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Queensway Quandaries

Queensway QuandariesThe launch of the new group to spearhead opposition to the proposed development (Queensway Environmental Defenders) was well attended - around 100 people filled the hall to standing room only. Details of proceedings are in the report of the meeting which can be found on the group's website at www.queensway.org.uk (then click on "Events and Activities").

The launch seems to have been only just in time because counterbalance understands the planning application has been made live yesterday, and we understand Fylde's Development Control Committee now has up to 16 weeks to determine the matter.

QED has published a list of the documents that accompany Kensington's application on their website, and one of them is worthy of a closer look.

It's a letter on behalf of Kensington's Malcolm Hawe to Mark Evans head of Fylde's Development Control. Nothing odd there. It's also copied to Chief Executive Philip Woodward - again no particular surprise.

But a copy has also gone to Council Leader John Coombes.

We find it odd (especially give the content) that the Commissar is at least being copied into such correspondence - and by implication is being made party to agreements being reached with Kensington - when he is not a member of the Development Control Committee, shouldn't have his fingers in DC matters, and members of the Councils own DC Committee are being kept in the dark and not being copied into the same correspondence.

The letter, dated 30th September, shows how Kensington are already preparing to backtrack on promises to provide community infrastructure as part of the Queensway development - and that's even before their planning application was finalised.

This isn't new of course, there are people on Cypress Point who still believe they were promised a new road all the way to the M55 as part of that development - and they're still waiting.

The people who attended Kensington's exhibition last year might have come away thinking they would see several new roads, a deer park, a site for a school and a contribution towards school building costs, a bus service to St Anne's for five years and, more recently, promises to build a new swimming pool, and talk of moving St Anne's Tennis Club to a new home.

But the letter says that council officers - apparently with the knowledge of Council Leader John Coombes - have agreed "to decide which community benefit would be reduced if it proved necessary to find extra money for cost overruns on the road."

Furthermore, Kensington's Mr Hawe also asserts that agreement has been reached "to begin discussions with us [Kensington] regarding the affordable housing provision, taking account of the cataclysmic trading conditions we are now encountering"

To us that sounds like the start of negotiations for even further reductions in affordable housing.

Last year, 60% of the Queensway site would have been affordable houses. Fylde Council has now cut this to just 30%, and Kensington's exhibition showed they only planned to build 23% of the property as affordable anyway.

In the latest plan this has shrunk again to 22.5%, and it appears set to shrink further if Mr Hawe gets his way.

counterbalance wonders how an agreement to reduce the number of affordable properties can be reached before the Development Control Committee has seen the plans.

But it gets worse.

There's also trouble with the roads that Kensington hope will connect their planned Queensway development with the world outside.

Although the first few hundred yards of the moss road that will bypass the dog-leg at the end of Cypress Point is now going forward under compulsory purchase, Kensington hasn't been able to agree terms to buy land from Oyston Estates Ltd to build the section between the end of the current dog-leg and the planned new 'Heyhouses Bypass' (which starts part-way to Whitehills).

So there are now two possibilities here. Either the southern part will have to be compulsorily purchased by Lancashire County Council, or this section will have to wait until someone in Oyston Estates decides to apply for planning permission for land they own near Jubilee Way / Cypress Point, and FBC asks Oyston to build this section of the road at that time.

We could be in for a long wait.

But then it gets even worse. The remaining section going north from the proposed Heyhouses by-pass to Whitehills is also in trouble.

On this section, the County Council's planning application for the road has just lapsed. The County can't apply for compulsory purchase powers to buy the land until planning permission has been renewed, and they won't apply to renew the planning permission until someone agrees to pay all their cost for doing so.

Kensington accept that the 'someone' will probably be them, but say they won't agree to pay the County Council's costs until they know whether FBC will approve their planning application.

So as it stands today, FBC look set to be asked to grant permission for Queensway even before a new planning application for the road is made (let alone approved).

Of course they would be daft to do so. They shouldn't be granting permission anyway. There are sound planning reasons why residential use of this land it is a non-starter, but even if that were not the case, who in their right minds is going to grant a permission for housing when the road to service the estate system hasn't even got planning permission and there's no prospect of the highway authority being able to compulsorily purchase the land anyway?

