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Planning and Parking

Planning and ParkingTonight, Queen Elizabeth Oades made one of those 'difficult choices' our Commissar is so fond of.  She and nine others called-in Dim Tim's individual Portfolio Holder decision to use the remaining £10,000 of a Government payment of £22,500 that was given to Fylde Council to pay for essential work for evidence to develop planning policies connected with environmental matters for the new planning policy framework.

Instead, Cllr Ashton decided he wanted to use it (as he had used the first £12,500 of the payment) to offset the cost of lower parking charges in Lytham and St Annes Town Centres for another month or so.

It was a difficult decision for Queen Elizabeth and it showed remarkable political courage. Firstly because what she did looks as though she is trying to beat up the shopkeepers that are having a hard time of it, and secondly because the town centre car park in Kirkham (her home town) doesn't charge. (due to a long standing arrangement from when the town centre supermarket was built).

So it looked as though she was going to get some stick. And she did.

What she actually said was that Cllr Ashton went against the advice of officers who recommended he didn't spend the money to offset lower car parking income from using lower charges, because if they spend this money on the parking subsidy, they will only have to find it again to do the work the government says they have to do on Planning in the first place, so nothing is gained. She said she wanted a fresh look at the whole issue of charging for parking.

As might have been expected, it was an ill humoured little meeting with what was always going to be a political majority for Dim Tim.

This was made worse when the brother of one lady councillor turned up unexpectedly to speak in the public participation part of the meeting and she had to declare an interest. She asked to be allowed to have another councillor (not related to the speaker) to stand in for her, but in one of those highly marginal decisions, the Chairman, Councillor Mrs Karen Buckley, came to the view the councillor hadn't asked before the meeting had started so she couldn't have a substitute.

So the non-conservative councillors were a man down before they started. And the vote, when it came, was a foregone conclusion.

There were accusations of people playing politics and a few memorable quotes including Queen Elizabeth's "Last year Fylde was given £22,500 to prepare climate change policy for planning and it is this money that is being used here". She quoted from the report where officers had warned that without producing all the planning documentation required by the new system "The Core Strategy might be found to be unsound at inspection" (more about this in a later article gentle reader).

Another quote was Dim Tim's "This is political - and I'll tell you why. I'm a politician (we thought he was a Councillor which is not the same thing at all, but we'll let that go for the moment)  and I made that decision to favour my shopkeepers over a climate change issue"

No-one would think an election for the County Council was looming would they?

And another: Cllr Elizabeth Clarkson - first time we've heard her speak in public (maybe we should get out more). She said she was amazed that Cllr Oades had used this issue "to drag out all of these traders just to highlight a planning issue"

And Cllr John Prestwich's contribution to the debate was "This is about survival for our businesses in Lytham St Annes" adding that "£10,000 is only a nominal sum anyway" completely forgetting that as a nominal sum it probably wouldn't make much difference to the traders and it was his party that introduced the charges in the first place, then racked them up to unaffordable levels - as they have done with almost every other public service they can charge for in Fylde.

We also heard that the £10,000 was expected to support the lower parking charges for somewhere between a week and a month, and that it costs £922 to change the software in the car park machine when the charge is changed to a new one, (although it's apparently only £200 to change it back to one they have used before if they still have the disk).

But the vote when it came was very clearly not to call in the decision. It was to allow the remainder of the money to be snaffled into the 'car parking offset fund'

But this process set us thinking.... How often is this really happening - using money intended for one thing for something else then moaning when you haven't got enough to do the job you were given it for in the first place.

So we set out for a look.

We remembered the £205,000 the Commissar had snaffled from the extra £486,000 the government had given him to pay the OAP bus fares back in October 2006.  He never stops moaning about the cost of bus fares does he?

But had there been other instances where the Politburo Cabinet had taken money that was intended for one thing and used it for another?  Well yes, we found there were some instances, but there was one that was a glaring example, and its the one Queen Elizabeth alluded to. But its actually worse than even she realised.

It will make all those people in Defend Lytham, and Queensway Environmental Defenders, and CROWD at Warton, and WAGS at Wesham and CPRE and the Civic Society - and anyone else affected by, or protesting about, large scale housing development in Fylde - incandescent with anger at the failings of this Politburo Cabinet that is attempting to run Fylde Council.

