www.counterbalance.org.uk

 

fylde counterbalance logo

search counterbalance

plain text / printout version of this article

countering the spin and providing the balance


 

Wesham Inquiry Opens

Wesham: The Inquiry OpensDay 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day5, Day6, Day7

10 Sept: This has all the hallmarks of a really interesting appeal. Even before the start date, it was becoming clear to the Inspector that it wasn't going to be finished in the six days he had allocated, and it's now almost certain to continue on in the afternoon of Monday 20th Sept. Expert after expert has been lined up to support the case for development.

Mind you, we think that its all going to be a bit academic now. With the regional housing numbers scrapped weeks ago by the Rt. Hon. Saint Eric Pickles MP, the decision should be on the basis of Fylde's Local plan policy - and if that happens the developer would wish he's kept his hands in his pockets.

Then, just when you think things couldn't really get any better, Saint Eric has intervened personally in this appeal and will now take the decision himself. He's written to the planning inspector to say in effect 'you have a listen to what's said then instead of making the decision yourself, let me know what you're thinking and I'll make the actual decision'.

If this developer has any sense, he'd be shutting up shop and going home about now.

counterbalance is starting a campaign here and now to have the Rt. Hon. Saint Eric Pickles MP accorded the status of Freeman of the Borough of Fylde because of his services to planning in Fylde (Queensway..., Ballam Road..., Wesham...?)

DAY 1: TUESDAY 14 SEPTEMBER  2010
It started at 10, but before 9 am the public gallery was already quarter full.

The Inspector Michael Ellison was already here and setting up his books. A dapper, bespectacled chap with a neatly trimmed grey beard. The council had brought its own sound system which was being set up. A young lady appeared with an armful of black cloths and spread them over the tables arranged as a square with the inspector to the head, the appellants on the right, Wesham Action Group opposite the inspector, and Fylde's representatives to the left.. As the black cloths went on, we thought they looked a bit, well funeral. An omen perhaps, but for which side we mused.

Then in strode the colossus of planning. Rottweiler Roger Lancaster. Ace advocate. Sharp, quick witted and with a vicious professional bite - but really a nice chap underneath his professional persona. He led the Queensway appeal of course. Metacre is clearly paying top dollar for the best brief. He set up his bookstand, then went into conference with his clients and witnesses in an ante-room.

Slowly, the room filled. This little corner of St Annes became 'Medlar with Wesham on Sea'. There were town and parish and borough councillors who appeared. Andrea Galbraith from WAG arrived looking ready for the fray.

By 9:30, microphones were being tested and at 9:50 the room was threequarters full. The anticipation was building. The press arrived: the Gazette's Helen Steele and a photographer who was asking what he could photograph and what he couldn't. He was rewarded with carte-blanche. By 9:55, an expectant hush fell as the last few stragglers arrived.

10:00am, came the call to order. The inspector summarised the issue. The appeal was for up to 264 dwellings north of Mowbreck Lane, permission for which had been refused by FBC. He said that up to last Friday, he had expected to make the decision himself, but last Friday, (as we reported above), Saint Eric has decided to take the decision himself. So this Inspector will prepare a report that the minister will consider.

Then the introductions started. Roger Lancaster introduced himself and said he would call seven witnesses. Alan Evans for the Council said he would call three witnesses, and Andrea Galbraith from WAG said she would call 4 witnesses.

In the public section there were four people who had written asking to speak, and when the inspector asked for speakers from the floor, a forest of hands shot up. Seventeen in all. He said the few who could not attend later in the week would be taken to-day. The rest would be fitted in later in the week.

The days and times would be: Today, Wednesday and Thursday as full days, 10 to 5 with a 1 hour lunch break from 1-2. Friday 9:30 to 1pm. Next week, Monday would be 1-5, with Tuesday and Wednesday 10 - 5. The inspector hoped not to need to use Thursday or Friday of the second week, but could if it proved essential.

The order of hearings would be: Opening statements, Appellant, FBC, WAG. The main case order would be FBC, followed by WAG, then Roger Lancaster for the Appellants. The closing statements order would be WAG, FBC, and the appellants who as required by law, had the last word.

There was a bit of an issue about the 'core documents' (in essence this is the library of documents that will be referred to). They occupied two six foot tables at the back of the room (and needed more space really). It seems that the ones listed by WAG had not been received and were not on the list. The Inspector asked the parties to sort that matter out between themselves at lunchtime.

As a prelude to the meat of the meeting, the Inspector said the main issues were: the abolition of the RSS; prematurity; agricultural land; the scale of development and some miscellaneous aspects.

Roger Lancaster opened the summary for the appellants. He said the scheme had been unequivocally recommended by Council officers and that whilst the Council had given reasons for their refusal, they had changed those reasons before the appeal and various aspects had been dropped. He said the Council was now seeking to present "a very different case."

With an air of dismissiveness toward WAG, he said that between the main parties there was now no difference on character and landscape. He sought to link Wesham and Kirkham as one area (because that made his case more favourable). He said the Council's officers had not considered the plans out of scale at the time, and nothing had changed.

He claimed there were no problems with highways and LCC confirmed that. The site was sustainable and accessible. All residents would be within 400m of a bus stop. There was no statutory environmental designation, and the BHS that was adjacent was going to be enhanced, not damaged by the plans. There would be no adverse effect on the hydrology (posh name for drainage and water flows), and thus the Wesham Marsh Biological Heritage Site would not be damaged. He said all this was agreed between the main parties.

On the matter of agricultural land, he said there were differences between the main parties in the classification and size of the areas of each grade, but taken overall, the predominant grade was 3b which was not the 'best and most versatile' that needed to be protected.

He argued they would show the farm would remain both viable and profitable if the land was developed.

He said FBC had taken no steps to identify the number of houses it needed. They had a shortfall in provision and could only identify about 1.6 years worth of development in the pipeline. He said the housing shortfall is massive and needed to be urgently addressed. He said the Queensway decision was now the subject of a Judicial Review of Saint Eric's decision to refuse the appeal, and that might be heard in the High Court in London in late October.

It also came out that the principle of abolishing the RSS by St Eric was also being challenged nationally. (probably by a consortium of lots of upset developers we thought). Informed opinion on this matter tells us that challenge will get nowhere. Government has to be able to change its policy.

In a thinly veiled dig at FBC's Counsel, he said "It should not be for someone hired in to change the basis of Fylde's case." Here, he was arguing that the 'late entry' of the 'prematurity' argument into the proceedings had not previously been part of the Councils case, (implying that it was the barrister that was trying to add it in).

For the Council, Alan Evans was, we thought, better than might have been expected in his opening remarks. We haven't seen him before, but he was described to us by someone in this business whose views we greatly respect as someone who was 'top drawer' as a planning barrister. That being the case, we looked forward to the clash of the titans.

Mr Evans said the site was outside the limits of development and had to be seen in the light of the revocation of the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) by St Eric, adding that the Inspector should look at this site on its merits, even if there was a problem with housing numbers in the wider borough.

He said the RSS was a top-down system, and it was that approach that had been revoked, as well as the RSS itself; and that constituted a marked change. Councils could now use the housing numbers in the former RSS, or the so called 'RSS Option 1', or their own figures if they signalled an early intention to do this - and Fylde had.

Fylde had also formally rejected the RSS and resolved to base its housing numbers on the needs of Fylde.

He said it was unreasonable to criticise Fylde for not having its own housing numbers when they were still being established, and argued that the best sources of guidance were the recent appeal decisions at Queensway and Ballam Road.

In a blindingly obvious statement he said "You can't establish housing numbers until the local need is established," and went on to say that Fylde's - as yet - unquantified need can in no way be said to be overwhelming or compelling.

We were impressed with his clear logic, and it seems to us that Mr Lancaster will have to employ more smoke and mirrors than usual to make his case.

For the Wesham Action Group, Andrea Galbraith said the group had grown out of public meetings. She claimed the ecology survey was different this time from the one originally submitted and it was so different, it ought to be re-submitted to the statutory consultees on environmental matters.

WAG would present evidence of their own on traffic surveys. She also said the infrastructure had been declining for many years, (as had Kirkham's) and separately or together, there was insufficient to cope with this development.

Then came the Public speakers that couldn't come on a different day were allowed to speak today. They were:

Mr Leigh: who argued there was no extra housing required based on market conditions. It was not justified by the local economy, and there was also an infrastructure shortfall.

Mrs Pickervance: said her family had farmed the land for 28 years, and the plans would have a serious negative effect and would truly decimate the holding. The developer owned another 60 acres adjoining, and this application could set a precedent. There was already vandal type damage to the farm equipment and infrastructure as it is. Bringing more people close could only make it worse. It would also put more youngsters at risk from the marshland and ditches.

