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Wesham: The Calm

Wesham: The CalmTo Wesham, where we have been following events with the Metacre development for our readers.

This is millionaire Trevor Hemmings' development that we first broke news of in 'Wesham Stirs' back in December 2008.

The Wesham Action Group (aka WAGs - but a very different sort folk to the more common use of that term) worked hard to provide evidence that led to Fylde Council's Development Control Committee to unanimously refuse planning permission. See 'Wesham: Good Decision'.

Metacre - and their architects DePol - stand to profit significantly from the scheme. Unsurprisingly, they appealed against Fylde' refusal, and the Inquiry in Public (where an Inspector from the Planning Inspectorate will hear arguments for and against) starts next Tuesday in St Annes.

The inquiry is being held at The United Reformed Church Hall in St George's Road, just off the Square in St Annes, and next to Ashton Gardens. Follow this link for a map

Whilst we can see this venue might be more convenient in terms of accommodation, and facilities, it does seem sad that it will prevent people from Wesham dropping in easily to hear the arguments for themselves. They will have to make a determined effort to get to St Annes.

The Inquiry is expected to last for six working days, and the timetable (just announced) is expected to be as follows:

On the first day, the Inspector will make his opening announcements, which in this case (including taking appearances) might take between 45 minutes and an hour.

He will invite the Appellants, the Council and the Rule 6 party (Wesham Action Group) to make a short (up to 10 minutes) statement of their position if they wish to do so. That is to help other people in attendance to have a clear picture from the outset of the issues which divide the parties.

He will then ask Fylde Council to make their case, calling their witnesses, who will then be available for cross examination. They may call their witnesses in any order they choose.

He will next hear the case of the Rule 6 party, and the cases of any other interested party who wishes to speak at the inquiry. Again, cross examination will follow. This is to ensure that all issues raised against the development are on the table before he asks the Appellants to make their case.

He will then hear the case of the Appellants. They may also call their witnesses in any order which suits them. Evidence in chief will again be followed by cross examination.

If he can carry out the site visit in a way which allows the advocates a little time to themselves to finalise closings, he will do so.

The order of closing statements will be the Rule 6 party, then the Council, and finally the Appellant.

As with other inquiries - Ballam Road being the most recent - people can come and go from the Public Gallery during the hearing, so if any of our readers are in town or shopping, they can drop in and listen to the arguments as they like.

To digress onto Ballam Road for a moment, readers will be pleased to hear that appeal was turned down last Friday. We think that, left to her own devices, the Inspector would probably have allowed the appeal, but she knew that the Right Honourable (Yes, he's been elevated in Parliament as well) Saint Eric Pickles MP would have told her where to get off if she did, so she's taken the sensible course and refused the appeal. Whoops of joy (well, muted whoops - with it being then posh part of Lytham) are being heard from points south of the counterbalance ramparts, and it's a good omen for the Wesham Inquiry

Anyone that wants to speak and give their personal view to the Wesham Inquiry will need to be there early on Tuesday 14th to register, and although the meeting starts at 10am, those wishing to register themselves to speak will need to get there well before that time.

The Inspector's advice on when the public can speak is not entirely clear. He has said "Other interested parties who wish to speak at the inquiry should attend for the opening of the inquiry at 10:00 on 14 September. The programme for the inquiry will be discussed shortly after the inquiry opens. The Inspector has noted that the representative of the Parish Council who wishes to speak at the inquiry will not be able to be present on the opening day. If there are people who say on 14 September that they will be unable to attend further sittings, he will of course try to hear them on that day, but only if that does not disrupt unduly the presentation of the LPA's case."

If we get further information on this we'll publish an update and send out a newsflash, so register for notifications now if you want to be notified personally.  notify@counterbalance.org.uk

So what happened at the meeting at Wesham last night?

Well, it was a final question and answer session, and a rallying call for people to attend the meeting at St Annes next week.

Group leader and spokeswoman Andrea Galbraith - and make no mistake, this is one formidable lady - and her team have been through the hugely time-consuming process to prepare for the Public Inquiry as a "Rule 6" party.

The WAG team

That sets you as the representative group for your community and puts you on a par with the planning barristers that will be contesting the case for the Council and the developer.

We've seen some of the pre inquiry shenanigans about what WAG will be allowed to introduce as evidence - all aimed at de-stabilisation and cutting out areas of argument they would want to use. And you can expect to see more of that during the Inquiry if the Inspector allows it. "Rule 6" people don't get an easy ride.

We've been in a 'Rule 6' position ourselves and it's not fun. It's very hard and demanding work. Her team will have to produce statements from experts and have to be prepared to defend them in cross examination by top planning law barristers.

They will give technical planning evidence themselves that three years ago they knew nothing about, and they will be giving up annual leave and time spent with children to defend their community against the onslaught of the developers. People like these are local heroes and deserve a medal for what they do.

We heard Andrea speak at the first public meeting and knew instinctively she would play a key role. She went on to lead the team.

Last night's meeting was not a riotous occasion, it was quiet, but solid and determined in its opposition to the development.

It was the calm before the storm.

Questions were asked about all sorts of issues, but the message was that WAG and the Council had prepared the technical arguments on policy matters and they would deliver them. What was needed now was for people who were concerned about the scheme to appear on day 1 (next Tuesday) and register to speak if possible.

She said public speakers should speak from the heart about their personal experience of the land and what they valued it for. If they were going to use notes they should provide at least one copy of the notes they used for the inspector (and he would copy them to the main participants - the appellant and the Council).

Even if people didn't want to speak, they could still attend to show the strength of community support.

We plan to be there on day 1 and we'll bring our readers news of what happens. We may not be able to stay for the full inquiry, but we will provide whatever news we can.

So how do we think the appeal will go?

Well, The technical arguments are all set out in the proofs of evidence and each side knows more or less what the other is going to say, so it depends a lot on the Inspector.

The Inspector that had been chosen to do this inquiry was taken ill at the last minute, and a stand-in is covering. We don't know his form but he's likely to be competent at this level.

Pre-Pickles, and with the previous Government's targets in place, the appeal would almost certainly have been allowed, but we're in the Post-Pickles era and we think the developer is pushing water uphill.

We'll bring you more as it happens.

Dated:  7 September 2010


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