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Road Block

Road BlockIt might be time for the County Council to get itself a new planner, because the present one seems to be getting things wrong.

At least he is getting it wrong about the road that LCC's officers want to drive across Lytham Moss.

Readers will know that counterbalance has some distinct worries about this road that's proposed to go from Cypress Point to the Cropper Manor roundabout.

People originally thought it was going to be built as part of the Cypress Point development, but Kensington couldn't get ownership of the land they needed for the first part of the road and the compulsory purchase process was taking a great deal of time (measured in years) because some landowners were abroad and most didn't want co-operate, so eventually Kensington was let off from building the first part of it at that time.

LCC have said for years that the road isn't a big enough priority for them to build it themselves with public funds, and it would only get built if a developer or someone like that paid for it.

Then along came Kensington with a plan to build 1,100 houses. Fylde refused them. Kensington appealed to the Secretary of State, but there was no planning permission in place for the road across the Moss.

The road used to have a planning permission, but the County allowed that to lapse without renewing it. So there was not even a planning application in place when the Queensway Inquiry took place in November 2009

Kensington's appeal to build Queensway was rejected by the Rt Hon St Eric Pickles MP.   Part of his reasoning for doing that was that there was no planning application in place for the road, (and it wasn't part of Kensington's application to build the road)

In Snippets February 2009 we said "Despite protestations that they would not fund the planning application for the link road to be resubmitted unless they were awarded planning permission for the 1,150 houses on Queensway (a quite disgraceful attempted threat), we hear that the County and Kensington seem to have resolved their differences because staff at County Hall are working up to the planning application for the road."

Then in Roads to Riches? - or Ruin? in May 2009, we set out what we saw as the pros and cons for a road that almost everyone except us assumed is needed and desirable.

And in Snippets - February 2010 we said that LCC's officers had agreed to vary the route of the road so it snaked into the land Kensington owns, and that would worsen road safety, but avoid compulsory purchase problems and, at the same time, it would put a big roundabout in to service the Queensway Development Kensington want to make a lot of money out of.

We have said for some time we're very doubtful about the road. We think it is a bad move to have all the traffic - including HGV's from the Motorway - arriving at Cypress Point and having to filter along residential roads (past houses that suffer from subsidence) to find town centres.

St Annes was clearly designed to be serviced from the good wide road that is Clifton Drive - which is big enough to take HGVs. (Well it was a good wide spacious road before the stupid County Council decided to ruin the whole principle of its openness with unnecessary buildouts and bollards)

But we think bringing traffic in at the back of Lytham St Anne's is not a good idea. Smithy Lane and Kilnhouse Lane, and St Annes Road East , and not forgetting Blackpool Road / Church Road over skew bridge (which are the roads the lorries are likely to use) are not exactly ideal for euro-juggernauts.

However, by November 2010 the County Council had worked up new plans for the road, and thought it had everything it needed to apply to itself for planning permission.

Yes really, dear readers, that's how it works. One department of LCC applies for planning permission from another department of LCC to build the road.

Then officers from both sides spend a lot of time preparing plans and surveys and studies and traffic counts and the like, and arguing with each other, before it goes to County Councillors who decide whether to give themselves permission or not.

Only this time it was a bit different.

This time, Kensington paid for most of the studies and consultants and surveys that Lancashire County Council used in its planning application to itself for the Moss Road.

The first date to decide the application was set for 17th November but shortly before that, as a result of objections received, it became clear that the (LCC) applicant hadn't provided enough information to the (LCC) planners, and the item was withdrawn from that Committee and rescheduled for January - by which time further information would have to be provided.

As the date in January approached, it became clear that so much extra information had been provided that the County Council would have to re-open consultation on all the new data that had come in. But they didn't publish it all on their website so people could access it, and they only paid lip service to the consultation anyway.

Roll on St Eric's Localism Bill - it can't come soon enough.

But eventually, the new information was advertised again, and a further date set to consider the application. But before that could happen a really big problem dropped on their desks.

The floodzone.

