Some good schemes did go through the planning committee today here are just three of them
One of the most frustrating things that I do as a Councillor is to serve on Liverpool’s planning committee. Too often it is constrained by planning regulations and laws which are designed to ensure that development goes through. But, too often and that includes today the Committee is constrained by its own lack of vision and timidity. But let me start with the good news!
A number of the applications which were passed today were excellent and will, in my view, stand the test of time. In no particular order these include:
- The new Police HQ. It is well designed and has great respect for the impact it will make on the wider community. I am the only person on the planning committee who was actually a councillor when the present police HQ was planned. I spoke and voted against it and said then that all it needed was a gallows on top for it to look like the Lubjanka (the HQ of the KGB!)
- Ralli House a new Signature Living Development in Old Hall Street. I voted against the original planning decision but spoke in favour of the major revision which was presented today. It has less impact in terms of height and less apartments.
- The new hotel at the current Echo HQ also in Old Hall Street. This will deal with the old Merseyside County Council tower which has been empty for at least 15 years and will provide an excellent new facility close to both the commercial and tourist centres.
But much of the time the committee voted for things which it explicitly ruled out in the new planning framework document which we approved in January:
Houses in Multiple Occupation in two areas (Kensington Fields and the Garmoyle Road area) where in January Council specifically said that there were too many HMOs in those areas. I supported my friend Labour Cllr Robertson-Collins on this.
The reuse of industrial land in Everton which currently has 8 industrial units on it for – you guessed it. – more apartments in an area which already has 1,700 small studios and apartments with permission or on site. This is in spite of the fact that it is zoned for industrial use both in the current UDP and the plan I which was accepted in January. I supported Labour Councillor Jane Corbett on this.
In Central Ward on a site which is near London Road we voted for …. Yes that’s right – more student accommodation. This is despite a new policy having been agreed by Council which limits the saturation of the area with student accommodation. On this issue I supported my even greater friend Labour Cllr Nick Small!!!
In fact, I was the only friend that these Labour councillors had in the committee today as their Labour colleagues toed the officer line and supported all the recommendations.
So why did they do so? Well in legal terms they were probably right. The new Local Development Framework has not yet been though its final council stage. It will have more weight when the Cabinet agrees the responses arising from the consultation which ended on March 9th. I understand that this response might be delayed for a good reason which I support but cannot reveal. It will only have full effect if and when it goes through the Government’s Inspectorate but that may still be 18 months away.
So, what should we do in the next 12-18 months? Nothing or something? I vote for the latter. The Council almost unanimously with the exception of the increasingly irrelevant Greens voted for the Framework. We believe in it, and I said how much I looked forward as a member of the planning committee to using it. So let’s do just that.
I believe that if we start acting now as if the Policy was finalised we would force change rapidly from many developers and their agents. Perhaps we might lose the occasional appeal but on a wider level we will begin to change the way that developers think. That will in turn change the quality of the applications which we receive. Frankly too much of what we get before us is mundane and tedious. Etch a Sketch plans which could be applied to anywhere and not Liverpool’s unique building heritage.
Greedy, grasping developers have ruined the Baltic Triangle and have sterilised its edgy and artistic feel. Bland boring Benidorm buildings will now adorn and overpower Lime Street. This must stop. If we wait until the process goes through the Government’s machinery we will have given permission for a load of garbage that we cannot unpick.
In a few weeks’ time we will have a new or at least renewed planning committee and the next stage of the Local Plan will be though the Council. I appeal to the Labour Party to lose its timidity and stand up for our built environment before it is too late.