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Monday, June 8, 2009

KEIOC Response to Rt Hon George Howarth MP

KEIOC has responded to Mr George Howarth recent letter in which he attempts to justify his spending of over £8,000 of taxpayer's money on a poll and his support for the Destination Kirkby project.

Dear Mr. Howarth,

Thank you for your letter dated 29/05/09. We're acutely aware of the current sensitivity surrounding the exposure of questionable expense claims submitted by our MPs and on that basis we're only too happy to explain the recent article on our website in which we believe we rightly identify the claim of £8,283.75 made under the guise of a communications allowance as remarkable and mysterious.

It is somewhat mysterious that you felt the need to commission an ICM poll costing the taxpayer over £8,000 when for one tenth of that cost a couple of researchers placed in Kirkby's vibrant town centre would have not only allowed you to "understand local opinion" but would have more accurately reached a greater cross-section of the local population.

We'll remind you that Parliament has its own guidelines on these matters:

  • "You are reminded that you should seek at all times to ensure that value for money is being provided and that costs are in accordance with the level of service for which you are being charged."

Cynics amongst us would say that the poll had little to do with your pressing need to "understand local opinion" and more to do with being able to state that the poll was independently conducted by ICM thus becoming a convenient platform to promote the concept of local acceptability of the Destination Kirkby scheme through the local media, which of course you did. Once again we'll remind you of your own guidelines on communication allowances:

"You must not use the communications allowance:

  • To fund publications that promote, criticise or campaign for or against anyone seeking election to advance perspectives or arguments with the intention of promoting the interests of any person, political party or organisation you support or damaging the interests of any other such person, party or organisation."

Some may argue that this poll promoted the interests of Knowsley's Labour Council and Tesco Stores Ltd; some may even say that that this poll damaged the interests of the seventy-two families who will lose their homes as a direct result of this scheme.

Of course poll results depend greatly on what, when and to whom the questions are asked. In this case the questions were asked in July 2007, six months before the real detail of the plan was released, at a time when the assumption was being conveniently cultivated that Destination Kirkby would provide up to 3,000 jobs and facilitate the delivery of a much-needed improvement in local public transport, namely Merseytram.

Following the inquiry we now know that Merseytram for Kirkby, in relation to Destination Kirkby, is little more than a flight of fancy, a useful enticement at the time to garner support, as was the prospect of 3,000 jobs.

On day fourteen of the inquiry Knowsley's own CEO stated that the scheme is not being looked at as a job opportunity; indeed, it was later stated by the applicants own regeneration specialist that little over 300 jobs were being guaranteed in the town, many part-time and menial.

Once job losses in surrounding areas are taken into account, up to 300 in Walton alone according to the same witness for the applicants, [day sixteen of the inquiry], the employment impact on the region as a whole would be neutral, at best.

What is remarkable is your apparent need to pay ICM over £8,000 of taxpayer's money for information that you could have obtained from other sources free of charge.

We understand that you've declined invitations to attend meetings held by those residents opposed to the scale and content of the development; attendance of which could have helped you gauge the level and understanding of the opposition of up to 500 attendees; it was unanimous.

Alternatively you could have requested the information obtained by Development Securities, which identified that in a poll of 500 residents 91% were in favour of their proposals in preference to those of Tesco; their plan was for appropriate redevelopment of the Town Centre, inline with the current UDP.

Perhaps you would prefer the result of the Lib Dems postal poll that returned 1200 opposed to the development.

Of course it would have been perfectly reasonable for you to question the validity of these measurements, after all they originated from organisations that had a vested interest in obtaining results that favoured their particular position.

Knowsley Councils own exit poll of their three consultations didn't fall into the category above. After finally producing the results, KMBC managed to conveniently misinterpret them before providing partially corrected information minutes, literally minutes, before the council planning committee voted as they were told. You'll find the combined results below:

As can be seen, of the 9,973 people that expressed a view 63% were opposed to what they had seen in the consultation. The redevelopment was welcomed; the stadium wasn't.

Alternatively, perhaps you would have preferred to listen to the GONW whose spokesperson stated that the level of opposition to this application was unprecedented.

All polls are flawed Mr. Howarth, it is the nature of the beast, you could have simply listened to your constituents who packed into Kirkby fire station and wiped the floor with you while only one person was in favour.

Nevertheless, you have chosen to place your faith in an independent poll, which acknowledged that 12% of the results were from individuals outside the target area and which presented the slimmest of margin in favour of this wasteful and inappropriate scheme.

