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Snippets - June 2009

Snippets June 2009A GOOD DECISION
Well done to the Committee that threw out the plans to extend the number of what are known as "Consent Streets"  for street trading purposes.

The plan had been to make all or almost all streets in the borough into consent streets, where at present they are prohibited streets. With a few exceptions, street traders (burger sellers, coffee stalls, fish, meat or plant vendors or whatever) may only ply their trade from what are known as designated 'Consent Streets'. Typically they apply, and pay for a license to trade on such streets, then conduct their business.

Twenty or more years ago, the Council of the day relaxed the former laws a little and made the Square and one or two other areas into consent streets, but they ruled the majority of roads should prohibit street trading, partly out of deference to existing businesses, and partly to maintain a distinction from more commercially orientated places like Blackpool.

The Commissar wanted to change that. It has been alleged his view came about when he lost the Ridesafe Backsafe event to Blackpool. They played down the reasons for their going, but if you look between the lines of the press reports at the time you will see that they wanted to set up street-trading operations in association with that event to help fund their organisation. But the roads round Fairhaven were not designated as consent streets so a plan was hatched to change their designation.

In the event, the statutory process of advertising and consultation prevented the change being in place by the time it was needed by the event organisers, so they moved to the more commercial environs of Blackpool.

At some point here, we thing someone had a 'good idea' to change the designation of all the streets in Fylde to consent streets - (it might bring is a few extra quid in license money). We'll leave our readers to guess who that might have been.

Anyway, as it emerged during the consultation, the local trader groups were not happy bunnies (understandably bearing in mind the business rates and extra trade waste charges and so on that they already pay). They made strong objection to the plans.

We couldn't get to the Committee to hear the debate, but we understand that officers made strenuous efforts to get the new open-door trading consents approved.

In the event however, and in a rare instance of common sense, the Committee refused to agree to widening the number of Consent Streets and threw out the plan.

Well done them.

Just before the elections on 5th June, we had a rather curious message from a reader near Kirkham who went for their weekly Express (4th June around 9:30am) and was told by the newsagent that he had none to sell, because someone had been in earlier and bought up all the copies they had for sale.

The newsagent said it had been the same when the Gazette of Tuesday 2nd June had been delivered.

We had a look and the stories common to both papers and our top candidate seemed to be the denial of a 'laptop porn claim' from Wesham Councillor Simon Renwick. (We expect to be looking at aspects of that story shortly)

Now, we're not at all suggesting he bought up all the copies of the newspapers. Indeed it seems unlikely that it could have been a single person anyway because if the other stories reaching us about this were right, the same thing happened at several newsagents around the area more or less at the same time. We also heard that the newspaper distributors sent extra copies out - and they had been bought up as well.

We don't have a way of verifying this absolutely, but a media insider did say the week had been excellent for their circulation. But then it was election week, so perhaps a lot of people bought extra copies anyway.

One councillor we know estimated that about £500 had been spent buying up all the copies.

Another speculated as to who might be starting a fish and chip business.

We also had a call about it from a reader in Lytham who told us he'd heard that £19,000 had been spent buying up newspapers. That seems most unlikely - but it does show how these jobs can snowball.

We have a second good decision to report from FBC. (At this rate we're going to be losing readers!). In our report 'Council June 09' we explained some of the background to the awful 'Multi Area Agreement' that is a prelude to the creation of the 'City of the Fylde.'

The Council meeting heard a cogent, well argued proposition from Cllr Trevor Fiddler who said that whilst he was 95% in agreement with the proposals (we take issue with him on that, because we are zero per cent in favour of any of them), but he simply could not accept the inclusion of the Growth Point Scheme in the agreement.

Readers will remember the Growth Point Scheme is the plan to build oodles of houses inside Fylde that are intended help to fund the regeneration of central Blackpool. It's the scheme where we get all the pain and none of the gain.

There seems to be a growing belief within FBC's members (which the officers have yet to catch up on) that we should look to these areas around the M55 hub (Whyndyke Farm and environs) as being the areas to provide the 5,500 houses the present government has told Government Office North West we must accommodate.

We tend to agree with building them there.

Well, actually we don't, but we think that pretending to want to build them there could delay the whole thing long enough for a change of Government, and if it is a Conservative one, they are committed to scrapping the unnecessary regional planning system altogether, and with it, we hope, the stupid, top-down growth targets that are not based on, or related to, local need.

We therefore also welcomed Cllr Roger Small's seconding of the proposition to have a re-think on the Multi Area Agreement (based on opposition of the Growth Point Scheme), even if he was the one who, in presenting the original Growth Point Report at the Politburo Cabinet said it was a scheme we must support.

The Council decision to have a re-think was unanimous - or at least without any dissenting votes - so back it goes for officers to have a re-think and more discussion.

Like the Lisbon Treaty, it's going to come back again of course, probably with some of the phrases watered down so it looks different but isn't actually. So this little victory at the Council meeting is probably nothing more than a delay.