Mr Courtney: said he thought the Inspector would be deluged by figures so he was going to speak from a different angle. He said he was a local resident and this application had united the community. He was no longer sure what democracy meant when a majority of residents were clearly opposed to it, yet the development may be forced onto them. He spoke from the heart about the wildlife and crops the farmer was growing. He said he had gone into Morrison's supermarket on the way to the inquiry and bought a pack of corn for the Inspector to remind him of what farming was about. However on closer inspection he noticed it had been grown in Spain, and that was a tragedy. He wondered if the fate of British agriculture should lie in the hands of developers.

Mr Bilsborrow: spoke of his recent experience in Ireland where he said the landscape had been "destroyed" by rampant house building in the countryside, and they should not let that happen here.

Mr Howarth: said that both Wesham and Fylde Councils had spoken unanimously against the development and the plan took no consideration of the wishes of residents. He asked "How do you enhance countryside and farmland? Metacre seems to think you can do it by building houses" He said Wesham was suffering the contempt of developers such as Metacre.

And so to lunch.

We resumed to begin the evidence in chief at 2pm when Mr Evans for FBC started to examine his farm management specialist. Since submitting his proof of evidence he had recalculated the area of farmable (as opposed to the total farmland) and it was only 30 acres not 33.4 acres. He said the difference affected the income and profitability figures in his original evidence. In summary the gross profit would go down from 139,000 to 119,000 and whilst this would not make the farm unviable, it would significantly reduce the profitability.

Under cross examination, Roger Lancaster began by asking questions to unsettle the witness (and seemed to be succeeding). For example he asked how many hectares would you need to justify employing one man and the necessary investments. No answer came. Lancaster pressed. Would it be about 270 hectares? The witness said he didn't understand the question. There seemed to be a few don't knows and sidesteps in the answers.

Lancaster was earning his money. Point by point he discredited the basis and figures in the witnesses' evidence. The witness was often hesitant and sometimes seemed to be trying to avoid giving an answer. The Inspector intervened at one point and suggested the witness might usefully give a forthright answer, and if he did so, the Inspector would ensure he had time to qualify that answer if he wanted to do so. We guess that witness would be happy to leave the stand.

We thought that throughout, the Inspector had closely followed the arguments and demonstrated insightful and incisive comments where necessary.

Mr Evans had little by way of re-examination.

The next witness was Mr Mike Palmer who specialised in soil science and the classification of agricultural land.

He had done a (in our view quite comprehensive) soil survey and graded the land, although he made three minor corrections to his evidence at the start.

Furthering FBC's evidence, Mr Evans asked the witness if there was any disagreement on climatological (and selected other factors) with the appellant. The witness confirmed there were many areas of agreement. He went though the soil types of various fields and noted there were some where there was agreement, and other areas where there were discrepancies with the appellants expert. He thought that the differences amounted mostly to the positions in the fields at which the samples had been taken.

Cross examining, Mr Lancaster said "you have done 23 samples we have done 38. You've done one trial pit we've done seven." and on that basis he argued that his expert had a greater depth of experience of the soils. He moved on and had the witness agree that in some areas of specific fields, although the land classification was "best and most versatile" because of its location, it could not be practically farmed at that level for other reasons.

This is pure smoke and mirrors. It matters not what the land IS used for. The real issue is the grade that it falls into by virtue of applying the tests set out in the current system for classifying agricultural land. The system is about setting the VALUE of the land, not how it is actually used.

At the Queensway inquiry Mr Lancaster made exactly the opposite point, saying that planting a forest or woodland belt (which would not be an easy thing to plough for example) did not alter the classification of the land, and therefore could not be counted as land being taken out of agricultural use.

But that's what he gets paid for of course.

Looking round the room, most of the public gallery was bored and sleepy. The had come expecting argument and passion, and were bogged down in the minutiae of whether the soil in field 10824 was sandy clay loam or sandy silt loam.

Lot of technicalities but no passion.

That said, for the most part the witness was credible and straightforward in his answers.

That concluded the witness and the Inspector said that would probably do for the day.

Looking to tomorrow they thought the next witness would take most of the day and WAG might come on either late tomorrow or more likely the day afterwards. Some public speakers would be heard tomorrow, but quite a few would be left until later.


DAY 2:  WEDNESDAY 15 SEPTEMBER 2010
Less excitement and enthusiasm in the air at 9:30 this morning. Roger Lancaster's team are already in conference in an ante-room, Andrea's team speaking in hushed tones in the main hall, and the Inspector sitting quietly reviewing his papers for the day. His demeanour and presence is a far cry from the impression created by the inspector on day 2 of the Ballam Road inquiry who rushed in just before the starting time with hair that looked distinctly, shall we say, tousled, and eyes that didn't seem to have been awake for that long. No, this inspector seems to be more of the 'old school' - sharp, alert and astute with a consideration for those unfamiliar with the quasi-judicial process that is an Inquiry in Public.

Also there were, as is usual, less people here today, but one new face was Councillor Trevor Fiddler, Fylde's portfolio holder for Planning. At four minutes to ten the pubic gallery has about four people from the Borough council and a dozen or so who are mostly WAG's core supporters. As the hour approaches the hush descends once again.

Opening the inquiry, the Inspector said he was quite willing to sit for a full day on Friday this week if it would mean the Inquiry could finish by Wednesday next week. All the parties agreed, so Friday this week will be a full day. He also gave some directions about numbering of the core documents and praised WAG for having anticipated the way he wanted the documents numbered - saying they had done them exactly as he would have numbered them. (See what we mean about consideration for those with less experience)

Fylde's Barrister Alan Evans called his main witness, Stephen Otterwell who is a principal planning consultant.

In giving his evidence he was confident and considered. He said just what might have been expected, Fylde's Local Plan and Interim Housing Policy are still relevant, and Fylde is right to be making its own assessment of housing need to be able to determine the number of houses that Fylde needs. The new localism Bill about to start it's passage through Parliament was expected to set that in law.

At one point the inspector intervened and asked whether the Council's 'Core Strategy' - due for adoption in August 2012 - would specify the policy for this site, or whether it would be more general and the Wesham site would need to be addressed in a subsequent document that would be later.

Because this was a matter specific to Fylde's own administrative timetable, the witness was unable to answer it, and Fylde's barrister Mr Evans conferred with Fylde's Chief Planning Officer, Mark Evans (Two Evans's here so we're going to have to be careful) to get an answer. It was not straightforward and the Fylde's Barrister said it would probably be most helpful if the Council's Mr Evans could answer it.

That brought Roger Lancaster in swiftly. He said if Mark Evans was going to take the stand on that matter, he would want to cross examine him on any aspect of the Inquiry, not just the answer to the Inspector's question.

Clearly Fylde's side didn't want to open that can of worms (probably because under the pre-Pickles rules, Fylde's Mark Evans had recommended the development for approval and it would have been embarrassing for Fylde to be cross examined on the reasons for that recommendation).

The two sides thrust and parried on this topic, with neither dealing the lethal blow. Clearly, the Inspector was growing increasingly to wish that he hadn't asked the question (and saying as much). In the end, he addressed the question to the witness (Mr Otterwell) who said he couldn't answer it because it was Fylde's own decision, and the Inspector said he would accept that answer for the moment, but would wait and see if, during cross examination, the matter was one that was raised by Mr Lancaster, but it was one to which he would require an answer at some stage.

The witness continued his evidence, delivering it in a calm, considered and clear manner. Especially for someone who looked so young, we thought he had an exceptionally clear and competent understanding and delivery. But that's before Mr Lancaster was let loose on him.

After the morning break, Fylde's barrister said that during the break, the other Mr Evans had given instruction to Mr Otterwell who was now in a position to answer the Inspector's question. He said the Council would want to put strategic sites into the Core Strategy and would expect to explore Wesham in that context, but in any event the Core Strategy would assess Fylde's vision and its intention for housing, as well as setting out where such housing should be provided.

Then the Rottweiler was released. Mr Lancaster adopted his usual professional persona. This gives the impression of his believing.... You're really a tiresome witness to have to cross examine. Don't try and prevaricate, just answer the question and give me the answer that I want.

He began by trying to unsettle the witness by saying "Mr Otterwell, you're here because the Council's Planning officers don't want to be, aren't you" and went on to try and suggest the Council had only changed its arguments for the inquiry based on his advice when Fylde engaged him.

Mr Lancaster argued that National Policy should trump the Pickles revocation, because policy was adopted and the Pickles doctrine was as yet incomplete in legislative terms. He then went on to find national policy matters that supported his case and sought to argue that Pickles' decisions didn't really have that much weight.

At one point, referring to the Ballam Road decision he said "that decision was simply wrong. It was not made on any proper basis" He's entitled to his view of course, but it showed the depth of the barrel that he was scraping the bottom of to produce his arguments. We adjourned for Lunch at 1pm.

