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Queensway Inquiry to Re-open

Queensway Inquiry to re-openSt Eric Pickles today announced he will re-open the Queensway Inquiry .

The decision from that inquiry (which closed in December 2009) was due to arrive in April 2010.

But, as we showed in 'Queensway Decision Delayed' the Minister wanted a further  "Appropriate Assessment" (Technical term for a sort of specialised environmental study) doing to help inform his decision.

Then on 1 July 2010, after considering his Planning Inspector's report, St Eric announced he was overriding his Planning Inspector's recommendation and he had refused Kensington's appeal. So the houses would not be built. (see 'Queensway Appeal Refused')

Broadly in reaching his decision, St Eric relied heavily on his declared intention to abolish the Regional Spatial Strategies which had set unrealistically high targets for housing in Fylde.

But then Kensington announced they would be calling for a Judicial Review of St Eric's decision in the hope of getting it quashed. Furthermore, another, house building company called Cala Homes launched a Judicial Review claiming that St Eric did not have the authority to abolish the RSS.

RSS legislation had been made by Parliament and only Parliament (as opposed to a Minister) could abolish it.

On 22 November 2010, Cala won their case, and the housing numbers in various RSS's were reinstated as something that had to be taken into account in planning applications.

St Eric responded with (in effect) 'OK they have to be taken into account but if you want you can give almost no weight at all to them because I am going to abolish them in the Localism Bill'.

He set that same localism Bill off in Parliament on 28 December 2010.

Cala, flushed with success, decided they would also launch a Judicial Review of St Eric's intention to advise Councils that they need not give the RSS's much weight if they didn't want to. But this time Cala lost (see 'Snippets February 2011')

At about the same time, Lancashire County Council became convinced (despite having repeatedly said they would not pay for a new planning application - let alone the cost of the construction - for a new road across the Moss)

Pushed by Kensington (who paid for all the technical surveys and studies and consultants) LCC powered on with their planning application, steamrollering all opposition and disregarding proper procedure.

They were due to hear their own planning application first on 5 January, but as a result of complaints and pressure from QED, it was delayed

Fylde Planning Committee supported the road application - but they knew nothing about what was to come.

LCC was to consider the moss road application again on 16 Feb but there was a further delay.

They seemed to think they could just say there were applying for permission without doing all the necessary work to establish what if any harm the plan would cause to the environment. This time the postponement was because they had realised the road would cross a flood plain, so it would have to be built up to be above the flood level, and that meant a wide banking which itself would displace some of the floodwater. So they had to create a new flooding zone to accommodate the displaced water.

Fylde's officers decided they could agree LCC's floodzone on their own, without asking the Committee to consider it again, and they OK'd the creation of a floodzone (part of which is already in a floodplain, part of which was under the housing proposed by Kensington, and the excavation from which was going to increase the height of fields behind Heyhouses Road by anything up to two feet.

But as a result of the earlier Cala Homes decisions in the High Court, St Eric decided could no longer cite the abolition of the RSS as a reason for refusing Queensway, so he did not defend Kensington's case. The result of this was that he had to consider the Queensway appeal afresh. And in Feb 2011, he invited further representations to be made to him on the matter.

Meanwhile, LCC was pressing on with their road/floodzone plan.

On 11 March 2011, LCC considered their own planning application for the Moss Road.

Despite being warned by QED that they had still not done a proper environmental study and that they should have sent copies of all the plans etc to Government for their comments, they pressed on. In the face of concerns expressed by three Fylde Councillors, they approved the planning application for the road.

If this approval had been allowed to stand, it  would have taken away the other main plank of St Eric's arguments for refusal of Queensway.

We believe what happened was a huge drive by Kensington to push LCCs officers into approving the road before St Eric had time to consider their Queensway application.

With the RSS and lack of planning permission for the road arguments removed, it would have been much more difficult for St Eric to refuse their appeal.

But on 24th March, LCC's Chief Planning Officer Stuart Perrigo had to admit to Planning Committee members that he got it spectacularly wrong when he advised them to approve the application. This was because St Eric wrote and told him in explicit terms, *not* to make a decision on the Moss Road until he had sent all the documents for Government to have a look at. (see 'Road Block' )

Egg all over face.

And today (7 July 2011), St Eric has written to all the parties in the original 2009 Queensway Enquiry, and to Lancashire County Council to tell them he is going to

  1. Re-open the Queensway Inquiry, and
  2. Call-in the decision on the moss road.

In a letter to all parties, he said this would: "allow a full examination of the updated evidence of the current housing need in the area and allow parties the opportunity to raise any other new matters or changes of circumstance. In particular, he draws attention to his accompanying letter sent to Lancashire County Council, advising that the Secretary of State has called-in for his own determination the proposal by that Council for the construction of a new highway to complete the M55 to Heyhouses Link to enable him to examine the relationship between that proposal and the appeal proposals. The Secretary of State considers that this factor amounts to a material change in circumstances and constitutes new evidence that was not available to the inquiry into the appeal."

So he's going to hear evidence about both at a re-opened single inquiry.

In particular he wants to examine the situation with housing numbers in Fylde and the impact of both the Cala Homes decisions, and whether the Queensway development would be consistent with the Government's Planning Policy No 3 "Housing"

In relation to the Heyhouses link road he wants to look especially at the situation with the green belt.

And in relation to both, he wants to look at whether the road or Queensway justify having large payments made for 'infrastructure'. He also wants to look at the environmental and wildlife matters again, so the effects of both the development and the road are evaluated in combination.

As yet no date has been set for the inquiry, but we would guess it will be the autumn or winter.

Dated:   8 September 2010 July 2011 (Apologies for the typo cb)


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