We long for someone of the independence and calibre of John Tavernor or Peter Davies on the majority party side to stand up and say we will not sell out the people of Fylde to Blackpool, and we will stop, and take back in-house the contracts we have let for Blackpool to perform. But sadly, we can see no one who would do this, (apart from Saint Paul Hayhurst that is, but at present, the majority against him is pretty heavy).

But we can at least welcome the delay.

We outlined the Cabinet comings and goings in a previous article last April. We can now tell you who holds which portfolio.

Staying with more or less the same job is:

  • Cllr Roger Small - Finance and Resources
  • Cllr Albert Pounder - Partnerships And Community Engagement
  • Cllr Trevor Fiddler - Planning and Development

The newcomers or returning members are:

  • Cllr David Eaves - Environmental Wellbeing.
    He's not known to us so we will be looking on with interest.
  • Cllr Susan Fazackerley - Leisure and Culture.
    Good choice this. If she is allowed to get on with it she is a capable and experienced member who understands and can empathize with the beliefs, attitudes and values of this area.
  • Cllr Cheryl Little - Social Wellbeing
    An interesting - but to some extent puzzling - choice. She is a very sociable person, so that bit seems to fit, but she doesn't have a lot of practical experience to back up the selection for a Cabinet post. May take a little time to find her feet.

Monday evening is the first meeting of the new Cabinet (well, the first public meeting)

We sense a change taking place in the local political scene. Most notably within the ranks of the Conservative group.

There are likely to be several reasons, but its primary point of origin is probably in the selection of a new parliamentary candidate MP - or more particularly, the non-selection of John Coombes for that role. That process (probably fatally) wounded him, showing that our own Dear Leader is fallible and not always a winner.

It also began an inevitable process in which local Conservatives started to identify themselves with the prospective MP. In the same way that a newly chosen David Cameron cleverly quipped to Tony Blair "You were the future once" so the very existence of a new, young, chosen-one for the Conservatives locally will attract attention and interest. That attention and interest will naturally flow and drain from its former resting place on John Coombes.

But the biggest lever effecting change is the slow-dawning realisation of just how unpopular they are for closing the swimming pool and taking other 'tough decisions.' It will take a long time to mollify the public anger that now exists. We doubt it can be fully rectified for decades (just as the people of Blackpool remember it was the Conservatives who closed and demolished the much revered Derby Baths - and that kept them out of power for more then 20 years).

Even if St Annes pool is opened again later this year, we don't think it will be enough to reverse the damage done, though it would probably mitigate some of it.

This worry has now been re-enforced and brought home by the recent County Council elections.

Everywhere else in the country the Conservatives gained seats.

Fylde managed to lose two.

These election results will have reminded the rank and file Conservatives of their fallibility at the next election.

That gets politicians agitated.

They are also now more than halfway through their term of office before the next election. That fact also starts to concentrate minds (which become much more concentrated as time goes on).

So what we think is happening (and you can see evidence of it at the video of the last Council Meeting) is that outspoken Conservatives and their sympathisers are starting to disagree vociferously behind closed doors.

Even in public they are speaking out on some issues - Cllr Fiddler on the Growth Point scheme and Multi Area Agreement for example, and Cllr Karen Buckley is known to be making noises about not following a long standing plan to sell a car park on North Promenade (see below). Comments such as these would have been unheard of not too long ago.

The wind of change is blowing.

So whilst there will probably not be anything dramatic. No upheaval. No revolution, we do think you will see a significant waning of the Commissar's influence and, if he is to stay as Captain of the ship, a much more accommodating, less antagonistic, less dogmatic approach from him.

It's just sad Fylde Council got a politician, when what we needed was a good councillor.

The Politburo Cabinet meeting next Monday evening was expected to have had a report on St Annes Swimming Pool - we heard gossip that there might be a comprehensive report.

Readers will remember that Dim Tim proposed both pools should be closed as a budget saving measure, but when Fylde got permission to use about £500,000 of borrowing for revenue spending he raised the spectre of St Annes pool re-opening (That was just before the election).

But there's nothing on the agenda for Monday.

Worse, the Council has just published its 'Forward Plan' showing the decisions it expects to take in the next four months. It's not in there either.

We heard that FBC staff - and intriguingly, someone from Blackpool - had been into the St Annes pool in the last couple of weeks. We also heard unsubstantiated rumours they were interested in acquiring some of the backroom plant and equipment, and that maybe Blackpool was being asked about whether they could operate the pool. That was equally unsubstantiated.

We have also had two reports that tiles are falling from the pool sides. If that is happening, it will be a bigger problem to fix than it seems.

We also heard that the YMCA had walked out of a meeting to discuss the future of St Annes pool. We couldn't verify this, but the story we heard was that FBC had been trying to screw the cost down and had implied that if the YM couldn't come up with a better offer, they had another interested party waiting to talk with them. At that point it was alleged that the YM team said, in effect, they didn't negotiate with a gun to their heads and left the meeting.

If the story is true, the other party might well have been 'Pulse' a cardio-fitness specialist that also runs some community pools and was introduced to the Borough Council by St Anne's Town Council.