The inquiry re-started at 2pm and saw more of the same.

The cross examination was thorough - as you would expect from Mr Lancaster, and the witness 'gave ground' where he could and where it was right to do so, but on the key points, he stood firm and resisted. He was a good witness. Lancaster huffed and puffed and, as you would expect from a professional, he landed body blows here and there, but to seasoned observers, whilst they might have produced a point or two for him, he was miles from a knockout blow, and in our view he failed to win the argument with what turned out to be a very competent and credible witness.

At 10 minutes to four, the re-examination by Mr Evans was coming to an end. His style is very different. Thorough, experienced and with an almost unbelievable grasp of the case - just as Mr Lancaster - but he speaks with a less hostile approach and seeks to encourage the right information for the Inspector. It remains to be seen if he is so gentle when cross examining 'opposition' witnesses, but we suspect he will be. You get the impression that he's more a Labrador than Lancaster's Rottweiler persona.

As the re-examination concluded there was a bad tempered little exchange when Mr Evans was allowing the witness to expand the matter of 'prematurity' that Mr Lancaster had sought to demolish. He raised objection which was quietly but firmly dismissed by Mr Evans. Blows were traded until the Inspector said he had heard the argument, and made up his mind that Mr Evans point was right, and he would take that as being the case. Mr Lancaster was evidently dissatisfied and said he expected to raise the matter again.

That concluded the marathon session for Mr Otterwell as a witness.

As an aside at this point, during the proceedings the microphones often ran out of battery and had to be replaced. On one such instance, Mr Evans was having difficulty replacing the microphone in the holder and was trying to position it at the fulcrum. He said the difficult was that in needed a sort of counterbalance. There were smiles all round. We wondered if he might have been told about counterbalance and be - albeit probably a temporary - reader, or whether it was simply a happy coincidence. We'd like to think he found our reports of interest, but we didn't ask as we thought we'd only hear the famous quote from the House of Cards TV Programme, "You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment"

Then came another public session......

Cllr Richard Nulty
Spoke about the community of Wesham, the Parish, and the land. He spoke well and confidently. He said Wesham was a discrete and separate community, it had been a farming area until the mills came in the 1800s. He said the development had largely taken place on land unsuitable for agriculture. Wesham only achieved town status in 1974 in an attempt to avoid being subsumed by it's larger neighbour Kirkham. He said Weshamites mostly saw themselves as rural people. He argued that absorption of incomers to date had been slow and small enough to be organic and thus had not impacted adversely on the community, but the Metacre development would add a further 40% at one go. He said the Parish Plan showed that 61% of respondents felt there had been too much development in the last ten years or so. The Metacre scheme has raised community opposition and WAG had formed as a result. He said locals didn't understand why the Council had backed off on the issue of the loss of character because this land gave access to some of best views of the Bowland Fells that Fylde has. He said the great need for affordable housing was in St Annes, not Wesham, and the infrastructure was already stretched.

Lorna Fleetwood
Again found herself objecting to proposed development. She said it would destroy the visual impact of the gateway to the town. Extra traffic would cause blockages, delays and safety problems, and especially on Mowbreck Lane.

Pat Banks
Said WAG are like minded amateur people with different capabilities, but they care about Wesham, they respect the area they live in and are trying to protect the area and its environment. She has lived in Wesham all her life. Both Wesham and Fylde Councils have said a unanimous "No" to the development as have the people of the township. She had collected signatures for a petition and that had given her a good insight into public views. The overwhelming one was "Enough is enough, we've already had more than our fair share of new housing." She said pedestrians already encountered difficulty with traffic. Increasing the traffic would make it much worse. She demanded to know who would guarantee the existing properties would remain flood free if the development went ahead and she was also concerned about the wildlife. She closed with two comments from Fylde's planning committee "This is the wrong site to build on" and "It would be sheer vandalism"

John Smith
Slow and lugubrious we remember him from Fylde's planning meeting. He's lived here for 74 years, he was here for simple truth, facts, and common sense. It provides a dairy herd and milk, a staple food for everyone here today. It grows potatoes, maize and beet, and it will be important to have our home produced food even more in the future. He was under the impression that councils should build on land that was previously developed and listed several sites that were suitable, including 'Sunny Bank', which he said was the most inappropriately named street in Wesham. It was overshadowed by a run down former mill and ripe for development. But he said these folk don't give a toss about ecology and so on, they're only after money, and they already had their eye on other land nearby.

Harry Smith
Mainly concerned about Wesham Marsh. Mowbreck Lane is the last country lane in Wesham. It used to be called Wesham Moss but someone has changed it to 'Marsh.' He spoke very well to recount his personal experiences of wildlife observations which he brought to life vividly, having seen buzzards, kingfishers and other burds. He was concerned about the sustainable drainage system which he didn't properly understand, but he worried about contamination from oil and other chemicals being washed into drains.

Martin Evans
Lived in Wesham for about 20 years and close to the site. It is Greenfield and he didn't understand why they weren't being considered first. Wesham has had more than its fair share, and there are two developments that haven't even been completed yet. It was good agricultural land, and there was insufficient social infrastructure to cope with the need. He didn't understand how a natural area could be "developed and improved". He also thought 264 houses was far too many, and the traffic they would generate would make congestion even worse. Part of the site floods occasionally, and he didn't think that had been taken properly into account. Wesham residents were vehemently opposed to the plan.

Mrs Bradley
Lived close to the site. She said she wanted it known that the title deeds to her property gave them right of passage to access the rear of their property.

That closed the official proceedings for today. WAG will start to give their evidence tomorrow and conclude with their submission on agriculture on Monday. Two further public speakers would be on tomorrow, and an odd one on Monday when the session would start at 1pm. Friday this week would probably see the end of WAG's evidence (apart from agriculture) and would also deal with the 'unilateral undertaking' We'll cover that later. So ended the second day


DAY 3: THURSDAY 16 SEPTEMBER 2010
Today began with Roger Lancaster depositing some documents with regard to ecology and transport, documents that some of the WAG people had not seen before (We suspected this might have been intended to take the steam out of their arguments). It's not disallowed but it does unsettle people.

We also heard during the day that the Judicial Review of the Minister's decision to refuse the Queensway appeal is to be heard in the High Court in London on 28th October.

But back to the Wesham Inquiry, WAG's 'day in court' had finally arrived as they began to give their evidence.

Bryce Gabraith
Spoke first about Wesham's infrastructure and said the retail outlets are stagnant, and Wesham's infrastructure did not reach the recommendations in the Government's planning policy guidance. Asked what infrastructure would be put under more strain, he said rail access was minimal, and didn't have proper disabled access to the platform. He also said the bus services were insufficient and had not been increased as a result of recent developments. He also said dental services were currently inadequate and this would make it worse.

He also spoke of the scale of the development in relation to the existing population. He then took the appellant's comprehensive list of businesses (intended to show viability) and explained that whilst they are on the list, many of them had closed or were about to close. He also said that the Health Centre was under pressure at existing population levels.

We wondered if he had created a flaw in his own argument here, in that more people would help make the shops more viable.

This was Lancaster's first point in cross examination. He invited Mr Galbraith to agree that the development would not harm business viability. He also argued that, in planning terms, Fylde Council saw Kirkham and Wesham as one unit and the town centre was Kirkham, so there was day to day provision there that could meet everyone's needs. He said the site was accepted as being sustainable and accessible by both FBC and LCC in their 'Statement of Common Ground.'

This sort of thing often happens for Rule 6 Parties, we saw it at Queensway where a large part of their Rule 6 Party issues on the airport, highways and wildlife were dissipated when LCC, Natural England and the Airport caved in to pressure to give ground on a variety of matters.

That doesn't mean it's right of course - for example the Highways issues at Queensway were shown to be a key reason that Saint Eric refused the appeal. Neither Fylde nor the LCC leviathan highways department had seen that at all. They were perfectly happy to agree.

Back to Wesham, and Mr Lancaster pressed on with his arguments. Essentially he was using the "it's all in Kirkham argument", and WAG were using the "It's the people of Wesham that matter"

Mr Galbriath proved to be a credible witness and entirely avoided prevarication. He readily agreed where he could, but quietly and firmly held the line where he could not. His approach was the non-antagonistic - 'We'll have to agree to differ in our opinions' for example Mr Lancaster said "if you bring in extra people you bring in spending power". Mr Galbraith responded with "I agree with your logic, but in practice we have not seen that happen as a result of the two developments to date".

Mr Lancaster pressed on. No surgeons had objected to the development had they? In fact, the GP's might be thought to welcome the development might they not? Would it not allow them to increase the size of their businesses and employ more doctors and so on?

