Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Allotment statistics - nearly 1,000 waiting?

A Garston resident got in touch with me recently about whether there could be some more allotment sites in South Liverpool.

I've been doing a bit of research about the number of plots that exist in Liverpool and what the law actually says.

I found a bit of old statute, which seemed to say that an authority had to provide a site if a certain number of people asked for it (getting it checked)

However I also wanted to know the current state of play in Liverpool when it came to demand and waiting lists.

I asked a question about the stats at Full Council and got an "impossible to say" answer. I found that hard to believe so asked again ahead of the Environment Committee tonight.

Because the data is held by individual allotment societies it's hard to be absolutely precise, but the answer I got tonight was that "using a pro rata calculation a waitin glist of between 840 and 960 is suggested".

Seems an awful lot.  Perhaps there are ways of bringing some of the unused small bits of land into use this way.

Rotters Community Composting and waste collections in Garston

Just back from the City Council's Environment and Climate Change Committee.  I had a question in about Rotters, the project on Dutch Farm in Garston.

One of the things I wanted to know was the knock on effect of the loss of funding on some of Rotters' work.

The organisation has been doing some green waste collection on behalf of the Council in the Garston area.

I discovered tonight that about 500 of the properties that have been covered by Rotters will in future be covered by the Council.  I was told this change was due to happen around 12th April and that  there would be communication with residents about this (not least of all because there may be a need to deliver some green bins).

So if you live in a part of Garston currently covered by Rotters, you may hear something very soon.  Please let me know if your Rotters collection stops but nothing takes its place as I'll be happy to chase up.

In the longer term, Rotters is a great organisation and I'm keen to see it thrive and grow, particularly given the great ideas around the South Liverpool Food Alliance.  I'll blog again about this in what I hope is the not too distant future.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Is the hospital actually dangerous?

I've got a question in to the Regeneration Committee (this Thursday) about the new hospital/health centre in Garston.

It's to do with the outside, which appears to be doing  a good job of reflecting sunlight directly back into drivers' eyes.

A poll (admittedly unscientific as it involved me raising the hospital with taxi drivers as we went past) has shown that some drivers believe there'll be accidents.

I did raise this back in the darker months, but at the time the reflecting effect wasn't as obvious as it is now.

Pasted below is the question

"The South Liverpool (Garston) health centre on Woolton Road is a new build replacing the former Sir Alfred Jones memorial hospital.

Now that the exterior of the new build is fully visible, it appears there is a potential road safety problem which needs to be investigated.

A large part of the exterior is covered in shiny and reflecting material which, when the sun is bright, is prone to reflections of bright light. This has already been noticed and remarked on by pedestrians and motorists and there is a fear that the reflection may cause road accidents, particularly involving cars travelling down hill towards Garston village.

Can we please have a site visit and investigation into whether this is in fact dangerous and if so, what measures can be taken to avoid possible road accidents?"

Unsafe gas in Garston ? - Question for Environment Committee

I've got a question in to the Council's environment committee later this week (Wednesday 30th) about a release of gas from a plant run by Veolia in Garston under the bridge.

It happened last week and the gas was obvious to people living along St Mary's/Aigburth Road.

It sounds like Veolia did the right thing when it happened, by shutting things down.  But I am worried that there may not be a process for warning local people when there are incidents like this.

It was a local resident who passed on the information and who obtained some informatioin from Veolia

The text of my question is below

"On Thursday 24th March there was a release of vapour from the Veolia (solvent recovery) plant based under the bridge in Garston. Fumes were seen quite some way away, including off Aigburth Road.

According to local residents Veolia has said the following:

1. A vessel in their plant over pressurised

2. The safety valve ('bursting disc') on this vessel operated as required and opened to release pressure

3. The fumes released were a combination of steam and 'mostly' ethanol

4. They informed the Environment Agency (EA), the police and the fire brigade

5. The EA visited and were satisfied that the company had taken the proper action

I am not sure that Veolia have any contingency plans for informing local residents when there is a problem and when they should perhaps close windows.

What can Liverpool City Council do to make sure that there is a proper process for protecting residents in Garston, particularly those very near the location?"

Thursday, 24 March 2011

LMH - advice and help on Tuesday.

A quick post to say that the team from Liverpool Mutual Homes will be out, with their trailer, on the Hurstlyn and Forthlin estate this coming Tuesday (29th).

The idea is for a team of staff to be on hand to give advice and answer questiions.  There'll be an opportunity to get property marked with Smartwater and to join the gardening club, as well as to find out about a free Easter trip for children to Awesome Walls.  I am told there are also some refreshments and a prize draw.

