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countering the spin and providing the balance


Snippets - August 2008

New Streetscene DepotDEPOT?  WHAT DEPOT?
After Dim Tim's £700,000 Streetscene  financial disaster last year, FBC looks as though it has finally seen the wisdom of having one of its depots back in St Annes. Maybe this is so they don't have having to spend as much of our money on diesel.

But, shock horror, they've not gone back to the Heeley Road depot which was empty and 'redundant.'

So where are Streetscene hiding now? - Only in a huge, sparkling, brand new depot next to the waste recycling centre off Snowdon Road (have a look to the left when you next visit the tip/recycling centre). It's an impressive set of big new grey garages with CCTV and everything except watchtowers with machine-gun nests to keep people from seeing what's going on.

We don't remember seeing the cost of that new depot being discussed anywhere, nor do we (yet) know how much it cost. But it looks like yet another example of Dim Tim's disregard for our money. Maybe we should re-christen him Viv Nicholson - you remember - the pools winner who coined the catchphrase "I'm going to spend spend spend."

Wesham is about to come under siege again from property developers. This time it looks like an enormous chunk of land running from the playing fields at Wesham down toward Treales.

Thought to have been formerly owned by the Church Commissioners, it now appears this land is in the ownership of a developer.

In the past, the issue of large scale development in Wesham has been instrumental in Wesham's electorate bringing about changes on the Borough and Town Councils. So it is a development of significance.

Whilst no planning application has been submitted as yet, counterbalance understands one is imminent, and that developers could be receiving what is called 'pre-application advice' from Fylde's planners as we go to press.

Local speculation has it that the land is capable of accommodating households in the thousand range rather than tens or hundreds. If true, this would be a very significant development for Fylde, not only for Wesham. We understand it might also impact on biologically important heritage sites.

The stories about this development come hard on the heels of Fylde Council's new 'Interim Housing Policy' which has relaxed the requirements that have blocked much of the development in Fylde. We forecast a plethora of developers queuing up to submit their applications. This looks like one of the first.

So who is behind it? Well, the name being spoken of is 'Metacre Limited' a very secretive company about whom little is known. Their registered address is 'Lynton House, Ackhurst Park, Foxhole Road, Chorley PR7 1NY'

Intrigued by companies that don't like publicity, we had a firkle around what was available. We noticed that another company shared the same postal address.

'Northern Trust' is a trading name of 'Northern Trust Company Limited' which itself is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Northern Trust Group, which is privately owned. So far so good. Two companies sharing the same postcode.

Northern Trust is less secretive. Their Land and Development Executive is Stephen Glenn, and their Director is Gerry Hamilton. Their website says their property portfolio (which seems to be mostly industrial), totalling approximately 8.0 million sq ft in c 3,000 units, is managed by its subsidiary Whittle Jones Chartered Surveyors. This is the trading name of Whittle Jones Group Limited.

Now.... Guess where Whittle Jones Chartered Surveyors live?

Would you believe 'Lynton House, Ackhurst Park, Foxhole Road, Chorley PR7 1NY'

So they all operate from the same building - or at least the same postcode - in Chorley.

To complete the jigsaw, we had a look to see who owns Whittle Jones, and it turns out to be none other than former Mr Blackpool Casino promoter and Leisure Parcs supremo Trevor Hemmings.

He is a reclusive Lancashire businessman who was behind the Casino plan in Blackpool through his Leisure Parcs company which has interests in gambling, holiday camps and seaside attractions.

A former bricklayer, Hemmings, is ranked among the 40 richest people in the UK with a fortune estimated to be £3500m. We understand he owns a range of leisure and gambling assets including the Tower.

He also has substantial interests in the casino operator 'London Clubs International', and in racecourse owner 'Arena Leisure' He also has an interest in pools betting company 'Sportech'. His empire extents to property development and he owns both Whittle Jones, and the developers of the resort casino scheme, Delma. But Leisure Parcs and TJH Group are Hemmings' two main corporate vehicles.

Back in the early 1970s, we knew a small building company in Leyland called 'Hemmings and Kent' who went bust (or at least one of their myriad companies with similar sounding names went bust) when it was about to develop a former bleachworks just behind the Civic Centre - most of the bleachworks subsequently became Shruggs Wood nature reserve. We seem to remember some rather iffy stuff about money moving from one account to another, and memory suggests there was a court case at the time, but it was a long time ago and we may be confusing it with something else.

We wonder if it is the same man. If it is - as they day on TV - Didn't he do well?

So it looks to us as though there could be a biggish wodge of cash sitting behind Metacre. We have no doubt we will be bringing you more on this story that will inflame the people of Wesham. Remember, you heard it first in counterbalance.

Bad news. The very first counterbalance (back in February 2004) 'Nightclubs Should Pay' was produced to inform people about, and to and criticise, the Council's plan (which they subsequently sought to deny, but counterbalance knows it to be a fact)  to create a 'night-time economy' in St Annes.

The article also began a move for a change in legislation to make nightclubs pay for the cost of policing necessary to prevent the disturbance these clubs cause for residents, just as football clubs have to meet the bill for policing their unruly members.