He did the same with crime saying that an increase in the population wouldn't necessarily increase the crime figures would it? As we've said before, he is good. But the point he skirted around was that the highest crime areas in the UK are the large metropolitan ones, and that results from the lack of social peer pressure as the scale of communities grow and expand. In a small village, everyone knows each other (and a lot of each other's business), so there is intense peer pressure on individuals to conform and behave.

The anonymity that comes when you don't know all the families in the area in which you live weakens this pressure, and the community becomes less self-policing. It needs more external policing which, in practice is usually less effective than peer pressure. The larger the urbanisation, the worse the problem. Wesham is in transit from a village to a town and the risk Mr Galbraith was painting was that this development would exacerbate the problem.

The cross examination ended at Morning break which was 11.15

David Rowe
Gave evidence on housing and planning. He spoke quickly but very competently and we were struggling to keep up with all the points he made (as indeed was the Inspector at one point, who asked for a second to catch up). He demonstrated a grasp of the housing numbers and planning policies that was entirely commendable in one who until recently had probably not thought much about planning policy at all, and as an 'amateur' in planning terms he turned in an exceptional performance.

He said Fylde's Core Documents were in preparation but hadn't been adopted, so there were, and could be, no housing numbers until that process had been effected.

He said that Fylde had demonstrated its willingness to move quickly. He cited a meeting that Cllr Fiddler had had with various planning groups in Fylde including WAG, to ask how they thought Fylde should proceed. Whilst readily accepting that this was not an official meeting, he said it had begun the process of public consultation on the future plan for Fylde.

He said that it was only four weeks since the RSS was revoked and he thought that in terms of the usual speed with which Local Authorities moved Fylde was already ahead of the game.

He's right here of course, partly because those councils that were already well down the road with their Local Development Frameworks might now have to backtrack to undo some decisions before they can go forward, so Fylde is - unusually well placed to progress. (Even if that was only because the Commissar was unwilling to devote resources to preparing Fylde's new local plan).

He also cleverly hinted that delays on other sites such as Pontins (also part of the same Trevor Hemmings stable as Wesham) could be artificially held back so as to keep Fylde's completions at a low level in order to make it look as though Fylde was not achieving its former targets and thus make the need for the Wesham development seem artificially greater.

We thought we saw that point register with the inspector.

He said building on the land would irrevocably change the character of the area and damage the countryside. He also said that Wesham and Kirkham were separate communities, just as St Annes and Lytham are on the coast, even though they are referred to as 'Lytham St Annes'.

Mr Lancaster's team seemed to be unsettled during his evidence, one or two going out to telephone. It might have been an unconnected incident they were having to deal with of course, but there did seem to be a lot of in-house consultation going on.

He picked up a few points from his rebuttal proof of evidence, picking up that although the appellants said it would provide much needed 'affordable housing' he argued the greatest need for such housing was in St Annes, and he argued that meant it should not be a material argument in the Wesham case.

Tellingly we thought, at the end of his evidence, proceedings were halted for a few moments whilst the inspector sought a new notepad.

Cross examination began.

His answers were more combative than Mr Galbraith, and he was not for giving any ground.

Mr. Lancaster sought to make various points and tried to demolish the arguments that there were a lot of sites still waiting to be developed. Again he landed blows that scored points, but we didn't see anything like the killer blow he would have wanted to throw. Responding to Mr Rowe's augment that the RSS took no account of market conditions, especially the recent economic downturn, and in an unusually tetchy comment, he said that in this area, the RSS had been frustrated by Fylde Council deliberately not granting planning permissions.

Shortly later we broke for lunch, resuming at 2:05 when Mr Galbraith again took the stand, this time to deal with transport matters. He's a brave man doing that when both Fylde and the County Council said they didn't see a problem.

Bryce Galbraith
He spoke referring to the traffic studies WAG had done themselves and used his personal knowledge of the area to highlight what he saw as problems that the development would cause.

In cross examination he gave the same calm and thoughtful style of answers he had presented earlier in the day. We thought he had a harder job to do here, but he handled it with competence, and to be fair, he highlighted several practical points that the County's esoteric highway officers in their ivory towers wouldn't have seen or known about. The Inspector seemed grateful to have them drawn to his attention.

At one point Mr Lancaster sought to cast doubt on the traffic surveys WAG had done by saying that LCCs surveys were done by independent experts, implying that WAG's figures ought not to be regarded as independent. More bottom of the barrel stuff, we thought. Amazingly, we saw an odd point or two conceded by Mr Lancaster. We hadn't expected to see that.

After the break, at five to four, we resumed with WAG's ecology witness

Terry Blackburn
Has a slow and deliberate style of presentation. He styled himself self-deprecatingly as an amateur naturalist and Wesham resident, but he caused some confusion at the start with what appeared to be different versions of his evidence or at least differing paragraph numbers. He argued that the early ecology submissions by the appellant were not comprehensive, and contained mistakes.

He also said the water entering the BHS at the moment flowed through the soil and was filtered / cleaned in the process, but the housing drainage system might contain contaminants such as hydrocarbons and de-icer ad so on, and he was concerned that the appellant's description which suggested that the BHS would be required to perform as a recreational area as well as a conservation area.

Commenting on two letters from statutory ecology consultees that were referred to at the start of the day. He reported that the Environment Agency said that, given the results of the most recent survey, there should be modifications to the mitigation measures proposed for Great Crested Newts and the LCC ecology people also wanted some further assurance before planning permission was granted. There was a challenge on this from Mr Lancaster, the decision for which probably went on points to Mr Blackburn.

But then confusion began to reign, and it became apparent that documents were being referred to that had not been properly submitted and Mr Blackburn was raising issues that were not in the proof of evidence. After a short discussion, between the Inspector and Mr Lancaster and Mrs Galbraith, Mr Blackburn agreed to end the evidence he was giving.

He was then open for cross examination. Mr Lancaster said that the statutory authorities all confirmed the development's drainage would not impact on the BHS and that with the exception of some planning conditions, the statutory consultees were now happy that ecologically, the development was acceptable with the agreed mitigation scheme. The inspector's pen had gone down, and we thought the best thing that could happen would be for Mr Blackburn to be as brief as possible and not take any more time of the Inquiry. It was late in the afternoon and 'day three fatigue' was beginning to set in.

One by one Mr Lancaster ticked off the issues and Mr Blackburn agreed there was now no issue except hydrology, and that could be solved by conditions, and Mr Blackburn accepted that. Game set and match to Mr Lancaster on this one.

Then there were a couple of public speakers.

John Westmoreland, representing CPRE.
He said CPRE opposed the development. He said the proposal conflicted with several of Fylde's planning policies, and the area had a special landscape character. The Marsh was important and whilst accepting the mitigation proposed, he said there was no guarantee the marsh would not be damaged. On Farming land he spoke of the importance of farming as the foundation of our food security. On the matter of prematurity he said that developments should take place within the planning policies. On the matter of alternative land he cited various sites that should be developed first, and an application for housing on part of the BAE site is imminent. On the matter of housing supply and market conditions he said the condition of the housing market was producing pressure to override the local plan, but with no market demand such pressure should be resisted. The SHLAA identified this and many other sites with potential for development, but as yet the assessment did not yet take account of matters like agricultural importance. He also spoke of the RSS revocation and that power was returned to local councils. He said Wesham was one of the least sustainable sites in the Borough, and the Council's SHLAA should be allowed to run its course to identify and prioritise the sites within Fylde.

Cllr Alan Clayton, Chairman of Medlar with Wesham TC
His role places him in a good position to put forward the views of local people. He went through the arguments of the RSS revocaion and the fact that Wesham had opposed the development. He confirmed that the local community was wholly united in its opposition, moreseo than at any other proposal before. He said the Town Council fully support WAG in its objection. No-one had spoken in favour of the proposal in any of the public consultations. He spoke of various planning policies which had also been rehearsed earlier in the inquiry.

At the end of the day the Inspector said WAG's evidence on Agricultural land on Monday would complete their evidence, and Mr Lancaster would start his evidence

We may not be able to hear the whole of Fridays session, but we only expect to miss the Unilateral Undertaking (which is what the developer will promise to do if permission were to be granted and as our readers will have seen by now, we don't think that's going to happen).

Day 4: FRIDAY 17 SEPTEMBER 2010
The big battalions are assembled. The Metacre team started it's evidence today and it consists of seven highly-qualified experts plus Rottweiler barrister Roger Lancaster and his associated support staff. This is the biggest team we've seen assembled to give evidence at a Public Inquiry. The right hand side of the room was weighted down with experts. This really is David vs Goliath (but we did note that despite the size, that encounter didn't turn out too well for Goliath, showing that size doesn't always matter).

The Inspector took some public speakers first:

Cllr Linda Nulty
We've heard Cllr Nulty speak many times before - and often, if we may be critical for moment, without the sort of 'weight' you would expect from someone of her experience.

