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Queensway Inquiry Diary

Queensway Inquiry DiaryThis page will become the day to day account of the Queensway Inquiry in public at the Bedford Hotel - bringing you the key points to arise from the Inquiry as they happen.

  The key players  in this drama are:

Kensington Developments: represented by eminent NW planning law barrister Roger Lancaster. We understand he expects to call nine expert witnesses to give evidence for Kensington.

Fylde Council: represented by expert planning law barrister Ian Ponter, who is expected to call three expert witnesses.

Queensway Environmental Defenders: who represent themselves as a community group. We hear they expect to have four witnesses to give evidence.


DAY 1: Tuesday 24th November 2009

We assembled for 10am where Kensington's team of ten; Fylde Council's team of six; and QED's team of three took the stage against a backdrop of about 120 members of the public (including twenty or so builders), and a Gazette reporter.

The Inspector, Phil Grainger, and the assembled teams introduced themselves to each other, and to the public, before the hostilities began.

Today was supposed to be opening statements and the public platform up to about lunchtime, but the first problem was that with so many in the public gallery no-one could hear, and no microphones had been arranged. The Hotel's karaoke machine was pressed, unsatisfactorily, into service before the Council managed to hi-jack the Town Hall's radio microphone system and after lunch we were up and running.

The morning was also delayed with confusion about which maps and documents were current (and in some cases valid for consideration). This might seem surprising, but if you put all the paper this Inquiry has received it would cover probably a ten six-foot tables to a thickness of two inches or more. Box after box, crate after crate was wheeled in.

Then we heard the opening speeches by Kensington's barrister, then by QED and finally the Council's barrister setting out the case each would make to the Inquiry.

The afternoon of public speakers were of a high calibre, mostly well prepared, having thought through what they wanted to say and brining a printed copy as the Inspector has asked for at the pre-inquiry meeting. In all 22 spoke against the scheme and seven spoke for it. The speakers against included St Annes Mayor Cllr Tony Ford, Borough Councillors Angela Jacques (representing Karen Buckley, Roger Small, Christine Ackeroyd and others),  Cllr Barbara Mackenzie representing St Annes on the Sea Town Council, Cllr Bob Fielding from St Annes. Also speaking for groups were Alison Jack and Edward Cook from Defend Lytham, and Marion Coupe from the Civic Society, together with a host of individual residents.

The topics ranged widely from flooding and ground instability fears, to the airport, agricultural land, availability of local services, transport issues, viability concerns and ecological worries.

Those speaking for the scheme were mostly building-related businesses folk, such as skip hire companies or estate agents, whose chief - and understandable - concern was the employment situation at the present time.

There were hints of what was to come when Kensington suggested that there were feverish talks going on between them and the Council behind the scenes to see if enough agreement could be reached to see the Council or Kensington concede enough points to reach an agreed position and not to offer evidence at the Inquiry on certain matters.

This of course is the dark side of public inquiries.

What starts out as something open and transparent frequently degenerates into grubby horse-trading behind closed doors. This isn't the first, and it wont be the last to see this happen. So what will tomorrow bring?
 


DAY 2: Wednesday 25th November 2009

Today was 'your turn in the barrel' for the Council's Mark Evans who is Head of Planning at Fylde. He had almost eight gruelling hours on the witness stand - first to present his own evidence and his view on the scheme, then after lunch he was cross examined by ace barrister Roger Lancaster for Kensington. Not a pleasant experience, however polite he makes it.

We watched as he used the first part of his cross examination to get  Mark Evans to produce evidence that didn't seem altogether relevant really, but of course he's storing those answers away to attack QED when they take the stand. Or at least he thinks he is.

QED seem to have riled him a bit because he made several little jibes through the day in their direction - thanking Mr Evans for not 'maligning' his clients as 'others' had done when they claimed that Kensington already had sites they should be building and providing employment on - and so on.

Mark Evans produced a polished, professional and sure footed performance which is the hallmark of a an experienced and competent officer. Not over egging puddings, not tying to claim more than you can, just a solid reliable performance.