The trailer should be on site next to 1 - 5 Yorkaster Road from 11 till 3 on Tuesday.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Library Consultation

I've just noticed a link to a consultation about Library Services in Liverpool. 

Given how important these are and the fact that there are highly likely to be changes, its well worth taking part.

The link is here.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

School travel consultation

Liverpool City Council has just started a consultation on its policies re funds for travel to and from school.  There are potentially some significant changes.

You can find the link to the consultation material here.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

DWP lets down disabled people - or shouldn't the places we fund let us spend a penny?

I've come up against an annoying brick wall with disability issue and I'm posting here partly in the hope that it'll prick someones conscience.

It's not an overly common problem but it's clearly one that has ramifications for some disabled people.

Some people with some types of disability need to be able to go to the loo in a bit of a hurry (I'm told that Crohns disease is an example of this but there are other conditions).  If this affects you you tend to be aware, when you are out, of where the toilets are.

You would however expect that if you were asked into a building run by the State, then the State would let you use the loo.

This, sadly, is not the case at the DWP office Cressington House (and I imagine based on the correspondence I have been involved in, other DWP offices). 

This is a building to which people are officially asked to come for assessment interviews.  There is a presumption then that some of these people will have disabilities!  You would think that a request to use the toilet would not be out of order.  But no, it seems that the building has been "risk assessed" and it is felt that it should not provide "public toilets".

One lady I have spoken to , and who raised this with me,  has become upset, embarassed and annoyed at this.  It is making her anxious about going to any interview.  The offer of "making arrangements" in advance has been made but is rather patronising (and only came after I made  fuss and e mailed a Government Minister)  You would think the State, particularly in  cases of disability, would have no problems making a toilet available for the (I expect few) times it is needed. Yet instead we have another example where a lack of flexibility means disabled people risk getting a raw deal.

I know this is hardly "hold the front page" stuff but even if it affects a very few people, it is something that needs to be put right.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Garston waste site update - March 14

I've blogged before about two appalling decisions about Garston.  The first was the independent Planning Inspectorates verdict on a planning appeal.  That means Jack Allen Holdings was given permission to build a waste plant at Stalbridge Dock (just off a busy road and next to a housing development).

The second was the decision of the Labour run Liverpool City Council to designate this piece of land as the "sub regional" waste site for Liverpool. (We tried to get this particular decision changed but were outvoted)

As part of the second decision, there is a six week "public consultation."  This was due to start earlier this year but we now know this will start in May, once the local elections and AV referendum are out of the way.

I've been told that there'll be publicity in the press plus public meetings (whatever that means) as part of the consultation.  Obviously we don't have the exact dates yet but I will blog again on this when we do.

It's still important that people take part in this and make their views known (even though the City Council seems quite intransigent now)

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Lib Dem Conference - report back

I'm just back from two and a half days in Sheffield for Lib Dem Spring Conference.  The Spring Conference is part of the policy making activities of the party.  Its shorter than the more publicised autumn conference but it is just as important in terms of what the party does.

I've come away from this one pretty pleased, albeit pretty tired, as I managed to make progress on some of the issues I am working on or campaigning on.

Firstly the Coalition Government is going to create a Green Investment Bank.  There are quite a few details to sort out before its up and running but some of us are already turning our thoughts to where it might be.  It probably won't employ huge numbers of people but its location would benefit whichever City is chosen (it will be a City as there has to be a financial sector of some sort)

One of the Cabinet ministers involved is Lib Dem Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Environment and Climate Change.  I managed to lobby him about thinking of Liverpool as the location.  He has of course been lobbied by other Cities but he did tell me that Liverpool would be seriously considered and reminded me that he had done his journalistic training at the Post and Echo.  Hopefully that local link is a good sign, although I will obviously follow up on this one in future. (Its taking me a while to get used to the fact that I can go to my party conference and actually lobby the decision makers in Government.  This however is an opportunity I intend to use again and again on Liverpool related things!)

One of the issues I am involved in right now is the problem of a lack of cash machines (ATMs) that let you take your money out without changing a fee.  About 40 percent of the machines in the UK charge, but in some parts of Liverpool we are talking 100 per cent.  And if you have a low income, a £1 75 withdrawal charge each time you get money is a real problem.  In fact I have one constituent who walks for 40 minutes to find a machine that won't charge him.  I was keen to get the Lib Dems to official adopt a policy of a maximum walking distance to a fee free machine.  (After all the tax payer has bailed out some of the banks so the Government should be able to get them to act with social responsibility)  On Friday there was a consultation session on party policy on Inequality.  We have these as a run up to the official policy document.  I raised the ATM issue and it was very well received by the people who'll write the paper.
But, even better than that, I managed to get a line calling for the maximum walking distance (from deprived communities) into a motion which was then passed on the conference floor.  So it's now party policy and hopefully Vince and others can use that as a lever.

