By Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council
I had the pleasure (and it really was a pleasure) of visiting our town centres the weekend before last as the bars, restaurants, cafes and hairdressers re-opened.
July 4th was a big day for those businesses, and for the customers, too.
It’s difficult to quantify the amount of work that has gone into those re-openings – each and every business owner has worked really hard to understand and implement the guidance from the Government – and they’ve been supported by our Town Centre Management team, our Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers, and our Communications team. The businesses have had to re-organise themselves and re-train their staff so that everybody understands their new obligations to help keep themselves and their customers safe. But one thing was very clear – all are delighted to be open again and all are absolutely determined to make it work. So I’m equally delighted to report that, just over a week since they re-opened, there have been no significant issues or concerns in Knowsley, and that’s a great testament to all involved – well done.
We now know that more businesses will be able to open their doors in the coming weeks, after dates were announced for the re-opening of gyms, nail bars, beauty salons and other types of close-contact service providers. Once again, this will mean lots of hard work for all involved but it’s a huge relief for businesses in these sectors to have something to work towards at last.
Of course, the best thing about seeing these businesses open again isn’t just being able to have a pint or that long overdue haircut (although both of those were very welcome, too!). It’s what it means to those individuals whose livelihoods rely on them – the business owners, the employees, those in the supply chain. Seeing those businesses up and running again is a real sign of hope – a signal that we have entered the “recovery” phase. One thing which I believe that we should take from this whole experience is not to take things for granted. And of course we certainly cannot take prosperity, jobs and opportunity for granted, especially in the immediate aftermath of this pandemic.
That’s why I’m so pleased that here in Knowsley we continue to be ambitious for the future – and, despite the difficulties of the “here and now”, we are making plans and taking decisions which will make our Borough a better, more prosperous, and thriving place in the years to come.
Last Thursday our Planning Committee signed off on two extremely significant proposals which I believe are going to be key in achieving that kind of future. They approved the Council’s vision for how the new Garden Village being created at Halsnead (near Whiston) should look – and mostly excitingly also gave approval to the first homes to be built there.
This development is unique – not only because it is one of only a handful of Garden Villages to be given the go-ahead by the Government – but also because it will become an extremely attractive and desirable place for local people to live and bring up their families. With the “Garden Village” theme in mind, our officers have drawn up exacting and carefully thought out design elements which developers must stick to – everything from the types of materials used down to the kinds of planting which will complement the development. To be clear – if an application doesn’t meet those standards, it simply won’t happen.
Also built into this development – and this is crucial as we look to recovery and a more prosperous future for the borough as a whole – is social value. This means not simply more homes, but also real and significant investment in local infrastructure – including millions of pounds for new schools, childcare, healthcare facilities, children’s playgrounds, and public parks.
Those of you who follow these types of things may also have noticed that an application was withdrawn from the Planning Committee’s agenda. The application in question was for planning permission at Halsnead Garden Village. The Council’s officers had recommended that the Committee should refuse the application in view of numerous significant concerns over the proposed scheme, including a failure to ensure comprehensive development, the fact that it would not have dealt with its impacts, and the absence of any affordable housing now or in the future. I hope that the recommendation for refusal in this instance makes it clear to everybody that we won’t accept anything but the best for our Borough.
I obviously know and certainly don’t disregard the fact that some people don’t want to see more housing in Knowsley. After all, if the people who live here already have homes, why do we need more homes? And if they aren’t the kind of home which some people want to buy, aren’t the new homes the wrong kind of homes? Won’t more homes just mean more traffic and more difficulty getting a doctor’s appointment?
So let’s take a moment to think about what kind of future we want for this Borough – for ourselves, for our children and our grandchildren too. If we want to enjoy all of the things we’ve missed so much during the lockdown – a life where we can eat out, go for a drink with friends, enjoy shopping and days out with the family, and a life where we can actually afford those things – we need jobs, prosperity, and good local services. We need a choice of quality homes to live in. We need attractive outdoor spaces, good roads and transport links. We need our local area to be ambitious on our behalf and to give us the opportunity to thrive.
We can’t achieve those things by standing still.
So my focus, not only in the years ahead, but right now is on recovering from COVID-19 and making progress. I can assure you that this Council is doing everything it can to ensure a successful recovery from this pandemic, and that we remain resolutely ambitious to make life for everyone living here, better than ever in future.