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City Region Blues

City Region BluesIn 'Plans to Expand' we broke news of the scheme that will rape Fylde's green land to fund the development of Blackpool's rotten inner core.

The 'Central Lancashire and Blackpool Growth Point Bid' is a scheme that was first cooked up by Preston, South Ribble and Chorley in order that regeneration of the area around Church Street and the Bus Station in Preston, and the old ROF factory at Chorley could be funded by development on green sites around the periphery.

The appalling 'Riverworks' scheme was one of these. We covered that in some detail in 'Sold Down the River'

However, when the unseen mandarins of Government Office North West heard Blackpool was preparing the same sort of bid to develop land just outside its boundary in Fylde (including Marton Moss, Whitehills, Whyndyke Farm, the Airport) to fund its own central redevelopment, they persuaded both Preston and Blackpool to submit a single bid, saying there was more chance of succeeding if they worked together on a unified bid.

Thus the unholy alliance of these two civic losers was forged.

Readers might think that description of Blackpool and Preston is a bit harsh.

We disagree.

Blackpool has already expanded to the extremity of its boundary. It concreted and tarmacked the whole of its area until there is no land left unexploited. It has swallowed up the surrounding towns and villages like Bispham. It has only been the steadfast determination of former councils in Poulton and Fylde that has stopped it expanding into the green space between St Anne's, and Staining, and Hardhorn.

Having used almost every square yard of its own land for building, Blackpool ran out of exploitable assets, and needed another way of generating capital.

With the change of administration that took place 30 or more years ago, it shifted its policy and played the 'deprivation card' to get significant Government funding. However, the last election put paid to that, and as we have seen, the new administration is following more commercial policies to get out of the appalling mess Blackpool had got itself into.

Preston has fared slightly less badly, but it is the product of a wild and unthinking dash for growth. The New Town developments of the 60s and 70s and its more recent bid for city and Unitary status underline the civic testosterone that courses through Preston's arteries. Like an adolescent after their first sexual encounter, Preston simply can't get enough to satisfy it.

The result is a shopping centre cut in two by its own ring-road, a city greedily filled up with no spaces left to develop, and a layout that is so disorganised, it has seen the shopping centre move around from place to place every ten years or so. Now it has to look outside its boundaries to generate capital.

No, civic losers isn't too harsh a term

But now the two of them are come together in an unholy alliance to rape their surroundings, and this time, Fylde and Wyre are not standing firm in the face of this greed, Our Commissar rolled over to let them tickle his tummy as soon as he heard about their plans. (Actually, he probably didn't so much roll over as have his legs yanked into the air from under him and was pinned onto his back, but that's another story we've yet to tell).

We're going to look at the Growth Point Plan in more detail in a future article, but to work out where it might go, we need to begin by looking back to see how we got into this mess.

The story involves mind-boggling waste and duplication of effort - which of course means that squillions of pounds of your taxes have already been ploughed into this travesty of governance. So, although we covered it briefly in 'Plans to Expand' what follows is an in-depth retrospective to show how we got here today.

If you want to be horrified about how your money is being wasted..... read on.

It's quite long, and you'll have to concentrate a bit but, like the Loriel advert, "We think it's worth it"

It begins with the view expressed by the people in the North East who made it plain to Two Jags Prescott that they wanted nothing to do with his plan to create Regional Government.

In the autumn of 2004, they voted 78% against the idea.

This gave him a problem. He was committed to introducing the European model of regional government, but the people didn't want it. This Regional Government fiasco had already cost 25 million.

Local government minister at the time (Nick Raynsford) said that the government had to go away and "reflect" on the North East result, He also said there were important lessons to be learned from the referendum (i.e. not to have them) and they needed to consider the situation "in the cool light of day."

So he and his team put their thinking caps on.

They created something they called the "Northern Way" group.

This group produced a report called 'Moving Forward: The Northern Way' which set the foundation of the development threat we face today.

The stated aim was to remove the North-South economic divide. The Government had come up with a way of assessing the 'output' of an area. Called the 'Gross Value Added' (and almost always shortened to GVA), it measures the contribution to the economy of each individual producer, industry or sector in the United Kingdom. (Follow this link if you want the full explanation).

