response to ICO decision notice FS50474741.
The mileage claim forms for councillors threw up some interesting visits, including one by Cllr Tony Smith to Lyndale School back in February 2013. Once again the Cabinet decided to go ahead to the next stage of consultation on closure of Lyndale School, Surjit Tour got sent another of my letters pointing out the flaws in the decision-making process. The decision was called in.
Marvin the Martian returned to discuss Lyndale and cuts to the SEN budget. The special Audit and Risk Management Committee meeting (twice adjourned from July 2014) finally met on 8th October 2014 to discuss the BIG/ISUS issues and hear from Nigel Hobro. Graham Burgess also gave in his three-month notice and announced his retirement from 31st December 2014.
A Merseytravel public meeting to discuss whistleblowing led to an interesting turn of phrase. The trade unions marched on Wallasey Town Hall, to have to first sit through a Cabinet meeting discussing how wonderful the Open Golf Championship had been. A consultation on a possible new fire station in Greasby village led to a packed public meeting in Greasby, with Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) doing his best to answer questions from the public about Wirral Council’s involvement.
December’s stories start with the sad news that just before Christmas the Cabinet decided to close Lyndale School (from 31st August 2016). A member of the Wirral Schools Forum expressed concern at the scale of cuts to special educational needs and Wirral Council councillors decided on a long list for a Head of Specialist Services (the outgoing Head of Specialist Services leaves on 31st December 2014).
So that’s it for the 2014 round-up! See you in 2015!
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