The road was being built through an area that floods when the water from upstream in Blackpool can't get into the sea quickly enough, and much of Lytham Moss then becomes underwater. A significant part of the road was in floodzone 3 (the worst sort of flooding area) and because it was such a big area of land, and because the hard surface of the road would concentrate the water into drains much quicker than when it fell onto farmland, it would make the flooding worse, and might push water into housing areas that are already in trouble when the land floods.

So they needed to find somewhere to put the water that rained the road itself, and somewhere for the floodwater that the footprint of road itself would displace in the floodzone. This is needed because the road was going to be built-up on embankments which have quite a wide base, and the road needs to be above the flooding level.

By now, we think any sensible person would have said 'OK. this is more trouble than its worth. Time to jack it in'.

But not the County Council.

They pressed on regardless. They designed a man-made flood plain of 27 hectares in extent.

That won't mean a lot to our readers who work in old money, but its well over 50 acres and probably equivalent to a flood zone of around 38 premier league sized football pitches.

To do that, they were planning to scrape the topsoil off this area of several fields to a depth of up to two feet (probably around one foot deep we understand), and to spread that nearer to existing houses, but on an area about a quarter of the size of the excavated area, (so it would likely be four times as thick - and thus raise the existing ground level on that field - we think by around four feet).

They said this arisings area, and the newly created flood zones, wouldn't cause a problem for anyone.

Yeah right!

They omitted to mention that some of their new sacrificial flooding areas would be under the proposed school football pitches and public open space that was planned as part of the school and recreational facilities of the Kensington development - or even that some of the floodzone had been placed under the housing areas on the development that they said had to be built to pay for the road they want!

Maybe they planned to have water polo rather than football as a school sport.

That lunacy gives you some idea of the incompetence that is running free in the corridors of County Hall's planning department at the moment.

We alerted readers to some of these issues in Snippets February 2011 as soon as they came to light and urged people to make representations.

But the even bigger lunacy is that LCC didn't properly alert, let alone consult, with the public living nearby, on this enormous and fundamental change to the plans.

They must have no understanding of the value of consultation. They cannot see that there are people out here in real life, people like the QED group who were a 'Rule Six' party at the Queensway public inquiry who can give sensible cogent technical and local information on such matters. That's what consultation is for: to get all the relevant input into the scheme so you get the best results. But not for LCC who don't want to have to sully their hands with what the plebeians have to say about it.

If you have an hour on your hands you can see what we think looks remarkably like arrogance as LCC's planner Mr Perigo presents his report to the County Council's Development Control Committee. For as long as LCC leaves it online, you can follow this link and watch a webcast archive of their meeting to decide the application. (If anyone subsequently wants a copy we may be able to help locate one if you contact us).

The lead officer's style is casually dismissive of the objections made by individuals and community groups.

He acts as an advocate on behalf of the scheme, not as an impartial officer putting the pros and cons of the scheme for members to make up their own minds.

You can see this for yourself in the webcast. He has made his mind up it should be approved, and he is finding justifications in the evidence he has assembled to support that decision. He does not give equal emphasis to the arguments against the application.

They're professional officers, and they know best.

Well they don't.

And that statement has just been proved correct by none other than our own St Eric.

We did hear that representations were made to Mr Perigo right up to the last minute (on the day before the application was being heard) to explain to him that it was necessary for him to undertake a proper public consultation (which he had not done), and that he should have sent the documents on this matter to St Eric because it constituted "inappropriate" development in the green belt. (This is actually a technical definition).

But he was having none of it.

At the meeting he said he thought approving the application would "address one of the concerns expressed by the Secretary of State when dismissing the appeal" (by that he means it will take away one of the reasons St Eric used when he refused the Queensway housing application). We thought that sounded like a very pro-Kensington stance that had been wrapped up as helping St Eric to overcome a problem.

He also said "I do not think it inappropriate to establish the acceptability of the road in advance of the Secretary of State determining the application for the Queensway Development, or to include the roundabout within the proposal given the inter-dependence of the road and the Queensway development"

(In ordinary language, that means he doesn't care if it helps the Queensway housing application to be approved. And in less than ordinary language, it says 'Stuff you St Eric'

Crucially, he went on to say "It has been suggested that the application should be referred to the Secretary of State in view of the impacts it would have on the flood risk area, and on the green belt. However the Environment Agency are satisfied with the proposed flood mitigation measures, and the proposal would not have any significant impacts on the openness of the Green Belt, and the marginal impacts it would have are outweighed by the benefits the completion of the link would deliver"

We think he will live to regret saying that.