He gave ground unnecessarily in a couple of places we thought, but that will perhaps become clear later.

For example, on the matter of how well the site links to the Town Centre he said he thought the Council's view was that the harm it might do could be outweighed by the benefits elsewhere. This implied an acceptance that we don't think many would share, and it might lead the Inspector to conclude the impact isn't viewed as that important.

Surprise of the day was the Council's barrister - Ian Ponter, who doesn't appear to display the jugular-seeking manner of his opposite number, but his incisive analysis of the evidence of others, and his rebuttal of the attacks that had been made on Mr Evans nevertheless scored many points.  It could be fun when he starts to cross examine others.

The offstage 'negotiations' about ecological mitigation measures, and traffic continued all day without reaching agreement, and it looks like it's going down to the wire tomorrow because if agreements have not been reached by 10am, then either Neil Stevens of LCC Highways or Dr Sarah Manchester (LCC's brilliant ecologist), will probably take the stand to give evidence and face cross examination. There's also a duel due on 'viability' when the Council's valuer gives his view of whether the scheme can actually pay for the things Kensington are promising as 'community benefits' such as the road and socially subsidised housing.

Depending on how the morning goes, we could see QED's first entry into the foray as the first of their team gives their evidence on general planning matters.
 


DAY 3: Thursday 26th November 2009

The first point of note was that agreement had been reached on highway matters between LCC and Kensington's consultants, but there has been no agreements on 'ecology' or 'viability' overnight so the horse-trading on those matters continued (and throughout today as well, it can be said, and we understand that  exalted persons from Natural England had attended).

The key problem here is the contradictory needs of the RSPB and Natural England who want to attract birds and protect them, and Blackpool Airport who (for what we consider to be entirely understandable reasons) don't want their jet engines turned into impromptu goose ovens.

The outcome of this is that a 'Bird Control Programme' is being devised, the ultimate sanction of which would be to have sharpshooters located in some the fields to shoot the birds that the Farmland Conservation Area has attracted if the birds get too close to the flightpath.

Curiously, the RSPB seem prepared to go along with this idea - at least in principle. It's amazing how cheaply their reputation has been bought. For just a few acres of farmland they will sup with the devil it seems.

Before the shooting happens however, there will be rocket grenades and the like used to disperse the flocks of birds if they get too near the flightpath. We suspect it might also disperse a few residents who already complain about existing bird scaring techniques, but hey, they will just have to put up with it - as no one is involving them in the discussions or decisions at present.

You can see it's quite an intractable problem. We think its impossible to solve without a fudge, and that's what's probably going to come of it. We may well go into this in more detail in a future issue.

There was an adjournment from 11:30 to 1:30 to allow for progress to be made in those discussions - and because Kensington's barrister said he needed extra time to get ready to cross examine QED (to be fair that wasn't because he was terrified of taking them on, it was because he wasn't expecting to do so as quickly, and he was literally 'not prepared').

That said, one of the QED chaps commented to us that they had to be prepared for last minute changes in the timetable, and he didn't see why the professionals should get more time, but there you are.

Then the LCC highway chap took the stand for a few minutes so the Inspector could ask questions about the impact on some of the roads and the bus re-routing where the No 14 is planned to go through the site if it gets built and so on.

Then after lunch QED's first witness Adrian Fielding took the stand and gave a solid and reliable performance on the main technical planning issues. He was followed by Arnold Sumner who spoke for St Annes Chamber of Trade who said the Chamber thought the impact of the new roads would take more people out of St Annes than it would bring in, then Fred Moor mopped up the subsidiary planning issues about the green belt, limit of development and so on.

Most of these had topics been covered by the Council, but there are areas where QED and the Council differ - especially in respect of the new moss road which the council support. Cross examination was limited because many of the arguments had been tested on Mark Evans yesterday. One point of note emerged when QED said they disagreed with Mr Evans' assertion that all the environmental matters had been correct.

