The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Parochial Church Council.
The right decision
The announcement yesterday by the Secretary of State finally over-turning planning permission given by Knowsley Borough Council for a monster sized shopping development and football stadium puts an end to three years of worry for Kirkby residents. Those living near to the site in particular have had their homes blighted, felt trapped, concerned about the loss of peace and quiet in their own houses, increased anti-social behaviour nearby, community safety, health, car-parking, litter, traffic, loss of amenity. After all, a football stadium with capacity greater than the population of the town and a supermarket requiring eight times the number of shoppers each week than the 40,000 who currently live in Kirkby was going to have a big impact.
But the rejection of these plans has not been met by the popping of champagne corks. Those of us who have opposed the development know the town needs regeneration. We remain frustrated that three years have now been wasted on a plan that lacked common sense and community backing.
The Secretary of State has not rejected these proposals just because opponents shouted loudly. If he was to go with those who shouted most loudly he would surely have sided with Everton FC, Tesco and KMBC. The Secretary of State has rejected those proposals because the harm the development would bring was likely to be greater than the benefit:
“the proposal would be likely to have a harmful effect on the vitality and viability of Kirkby, Bootle, Skelmersdale and St Helens. Other factors weighing against the proposal include that the physical regeneration of the old town centre is uncertain, and the stadium would result in harmful impact on many of the town’s residents.” (Paragraph 28 of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government letter, 26th November 2009.)
The proponents of this development originally claimed that it would bring 2,200 jobs to Kirkby. In the last couple of days they have been saying in the press that 7,000 jobs have been lost. I am not too sure why their original figure has now been multiplied by three. In fact, in the planning inquiry under cross-examination, the developers’ consultants admitted that the net gain in full-time-equivalent jobs for Kirkby would be 132 if all went well. This is partly because other existing jobs would be displaced by the new development. This helps us understand the balancing act that the Secretary of State needed to manage: benefit against disbenefits. Nobody is saying that 132 is not a benefit, but 7,000 jobs is simply not the truth. And 132 jobs need to be weighed against the harm. I have said in other places that these plans were about degeneration, not regeneration.
One of the big impacts of this development that was made clear to those of us who sat through the Public Inquiry but that little has been said of in the press is the sheer mass of the stadium. The Valley Hills were going to be levelled to the height of the land behind and up to a concrete wall running along Valley Road. At its highest point this wall would be thirty-two feet high with a three-foot fence on top of that. The stadium’s secure car park would be on top of that. The playing surface was to be above that level and the stands above that. If you can imagine even a thirty-five foot wall and fence along valley road, let alone a huge stadium on top it you will get a picture of how this development would have changed the face of the town. Then remember that some houses in the Grange Estate would have been dwarfed underneath the eaves of this.
Of course, there are other residents who have been settled in their houses behind Cherryfield Drive who were going to have their homes taken off them under a Compulsory Purchase Order. This development took little account of the pride and aspirations of Kirkby residents for their town.
For these reasons I have stood alongside others to make a clear and cogent case for the Government to consider. I am proud of friends and colleagues who have given such a good demonstration of local people’s insights and abilities and have proven the foolishness of what big business was planning to do here.
But the work has not finished. It may only just have begun. Now we need to convince local government officers and members to work with Kirkby residents and plan for regeneration that brings only benefits to the town and no harm.
Revd Dr Tim Stratford (Team Rector of Kirkby).