Using this measure, Government said the North of England produced 30bn (That's 30,000 million) less than the South of England, and something needed to be done about making us contribute more to the UK's wealth (although they actually said we would be better off by this figure if we earned more - so it sounded like we were getting something out of it).

But, as usual, there was another agenda.

Government had worked out that we didn't identify with something as big as "The North West" or "The North East" - and so to mould us into accepting what they wanted all along, they decided to approach us the other end so to speak.

Our towns (with which we do strongly identify) would be aggregated and merged into larger units called sub-regions. (The theory being that if we can be conned into swallowing a sub-region, we must, by definition, also be part of the 'region' to which that sub-region belongs).

The Northern Way report charted this way forward. After several months of collaboration between three regional development agencies, central government departments and local authorities in the 'non-regions' of the North West, Yorkshire & Humber, and the North East, the report set out future aims for employment, education, skills, entrepreneurship, housing and transport.

But chief amongst these was the plan to use 'growth' to blur the traditional boundaries. The plan was to allow intermediate towns to develop between existing ones, or to expand the edges of existing large settlements that were already 'full', into their neighbours land.

This Northern Way Growth Strategy was also supposed to 'guide the preparation' of the 'Regional Spatial Strategy' (which was to replace the present planning system and become the overarching land use plan for the whole of a region).

It also introduced the concept of 'City Regions.'

These took an existing city and decided that area around it 'belonged to it' as part of 'its' region. So we had the Liverpool City Region, together with others in the North, including Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

But when they ran out of 'proper' cities, some artificial city areas had to be created. These were fabricated as 'Hull and Humber Ports', 'Central Lancashire', 'Tees Valley', 'Tyne & Wear'.

This administrative sleight of hand fabricated eight so called 'City Regions' in the North of England.

So within the North West Region (which still doesn't exist, of course) there now exist the city regions of: Liverpool, Manchester and Central Lancashire. Click here to see a map of them. At this stage their boundaries were a bit vague. But then they were supposed to be. These City Regions cross Local Government boundaries, attempting to connect areas that have no cultural or natural affinity.

In short, once again, we were being conned.

To govern us at that time (2004/05), in addition to our familiar Parish, Borough and County Councils within the Government's umbrella, we also had a 'Government Office North West' that was set up to lead the regionalisation drive (and hasn't been abandoned since the "No" vote).

We also had a 'Regional Assembly'. A politicians talking shop. If regionalisation had come about, it would have become the region's political body. But this too had not been disbanded.

Into this mix was thrown a whole shedload of the Government's QUANGOS (QUasi Autonomous Non Government Organisations) including the recently re-structured 'English Partnerships' (which used to be the body dealing with derelict land grants and reclamation), a newish organisation called the 'North West Regional Development Agency' (RDA) (again for a region that does not exist remember) and the 'Lancashire Economic Partnership' whose role was to progress the City Regions idea amongst other things.

Now, Dear Reader, if you can see squillions of pounds of your taxes being spent by these people on staff, offices, transport to move around the region to meetings, subsistence expenses, consultancies, feasibility studies, economic research, training, administration and self congratulatory report production, it's probably because you are clear-sighted.

If you want further proof of the mess this ridiculous overlayering of bureaucracy is creating in our planning system in the UK, try this quote for size "The City Region Development Programme is part of the wider Regional and Sub-Regional strategy framework and has links with the Regional Economic Strategy, the Lancashire Economic Strategy, our own Economic Development Plan, the Regional Spatial Strategy, the Core Central Lancashire Sub Regional Strategy and our own Local Development Framework"

That's a quote from an officers report to one of the constituent councils. Don't blame him, he's only telling his council what a tangled web has been woven around them. (And now another Government plan - The Growth Point and Eco Towns Plan has appeared to be slipped into this melee of planning madness).

There are huge costs involved in drafting, consulting amending, reconsulting, publishing, reviewing and updating all of these plans.

This is partly why there aren't enough public services to go round any more. These people are too busy claiming the credit for what smaller authorities are actually doing on the ground, and spending their time planning and managing our lives. So there's nothing left over for sweeping the streets or cutting the grass.

