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Plans to Expand

Plans to ExpandAt the Politburo Cabinet meeting of 14th November, a late item was slipped in.  Resplendent in its mind-numbing name of the "Central Lancashire and Blackpool Growth Point Bid" item 3 was considered (with no debate) under what are known as Fylde's "Rule 16 Procedure Rules".  Typically these rules relate to urgent business, and are often used for items received after the agenda has been published.

The late item was a potentially very important change in the planning system for this area, with major development plans if Government approves the bid.

However, it is not unknown for a controversial or important item to be deliberately left late, so anyone who wants to oppose it has less warning of it's existence, and less time to prepare themselves to argue against it.

Now, counterbalance can't possibly know whether this was the reason behind the late item on 14th November but, given that:

  • the matter under discussion involved consultants having been commissioned to prepare a bid for a huge housing and renewal development project on behalf of Lancashire County Council, Blackpool Unitary Council, Preston City Council, South Ribble and Chorley Borough Councils, and
  • the area being considered for development includes the whole of Fylde and Wyre Boroughs,

we find it difficult to imagine that a scheme going back to a Government announcment last July, has not seen a lot of discussions going on, and that there hasn't been an opportunity to let Fylde Councillors know about it before the final report was published.

If approved by Government, the bid - which runs into hundreds of millions of poundsworth of housing and other development - will re-write not only Fylde's planning, housing and economic development policies, but the planning and housing policies for every one of those affected Councils.

It will also change the regional planning policy the Government itself has only just issued for the North West.

So we're a bit surprised there has been no public consultation about, or publicity for, the content of this bid.

We're equally quite shocked that a policy decision as important as whether Fylde should join in such a scheme went straight to the the Politburo Cabinet who are supposed to make day-to-day decisions, rather than to the full Council meeting who decide policy.

It's even more strange that the final version of the bid, dated (October 2007) and presented to Fylde's Cabinet on 14 November, said (on page 15), "It also has the support of Fylde Borough Council and Wyre Borough Council"

Clearly, when it was written, it had no such support.

With the ability to predict like that, you'd think the organisers were pretty much sure to get their bid approved.

But we smell something suspiciously like information management and manipulation here.

So what's going on?

And if it was delayed so as to rush it through at the last minute and avoid any real chance of debate, what's so secret in it that it has to be done like this?

To understand it, and to cut through the management gobbledygook in which most of it is written, we need to look at two separate threads that eventually come together to make this "Growth Point Bid"

The Government wants to increase housing.

There are many reasons why, but in our view the chief, (and mostly unreported) driver of demand has been Government's singular failure to adopt policies that promote and support family cohesion. When separation and divorce is rife, as it is now, you need double the number of residences that a community of two parent families need. Nationally, the need for "second homes" when one partner leaves is in direct proportion to expressed housing demand.

Secondly, the impact of mass migration from low value economies to the UK is welcomed and encouraged by the Government because it helps to maintain low wages and thus depress wage inflation. But it creates increased pressure for additional housing on a national scale, as does the longer term demographic impact of more children being born to migrant families when the UK birth rate was otherwise falling.

To accommodate the need for increased housing, Government developed a scheme called "Growth Points", especially in London, South east, and Midlands etc. These are the ones you've heard about in the media as "building on the green belt".

However, it is clear the Government will struggle to meet its target for new houses, so in July this year they said it wanted to expand the Growth Points scheme.

They announced a plan to create another 10 to 15 new Growth Point schemes - many of which they would like to see in the North of England.

So Government has asked Councils in the North to submit bids to create these Growth Points, and to say how they would make them work.

It is no secret the Government also wants to develop regional government throughout the UK.

But when we (or more accurately the good people of the North East) showed our will to reject this idea that Europe wants to introduce as part of its plan to destroy our national identity, our Government had to find ways to slip it in by the back door.

So under the guise of cost savings and economies of scale, it started to promote things like "Joint Working Agreements" and "Multi-Area Agreements" between Councils, to get them working together.

Government also started to promote the idea of "Sub-Regions"

This con-trick works on the basis that if they can get us to accept the idea that we are part of a sub-region, (which is geographically smaller and thus closer, and more identifiable to us); we might accept it more easily than we would accept a "Region".

If we can be conned into accepting it, then, the very existence of sub-region means there must be a region to which it is subordinate.

Et voilla! as the Europhiles might say, we have the UK divided into regions.

Small-time politicians and officers in the backwaters of governance away from London and the Home Counties are always on the lookout for these sort of trends to latch on to. They have to be, because this is how successive Governments manipulate naive local Councils, who in turn, suck in the latest fad and go on to brainwash their electorate.