Not this time.

We were spellbound.

She WAS Wesham. She spoke exactly as we think a local councillor should speak.

With minimal but authoritative reference to policy, she spoke with clear local knowledge and from the heart she very eloquently captured and articulated the feelings of the community that elected her.

We wanted to shout "Bravo!" as she finished - but that's not the done thing at Public Inquiries.

She said she was she ward member for Medlar with Wesham for 11 years and 30 years a Town Councillor. Also Fylde DC member. She was fully integrated into local community organisations. She noted that Wesham and Kirkham has distinct characters. There has been a lot of public protest at the proposal. She asked the Inspector take note of what WAG had to say.

She had taken a neutral stance initially, but in all that time she had not received a single comment in favour of the scheme. She spoke of the importance of the panoramic views, the importance of the farmland that was cared for by people who loved the land. Out of 316 houses there were still 120 remaining to be sold from the most recent developments. Infrastructure was at capacity for traffic. Se had major concerns for Wesham Marsh BHS. 

She then cited the policies contravened by the plans and noted that considerable additional infrastructure would be needed.

She said the present urban boundary was a natural one, understood and respected by all. The land is important agricultural land, well managed and effectively used. No one can believe that sticking a housing development on the farmland will do anything except damage it. The land is cherished and loved by three generations of the same family. The same goes for the BHS - the development would result in more people being attracted and damage the conservation. She said you can't enhance nature. Nature is natural.

Moving to the development she said that previously developed land should be used first. on housing need she said no-one in this area believes in the need that was set in the RSS, and now Fylde has the chance to set a lower figure more commensurate with its own need. Numbers on the housing waiting list are vastly inflated by those for whom social housing is a desire not a need. Wesham must not lose its community identity and doesn't want to become a dormitory for people who work up or down the M6. Social housing in Wesham was already significant and more was not needed.

This was a really good presentation from the heart.

Unfortunately, all this good work was laid to waste when she allowed herself to be goaded into argument by Roger Lancaster - and there began a row in which the Inspector had to intervene to restore order. He was clearly unhappy to do this.

Lancaster continued to push her button and matters didn't improve.

He painted her 'black and white' evidence into a very muddy shade of grey which, of course was what he wanted to do. He said she had not voted against the matters that Fylde had decided not to defend at the inquiry, and he appeared to be dragging the admission from her because she said she could not remember.

It itself, this was no big deal, but he made her look evasive, and that made it look as though the evidence she had given before cross examination could not be trusted. Great shame.

The underlying cause was, of course, her very real passion for the town that she clearly loves and is desperate to defend, and her frustration at the prospect of the development succeeding.

We think she should have had more faith in St Eric.

Cllr Heather Speak
Is from Treales, which is at the opposite end of a track that Mowbreck Lane peters out into, and is full of agricultural land that is within easy range of the theodolites of the Metacre surveyors if they get their way in this appeal. She extolled the virtue of the farmland and said the appeal should be refused because it would undoubtedly be detrimental and contrary to policy. She said there was no proven need to extend Wesham and destroy the farmland which she thought this plan would do.

The morning break intervened before the introduction of Mr Lancaster's first witness

Dr. Paul Gemmel - Ecology
A biological consultant whose credentials and qualifications Mr Lancaster made great play of. From our experience, this sort of introduction often arises when the credentials are not self-evident.

He admitted that his original 2009 survey report hadn't found some of the creatures, mostly newts it seems,  that subsequently were found on the site by WAG's own survey. This caused the County Council to require Metacre to treat the site as though there were newts present throughout, and take mitigation measures. To us, these measures sounded like digging holes for buckets that the newts would fall into, then moving them to another nearby location outside the site, thus clearing the site for development. We heard talk of "newt exclusion fences" and other such ecological management tools.

We wondered why, if all this was the right thing to do, the poor little newts hadn't colonised the 'new' area they were being taken to already.

If they wanted to be there, they probably would be by now, we thought.

And it seemed to us that if there were already newts in the new area (and there perhaps could have been as Dr Gemmel hadn't managed to find them on their 'home ground' in the first go) there could even be some hostilities develop (unless some sort of measures to neutralise that risk could be put in place).

Ethnic cleansing of newts is probably no less painful for those involved than it was for several ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia (except that newts don't usually carry machine guns of course).

So in reality, the newts would be forced to move house, so that some people could move house, and that was fine and dandy.

Dr Gemmel said he was satisfied the mitigation measures were conservation based not recreation based as had been alleged yesterday.

He said the biodiversity area as a whole was a patchwork of habitats and the whole was greater than the sum of the parts, and his proposed biodiversity area has been designed very carefully with this in mind. Mandy Rice Davies comment there, we thought - (i e "He would say that, wouldn't he?").

In cross examination Mrs Galbraith asked a couple of seemingly innocuous questions which didn't seem to be preparing for a killer blow, but we shall no doubt see what she was up to later.

Next up was Mr Lancaster's witness on hydrology.

Andrew Moore - Drainage and Groundwater
He said their flood risk assessment showed the area to be Flood Zone 1 (which, in the terms of the Environment Agency's classification, doesn't flood). He said the BHS is located in a dip which drains into Medlar brook, but land to the Mowbreck lane side drained into an agricultural system. He said the new development's surface water would be collected by drainage through a system that would have its flow attenuated to that of the existing agricultural systems of 5 litres per second. They would also build in the capacity to split the water from various parts of the development so it could feed various ponds and so on.

He explained the process to feed the water to the pond would see it  flow through a manhole with a grid to catch floating "solids" (plastic bags etc we guessed) and the design of the holding pond would be such as to slow down the flow causing the larger particles to settle out and by the time the water reached the exit point of the pond it would be free of suspended solids.

In cross examination, Mrs Galbraith asked how they expected to deal with water soluble contaminants. He said that the holding pond would allow time for them to biodegrade naturally. Pressed on this matter by Mrs Galbraith (who, it has to be said, is in the middle of conducting a very professional case for her team) he said this would work - "unless someone is negligent and pours stuff down the drains it will work", adding that it was a residential development (which implied that he didn't expect that to happen).

We don't share his confidence, having known people who would happily dispose of surplus garden insecticide sprays in the grid at the back their house. Ooops, there go the newts.


Julian Cooper - Landscape architect
Spoke in a rather superior and arrogant manner of the landscape character assessments undertaken by WAG and CPRE, giving the impression that because his assessment was the professional one, it was definitive.

He said the site was not particularly different to any other in Wesham and the views of the Bowland fells could be had from lots of other places as well as this site - for example further along Fleetwood Road or at Thistleton.

His manner and the content of his presentation clearly caused hackles to rise in most of the audience. In effect he said Wesham was nowhere special and so the development wasn't a problem. (we waited for him to say - as such landscape mercenaries are wont to do when they're being paid - that the development would actually improve the look of the place).

Sure enough, he did.

It would create an "exemplar" landscape he said. Yes. Really.

We've already mentioned Mandy Rice Davies earlier in this article. Whilst she was whore, she at least had the benefit of an attractive personality.

Mrs Galbraith had no cross examination. We wondered if she was so angry that she might not be able to contain herself if she started.

After lunch we began the highway evidence.

Ian Hughes - Highways and Transport
The witness said they had done traffic audits and used computer programmes to predict and design what was needed. They had consulted and followed the advice of all the appropriate agencies. He said that WAG's surveys showed similar data to their own.

Arguments about traffic data are always dry as dust in this context. In reality the numbers of vehicles and trip frequency are very difficult to visualise, so we don't think readers will be greatly benefited from our reproducing them.

One member of the public caused a little ripple when she interrupted to make objection to one of Mr Lancaster's descriptions of "wives running husbands to the railway station" which she thought was rather un-PC. Mr Lancaster readily apologised and said he was happy to reverse his description.

In cross examination there were questions about numbers and road widths for passing vehicles and the number of accidents and casualties. There was a discrepancy between the accident and fatality numbers that WAG had and those available from the LCC computer system, but in any event the witness said an additional fatality whilst regrettable, would not affect the road layout.

That concluded the evidence for today. The Inspector then took the rest of the afternoon to address the 'Unilateral Undertaking that we spoke of yesterday. This took the form of a round table discussion of conditions that would be applied if permission was granted. Typically it might include things like "The developer will provide a playground of such and such a size to the satisfaction of the Local Planning Authority" and so on.

There wasn't a lot to report here except WAG sent an exocet about continuation of the ecological studies after completion to ensure that everything went, well, swimmingly - especially for the newts.

Mr Lancaster wasn't impressed but the Inspector said it was a fair point and he would address it in his report. One up to WAG we thought.

As we said yesterday, we don't think the appeal will be allowed anyway, so it might all be academic. 

Monday is when we get the big issue of agricultural land.


