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Snippets - November 2008

Snippets - November 2008GROWTH POINT PROGRESS
The Growth Point Scheme (see 'Growth Point Bid') was approved by Government earlier this year, and behind the scenes, plans we're not supposed to know about are moving forward. A company called 'David Lock Associates' from Milton Keynes that describes itself as "one of the UK's leading town planning and urban design consultancies" had been, in their words.....

"jointly appointed by Blackpool Borough Council to produce a Concept Masterplan for the M55 Growth Hub area. The site marks the entry into Blackpool and as such will be important in establishing a new high quality gateway into Blackpool. This exciting commission will provide Blackpool and Fylde with a sustainable masterplan that will unlock the potential of Blackpool as part of the Central Lancashire and Blackpool Growth Point. The project will involve working closely with Blackpool BC, Fylde BC and strategic landowners to create a sustainable and deliverable masterplan to take the areas growth forward over the next 15-20 years. Importance will also be attached to tie in the masterplan with the on-going regeneration work in the centre of Blackpool.

DLA as lead consultant will work with sister company Integrated Transport Planning who will provide expertise on transport and access issues as well as Thomas Lister Associates who will advise on development viability. "

And last Monday, David Lock Associates staged a meeting for a specially invited audience at the Solaris Centre in Blackpool. counterbalance had been planning to gatecrash the meeting but in the end we couldn't make it. But such is our information network that even when we're not there we get to hear what went on.

The meeting had planning officers from Blackpool Fylde and Wyre there, together with others such as United Utilities and the Fire and Rescue Service.

David Lock began by saying they were from out of town and didn't know the area so they had pulled 'local' people who did together to help them and exchange ideas. They noted the Government had said the Growth Point Scheme needed to provide an extra 5,000 or so houses in the area.

Then they produced a plan of the end of the M55 (The M55 Hub as they insist on calling it), and gave everyone handfuls of coloured squares. Green squares were for open space, blue squares were a school, and yellow squares were each worth 60 houses. People were then asked to 'get rid of' their squares, putting them where they thought they ought to go on the map.

Given that the map was the end of the M55 there wasn't much chance to put them at say, Knott End for example (not that we have anything against Knott End at all, just that it wasn't on the map, so it wasn't an option).

When the chips were down Whyndyke Farm was smothered in yellow squares of houses. Equally, the land on the left of School Road going toward Cropper Manor (where even the horses wear wellingtons) was smothered in yellow, as was the old tip on the other side of the road (the one that is slowly sinking as the rubbish rots down).

When all this was done, they took photos of the plan covered in yellow squares and asked for comments. Our reader said he thought it was absolutely horrible, but didn't get much support we gather.

The company will now go away and prepare the first draft of their report. Watch this space.

SWIMMING CLEAR   (as reported in the Gazette)
11 November .... "I'm delighted to announce a solution has been found which will secure funding for the Borough's two pools for the medium term future at no cost to the Council." Leader John Coombes

"I've listened, learned, and delivered what the community wanted....." Leader John Coombes

12 November "Fylde Coast YMCA is still in negotiations with Fylde Council and as such no arrangement to re-open the swimming pools has been agreed thus far." John Cronin YMCA

"Kirkham Baths has been saved and Saint Annes will be open again very soon" Cabinet member for Community Services Simon Renwick

21 November "This solution does secure the future of Kirkham Baths, all we've got to do now is dot the i's and cross the t's and then its down to the private operator" Leader John Coombes

"This is just a stay of execution. We don't want to face the same thing again in 12, 24 or 36 months time. It's use it or lose it" Leader John Coombes

After this, it was no wonder that relative newcomer Councillor John Davies asked a formal question at the Cabinet meeting to have the matter of St Annes Pool made clear. Was it saved or was it not? he asked. The Commissar parried. He asked again. The Commissar deflected. He asked again The Commissar replied to different question. He asked again, and  Dim Tim lost his temper and made an emotional outburst about then trying to work their socks off to save the pools and all he could do was be negative and oppose what they were trying to do (A bit rich that, coming from the man that proposed closing both the swimming pools in the first place we thought). Finally, Cllr Davies got the question answered. St Annes would be saved if it could be, but they were having more discussions with the YMCA and possibly others as to whether it could be saved or not.

