A ROW broke out at a meeting of Knowsley’s climate emergency committee as the chair attempted to stop reference to a controversial plan to turn part of Whiston Woods into a cemetery.

Discussing a report about government plans to delay the inclusion of biodiversity net gain as a planning requirement following a presentation by Merseyside Environmental Advisory Service (MEAS), leader of the opposition Green party, Cllr Kai Taylor, asked about situations where local authorities had themselves submitted planning applications.

Cllr Taylor said: “In my experience as a local councillor for five years the biggest threat to biodiversity in Knowsley has been Knowsley Council over the past ten years.”

Referring to the local authority’s plans to turn part of Whiston Woods into an expansion of the nearby Fox's Bank cemetery which has attracted local opposition, Cllr Taylor said: ”So for instance just as one example there is a proposal to turn a woodland that is fantastically biodiverse.”

At which point Cllr Taylor, a ward councillor for Prescot South, was interrupted by committee chair Cllr Colin Dever who said the discussion was “straying into ward matters.”

Cllr Taylor said: “It’s not a ward matter I’m using that as an example chair, this is relevant to the report we’ve got.”

Cllr Dever said: “We don’t want to go into detail in that respect.”

In response Cllr Taylor asked if the chair preferred he asked “one of the pre-prepared questions that the officers have given us” to which Cllr Dever said: “Don’t be disrespectful.”

Cllr Taylor then accused the chair of being disrespectful for interrupting his question before the chair told him to continue.

At this point independent councillor Steve Smith interjected to say: “Chair he’s using the woodland as an example and we should listen to the example.”

Cllr Dever then said, addressing Cllr Taylor: “I’ll hear it Kai, however if it becomes political I’ll stop it so please proceed.”

Cllr Taylor asked: “Sorry Cllr Dever are you not a politician? Is this not a political committee?” to which Cllr Dever responded: “Not in scrutiny, we are all here to champion the climate emergency so carry on please.”

St Helens Star: Cllr Kai Taylor speaking at the Knowsley Council climate emergency scrutiny meeting last ThursdayCllr Kai Taylor speaking at the Knowsley Council climate emergency scrutiny meeting last Thursday (Image: .)

Continuing with his question, Cllr Taylor asked: “How can a local authority be brought to  account if it’s up to them to review the documents and effectively scrutinise themselves?” 

Dr Alan Jemmett, head of service at MEAS said it was a “good question.”

Responding, Dr Jemmett said: “One of the things we’ve got to make sure within this is that there is skill and capacity within the planning teams in terms of assessing this.”

He said that money from biodiversity net gain credits could be in part used for further staff training.

He also spoke of the role of MEAS as technical advisors to the local authority, adding their advice “has to be taken into account in the planning process and that decision taking process.”

Dr Jemmett said: “In the eventuality that our advice is not taken on board the officers or the committee, the planning committee taking that decision, need to clearly state why that is the case, that’s important.”

He added: “So to a degree we are part of the independent verification process and I hope that gives the member some comfort within this.”

The biodiversity net gain requirement was included in the Environmental Act 2021 and requires developers to include a minimum of 10% biodiversity net gain within planning applications.  This canbe delivered onsite, offsite or through a centrally managed “credit” system.

The rule was due to come into effect in November 2023 but has been delayed by the government until January 2024. in part according to Dr Jemmett because the government “hasn’t provided all the guidance” including around enforcement.

Dr Jemmett said: “There may be more information coming from the government and if that’s the case of course we’re happy to provide a summary.”