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Snippets February 2011

Snippets February 2011CALA HOMELESS --- BREAKING NEWS
It's been announced today that St Eric has seen off the challenge that Cala Homes made to his view that the proposed abolition of Regional Strategies can, and indeed should, be taken into account when making planning decisions.

The High Court has today confirmed that the intended scrapping of Regional Strategies is a 'material consideration' which can be considered by local planning authorities and planning inspectors when making decisions.

St Eric's Planning Minister - Bob Neill said: "We are determined to return decision-making powers to communities and provide powerful incentives so people can see the benefits of building more homes, and the Bill will help achieve this. This judgment makes it clear that planners can take into account the Government's intention to do away with Regional Strategies. The Coalition Government made a firm pledge to sweep away these controversial strategies that have proved that top-down targets do not build homes. All they have produced is the lowest peacetime house building rates since 1924 and fuelled resentment in the planning process that has slowed everything down."

This will make it harder for developers to use the former RSS numbers to browbeat councils and inspectors into overriding local policies - especially those to protect the green land that is so often under threat because it is cheaper to develop.

It's excellent news for the people of Fylde.

It's understood Cala Homes intend to appeal against the decision, but as yet, we don't know if they have been granted leave to do that. Either way we understand it's quite a long process.

This is even better new for Fylde if they do, because it means that bully-boy developers and their less able friends will not only find it harder to get their own way, but the appeal will drag on toward the date of Royal Assent of the Localism Bill, and as each day passes, the impact of that waxes in strength.

It also means the Queensway and Wesham sites (for example) could have their decisions delayed until the Cala homes appeal runs its course.

Whilst court judgements can occasionally surprise, this one has come up as predicted. We thought there was never going to be much doubt about this one. Until it is abolished, the RSS must be taken into consideration, but the weight that must now be attached to it has now been shown to be considerably less.

So planners and inspectors will note what the RSS said, but might now choose to do little about it.

We hear there are plans about to come forward for a huge housing development at Whyndyke Farm. The wires are hot with gossip, and we're picking up stories about two informal public exhibitions. We understand one will be at the 'Outside Inn' near B&Q at Whitehills probably on 8th March February (today!!) and the other will be at Blackpool FC at a date yet to be arranged.

This could be the most important development in Fylde for many a year, and it could turn into a really 'good thing' for Fylde.

We'll bring our readers more when we can.

Mark Menzies and Michael Jack. Freedom of FyldeMost readers will probably already know that Michael Jack, our former MP was honoured with the Freedom of the Borough of Fylde recently, but we couldn't let the event pass without a mention. We have a lot of time for Michael Jack. He was his own man and a very able MP (as we set out in 'Michael Jack Retires'.) We went along to the presentation and saw he had lost none of his charm or his ability. His thank-you speech was extemporised from the heart, without notes, and hit exactly the right note. We were pleased to be able to get a photograph of him and our new MP Mark Menzies together. We wish both of them well in their respective futures.

Our hero of the moment, St Eric Pickles' decree that Councils should publish all their spending over 500 online for examination by an army of armchair auditors has now taken root at Fylde.

In fact they've been even more generous in the information provided, and appear to have included all spending (and indeed credits) not just that over 500.

Readers can now see the Council's paid invoices during December 2010. The largest sum is 61,227.77 to Clement Dickens & Sons Ltd for 'waste costs', and the smallest is 8.53 to Wyre Borough Council for 'asset management' it's all online and available as [Spending over 500, Fylde Borough Council, 31st January 2011].

However, there's one caveat to our enthusiasm. A notice has been added to the webpage that says that "Information has been excluded from publication where:

  • the information is exempt from publication under the data protection act
  • the information relates to the protection of vulnerable adults or children
  • the information is confidential or would attract an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act e.g. where disclosure could be prejudicial to the commercial interests of any person including the authority"

We're not that comfortable with these exemptions. We believe the information should be published, if necessary with personal names redacted (as was done when MPs expenses were published). There's no excuse for not publishing the actual figures that add up to the sum spent in a year.

What is there is, at least,  downloadable as an excel spreadsheet, a csv file and a pdf file. We'll be having a look at this topic again in more detail shortly.

The word and his wife are up in arms about dog poo. Letters pages of local papers are full of it (so to speak), people are painting circles round it at Fairhaven Lake (or as one wag put it this week, the dogs have pooped into the white circles with incredible accuracy) and Wyre is one step ahead of Fylde in introducing what some dog owners see as Draconian powers to limit dogs and their behaviour on open public areas.

If you track the letters pages back over the years, you'll find this sort of concern is an annual event.

