Metacre Wakes Up Wesham
To Wesham once more, where wealthy Lancashire businessman Trevor Hemmings' Metacre is threatening to build 264 houses on
green land outside the urban boundary and where they plan to 'create' a biodiversity park. See 'Wesham Stirs'
We arrived on a wet and windy night to find a hall overflowing and extra chairs being magicked out of storerooms to accommodate all the people.
The meeting began with Cllr Linda Nulty who firstly had to explain she couldn't pass an opinion or give a view of the application before she had seen and heard the officers presentation at the DC (Development Control) Committee.
Such is the lunacy of modern legislation. It presumes councillors on the Development Control Committee ought not to express a view for or against any application until they have heard all their officers (professional) opinion on what they should do
(and ideally followed it).
It supposes they will know all there is to know from their officers, and that they cannot be fully informed until they have heard it.
It is awful.
The whole point of having Councillors is that they are not professionals, they are human, and they are there to humanise the technical and professional tendency that would otherwise run things with all the humanity that was displayed at Nuremburg.
So she was very careful not to express a view either way. Had she not been so, she would have been prevented from speaking, let alone voting in the Development Control Committee. This is utter madness of course.
What she did say was that objections were needed if people opposed the scheme, and they could be made up to the day of the hearing even if the formal period had ended, and that people should use planning reasons and not emotional arguments. She
thought the date for the application to be heard would be 11th March, but that date could alter.
Town Councillor Alan Clayton took up and reinforced the call, then invited comments from the floor.
Asked if it was true that Metacre expected to pay £3,000 to £5,000 per house to FBC and she wanted to know if that would end up in St Anne's. The answer came as "no". The basis for it was probably that Metacre had to provide a proportion of
'Affordable Houses' within the development. These are subsidised, housing association style ('council houses') that a developer now has to provide to registered social landlords a discounted price to the other houses they build. This of course
makes the 'normal' houses on the site less 'affordable' for local young couples wanting to get onto the housing ladder. (and in truth, its probably a lot more than £3,000 per house that is involved).
Wanted the names and addresses of the Development Control Committee. Alan Clayton promised to put a link on the wesham.org.uk website.
Wanted to know who says we need thousands of houses in Fylde? The answer was the Government.
Was well informed, saying there were 13 sites being considered by Fylde according to the paper. He asked why was this one being treated individually in advance of the others? The answer given was that because FBC was behind with its Core Strategy and
other planning documentation, it was more susceptible to one-off targeted applications like this. She added that Wesham was being seen as something of a 'test case' regarding developers' ability to override Fylde's own policy that says there should be
no building outside the 'limit of development' that is defined in the Local Plan.
Said that Metacre - or anyone - wouldn't be building on brownfield sites anytime soon because they are too expensive to develop so long as they can get their hands on greenfield sites. Cllr Nulty offered a slight correction in that Metacre were the
landowner, not the developer.
Some of the folk around us were getting a bit restless by now, and we overheard dark mutterings from two chaps sitting behind us. They were solid old-time agricultural types. Salt of the earth, robust and portly, in farming gear with a flat cap and
open neck shirt, and we could just imagine the knobstick and boots. There were mutterings about it all being a put up job, and already decided, and brown envelopes - in the way conspirators do, then one said to the other "We could do with that
counterbalance chappie here tha knows"
The discussion about the merits and demerits of counterbalance carried on around us in hushed tones for a short time until one of them said "Oh eye, he sends me an email every week or two. Damn good it is too, and I agree with more or less
everything he says." That seemed to seal the matter.
Whilst we were slightly surprised to be reaching the parts of Fylde that other publications may not reach, we are nevertheless proud to be associated with; and we salute, the self evident judgement of the good people of Wesham.
Was very well informed. A lady toward the front, quoting chapter and verse on agricultural land classifications with confident detail and authority, she asserted that the application was incorrect in stating the land was Grade 3b, it was better
than that, and this point should be made to the Development Control Committee.
