We spoke to Mayor Joe Anderson in June about some local issues in the area. Here’s what he had to say!
Alt Valley Voice: Now that Croxteth Hall is being kept under council ownership after a lengthy bidding process, how is it going to be maintained and managed? How are previous problems that the council experienced with funding going to be avoided in the future?
Joe Anderson: It’s an approach that’s going to be adopted not just with Croxteth Hall. Everyone talks about green space, and we all want to protect green space as much as we can, but I want to make sure that the green space we’ve got is used.
I get frustrated with parks in this city that are underused, where there is very little to do. Other than the farm, and Croxteth Hall, which isn’t used, there’s nothing to do there. It’s a massive asset, we’ve got to commercialise the building and make it sweat. We had two bids, and the bids had some really strong merits, but they had weaknesses as well, and what I wasn’t going to do was allow the total commercialisation of Croxteth Hall, which meant that the public weren’t able to use it. I want to make sure that we commercialise Croxteth, but we also do it with Sefton Park, with Calderstones Park, with Walton Park, and we get more for our money.
It costs us around £11m every year to manage and maintain our green spaces, and that’s money that just comes out of council tax payers’ coffers, but without any money being raised. We’ve got to look at possibilities, such as Croxteth Hall having a restaurant, a café, putting on live events in the park, such as the CBBC festival, from which the return will be massive.
It has a veterinary centre, a stables, yet none of the kids from the most disadvantaged backgrounds can access it and go riding there. Why? It’s madness that we don’t provide that facility when we have the capability, and a veterinary school that would be willing to help us manage our horses and stock. Let’s buy horses, let’s build our own stables, and make sure we have people who can teach kids how to ride. We need to maximise its potential by matching it with a vision that can deliver. It’s been a slow process with the cuts the council has faced, but we’re getting there.
AVV: Plans for Stonebridge Cross have been in the pipeline for years, and have changed several times. Residents are getting frustrated at how progress is not being made with this valuable piece of land, and have been told for a long time that plans for the site will be unveiled ‘in a few weeks’. What are the plans for Stonebridge Cross, and when will they begin?
JA: Of course, it’s very frustrating. What we want is the ability to help the community sustain itself, and part of that is attracting businesses and jobs to the area. While Amazon were interested in the site about 5 years ago, we hung on, as even though they aren’t the best of companies, they were providing jobs, and we would have been able to influence wages and skills, but it didn’t come off.
We’ve had other offers, and I’ve now pushed to say we need to have a decision – in a matter of six to eight weeks, a decision should be made on what we’re going to do. There’s a serious, I think, ethical company that is talking to us, we’re talking 600-800 jobs, and we’ll be able to use our influence to make sure local people get into jobs and get into training. The role of the council and ward councillors will be to make sure people can access these jobs within the area.
We’re also looking at housing, and some retail. My view is that you can’t just build houses, you have to build communities, and within that is jobs and work – you need to get the balance right. So if we did build houses, it would be a mixture of elderly people’s accommodation, bungalows, family accommodation, things that sustain the community. We’ve got to try and nurture the local area.
If we built houses on the site, it would generate a large income for the council as they would be under our housing development company, bringing in rent and council tax, which would probably be just as good as what a business would be paying us in business rates.
However, the businesses bring jobs, so if we can get the jobs, that is what I want to secure, but what I can’t and won’t allow is this pause on the site, we’ve got to try and move it on. It’s on my mind every week, it’s not for the want of trying that it’s been left for so long!
AVV: What impact will the inclusive growth plan have on the area of North East Liverpool?
JA: It’ll have an impact not just on the North East of the city, but everywhere. Obviously the economical hub of any city is the city centre, and people talk about this wealth ‘trickling down’, but with the inclusive growth plan, not only do we look at opportunities for things to be invested in outside of the city centre, we’ve got to try and connect people to those opportunities, too.
We’ve got to look at things in a different way. We have to find a solution that supports specific problems in specific areas, and spend the money we have differently in particular places to make a difference in communities.
The inclusive growth plan aims to engage neighbourhoods, as well as challenge them to be more innovative with the money that we have, that is their money, that we can give back to the community, so there’s a little bit of competition to how they do things.
Different areas require different things and have different assets and opportunities that they can exploit, and that’s how you get inclusive growth; it’s their assets, the money we spend is the people’s money, and as the custodians of it, we try to spend it in the way we see fit.
Inclusive growth is about encouraging people to engage with how we do it – for example, if someone came up with an idea to save money on refuse collection or recycling, that money will be given back to the community to spend.
It’s about instilling the values of looking after our communities and ourselves, for example, getting the youth service to look at how they might work with the environmental team to protect the environment, and we could give them subsidies to do that. It’s just about thinking differently, and as we have very little money, we need to ‘shake the kaleidoscope’, and look at different, better ways to spend our money. We want everyone to feel part of the city.
AVV: How many houses will be built as part of the Foundations development in Dovecot? Are these houses going to be for sale or only to rent? Are they going to be affordable housing?
JA: Initially there’ll be around 250 in the patches of land that we’ve got, with a mixture of different housing. There will be direct rent opportunities, leasing and shared ownership, and what we call ‘rent to buy’, where we set an affordable rent, but also top slice some of that rent which we then put into a deposit for them, so they can buy the house in five years. We will then licence ourselves to have the ‘help to buy’ scheme that the government provide, so we can get money from central government as well as what they have saved for a deposit on a house.
The lease is another way: people sign a lease, and become the owner of the property immediately, but it means they’ve signed up to have that property for 25-30 years. If they decide to move, people can sell the lease on to someone else for the remaining amount of time. It’s a new way of doing council houses.
It’s an exciting opportunity. We’ll be building bungalows, so for example, if an older couple want to get out of their old house as it is too big for them, they can sell it to us and move into one of our properties that has the adaptations they need, and their old house then becomes part of our stock.
We spend about £7 million a year on adapting properties to make them accessible to people, with stair lifts, walk-in showers etc., because the property they live in isn’t fit for purpose. If we provide them with a house that already has everything they need, then we don’t have to spend more money on their existing property, but can take it off them and give them a house that is better for them. This is a scheme that will be being rolled out across the city – we have plans to build 10,000 houses as part of the Foundations housing company, and we have about 4,000 houses already earmarked.
Owning your own home is an aspiration that everyone should be able to achieve, and the only reason they can’t is because the private sector and the banks rip them off. If we can intervene and help the situation, that’s exactly what we should do; it’s sensible socialism – it makes money for us, and it helps people as well.
We got back in touch several times with Liverpool City Council regarding the future of Stonebridge Cross. The time frame specified by Joe Anderson in the interview had well passed, yet nothing had been made public over what decision had been made.
At the time of writing, Alt Valley Voice has still received no reply, and so it appears that Stonebridge Cross will remain in limbo for some time longer.