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countering the spin and providing the balance


A Wing and A Prayer

A Wing and A PrayerIn Flight of Fancy we highlighted the direction we thought the airport expansion would take. Developers are a crafty lot, and mostly, they won't tell you a smidgen more than they have to. Even then, based on the documentation the present developers have produced so far, you can't tell much from what they are saying. 

And that always makes us suspicious.

We were worried they would go for expansion into the Green Belt that Fylde Council should protect.

Whilst Fylde's planning officers showed admirable acumen in their analysis of the airport masterplan, we worried that the councillors - and in particular, Freckleton's Councillor Trevor Fiddler, (who presently chairs the Planning Committee) were far to quick to swoon - in the commercial equivalent of sweet surrender. 

They were ready to fall, like a willing virgin, into the grasping arms of developers who want to fund the expansion of the airport by raping the green belt - instead of making the airlines pay realistic landing fees.

Well, unsurprisingly, it looks as though it could be heading the way we thought.

The law says planning permission is not needed to expand the airport operations within the footprint of the airfield. This (unusual) law allows airport owners to put up things like control towers and terminal buildings, (and arguably workshops) without asking for permission, and no-one can do anything about it.

So if this plan was for an airport use on the airfield, they could simply go ahead withoyt asking for planning permission at all.

However, planning permission is needed in two circumstances:

a) Where they want to use part of the airfield for non airport uses (e.g. for say, industrial uses); and, 

b). where someone wants to use land in their ownership adjoining the airfield for some other use, (say either airport or industrial use).

You will remember we thought the airport owners would want to fund expansion by developing green belt land for industrial use.

We also knew that Fylde's planning councillors were more in favour of the airport expanding than their officers were, and Councillor Fiddler suggested they should look for a way of reaching understandings - or at least having discussions - with the airport company, outside the public arena.

We wonder if they have found it.

Errigal Investments Ltd, of 4 Lockside Office Park, Lockside Road, Riversway, Preston, has submitted planning application no 07/0330 for what it claims to be two new hangars with terminal building, offices and restaurant with parking, on Land at Amy Johnson Way, Blackpool Business Park.

Errigal Developments is a commercial development company specialising in bespoke commercial development. 

Another company, Poole Aviation, are a part of the Errigal company. 

Poole Aviation has a 1,300 m2 building within the Blackpool Airport site called Hangar 3. But they want to expand their operation, and want to "attract a partner company to occupy the proposed premises within the masterplan vision for the airport as a whole."

Yes. Really. You might well wonder what lies behind that little gem.

The site of the proposed new building is off Amy Johnson Way (if you turn off Squires Gate Lane as if to go to Morrison's or the retail park, but keep going straight on at the first roundabout, (instead of turning left or right), and you keep going until you drive onto the airfield land, the entrance to the new site will be just on your right hand side at the end of the existing buildings. 

In other words, it will extend the industrial buildings (that start just beyond Morrison's) onto the airfield.  See this PLAN for the layout

The site boundary will also cross one of the subsidiary runways / taxiways. 

Fylde Council's greenbelt designation runs up to the runway / taxiway at this point, so part of the proposed development area is to be in the greenbelt - which is usually sacrosanct, but then the Commissar is in charge in Fylde at the moment, and anything could happen.

At the present time, the sight line of the control tower limits the area that can be developed to the northeast quadrant of the red line area. So why, you might ask, is the outer edge of the development site extending into both the greenbelt and the sightline of the control tower. 

Good question.

The answer is probably that this is the easiest way of getting permission to develop on the green belt (by not appearing to do so). The Development Control Committee will probably be advised that none of the buildings are going on the green belt in this application, so everything is alright.

This is perfectly true. 

But once they have been conned into giving a 'change of use' permission for whole of the red line area that has been applied for, the developer can simply sit on it until he is ready to move the control tower (which is also party of the airport masterplan proposals, but not mentioned in this application).

Then Development Control Committee will then probably be told they have already given planning permission for development of the whole of the redline area, and there's nothing much they can do about the developer changing the use from what he first proposed, to some other use such as a much bigger warehouse (or series of warehouses) within the same use class. This way, he can also annexe that part of the green belt that the first (this) application said was not going to be built on.

The stated aim of this 'smoke and mirrors plan' is to accommodate two separate flight management companies, each with a small number of aircraft and helicopters.

There is a nice quote in the blurb that says, in effect, because the proposed development is located close to Blackpool Airport (next to it and extending onto its runway!), this allows the development to take advantage of the Airport's expansion in terms of accessibility. 

In other words it will be handy for the buses that the airport will generate. (Not that we know many helicopter pilots and the like who arrive by bus, but that's another story)

It goes on to say there is potential for one of the offshore aviation companies to be located in one of the hangars, (perhaps implying this is one of the existing businesses nearby).

It cites this and other reasons why there is to be an 'over provision' of car parking spaces compared with what would normally be required. It goes on to provide similar exceptional justification for the proposed restaurant that also fails to comply with local planning criteria. 

There is something distinctly fishy going on here.

It couldn't be that the restaurant and parking area are just about big enough for when the whole of the red lined site is developed once the control tower is moved could it?

Furthermore, the planning application describes the present site as "Vacant, no previous uses" (That's despite part of it being a runway / taxiway). The aim here again is to focus attention on the part of the site that is shown for buildings, and to detract from the greenbelt part.

What you smell here dear reader, is a rat.

As yet, we can't really say exactly what sort or colour, but rat it is, and it's a very fishy smelling rat at that.