Tomorrow as they say, is another day. Well, another half-day (expected finish around lunchtime). Might be LCC's ecologist if agreement has been reached. If not it will probably be QED leading with their evidence on the Airport, Transport,  Soils and Agricultural Land.
 


DAY 4: Friday 27th November 2009

The bad news probably happened today. We give our readers the inside track on that a bit later. But first we deal with the events of the day.

The first issue was that in the details being negotiated offstage, the wrong plan number had been entered into all the documents (there have been so many versions issued, it has been very difficult to keep track of them), and Mr Lancaster had to report the error from his side and request that it be changed. This was agreed by all parties as a simple error.

Then QED's ecology witness took the stand and was examined by another QED member. This was out of step with their previous witnesses who had simply read out their evidence.

The effect of what was done was to limit the prospects for cross examination because, many of his answers were  "yes", or "no" or "I can't answer for them but...." The reason for this could have been nerves of course, (it limited the opportunity for cross examination) but it could also be a clever ploy to keep powder for subsequent cross examination. Time will tell.

The next witness was Mr Fielding, who again gave evidence. This time  in respect of the impact on the airport and noise. It was said at the outset that the section on Bird Control was being discussed offstage and he would skip over that until the position was known and would try and deal with it in cross examination of Kensington's witness next week.

Interestingly it came out that discussion on the Bird Control plan had already been agreed on most matters. The sticking point was how the costs of it should be paid. It seems that all were agreed the cost should be borne by Kensington, but the issue was whether the cheque would go from Kensington to the airport or from Kensington to the bird control contractor. We guess that's a matter of 'He who pays the piper calls the tune'

As on the previous day, QED's Mr Fielding's evidence was solid and reliable, especially given that this was not an area of his expertise and it is a very technical matter. There were two key concerns about airport noise. Firstly it can impact on residents of the new properties - although given the number of flights at present this is not so much of a problem, it would be so in the future if growth resumed. Secondly there was evidence presented that having a school so close to the runway was detrimental the wellbeing of children, and thirdly that because of the problems that new residents would experience with noise if there was some increase in flights, that would actually reduce the chances of the airport being able to expand because it may have to pay for fitting of double glazing and noise insulation in houses, and a restriction on its ability to expand would be detrimental to the local economy.

Next up was QED's Mr Moor on Transport. He admitted at once that he was not a transport expert and would argue from broad principles rather than technical detail of junction congestion numbers.

He said that, unlike the Council, QED do not support the roads in this scheme. He made the points that in Lancashire these roads were seen as a low priority, that the new regional strategy says that St Annes was not destined to grow as much as before, and that the "Fylde Coast Easterly By Pass" (the old Red Route) was no more, so that reduced their importance.

He said Kensington could not demonstrate that the new Moss Road would ever be built. It did not exist, there was not even any planning permission for it, and because of that Kensington could not demonstrate they had access.

He went on to deal with the impact of the New Moss Road on St Annes and made two main points. Firstly that St Annes was designed to be serviced from the seaward side via Clifton Drive and that a reversal of this process to bring traffic in from the Motorway at Kilnhouse Lane, St Annes Road East, Headroomgate Road and Cypress Point would bring lorries and HGVs onto roads that were unsuitable for them.

He also confirmed Mr Sumner's point that the road will appear a straight through route to Lytham and that would be to the detriment of St Annes - especially since St Annes shops were more tourist orientated, and more reliant on trade from those unfamiliar with the area who would be tempted to run on to Lytham.

He then stayed in place to offer evidence on the impact of the development on Soils and Agricultural land. He said there was a distinction between the two and very different criteria applied. He said Kensington were in breach of European environmental regulations by failing to undertake a proper study of the impact of their development on the important mossland soil which in his view was one of the best growing soils in Fylde Borough.

