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HUBble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble....

Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble...In our last edition, 'Queensway at Planning Meeting' we said we hoped Fylde's Development Control Committee would support their officer's recommendation and decide to refuse the Queensway application by Kensington as it currently stands.

We're happy to report that's just what they did.

And that was despite a claque of 60 or so builder-types who seem to have been bussed-in from the few building sites that are operating at the moment for a morning's break from laying the bricks so they could applaud or jeer the speakers at Development Control Committee.

The Gazette reported a lot of people at the meeting were in favour of the Queensway scheme - well, ten or so (including a QED representative) spoke against it and ten or so spoke for it, and the builder types made a lot of noise so maybe that was interpreted as being in favour.

From what we could see, those in favour were mostly linked to the building business in one way or another - skip hire, estate agency, former builders, and the odd BMW dealer - who either hoped he was keeping-in with his building pals or that the new houses at Queensway would all be buying BMW's (We figure he forgot about those on the posh houses on Heyhouses Lane and St Anne's Road East that probably won't be able to afford BM's any more, when their houses crack up or flood).

But at least Fylde have now made the right decision, and until the Inquiry in November, Queensway will probably go quiet - at least in public.

But the M55 Hub development is soldiering on.

But what it actually is seems to depend whether you're from Blackpool (who see it as the way to fund the regeneration of central Blackpool), or Fylde (who increasingly see it as their salvation location for most to the 5,500 houses they've been ordered to build)

In 'Plans to Expand', back in November 2007, we broke the first news about what subsequently became known as the 'Growth Point Bid.'

As regular readers will know, it was not something we were very happy about.

Fylde's Cabinet of the day said it was essential that Fylde should join in with Blackpool and others in the 'Central Lancashire City Region' (another New Labour construct that needs knocking on the head as soon as possible), and sign up to the Growth Point Bid.

The Growth Point Bid was designed to increase the number of houses that the Government's own (at that time emerging) Regional Spatial Strategy said we had to build - even before that Strategy had been published.

This came about because Government realised its (in our view inappropriate) national housing targets were not going to be reached, so it devised a system where Councils could compete against each other for Government support to create even more houses that it had previously said they had to provide.

It reasoned (probably with some justification) that Councils who believed growth was the way to build a happy and successful community would also be keen to compete against each other for it.

Preston (which, as an adolescent new 'city' simply brims with competition, civic testosterone and 'Type A' behaviour), together with South Ribble Council, led the charge for growth in this area.

Blackpool joined them when its Casino plan went down the pan, and amazingly, although the bid had been worked-on for months by these other councils, Fylde Council was only invited to sign up to it a fortnight or so before the bid had to be submitted to Government.

Fylde had no chance to influence what was in it, no real chance even to understand what was involved.

Unbelievable really, but that's how it was.

Fortunately, Fylde had added something akin to "in principle" to its resolution in support for the scheme, leaving it an escape route for the future.

Officers from both authorities worked on the scheme to bring it to fruition, and it came very close to being fixed in stone, because on 23rd February this year, Blackpool's Executive approved the 'Blackpool Core Strategy Preferred Development Option' as a mix of Inner Area Regeneration, Marton Moss and the wider M.55 Hub Growth Point.

Then more recently, the draft 'Multi Area Agreement' jointly prepared by Fylde and Blackpool described how they would "Review the evidence base and progress in delivering the Central Lancashire and Blackpool Growth Point, particularly considering the potential for additional Growth Point funding in 2010/11 to support the accelerated delivery of new homes through regeneration in inner Blackpool".

This is civic speak for "We'll let Blackpool have the money to do up the bits in their centre that are twinned with Beirut"

It was the edge of the abyss for Fylde.

Signing up would have set the course for the loss of our land to Blackpool.

You have to wonder what Fylde's officers were doing to let things get this far.

But into this impending disaster rode Cllr Trevor Fiddler, wielding his broadsword with single-minded fervour from side to side, cutting a completely new swathe for Fylde to tread, slicing away at the Growth Point policies that were being settled by the officers.

He had seen, (as a few other councillors were just starting to see), that the answer to the Government's plan for Fylde to provide 5,500 homes - and to save all the important wildlife areas at Queensway and Wesham and so on - was by allocating the lion's share of these houses to the M55 Hub area within Fylde's boundary.

Obvious really - (especially if the Conservative Government comes good on their promise to do away with all the regional rubbish spewed out by the present Government anyway).

So where's the catch?

Well, it's a potentially risky strategy.

Whilst Blackpool probably won't say so in public, they are likely to be pretty miffed because they've been relying on the Growth Point scheme to bring home their financial bacon.

The Growth Point Scheme has an unusual extra funding stream for local councils - a 10,000 'Roof Tax' that developers will pay for the privilege of building the extra houses.

That 10k per house was supposed to fund quite a bit of the redevelopment of central Blackpool. But making this idea work depended mostly on Blackpool persuading Fylde to allow the building of houses just over the border in Fylde (to raise the roof tax money), and to hand the cash over to Blackpool.

Furthermore, we don't recall hearing any assurances that the money was immediately available. How would Cllr Henshaw know anyway?. The way the Commissar keeps other Councillors in the dark, its amazing they get to hear anything. Several tell us they hear what's going on in Fylde more through these pages on counterbalance than from their agendas.

