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Not the Wrea To Do It

Not the Wrea to do itIn "Wrea Green Sports Plan" we reported Fylde's consideration and debate of the Haythornthwaite Sports Foundation's plan to create a large Sports Village on the outskirts of Wrea Green.

Detached from reality, and considered in the abstract, the issues the application raises exercise current planning logic in a really interesting way. It forces us to consider What is "a community"? How big are it's boundaries? And to what extent (if at all) should a 'business opportunity' have precedence over the wishes of people living near to a proposed commercial development.

Part of the difficulty here is that ordinary people have not yet adapted to the idea (and it's likely some never will) that 'the State' and 'the Council' are rolling back - (or are being rolled back) - from providing the sort of facilities and services we expect them provide.

We all expect Councils - or perhaps individual, membership-based sports clubs - to cater for the needs of local sportsmen and women.

But that is changing.

A process has commenced which, over future years, will see more and more Councils retreat from service delivery.

We're seeing the early stages of it locally now - Fylde want to wean Lowther Pavilion off subsidised provision and an attempt is being made to make it self funding as a Charitable Trust. Swimming Pools are contracted out as a quasi business opportunity to the YMCA - another charitable organisation. The Miniature Golf Course has been effectively privatised. Lytham Windmill is now operated by a Charitable Trust.

One by one, services that traditionally have been called 'Public Services' are moving into a twilight area of operation as a sort of 'arms length' service, mostly (though perhaps not completely) detached from the control of the Council, (although usually, the asset itself will remain in the ownership of the Council).

Some will see this as not being a bad thing. A cogent and convincing case can be made that it really ought not to matter who provides the service, as long as it is there and available.

But the change to arms-length or privatisation often brings with it an unwelcome change in the ethos of service delivery.

Councils were established in part to assure uniformity of service delivery freed from the pressures of the commercial imperative. Decisions were to be made - not on the basis of what was commercially most attractive - but on what constituted the greatest public good. And thus it came to be, that those who were adversely affected - for example by some development close to their home (say a new bus stop outside their front window, or a waste disposal site) would - whilst still objecting to it - accept that it was at least being provided in the public good, and they were not being exploited for the commercial gain of others.

The needs of the many were generally accepted to outweigh the needs of the few.

This, of course is the logic that underpins why business and local government are such uneasy bedfellows, and why councils can't be run as businesses. Their aims and objectives nearly always differ - and they have different values.

But we are now seeing another manifestation of this change.

That of commercial sport and leisure companies (or of charities that look like businesses) taking over the role of provision and management of sport and leisure. It began with the privatisation / management 'buy-outs' of local authority leisure departments, (Wigan was an early pioneer in the North West)

Now we are seeing private companies and charities instigating new facilities themselves.

Such is the case proposed at Wrea Green.

In the abstract, it represents an interesting new turn in service delivery and, to some extent, in planning.

But this scheme is not being considered in the abstract. Nor is it detached from reality, it is deeply embedded into Wrea Green's reality, and has raised strong feelings on both sides. And these feelings are still deteriorating - to the extent that more or less on the 350th anniversary of the first performance of Punch and Judy, we have another knockabout taking place, but this one is developing into a very unsporting event.

Following the Council's decision to refuse the application, a strongly worded webpage appeared on the AFC Fylde website criticising - in very blunt terms - the council (and the Development Management Committee in particular), and making some statements we thought defamed individual councillors, (and might even have been libellous).

The page was only online for a day or so before being removed.

Wisely we thought.

We did manage to get a copy of the webpage saved before it was taken down, but we don't currently plan to publish it here.

We concluded our "Wrea Green Sports Plan" article by saying: "It now remains to be seen if there is an appeal. Mr Haythornthwaite is not easily discouraged."

True to form, an appeal is being sought.

But more than that was in the air. An impressively glossy multipage leaflet has been circulated in Wrea Green, and it's caused a big stir.

In essence it begins by setting out to refute allegations of not engaging in discussions with the Parish Council.

It goes on to criticise Cllr Frank Andrews for jumping on the bandwagon.

It says the allegation about it being a 'Trojan Horse' application for an eventual retail or fast food plan (complete with accompanying Kentucky Fried Chicken images) is a complete red herring.

(Nice mixing of food imagery, we thought).

It argues the case from the carrot perspective (as we keep the food allusion going a little longer) on the basis of *need* for sporting facilities, (not so much on planning grounds) before getting out the stick, to threaten that if the appeal is not allowed, it could be a lot worse.

The leaflet goes on to say the site is central to the Cuadrilla operations and could be used as a site for the exploration and extraction of Shale Gas or an industrial estate. It takes these threats further, and argues that Fylde is short of both social housing, and is in "desperate need of a permanent home for travellers"

Oh Dear!

We had a copy of the leaflet provided by a friend - and for those who didn't get one, you can follow this link to see it. It's worth a read.

Fylde's Chief Executive Allan Oldfield was clearly very cross.

In a press release he said: I can categorically reassure residents that the Council has not provided any advice, confirmation or support for any of the information published in the leaflet. There has been no advice from any planning officer at Fylde and the council completely dissociates itself from the contents of the leaflet. The leaflet has no validity or credibility as far as the council is concerned. None of the options outlined in the leaflet have any substance and have not been discussed with Fylde planners. This leaflet has caused undue distress to residents and it is unfortunate that the publishers have chosen to peddle this message to the local community...

That's as close as a senior officer gets to 'fighting talk'.

We also heard gossip about the police being informed of the content of the leaflet, but whether that's true or not and whether anything further will come of it if it is, we don't know.

Some Wrea Green residents have also put out their own rebuttal leaflet. Again, one of our readers sent us a copy which you can see in more detail here.

It carries rebuttal quotes from the Chairman of Wrea Green Parish Council, from Cllr Andrews, and from Richard Wilson from the Cricket Club. It includes a stark disagreement from Cuadrilla whose statement says: "Cuadrilla has absolutely no plans to carry out any drilling or hydraulic fracturing near Wrea Green. We have not discussed or considered operating at a site in the Wrea Green area."

So instead of having the effect that (we presume) was intended, the glossy leaflet seems to have hardened opinion against the scheme in an escalating tit-for-tat war of words that shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

You can see how jobs like Bosnia start up so easily can't you?

So the next stage looks to be an appeal.

Perhaps Mr Haythornthwaite will engage a barrister to present his case at appeal. If so, his case might be more cogently presented than it was at the Development Management Committee where he argued that as a decent and successful person he should be allowed to put something back into society.

Whilst such stated laudable aims are to be commended, they don't pass muster as planning policy, and, like it or not, it's planning policy that will determine the decisions at both Development Management Committee, and at any appeal that might take place.

At the start of this article, we pondered - what is "a community", and how big are it's boundaries?

Residents of Wrea Green clearly see their parish boundary as being 'The Community' but Mr Haythornthwaite would have it that the boundaries of Fylde (or an even bigger area) make up what he calls 'The Community.'

So we're watching with interest what happens next.

Certainly it's difficult to see how Mr Haythornthwaite is going to win hearts and minds to his cause whilst following his present path, and in our view (which carries no weight at all of course), the planning arguments in favour of it are weak. So we can't see it happening, but there's always a possibility.

We'll keep readers informed of developments as they arise.

Dated:   16 May 2012


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