In the run up to conference, the Lib Dem group in Liverpool met with some NHS campaigners worried about Andrew Lansley's plans.  I have to say I was pretty worried myself as not only were these not in the Coalition agreement, I can't see that they were even in the Tory manifesto (they weren't in ours). I confirmed to the campaigners that there was a move to amend a health motion to express Lib Dem disquiet (I had signed this amendment as had fellow Lib Dem Flo Clucas).  I bumped into two of the campaigners again in Sheffield.  The strength of feeling from conference reps on this was so strong that the amendment was accepted by health minister Paul Burstow who will now attempt to get things changed within Government.  I was impressed by the health campaigners as they were thorough and polite.  They effectively got the vote they wanted.  ( A side note to this is that the media still can't understand that its possible to have a mature debate within a party and disagree with some of the leadership politely. I really don't recognise the debate from some of the stories and I was in the hall the whole time)

Finally, the conference gives reps the chance to ask questions of our ministers and senior MPs in the main conference hall.  I put in a question to Simon Hughes about his role on access to education. (I was called first which was a bit of a shocker). I have been worried about what Simon will be able to achieve in this role.  I have also worried that appointing him was a sort of fig leaf to buy off criticism.  He disagreed with me and , to be fair to him, listed a long list of initiatives he either was taking or was about to take.  I know his heart is in the right place but I am still uneasy about this one so I guess it's watch this space

Finally, finally  I chaired a packed (heaving would be a better word) fringe meeting on Independence and Distinctiveness organised by the brilliant Social Liberal Forum. We were exploring specifically issues of remaining districtive from the Conservatives.  The panel included James Forsyth, political editor of the Spectator (obviously giving  a right wing media perspective) Party President Tim Farron and equalities minister Lynne Featherstone.  Lynne will be with us in Liverpool later this year as she is the guest of honour at Liverpool's Lib Dem dinner.

Conferences can be expensive and exhausting and I have left out lots of what went on.  But I am so glad I went and much of what I did will bring real benefits.

Bankfield House site - planning decision soon

I blogged recently about the news that a developer wants to build 18 houses on the old Bankfield House site.

The application is now in and you can find it at this web address

I know it looks very long but the link does work.

The deadline for comments is 30 March but you can do this on-line using the page at this link.

People who live very near the site (including some on Banks Road and Vesuvian Drive) should have had a letter but any resident can comment, whether they got a letter or not.

Personally, although I don't represent this ward any more, I am pleased that at last a concrete plan has come through.  The site has become a bit of an eyesore and dumping ground.  New properties here will be part of the regeneration of our area.

(To be fair to the company dealing with the land, it has kept me informed of developments and has helped when I have pointed out problems with the site)

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Vodafone and social responsibility.

Vodafone has been under the spotlight nationally recently over whether or not it pays enough tax.  Certainly there is a real feeling that the company ought to pay a whole lot more and that its behaving irresponsibly by not doing so.  I am not a particular expert about this but anyone who reads the newspapers will know that Vodafone's reputation has been taking a trashing and that the protests don't show any signs of going away (as you can see here)

When big companies are not socially responsible, this often shows itself in small actions as well as big ones.

In fact you could argue that unless you have a culture right through a company of being genuinely socially responsible, things will be done that turn communities against you, often because of a lack of care or a feeling that rules can be ignored.

Which brings me to the case of Brodie Avenue, L19.

Residents and Councillors have tried to resist first a telecomms mast and then a replacement mast which is bigger.  The case was lost, but in the losing we at least managed to get some conditions put in.  Vodafone was told it had to explain before it started any more digging exactly how it was going to go about protecting the young trees and how it was going to go about its digging and mast installing work.  The trees were put there to help screen the mast from view a little so they are valued by people living in Brodie Avenue.

We were worried because the last time Vodafone (or to be fair their contractors as I can't swear that the guys were actually employed by Vodafone directly) dug on the site they caused damage.

We hoped the conditions would at least stop that happening this time.

We were being naive.  With literally no notice the workmen arrived on site and started digging away.  It turned out that they hadn't bothered with all that fiddly communicating with the council about their method first, they had just thought "lets get on with it".  I asked the Council's planning enforcement officer to look into this.  He has and has confirmed Vodafone have not done what the agreement says they have to. What's scary about this example is that it is by pure chance that a resident spotted this going on and (through an intermediary) phoned me.  This is an area in which many people would be out at work at the time the workmen arrived.

On one level this is a small issue affecting a few people on Brodie Avenue.  On another level it's another example of how a big business thinks it's OK to ignore things they don't like.