Day 5:  MONDAY 20 SEPTEMBER 2010

Bit of a rush today. One o'clock start. This is the 'extra' session squeezed in between the regular YOGA class (or whatever) this morning and whatever is on this evening. So it was 'all hands to the pumps' at quarter to one setting up boxes full of information (enough to fill a small house we thought) and microphones and so on.

It was also a bit busier today with a few more of WAG's supporters turning up for the big event. The issue of agricultural land is today's topic. They're a very respectful lot in Wesham, because at one minute to one, everyone was in their seats and the - now expected - hush descended.

First up was Mrs Galbraith who moved to the witness table to give her evidence on Agricultural land for WAG. She was giving some aspects, but expert consultants and Mr Pickervance would also give evidence.

Andrea Galbraith
Began by saying that the group came about following a Wesham Town Council public meeting. They have core of about 13 people with a wider group of supporters. The inspector seemed quite keen to establish the extent of the representational and democratic legitimacy of the group.

She said their land information was based on information from the tenant farmer Mr Pickervance. She said the Agricultural Land Grade was subjective and he was someone who new the land best, and should therefore be listened to. She said although the Queensway inquiry had 'accepted' the loss of 10 acres of the best agricultural land, the Wesham land was a smaller percentage of the total area and thus more important to Wesham.

Cross examining, Mr Lancaster said she referred to comments by others and WAG had no technical qualifications did it? Mrs Galbraith agreed. He then went into a very complicated sum about how much nitrogen was produced in the poo of a set number of cows and whether it would fit onto the land or not. We got a bit lost at this point.

Looking at the legislation, he invited her to agree that food security was not a problem in the country at the moment and that there was nothing in the food security document to say we should be self sufficient as a country was there? She agreed (because as yet, whilst there is a growing concern about our future food security, but it isn't yet reflected with what are called Planning Policies that he was referring to).

Richard Crayston
Works as an agronomist. he was here to speak about the productivity of the land. He believes the land is predominantly Grade 2 and very productive because it grows a wide variety of crops and they are of high quality. The grading is very subjective, it includes personal identification of soil colours, but in any case all of this is intended to assess yield and the yield's here are consistently high.

Under cross examination, Mr Lancaster asked if he had seen the Council's or the appellant's consultant's. He had. Mr Lancaster then said he hadn't done any proper analysis of the land for agricultural grading had he? He disagreed, saying he had dug trial pits and made an assessment, but he agreed he had not submitted any statistical information on the land grade and he agreed they were more definitive reports on the land quality.

Mr Lancaster appeared to do fair demolition job, suggesting the witness couldn't provide full information, (But that was the case because he was only giving evidence on the productive yield)

Graham Surtees
He had done a review of the (first) land grading produced by Metacre and formed the view it was not definitive, and did not use a proper basis for its results. So he had looked at the land grades and the farm's viability.

In cross examination, Mr Lancaster said he had seen the more recent soil tests produced by others and that they were definitive were they not? Mr Surtees agreed they were.

In terms of farm income, he agreed the increase in the sale price of wheat had made the farm more profitable, and the Tesco milk contract was also a 'good thing' wasn't it. Mr Surtees agreed, although he said the Tesco contract had some increases in costs attached as well. The inspector picked this up and worked it through to show the net effect was minus 1 one point something pence per pint, so overall, the benefit was less.

Under re-examination he said that farm viability was not only a finite measure, it also affected the willingness for the farmer to make capital investment.

Helen Forrester
Representing the NFU, Helen said she had worked in this area for 8 years. Without a sign of fear, she went straight out of the jaws of death and into the mouth of hell that was the food security issue, the soggy end of which, Mr Lancaster had just beaten a previous witness into submission with.

This was one brave lady.

She highlighted Mr Pickles changes at DEFRA (which Mr Lancaster really didn't like). She said Metacre had missed the point in their report and she showed how important it was.

She spoke with confidence and clearly wasn't going to be bullied by Mr Lancaster. He had a go but she wasn't for giving ground, and in the face of such a strong witness, he didn't really seem to try, other than to say there were no planning documents on food security at this time.

David Pickervance
Tenant farmer for 28 years. He spoke about drainage and said it was essential they had access for maintenance. and the plan would not give it to him. He also criticised the hydrology consultant whose report had not taken account of the water consumed by the crops (and which, if they were not grown would have to go somewhere else). he was quoting millions of gallons per hectare. He said the brook was overloaded for five months of the year. He said although United Utilities had said there was no problem they had never been down on the land to look at it.

Examples of his fields near to housing elsewhere in Wesham had shown that fields immediately adjacent to housing were lost to crops and animals because of human intervention. He said the only use they had found suitable was young bullocks who could run away (In his situation, we might be tempted to put slightly bigger bulls in. The sort with big horns and  rings through their noses. The ones that stand seven feet tall and snort fire. That might just make the little b***ers think about what they're doing). Mr Pickervance is far too gentle for that though. He said they really needed a set of fields as a 'buffer zone' between housing and farmland he said.

He spoke with feeling (and barely concealed anger) about the threat to his farm and the criticism levelled at it by Metacre.

Under cross examination, Mr Pickervance confirmed that he *could* use another field to get access to his drains, but didn't because the tractor would sink in the marsh, as one was altrady in there having tried to cross it.

There was then a big argument about the water falling on the land.

Mr Lancaster either didn't want, or wasn't able, to see that fields growing crops such as potatoes and beet removed water in their structure i.e. they are maybe 80% water and that water was removed when the crop was harvested, so the tons of water in them would have to be accommodated in the drains and the brook if they were not grown because the land was used for houses, and they and didn't remove that water from the land.

Fred Moor
Spoke as a member of the public on agricultural land and soils. He had produced the expert evidence on soils and agricultural land at the Queensway Inquiry for the Rule 6 Party there. He argued that according to PPS7 It was for the Local Authority to decide the land grade based on competent advice and careful consideration. He said that the Queensway scheme accepted the loss of 10 acres but only because the RSS housing numbers were given more weight. He said the soil should be considered separately from Agricultural Land and that part of the Grade 5 wet peat area (which was the equivalent of junk land in agricultural terms) was these days being seen as an important carbon store worthy of protection in its own right.

Under cross examination Mr Lancaster sought to get him to walk into man-traps but he mostly sidestepped them - having - it seemed to us - expected most of them in the first place.

For example he spoke of a large area of good but poorer farmland at Whyndyke Farm which should be developed first, he said it was shown in Fylde's SHLAA as being potentially developable. Mr Lancaster sought to get him to refer to it as the 'M55 Hub' (because had he done so, Lancaster would have said this was irrelevant because there are no planning documents about the M55 Hub) but he hadn't, and he wouldn't. He kept referring to it as Fylde's SHLAA land which denied Mr Lancaster his point. The witness stood his ground on other matters, and seemed to give reliable information, though he admitted that he was the only person in the whole inquiry to raise the issue of soil separately from it being one of the components of the agricultural land classification.

After the break, Metacre began their evidence.

Dr Lloyd
He dealt with agricultural land classification for Metacre. He gave lots of technical data on soil classification and seemed to be quite a reliable witness. He was asked to explain the differences between his findings and those of the Council's expert. He did so as well as he could. Often it seemed to be that it was due to the interpretation of soil wetness and interpretation of colour that was the reason for their differences. He referred to DEFRA's Soil Strategy and said farming could degrade soil, that development could help conserve it if they re-used it for gardens an open spaces. He admitted that planners were going to be given new and additional information on how to protect and conserver important soils via DEFRA's soil strategy, but then said all of DEFRA's strategy was emerging policy and none of it was in place at the moment.

In cross examination Mr Evans for the Council, said the number of sampling points was wrong and Mr Lancaster admitted the error. He agreed that the method had been one sampling point per hectare. Mr Evans also said there was a lot of common ground with the Council's expert. He suggested that part of the site had not been mapped accurately because it was small in area and it wasn't necessary to assess it separately because it couldn't be farmed separately. Dr Lloyd Agreed this was the case.

Mr Evans seemed to be asking his questions to store up points to make for the closing comments rather than to make sure the witness gave accurate information at this point. Although he did get the witness to agree that in some areas the reason for disagreement between experts was simply a matter of judgement, and there wasn't a right or wrong answer.

He said in one or two instances, where Dr Lloyd had not written down the results, but simply used the grading, that meant no-one could reasonably use the figured to challenge the grading or re-interpret the figures.

With the Metacre witnesses, WAG also get a go at cross examination. They asked if there was anything in PPS7 that said it must be able to be farmed separately to be classed as 'Best and Most Versatile' land. Dr Lloyd said no.

Under re-examination, Mr Lancaster made a stab at strengthening the evidence of his witness over the Council's, but without a lot of success.

Next up at 4:25 was yet another Mr Evans, but this time from the Metacre team.

