One of the many beautiful trees in Calderstones Park
My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I appear to have fought off implied legal action against us by Liverpool City Council in an increasingly bitter row over the sale of part of Calderstones Park to housing giant Redrow Homes.
The Council doesn’t think that the Lib Dems are describing the area being sold off correctly. They believe that it should be described as the Harthill Estate. But I think that this is absurd. Local people describe all the area between Harthill Road and Yew Tree Road as Calderstones Park. Hardly anyone has ever heard of the Harthill Estate. The council suggests that Lib Dems should describe the land using their description – we say it’s what the people call it that counts.
In November the Council wrote to us in such a way as to suggest that legal action was possible against the Party and individuals in it. (My colleagues, Erica Kemp, Pat Moloney, Andrew Makinson, Mirna Juarez and Malcolm Kelly. We knew that this was nonsense but this was the wording that they used:
“I am inviting you to clarify the position in a communication to be agreed with myself and the Xxxxx Xxxxxxxxx, which will need to be distributed at Liberal Democrat Party expense. Again, I emphasise that neither myself nor the Xxxxx Xxxxxxxxx are taking a political point here despite the fact that the material appears in political leaflets .The crucial point here is that incorrect information has been published which misrepresents the position of the City Council and therefore requires correction”.
However later on the council conceded that they would not be seeking action against us to enforce this. Our legal advisers make it clear to us that there is no legal action that could be taken against any of the 6 Lib Dems named in the original letter. But action could be taken against me as an individual through the Standards Committee.
So to my mind let them bring it on. They believe that we should describe the land one way and I believe that they should describe the land another way. They believe that it is my job to be the council’s representative in the community. I believe it’s my job to be the people’s representative in the council. If action is taken against me at the Standards Committee I have more than 100 local people who are prepared to come along and say that it is my description that is correct. I can also show, without doubt, that some of the land that is to be sold for development is in that part of the land take which everyone believes is in Calderstones Park including a senior councillor and official who conceded the point at a committee meeting.
But if you think that this behaviour is bad enough it gets worse. The council has continued to argue these points whilst not being prepared to conform to its own obligations under the Freedom of Information Act as we have tried to get from the council:
• A detailed plan of the land which has been agreed for sale;
• All correspondence between officers of the council and Redrow Homes, and other partners, about the sale of the land.
The Council is now more than 5 weeks overdue with its reply about this issue despite the fact that the FOI bid was processed by one of the Council’s most senior officers. I have complained before to the Information Commissioner about the appalling track record of the council in dealing with FOI requests. They were unable to process any action because I was not myself a personal complainant. I am now. The IOC has written to the council reminding them of their obligations and demanding action within a speedy timescale.
But really should a councillor have to make an FOI to his own authority? I asked for information and it should have been given to me. Why the officer could not provide it and instead dealt with it (which was my second suggestion) as an FOI is beyond my comprehension. The council complains that it costs £330,000 to process FOIs. It wouldn’t have to pay anything like this if it gave open and full responses quickly to the councillors and people of its own city.
Much of this is almost irrelevant. The people of the area are opposed to the development of this land no matter what it is called. They believe that the land should be retained as green space for community use.
This is, however, a microcosm of what is wrong in Liverpool. The council is more arrogant than I have ever known it. There appears to be no effective challenge to the Mayor from either officers or councillors. As I have said before the council is almost North Korean like in its behaviour and attitudes. Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for the land to remain green. They will continue to use the language of local people in describing it. They will continue to fight to open up the deepest recesses of the Council and expose them to public view.