Council & Residents in Tense Q&A over Whiston Greenbelt
Over 250 Whiston residents put the pressure on Knowsley Council last Friday over plans to release greenbelt for housing development.
At the 24 October meeting at St Edmund Arrowsmith Catholic Centre for Learning, the borough’s Local Plan came under scrutiny from protesters. Among the objections was the impact new housing would have on packed schools, overstretched NHS resources and a struggling local traffic system.
Lisa Harris, Knowsley’s Director of Regeneration and Housing, said the early release of greenbelt was out of the council’s hands, as non-protected brownfield sites were not becoming available fast enough to meet government housing targets.
“Pretty much [the government inspector] didn’t give us many options,” she said, “and therefore we felt we had no other choice.” She repeatedly said the council had no choice in the matter.
She added that council officers had argued against the inspector’s demands. Whiston Town Council has also come out against the plans.
Ms Harris also said Knowsley Council had gone beyond their statutory duty in allowing such an extensive public consultation.
Many residents were left unconvinced, however. One objected that only 1,411 of 6,658 households in Whiston were notified of the consultation by post.
Objectors also asked why Whiston needed 1,500 new homes, when the borough’s population was in long-term decline, from 172,000 in 1974 to the current 145,000.
Harris replied that the council aimed to attract more people into the area, a statement met with complaints that jobs and resources were already thin on the ground for existing residents.
On the question of the extra burden on infrastructure, she said neither the NHS, local schools nor the Highways Agency had objected to the plans. Any developers applying for planning permission would have a duty to assess the impact on infrastructure as part of their application.
Jeers of protest interrupted the debate throughout, with the panel and the public speaking over each other at several points.
The session ended on a particularly heated note, when a local commuter angrily decried the traffic problems at Tarbock Island, telling the council he would call them to account if peak-time congestion worsened due to new residential developments.
He also complained that the council were wrong to blame the government, citing communities secretary Eric Pickles’s recent show of concern over greenbelt development.
At this point, meeting chair Councillor Terry Byron repeated that the plans were “forced upon the council by the coalition government.”
He bluntly added, “They are the enemies here – not Knowsley Council.”
The allotted time drawing to a close, he then ended the meeting for “health and safety reasons.”
Save Whiston’s Greenbelt
A grassroots campaign to save Whiston’s greenbelt has made itself visible throughout the town, with banners and placards, as well as green ribbons on houses and lampposts in support.
Volunteers have arranged a free session to help residents fill out consultation forms on Saturday 1 November. All are welcome to drop in to St Nic’s Church, Windy Arbor Road, between 12 noon and 6pm.
A donation to cover postage of the form is appreciated.
More information is available at savewhistonsgreenbelt.org.
All documentation relating to the Local Plan is online at www.knowsley.gov.uk, and residents can drop in to any Knowsley One Stop Shop or library to view the documents and learn more about the plan.
The deadline for objections is 14 November 2014.
See also: Council Plan to Give up Prescot, Whiston Greenbelt (1 October 2014)
Watch: Knowsley Council Q&A on Whiston Greenbelt
Images: Gaynor Finney