He then dealt with agricultural land, showing how important the land was to agriculture and that in his view, as well as the loss to housing, there would be loss to intensive agriculture where the land was used for playing fields, habitat creation and made wetter by restricted drainage and the 'in perpetuity' clause that restricted the farming activities. He also alluded to the unpredictable bands of peat that ran from south Blackpool to Lytham and that at Cypress Point development had taken place on piled foundations without major damage, but further north, much of the Park Lea new development in Blackpool had to be demolished because of serious subsidence problems.

That concluded QED's evidence, but the real drama was being played out behind the scenes of the Inquiry.

Here the RSPB, Natural England, LCC's ecology department and Blackpool Airport were bought off with the 91 ha farmland conservation area and a (conflicting) Bird Hazard Control Plan.

As a result Blackpool Airport has withdrawn its objection to the scheme, as has Natural England. Those two objections were key to success or failure, and Kensington's success is now more likely than it was before.

Agreement was reached in a fudge that no one - other than the parties involved has seen - so the public and, as far as we can tell QED, have not been, and will not be, given the opportunity to comment on the plans that have now been agreed 'off piste'

There has been similar agreement reached about 'affordable (chiefly social rented) housing' although the details of that are yet to be announced .

And there appears to have been agreement on the details of the viability - that's whether the income from the houses can pay for the roads and the affordable housing and the farmland conservation area and so on and still leave the developer reasonably in pocket.

When you add in the fact that much of what is of concern to local people (such as flooding) has been side-stepped, either by conditions - for example United Utilities and the Environment Agency have said they don't oppose the scheme, but they will require certain conditions (the details of which are not completely clear at this time) to be imposed before any start is made, or by an (as yet unseen) legally binding promise by Kensington to deal with certain matters (called a 'Unilateral Undertaking'), this only leaves the Borough Council batting on two objections. They are

  • That the development is in an area the Council has designated as 'countryside' and development should not take place there.
  • That there is development (the proposed east-west road called T5) in the Green Belt which should not happen.

The Council considers all the other matters are, or can be, resolved outside the planning application process, either with conditions or the Unilateral Undertaking.  We understand QED don't agree with this and are still pitching in on several matters.

But although things look fairly black for the objectors at this point, it is up to the Inspector to make up his mind, to advise the Minister. Then for the Minister to decide. And despite what the Council and Kensington have agreed, it is perfectly possible for the Minster to take a completely different view.

We suspect QED will also have a different view of things - and that will become more clear as their cross examination unfolds next week.

So ended the first session.

Week 2 starts on Tuesday 1 December
 


DAY 5: Tuesday 1st December 2009

Apologies to readers who have been hoping to follow the inquiry on the second week, we have been unable to bring you the day to day reports as hoped, but have now caught up with events.

First witness today Was Mr Wells who dealt with water and flooding. He said there was a 0.5m rise and fall in groundwater in accordance with the tide, and the important thing about the site was that the peat should not be allowed to dry out because that's what makes it shrink and cause subsidence.

In response to concerns about low water pressure he said a 15 inch water main ran through the site and that would be the source (although he didn't mention the effect of taking water for 1,200 houses out of it on the remainder of people who are supplied by it. And he did say that in areas of low pressure people could fit header tanks in lofts etc or power showers to increase pressure locally. (Nice of him to suggest that we thought)

He then addressed the issue of flooding on the site at present and referring to photos sent in by one chap whose picture showed 13 inches of water on the filed to be developed and stretching into his garden, Mr Wells said this was due to blocked drains and people filling in ditches, and that if the development was built these would all be attended to. (We thought since Kensington claim to own the land, they probably don't need wait until then to effect their responsibilities as a landowner and keep their ditches clear - but what do we know)

He spoke of providing a small flood bank on part of the land just to make sure none of the houses would be affected by flooding. He also said the roads would be six inches below the house level. Finally he confirmed that there would be no ponds and lakes as part of the drainage system.

We thought he was evasive in his answers, and we don't have a lot of confidence in his plans, but then they are being decided as conditions - which in effect means they're deferred and decided in conjunction with United Utilities or whoever, outside the pubic gaze. (We have to say this is a process we strongly disagree with, and it might yet fall foul of some Euro regulations.