We thought it might have been helpful if we'd had the Ken Dodd and the Diddymen approach to nomenclature here (he referred to 'his' Evans's as "Evans from the valley" and "Evans the milk" and so on). We hope our readers don't get confused with the now thee Mr Evans that are involved.

Mr Evans
His speciality is farm business consultancy. He spoke with a firm but steady voice - the sort that gives confidence. He said he's seen four budgets put forward and he was a bit confused. He said his data was reliable as it was UK wide (even though he was from a long way distant - Leicestershire).

He said the dairying was the most profitable aspect of the farm work. He saw no evidence of the farm not being able to continue as being viable and profitable. However he went from hero to zero in our view when he said he had been on the site this morning and thought the fencing and enclosure wasn't up to a strength that would be needed if the stock was hungry or the weather was bad. He said the gates were in some cases held on with wire or string and fastened up (he appeared to think the cows could undo the knots). Oh dear!

What he did do was lift a corner on a weird and wonderful world of payments and allowances and set-offs, where husbandry was becoming an increasingly small part of the income, and things called 'naked acres' and subsidy payments, and set-aside and a whole variety of things that most people would never have head of were now commonplace. No wonder farmers need computers these days.

In cross examination, Fylde's Mr Evans picked him up with issues about whether he had used information given to him by Mr Pickervance accurately or not. He argued Metracre's Mr Evans shouldn't have used Mr Pickervance's information selectively. He also had to admit that the sources of information used by the two farm business consultants had been a matter of preference, and neither could be considered wrong.

Inch by inch, Fylde's Mr Evans was securing ground for himself, but we didn't see that he was pulling it in handover fist.

But then, he probably doesn't need to. We're quite happy that Saint Eric will be sending this appeal down the river.

No questions from WAG, and there ended the day. Agriculture as a topic is covered. Tomorrow is Mr DePol who is Metacre's main planning expert. 10:00am start. There is also the hope of a 9:30 am site visit on Wednesday morning and the Inquiry concluding.


DAY 6:  TUESDAY 21 SEPTEMBER 2010
Today had the usual preliminaries first, one of which was Cllr Nulty who read a statement to say she had pressed Mark Evans privately to retain all the arguments to oppose the appeal, but she had not been able to be at the Council's meeting where the matter was discussed (Mr Lancaster had made a great play of suggesting she hadn't voted against the dropping of some arguments).

She said her colleagues on the Council had sought to get the Council's decision deferred until she could be there, but had been unsuccessful. So she had been perfectly right in saying that she could not remember being at the meeting where the decision was made. She wasn't. The Inspector duly noted the point and Mr Lancaster accepted it.

There was then a discussion about the site visit. The Scouts had offered a minibus which the Inspector was keen to accept.

Cllr Liz Oades
She said she had returned from holiday yesterday. She had 23 years of experience representing the area. She believes the development is out of scale and risks turning Wesham into a dormitory town which would be bad. Since 2000 Wesham has taken more than its fair share. The Regional Leaders Board had highlighted that Wesham was not scheduled for growth.

School places were insufficient. But LCC say there are sufficient, because they add together all the children and schools in the rural Fylde. She asked how it could be sustainable to 'bus' children all over Fylde under this policy.

She gave good local knowledge including things like the comparatively high frequency of power cuts when the supply company was unwilling to increase the supply. She made a good many points that hadn't been made before and were relevant. Her evidence was worthwhile

Mr Lancaster cross examined her heavily on the affordable housing issue. Using the 'Fordham', figures, he was trying to get her to agree there was a need for the 600 'affordable' (socially supported) houses. cb has been banging on about the stupidity of these - Ken Lee inspired - figures for ages now, almost as long as one of Warton's CROWD members who was the first person to see the folly of confusing 'need' and 'demand'. which is what Fordham (Intentionally) did.



Mr. DePol
Is a senior planner at DePol Associates (part of millionaire Trevor Hemmings empire), but to us, he looked very young to be in such a senior position. Maybe that's a sign of our increasing gerrification or it is his youth. For someone so young we thought he must be very good, so we'd looked forward to him.

It didn't turn out to be exceptional.

Mr Lancaster invited him to say that motherhood and apple pie was lovely.

He did, of course.

We were disappointed, we had hoped for more.

Our attention wandered whilst he was giving evidence and we looked round the room. It's surprising who appears at these events. WAG and it's supporters made up the bulk of the public gallery of course, but we spotted people from the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the chap who has just lost the appeal on the proposed Ballam Road development at Lytham scribbling furiously.

Over the week, we had also seen planning experts; folk from the Queensway appeal, and from the opposite side of the Ballam Road appeal. They usually come because they might hear something in the arguments that would help them in future planning applications (and the opposition to them).

Usually it would, but in this post-Pickles era that's all on its head and folk are simply trying to work out which way up they are.

Back to the topic, we thought Mr DePol was saying very little really. In fact he was mostly giving short, monosyllabic answers to Mr Lancaster's questions. He picked out all the policies and decisions that appeared to favour the arguments he wanted to use, and disregarded or sidelined those that didn't.

Like we said, it was all 'Motherhood and Apple Pie' evidence.

His evidence finished at 12:20 and Mr. Evans for FBC started to cross examine.

He said the guidance from Government allowed councils to continue to use the 'RSS numbers' or they could use a revised 'RSS Option 1' or  Councils could set their own numbers. Mr DePol agreed. Cleverly Mr Evans moved on to say that the guidance gave the Council an unqualified choice of these options provided it was evidence based. Further, he went on, it doesn't say Councils in any particular circumstances should choose one or the other. Mr DePol agreed (somewhat reluctantly).

Mr Evans went on to ask whether it was the role of appeals such as this to seek to determine which option the Council should take. Again reluctantly, Mr DePol agreed it was not.

Mr Evans then went on to say that the need to acquire the evidence base meant that Councils choosing the third option couldn't do it overnight could they? (Ans="No"). And there was nothing in the guidance that said the RSS numbers had to be used until Councils had formulated their new figures was there? The answer was "no", followed by a strong attempt to qualify that "no" so it looked like a "yes"

Slowly slowly, inch by inch, logical step by logical step Mr Evans was building the case against the development.

Then there was a long session about the relevance of the RSS abolition.

The inspector's pen was down at this time and we spotted him looking at his nails. We thought he's pretty much made his mind up about the relevance of the abandonment of the RSS, and it looked to us that Mr DePol wasn't changing the Inspector's mind with his evasive answers to Mr Evans' questions.

He moved on to ask if the Appellants continued to rely on the Conservative Green Paper? Mr. DePol admitted it wasn't a policy document. He then had to admit that statements in it (that supported his case) could not be relied upon in the Inquiry if it was not planning policy.

Asked if the thrust of the guidance was to maximise local decisions and minimise central control, Mr DePol agreed this was the case provided it was evidence based and complied with national policy.

Mr Evans then turned to the Ballam Road decision. There were ears in the pubic gallery that pricked up at this point. Mr Evans said the Ballam Road Inspector's decision should not be taken as a precedent for that site, but he invited Mr DePol to agree that it was a valid precedent on the matter of the impact of the RSS on such appeals. He did (reluctantly).

He picked up the Ballam Road Inspector had said that the Council was neither required *nor minded* to use the 306 number of houses. That was right wasn't it? Mr. DePol sought to sidestep this matter and said he had a different opinion. Pressing the matter, Mr Evans said the Ballam Inspector had said that at this time there was no requirement for FBC to have its numbers in place had she not? Mr DePol had to agree.

But Mr Evans was having to drag the answers and admissions out of him, and we thought he was a less credible witness for this. We expect the Inspector might have thought the same.

Mr DePol was the appellants chief witness, but he was nothing like as good as we saw Mr Tony McAteer perform at the Queensway Inquiry. Mr McAteer gave his evidence seemingly honestly, openly and without bias. If he was 'wrong' he was ready to admit this - or at least to say, in effect, 'yes but I have a different view'

Here, Mr DePol continually sought to answer questions which he had not been asked (in order to make his view dominant).

Mr. Evans was having none of this and kept bringing him back to the question he had asked.

The Inspector began to look tired, and we were reminded of the saying "when you're at the bottom of a hole the first thing to do is to stop digging" Mr Evans pushed his button harder and said "answer the question please Mr DePol"

He didn't.

He argued.

As we've seen before in this inquiry, the inspector wants information, not argument.

The Inspector appeared to be getting less and less happy, and he intervened, and adjourned for lunch.

We wandered up to the New Pavilion Cafe in Ashton Gardens to try lunch there. We were more impressed than we had expected to be. The food was excellent, and the prices didn't seem that steep to us. They were more upmarket than downmarket - but that's in keeping with the St Annes image anyway. The owners are clearly trying to provide a quality, upmarket establishment with modern style high-backed chairs and solid oak tables. We still think it's a shame they're running a blanket ban on unaccompanied under 18s but that's the decision they have made and will have to live with.

