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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Day 22 – LCC confirms Loop site is suitable

Mike Birchnall M.B.E of Liverpool City Council informed the inquiry that this is the first time in 30 years he has been at a public inquiry opposing a neighbouring council.

He stated that Liverpool City Council would prefer the Everton to stay in Liverpool but ultimately the club is responsible for it's own destiny. He said that Liverpool City Council believe that major schemes such as Destination Kirkby should be brought forward through the development plan process. He said if permission was given for Destination Kirkby, it could set a precedent for other schemes to ignore the plan led process.

It was said that the development Liverpool One returned Liverpool to the same position of where it was in terms of retail in the 1950s and 60s and that the council want to protect that.

Birchnall stated that LCC do support regeneration in Kirkby, but they feel that this development is too big for a town of its size and requirements. They say that any regeneration should be to a smaller scale and fitting in with the Unitary Development Plan (a pre-existing planning framework).

He stated that the cost of Merseytram cost has increased, it was estimated at £328million in April '08. The Secretary of State Ruth Kelly has previously suggested there is a possibility of funding but so far nothing has come of it.

It was suggested that Everton Football Club are only prepared to look at sites with potential for a subsidy from retail enabling to the tune of £50million. Mike Birchnall confirmed that there were no sites available in the city boundary that could provide the level of retail space desired by the club.

Mr Birchnall did say that Liverpool City Council would happily work with club if an alternative plan for a stadium was brought to the table.

David Clarkson QC, cross examining on behalf of the applicants wanted to know what Liverpool City Council's position is with the club attempting to relocate to Knowsley.

Birchnall confirmed that there was no problem with that but shared his concerns with the inquiry about the club's ability to raise the money needed.

When Mr. Clarkson put it to Mr. Birchnall that regeneration was needed and that the proposed Destination Kirkby could deliver on this, Mr. Birchnall responded 'at what cost?'. He stated that jobs will be lost elsewhere as a direct consequence of the development.

Mr. Clarkson wanted to establish what Liverpool City Council's attitude is to losing a business with a turnover of £51million. He wanted to know whether Mr. Birchnall thought that Goodison Park was inadequate for Everton's ambitions? Mr. Birchnall agreed that it was in its present condition.

He asked whether Liverpool City Council support Knowsley Council's attempts to regenerate Kirkby? Mr Birchnall said that they do but that the current plan would fail to achieve that.

The applicant's QC then asked if Liverpool City Council officers had offered to assist in funding a stadium for Everton. He was told that they hadn't.

Mr. Clarkson then put it to Mr. Birchnall that “there is a body at this inquiry which wishes Everton FC stay in the city”, Clarkson commented that Liverpool FC are staying in the city with the council's consent. He also wanted to know why Liverpool FC club were unable to find an alternative site in the city before applying for permission to build on public parkland. Mr. Birchnall replied that their criteria was to be as close to their existing stadium Anfield as possible.

Clarkson asked if the Bestway site on Scotland Road was an appropriate site for a stadium, Mr. Birchnall replied that it wasn't for Liverpool FC because they wished stay near Anfield.

Mr Birchnall confirmed that a stadium could be built there with supporting land and overcoming challenges.

It was brought to the intention of the inquiry that the Stanley Park stadium application was supported by Government advisers CABE if the surrounding area were to be regenerated.

Clarkson then asked about a Liverpool City Council meeting of 4th June 2008. He wanted to know who was there and whether it was usual for members of the public to speak at similar meetings. Mr. Birchnall replied that it was .

Clarkson then established that Warren Bradley (Leader of city Council) and Joe Anderson (Leader of Liverpool Labour group) were very influential members of Liverpool City Council and both were season ticket holders at Goodison Park. He also stated that the council leader Warren Bradley had previously spoken from the platform at a KEIOC meeting.

Mr. Clarkson asked Mr. Birchnall what KEIOC's chairperson Dave Kelly had addressed the committee on, he suggested that it was not to do a retail analysis.

The applicant then questioned whether Warren Bradley had put alternative sites forward for a new Everton stadium, it was confirmed that he had. Mr. Birchnall was asked if this was the formal position of the council. He replied in the negative but pointed out that members can make their personal views known publicly.

It was established that Tesco had no problem with Liverpool City Council wanted to regenerate North Liverpool, Mr. Clarkson wanted to know what level of regeneration Mr. Birchnall envisaged for Kirkby. Mr. Birchnall replied that his approach would be to look at opportunities and develop a master-plan. He pointed out that Knowsley Council had not done this and should have been more proactive with compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) and marketing.

It was now time for Knowsley Council's representative Mr. Barrat to cross examine. He established that Liverpool City Council saw Kirkby in the third tier of towns importance. Birchnall suggested that Kirkby has not functioned as a town centre for many years and he agreed that it is under performing.

It was also agreed that there are deficiencies with Goodison Park but that Liverpool City Council are not putting forward alternative sites for a new stadium to the Secretary of State.

It was pointed out that there is a danger in equating regeneration with jobs.

The inspector Wendy Burden asked if, when writing report, should she give weight to the fact that this had not gone through the Local Development Framework, Mr. Birchnall suggested that weight should be added.

Mark McVicar of Cushman and Wakefield (a commercial expert) was introduced by Liverpool City Council's QC Mr. Sauvain as the next witness. He told of his concerns about the local traders and how the majority of local traders' leases on their premises would be ending within the next 5 years. He also suggested that the smaller supermarkets in the Kirkby area would close if Tesco's development were to go ahead as it is not unusual for the smaller supermarket to close in similar circumstances.

He voiced concerns that the existing town centre would not be upgraded or if it were it would not be until the accompanying retail park were to be built. He also told the inquiry that he believed Tesco paid over the odds for the existing town centre and he considered it was because it would prevent commercial rivals taking an interest in Kirkby.

Mr. McVicar moved on to discuss the Everton stadium. He did not understand why the stadium was being built to a specification of 60,000 capacity when the stadium would only hold 50,000 seats. He also questioned how the funding for the stadium would be found as he felt it would be derived from land values and he felt that this could be considered “state aid” as Knowsley Council would be handing over millions of pounds to a private company.

Mr. Clarkson then cross examined Mr McVicar about the stadium. He wanted to know why he believed Everton would not fill the stadium at Kirkby. The response Mr McVicar gave was along the lines of there is no season ticket waiting list for Everton at Goodison Park and that the average attendance at Goodison Park was several thousand lower than capacity and therefore didn't see the need for the proposed stadium's capacity. Mr. Clarkson stated that Liverpool FC's proposed stadium will have a capacity greater than 65,000.

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