Next up Was Mr Easdon who dealt with Transport. He had a fancy computer that could predict how many red cars would turn left between 8 and 9am at School Land (or any other) junction on a wet Wednesday in March 2014 (well almost) and he had produced reams of printouts to show it and all the accident records and so on.

The Borough Council was in a  tricky position here, they want the new moss road called T6, but not the houses, so they offered no cross examination. QED who don't believe the road will be that beneficial, argued that it was wrong to try and turn that into the primary rout for all traffic into St Annes because the town was designed and built to be serviced from the seaward side and Clifton Drive. They said having all the traffic from the motorway arrive at Kilnhouse Lane or the Regent Avenue junction would mean more into Lytham and less into St Annes, and it could put HGVs onto roads like Heyhouses lane where traffic vibration was already a problem for residents with houses on the peat soil.

They also showed how Kensington's evidence that it would complete the Fylde Coast Easterly By Pass was no longer valid as the plan to build that road had gone kaput ages ago, and they argued that if the road were  needed there were other ways of funding it, such as the M55 Hub development and so on. They were quite aggressively interrupted by Kensington's barrister Roger Lancaster during cross examination who argued some of the points they were making were inadmissible. The Inspector disagreed with several of the interruptions and allowed QED to continue, but some of the thrust was lost.

Next up was ecologist Mr Hesketh for Kensington. If the appeal succeeds, he is probably the one who will have pulled it out of the fire for Kensington. He came up with the idea of creating a 91ha 'Farmland Conservation Area' that has bribed the RSPB, Natural England, and LCC ecology unit into almost (and only the fine print of the agreement remains to be finalised) withdrawing their objections to the plans. He was a softly spoken man of obvious capability, and although QED put forward some questions and scored a few hits, it was clear that deals with Kensington and the main ecological organisations were being done behind closed doors, and that fact cut rather QED's legs from under them on this topic.


DAY 6: Wednesday 2nd December 2009

Before the meeting commenced, the Inspector made an announcement saying that he had found it helpful to have Kensington's witnesses tested by QED's questions, and he was also interested in how Kensington's evidence stood up to being tested by the public opinion as expressed by QED. A gentle but quite obvious shot across Kensington's bows for interrupting. He then reminded QED that this was not carte blanc and he expected a degree of self censoring.

First witness of the day was Mr Jarman who has devised the Bird Control Plan for Kensington to satisfy the needs of Blackpool Airport., and he outlined some of the plans.

All new residents on the estate would receive a leaflet explaining that it was an undesirable activity to feed the birds, even in their gardens, and the control measures near the houses would start with minor methods such as falcons and bio-acoustics before going on to louder (rocket grenade type noises) or lethal methods of control (shooting).

He was particularly concerned that the playing fields and school might attract gulls, and he thought "active bird control" would be necessary in those areas. This probably doesn't mean we will see seven year olds coming home from school in tears because when the man shot the bird it landed in the school playground and bled to death in front of them, but we can envisage some pretty unsatisfactory outcomes of the "bird control"

He said another of the main concerns was the pink footed geese that the RSPB are so keen to attract, and that control of these will be "surveillance driven" which we took to mean that when they see a big enough number of then on the Farmland Conservation Area, they will need to shift them if they are near the flight path, and the FCA scheme would have a sort of warden to watch out for them landing in the 'wrong' fields'. Essentially, the idea is to put measures in place to get the birds to land in fields away from the aircraft flightpath. Quite how the birds are expected to know where the flightpath is when most humans couldn't  tell you is beyond us.

He did say there would be no culling of Swans, and if they were a problem they would be referred to an independent expert for advice as to how to deal with them. The inspector who puts on a Columbo sort of act but has a brain that's razor sharp underneath asked whether, in the event of an emergency, and Swans in the way of an incoming aircraft could be got out of it quickly enough if there was a process that required consultation with independent experts. The answer was that surveillance will play a big part in the operation and before the number of swans can build to a significant problem in any of the fields and they can be moved on.