This interchange put us in mind of the infamous Paxman/Howard interview, when dogged Jeremy Paxman wouldn't let Michael Howard sidestep a question he had asked.

For his dogged determination, and for keeping a firm grip on the question until he got a proper answer, counterbalance awards the epithet "Terrier" to Councillor John Davies who will henceforth be known as John 'Terrier' Davies

Another item considered by the Politburo last Monday was the minutes of the Planning Policy Scrutiny Committee which had been looking at a "Guidance Note" to tell property developers what was expected of them in the new Interim Housing Policy by way of providing what our readers would best know as 'Council Houses" amongst and within almost all new developments.

The Scrutiny Committee wanted to approve the guidance note, and to look into the whole matter of affordable housing as (it is known) because there were some things that needed a dose of looking at.

Regular readers will know we have no time at all for the figures the councillors have been conned into using for affordable housing. They are a load of baloney, and at last, the light is beginning to dawn - at least for one man.

Councillor Trevor Fiddler made the point that it was illogical to approve the new guidance before undertaking the review of the subject. But then up spoke New Fylde Housing's Chairman Paul Rigby, who quite probably shouldn't have been debating the matter at all because he also chairs an organisation affected by the plan. He belatedly declared an interest, but then said he thought things should be left as they were and they should approve the policy then have another look at it. Dim Tim agreed with him, but Simon Renwick backed Trevor Fiddler.

This potentially put the Commissar in a difficult position, and he suggested a 'compromise' to Cllr Fiddler that they should continually review the matter for the future.

Cllr Fiddler was having none of it, and he said obviously, until something changed, things would continue as they are presently being run, but he didn't want a new Guidance Note approved now, before there was a review. He proposed deleting recommendation 1

More discussion ensued, and it became clear Fiddler's arguments would carry the day, so the Chief Executive stepped in and, at the Commissar's invitation, offered a form of words that denied Councillor Fiddler his amendment, and replaced it with wording very similar to that which the Commissar has proposed.

The Chief Executive was either mistaken in his hearing or plain wrong to do this. He had a perfectly valid change of action proposed and seconded by members of Cabinet, and his job was to remind the Commissar of the need for a vote to resolve the matter, but he failed to do so. Instead he proposed his own Monty Python Resolution (...and now for something completely different), and asked for a vote on that. The resolution he proposed was remarkably similar to that which the Commissar has put forward himself. It's not the Chief Executive's job, to squeeze through the preferences of the Commissar. If he carries on like that people will start thinking he is being worked by strings.

We understand that talks between the Heeley Road Hostel Group and the Council have broken down without agreement on a way forward. This issue had gone quiet in recent weeks. We understand there were discussions taking place to see if a way forward could be found. From what we hear, the initial discussions appeared positive, and the Council listened to the concerns. But having heard the concerns, and some alternative proposals put by the group, the Council gave no serious consideration to them, and the steamroller just kept rolling forward. We understand the group has now withdrawn from further discussion and will continue to oppose the plan. More news on this as we get it.

Recommendation for Monday night's Council meeting - to be proposed by Dim Tim: "Due to the serious financial position now faced by the Council it is recommended that the Council do not agree to adopt a reduced tariff [for cheaper car parking over Christmas]. This will further add to the financial pressures of the Council's overall current budget position."

As we said at the beginning of "Medium Term Financial Strategy Nov 08" the Commissar's now well established spiral of decline is all about asset stripping where you can, introducing or increasing fees and charges, failing to re-invest in facilities and keep them up to date, failing to adequately maintain them, and failing to believe that public service should exist at all really.

He starts the spiral by putting the prices up to make the assets sweat and generate cash for his grandiose schemes, but when the higher charges reduce the number of users, he puts prices up even higher to recover his 'loss.' So the income goes down even further. Soon he hasn't got enough income to maintain them properly, and even less people use them. Then he starts to threaten us "If you're not going to use these facilities, we'll sell them off." As we've heard so often "Use them or lose them" is one of his favourite quotes.

And now its the turn of the car parks.

Monday's report to Council says "The latest financial estimates state that there will be a shortfall of car park fee income against the approved 2008.09 budget of £125k." How can you lose money on parking charges? Ask the Commissar. Only he could do that.

As a by the way, we hear a new group is starting up in Lytham called Lytham Action Group, and it has some heavyweight members and substantial breadth - principally amongst the traders there. We figure they are not going to be overly happy with the decision about parking. 'Incandescent' might be about where we would pitch it based on what we know so far.