Dog poo builds to a peak (no pun intended) every February, then mostly vanishes as a problem sometime in March. Why? Because that's when the Council's gardening team start to cut the grass again and they get the dog poo splattered all over them from the mowers. But as public servants, they take it as part of the job and get on with it. With grass cut every couple of weeks the problem is then limited to pathways and the complaints die down quite a lot.

But it will be the cause of a memorable year for one Wyre Councillor.

Wyre had a lot of opposition from dog owners as they tried to bring in new dog controls. We understand there were about 40 people in the public gallery making their presence felt (and probably irritating some of the councillors) when Cllr Paul Moon, who is also a Cabinet member, allegedly threw a dog poo bag containing bread toward the public gallery. Seemingly it hit a lady (pensioner we understand) although there are other reports that it landed at her feet. But she didn't know it was filled with bread and thought it was dog poo.

She was, well, not very happy, and has complained.

The upshot (got to be careful with the typing there) was that on Thursday WBC Councillor Moon has resigned from the position of Street Scene Portfolio Holder on Wyre Borough Council's Cabinet.

Councillor Moon has done the decent thing - but we expect there will now be a Standards Committee inquiry into whether he brought the Council into disrepute.

He is expected to continue in his role as a local councillor for Preesall but will lose his Cabinet position and thus most of his 10,200 a year salary for being a Cabinet member.

Perhaps he should have used his loaf.

As we predicted in Tax Con: The Cabinet Speaks, we hear the Cabinet's decision to reject the advice of Fylde's Policy Development Scrutiny Committee and implement it's own (much weaker) decision has now resulted in an official request for the Cabinet's decision to be set aside and referred to the same Policy Development Scrutiny Committee whose advice was ignored.

That could turn out to be a fun meeting if it gets to be held.

Sadly, the power the Committee has to do things is very limited, but they can ask the Cabinet to think again - and now that Leader David Eaves is back from holiday he might be able to bang some heads together for a more sensible decision.

But equally the Scrutiny Committee can send the matter on for the Full Council to consider. We'd put our money on that option to give this a really good airing, but we'll have to wait and see what decisions the Scrutiny Committee makes.

There are stories surfacing - as yet unconfirmed -  about the prospect of St Annes Library becoming a 'self service' operation (whatever that means). We guess it means a reduction in staff, as a cost saving measure.

Lancashire County Council says it needs to make a total of 179.1 million of savings overall. Until more is known about what the specific library plans might be however, it's a bit premature to say a lot - but we're quite worried. Libraries are one of the most important services run by councils.

Like our forests (and that's a cock up that Mr Cameron should have seen coming) they are deeply loved and revered. They're also one of the few services that LCC provides in Fylde for the squillions of tax they take from us each year. We heard a former LCC Leader say the role of Fylde within Lancashire was to contribute its tax revenues to LCC so the money could be used to support less well off people in East Lancashire.

That idea seems to be working quite well given the state of Lytham and St Annes during the snow/ice and the awful condition of the potholed roads.

They will need to tread carefully with the Library plans.

Changes required by Government, and the need to reduce spending, will also impact significantly on the Youth Service.

We understand the savings proposed will see the base budget for the Young People's Service falling to an estimated 11.4 million in 2013/14 from a base budget of 22 million at the outset of this financial year. There are lean times ahead.

We also hear the changes are likely to include reorganising the service to:

  • Target the 13 - 19 age group, and those with the greatest needs
  • Areas of highest deprivation and incidence of need
  • Areas where there is the highest service numbers and the most vulnerable young people

Anything outside these priorities is likely to go.

We think that could mean disproportionately large service reductions in Fylde because it only ranks around 236 out of 354 councils in the league of most deprived places, whilst Burnley, for example, is the 6th most deprived place in the country (Blackburn 9th, Hyndburn 16th Preston 20th, Pendle 29th and so on).  So with that sort of thinking in place there's not going to be much for Fylde.

In future, the main functions within the priorities above will be reorganised around two main functions - Youth Work and Information, and Advice and Guidance.

We also hear that Fylde and Wyre jointly will be one of nine 'Locality Teams' who will run the services locally.

Followers of the Queensway issue will be forgiven for wondering what's going on.   It's all a bit confusing. But briefly, to recap, it goes like this.

Kensington appealed to the (previous) Government that Fylde was taking too long to make a decision on the Queensway scheme. The (previous) Government asked the Panning Inspectorate to hold a Public Inquiry. Fylde did consider the application later, and decided they would have refused it if Kensington had given them the information they had been asking for - which was what caused the delay in the first place.

