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Heeley Road Hostel Plans

Heeley Road Hostel PlansThe agenda for the Fylde's Development Control (Planning) Committee meeting of 16 January 2008 has been published on their website. You can follow this link to download a copy of it. Unusually, the meeting will be held at Lowther Pavilion (not the Town Hall), and there is only one item on the agenda. (Normally meetings have 30 or more applications to deal with). Lowther is being used because potentially a large number of people are expected as spectators, and the item will provoke a lot of debate. The meeting starts at 9:30am.

There has been some concern that the daytime meeting will prevent those who work from attending, but the Council has reportedly said it is not necessary for people to attend, and they will accept comments right up to the day before the meeting.

That of course neatly gets them over the 'Lytham Quays effect', where 400 people packed Lowther and made their views known in no uncertain manner to their Councillors during the meeting.

That's not going to happen next week, but we sense pressure is building.

Unsurprisingly, the planning officer's report recommends approval of the application.

We say it's not surprising for two reasons.

Firstly the public meetings with Muir and Fylde Council sharing a platform showed how closely they are working together on this scheme. The Council claims the scheme will meet an important objective to house transient homeless people. (Even though the numbers on which its affordable housing policy is based are misinterpreted)

Secondly, the Council has a big financial interest in approving the plan - because they want to sell the site to Muir as part of a bigger scheme to pay for a new office block next to the Town Hall. The Heeley Road land will be worth more if it has residential planning permission. It can also provide FBC with the 'affordable housing' element they need for a bigger planning application of their own.

So how have the planning officers justified what seems to be something most of the local community oppose? (see More Muir and Don't Have Any Muir)

Well, right from the beginning, their report sets out to sell the idea of the hostel in a positive light.

They've even changed the applicant's own description from 'Hostel' to 'Supported Housing.' in an attempt to make the scheme seem more palatable.

We have the right to expect better balance from our professional officers.

In another example, many (supportive) comments have been invited and incorporated from the Council's housing department (who are the strongest advocates of the scheme), but no comment on the planning report appears to have been invited from either the Fylde Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership or The Fylde Community Safety Partnership.

They, of course, might well have put forward a negative view.

The Fylde Community Safety Partnership's published overarching aim is:
"To promote community safety, reduce levels of crime, disorder and road casualties, as well as improving the quality of life for all those who live, work and visit the Borough of Fylde"

The Planning Officer's report on the hostel says:
"It is your Officers' opinion that these measures would provide sufficient safeguards, in so far as can be reasonably expected, to minimise the risk of a potential occupant causing crime or anti social behaviour problems and thereby protecting the local community"

Talk about using doublespeak to slither and slide around the topic as you try to worm your way out of it.

Through its membership of the Fylde Community Safety Partnership, the Council has signed up to REDUCE crime, to REDUCE disorder, to IMPROVE the quality of life, yet the best they can offer here are weasel words to try and hide the fact that - based on experience elsewhere - this scheme will probably provide the exact opposite of what they have signed up to.

It's not clear who wrote the report. If it is planning officer Helen Hockenhull, we're quite surprised. The previous work we have seen from her is usually much more balanced.

This is a report to be ashamed of.

It perpetuates the myth that everyone housed in the hostel will be:

  • not intentionally homeless,
  • have a local connection, and
  • be subject to a check at their previous address.

This is poppycock. There are far more people who arrive at Fylde claiming to be homeless than are actually housed, and any one or more of that greater number may be placed in the hostel whilst waiting to be vetted, (and whilst vetting takes place). So there is no guarantee that anyone's history will be known when they are allocated a place in one of the hostels.

No wonder the police are concerned and have asked to be involved in the allocation of tenancies.

The St Anne's Town Council said it would prefer the land to be retained for industrial use. We agree. We find it quite amazing that the importance of small scale employment sites like this - sites that can help reduce car journeys to work and provide employment for local people - has not been taken more into account by Fylde's planning officers. It is quietly glossed over in the planning report.

This proposed change of use is really just another example of the process we saw at Lytham Keys where a landowner artificially created a Brownfield site they could sell for building by closing down the industry and moving it elsewhere.

But the most glaring conflict is in the field of crime and disorder.

The report says there will be no detrimental impact on residential amenity because there are only 27 bedspaces.

The hostel for children in St Alban's Road has only 6 bedspaces but it has been a one-building crimewave all of its own. In the last 12 months, the Police have attended 134 incidents there, and made 33 arrests.

That's an average of almost 2 visits a day week, and three arrests every week  month. * SEE 'UPDATE2' AT END

The report dismisses potential for crime by only referring to public concern about the fear of crime. It fails to adequately address the statutory responsibility that imposes a duty on Councils to take steps to REDUCE crime. This scheme does nothing to reduce crime. It has the potential to increase it.

The police have submitted a measured view which says whilst they have no comparable data for Fylde, they have experience of similar units housing homeless people in Blackpool. At one of these, in the last 12 months, there have been 75 incidents requiring police attendance. That's six visits a month. Another, run by the YMCA, had averaged a police visit every week.

The police ask the Council to consider this, and to involve them in the referral process for any tenant, so as to prevent the allocation to undesirable tenants.

