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Planning Madness

Planning MadnessOnce upon a time, planning was about as exciting as say, accounting.

It involved long term land zoning and policies that aimed to set the development framework for the next fifty years or so

Now that same planning, and in particular, its housing subset, as viewed from Fylde, is becoming a nightmare.

The most recent example - on Thursday this week - saw 55 houses approved in Wrea Green.  Sadly we couldn't go to the meeting ourselves, but we're told by readers who were present that the Conservatives on the Development Management Committee pushed through the application in a debate lasting four and a half hours, and which was quite bloody in content.

It seems that 'Saving Wrea Green Action Group' (SWAG) put up 10 great speakers. Cllr Frank Andrews also spoke against approval. There were graphic descriptions of sewage problems that caused Chairman Ben Aitken to refer that matter to the officers, but we understand his concerns in this regard were not enough to cause him to vote for refusal.

Independent councillors, led by Cllr Linda Nulty, made strong challenges. We're told Cllr Trevor Fiddler said 'The planning policy with most weight is the 5-year supply' and they 'must accept view of planning officers'. Cllr Oades said: 'planning is a dog's dinner' 'I don't distrust officer's numbers but I want to know and understand the figures'.

There was a move to defer the decision - especially to get more clarity on the housing numbers, to look at the agricultural land grade and so on, but it was to no avail, and deferment was not approved. Two readers have told us that in their view the whip was clearly on - and could be seen in the final result, which was for approval of the application by the 9 Conservatives and against approval by the 7 independents.

Our understanding is that few if any of Fylde's councillors wanted to vote for it, (even amongst those who did vote for it). But they felt compelled to do so because of the comments being made by Government.

So that's another application approved, when local policies, and local people, say it should not have been.

But in what might arguably become the most ridiculous example of planning in Fylde, we think a new decision shortly to be made about housing in Wesham could demonstrate how planning at Fylde is now set to blend political arrogance with public disgrace.

And if that happens, it ought to bring ridicule on all those responsible.

'Planning' should really be about two things, Firstly, in broad terms, it should identify, which areas of a borough might be used for housing, for employment, for leisure and so on, and to show where expansion for any of these aspects should take place - if expansion is needed.

Secondly it is about aesthetics and balancing competing neighbour needs when change is in the air, and ensuring that whatever is constructed is sound, reliable and up to current standards of construction.

One thing planning should *not* be about is party politics. Fylde has a long and commendable tradition of keeping party politics out of planning decisions.

But Fylde's arrangements for planning (and for all we know, the arrangements of lots of other councils) are rapidly becoming a joke.

In the best tradition of a Monty Python sketch - 'Planning' is all getting very silly.

We ask our readers to see if they can make sense of the chains of progression - because we certainly can't.

At the turn of the millennium, Fylde's housing policy was 'failing' according to Government criteria. This was because the Government said Fylde was not paying enough attention to social rented housing. As a relatively affluent, predominantly owner-occupied electorate, the need for social housing had not been high on Fylde's agenda. However, for the Government of the day, housing the disadvantaged had become a central policy aim.

So in 2002, a former Chief Executive embarked on a plan to 'rebalance' Fylde's population and to do so he wanted to create much more social rented ('affordable') housing.

He engaged a company called Fordham to research housing in Fylde.

Using averaged national and local data about wage rates, property prices and the proportion of income that 'ought' to be spent on housing costs, in spring 2003; Fordham calculated that 345 new affordable dwellings per year would be needed in Fylde. They uprated this figure from the census data of 2004 as it became available, and finally concluded that Fylde had a 'need' for 420 extra 'affordable' dwellings per year.

A brilliant analysis and critique of this report was subsequently done by a group at Warton called 'CROWD'. They took the data apart and showed the flaws in it. In a public Inquiry, Fordham admitted the data were only for benchmarking purposes, but the Chief Executive of the day, probably keen to keep the tick in the Government's box, determined to use them as a statement of housing need. (We believe it is actually a statement of need and desire, which is not the same thing at all).

At the public enquiry, Fordham admitted that the practical solution was actually trivial, only between one and ten percent of that figure, i.e. only a maximum of 42 new 'Affordable (subsidised) Houses' were actually needed each year.

At about the same time, the Lancashire County Council's 'Joint Lancashire Structure Plan' (2001 to 2016) showed that Fylde had an annual need for just 155 dwellings of *all types*.