Just follow the logic, and walk along with us, as we follow the trail.

We have recently seen a sudden influx of plans for enormous housing developments in Fylde.

Kensington, Metacre and others are deluging our planning department with applications for thousands of houses. Lytham Quays Mk2, Queensway, Pontins, Holywood Farm, M55 Hub, Whitehills, Wesham, Warton to name but some, and there are more, many more, in the wings waiting to be brought on. Fylde's planning department has a list of 100 sites it knows about.

So why are all these plans coming in now?

Well, the developers and speculators argue that because Fylde doesn't have something called a Core Strategy and various other planning documents in place, they have a right to have their applications approved.

They say this because Fylde's Local Plan is out of date, and the Council hasn't got its replacement (the 'Core Strategy' and other documents) done yet, and this means anywhere in Fylde is now fair game for a monster planning application.

They claim to have found a loophole that says if the local plan hasn't been updated by the new Core Strategy and other documents, all planning applications should be treated "favourably" (We have some doubts about the validity of this argument which we will cover in a future article)

But if that is the case. If it is that in the absence of a Core Strategy and other planning documents Fylde is vulnerable to greedy developers, why hasn't Fylde done the work and prepared the Core Strategy and other planning documents already?

Our regular readers will guess where this is going by now....

The answer is because they don't have enough staff to do them.

You'll remember in the last few months we have been saying that Fylde's Planning Officers are overwhelmed, and moral is at an all time low. Now we all know why. They've all been told (and are trying) to put out the fire at Yates' Wine Lodge with a watering can.

But hang on, the usual thing Fylde does when it can't cope using its existing staff, is to bring in consultants. So why didn't they do that?

Well, they didn't have the money to pay them.

And why didn't they have the money to pay them?

That's right! 

Because the extra grants the Government gave Fylde to pay for all this extra work have been spent on something else.

So what did Fylde spend it on?

They spent it on...... pulling themselves out of a big black financial hole that they had walked into because those making the spending priority decisions are financially incompetent. (We've said that here so many times before, our readers must be getting sick of it)

So how did this come about?

Well, in a letter dated 9th March 2004, the Rt Hon Keith Hill MP suggested that Local Authorities could concentrate the use of a new sum called the Planning Delivery Grant as follows,

"....Areas in which authorities might consider concentrating their additional resources include: the preparation of regional planning guidance and the future regional spatial strategies; completing current reviews of existing development plans and preparing for the new system of local development frameworks; the better resourcing of IT systems; assistance from consultants; outsourcing of certain planning services; increasing staffing levels; training for staff and councillors; supporting mediation services; encouraging a more diverse planning workforce; bursaries for employees to gain planning qualifications and more use of technical staff.."

So which of these things did Fylde manage to do before its money was sucked into the Black Hole?.

Well the closest answer we can find is - Diddly Squat.

And how much extra did Fylde get to spend on planning in the first place? (and remember, this is all over and above what they got from us residents in Council Tax)

Well, to support the planning department in 2004/05 they got £152,000 but didn't spend any of it.

In 2005/06, they got another £75,000, taking their total to £227,000 as at 31 March 2006.

During 2006/07 they spent £28,000, (so they made some sort of a start) leaving a total of £199,000 in the kitty at 31 March 2007

But then came the disastrous Streetscene debacle (see Incompetence or Fraud?) when Dim Tim reported a loss of £609,000 on the Wyre waste contract, and this, together with other losses caused by the equally disastrous attempt to replace the accounting computers (see No Accounting for Fylde) had to be found from somewhere.

So the £199,000 that should have gone toward getting the new planning system in place was swallowed up to offset the debt the Commissar and his financially incompetent Politburo Cabinet had built up.

In the Medium Term Financial Strategy (that's just a posh new name for budget monitoring) of 14 February 2008, the following item was reported

"The Core Strategy is an essential document which underpins the Local Development Framework (LDF process). It provides a long-term spatial and strategic vision for the area. Up to now funding for work on the Core Strategy has been through Planning Delivery Grant (PDG). However, this funding stream has now been fully committed. A revenue growth bid for £89k has been made but given the severe pressure on the this budget, no growth bids have been considered for 2008/09. Consequently, work on the Core Strategy will be severely delayed having an impact on timescales already agreed with GONW, Blackpool and Wyre Councils."

