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Queensway Second Inquiry Due Soon

Queensway Second Inquiry Due SoonIn 'Queensway: Pre-Public Inquiry Mk 2' we reported the preparations for the holding of a second public inquiry into Kensington's plans for 1,150 or so homes on land off the Queensway.

We're now approaching the date for that second inquiry which starts on 10 January at Lowther Pavilion, Lytham.

Readers will remember that two years ago, there was an inquiry at the Bedford Hotel into the Queensway scheme.

We've covered the issues that have taken place since then with the Cala Homes decisions on Judicial reviews and The Secretary of State subsequently withdrawing his argument's against the High Court claim by Kensington

Well, now he has to 'redetermine' or reconsider the opinion he came to two years ago, and to decide once again whether to allow Kensington to build on Queensway or not.

This time is a bit different however, because as well as Fylde opposing Kensington's plans, Lancashire County Council is party to the Inquiry (because LCC applied to themselves for permission to build a new road across Lytham Moss after the previous Inquiry closed).

Actually, that's a bit of a misnomer. The application was in Lancashire's name, but as ace sleuth Elizabeth Broughton from the Gazette showed in a recent article - most of the cost of hiring experts and consultants and preparing the case and the documentation for the inquiry has actually been met by Kensington - so we think it's a Kensington application in all but name.

Interestingly, this tussle will pit Fylde Council (who want the road but not if it means they have to have the housing to get it) against the County Council (who want the road and think the houses are a relatively small price to pay for it).

We understand QED will not be present as a Rule 6 party at the Inquiry this time, but they have made written submissions both to Government and to the Inquiry.

As a result of not being represented in person at the Inquiry, we imagine that on the first day, quite a few members of the public will want to turn up and have their say and make their views known to the inspector.

We did hear that QED might be holding a meeting in the first week of (and it may be on 4th January) to brief anyone that might want to speak about how the inquiry works.

So if any of our readers would like to speak at the Inquiry and would like to talk to QED about it first, you can email the group at info@queensway.org.uk

We're pretty sure you'd get a warm welcome.

In preparing for the Inquiry, Kensington have gone into overdrive with a huge public consultation.

They've had members of staff out in the Square and near supermarkets and estate agents and schools.

We heard they've also been on the streets in Kirkham and Blackpool, asking people to sign a petition of support for the scheme.

Some folk that have contacted us have said it was not made clear to them that they would be signing FOR the housing scheme (as well as the road), and some told us they thought they had signed AGAINST the housing when they signed the form.

We also had a reader tell us that people were being sent letters with reply paid envelopes to Kensington rather than to the Planning Inspectorate seeking support by letter. We imagine the idea is that when they receive the replies, Kensington will forward all the letters on to the Planning Inspectorate in one impressive bundle.

Another reader emailed to say Kensington had been ringing people who'd bought houses from them on Lytham Quays to ask if they would contact their friends and ask them to write a letter of support for the Queensway scheme.

Yes really!

We know some people who've been approached several times in the past few weeks, so with that sort of coverage, we think they will probably generate an impressive number of signatures.

There are upwards of 70,000 residents in Fylde, and on a shopping day - and especially at weekends, visitors will swell the resident population by maybe a multiple of up to four in the town centre. So they've had a huge pool to go at.

That said, the process to collect the signatures came in for a bit of stick at a St Annes Town Council meeting recently where all the Councillors had seen the pollsters or been approached in the street themselves, and most seemed to be concerned that it was not being made clear exactly what was involved when people were being asked to sign the petition.

There seemed to us to be a general chorus of disapproval when the first councillor said they had been approached. It was Oh yes, they approached me when I was shopping as well!

You can tell this is not a popular scheme locally. It's actually hard to find people (except those who are in, or those who support the building trade) who are actually in favour of it.

But that said, Kensington's valiant efforts to garner support using the road as a benefit might well see them produce impressive numbers in support.

Whether the Inspector and St Eric make much of their effort is an unknown at this stage.

