A GROUP concerned about the loss of the green belt has lost patience with Rainhill Parish Council which it believes is ignoring them.

The Rainhill Save Our Green Belt (RSOGB), who raised a number of questions at a meeting of the parish council before Christmas was still awaiting a written response at the end of January.

The group is campaigning to save the Green Belt and has had two meetings to discuss the Local Plan with the parish council.

The campaign was launched in 2016 to oppose numerous proposed developments -including plans for up to 1,500 homes on the site of Eccleston Park Golf. The group was also against a plan to up to 1,500 homes on land at the Manor Farm and Hanging Bridge Farm.

Chairman of RSOGB, John Fairclough, sent a letter of complaint to the parish clerk a fortnight ago saying: “As of yesterday’s date (Jan 29) it is now six weeks from when we addressed Rainford Parish Council, and we have still not received a written or verbal response, or any replies to my questions.”

The questions included asking the parish council to confirm whether its councillors would stand up and work with residents to maintain the green belt, asked what autonomy the parish council had over its councillors, any involvement by St Helens Council had in influencing the Local Plan process, why as a group it had been blocked on a social media platform while other groups were not and why it could not include its campaign in the parish council’s newsletter.

Mr Fairclough explained: “This is the single biggest issue to affect Rainhill in decades. We feel that we and the Rainhill residents have been backed into a corner over this situation, yet our parish council refuse to say whether they will or won’t support any element of our campaign.

“The lines of communication, negotiation, and even acknowledgements, are being completely ignored.

"The lack of transparency by the parish council as far as the group is concerned has led to issues of bias in favour of the land being redeveloped.

He added:“Some of our parish councillors have taken to the press and radio voicing complete support of building on the green belt.

“These people have been voted in to listen to and respond to the people of Rainhill with its best interests at heart."

“Our group has thousands of members and followers between social media and e-newsletters,yet the parish council is wilfully ignoring us.

“We believe that they it is leaving us no option, other than to look at a vote of no confidence, or a parish poll, which would allow a vote for the Rainhill parishioners to demonstrate their feelings about the Local Plan”.

St Helens Star:

RSOGB members

In response Gillian Pinder, Rainhill Parish clerk, said the council must remain respectful of different views and opinions and not be seen to stifle the freedom of individual members or residents who take views that differ from other residents or groups

She said Rainhill PC had afforded the group an audience and opportunity to raise its concerns, which have been addressed and relayed to the planning authority.

She added individual councillors were free to conduct themselves as they saw fit, subject to the important constraints of the code of conduct.

Mrs Pinder explained: “The council receives communications from a wide range of sources. It is the councillors’ responsibility to assess these and draw their own conclusions in the light of their own experience, personal research and judgement.

“As it is in the public domain, the legal department at St Helens MBC from time to time communicates to parish councils the importance of not fettering their discretion when considering controversial matters, particularly around planning matters.

“It would not be appropriate for the parish council to include organisations that are engaged in political campaigns whether or not that campaign is identified with a particular political party. This does not preclude individual members of the council supporting or opposing particular causes, campaigns, groups or parties.”

Mrs Pinder said the council was not responsible for use or non-use of a councillor’s social media account and as an authority, it had to remain independent of any party political interference.

She added St Helens Council would start the next phase of the Local Plan in summer by which time the parish would have "something substantive" to discuss.

By Peter Devine