This article was followed up with 'License for Anything' in October 2005.

Our campaign received wide support. Superintendent Cunningham (Now Assistant Chief Constable), a rock solid, proper policeman, and booze expert Inspector Rhodes of Blackpool gave the scheme their support after we raised it at a Police and Community Forum.

They took the matter to the Lancashire Police Authority who supported the view that the 'polluter should pay'. LCC's Leader of the day was also persuaded, and took it up with Government - who chickened out in the face of opposition from the licensing trade.

If you want to know who pulls Government's strings look no further than organised big business. It's certainly not us.

After a great deal of effective pressure from the St David's Road Community Group, and the police, and the very unfortunate death of an innocent young man who should still be here today, some moves were put in place locally to reduce the problems. Takeaway times were tightened, and best of all the Vogue nightclub eventually closed.

However, we understand Vogue is about to re-open with new operators.

This of course, will bring pressure from the takeaways to be able to serve food to the morons these clubs excrete into the town, causing disturbance from 2am to 4am and beyond.

The answer to these problems lies in the hands of Fylde Council. They grant or refuse the licenses for these premises to operate, whether as nightclubs or as takeaways, and they can attach conditions and limit the times of opening.

But what you will hear, amongst much hand-wringing and wailing is that their hands are tied, they can't do this, and they're not allowed to do that. 

Balderdash. Where there's a will there's a way.

Blackpool are making a fair stab at removing the rubbish businesses that have been so damaging for their town centre, the sort that attract sub-prime disposable incomes that are bigger than either their owners brains or their capacity to hold booze or food. Blackpool's move is not a moment too soon.

If the Leader and his Politburo Cabinet had half a brain cell between them they would be straining at the leash to get rid of these unwanted cathedrals of excess instead of trying to metaphorically wash their hands of the problem like Pontius Pilate.

There is more Blackpool could do, but it needs time to make the transition from its drift into being stag and hen capital of Europe to rebuilding a family market. This has to be done steadily but slowly if the town is not to go down the pan completely.

In Fylde there is no such problem. This is an upmarket resort for the green wellies and brogues brigade, and God's waiting room for residents. (Just look at the visitor stats and the demographics). Neither of these groups wants or needs a nightclub, let alone three of them supported by a plethora of parasitic takeaways.

If the Leader and his Politburo Cabinet had half a brain cell between them they would be straining at the leash to get rid of these unwanted cathedrals of excess instead of trying to metaphorically wash their hands of the problem like Pontius Pilate.

There are ways to do it if they wanted to. The question is do they??

Plans have been announced to build a £600m gas fired power station at Thornton.

It seems to have been well received in Wyre, but we can't help wondering whether it will provide the final justification for the cavernous storage scheme under the Over-Wyre area. We were happy when residents axed Canataxx's plan, but not surprised to see them come back. This after Government has introduced powers to by-pass the normal planning system for strategically significant developments.

With Russia turning up the heat by threatening to turn down the gas (and the odd incursion into other countries), we figure gas storage has probably moved into the strategic decision category as far as the UK Government is concerned .

Wyre BC seem to think there's no connection between a gas fired power station on one side of a river and a huge store of gas on the other. We think a connection can be made.

As well as its contribution to the National Grid, the power station, (along with 558 houses, and possibly a new waste processing plant) is going to generate a whole shedload of extra traffic moving between Fleetwood and the motorway.

Cue upset people all along the route.

Interestingly we heard the Commissar say recently that Fylde's councillors will have seen a flurry of correspondence about the Government's favoured Yellow Route for the new road that was supposed to be put in to allow this sort of development to happen in Thornton and Fleetwood.

Fylde, Wyre and Blackpool districts have clubbed together to take on the Department of Transport (DoT). They aim to change the DoT's mind to the Blue Route ((more details of the route options here).

We honestly can't see this happening, Government was making noises that they wouldn't look at the scheme for another 20 years after their preferred option was snubbed by local councils, but it does look to us as though the pressure is being ratcheted up by pushing the development forward ahead of the road.

So it looks like the road issue is re-awakening just when you thought it had gone to sleep.

And in yesterdays Gazette, Wyre Leader Russell Forsyth is quoted as saying he's going to tell Lancashire County Council the A585 must be their number one priority. You can more or less say that if the DoT is stuck with its head around the yellow route, blue isn't going to get a look in, so it's hard to see how the funding for the Blue Route road is going to be found.

A reader was telling us that a few years ago he was offered a job selling houses that had been built by Faircloughs near Stanley Park in Blackpool, but turned it down when he discovered they were on land that was prone to subsidence.

We remember a huge problem with people's gardens there developing big holes overnight and whole houses falling apart as subsidence took hold. We also remember daily visits by the Gas Board to check for leaks from cracked gas mains.

Eventually all the houses there were demolished and the owners compensated to some degree before the land was re-used as allotments.