Your letter then proceeds to mention the last local elections when the fledgling 1st 4 Kirkby party fielded three candidates. In a prime example of a politician desperately clutching at the slightest straw you imply that Labour limping home, in one case by just sixteen votes, against a party founded four weeks before the election, is an endorsement of support.

The reality is that Labour didn't win the election, 1st 4 Kirkby lost it due to being unable to effectively utilise the postal vote and the presence of the Lib Dems, mistakes that won't be made at the next local or indeed parliamentary elections.

As for your claim that the modifications to the application were made in response to legitimate concerns by residents, we feel that you're beginning to believe the spin and ignore the evidence; are you actually confirming that the concerns over transport and traffic, that you specifically identified as concerns, in your letter to residents dated September 2007, have been addressed to your satisfaction? It certainly didn't appear that way to anyone at the public inquiry when they were exposed for what they were.

Claiming that other modifications to the application were made as a result of legitimate concerns is equally laughable; the petrol station was removed because the fire brigade specified that its proximity to housing deemed it inappropriate and the reduction in floorspace from 70,000 sq m to 50,000 sq m through the temporary removal of mezzanine floors, the future replacement of which would require no further planning application, was treated with the contempt it deserved by all three major neighbouring authorities opposing this development. In fact both Liverpool and Sefton stated in their respective council chambers that it was, and I quote, "a con".

In our opinion your overall support for a redevelopment scheme is understandable; however you have repeatedly failed to represent the interests of your constituents and have endorsed a scheme that, according to a recent article in the local press, has significantly contributed to the loss of tens of millions of pounds off the value of their homes and has cost the Knowsley taxpayer £1.5m this year alone.

You're support is further questionable when the planning regulations on out of town retail developments are examined. When recent changes to the regional spatial strategy were proposed the Secretary of State concluded thus:

"In considering proposals and schemes any investment made should be consistent with the scale and function of the centre, should not undermine the vitality and viability of any other centre or result in the creation of unsustainable shopping patterns" and went on to say "There should also be a presumption against large-scale extensions to such facilities unless they are fully justified in line with the sequential approach established in PPS6. There is no justification for such facilities to be designated as town centres within plans and strategies" and "Comparison retailing facilities should be enhanced and encouraged in the following centres to ensure a sustainable distribution of high quality retail facilities.

Altrincham, Ashton-under-Lyne, Barrow-in-Furness,
Birkenhead, Blackburn, Blackpool,
Bolton, Burnley, Bury
Carlisle, Chester, Crewe,
Kendal, Lancaster, Macclesfield,
Northwich, Oldham, Preston,
Rochdale, Southport, St Helens,
Stockport,Warrington, Wigan,
Workington / Whitehaven.

It should be noted that the inclusion of Kirkby in the above list was declined, the Secretary of State went on to say:

"Investment, of an appropriate scale, in centres not identified above will be encouraged in order to maintain and enhance their vitality and viability, including investment to underpin wider regeneration initiatives, to ensure that centres meet the needs of the local community, as identified by Local Authorities. Retail development that supports entrepreneurship, particularly increasing the number of independent retailers, should be supported. There will be a presumption against new out-of-centre regional or sub-regional comparison retailing facilities requiring Local Authorities to be pro-active in identifying and creating opportunities for development within town centres. There should also be a presumption against large-scale extensions to such facilities unless they are fully justified in line with the sequential approach established in PPS6. There is no justification for such facilities to be designated as town centres within plans and strategies."

The position of the Secretary of State is clear, yet you decided to support a commercial organisations attempt to push the development envelope in preference to the views of your constituents. On reflection, wouldn't a more appropriate course of action have been to sit Tesco down, welcome appropriate redevelopment of the town centre including an anchor supermarket, thereby appeasing local residents, town centre traders and neighbouring authorities.

In closing if our original article was in anyway interpreted as an attack on the integrity of your expense claims we wholeheartedly apologise; it was simply an article designed to show how you act as a Member of Parliament for the residents of Kirkby. How the elected member for those residents facing CPO's can write to the Secretary of State in the hope of fast tracking the decision that could hasten their removal from, and the subsequent demolition of their homes, is beyond belief.

If at any time you wish to debate the subject of Destination Kirkby, Everton's participation or the public inquiry we can confirm that you are always welcome to do so at our regular meetings or we can meet with you at a venue of your choice.


The Committee of the Keep Everton In Our City Campaign

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