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Pools and Planning

Planning Policies at Fylde CouncilThis article is a really cogent example of just how the present administration - with moneybags rolling round in its eyes like a fruit machine on Blackpool promenade - is going wrong with its plan to asset strip our public facilities. It can only see them as soft, ripe plums, ready to pick to fund redevelopment and regeneration.

The Commissar just loves to plump for schemes that cost thousands to prepare and research.

Instead of looking after what we have already, he spends our money on consultancies and research producing the expectation of change, in the hope he can create the illusion of progress, and make it appear that something is happening.

We are now entirely convinced this administration will never learn, nor understand, that people who live and visit here do so precisely because there is almost no change.

They like it as it is.

That's why it is almost certain the - yet to be unveiled - plan to 'regenerate' (be very afraid) St Anne's Promenade is doomed to failure even before it starts. Anyone with a grasp of what people here want would know the last thing they want is change.

As we heard an 'opposition' Councillor say: "Fylde is a backwater, but it is a prosperous, safe, and comfortable backwater, and people come here *because* it is a backwater. They don't want growth and change."

But sadly, that view does not, and will not, prevail in the present ruling administrative group.

counterbalance thinks the real pressure to close St Anne's Swimming Pool comes not from its operating cost, but probably from the Commissar's plan to asset strip the pool site (and maybe parts of the boating pool site) - quite possibly to raise the money he will use for match or partnership funding to kickstart the 'promenade regeneration' scheme that can only land him deeper in the mire with local folk.

To borrow a quote from his party leader, "He just doesn't get it."

He has previous form on this sort of thing of course. Selling off the corner of Ashton Gardens for a block of flats raised £500k of match funding for the lottery bid - (when he already had more than £2 million sitting quietly unused in his capital reserves).

But this time he might just have legged himself up, and thanks to an eagle eyed counterbalance reader, we can share this with you, possibly even before the Commissar realises it himself.

He's certainly showing one of two things with this promenade plan. Either he is disregarding the corporate policies he espouses, or he is administratively, as well as financially, incompetent.

To understand why we argue this, we need to look into some matters of planning, and in particular, the local plan.

The purpose of Fylde's Local plan is: "to set out the Council's policies for the control of development; and to make proposals for the development and use of land, and to allocate land for specific purposes."

So you can say with confidence the local plan is the Council's main document setting out what sort of development will be allowed (or not), and where it will be allowed (or not).

If you're a member of the Planning Committee (now actually called the Development Control Committee), you already know that the introduction paragraphs which lead up to the policy statements in the local plan are both the basis for, and the justification of, all your planning policies. They are important.

And the policy statements themselves, (the paragraphs in upper case text in the Local Plan), are the planning 'Bible' so far as planning decisions in Fylde are concerned.

Apart from Government directives and the like, these Planning Policies are the only reason Fylde Council can agree or refuse a planning application.

In land use terms, they are the definitive statement of what a Council will do, or will allow to be done.

That being the case, you'd think they would be pretty high on the agenda when you start to think about re-development of land.

The first question in this situation should be - what would be allowed here in planning terms?

That will constrain whatever you might want to do. So if your planning policies prevent something, it's a waste of time spending money on consultants reports to say it's a good idea.

But that's what's probably going on at the moment.

We suspect the plans for the promenade are being 'adapted' from the first version, so the swimming pool and maybe other parts, can be included in the development area. That will mean - at best - building a new pool on a site that is cheaper to acquire. Or perhaps on a site the Council already own.

If we're right here, the planning policies are going to be paramount.

So we're going to have a look at one of Fylde's planning policy statements.

The reading is a bit dry at times, but stick with it if you will; the gold nuggets are in there amongst the schist.

If you want the original text, visit the FBC website and see the full official local plan here. You need to move to the "Written Statement" - then Chapter 6 "Tourism and Recreation", and in particular, paragraph 6.60 which leads up to a policy called TREC 12

To save you needing to visit, the introductory explanation and justification for policy TREC 12 (TREC = Tourism & RECreation) which deals with Indoor sport and leisure facilities is reproduced below. It says:

"Indoor Sport and Leisure Facilities

6.60 As work patterns alter and consumer demand in the leisure market increases, there is a requirement to ensure that the Borough possesses an adequate supply of indoor sport and recreational facilities. Access to such facilities, is a social necessity. The provision of such facilities also serves to increase the attractiveness of the Borough as a tourist destination. The provision of good, high-class sport and recreation facilities is therefore important both to visitors and local residents.

6.61 The demand for sport and recreational facilities is increasing as more people take up sport for health reasons or as a spare time activity. In Lytham St Anne's with a higher than average retirement population, there is additional pressure on certain types of leisure and sporting facilities. Increased demand continues to put pressure on the recreational facilities that exist in the Borough. It is therefore important that new facilities are created where possible and that existing facilities are retained.