If you don't believe us, have a look at the Lancashire Economic Partnership website  and see the credit they're claiming for the Open Golf Championship coming to Fylde in 2012. This is absolute rubbish. Much as you will hear us criticise our Commissar for lots of things he does wrong, the R&A's visit is down to arrangements and facilities offered by Fylde Borough Council. The LEP is just acting as a parasite on Fylde's success.

But as one of the laws of nature says, once you create an organisation, it has to find something to do.

So in 2005, just after the 'Northern Way' was published, the North West Regional Assembly started to prepare 'Sub-Regional Strategies'.

Round here, they asked Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, and Lancashire County Councils to develop proposals for a sub regional strategy for the Central Lancashire - an area 'broadly defined' (as they say) by the 12 local authority areas of Blackpool, Wyre, Fylde, Preston, South Ribble, Chorley, Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Burnley, Rossendale and Pendle.

This is somewhat at odds with 'traditional' understanding of Central Lancashire (which used to be Preston, South Ribble and Chorley). You can see a (PDF) map of the new Central Lancashire City Region here.

Interestingly, the plan did not include Lancaster or West Lancashire District in what was to become called the Central Lancashire City Region

Overall, this plan had several aims:
  • to establish Central Lancashire as one of three 'City Regions' in the North West (the others being Manchester and Liverpool - so this plan was the prime root of the Central Lancashire City Region idea)
  • to improve 'connectivity' (typically transport and communications) between these three, (and externally to other City Regions)
  • to deliver economic growth and get 'benefits' from it (typically this means extending built development)
  • to create a 'sustainable' pattern of development (your guess is as good as ours, but it's a fashionable term, so it makes the report look up-to-date)

The main point of interest for people in this area was that Preston, Blackburn, Blackpool and Burnley were to become the main areas for growth.

These four growth centres were defined as "the physically contiguous urban areas based on Blackpool, Preston, Blackburn and Burnley" and specified as:

  • BLACKPOOL/Fleetwood/Thornton Cleveleys/Lytham St Anne's.
  • PRESTON (including Penwortham, Lostock Hall, Walton-le-Dale, Bamber Bridge, Clayton Brook, Whittle-le-Woods).
  • BLACKBURN.
  • BURNLEY/Padiham/Nelson/Colne/Brierfield.

The key developments for 'Blackpool' were:

  • Casino/conferencing and other major tourism development.
  • Economic growth to underpin urban restructuring and neighbourhood renewal.
  • Location of a strategic employment site.
  • Medical services and specialisms centred on Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
  • Focal point for Coastal Housing Market Renewal.
  • Transport hub and higher order retailing, service and public administration centre and FE centre for the Fylde Peninsula.

They also postulated that:

  • Blackpool's 'sphere of influence' included Poulton-le-Fylde, Kirkham/Wesham, Wrea Green, Knott End/Preesall, Hambleton, Staining, and Stalmine.
  • Whilst Preston's included Chorley, Leyland, Garstang/Catterall, Adlington, Longridge, Broughton, Grimsargh, Hutton, Longton, Tarleton, Hesketh Bank, Coppull, Euxton, Eccleston, Clayton-le-Woods, Freckleton, Warton (Fylde), Elswick, Clifton, Newton.

Interesting breakdown that, innit?

These three Authorities who prepared the Sub Regional Strategy (i.e. Blackburn, Blackpool, and LCC) consulted widely, (but very notably, not with the general public) in January 2005 as they developed the proposals.

Evidently, this consultation was done is something of a rush because Fylde Council's response said "These submissions have been prepared by Officers without any reference to Members. As such they are highly provisional comments and may be subject to change."

So we have Fylde's officers setting policy now (albeit that it might get changed if they can't make it stick later on, when the politicians find out).

Clever.

Fylde's officers also said:
"There is support for Lytham St. Anne's being defined as part of the Blackpool Urban Growth Area."

This simple little sentence laid the foundations for Lytham and St Anne's to be considered part of Blackpool. After all those years of decent politicians protecting our separate identity Fylde's own hired hands open the floodgates and said we want to be considered part of Blackpool. This is quite disgraceful.

Amongst other things, they also said:
"Kirkham/Wesham's relationship to Blackpool rather than Preston is questioned, and Elswick's relationship to Preston is questioned."

