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Enterprise Zone

Enterprise ZoneOn Wednesday last, Fylde's Cabinet received a report from officers Paul Walker (Director of Development Services) and Paul Drinnan (Head of Regeneration and Tourism) about the Enterprise Zone at Warton and Samlesbury.

This is going to be a big issue in Fylde, so we're starting at the beginning.

A while ago, the Government invited bids for the creation of Enterprise Zones up and down the country.

In our part of the world, there was still a lot of civic testosterone flowing around the newly created Unitary Authorities in Blackpool and Blackburn and, like well developed adolescents in any family, they thought they knew best.

Lancashire County, the patriarch that was used to being in charge of everything above Borough level, still hadn't adjusted to the fact that they had fledged the nest, and was struggling to treat them on equal terms.

With this sort of atmosphere prevailing out of sight, you can imagine the jostling for position that was going on behind the scenes, and our readers can probably imagine how difficult it would be to reach agreement about the relative merits of one area in need of economic regeneration against another. Especially when everyone thought they had the best case.

So when a bid for Enterprise Zone status with - what we at least thought, was - a relatively unstable proposal, was cobbled together at short notice and sent to Government, it was no great surprise to us that Government didn't think 'Lancashire's' bid was the best thing since sliced bread. And thus Lancashire was not chosen as one of the areas to benefit from an Enterprise Zone.

We say 'benefit' here with a bit of a caveat.

We've never been that great a fan of things like enterprise zones. We think that, like setting targets in the workplace, they tend to skew people's attitudes away from broad and long-term, sensible visions towards short term gains and quick fix results. We've seen them attract rate-tart companies in the past - companies that are attracted to your area by low or free business rates and easy planning, and who then up-sticks and move on  to the next Enterprise Zone to be created when the benefit period on the one they're in, runs out, (and dumping local employees in the process).

We're also a bit iffy about the underlying logic (which is usually to do with relaxed planning rules and cheaper business rates). It seems to us that if the planning and rating environment is not sufficiently conducive to enterprise, and to make it so, you have to change the system, then maybe the system should be universally changed, rather than just being changed in selected geographic locations.

And the principle behind the idea does fly in the face of the localism agenda, doesn't it?

That said, from Government's perspective, we can see undoubted benefits to declaring such zones in places where there is a sudden and unexpected rundown in an established industry - such as the mining areas of south Wales, or the industrial shipbuilding areas around the Tyne.

So arguably, given the uncertain prospects for BAE in the future, and the view - no doubt held by many - that, like other benefits, if it's available, and somebody's going to get it, I'll have a bit of that myself please, we can see a rationale for applying this status to the aerospace sites.

So we're probably ambivalent about the idea overall.

When the original Lancashire bid wasn't accepted, we heard that Fylde's MP Mark Menzies went to work very hard on behalf of this area.

Whilst clearly, other people were involved, we've no doubt he was the driving force that first persuaded the Minister to look at a new bid, and subsequently the cause of senior bods from the main councils being invited to Westminster for a banging together of heads by Rt Hon St Eric Pickles who, we understand, told them in plain language to get themselves sorted and put a new and more sensible bid together.

That happened. We heard there were two areas shorlisted. One was the industrial part of Blackpool Airport, and the other was Warton and Samlesbury.

In the end the Warton and Samlesbury bid has succeeded.

So what is an Enterprise Zone?

We probably can't do better than quote the Rt Hon St Eric Pickles' own advice:

"The new generation Enterprise Zones reflect the Government's core belief that economic growth and job creation should be led by the private sector. At the heart of these new Enterprise Zones is a desire to remove barriers to private sector growth through reduced burdens for businesses, particularly in terms of lower tax levels, planning and other regulatory and administrative burdens."

and

"All Enterprise Zones will benefit from;

  • A business rate discount worth up to £275,000 per business over a five year period
  • All business rates growth within the zone for a period of at least 25 years will be retained by the local area, to support the Partnership's economic priorities and ensure that Enterprise Zone growth is reinvested locally
  • Government help to develop radically simplified planning approaches for the zone using, for example, existing Local Development Order powers
  • Government support to ensure that superfast broadband is rolled out throughout the zone, achieved through guaranteeing the most supportive regulatory environment and, if necessary, public funding."

and

"Local authorities already have the power to make Local Development Orders. There are four main stages involved - drafting the Local Development Order document itself, public consultation, notifying the Secretary of State, and adoption. Establishing an Local Development Order can be a swift process - from start to finish the process could take as little as two months."