He has spotted one of the flaws of course, this fudge is an absolute nonsense. The aim, having had the swans fly in from Greenland or wherever, is to let them have a bit of rest and recuperation just like we feel in need of at the end of a long stint of travel, and the last thing they need is to be woken up and chased off again because they have landed in the wrong field.

Then inspector noted the matter and said he had looked at the Bird Control plan, but going through it the thing that struck him was that it all seemed very complicated, and that suggests something is fundamentally wrong. He asked about netting to be put on ponds to stop ducks and so on using them, and he heard about spikes being fitted to lamp posts to stop gulls landing and "loafing" on them, and it seemed to us that he remained concerned, but Kensington's barrister told him everyone was satisfied with this process.

After lunch Mr Appleton  went on the stand. He was a key expert witness for Kensington and he had done all the landscaping and open space and green belt plans.

He said he did not consider the mossland to be a landscape of high visual quality in a visual sense because it had pylons in it and was near to the town. He went on to outline the plans for the Nature Park/ Recreation Area which is a sort of a tame nature reserve cum country park  in the hope that it will keep people off the more environmentally sensitive Farmland Conservation Area where only the farmer and the warden (and presumably the marksman on occasions) will be welcome. He went into a lot of detail about the green belt, purporting to show that putting a new road across the middle of it wasn't going to reduce its openness and anyway even if it did, Kensington's development was so important that it merited building the road on the green belt as a special case.

He then expressed arguments to refute the claims of QED about the importance of the mossland soil and the agricultural land.

He was first cross examined by the Council's barrister Mr Ponter who spoke in old-money cultured tones and gently tore Mr Appleton's arguments to shreds. He showed how Mr Appleton's evidence had only addressed half the issue relating to green belt and had ignored the other half that showed it was more damaging. Mr Appleton's answers became at first increasingly evasive, then later we thought, almost deliberately obstructive. At one point Mr Ponter had to ask the same question four times to get a straight answer - and when the answer came it was pretty clear to us it was one that favoured Kensington's position, not the accurate one. We were put in mind of the Jeremy Paxman interview of Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary.

Then QED asked some questions on issued they had raised. First they asked whether he had been concerned that the Farmland Conservation area had taken half of the public open space and recreation area out of the plan. He said there was still enough even with just half.

They also asked whether the  £2.5 million swimming pool and £100,000 a year subsidy for the next 15 years was still on the cards because it said in Kensington's statement to the Inquiry that they would provide: "Through the development, £2.5 million pounds of funding for the construction of a new swimming baths, or the refurbishment of the existing, or an alternative new leisure facility to be decided by Fylde Borough Council with £100,000 per annum funding for a period of 15 years, to be used towards the running costs of the facility." and in the detailed section on community facilities, the statement also said "Increased membership of the Golf Clubs and usage of the swimming pool is considered to benefit the local area in terms of additional revenue. However, again, the contribution which the developer is putting towards new leisure facilities, in the form of monies to fund a new swimming pool, will mitigate any additional usage created from the development of the site."

The answer was a swift, firm, and emphatic "No" We thought QED were sort of expecting that answer anyway, because they didn't make more of a fuss.

Cross examination on the matter of soils produced not much agreement at all. Mr Appleton was not even prepared to accept that soil was governed by legislation under a European Directive, and should be regarded separately from agricultural land which was a matter of Government policy. The agricultural land matter produces a bit more agreement, but not on the extent of the areas that would be lost to agriculture - especially under the school playing fields and the 'nature park' .


DAY 7: Thursday 3rd December 2009

Not the best day to be outdoors, but this morning was the day chosen for the site visit. Heavy rain at least would have helped to show the dykes as being working and the land its usual mossland wetness. We understand that representatives of all three parties turned up to walk the site with the intrepid Inspector, and all three turned up in bush hats. A wet walk was had by all.