I feel sure Vodafone's PR people will spot this and I'll get a snotty letter.  I don't really care as we need to highlight these smaller issues of (lack of) CSR as well as the big ones.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Garston Library problems - today and poss tomorrow

Garston Library and One Stop Shop has had to close today because of a maintenance problem (to do with boiler flue gasses and damage). 

The building may not be able to re open tomorrow (Saturday)

If this happens, we won't be able to run our Councillors' surgery there tomorrow at 10 am.

If you were planning to attend, please call the Library in the morning to check the situation before making the journey.

You can always contact the Cressington Councillors by phoning the Lib Dem office at the Municipal Buildings on 0151 225 2354 or by e mailing one of us.  Our details are

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Poverty Commission - its going to happen

Yep, the Poverty Commission (which is being renamed to focus on issues of fairness as well as poverty) will happen!  It looks like it'll kick off later this month.  I can't say more at the moment as there are still a few details to tie down. But will blog again about it when everything is sorted.

There'll probably be opportunities for people to come along to meetings or provide evidence. So watch this space!

Planning application - scout hut to nursery - Garston Old Road

I plan to post on the blog any planning applications that come in that I feel people would be interested in knowing about.  I know that notices are put up and letters sent out, but there is always someone who wanted to know but who didn't see a letter or a notice in time.

This one, which has a deadline of 23 March for comments, is for the scout hut on Garston Old Road.  The idea is to change its use to a day nursery which would be in connection with the existing nursery at Clarendon Montessori College.

The City Council has planning applications available on line and you can also make comments via the on - line system.  This one is at this web address

More generally if you are looking for planning applications on the City Council website you need to look for something called Planning Explorer.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Budget meeting and trying to save Rotters

Tonight, along with all the other budget debate material, I had my own amendment aimed at finding money to help Rotters.

Rotters is a community composting organisation based at Dutch Farm in Garston.  It collects green and kitchen waste and composts it, but it also does a lot of educational work around the environment.

It's been told it is losing its Council funding and so things look grim.

Tonight I tried to save it by suggesting the Council cancels the planned four editions of City Magazine ( a glossy colour mag delivered door to door).  That would save more than £100,000.  I wanted part of this money to help Rotters and the rest to go into the voluntary sector fund to potentially help other environmental organisations.

I had the support of the two Green Councillors and my own group, but sadly did not have support from the majority Labour administration.

However the relevant Cabinet member, Cllr Tim Moore, has agreed to try to help the project and is going to include me and my colleague Councillor Berni Turner in those meetings.

I really hope we can save it.  It's such a great place and although its not in my ward it does work in my ward and in an extensive South Liverpool area.

(Still think the City Magazine expenditure needs to go though - that amount could help another voluntary organisation and in these financially straightened times we shouldn;t spend on a glossy publication)

Fair Trade Fortnight

A quick plug.  This week and next its Fair Trade Fortnight.

Buying Fair Trade produce can really make a difference in developing countries. 

Liverpool has Fair Trade City status and Edge Hill University, where I work, is aiming to get Fair Trade University status ( the catering outlets already sell Fair Trade chocolate and we've got all sorts of activities this week)

Information about Fair Trade is available at

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Let more people speak on budget. It matters!

At City Council meetings we have a half hour slot during which members of the public (representing groups or not) can make a statement, ask a question or present a petition.

At a normal meeting this has proved more than enough (in fact on several occasions there have been no takers)

However tomorrow's budget Council meeting is clearly very different.

Large numbers of people have asked to speak, in fact are desperate to speak.

Yet it seems to date that the Council is sticking to the 30 minutes, telling anyone other than the six who got in first that the slots have all gone.

This is, I believe, a huge mistake.  It means that there are more disappointed would be speakers than there are those with slots.  It also means that we discriminate against certain groups.  Well organised groups who know the system will have got a request in very quickly.  Those who are less established (often representing marginalised sectors) will not have known the rules in the same way and will have lost out.

Either way we risk a large number of upset people who have been denied the right to have a say before a crucial decision is taken.

I raised this at the Lib Dem group meeting last night, and we agreed to ask for an extention of the time to allow more people to speak.

This won't satisfy everyone as I expect the demand is still massive, but it will at least help give more people more access.

I hope we can get this agreed.  It may mean that we as Councillors are in the meeting for a longer period of time.  But if you object to that then my advice would be not to be a Councillor.

In the longer term the Council needs to think about how to deal with heavy demand occasions.  I am going to be asking the people on the Constitutional committee (one of them is me) about whether we need better rules for managing this.  A ballot for example might make it fairer than the first come first served approach we have right now.