Was concerned about the drainage and that if, as it appeared, the site was to be drained north onto the marsh, then wildlife would be killed.
Expressed concern about Fylde's "Urban Extensions Plan" in the documents from the developer, saying that if adopted it would extend this development into a very large area.
Was concerned about Lapwings which nest in the affected fields every year
Complained that traffic would make congestion worse, especially toward the Motorway. This set several heads nodding in the audience.
Wanted the Town Council to get in touch with the National Trust who were now starting to take an interest in preserving land as opposed to buildings.
Drew the first public applause when she was critical of the Town Council and asked what, in practical terms, they had done so far.
This wasn't a cheap or a political shot. It was a lashing out that is only to be expected when a gentle community like this is shocked with rapacious plans by developers that seem to be half approved even before they are published - because the
Planning Officers have already given the developers what is now called "pre -application advice" - and attracted significant payments to FBC for doing so.
This arrangement is part of the dangerous process that is turning local government into the local administrative arm of central government and denying local people control over the direction their communities take. Literally dozens of complex
documents are now deposited when an application like this is made, and local people have typically 21 days to respond to them. These documents have been prepared slowly and carefully, perhaps over six or more months by professional consultants
working to the advice of Fylde Councils Planning Officers. It is an outrageously imbalanced situation.
Even worse in this instance, these houses are not to meet a local need, they are to meet a stupid, inflexible government target that has its roots in making us more economically productive, social engineering, and the destruction of family life, but it seems there is not a council in the
UK willing to stand up and tell the Government - as Queen Elizabeth Oades of Kirkham so eloquently put it recently - to "stuff their housing plans"
In fact, in its own quiet way, Wesham TC *has* been doing things, it called, hosted and paid for the first public meeting. It is organising some of the opposition, and it called and arranged this second public meeting where people could
have their say. That's actually more than the St Anne's Town Council did for the Queensway development if you think about it, and counterbalance was pretty complementary about the efforts they made in 'Town
Other speakers expressed similar thoughts to those who had spoken earlier, then a chap stood up and said he felt a bit like an interloper because he wasn't local, he was from St Anne's, and had friends connected with opposing the Queensway
Development there. He said like the Queensway one, this was an awful scheme that would take good agricultural land out of production and replace it with housing that wasn't needed. He said he has come to lend moral support to the campaign to have
this stopped, and offered practical help if it was needed. He also congratulated the lady on her research on agricultural land and referred her to a Fylde Planning Policy that said good agricultural land would not be used for development.
Another speaker asked if it was true that the land agent could bypass Fylde Council altogether and go straight to London to get the permission. Cllr Mrs Nulty said that would only be the case if Fylde did not deal with the application in the time
allowed, which was why there was such a rush on to get it decided within the 13 weeks allowed.
Asked why officers seemed to be favouring the developer, she replied that they were impartial but the situation was difficult, adding "If you've read the papers in the last couple of nights you will recognise the relationship between the
officers and members of the Development Control Committee is not exactly a happy ship at present" We suspect she was referring to the BAE fiasco we reported in 'Development Discord' - a decision
that looks set to go against everything the Development Control Committee wanted. There looks to be a story about this which is yet to come out.
The meeting closed with Cllr Nulty and Cllr Clayton urging the formation of a group to help the Town Council work up the objection to the scheme. Citing the example of the Queensway Environmental Defenders group as having a massive and effective
organisation that prepared a comprehensive objection which other people had supported, she asked for people to continue to send in written objections of their own to the Borough Council.
The sad truth of this is that the arguments planning officers will now accept as valid are so technical that most ordinary folk wouldn't understand them, and you need to have several experts in specific fields on your side - like the agricultural
land lady - (no pun intended) or to hire an expert planning consultant to prepare your argument for you. The best you can really hope for with individual letters - unless they are informed by an expert summary of the issues - is that the
volume of them carries some weight with the Committee.
Still, we did see several people signing up to support the campaign. We wish them well, and we'll keep our readers informed as this matter progresses.
Dated: 25 January 2009