They also noted
"General support is given to the proposals to develop Blackpool Airport, but his will raise Greenbelt and transportation issues. This could be controversial." (You bet it will be once the public got to know about it)

and
"Larger housing developments at settlements with stations may cause local controversy at Kirkham." - (We don't actually know what this means "settlements with stations" - can any of our readers help here?)

and
"There is a feeling that higher levels of housing and other development should be allowed at Warton in view of the BAe plant (9,000 employees) and the fact that workers travel from all over Lancashire to work there. This would be very sustainable." (This might well be the origin of the proposed Warton retail park)

One thing they got right was the comment that
"The importance attached to the Blackpool Casino project by the Sub Regional Strategy is questioned since it appears to be a very high-risk strategy."

After this, the idea of the Central Lancashire City Region came closer to reality, and the Lancashire Economic Partnership picked up the idea and ran with it.

They produced the Central Lancashire City Region Development Plan, as a detailed road-map in 2005, and in 2006, a glossy vanity publishing version. (see Links at end for more details)

Broadly the plan was to use the 'City Vision' scheme in Preston, and in 'Blackpool' (which, you will remember now includes Fleetwood, Thornton, Cleveleys, Lytham St Anne's, and probably Poulton-le-Fylde, Kirkham & Wesham, Wrea Green, Knott End, Preesall, Hambleton, Staining and Stalmine) the aim was to transform Blackpool into a "21st Century Resort" (whatever that might mean).

At the time (2006) the key points included:

  • A positive decision on Blackpool's Regional Casino Licence.
  • Support for the expansion of Blackpool Airport.
  • Recognition from central Government as the "UK hub for advanced manufacturing" (including support for Samlesbury Park at BAE Samlesbury).
  • Consideration by central Government of the potential for defence procurement to contribute to the economic performance of central Lancashire.
  • A lengthening of the funding commitments from central Government to housing market renewal.
  • Discontinuation of the VAT charge on conversion and repair of residential properties.
  • Public transport infrastructure improvements.
  • A strategic review of Green Belt boundaries.
  • Greater flexibilities in the deployment of learning and skills budgets.
  • Recognition of the cultural assets of central Lancashire.
  • Greater recognition in the Northern Way of the role of our market towns.
  • Continued emphasis in the RES and RSS of the pivotal role of Regional Parks (such as the Ribble Estuary).

There's a lot of interesting stuff in this list.

The Regional Casino is a dead duck, so we can get rid of that quite quickly.

The plan to expand the Fylde's airport can now be seen in its true glory, as something Government is pushing as well as the development company that own the airport

The threat the Green Belt is also laid bare.

The City Region Development Plan cites the need "for a strategic review of Green Belt boundaries across the city region to allow for economic growth and address the current shortfall in the supply of readily available employment land", but it offers no evidence of such a shortfall.

The automatic alteration of Green Belt boundaries for any reason should not be assumed in this way.

And fixing Blackpool's rotten core is to be funded by developments in Fylde.

After years of exploiting everything they have, and failing to manage their own economy, Blackpool now expect Fylde and Wyre's residents to bail them out.

The plan is to let the rural hinterland around each City Core to be exploited with housing and in some cases industry for the sake of slum clearance and developing a stronger economy within that core.

Not only this, but the City Regions are now being touted as the basis for developing future housing and transport policy, when there is no evidence that the City Regions even exist outside the minds of Government mandarins and the brainwashed QUANGOS they control.

The 'Central Lancashire and Blackpool Growth Point Bid' that this appalling chain of events has spawned recognises that if Government gives it the go-ahead, it will actually require a change to be made to the Regional Spatial Strategy (which is supposed to be the main planning document for the whole of the North West), and which hasn't even been published yet!

So before you've decided what you want, you've already changed your mind.

This is not Government. This is not planning.

This, is madness.

Dated: 17 December 2007 

LINKS
Lancashire County Council CE's report 
"Moving Forward: The Northern Way" Oct 2004 (Word doc)

NWRA 2005 (PDF)
Central Lancashire First detailed Proposals

Report to Blackpool's Executive on the  2005 (Word doc)
First sub regional strategy proposals

Preston Chorley and South Ribble's Plan 2006 (PDF)
Central Lancs. City

The 2005 (PDF)
Central Lancashire City Region Development Plan

The glossy 2006 version of the
Central Lancashire City Region Development Plan

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