Thursday afternoon began with a conundrum when the Inspector noted in his opening remarks that this was an outline application, and it included the construction of a roundabout, but he thought you couldn't have an outline planning application for a roundabout, and he wondered if it should be considered as a 'hybrid' application. (whatever one of those is)

After some paper shuffling and debate amongst the main party barristers, they decided it was for the housing, a school and 34 ha of parkland (which, if the inspector is awake enough, he will have noticed has now been reduced to half that area), and that the roundabout was incidental to that work. We wondered if there was something more behind his question, and whether there was something about 'hybrid applications' that we haven't grasped. However, we will have to wait for his report.

First up was Mr Pillinger who had done the viability costings to show that the costs of building, and the expected income from the houses would leave enough money for a profit for Kensington and to let them provide the community facilities (apart from the swimming pool and half the open space) they had promised. This means some socially subsidised housing as part of the scheme, and the new moss road.

QED had said several times during the week they wanted to cross examine Mr Pillinger but Kensington's barrister had seemed reluctant to allow it, saying that because QED had offered no evidence on this matter they should not be allowed to cross examine.

The Inspector said he thought he might find it helpful and asked them to outline what their concern was. QED began to explain that it wasn't the calculations they were concerned about, but some of the information on which the costs were based. They said the Ground Survey report in Mr Pillinger's evidence was partly on a different site, and where it was on the right site it only covered a small part of the appeal site, and it looked as though it was the one from plan to build the 350 house development back in 2000.

At this point Kensington's barrister cut short the explanation introduced a moment of unexpectedly high drama when he threatened QED with costs if what they said meant Kensington had to do more work to prepare evidence to rebut the claims QED were making.

Proceedings went silent for a moment before the QED representative said that as a community group they couldn't afford their own barrister let alone the costs of Kensington's and they were not able to proceed further with the explanation with that threat of costs hanging over them.

The inspector was pensive for a moment then accepted the position, but when Mr Pillinger had completed his evidence on costs, the Inspector himself asked some questions,  to probe in the area that QED were concerned about. However, without the benefit of their understanding of the problems, he didn't seem to make a lot of headway. Mr Pillinger did say that there had been no soil survey, but we saw a QED chap turn up a map Mr Pillinger's evidence that seemed to shoe one. There's obviously something going on here that Kensington doesn't want out in the open.

Mr Graham, a valuer was next up and explained that Lytham prices were higher than St Annes, and in valuing the houses he had taken into account that they would be similar in style and could thus be valued. The Inspector asked a few questions, then asked if QED wanted to test the witness. They said they had wanted to ask some questions linked to those of Mr Pillinger, but under Kensington's threat of costs they did not feel able to do so.

Then came the final witness for Kensington, Mr McAteer. He is a planning specialist and explained why he thought the houses should be built.

Cross-examination by Mr Ponter for the Council showed the disagreement over whether the Green Belt would be damaged by having a road put through it, and whether the development counted as sufficiently 'special' to justify it.

QED's questions were about the previous planning application for 350 houses that was refused, and about how Kensington had gone about doing the Environmental Assessment. It seemed they had not done any of the formal processes available, but had mostly relied on informal discussions with council officers and discussions with statutory bodies to decide what should be done. Consequently they had not formally agreed the scope of the environmental studies in what was called a Scoping Report with either the Council or with any of the Statutory bodies.

And there the evidence part of the inquiry came to an end.

Outside the formal part, agreements had been concluded, and as 5.15 approached, the Council's planning officer Mark Evans entered the room with papers and a stapler and during the dying minutes of the evidence he stapled together the last of the agreements and handed out copies of the Unilateral Undertaking - this is the chiefly formal offer by Kensington and the acceptance of the Borough and County Councils to fund various things in connection with the development that will provide the grease to mitigate the bad impacts the development would have if it were to be allowed on appeal, such as some socially subsidised housing, the road across the moss, the Farmland Conservation Area, the Bird Control Unit for the airport and so on.

And at 5.18pm they produced a draft set of conditions that - in effect - set out what has been agreed in principle but not in detail, and these issues remain to be agreed later if the appeal succeeds.