After it's last change only two meetings ago, the Council is again being asked to change its Constitution. At this rate they should issue it in loose-leaf so it can be changed as often as any tinpot dictatorship re-writes its rules to favour itself.

Mostly the changes are just to reflect the job titles given to the new six or seven Directors that will now run all the departments at Fylde, but we also found one or two other changes being slid through, as we now show.

In the planning section there is one that - as so often - is a tiny change with big impact.

At present if the supremo in charge of planning wants to make (ie to approve or refuse) a 'relatively straightforward' planning application, he has delegated powers to do so unless "a parish or town council for the application site has submitted representations on justifiable planning grounds contrary to the decision"

This will be changed to allow the planning supremo to approve applications unless "a parish or town council for the application site has submitted representations on justifiable planning grounds contrary to that proposed decision and has requested that the decision be considered by the committee"

We see two changes here. First the more obvious one that in future Town and Parish Councils will not only have to say they hold a contrary view, they will have to formally ask for the Committee to consider the decision in order to take it out of the hands of the planning supremo.

Second, and less noticeably, the way this is presently worded, if this change is approved, Town and Parish Councils will only be allowed to challenge a future decision if the officer has recommended approval. So they will no longer be allowed to insist that recommendations for refusal are considered by the Committee. (Page 48 of the draft new constitution)

Still on planning, another alteration expands the rules on what is now called pre-application discussions. This is an extremely dangerous practice (and for which FBC now makes a charge) which involves entering into discussions and giving advice to developers an speculators about what may and may not be acceptable in a planning application they are thinking of submitting.

The change now that is being proposed says that "Pre-application discussions can involve councillors as well as officers, applicants and their representatives."

That makes this far too cosy an arrangement taking place out of the public gaze. It is dangerous for the individuals concerned, and extremely intimidating for officers to have councillors breathing political pressure down their necks with. It will create a perception in people's minds that corruption is probable, even when it is not. The whole point of planning is to balance competing arguments dispassionately. That's why there is a published policy setting out what is and is not acceptable, and why there needs to be complete separation between developers and politicians.

This is a very dangerous move and should not be sanctioned.

There is also an interesting change in the Constitution's Appendix 5 where it adds "10.5 Standards Committee - Special rules about exclusion of the public apply to certain meetings of the Standards Committee and its sub-committees". But it doesn't say what these rules are, nor which the "certain meetings" are. This is surprisingly reticent for a document of 163 pages that details most of its topics to the minutiae.

Also on Monday's Council agenda is another item heralding a move up for Christine Ackeroyd who takes the chair of the 'Performance Improvement Scrutiny Committee' from Keith Hyde. This committee is mostly about the Council's forward plans and strategies and tends to be a bit dry. Stepping into a vice chairmanship for the first time, and to replace Christine Ackeroyd as Vice Chair, is Fairhaven ward's Cheryl Little.

We hear that Roger Walker has resigned his post at the St Annes on the Sea Town Council where he represented part of the Borough's Fairhaven ward on the Town Council. The vacancy is presently being advertised and nominations invited. The election is likely to be in Jan or Feb. Stories abound that the Commissar is even trying to politicise this little council by having people stand as party nominations rather than as independents. We'll bring you more when the runners and riders are declared.

Despite it's going quiet over the last few weeks, we don't think the idea of a parish council for Lytham is a dead duck yet. It may be in the minds of Lytham folk who don't seem to see the advantage in having one at the moment, but Fylde Borough politicians are still beavering away in the background to get something moving we hear.

The formal period for objections to Kensington's plans for 1,150 extra houses on Queensway has begun and they are starting to flood in (sorry - couldn't resist that quip). Chief amongst them so far is one from the Environment Agency that says its a flood zone and should be refused. So does CPRE. The airport are likewise upset, and even Blackpool don't seem too excited at the prospect. Anyone wanting to object - and there seem to be a few folk who do - has until 19 December to do so. Fylde council responded positively to the requests of Queensway Environmental Defenders, St Annes Town Council, and Defend Lytham's requests for an extension of time. More details at www.queensway.org.uk

A quick hello to several readers connected with the Land Registry who have been writing in over the last few weeks.

Dated:  23 November 2008


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