We heard one really amusing story that went something like this.  A man (who lives near to where the development would be constructed) was shopping in St Annes Square shopping in early November when he noticed a chap with a clipboard, wearing a yellow fleece coat. This chap was stopping people to ask them to sign papers with their signature and address.

Whilst he was speaking to a man and his wife, he overheard the pollster mention the Queensway development, and more so about the link road.

The husband signed his name and address.

His wife then asked the pollster who he was, to which he told her that he worked for Kensington developments. Once she heard the name, she took the petition, crossed out her husbands signature, and then on reflection, took the papers from him and ripped them up in front of him.

We'd really like to meet the lady and thank her for being so public spirited! She did what many in St Annes would have wanted to do.

So what's the prognosis for the Inquiry?

Well, a few circumstances have changed since last time the matter was considered. They include:

  • A few of the houses have been removed from the scheme (maybe a hundred or so)
  • The roads now need their own floodzone compensation areas - where floodwater displaced by the embankments needed to put the roads above the flooding level will themselves displace floodwater at existing ground level, so a new 'home' has to be found for that displaced flood water.
  • There are changes to the area of agricultural land that will be lost.
  • There is a new area of land where the excavations that arise from creating the new floodzone areas will have to be dumped.
  • Fylde is almost ready to announce it's own housbuilding target - the number of houses it thinks it will need for the future.
  • The Moss road is now, in effect, part of the application - or at least part of the Inquiry hearing.
  • The Localism Bill is now the Localism Act (we'll be doing an article on that shortly), but much of it still needs the issue of 'Regulations' by the Rt Hon Saint Eric Pickles so it's implementation is somewhat phased. That said, the weight that then Planning Inspector will attach to it has increased dramatically. Readers will remember that it was the Regional Strategy housing targets from the previous Government that Kensington placed so much store on, and that one of the main purposes of St Eric's localism Act was to abolish both those housing targets and the Regional Strategies that spawned them.

As an aside at this point, this is why Kensington are going all out to try and show there is widespread community support for their scheme of course - the Localism Act gives more weight to the views of the community, so they're undoubtedly going to claim they have 10,000 or 20,000 (or however many they collected) expressions of support.

This is the same logic that was used (but in reverse so to speak) at the recent Victoria Pub planning application where members of the public turned up at the meeting in force and spoke against the scheme. Fylde's Development Management Committee responded magnificently. They voted overwhelmingly against the scheme with just two abstentions and no votes at all for it.

The Committee used 'community concern' as a main justification for refusing the application that would destroy yet another of St Annes buildings of heritage importance and the streetscene.

Prior to St Eric's Localism Act the 'views of the community' as a factor to be weighed and considered wouldn't have been given any weight at all. Only technical planning arguments were considered valid, but now thanks to St Eric, the position has been re-balanced somewhat.

We think you can expect to see developers collecting signatures much more in the future. But given the prospect for, ahem, shall we say 'adjusting' the results we suspect we will eventually see rules or guidelines issued on how support must be sought and how signatures and letters must be dealt with. It may be that it falls to Councils undertake the surveys (albeit paid for by developers), to be sure of getting an accurate result.

It won't be difficult for our readers to imagine that a company less reputable than Kensington who has asked people to send them letters of support that they themselves can then forward on to an Inquiry, opens an opportunity when they receive the letters to filter out any that don't support their scheme, or maybe even to add letters in that they have had written for them, and so on.

So there are new some issues to be tested and weighed in the balance of pros and cons for the scheme.

We'll be there on the first day to bring readers a report of events as the Inquiry opens, but we won't be able to do a day-by-day account this time. We will be dropping in and out as the Inquiry takes place so we hope to bring you start and finish reports.

As to the outcome? Well our own view is that nothing that has changed is sufficient for St Eric to change his view from last time. Yes there are some things that make the development more plausible, but there are others that offset this, and we think if anything, the balance remains the same as before, or slightly less in favour of development.

But of course, only time, the Inquiry, the Inspector's recommendations, and the Rt Hon Saint Eric Pickles final decision - Oh, and of course the views of the local community, will determine the matter.

Dated:  18 December 2011


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