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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Vision for Kirkby" Fading away?

Knowsley CouncilWithin the last week KEIOC, through our contact at Knowsley Council, have learnt that the Kirkby town centre Interim Policy Statement (IPS) or "Vision for Kirkby" a crucial legal document which would have allowed Knowsley councillors to change the current Local Development Plan and subsequently approve the planning application from Tesco, is about to be shelved.

Senior Planning Officers are said to have conceded defeat on a document that Knowsley Council knew from day one had little if any weight or status in statutory terms. While the IPS itself will more than likely be retained by Knowsley Council as a background document, it will not be used to determine the scale of development proposed at Kirkby by Tesco.

Just days after KEIOC were informed about the failed "Vision for Kirkby" an article appeared in the Liverpool Echo (08/02/08) in which Knowsley Council state that after asking thousands of Kirkby residents for their views on the "Vision for Kirkby" they have suddenly decided work was needed on the views of the whole of Knowsley. Clearly a botched attempt at positive spin by a backtracking Council.

Knowsley Council's pre-empting of bad news for Tesco and the proposed Kirkby Stadium was confirmed the following day when an article quoting an unnamed Knowsley planning officer was published in the Liverpool Daily Post (09/02/08). The planner is quite clear on just one of a myriad of problems that have forced the immanent withdrawal of the IPS;

"I believe we are developing a policy that matches what Tesco want to do. Policy should be made in a complete vacuum and be based squarely on what is good for the town."

We are told that Knowsley Council's sudden change of tactic is an attempt to drum up positive feedback from the people of Prescot, Huyton and other local centres within the borough. Something they have plainly failed to do within Kirkby. In fact, the weight of objections towards the Tesco proposal, from Kirkby residents, traders, shop owners, taxi drivers as well as the robust objections from all FIVE neighbouring local authorities, has left Knowsley Council facing internal accusations of naivety regarding the Tesco proposal. Indeed such naivety must also be levied at Everton's current board of Directors for flagrantly ignoring and failing to identify that this scheme was always set to flounder due to the clear and obvious breech of local, regional and national planning policy.

On the face of it, maybe the residents of Prescot and Huyton would be open to the idea of a larger choice of shops just a short drive away. Of course, when the details of the detrimental effects of such a huge, far reaching proposal as the Tesco one, is laid bare before them, those Knowsley residents alongside the business/retail community will undoubtedly have the same reservations and concerns as the people of Kirkby.

As clearly stated in the RETAIL ASSESSMENT within the Tesco planning application, the annual loss of revenue and trade diversion from the towns of Prescot and Huyton and other local centres within Knowsley runs into millions of pounds annually. On that basis alone, this attempt by Knowsley Council to receive backing for the Kirkby Tesco proposal from the wider Knowsley community, is surely a desperate measure by a Council whose fears regarding this high-risk proposal is seemingly becoming a reality.

Due to the constant silence emanating from Goodison Park, what if any effect this has on the proposed Kirkby Stadium can only be guessed at by a rapidly growing number of very concerned Evertonians. Maybe a clue can be found in the somewhat desperate email sent by Keith Wyness last week to all Knowsley based Evertonians, asking for them to be "ambassadors for the club" and pleading with them to write to Knowsley Council to offer support for the Tesco application.

It seems that having bided their time the Knowsley Liberal Democrats have decided to put their money on what they believe is now a dead cert. As reported last week in the Daily Post, they will be formally objecting to both the "Vision for Kirkby" (IPS), and the Tesco planning application;

Knowsley Liberal Democrats leader Cllr Ian Smith believes plans have been "hopelessly skewed" by proposals for Everton FC's new stadium and the giant Tesco development that goes with it. Cllr Smith wants a public inquiry to investigate these issues.

He said: "It is hopelessly skewed towards the developers and I will be objecting because of this."
and "The overwhelming majority of people in Kirkby were against the stadium. A Liberal Democrat organised poll of 1,600 Kirkby residents found 86% of the respondents were against the plans. But these views are not being properly represented, he believes. "
Daily Post (09/02/08).

At a recent meeting with members of the Kirkby Residents Action Group, on Friday 8th February, George Howarth, in a clumsy attempt to place a positive spin on this debacle, stated that KMBC had succeeded in getting Development Securities and Tesco around the table for discussions on the future of Kirkby and that Tesco will be speaking on behalf of Everton Football Club. Our senior contact at Development Securities has acknowledged an approach by Tesco, confirmed that a meeting with them is imminent and that they are happy to enter into that meeting with no set agenda or preconditions.

KEIOC firmly believe that the people of Kirkby deserve the regeneration of their Town Centre and they equally deserve an anchor supermarket in that regenerated facility which not only reflects the needs of a town of 42,000 but complements and is sensitive to neighbouring authorities and complies with regional and national planning legislation.

What will happen next? Do you think that Knowsley Council will listen to the people of Kirkby? Why should they? They never have in the past.

The main issues surround the amount of retail planned for this development, a compromise is clearly called for which reduces or replaces this massive planned retail complex at which point the objections become impotent. Development Securities can obtain planning permission to redevelop the town centre; Tesco can obtain planning permission to build the largest Tesco Extra in the country and bizarrely due to the main retail issues having been addressed Everton's stadium could be granted planning permission, Knowsley Council desire the kudos and recognition that would come with the relocation of a premiership football club. Knowsley – The home of Everton Football Club.

However as repeated many time during the ballot process, by Keith Wyness, Everton require this retail as the enabler for the stadium. Meaning that even in the event of planning permission for Kirkby stadium being given, Everton FC would have to fund the stadium construction themselves; perceived wisdom informs us that a figure of £95,000,000 is required.

The Everton board is responsible for promoting this project to the loyal and faithful supporters and shareholders of the club, those responsible should now be held completely accountable for endorsing a plan that is clearly undeliverable in its present guise and will certainly fail to be the deal of the century in its revised format. All Evertonians should remember what they were told, its still there on the official site in all its epitaphic glory.

Effectively Free - £12,000,000 - £35,000,000 - £95,000,000+

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