One thing we did notice was that the LCC meeting to hear this application had been pushed in as an extra-ordinary meeting - outside the scheduled sequence of their planning meetings. We also heard that apart from paying for most of the studies and consultants reports for the road, Kensington had been pushing like mad to get the matter decided quickly.

The extra-ordinary meeting of LCC's planning Committee to consider the road application was held on 11th March, and the closing date for submissions to be included in St Eric's re-consideration of the planning appeal on the Queensway scheme itself was15th March.

You don't have to be a genius to see what's going on there do you?

Readers will note that if the planning application was approved, it would have allowed Kensington to send a submission to St Eric saying in effect 'We've got permission for the road now so you can't use that against us any more'. And that would have removed a main plank of the argument that St Eric had previously used to refuse the Queensway application.

So if LCC's Councillors could be 'persuaded' to give the road planning permission, it would make it more difficult for St Eric to refuse the housing, as he is now about to re-consider Kensington's appeal.

Mr Perigo did his best to sell the scheme to the Councillors on the committee.

Three of the four Fylde Councillors on LCC's Development Control Committee all saw through it of course.

Cllrs Henshaw, Hayhurst and Winlow all spoke up to say whilst they supported the road, they knew that people in Lytham St Annes did not support the 1,000 houses at Queensway to provide it.

Cllr Henshaw put it extremely succinctly. "They want the link road but they don't want Kensington's development. If they had a choice of both or nothing, they would prefer nothing."

Absolutely spot on.

(Except there are a few of us that don't even think the road is that good an idea anyway).

Cllr Winlow proposed a deferment of the decision saying that the Queensway appeal should be decided first. He was seconded in this by Cllr Paul Hayhurst.

And all three voted for deferment, but were outvoted by the remainder of the Committee, so the planning application for the road was granted.

Or at least that what they thought had happened.

But a week or so later, a letter arrived with Mr Perigo from the Department of Communities and Local Government (Yes, dear reader, that's St Eric's lot).

Ray Colbourne, who St Eric has authorised to sign for him in this matter said "the Secretary of State hereby directs... [note here that he says 'directs', not 'asks', or 'requests'] ....directs your Council not to grant permission on this application without specific authorisation.... This direction is issued to enable him [St Eric] to consider whether he should direct under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that the application should be referred to him for determination."

What that means is in effect "Oh no you don't. We're going to have a look at this to see if we need to make this decision ourselves, and if we do, we will take the decision out of your hands."

He also told Mr Perigo to send all the papers, plans and documentation to him, together with the results of what consultations they had undertaken - if they hadn't already done so.

Now where will he have heard that suggestion before?

In less than popular language, that says "Stuff you Mr Perigo"

We think this is an arrogant officer with egg all over his face, and if the judgement he has displayed in this matter is typical, it's time he considered his position at Lancashire.

We also believe this application has been framed far too close to suit Kensington's needs to be healthy, and that the public has not been treated with respect for the views they advanced, and for the genuine concerns that many feared this development would have on their lives.

Exceptionally, given what we saw from the planning side of LCC, we did see another officer intervene on the webcast. We assume he was from the Chief Executive's department or whatever the County equivalent is called now.

When one of the County Councillors said in effect 'well there couldn't be many people who opposed the scheme because no-one had turned up at they meeting to speak against it' he was very quickly reminded by LCC's Ian Blinkho that people who wrote had made perfectly valid representations, and the fact that they were not at the meeting in person was irrelevant. Otherwise it would send out the message that the only representations that had any weight were the ones that people made in person, and that was definitely not the case.

We congratulate Mr Blinkho on the accuracy of his intervention and on his willingness to do so.

But excepting for him and those of his colleagues who are of like mind, we suspect that the County Council is going to have to make an awful lot of adjustment when St Eric's Localism Bill becomes law.

Dated:   11 April 2011


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