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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Authentic and Inclusive Community Group Established in Kirkby

Authentic and Inclusive Community Group Established in Kirkby As Reality Dawns on Kirkby Politicians

In response to the exclusive Tesco community liaison group, established earlier this year, Kirkby residents have established a completely democratic and inclusive alternative for the sole purpose of protecting and promoting the interests of the residents that form the community of Kirkby. Borne out of the frustrations of attending three consultations where findings were ignored, 63% of attendees were opposed to the Tesco application, the establishment of an exclusive community liaison group which membership was at the behest of the organisers, the describing of their town as a Ghetto by Knowsley’s Chief Executive Sheena Ramsey and the sale of valuable community owned land to a multi-billion pound conglomerate at a heavily discounted price, Kirkby residents now have an instrument through which they can at least speak and be listened to. As ever KEIOC had members present and you can read their report here.

The Bright Lights of Kirkby

On Friday the 4th of July, a warm and sticky evening in Kirkby, one of the most significant meetings of the past 18 months took place in the concert room of the RNA social club, located adjacent to what was recently described in the Liverpool Echo as a vibrant community shopping facility, Kirkby Town Centre. Present were a cross section of local residents all very keen to articulate their displeasure against the construction of a football stadium within the heart of their community. The meeting opened in a business like fashion; concerned residents, stating that they were keen to attract investment and regeneration to Kirkby's Town Centre, appeared keen to participate. The chair welcomed the esteemed gathering but something was not quite right, what could it be we mused?

One of the more seasoned observers within the audience then made a startling revelation. There were gasps of amazement as many people were completely taken aback by the fact that a number of local politicians, including their member of parliament, were sitting amongst ordinary working class folk! Once the shock waves had settled eighteen months worth of frustration oozed from certain sections of the floor; claims of not listening to the community came thick and fast, howls of laughter greeted mentions of ski slopes and the numerous other debacles attributed to the aurally challenged individuals that Kirkby has a habit of electing, calm was quickly restored and the meeting was soon back on track.

During the course of the proceedings a vote to set up a Community Liaison Committee was moved, seconded and agreed. And there you have it; painless, everybody in agreement, the deed was done, the three local ward councillors even asked if they could be invited to future meetings? Of course they could, unlike others this group had been set up to be totally inclusive, this request was warmly received and agreed.

It appeared so simple, local residents and local politicians working and living together in perfect harmony, singing from the same hymn sheet, utopia at last; or was it?

Before closing the meeting a questions and answers session was held. All of a sudden the politicians appeared keen to convince local residents that the stadium was in the best interests of all concerned; that they would continue to protect the old, the infirm and the sick; that two new schools were better than the three that they had earlier promised; that a 50,041 capacity stadium, a matter of yards away a housing estate, was an excellent idea; how the CPO's proposed for over seventy family homes and the selling off of fifty five acres of prime publicly owned green space at a heavily discounted price to feed the corporate desire of Tesco in preference to the needs of the local community is in the best interest of all concerned.

To suggest that a totally inadequate traffic assessment and a outline planning application that runs a coach and horses thought both regional and national planning policy guidelines is in the best interests of the local population, frankly beggars belief. Despite recent protestations by Knowsley Council that neighbouring authorities are somehow ganging up, bullying and depriving the people of Kirkby of a better future is, at best, hysterical. The grim reality for Kirkby residents is that a weak KMBC is allowing a supermarket to dictate inappropriate planning policy which if refused could leave Kirkby without their much needed regeneration and further leave a bitter taste in the mouths of all their neighbouring authorities whom Knowsley councillors ominously believe they can treat with the same contempt shown to the concerned residents of Kirkby, is of major concern; quite simply Knowsley Council are now being seen as little more than “con artists” and are being alluded to as such by councillors at public meetings in the Liverpool and Sefton council chambers.

The whole sorry attempt by these confused politicians to influence local opinion at the meeting was encapsulated in the closing minutes when the Rt Hon Member for Knowsley North and Sefton East stated that local community group KRAG claimed a 97% objection of local residents to the stadium. When confronted he claimed that he had read it on their website. A wag then pointed out that you should not always believe what you read on websites; he once read on Knowsley Councils website that Kirkby was getting three new schools!

The worrying predicament in which the residents of Kirkby have been placed by these frankly deluded self serving politicians and officers of Knowsley, such as CEO Sheena Ramsay who recently described the same aforementioned vibrant shopping centre as a ghetto, should be of major concern to all Kirkby residents particularly whilst the person responsible for the future of the current application, Hazel Blears, champions local communities by stating “Sweeping curbs on out-of-town supermarkets are to be introduced in a bid to protect smaller shops” and “Our priority is to ensure we do not see more stretches of the nation's high streets turned into bland every towns", only serves to highlight the level of misunderstanding and isolation that the councillors of Kirkby and Knowsley have descended to.

Lets hope that Kirkby obtains the appropriate level of investment and regeneration it deserves. Lets also hope that Evertonians obtain the investment and a stadium that they deserve. Lets hope that Knowsley learn to comply with agreed policies and become a good and valued neighbour to other authorities before it's too late and the greed of the few annihilates the future of the many. Perhaps with a desire from all parties to listen and to work in unison then maybe we can achieve what everyone desires. Come on Bill, Terry and Ronnie, you can do it.

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