These comments seem to have upset Councillor Karen Buckley of St Leonard's Ward. She was quoted by the LSA Express as saying "I would like to ask why the police are using these figures from hostels in Blackpool, when the circumstances for the hostel in St Anne's is completely different. The hostels in Blackpool are nothing like the one being proposed and aren't even run by the group wanting to build on St David's Road."  NB: See update below

She might live to regret those comments.

She obviously forgot to read the end of her own planning officer's report which says "A comment has also been made about what could potentially happen in the future as a move to joint services is made with Blackpool and Wyre. What may happen in the future is difficult to predict but it is true to say that all three authorities are working in partnership to address homelessness issues and produce strategies to address this issue."

So it looks as though we're going to get Blackpool's transient homeless here anyway if the Commissar gets his way and we merge with Blackpool.

Judging by her tone, it also looks as though Cllr Buckley thinks the Police should keep quiet and not spoil the Council's plans to cash-in on the land sale after she and her other colleagues in the Conservative group agree to sell the land to Muir once the planning permission has been granted - as it is likely to be. NB: See update below

She might like to be a bit more careful. We had a phone call today from a resident of Blackpool who was very upset for the people here that would be affected. She said "For Gods sake make sure you get this stopped. I've been there and it's awful. I lived in the next road to Gorton Street in Blackpool. If they take a dislike to you they will smash your windows and spray paint on your walls. Bored children set off the fire alarms twice a week in the middle of the night just for the excitement of seeing the fire engine turn out. I didn't get a decent night's sleep in a whole year. Eventually I sold my home which was worth £70,000 for just £30,000 to get away from the problem. In the end the only way we could get any action was that when we were disturbed, we had the private phone number of our local Councillor, and we rang him at whatever time it was in the morning and held the phone out of the window so he could hear the disturbance first hand"

Like we said, Cllr Buckley might be well advised to keep her head below the parapet with her other Conservative colleagues. There's going to be real trouble if this is approved and built.

Fylde's older Councillors will also know that trouble will come. The Council's offices at Wesham adjoin what was a Council housing area. For a time in the late 1990's one or two homeless families were placed there when the need arose. This was a disaster. Windows in the offices were smashed most weekends. CCTV was installed. That too was smashed. Staff going home would never know if a brick was coming over the fence between the offices and the housing area. Cars were regularly damaged. In the end the project was abandoned.

The lesson from this experience was that contrary to the enlightened view of social liberals, putting a rotten apple in the middle of a barrel of good apples doesn't ever result in the bad apple being cured. It usually produces the opposite result.

However, there may be some hope. We are picking up stories that whilst Fylde's officers are very much in favour of the Heeley Road Hostel idea, some Councillors are now getting cold feet because of the public opposition to the scheme. Looking at the Committee make-up, we can see potential for a close decision, but sadly, we still think it will be approved.

That's not the end of the story though. Before Muir (or anyone else) could implement a planning approval, they will have to own the land. That would usually mean Fylde would have to sell it to them, and the process leading to that decision probably offers the best chance of getting the scheme stopped.

Even if Fylde were to refuse the planning permission, it's likely it could be won fairly easily on appeal to the Secretary of State.

But there is no constraint on whether Fylde has to sell the land or not, and if enough pressure could be applied to this decision, a majority of the Conservative group might be persuaded not to sell it.

That is, unless they're not planning to sell it at all..........

We've been puzzled for a while why Muir is the applicant on this site. Fylde undoubtedly want to claim this application as the affordable part of a larger package to fund the Town Hall works, and it is unusual for them to be able to do this if someone else owns and develops the affordable part.

When a planning permission is granted, it is said to 'run with the land'. (i.e. the current owner has the benefit of the planning permission). So in this case, by having Muir make the application, Fylde is avoiding the flak it would get if it applied for the permission itself. Once the planning permission is granted, Fylde Council (as the current landowner) will have the benefit of that planning permission.

This could mean one of two things. Either Muir are being conned, and after the planning permission is granted, Fylde will just offer the site to the highest bidder, or they will be more honest, and eventually sell it to Muir.

It's still a slightly odd way of going about it, but it probably means the sale to Muir won't take place until Fylde is ready to proceed with its other sites. That itself will depend on the introduction of relaxed planning rules that the Council has heralded in the Public Notices of the Express and the Gazette this week. So we're probably looking at May for matters to come to a conclusive head.

But even so, the planning decision on 16th is important, and if any of our readers want to speak at the meeting (traditionally individuals are allowed three minutes each), bear in mind you need to register with the Planning Service in writing or by e-mail before 12 Noon on Monday 14th. The contact email address in FBC's leaflet is planning@fylde.gov.uk. Ask them to confirm receipt of your request. There is a leaflet about Public Speaking At Development Control Committee on Fylde's website, which explains the process.

We'll have someone at the meeting to report the proceedings for our readers.

Dated:  11 January 2008


UPDATE: 13 Jan 08
Councillor Buckley has advised 'counterbalance' she was misquoted in the online version of the LSA Express. She tells us she told the press she was very concerned with the police findings notwithstanding the fact that the comparisons are with hostels in Blackpool that are not run by Muir, and has challenged Muir to respond. She also said she has put further information on her blog at St. Leonard's Conservatives. We are happy to relay this information on her behalf, and to have the opportunity to correct the previous information.

*UPDATE2: 30 May 2010
We're grateful to a reader for pointing out our typos above, (regarding the interpretation of the policing of 'the Coppice') and we have now corrected the text. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.


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