The inquiry inspector said the appeal should be allowed, but the Government had changed, and the new Minister (St Eric Pickles) said he didn't agree with the planning inspector, and he was going to refuse the decision.

This was partly because St Eric was abolishing the Regional Spatial Strategy that set unreasonable targets for Fylde's house building; partly because the moss road wasn't part of the application and there wasn't even have a planning permission in place for the road; and partly for a range of other local planning reasons.

Since those jubilant days, things have become a bit less good.

Cala Homes successfully challenged St Eric's decision to abolish the Regional Strategies, arguing that he shouldn't have done that without going back for parliamentary approval. St Eric hit back with well, it doesn't matter anyway because we're going to abolish them and that's a material planning consideration

 (ie hint hint, nudge nudge, wink wink, the regional strategies might have to be taken into account, but we can attach no weight to them if we don't want to, because they are about to be abolished anyway).

Cala - with the ever hopeful charm of the Celts, (and more money than sense) said they would challenge that view as well, and have had their case heard in the high court. That decision heads this 'Snippets' article.

Because of what was going on, St Eric decided a while ago not to defend a Judicial Review of his decision to refuse Queensway that Kensington had begun.

This means St Eric's first decision on Queensway was set aside, and he now has to go back and reconsider it and come up with a new decision - probably without using the removal of the RSS as a strong argument. (although now he *can* take account of the intended abolition as a 'material consideration'). That leaves him 'the road' and the other reasons.

We think it's likely he will at some stage decide to call for further evidence to be submitted by those who gave evidence to the Public Inquiry to see if anything has changed and so on.

When that will be, we don't know, but if we were St Eric, we'd probably be taking quite a long time to get round to that case given the weight of other stuff on his desk, and all that extra work he's had to do because of the Cala Homes challenges.

But in the meantime.....

Kensington haven't been letting the grass grow under their feet. They've persuaded Lancashire County Council - who are so short of money that they can't afford to grit or even repair the existing roads properly or to Keep St Annes tip open - to pay for the cost of submitting a new planning application for the Moss Road. We think County Councillors ought to be fixing the existing roads and not closing tips before they start planning on new roads - and as for bleating about cuts when they can afford to throw money into dubious road planning applications, well....

For years, LCC said they wouldn't do that. They would not fund the planning application for the new road. But they have changed their minds and they've now found the money to fund the planning application (Readers should note that's not funding for the road itself, but the few thousands in fees and officer time to prepare the planning application for it)

Readers should also note the interesting and incestuous relationship that LCC has with itself on this application. Their own officers prepare the evidence to support the planning application (plans, designs, landscaping etc). Then they submit that application to themselves. It is then examined by other officers who will advise councillors on whether it is a good plan or not, then the Councillors decide whether to grant permission or not.   Neat little circle innit?

We hear that Kensington have been pushing like mad to get this road application done and dusted, but in the usual way, only half the necessary environmental information was provided, and the planned LCC committee date in January was abandoned, and a new one set for February. That too cannot now be met, and there is yet more information to be provided, so it looks as though it will move to March.

We've not got time or capability to go into all that is happening with the road at present, but it's turning into a disaster of an application.

Because the area that the road will pass through is low lying and in a flood area, the ground is going to be raised up for part of its length. They've now decided this will damage the natural groundwater drainage, so they're planning a huge shallow depression (in four fields altogether) to act as a 'flood compensation area' (That's a Flood Basin to you and I), not far from the end of Wildings Lane,  to cope with the flooding in times of heavy rainfall.

Things like this are being added in and taken out of this application to the extent that hardly anyone knows what the actual plan is any more.

Even the title of the application has changed - it's now called "Construction Of New Highway (Completion of M55 To Heyhouses Link) and Improvements to Existing Highways and Construction of Flood Mitigation Area" The last two concepts having been added in to the original scheme.

Worse, hardly anyone knows about all the changes yet. Certainly not local residents. In these days of openness and transparency (and the fact that this has all been changed after the formal consultation period for the road closed last December) how LCC can allow this to happen is quite beyond us.

We think they should finalise the plans, then start the whole process all over with a new application, new, proper consultations, and so on.

We're on the trail of more information, and will bring it when it when we can. In the meantime you can follow this link to see some of the revised plans  click on the tab marked 'Attachments' when the page comes up.

If you have questions or comments, the contact address for the planners at LCC is devcon@lancashire.gov.uk The planning reference number is 05/10/0779 and the main officer seems to be a Mr Jonathan Haine as far as we can make out.

Dated:  8 February 2011


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