We understand Local Development Orders usually have a finite life - say from 2012 to 2020 or whatever, and that once development has started under the provision of the Local Development Order it is allowed to finish, even if that takes until after the expiry of the Order.

It might, for example, allow for simple things like recladding of a building’s exterior, or replacement of doors and windows or the installation of new windows and doors/doorways or the installation of solar panels

But it could also allow new buildings to be to be provided for, say research and development of products or processes, or for industrial process, or the use of land for open storage. It all depends what is written into the Local Development Order


So what's Fylde doing about the Warton one?


The agenda report to Cabinet set out quite bit about the process.

As might be expected, the key aspects were to do with retaining commercial rate income to benefit the zone, and the creation of a Local Development Order which 'simplifies' the planning process. This is intentional logic, and common to all Enterprise Zones.

The officers at Cabinet explained that 'our' zone covered the footprint of the (Samlesbury and) Warton site(s).

So far as Warton was concerned, it had three sub-zones. The first, north of the runway, will be dealt with first (now). The other two would be later.

The project will be managed by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, and they are a wholly owned company (limited by guarantee) of Lancashire County Council, comprising 16 Directors with 11 from the private sector. Follow this link for a list of the current Directors (pdf file)

The partnership seems to have evolved from a report by Professor Michael Parkinson of Liverpool John Moores University who has developed a set of strategic economic priorities for the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership.

The Partnership's remit is much wider than the Enterprise Zone. In fact, our own (somewhat jaundiced - but then we often struggle with what is termed 'Strategic Planning') take on Prof Parkinson's report is that it feeds LCC's long term megalomania to re-establish and re-brand Lancashire in its own economic image.

So far as the Enterprise Zone itself is concerned, there is only one paragraph, right at the end of the document, and it looks as thought it has been tagged on as an afterthought.

It says: "There is a strong desire in public and private sectors to make the LEP work and get on and improve Lancashire's economic performance and prospects, and the LEP must build upon the Government's recent announcement to award Lancashire Enterprise Zone status. The LEP provides a key opportunity and vehicle for creating the right conditions for private investment which Lancashire leaders simply must grasp. There is a toolkit of measures and resources which the LEP could access and public sector partners must align their investment with its key priorities and projects. The LEP has a crucial role in encouraging high level debate and reaching long term consensus about economic priorities, consolidating private and public sector expertise and partnership working and developing viable business propositions for its partners to deliver. Most crucial, the LEP must get on and do things. Then people will come to know its works - and support it."

Back to the FBC Cabinet meeting last Wednesday, Fylde's officers said the main idea - the simplified planning zone created by the Local Development Order (LDO) - is very important to get right.

In essence you pre-specify in the LDO document what is, and what is not, acceptable in planning terms, and Fylde then has no further involvement on planning.

Broadly speaking once the LDO is in place, businesses can undertake developments within its preset parameters, without needing to apply for any planning permission (although normally building regulations permission still applies).

Mr Drinnan said he was spending time walking the site now to see what requirements needed to be incorporated into the LDO, and what, and where, development would/should be allowed. He mentioned he was considering things like the heights of buildings, proximity between buildings, traffic matters and so on.

He also said South Ribble and Ribble Valley councils were involved (we presume that's the Samlesbury site which, if memory serves, straddles their boundary), and he said Fylde "will be expected to fall in with other councils on the LDO" (which sounds to us as though others are making the running, or at least, he's saying they are, in order to reduce the involvement of Fylde's members in preparing their own LDO)

But what we thought was very worrying was the timetabling.

The officers had put a paper round to Cabinet with a flowchart and dates (by doing this they excluded it from the agenda and it was not made available to the public gallery). They said once the LDO was in place, there would be a 28 day consultation process.

It seemed to us their plan was to send consultation letters to adjoining or nearby residents and they would have to be very carefully worded letters.

It wasn't clear at this point whether they were *only* going to consult by letter and to restrict such letters to neighbouring property.

Planning Portfolio Holder Cllr Trevor Fiddler said

  • Lancashire was an afterthought.
  • They came to the process late.
  • Fylde was being shoehorned into a very tight timetable
  • He was concerned about the timetable and consultation.

The officer said:

  • They wanted to be ready for consultation by 27 January.
  • Consultation would start on 30 Jan for four weeks and close on 27 Feb.
  • After that, officers would have 2 days to "turn around the comments" (We don't know exactly what that means, but if the tone we picked up was right (which it may not be, of course) it might mean - well, we'll have to summarise them before we ignore them).
  • They wouldn't be able to get their final report to the Council meeting of 1 March - there would not be enough time. So they would ask for a special Council meeting probably a week or so later around 7th March.

