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Planning Development?

Planning Development?To Wesham,  again. To hear the latest twist in the plans to build a shedload of houses on high grade agricultural land just north of the village.

We've a lot of respect for the WAGs group (Wesham Action Group) that has masterminded and spearheaded the campaign against the development. They have done a first class job to represent their community. More could not have been expected of them.

It's clear they are well organised and are passionate about the cause they are fighting. They have contributed a lot of expert evidence to the matter. In several instances they have corrected sloppy or slipshod work that has been done by those the developer had employed to prepare his arguments.

They have also learned three things about the unfair planning system that operates in the UK.

Firstly, running a campaign like this takes over your life to the exclusion of almost everything else for several months as you absorb the intricacies of the planning system.

Secondly, when you come up with evidence that refutes the claims of the developer, they use what you have found to work with the council and the agencies to develop a workaround for the problem you thought would kill the scheme off. - Ouch.

Thirdly, you find that your Councillors are mostly impotent to speak in public on your behalf because of the stupid 'Code of Conduct' rules that say councillors may not come to a view in advance of hearing the arguments in the planning committee, (as though the planning committee had the font of all knowledge flowing in the middle of it).

If they were to come to such a view in advance, they would be barred from speaking - and more importantly, voting - in the planning meeting - because they would be deemed to be 'prejudiced' by having expressed an opinion before the meeting.

The Councillors that were present at the meeting were very careful not to express a view.

What utter tosh the ''Code of Conduct ' is.

Thursday night's meeting at Wesham was called because the officer's report and agenda (for the Development Control Committee meeting that will determine the matter so far as Fylde is concerned) has just been published.

In essence the report chickens out.

Roughly translated, it says.....well, there are lots of reasons why the development could be refused, but hey, we have to find somewhere for the Government's requirement of 5,500 houses in the next few years, so we'll ignore all the rules and let the Government and the developer walk all over us.

In more technical terms, the Development Control Committee is being recommended to be "Minded to approve Subject to referral to Secretary of State, completion of a Section 106 agreement and resolution of outstanding hydrological issues."

Broadly speaking, when a development departs from approved policy to any significant extent, a Council is not allowed to make the decision itself, it can only say it is 'minded to approve' and refer the actual decision to the Secretary of State.

(Often it's not really the S-of-S but a Civil Serpent in Manchester who actually makes the decision in the name of the SoS).

But if you picture the situation here.... The Government - via the Government Office North West (GONW) in Manchester - has been screaming at places like Fylde to get on with building all the houses the Government's disgraceful social engineering immigration policies and their selfish, anti-family policies will need, as more and more people arrive to change the nature of British Society, and as more and more homes see financial and other advantages if they split into two separate living units thus doubling housing demand.

So if Fylde goes along to GONW and says... well, this plan is against our policies, but we're minded to approve it unless you disagree - you don't actually have to be Einstein to work out that they will say...  Ahhh! more houses. Lovely.

We heard of a meeting 12 months or more ago, where FBC was, in effect, hauled over the coals for not getting on quickly enough with building the new houses by folk from GONW in Manchester. (They can be quite direct when dealing with what they seem to see as provincial ignoramuses).

We were told that an arrogant, bossy woman had said Fylde needed to get on with approving the houses or GONW would simply grant every appeal that was made to it until the requisite numbers were reached.

We've no way of confirming whether this story is accurate but it came to us from someone at the meeting.

So (apart from Government bullying), why might Fylde be 'minded to approve'

Well, there could be some Councillors who genuinely believe that the need for more housing is the most important thing in the world. We can't see what planet such folk might be on, but it *is* possible.

It's equally possible, and probably more likely, that they don't want to risk a costly appeal process - which is what would happen if they refuse the application.

Mr Deep Pockets Hemmings would appeal, bring in a top barrister, and Fylde would be facing some tens of thousands of pounds in legal costs of their own (let alone any claimed by Mr Hemmings were he to win).

That would be tricky, because last week the Conservative block vote on Fylde's budget resolved to cut £30,000 out of the planning appeals fund for next year and spend the same amount on a new item for 'Managing the beach' in St Annes.

So if there's less cash to pay the cost of the planning appeals, the present administration won't be keen to incur additional cost - and if they say they're minded to approve, they can stand aside like Pontius Pilate, and wash their hands, as the Secretary of State makes the decision (which we think will almost certainly be a 'yes') without the risk of them having to pay the costs of an appeal.

Of course it shouldn't be like this.

Councils ought not to be cowed into betraying their electorate. But it does happen.

We hope it won't happen here, but we are picking up rumours about a whip being applied to the vote of the majority party. That's unheard of at planning which - at least until now - is always decided on merit, and away from party political reasons.

So what happens now.

Well, after the explanations, Thursday night's meeting listened to lots of questions from the floor, and to impassioned pleas from the WAGs group for members of the public to go along to the meeting at Lowther Pavilion on Wednesday 17th March at 1:00pm to hear the item debated.

They were also asked to sign up as individuals to speak at the Development Control Meeting on 17th. (Anyone can have 3 minutes to put their view to the Committee).

Public Meeting - Wesham

Most of the questions were about the process and the possible reference to the Secretary of State.

People simply could not see that if the decision had to be made on policy grounds (as they had repeatedly been told it had), then why should anyone be 'minded to approve' something that flies in the face of so many policies.

The meeting closed quite late - 9:30 ish, but not before one person from the floor had noted the absence of one of their councillors from the meeting and expressed concern that this meant they were missing half the main people they should have speaking on their behalf. We assume this was a reference to Cllr Renwick. We had seen him at the previous meetings, (and we seem to remember him saying he would chain himself to a bulldozer if necessary) but he was not at last night's meeting.

Those interested in the BIG picture might like to cogitate on the timing arrangements for this and other decisions / appeals.

This Wesham one is at Lowther on 17th March

Then on 25th March, Blackpool Council will consider the Kensington application (The one that cause so much trouble with the £10,000 bung allegations) for Mosshouse Lane and Runnell Nurseries.

Then on 9th April, the Secretary of State (This time the real one we think) will (or at least is supposed to) announce the decision on the Queensway Public Inquiry that closed in December.

Some folk are telling us that the dates have been orchestrated to prevent the Queensway decision from affecting the other applications. Whether that's right or not we can't tell.

For their local communities, each of these decisions could result in a life changing experience. Some people will lose their homes. Others will have property devalued, others will become wealthy, and many will move.

But they affect the wider community as well. The ambience of a community, its sense of place, is largely down to the decisions made - usually by councils - on matters such as this. When it goes wrong, it can affect an area for many years to come.

So we will try and get to each of these meetings to bring our readers a picture of what happens, whom says what,  and how their future is being decided.

Dated:   13 March  2010


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