We understand FBC took the view that Pulse's plans were not sufficiently financially robust (talk about pots and kettles), and they ruled them out at that stage.

If it was Pulse they referred to, and it was a negotiating tactic to lever the YM price down further, it was a pretty spectacular failure.

Either way, there's no report on Monday, and nothing planned before 31 October. So the wait continues.

As we mentioned briefly above, Cllr Karen Buckley's Scrutiny Committee has made a recommendation to the Cabinet that the North Beach Car Park near the former Sand Yacht Club should be removed from the list of sites identified for sale as Asset Disposals. It doesn't seem to be on Monday's agenda, so it's probably destined for July's Cabinet.

Whilst we welcome this change, we wonder if it raises more questions than it solves.

First, the reason given for its removal from the list is that 'TRAX', (a company with a Go-Karting circuit in Preston's 'dockland') has expressed a wish to build or establish a windsport centre on the beach at St Annes. In practice, we think that might turn out to be a bit more tricky than it sounds.

We understand they have been given the lease of the former Sand Yacht Club and have sub-let it to a kiting operation. It's unlikely that a commercial operation like TRAX would bring the kudos of international sand yacht racing competitions (which are essentially an amateur sport), but time will no doubt tell.

Second, we wonder why the need for this car park in relation to beach sporting activities wasn't identified at the time the disposal plan was formulated. But then, opportunism was always the Commissar's style.

Third, if this site is going to be removed from the list, it could also be for one of two other reasons.

It may be that the plan for the new Town Hall is now, like the Monty Python Parrot; a dead plan. We look at this possibility in the next snippet.

But it could also be that the risk of flooding on this land would preclude its economic use for housing anyway, so perhaps you can't do anything residential with it anyway.

We will have to see what the Cabinet make of the idea.

The plan for the new Town Hall has gone very quiet.

It was 'shelved' a few months back, but with sites disappearing from the list of items for sale and others we know of developing problems that will reduce their value, and the fact that the credit problems will be with us for a lot longer yet, the money to fund this scheme from asset disposals is evaporating fast.

So 'what to do' will become the question.

We think a battle will wage again between competing factions. Some - traditionalists like ourselves - will want the present building to stay and be adapted to offer more space for Council meetings, and maybe to have an external lift at the rear to offer disabled access to all floors.

But there will be others - probably including the Commissar - who will see it as a cash cow that could be sold to generate a huge lump of cash to spend just before the next election (this is the 'buying votes' approach to electioneering).

The ability to sell off the Town Hall would depend on being able to lease another building that could provide Civic and (the reduced number of) staff offices that are needed now much of what Fylde does has been 'outsourced' to other Councils.

We think this is the way the Commissar sees things.

He seems to be lining up Fylde's funeral as he plans to merge with Blackpool by stealth.

Indeed, we have friends in low places who tell us that the Commissar has already had talks with Peter and Maxine Callow to that end, but does not have the courage to bring them into the open.

And he'd love the idea of a war-chest just before the election. He has no sense of conservation, only renewal and change that produces the illusion of progress. So we think he'd be happy to put the Town Hall up for sale on a no-holds-barred disposal process, and those who want it retained would have to start the fight all over again.

So if his colleagues do allow him to go in this direction, where might there be some offices he could lease?

Well, with the property market as it is, where can you think of that could change from being say, a town centre leased residential use, to a civic use?

Need a clue.... Well it could be a building that suits a bargain basement council that would sell off its heritage for a mess of pottage.

This last piece will upset at least one of our readers (all our anti-EU stuff does), so we offer apologies in advance. In the last couple of weeks, we came across something we ought to have found before now.

Back in 2003/04 Lord Willoughby de Broke introduced a 'Constitutional Reform Bill' in the House of Lords that details both how Britain could withdraw from the EU, and the measures that might be needed to do so.

It doesn't purport to be the start of a process to leave, but we understand it was intended to address those who said it would be impossible to leave.

He is one of the ninety hereditary peers elected to remain in the House of Lords after the House of Lords Act 1999 did away with many hereditaries.

We greatly regret the loss of hereditary peers - not because we think their birthright should confer privilege - but because their personal circumstances (for the most part) meant they were freed from the need to curry favour or to compromise integrity to earn a living. We - and probably one other person in the country - thought hereditary peers represented one of the truly independent bastions of common sense and tradition.

However, Tony Blair took about as much notice of us as we were wont to take of him, so there we are.

Having scanned the contents of his Bill, we find ourselves agreeing with a great deal of what this UKIP Peer has proposed.

In brief the aim is to:

  • Repeal the European Communities Act 1972;
  • Repeal the Human Rights Act 1998;
  • Introduce binding referenda;
  • Require the British Parliament to approve international treaties and declare war;
  • Hand powers down from the British Parliament to Local Government;
  • Reviews Regional Assemblies and all QUANGOS, etc., with a view to closure;
  • House of Lords to be reformed or abolished by national referendum.

You can follow this link to see the full text of the Bill.

Dated:  26 June 2009


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