For those unable to read council-speak it says..... the Core Strategy and other documents are crucial things and we haven't got them, and now we've no money to do them either.

The reference to a "revenue growth bid" is also interesting.

It probably means that after nicking all the £199,000 they were planning to put a request for £89,000 into their normal budget planning process but because the had no money there was no point in putting any extra requests in at all, so they couldn't even do that.

What a Fred Karno's Army of a Council we see exposed here.

But....., unbelievably....., it gets even worse.

A report to the Planning Policy Scrutiny Committee of 12 February 2009 (a year later) said this on page 60:

"Housing and Planning Delivery Grant / Area Based Grant
4. Housing and Planning Delivery Grant H&PDG) of £107,000 (non ring-fenced) was granted to the Council in November 2008 and an area Based Grant of £22,500 (also non ring-fenced) was also awarded. The underlying purpose of these grants was to assist the Council in developing the evidence base for the Core Strategy."

What this means is that the Commissar got another £107,000 to put toward developing the new planning system, and also an extra £22,500 -  which is what Dim Tim snaffled to offset the parking charges.

He was allowed to snaffle this before any ordinary member of the Council knew that the grant had been received or what it was intended for.

The report also says:

"Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment
5. The Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) was commissioned from consultants (Halletec Ltd) in October 2007. This contract has however been terminated since the work submitted was of unacceptable quality.
(we've actually seen it and we thought it was moderately impressive, but then we're not planning professionals) Remaining funding to re-let the contract was insufficient and offered up for in year savings to help the council's significant budget position on the basis that new H&PDG monies were due in November (see above). Some work towards the completion of the project is being undertaken in-house on the direction of the Portfolio Holder. The Council's termination of the contract is the subject of a threatened legal challenge."

"6. The importance of completing the SHLAA cannot be over-emphasised since not only will it inform preparation of the Core Strategy, but it will help inform development control decisions on the two large greenfield planning applications currently before the Council (Queensway, St Annes and Mowbreck Lane, Wesham). Further Housing and Planning Delivery Grant would be awarded if the work can be completed by the end of March 2009"

What this says is that we didn't like the planning consultants we hired, so we've fired them after they've done the first bit of the work. However when we priced the work up with others, we didn't have enough cash to pay anyone else, so we gave up the money to get the Commissar out of the financial black hole, and we might get some more money if we can pull off 'mission impossible' and do several year's work in the next month with less staff than we had when we started.

It goes on to say didn't we do well to cock all this up, and it shows how our arguments to refuse all these planning applications that are now deluging Fylde are completely undermined by not having done the work we should have done in the first place.

Oh, and it also says we might be sued by the contractor we hired then fired.

Honestly. If it wasn't true, you couldn't make it up, could you?

In the middle of such abject incompetence it's actually difficult to pick out the greatest blunder, but for barefaced cheek it has to be the man who voted to institute parking charges when they were free. Then he voted to jack them up to unaffordable levels as the money rolled in. Then he lost £609,000 on the Streetscene disaster, then he voted to nick most of the planning money to cover his incompetence, then, when he had chased all the visitors away with his high parking charges and parking zealots that book you whilst you are in church on a Sunday morning, he nicked the last bit of the planning money to cover a temporary reduction in car parking charges in the hope of being seen as the good guy, whilst all the time he is blind to (or perhaps sympathetic to) developers that are crawling all over Fylde to destroy its charm and character.

There are none so blind as those that will not see - or are preparing for an election.

Queen Elizabeth Oades took a bit of stick this evening because, like Oliver, she dared to ask an uncomfortable question.

It was a brave, perhaps even foolhardy thing to do, knowing as she surely did, that she would not win the day, and the best she could hope for was to have the matter highlighted in debate.

The traders of Lytham and St Annes went home happy, knowing they had another week or two of lower cost parking.

But the longer term impact of this monumental stupidity with the planning funding risks being with us for generations.

Dated:  23 February 2009


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