St Helens Council’s plans to grow the population of the borough would put “an impossible strain” on public services, say campaigners.
The hugely controversial Local Plan produced by St Helens Council sets out dramatic population growth estimates.
Three quarters of that growth would come from an influx of people moving to St Helens from outside the borough, the council claims.
Campaigners say if that happens, it would have a disastrous impact on public services in St Helens, which are already struggling to provide for the existing population.
The body that allocates funding for health in the borough, the St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group, has had to suspend some services and believes this year it will have a £13m funding shortfall.
And the NHS trust which runs St Helens and Whiston hospital is also currently running a multi-million pound deficit and faces further financial shortfalls.
Meanwhile St Helens North Labour candidate Conor McGinn claims schools in the borough have lost £9m of funding.
That means if St Helens Council’s plan to grow the borough’s population goes ahead, the borough’s already stretched public services would have to provide services to thousands more people.
James Wright is chair of the Rainford Action Group, which is campaigning to save seven green belt sites in rural Rainford where St Helens Council wants developers to build at least 1,140 houses and an industrial unit.
He said: “This is further evidence that the impact of the Local Plan hasn’t been been thought through. If you care about our local NHS and other public services such as schools and social care, you must oppose the council’s Local Plan.”
The Rainford Action Group has discovered the council has not even consulted the local NHS trust.The group learnt through a Freedom of Information request that St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals Trust hasn’t been “engaged” by the council over its plan to increase the local population by tens of thousands of people.
The trust runs St Helens and Whiston hospitals and other NHS services.
It said in a response to a Freedom of Information request: “We have not been engaged with the St Helens Local Plan. We therefore have not undertaken an impact assessment, therefore there are no outputs and we are unable to establish the resource requirements needs if any.”
Estimates in the Local Plan claim by 2037 the population of St Helens will have grown to 205,114. That’s an increase of 27,926 from 2014.
The council says most of that growth would come from people moving to St Helens from outside the borough – putting further pressure on public services.
The council doesn’t say where these people would move from or why they would move to St Helens. But it has used these estimates as an excuse to allow building on the borough’s green belt.
Green belt campaigners say these population estimates are “wildly optimistic” and would reverse a 30-year population decline in St Helens.
And they warn if such population growth did happen it would have a huge impact on services like the NHS in St Helens.
James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “It’s extraordinary that St Helens Council hasn’t consulted with our local NHS about their plan to grow the borough’s population by such a massive amount. Population growth on this scale could cripple the NHS locally especially given the current financial crisis in the NHS in St Helens.
“The money the council wants to raise by allowing green belt development wouldn’t pay for public services like schools or hospitals. There would be no extra money for the services these new people would need so our existing NHS services would be stretched even more than they currently are.”
The council says its population estimates justify green belt development. But it has provided no evidence as to why thousands of people would move to St Helens, reversing a 30 year trend that’s seen thousands of people move away from the borough.
St Helens’ population is significantly lower today than it was 30 years ago after decades of decline.
James Wright said: “We all want to see growth in St Helens but the green belt shouldn’t be sacrificed on the basis of population estimates that seem wildly optimistic and unrealistic.
“And if there is ever an influx of people into St Helens from elsewhere on the scale the council suggests, in this age of austerity, where would the money come from to pay for the services these extra people would need?
“Everyone in St Helens should be deeply worried about the council’s Local Plan because of the impossible strain the council’s population ambitions would place on our public services and especially our NHS.”