Government gets what it wants by seducing the political classes with quite large sums of money geared to its "trend of the moment".

No doubt Government would want us to believe its Growth Point scheme is a careful, thought-through, long term policy. But it's actually a cynical, short term con to get whatever it wants.

In this case, probably mostly, to get Europe of its back on the regionalisation issue.

To curry favour with Government, you see a rush of people who ought to know better, acting as willing whores, ready to offer both their communities and their integrity for a chance to get the Government's shilling.

So in this area you have seen the arrival of names like the "Central Lancashire" (a theoretical sub-region made up of Preston Chorley and Leyland), and "Pennine Lancashire" (another artificial construction made up of Blackburn, Burnley, Pendle, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, and Rossendale), and "The Fylde Coast" (as though there was a single unit of local government for Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre).

Together, these areas have taken to calling themselves the "Central Lancashire City Region", and the heart of the "Lancashire Sub Region"

So there you have it.

Lancashire has become a sub-division of an invisible North West Region.

These two threads have now merged in the "Central Lancashire and Blackpool Growth Point Bid" where the constituent Councils have hatched a plan to act as municipal hookers and planning whores, soliciting cash to entice developers to rape the green spaces on the edge of some of our towns.

Not content with this, (and probably because they recognise it will be hugely unpopular with their electorate and some landowners), they are planning a deliberate circumvention of the planning system.

The idea is to set up, (using powers within Section 28 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act), a non-elected "Board" comprising (some) Council Leaders, Cabinet Members, and Senior Officers, that will oversee the delivery of a programme of (mostly housing) development.

Broadly speaking, this has all the hallmarks of becoming a separate planning authority for the area, working to its own rules and without proper democratic accountability, just like the Central Lancashire New Town did in the 70s and 80s.

Lancashire County Council is to provide the administrative services to this proposed Board (which will, of course, soon mean that LCC are running the show)

Furthermore, a "Special Purpose Vehicle" called a "Local Asset Backed Vehicle" is to be created.

You might well marvel at the gobbledygook dear reader.

Essentially this is a public/private body that will hold and develop the assets (buildings and land) acquired by compulsory purchase or negotiation, and use a profit sharing arrangement to split the money they make.

Crudely, the plan is to grant planning permissions to develop many more houses than has previously been intended. Some of these will be on land owned (either now or perhaps compulsorily in the near future) by Local Authorities or the Government.

Granting a planning permission increases the value of green land by a factor of maybe 200 times, so the "partner" Councils should get a shedload of money (but actually, they won't - as we will explain later).

As well as this income, the grant of planning permission will be conditional on developers paying the Board a "Roof Tax" of 10,000 per dwelling.

And in addition to this, there will be what are known as "Section 106" agreements which will require developers to provide funding for civic infrastructure such as roads, transport, health centres etc.

The money that comes from all this development (estimated to be 130 million from the roof tax alone) is to be used to "regenerate" the run down areas of housing (mostly in Blackpool and Preston) and to provide industro/commercial buildings for employment. So it will be spent back with the very developers that have paid it in the first place.

They will get two lots of profit out of it - once when they build the houses on the edge of towns, and again when they build the houses within the town centres. Nice work if you can get it!

counterbalance thinks it would be a good time to acquire some shares in Persimmon Homes and Countryside Properties, and Taylor Wimpy, each of whom has been approached and asked to, and indeed have, written a letter of support for the plan.

Now there's a surprise!

And if you think you've heard the worst of it already, read on........

All the negotiations about how much Section 106 money should be paid, what the roof tax will be on each site, and what will happen where, and when it will be done, is going to be decided centrally by the Board, advised by Lancashire County Council.

Furthermore, the money raised from the identified development sites throughout the whole of this area (That's the area from Fleetwood going east to the Trough of Bowland, then south to Chorley, then west to Longton Marsh near Southport and back up the coast to Fleetwood) is to be paid into a central pot administered by the County Council on behalf of the Board.

So it looks as though if the bid is approved the money arising from local developments planned for Whyndyke Farm (The so-called M55 Hub in the bid) which is in Fylde, and the Squires Gate Airport developments (also in Fylde), and further development of the Whitehills Industrial estate, and part of Marton Moss isn't going to benefit Fylde residents (as it would under the normal planning process), but it will help to regenerate the centre of Blackpool.

All the pain and none of the gain.

This concept is rapidly turning into a key indicator of partnership working whenever the Commissar gets involved.

There is a lot more detail in the bid document. We have a copy, and if anyone would like it by email just get in touch. For those with a passing interest, there could be more to come and we may well return to this topic.

Dated:  19 November 2007


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