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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day 12 – Kirkby – “In a Circle of Decline”

Mike Hollis, a town planner, employed by Roger Tym and Partners was led through his evidence by Mr Martin Kingston QC, acting on behalf of Knowsley Council.

Mr Hollis mentioned the 50 most deprived districts , which showed Liverpool consistently above Knowsley. They will be similar to the Government tables previously posted on the KEIOC website that indicate Knowsley is improving without the philanthropic endeavours of a benevolent Tesco. He explained how the tables made comparisons between levels of income, employment, health, education, skills, training and crime. In a scene reminiscent of the famous Monty Python deprived Yorkshire man sketch he went on to explain that Kirkby was more deprived than Skelmersdale and St Helens and that the North West Regional Economic Strategy is designed to decrease levels of deprivation in the worst 5% of areas; this will in all probability include areas such as Walton, Kirkdale, Bootle, Skelmersdale and St Helens?

Displaying a total disregard to Kirkby's geographical location, in relation to Liverpool, and Skelmersdale's location next to, well nowhere really, Mr. Hollis explained that Skelmersdale retains 71% of its convenience expenditure whilst Kirkby only retains 46% if its convenience and 15% of its comparative expenditure. He explained that the quantum of need couldn't be accommodated within the existing town center therefore “the need is significant and the scale is essential”. He closed by explaining that, “Kirkby was caught in a “circle of decline”, it had a very deprived catchment area and an underperforming town centre, which led to the migration of more affluent shoppers, this makes it difficult for KMBC to attract new retail tenants”

The problem with over egging the pudding is that, like others at this inquiry, you tend to get caught out, Mr Sauvain QC, acting on behalf of Liverpool City Council began his cross-examination of Mr. Hollis who continued to maintain the company line that Kirkby is a seriously deprived area inhabited by work-shy individuals. Mr Hollis explained, “There's a high level of worklessness in the town and Tesco can deliver in this harsh economic climate.” A somewhat puzzled Mr Sauvain, referring to Government information on deprived areas suggested that Knowsley were improving their position in the deprivation league without Tesco's intervention. Mr Hollis finally conceded that there had been a significant increase in employment in recent years Mr. Sauvain continued, “these Tesco jobs would be a drop in the ocean, there is no guarantee that all phases will be completed and that there was no commitment from other stores on the Job Guarantee scheme.”

Mr. Sauvain persisted “It's a fact that these were low-paid, low-skilled jobs and it would always be council schemes that would be primary movers in solving long-term problems” Mr Sauvain then turned his attention to the applicants apparent disregard to the UDP which led a clearly irate Mr. Hollis to respond “In an ideal world you would do things in due process, however this “all or nothing” situation is here now, we can't wait until 2011 for the LDF, it wouldn't be fair on the next generation”

This display of emotion clearly motivated Mr. Sauvain, who continued with “it doesn't help to explain things in a emotive way; your development won't solve Kirkby's problems, it's not going to save a generation is it?” Mr. Hollis replied in management speak “it would make a valuable contribution to meeting the regeneration targets” he continued by explaining that the proposal wasn't out of scale for the area, nor did it contravene the Regional Spatial Strategy and that there was a considerable amount of evidence presented to the inquiry surrounding the type and scale of needs that were required to be met.

The cross examination is scheduled to continue on Tuesday.

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