Kensington say they want this section of road to Whitehills completed sometime before the 700th dwelling on their Queensway scheme is occupied - so in theory at least, once they get a planning permission, they could build (and sell) 699 homes then stop, and not bother with the moss road anyway.

To those who thought they were getting the new road with Cypress Point this will bring a strong sense of deja vu. For others, we think the road could be a long way into the future.

Also published today is a new "Illustrative Masterplan" and an "Illustrative Structure Plan" showing that Kensington have now devised a new layout for their planned estate at Queensway.

Compared with the former 'illustrative' plans shown to impress the public at their exhibition, the new plan gives the impression of being a much more dense layout. Gone are the spacious twin circular village greens surrounded by planting that might have given some character to the development, gone is the appearance of generous space around the properties.

This is all replaced by the ubiquitous winding estate roads found in any modern suburban dormitory. The new look is of cheek-by-jowl property, squashed-in to maximise return on the land. (Think Cypress Point without any open spaces).

This of course means Kensington will be building up to the very edge of what is now the recognised floodline, so if the scheme goes ahead, some buyers can expect floodwater lapping at their front gates from time to time, and there will be less opportunity for wildlife corridors to be incorporated into the layout.

We also understand the position of this floodline has changed in the last few years.

It seems it previously came almost up to the road (and would thus have occasionally flooded the area where the houses will be), but when the new pumps were installed at Lytham, the improved drainage that resulted from having two huge pumps constantly lifting drainage water over the riverbank meant that the area of potential flooding was reduced to the line now shown on the floodplain maps.

So long as the pumps keep working, that is.

Ask the people in Hull, (whose pumps didn't work when they should have done) if they think it's safe to build on land that would be a floodplain but for mechanical pumping keeping the water out, and we think we know the answer. Positive 24/7 pumping like this might be fine for farmland, but not for houses. Which insurance company is going to offer flood insurance on this sort of land?

This scheme was a bad idea in the first place, and it gets worse with every passing month.

And there's more!

The 74% of people at Kensington's public exhibition who approved of the idea of a Deer Park as part of the proposed Queensway development are in for an unpleasant surprise. The deer park is no more.

In yet another example of backtracking on the promises made, it's now  "public open space" and "parkland" in two separate areas

This seems a curious move at first, but we think it may be to do with 'biodiversity' - because conserving biodiversity is a legal requirement for all councils these days.

Kensington are probably shaping up to admit that the land is one of the most biologically diverse habitats in Fylde.

counterbalance thinks they will say the best way to preserve that biodiversity is to build on half of it, so parts of the remaining area can be protected and managed for wildlife.

The underlying logic of this is not unlike asking you to sell a kidney to fund your hip replacement.

It's not a good idea.

Biodiversity is not something you can create like a garden; it comes from having natural land with a variety of soil types and drainage conditions. These geological conditions create the basic diversity that means many different life-forms can flourish - and they become part of the natural food chain for other creatures.

That's why there are now Barn Owls and Partridges now on the land that will be under the houses if Kensington get their way.

Squeezing the present residents - each with its own territorial need - into half the area or less will undoubtedly see many of them off.

When you add in the problems caused by a drained and managed landscape, and (possibly) a new high speed road that will take out the remaining night fliers like barn owls, and other nocturnals like hedgehogs and whatever else gets trapped in the headlights of our cars - however unwillingly we kill them - the result is that we all lose something, even if it is only a little of our humanity.

The unique importance and benefit of the land is its wildness and its reversion to nature. Managed country parks bisected by fast roads attached to new housing will destroy that character.

The letter spelling out these agreements and changes also has a lot of costing data for the road and the plan to provide a new swimming pool and a tennis centre. If you want to see the letter in its entirety, please follow this link to a pdf file FBC's website.

We expect to return to this topic in the future, but before doing so, we wondered if our readers might like to suggest an informal name we can use for the proposed estate. We considered "Floodplain Hamlet", and "Kensingtons Sink Estate" and "Bulrush Gardens" or maybe "Waters Reach"...... but now it's over to you

Dated:  October 2008


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