The description of "two aircraft hangars with terminal building, offices and restaurant with parking" (perhaps deliberately) confuses things. It sounds like they are building part of the airport. There are pictures of planes and talk of separating the 'airside', and quotes like "the site is well positioned to accommodate activities relating to air travel" but actually, it need not be, nor ever become, part of the airport. 

The plan is for industrial units, and it changes the nature of the land use to commercial or industrial, including part of the green belt.

The real reason is buried in the fine print of the (pretty picture) brochure that (unusually) forms part of the actual planning application. 

counterbalance knows from experience that when the artist's impressions and glossy picture brochures come out, you have to be very afraid! (Remember the Lytham Quays one!). Good ideas sell themselves. Con tricks need an awful lot of graphics. (You can see the full 7mb downloadable brochure under "Supporting Docuuments" here)

The planning application is a full application for change of use, including alteration and new buildings, (normally a change of use such as this should be decided 'in principle' first with an outline application just for 'change of use' being submitted in advance of the full application)

The form of application lists the pretty picture brochure and artists impressions as part of the formal application. Indeed they seem to be the only drawings submitted with the application. The brochure also shows that the real application is to seek planning permission for:

360 m2 of A3 class restaurant (with 45 parking spaces)
700 m2 of B1 class business use (with 23 parking spaces)
7,270 m2 of B8 class warehousing (with 36 parking spaces)

Class A3 covers the sale of food or drink for consumption on the premises, or of hot food for consumption off the premises

Class B2 covers all or any of the following purposes: - 
a) as an office other than a use within Class A2 (financial and professional services),
b) for research and development of products or processes, or
c) for any industrial process being a use which can be carried out in any residential area without detriment to the amenity of that area by reason of noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke, soot, ash, dust or grit.)

Class B8 covers any type of storage or as a distribution centre

Not much mention of air travel in there then, is there? 

Sounds more like an industrial use that has a big parking need, or perhaps parking for what could become Phase 2 of the development on the greenbelt land.

Once these particular use classes have been granted as a planning permission within the red lined area, any developer can change the nature of the use to anything else within that use class without seeking any further permission.

However important it is, an industrial use (such as is being applied for here), should not compromise the integrity of the green belt that separates St Annes from Blackpool - a place once described, we are told, by the late Alderman Pickup, as "A little bit of Heaven at the gates of Hell."

So, where have we got to? What sort of a rat are we dealing with? 

We have what looks to be either:

  • a plan to create industrial land partly on the green belt, (under the guise of being an airport related business), 

  • or we have a plan to relocate some of the existing industrial buildings that presently appear to have an 'airport type use' into the proposed new site partly on the green belt, (so their existing 'airport type use' can be converted to something more lucrative)

  • or we have a Trojan horse application that is most definitely not what it seems, but at present we can't see who's inside.

Oh yes, and if you're thinking that Errigal Developments is a completely separate company and nothing to do with the expansion of the airport, take a look at the airport masterplan, which by coincidence, shows the exact same boundary for this development as Errigal's.

Now maybe you're thinking 'Well, there's no need to worry, the airport expansion won't be needed now anyway, because they're not getting the Casino.

If that thought appeals, you might like to think about the features in the Gazette's business page on Monday and their front page on Tuesday, both of which highlight developments at the airport.

The business page in particular was interesting. Reading between the lines you can see the budget airlines pushing hard to develop transatlantic flights (Blackpool would be a very good and cheap regional airport for them), but the runway is too short to handle full load transatlantic flights and they would have to reduce the fuel load and the number of passengers so the aircraft is light enough for the brakes to be able to stop the plane before it hits Pontins.

The airport company may well have this in mind longer term (and we don't mean hitting Pontins!) - we're pretty sure they have transatlantic ambitions, but they won't say so publicly. However, they want to get this present expansion phase over smoothly, and that isn't going to happen so easily if people realise the ultimate plan is for bigger heavier planes taking off much more frequently and, we believe, to extend the runway away from the sea, altering the Queensway road so either it becomes a cul-de-sac, or it dips through a tunnel under the extended runway, and to re-site the control tower, and the maintenance hangars onto the Rodney Avenue (St Annes) side of the airfield, and to fund all of this by conning us into allowing the development of lucrative industrial estates on the green belt.

The Gazette quotes the Business Development Manager for the airport as saying "There are currently no plans to extend Blackpool's runway"

There it is, that magic little word - 'currently' 

It perfectly matches his other quote of "Destinations further afield are, at the moment, simply not part of our plans"

Another magic phrase - 'at the moment'.

Spinmeisters love these words and phrases because it allows them to talk in doublespeak - which means they can truthfully say the exact opposite of what they mean, and con people.

Blackpool Airport is already the fastest growing airport in the UK, and is publicly planning for 4.3 million passengers. We think the real figure is 6 million or more. The perception of most folk living round here is an airport operation and transport infrastructure catering for the 300,000 or so passengers a year they are used to. You can multiply that by a factor of 15 (at least). 

And all at a time when we are being ordered to change to fluorescent lightbulbs to save carbon so we can save the planet.

As we said in Flight of Fancy, along with most everyone else who reads the papers, counterbalance knows that budget airlines' business model is predicated on paying exceptionally low, or more usually no, landing fees. So if there is a shortfall in passenger revenue to fund the airport development, we wonder why our cherished and important green belt should be used to subsidise Ryanair or whoever else might not be paying proper taxes and dues like the rest of Fylde's businesses.

counterbalance has never claimed to have very green credentials, but if we had, then building on the green belt to fund a 15 times increase in air traffic (and it's consequent pollution) wouldn't exactly be our way of saving either Fylde, or the planet.

Dated:  19 April 2007


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