As might be expected, our less than financially astute Commissar either hadn't seen or didn't care that we'd be done out of a big lump of cash, and have our green land spoiled with concrete in this process, so he was all for the idea.

As we reported in Snippets June09  the plan to weld Fylde with Blackpool in a Multi-Area Agreement (MAA) stalled at the meeting of the full Council at Fylde because Cllr Fiddler showed that the text of the MAA (quoted above in its 'original draft' form ) also gave a commitment by Fylde to the Growth Point scheme and to a single joint 'core strategy' with Blackpool.

That would be another disaster for Fylde.

These two troublesome aspects have now been taken out of the MAA thanks to tough negotiating for Fylde from Queen Elizabeth Oades, Cllr Kiran Mulholland and Cllr Fabian Craig-Wilson alongside Cllr Fiddler who took on Blackpool and wouldn't back down.

The document now has a much watered down comment which says " Review the potential for additional funding in 2010/11 to support the accelerated delivery of neighbourhood shaping within the core inner Blackpool priority area", and "To recognize that the M55 Hub provides an opportunity for a structured approach to future development in Fylde Borough in securing but not exceeding its RSS obligations".

That's civic speak for Buzz off Blackpool, we're going to put our own housing allocation on land within Fylde Borough near the M55 junction.

Queen Elizabeth was still unsure whether they had done enough, and wasn't ready to vote to approve the scheme at the special Council meeting called to consider it. (We wouldn't vote for it in a thousand light years, so we're with QE at this point).

But some people argue that by giving cosmetic support to the Multi Area Agreement, Government will channel more funds into Fylde, and money is the God of this administration. (Although the way they waste it, you could be forgiven for not believing that)

So what happens next depends on what Blackpool can pull out of the fire for themselves in terms of cash.

You'll remember in 'Growth Point Bid'  Blackpool Council had made polite but increasingly loud objection to Preston's massive John Lewis store in the Tithebarn area.

For many weeks since then, they will have been arguing hammer and tongs with Preston behind the scenes. But in public it has been sweetness and light.

Well now that Preston have said the civic equivalent of 'Sod you mate' - Blackpool (whose retail economy is under real threat from this scheme) has become more vocal in its criticism of Preston and was recently talking to the Gazette about getting Government Office North West to Call-in the decision, and even about Judicial Reviews of the legality of it. Recent comments such as "We are going to put every obstacle we can find in the way of the Tithebarn development" from Blackpool's Leader show the underlying anger.

Mind you, he was even madder when he found one of his constituency parties has accepted two 5,000 donations from Kensington the property developer, so he's not the happiest bunny in Blackpool at the moment anyway.

As with its discussion with Preston, in these early stages of discussions with Fylde, Blackpool seems to be playing softball.

It might believe that Fylde will still give it the money from developments inside the Fylde boundary.

Or it might simply be hoping to swing them round or to find a way to sidestep them if they don't want to hand over the cash, but if or when it realises it's going to get nowt, you can expect Blackpool to turn on Fylde as well.

We wouldn't be surprised to see it ask Government to create a Development Corporation (like the one that operated in Leyland and Chorley for many years) with powers to compulsorily acquire land and planning powers that override any that Fylde has.

So a potentially dangerous game is building.

What you now see from Blackpool are quotes like "David Lock Associates (jointly commissioned by Blackpool and Fylde Councils) is currently finalising a preferred master planning option for the wider M55 Hub lands (including Marton Moss) to inform Core Strategy preparation of both Councils"

and

"To meet this need, preparation of the Council's Core Strategy will seek to prioritise a range of new housing through a sustainable extension on the edge of Blackpool - with Marton Moss and the M55 Hub identified as the other main elements of the Council's Core Strategy Preferred Option".

These sorts of comments blur the edges of what is going on of course.

We think those who plan to circumvent Cllr Fiddler are being deliberately ambiguous, and leaving open the options as to whether the Growth Point Scheme is still in play when they now refer to the "M55 Hub development"

This situation is creating risk for Fylde - both in the long term, and in the short term, because some will see merit in trying to get some of Fylde's areas built on quickly to decrease the number of houses that need to be provided at the M55 Hub.

This would leave more wriggle-room to use the Growth Point scheme to benefit Blackpool.

In this wriggling can of worms that will henceforth be known as the 'M55 Hub' scheme (a scheme that might mean different things depending whether you're in Blackpool or Fylde), there's little chance of seeing the bottom of the tin for quite some time, but we'll keep our eye on it and bring you news of which way the shoals of councillors are swimming in Blackpool and Fylde as we notice any changes.

The final quote at this time goes to Blackpool who said of the David Lock M55 Hub Report "Work undertaken to assemble this report has been a primarily technical exercise that has involved officers from Blackpool and Fylde Councils. A technical steering group is established to develop the M.55 Hub proposals. The ultimate allocation of lands within the M.55 Hub requires to be taken forward through the respective Core Strategies of Blackpool and Fylde. Both will involve extensive consultation with stakeholders as well as examination in public before they can be adopted by the Councils".

So at least they say we will get to comment on what is planned.

Or perhaps they mean they are going to have another bite at Fylde later on, at the consultation stage.

Dated:  25 August 2009


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