He said they had enough resources to do the Warton Zone 1 'in-house', but zones 2 and 3 (later) would need to be looked at for the financial aspects of additional manpower resources.

There was quite some discussion as to whether there should be a public meeting about the LDO or not. The officers seemed not to want it, but some members (notably Princess Karen Buckley, to our slight, but pleasant, surprise) said they thought there should be one. FBC's minutes of the meeting record Mr Walker as saying "...appropriate arrangements would be made if there was a demand to hold one." (note the escape clause that's quietly been slid in there). But we think the Council members will cause the 'demand' he seems to need to be able to hold a Public Meeting.

Cllr Tommy Threlfall said they needed to be very careful, and the timeframe worried him. He was sad to see something as important as this being done so quickly.

Trevor Fiddler also said public worries may be unfounded, because this development is on the northern side of the site which is already well developed.

We thought the process sounded awfully like the disastrous inception of the Growth Point Bid scheme of a few years back, when officers piled in at the last minute and convinced Cabinet members (notably Roger Small and John Coombes) to get into bed with Blackpool as a matter of urgency - only to find that Fylde was being regarded as 'signature fodder' in what rapidly became a Blackpool-driven scheme until Fylde's more sensible members saw the problem and, thankfully, extricated us from it.

We understand the need for urgency on this. Future employment prospects are important. But we don't believe that should compromise proper consultation and proper consideration.

So, like Cllr Fiddler and Cllr Threlfall we're already worried about the way this scheme is being rushed through.

The next bit of news made it even worse.

The officers said that usually they would have expected the proposed Local Development Order to be considered by the Development Management Committee (i.e. the former "Planning" committee), but there would not be time to do that, and they asked the Cabinet to agree that the approval of the LDO could be delegated to the officers in consultation Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development, and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Development Management Committee.

And this is what Cabinet has agreed to.

We have a fundamental problem with it.

It should absolutely be considered by the full DM Committee. Unlike their Chairman, the Committee has years of collective experience of planning decisions, and their meetings are public, which would allow for some proper democratic input into the content of the LDO itself (as opposed to comments on it when it is already approved). The whole of the DMC should put their collective brains into gear to ensure what the officers are proposing in the LDO is satisfactory.

This has added weight when you consider that officers in Fylde's Planning department have recently shown themselves to be wanting in terms of what the public of this area want and expect of them - both in terms of planning matters, and in terms of openness and transparency - (Queensway and Pontins being recent examples).

Admittedly, the decision will go to full Council for approval, but there won't be time there to debate the detailed pros and cons of planning conditions and requirements, so we believe it MUST go to Development Management Committee

To achieve this, now the Cabinet has made its decision to delegate, will require this aspect of the Cabinet's decision to be called-in and considered by Scrutiny.

Far too little account in this matter is being taken of the right of the public to have input into the decisions made in their name. Once the planning parameters are set into the LDO, and it is approved on delegated authority, it can't be changed.

Bear in mind here that the last time someone asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning to approve an Individual member Decision, he freely admitted that he hadn't read any of the documents about it. He said it was something that conformed with Conservative Party Policy so he would sign it, and he admitted that he signed it without really knowing what he was signing.

That's what sparked the Scandal of Melton Grove, of course.

This matter is equally important in its effect on the residents of Warton, and it shouldn't be allowed to be signed off without proper scrutiny by the Councillors we elect to manage our planning service.

One endnote: We were also surprised to find that Wyre BC has a Director on the partnership, whilst Fylde (in whose borough the Warton site lies) has no representative on it at all. That's probably something that needs to be changed as well.

Fylde Cabinet's decisions were:

  1. To support the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership Zone submission document for the BAe Warton site.
  2. To support work on the preparation of the initial Local Development Order covering part of the BAE Warton site to assist in the delivery of the Enterprise Zone.
  3. To delegate to the Director of Development Services authority to agree the draft of the Local Development Order for Warton subject to consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Development Management Committee.
  4. To make appropriate arrangements to hold a Special Council meeting at the conclusion of the consultation process.

Whether there will be a call-in, we don't know. Some will see a balance to be struck between urgency and proper governance.

We say (especially after Melton Grove), there's no contest. The reason why Fylde exists is to provide proper governance.

But we're not holding our breath.

Dated:   23 January 2012


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