We think this is an awful way of going about it. Yes there are some things that can be decided later - such as the colour of the bricks and whether the plans for the buildings are structurally sound and so on, but on the list of reserved matters to be decided later there are things like drainage, pollution, open space etc and especially things like the Bird Control Plan that will affect  people's quality of likf as the rocket grenades are used to disperse birds from the flight path. These really should have been subject to proper public scrutiny via the environmental assessment process.


DAY 8: Friday 4th December 2009

The day of the closing statements.

QED went first, and their Adrian Fielding read the text of a prepared closing statement that covered general planning policy, ecology, greenbelt, flooding the Airport, transport and roads, soils, loss of agricultural land, landscape open space and recreation. Based on their opening statement and the points made during the Inquiry, we thought we detected a pulling of punches in their closing statement.

Next went Mr Ponter for the Council. He also noted there had been no Scoping Opinion sought but that a Scoping Report was submitted with the Environmental Statement, and that the level of information was deficient and did not allow proper consideration of the impact of the development.

He identified that all except three of the Council's objections had been met by the offstage negotiations and agreements.

They three remaining were: damage to the Green Belt; poor integration with the existing urban area; and prematurity. This latter is a complex planning argument which arises because (after the Commissar snaffled the money that should have been used to make the new planning documents and poured it into the black hole that his financial incompetence had created) the Council isn't up to date with its new local plan, and the argument is that the new plan should say what goes where, rather than have developers do it by bunging in applications before Fylde's plans are made. So large scale developments that would in effect constrain the new plan are said to be 'premature' The arguments were cogent and well made, and we think they will sit well with the Inspector.

Then came Mr Lancaster for Kensington. Using a cleverly laid series of arguments that emphasised real points, disguised disadvantages, and selective presented issues, he skilfully wove a story around almost every point and made it almost believable. That's his job, and he's good at it.

We came across people during the week who wanted to 'deck' him (to use a modern term), but we saw him to be a decent sort underneath but ruthless and professionally arrogant on the surface. Like we said, that's what he gets paid for, and he did a good job.

So the two week Inquiry ended with many questions still unresolved in our view. Provisional agreement had been reached on all the offstage matters, but even if the appeal is granted you can expect Kensington to keep coming back with changes to the plans as they go along. They gave the first indication of this in an exchange with FBC over the Public Open Space, suggesting that the agreement allowed them to change it to a 'resident's only' space.

We say watch this space.

If the appeal is granted we would not be surprised to find that cost overruns prevent quite a lot of the promises from being fulfilled. We would also not at all be surprised to see serious ground instability problems - especially in the North West corner of the development if it goes ahead.

So what happens next?

Well, barring anything unforeseen (and there could yet be something that appears out of the woodwork), the Inspector will send his report to  the Minister (and to all those who registered), in late January - probably in the third week. The Minister will then take some time to make his decision.

The last time the Minister was asked to decide an appeal on this site he took almost 4 years! (yes, really). We don't expect this one to take as long, but a key issue will be whether he has time to deal with it before 'election fever' hits Westminster. Ministers tend to leave what they see as 'less important' matters in their in-tray once the starting pistol has been fired, in order not to upset possible voters, and to leave time to organise their election campaigns.

Whether this one will get caught in that trap is difficult to say. It will be a close run thing. If it gets delayed until after the election, we would expect its chances to be lesser based on an assumption of the Conservative victory that many are predicting, and their declared intent to abandon the regional planning system and the top-down imposed targets for housing numbers (Fylde has to bear 5,500 extra houses) that are driving this process in places like Fylde

So the last question for the moment is when is the election going to be? Well the earliest probably date being spoken of by those in the know is March 22 and that would see parliament dissolved before the end of February- which won't give much time for a decision. The more likely date in May and that would see parliament dissolved at the end of March which is also not a lot of time for Civil Servants to check the legal aspects and dot the i's and cross the t's of the decision, so as one of the QED people said to us, the fat lady's not singing yet.

Dated:   5 December 2009


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