6.62 Where sport and leisure facilities are available within schools and colleges, there may be scope for their shared use by the wider community. Use of sports halls, gymnasia, assembly halls and drama theatres etc by the community may be an appropriate way to provide facilities which otherwise would not be available.

6.63 However, dual use of facilities is not always appropriate and can only be accommodated when the design of the individual facility allows. Although no detailed analysis has been made of the opportunities available in the Borough to develop the dual use of education and other facilities the Council recognises the importance of dual use in meeting recreational needs and will co-operate with its partners in the public sector in order to maximise available opportunities. The Council will seek to ensure that all open space and outdoor recreation facilities in its ownership, and in the ownership of other public sector agencies are used to the maximum level acceptable, particularly where such facilities are located or close to, areas of priority need."

The first sentence of the policy itself deals with existing facilities. It says:

All existing indoor public and private sport and recreation facilities will be retained. Proposals for the redevelopment of such facilities for other purposes will not be permitted."

Now this is a very unusual policy.

Planners very rarely speak in such definite terms.

They like a bit of ambiguity because at the end of the day, ambiguity leaves them in control of interpreting the meaning of the policy, and that gives them the final say.

But whoever wrote this one was very clear, and very definite.

In planning terms, it's set in concrete. No if's, and no but's

Quotes of "Will be retained" and "Redevelopment for other purposes will not be permitted" don't leave you any wriggle room at all.

There's no "Will usually be....." and there's no "will not usually be permitted...." and there's no "in most circumstances should....." and there's no "unless....."

The policy is exceptionally clear and definite.

And there is no doubt that the Swimming Pools (note we say pools in the plural here, because this policy applies to Kirkham just as much as it applies to St Anne's) are within the planning definition of "existing indoor public .... sport and recreation facilities"

Clean, clear and hard-edged. There's no honourable escape from the constraint of this policy.

Except to just dishonourably disregard it, and that's probably what the Commissar will try and do.

He did it once before when he allowed the former Empire Cinema, (latterly the Gala Bingo Club) to be demolished for an apartment block.

In planning terms, that was just as much used for recreation (albeit passive recreation) as the swimming pool is now.

So the most likely course is to steamroller ahead and hope.

The snag with this direction is that even more people than last time will be watching him now, and he will alienate even more of his natural voters. That's dangerous for him. He's already pushing the envelope, as they say.

If this is a worry, he just might try and pretend there are other policies he can apply, like the one about seafront redevelopment, TREC 8 (even though that's nowhere near as strong a policy because it can be read in several ways)

So if this eventually comes to Planning Committee, we might be able to watch for red faces as the Commissar's acolytes squirm and wriggle to find a way of disregarding this policy in favour of others that are actually weaker in their formation.

For the sake of completeness here, we should mention that the second part of Policy TREC 12 goes on to deal with plans to provide additional or improved sports and recreation facilities - but so far as we can see, none of these compromise the intent of the opening paragraph about retaining existing facilities.

So there you have it Dear Reader, his plan to extend the redevelopment of St Anne's Promenade (and probably Kirkham Baths site as well) is doomed to failure when it reaches the Planning / Development Control Committee - unless he persuades the Committee to disregard its own rules.

Even his own promenade redevelopment consultants didn't recommend using the swimming pool for anything else. They will almost certainly have assumed his planning policies meant what they said, and would prevent such a nonsensical move as to redevelop a swimming pool less than 30 years old.

He should have thought of this before he embarked on this silly idea and wasted time and money on it of course.

But then both he and his cabinet have insufficient depth and breadth of experience to spot something as complicated as a planning constraint.

It takes a counterbalance reader to do that.

Clearly, the present Cabinet system is not working as well as we have a right to expect.

We have visited this topic often before. It is a recurring theme because in the end, everything funnels back to the process by which the Council is presently making its decisions.

In former days, (if it were to be considered at all), this promenade redevelopment idea would have been considered by a specialist committee of 18 or so, almost all of whom would have had experience on both their own, and on other committees.

But even if no one had spotted the planning constraint at the Committee stage, it would have been picked up when all the elected Councillors (including the planning councillors) went through each of the recommendations and minutes of the specialist committees at the next full Council meeting.

That system allowed every Councillor to have their input into every decision, without having to spend the time on the details. Yes it probably took longer to reach decisions, but you didn't find overspends of £609,000 in one lump arising, nor gross overspends of £1.2 million in a year on a budget of £10 million, nor policies so alien to residents as this administration wants to deliver.

But then that was when we had a reliable, trustworthy system and experienced, non dogma-driven Councillors who worked from common-sense and reacted to the wishes of their electorate. Quite probably they wouldn't have seen the need to re-develop the promenade anyway, their pride came from civic stewardship of public assets.

They certainly would not have cashed them like chips at the casino to gamble on re-development schemes.

Dated:  4 April 2008


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