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Home Grown?

Home Grown?Last April, just before the Borough Council elections, we picked up stories from several sources alleging the sale of some or all of the Ashton's Nurseries land on Mythop Road to a housing developer, with Kensington's name mentioned as a possible contender. (You'll remember Kensington had not really endeared themselves to lots of Lytham residents because of their Lytham Quays scheme). We had no way of checking whether any of that information was accurate, so we were not willing to publish it. But we did also hear an allegation that the news was being kept out of the public eye until after the election.

The allegations also suggested Kensington might be interested in acquiring the Mythop Road allotments site owned by the Council, and situated just behind and adjoining the nursery gardens.

We didn't run the story, but those on our subscription list (who get reminders when a new counterbalance article is published) did get the inside track as it came to us. (We tend to put unpublished news snippets like this in the counterbalance email reminders as they arise). You can sign up here for free email notifications.

We heard nothing more and, even if the story had been true, we thought it was a bit close to the election to announce such a scheme, because it would probably upset the good people of Lytham who wouldn't vote for someone who sold their local garden centre for housing, and no-one would be dim enough to do that.

Well, the election is now well out of the way, and along comes an application for Outline Planning Permission for the Nurseries from Councillor Ashton who owns them.

When he spoke to the Express about it, coy wasn't the word.

We saw his quotes of "I only submitted the plans out of interest really" and "I only wanted to find out if the plans would ever be given the go ahead" and "it was just an off the cuff sort of thing"

He was also reported in the Express as saying "It isn't really that expensive to submit plans and I suppose now is a good a time as ever"

Reading these quotes, we were put in mind of the unfortunate comments of ace racing driver and high earner Lewis Hamilton - who, when announcing his move to the tax haven of Switzerland, said he was moving because he couldn't walk down the street here without being recognised.

Yeah, right.

We find it difficult to believe this application is as 'off the cuff' as Councillor Ashton suggests in his quote to the Express.

Sure, the application is in Councillor Ashton's name, but it has been professionally prepared and submitted by Julie Carey, trading as JCPLANNING.

Julie is a former Fylde Council Planner (she left shortly after Kensington's Lytham Quays debacle if we remember correctly), and is now running her own business. Note we're not suggesting anything wrong here. It's nice to see former local authority planners succeeding and earning a crust in the world of commerce, just as former Director of Planning and Technical Services Nigel Hill did when he left and ended up in the employment of Newfield Jones who have been building flats all over the place in the recent past.

Actually, we had bumped into Julie a few days earlier; at the exhibition of the 1150 houses that Kensington hopes to build just off Queensway (We'll be telling you more about these soon). She seemed to be working for, or at least on behalf of, Kensington on that day, and was helping to explain the plans they have for the Queensway development. She was doing a good job, and clearly had a thorough understanding of Kensington's plans.

Anyway, she has prepared the Mythop Road Nursery planning application on behalf of Councillor Ashton.

It's an outline application so there are no plans or elevations of the proposed houses (or flats or whatever) so you can't see what they might look like. The only decision for the Council to make - apart from the principle of whether housing development is appropriate or not on that site - is whether it would be acceptable to use the existing means of access for any housing that might go on the site.

The application says it is for "the demolition of existing garden centre & redevelopment for residential purposes".

The site is described in the application as being 'Brownfield' and 0.34 hectares in extent (although the supporting document actually says 0.35 hectares)

Interestingly, the Council has just agreed to change its planning rules to make it easier for smaller developments to go ahead, so this application appears neatly poised to benefit from that rule.

The application's supporting documents say that the new policy exempts 'minor' developments of 9 and under dwellings from certain requirements, whilst 10 or more constitutes a 'major' application. It also says Fylde's 'minor' policy also applies where the number of dwellings to be constructed is not given in the application (as is the case here). It also suggests a site area of 0.5 hectares or more should be used as the definition of a major development.

The supporting document goes on to argue that although there is no specific guidance for Outline applications, for the purposes of this application, the proposed development constitutes a 'minor' application, so the Council's 'Small Sites Exemption Policy' should apply to it.

Elsewhere it goes on to say "In terms of the density and amount of development, the detailed proposal will be designed with a net density of at least 30-50 dwellings per hectare, as is required by both national and local plan policy."

Sadly, according to our calculator, (and assuming the site has been measured properly), there is a dichotomy here, because when we divide the stated minimum acceptable density of 30 dwellings per hectare by the size of the site, we come out with either 10.2 or 10.5 houses for a site of this size, and that would seem to take it out of the 'Small Sites Exemption Policy' and class it as a 'major' application.

But then there's that "net" word (as in "net density") sitting unobtrusively in the sentence, and maybe the numbers relate only to the footprint of the building which might exclude parking and landscaped areas from the calculation.

If the 'major' application provisions were to apply (and they may not, of course), it would probably mean that either the National and local plan policies couldn't be complied with, or it becomes classed as a 'major' application and a certain proportion of the properties had to be "Affordable".

To get around this, perhaps a small part of the land could be, say, given away to the allotments people next door. That would reduce the area and probably allow the site to benefit from the 'Small Exemptions Policy' again.

Anyway, this is all something for Councillor Ashton's colleagues on the Development Control Committee to sort out, and thank goodness we have them there to decide complicated things like what "net density" means, and how to interpret the conflicting messages of their new policy. They devised the Policy, so no doubt they will understand it best.

The target date for their decision is 4th February, so after that we might know a bit more about whether we are likely to lose the Nursery Gardens from Lytham or not.

Perhaps even if he gets the outline permission, Councillor Ashton won't sell the land, and will keep the family business going, but the change in land value that residential permission would bring is likely to be very tempting.

As an aside, and knowing how the Commissar works, if we had an allotment on the Mythop Road site, we'd be wondering about our future. The indicative car parking area for the residential accommodation on Councillor Ashton's outline plan has a long interface with the allotments land, and if his proposed access road for the residential development were to continue in a straight line across his proposed parking area, it would go right into the heart of the allotments land - making that site (which is much larger than the nursery gardens) eminently developable.

Dated:  16 December 2007


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