After lunch, the cross examination resumed. At first, it looked as though someone had spoken to Mr. DePol and suggested he appear a bit less evasive and belligerent, however he soon slipped back into his former style.

Mr Evans suggested that on the Queensway inquiry the Minister had given more weight to the settlement boundary than the Inspector had done, and in doing so he had the benefit of the Queensway Inspector's advice that the settlement boundary had been prepared some time ago, and Fylde had a housing moratorium. Mr DePol had to agree - eventually.

Deeper and deeper he dug the hole in which he stood. Ignoring 'tuts' from the Inspector when he prevaricated. Foolish, we thought. He was clearly trying to get his own way, and the Inspector had said previously that the role of the expert witness was to give information and, by implication that ought to be truthful, full and factual. What we appeared to be getting was evasion, partial answers and subjective opinion.

A neat little row brewed up when Mr Evans was arguing about treating Wesham and Kirkham as one unit. He sought to make this case that for some purposes they were not. The witness was prevaricating. Mr Lancaster intervened and said that had been agreed that Kirkham and Wesham were a single settlement in planning terms. Mr Evans disagreed. The Inspector got involved and they chased through several proofs and documents to argue the issue through. In the end they didn't decide and agreed to explore it further on an issue by issue basis. They began, but the inspector was not coming down on Mr Evans' side on this one and on realising that, he gave up and moved on to another topic.

There was another ruffle of feathers when Mr Evans raised agricultural land. The witness appeared to say that he thought that if there were some areas of 'best and most versatile land', but practically speaking it was unfarmable separately from other areas, then you couldn't really consider it to be 'best and most versatile land'

That's absolute tosh of course. After another intervention by the Inspector, Mr. Lancaster provided clarification of his side's position - which was that the fact of BMV engaged the policy and it then became a question of how much weight should be attached to it, and he argued an inability to farm it separately from other land made it less important.

We think he's even wrong on that, but it will be for the Inspector to come to a view on it.

In re-examination, Mr Lancaster sought (as is his job) to rectify the damage that had been done by Mr Evans' cross examination. We thought he had some success, but not a lot.

And so a weary, boring, day closed. That leaves only the site inspections tomorrow morning, and closing statements tomorrow afternoon.

It's difficult to report a site visit hen it's only looking and there's no discussion, so we're going to shimmy off that session, but we hope to bring you the closing statements from the afternoon session.


DAY 7: WEDNESDAY 22 SEPTEMBER 2010

The final push.

According to those that went, the site visit was extensive and thorough.

The Inspector - despite warning of 'two gammy hips' had walked all across the site and been around other places as well, including the M55 junction and, we understand at Mr Cooper's request (he of the landscape assessment) they had a trip to Thistleton to show that there were also excellent views of the Bowland hills from there. (We wondered why he hadn't asked to go up Blackpool tower to see them, and one wag (as opposed to WAG) suggested they could have had a ride out to the Bowland Hills themselves and see the real thing).

We don't think anyone need worry too much. This is a VERY experienced Inspector for whom an inquiry of this size is just a morsel, and he is well able to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the weight he should attach to various aspects.

One aspect that caused some minor amusement amongst the public gallery was that a couple on the appellant's side seemed to have left their shoes in Wesham on site, having come back to St Annes in welingtons in the minibus. We wondered if we might hear a variation of "I left my heart in San Francisco..." but we were disappointed. At the end, one lady (trust it to be a lady), had noted that Mr. DePol's socks had a hole in them. Perhaps he needs the money more than we might think.....

CLOSING STATEMENTS

WAG - Andrea Galbraith
Said that the Council was obliged to prioritise brownfield sites for development, and that the changes to the RSS meant there was no immediate change to that, but it was very significant in respect of housing numbers required. She said there was 'Best and Most Versatile' agricultural land, and there is no requirement at all for it to be discretely farmable, and it is 40% of the farmable site. Loss of the land will cost the farmer over 30k a year from his business.

She asked the inspector to monitor the wildlife and BHS as 'conditions' if the appeal was allowed. She said WAG was concerned about the roundabouts. She added that the spine road through the development has been widened to allow for buses, but Mowbreck lane had not. She said the development would impose more burdens on local infrastructure, and that residents prefer nature's rough edges to landscape creations.

Fylde Council - Mr Evans
Began by saying that the revocation of the RSS has produced a shift in the planning balance in this case.

He said the conflict of this proposal with SP2 (Settlement boundary / Limit of development) is not outweighed by any housing shortage.

He said the appellant's case was that the abolition of the housing numbers and RSS hadn't changed anything.

He disagreed.

Using the arguments he had rehearsed before - chiefly that the Council has yet to recalculate its housing numbers since the RSS was abolished and its decision to base its housing numbers solely on Fylde's need, it was premature to allow the appeal at this time. (He also cleverly argued that there could be no backlog of houses that needed to be built if the RSS and its housing numbers had been abolished)

We thought he gave too much ground on the Agricultural land matter though.  He said that whilst there were figures between 3 and 5 hectares, Dr Lloyd's calculation of 3 might be nearer the mark. We were disappointed with this. The limiting factor on the soil that wasn't of the highest quality was soil wetness, and that can be changed by improving the drainage further. He could have made more of this we thought.

Metacre - Mr Lancaster
He said there were no proper planning reasons why this appeal should not be allowed. He said the council had backed off from lots of the arguments it was going to make, and Metacre's experts were not seriously challenged by either Mr Evans or WAG. He criticised WAG for not raising any landscape character issues and cross examining on them.

He went on to say in the early stages, WAG had made a big fuss about the ecology, but they now offered almost no objection to it, and they have conceded that there would be no damage to [long list] on wild life.

This is because WAG were right at first, and the original Metacre work was inadequate.

When WAG produced its own evidence, Metacre had to shoot off and get proper (well, al least better) experts to do the 'mitigation' plans that were necessary to protect the wildlife and so on. Now they have done that, it cuts the ground from under WAG to object, because the law says that if the wildlife is 'managed' by proper mitigation measures (such as the ethnic cleansing of newts we referred to earlier in this report) the development can go ahead.

One by one, Mr Lancaster went through the arguments,. and showed - in his view - how there was no logical reason to turn the appeal down. He can make black appear well, if not white, then a very pale shade of grey.

Mostly he uses what we call the 'Fido' argument. (This animal is black and white, Fido was black and white, therefore, this animal is a dog - when it's actually a cat). That's his job. That's why he is so highly paid and well respected. He is good, we've said that before, but at least this time he has an Inspector who can sort the wheat from the chaff, and who knows his onions (and cats).

At the end, Mr. Ellison thanked everyone for contributing and especially for the clarity of the points that had been put.

And that was it.

Now the Inspector has to think about what he's going to advise Saint Eric Pickles to decide.

Typically the Inspector will take three or four weeks to produce his report, and then the Minister will take three to four months to make the decision, so we guess it will be something like a Christmas or New Year present when the decision comes. But it could be longer.

We say 'present' because despite the disappointing and weak concluding comments from the Fylde side, we have the benefit of having heard the view of a very experienced planning expert who heard much of the debate.

His view, (as indeed is ours), is that the whole of this appeal will turn on the matter of the housing numbers, and the abolition of the RSS, and its associated housing numbers.

If you think about what has happened in this case there are some interesting points. In the middle of this application, Saint Eric Pickles changed the planning rules with a sledgehammer. He demolished the arguments about New Labour's housing numbers that developers up and down the country have been using to frighten local councils. They are no more.

Equally, the Inspector that WAS going to hear this case was taken ill, and Mr Ellison was appointed at short notice (in fact, only just before the appeal was heard).

He is a thoroughly experienced Inspector - possibly one of the best that the Inspectorate has in its stable. He's the sort of chap who can probably decide an appeal like this from quite a cursory examination of the papers. He can almost smell what the result should be just from looking at the documents.

It was very soon after Mr Ellison was nominated as the inspector for this case that Saint Eric decided that he would take the decision himself.

With Mr Ellison being so experienced, we simply can't imagine Saint Eric would do that because he had no confidence in the Inspector's ability, and we can't help wondering if the Inspector himself had quickly realised this appeal was going to be decided on the housing numbers, and had, himself, suggested that Saint Eric might like to take the decision - given his evident interest in the numbers.

With that, and the background support of Fylde's MP Mark Menzies who we confidently believe is doing what he can to explain to St Eric how important this matter is to the people of Wesham, we believe the appeal will be refused.

Time will tell.

Dated:    22 September 2010


info@counterbalance.org.uk

To be notified when a new article is published, please email 
notify@counterbalance.org.uk