Our reader went on to tell us he knew the chap in charge at Faircloughs at the time of the sinking problem, and that he went on to head Kensington's operation at Cypress Point (known disparagingly by some people old enough to remember it before the 24 hour pumping was installed as 'Sinking Point').

Well it seems this chap is now girding his loins to get ready to develop 1,100 properties at Queensway. That's if the credit crunch and the downturn in the building market don't sink Kensington's plans altogether and they say afloat - which would be handy given the flood plain that will be at the garden fence of some of the proposed houses.

Another reader told us recently that, from what he could see, in Blackpool if you lose £600,000 in benefit fraud you prosecute the person. In Fylde if you lose £600,000 you get re-selected to stand as a County Councillor.

Newcomer to Fylde Albert Greenall told the Express this week why he loved the area. He said he and his wife had been here for just nine weeks, but he liked the area having been here on holiday and found the people friendly and helpful. He hoped the character of the area would stay the same. The one change he said he would like to see was "a complete transformation of the Fylde Borough Council." That didn't take him too long to work out did it?

But it's not only Fylde that doesn't listen to its electorate (actually to be fair, Fylde listens like mad, it just disregards everything it hears unless it happens to match what it wants anyway). Fylde's biggest protest to date was the SOAG objection to the sale of part of Ashton Gardens where 8,000 individuals signed petitions or individual letters of objection that were disregarded.

But even that pales beside what happened in Dudley where there was a different story. Their council turned down plans for mosque as big as their castle dating from 1070, but an appeal saw the decision reversed by a Government Inspector despite a massive 22,000 objections. The Council argued there were sound planning grounds to refuse the application. But the views of local people and their elected representatives were overturned by someone who has never been elected and doesn't live anywhere near the place.

Welcome to the future..

Big fuss recently about the Policy Exchange's reported proposals to end the regeneration funding for northern cities that hasn't worked, and to tell people there to move south where the money is. Cue dozens of critics from disparate angles that range from political to (small l) liberal to PC and humanitarian. Like fox-hunting, this was a topic that sparked up more inbuilt prejudices than you can shake a stick at.

When you read the report itself - as quite often happens - it's a different story. They argue lucidly that regeneration investment to date has failed in cost benefit terms.

If we allow ourselves to get sucked into their idea that the purpose of people is to generate GDP for the region they live in, you have to agree.

And we all know the urban myths of "industrial rate tarts" that relocate their businesses around the country taking advantage of rate-free periods and development grants that entice them to the next regeneration area just as the one they were in finishes. So it makes sense to cut that out too.

We have also previously argued that the worst basis for allocating funds to a cause is to find the one that is dying and prop it up. Using this logic, the failing sports club that is losing members, has no youngsters coming on, won't help itself, puts no effort in and where everywhere needs a coat of paint is the one that gets help, rather than the successful one that could make much better use of the cash and spread the benefit more widely throughout the community.

So (with the proviso that we're here to make money for the area we live in) we're not as offended as some by the ideas proposed. After all, this is exactly the principle on which the EU works. Take down the borders. One market for goods and services. One market for jobs as, indeed, the Poles and others have shown us. It's just that we haven't quite got the hang of the need for the mobility of labour yet. Especially in the North it seems.

But probably the real problem here is that we haven't yet got used to the idea that our function is to increase the local GDP - or, as the regional government that doesn't quite exist officially yet now call it - the GVA (Gross Value that is Added to an area by its working population).

Another generator of unreasonable prejudices has been the Les Dawson Statue issue. We knew Les a bit so we're biased (and happy to declare it for a man who more or less single-handedly raised the first £1 million for our hospital's MRI scanner appeal as well as giving pleasure to millions).

As a side-issue to the main point, it has been interesting to follow the machinations around the planning permission for the site of the statue.

First was the FBC announcement that it wasn't going to be at Garnny's Bay, but it would be in the garden area next to the Pier. Then some councillors called for planning permission to be applied for.

counterbalance saw an internal email that said planning permission was not needed because it was within permitted development regulations, but opposition grew and that view subsequently softened to "if it needs planning permission then an application will be submitted".

This subsequently became "an application will have to be submitted" but (in Costa Coffee style) the opening (and quite possibly the erection if the Costa Coffee format is followed) has been arranged for 24th October. This has finally become "an application has been submitted and we hope it will be approved"

In planning terms, we can see nothing to suggest permission should not be given. And planning policy is what the decision will be made on of course, not anything like a presumed right to a view.

We were amused by the response to an allegation that those opposite the planned location don't want Les staring in at them. The responder gently reminded the complainant that usually, statues wouldn't be able to see into their windows.

What we can see is a lot of hoops that have been erected in an attempt to derail the plan.

This is a legitimate tactic of course for those politicians who object to the thing in principle, and it does reflect a poorly thought-out and badly researched process from the outset. It has also been a fertile ground for grinding axes that might cut to size the arrogant process with which the decisions to do things like this are now made.

But sadly, all this fails to take account of the hurt that is being suffered by his surviving adult relatives and his children. Those who are grinding axes might like to ponder that thought if they ever need the services of the MRI scanner.

Dated:  27 August 2008


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