Yet Fordham's study - which eventually became incorporated into Fylde's local plan, said there was a need for 420 'affordable' dwellings per year.

This was plainly preposterous.

But things were about to get even more unbelievable.

The Government of the day had introduced a new scheme called the 'Housing Market Renewal Initiative' (also known as the Pathfinder scheme). The key aim in the north, was to divert all attention on housebuilding into the inner city areas of Manchester and Liverpool (and some of East Lancashire).

John Prescott wanted to make developers focus their activities in deprived areas, and to do so, Government instructed FBC (and many other councils), to put a moratorium on all new developments in their areas (except for projects that were already in the pipeline), and for several years, hardly any houses were built in Fylde.

But the seeds of change in Fylde had been sown by the Fordham report and, driven from the very top, no one seriously challenged the former Chief Executive's plan to rebalance Fylde's population through its housing market, and Fylde (in our view, very foolishly) adopted the 420 new Affordable Houses as the baseline for when the moratorium ended.

To redress the 'problems' that were created by Fylde's 'imbalanced' population and 'poor' housing profile, the Council was persuaded that in future, what might otherwise be called 'private housing developments' (technically known as 'Market Value Housing') would only be allowed if they comprised:

  • Not more than 40% 'normal' market value housing,   together with
  • At least 58% Social Rented Housing,   and
  • 2% shared equity housing.

Needless to say, hardly any houses were built, because developers (understandably) couldn't cover their development costs if they had to provide 60% of the property at less than full market value.

Arguments about the 'right' proportion of so called 'affordable' houses batted back and forth. Fylde produced its 'Interim Housing Policy' that eventually reduced the affordable element requirement of developers to 30% (although even then they did not enforce this figure on all developments)

Meanwhile, the former Government's drive to 'regionalise' the UK had created something called the 'North West Regional Spatial Strategy'.

This Strategy took the Government's regional aims for housing numbers; broke them down, and allocated them to individual boroughs.

Fylde Borough's allocation in the RSS worked out at an average of 306 dwellings a year of all types. Many people thought that was too high, especially compared with the previous number of 155 in the Joint Structure Plan.

In December 2011, Fylde Council's Annual Monitoring Report said "This review of the housing needs situation suggests that [an average of] around 568 additional affordable units would be required per year if all affordable needs are to be met. This compares with an estimate from the 2002 survey of 420 per annum."

As readers will see, the persistent dichotomy between social housing numbers, and housing of all types, was being perpetuated.

In effect, this is now saying the total housing need - as set by the Regional Strategy, is 306 dwellings a year, and within that number, there needs to be 568 'affordable' (typically social rented) dwellings a year.

Pure Pythonesque Planning.

Then the Government changed, and in came the present Conservative/Lib Dem coalition.

As had been strongly trailed in advance of the election by the Conservatives, the North West Regional Strategy was to be abolished. The new Government set out to revoke each regional strategy across the UK on only the second day of its existence. Under the new drive to localism, it would be local people via their Local Plans who set out what number of houses would be appropriate for their areas. Local decisions were, in future, to be the decisions that established housing numbers.

So Fylde decided to set its own target number, and set about re-working its own overall numbers and updating (again) the ones from Fordham and another study. They formed a so-called 'Steering Group' to decide what the number should be.

In spite of concerns expressed by several Steering Group members that the proposed number was too high (concerns which we share), in December 2011, Fylde published an annual average figure of 280 dwellings per annum as its target for the future.

Then, as the recession deepened, the Government started to realise it was not going to meet its growth targets for the national economy. It decided to increase economic activity by building houses. So it began to back-track from its localism commitments, or at least to give the localism arguments less weight that those attached to economic growth.

It published a new National Planning Policy Framework which was born into widespread criticism. The worst elements of this were modified before the scheme was implemented. However, it is still showing itself to be hugely damaging. The Government has also subsequently published Ministerial statements that place much greater emphasis on favouring development.

We also believe that, unofficially, word is also going out to councils, perhaps also via the party political lines of communication direct to councillors, that the granting of planning permissions is a very high priority for the Government, and they should be approved freely.

In an extremely unusual move, Government has also recently said that developers will be able to take their applications direct to the Planning Inspectorate if councils are consistently taking too long to make decisions.

This week, the new (anti) planning minister (Nick Boles) told a fringe meeting of the Conservative conference that the Government would put councils in ‘special temporary measures’ if they are taking too long to rule on applications, or having too many decisions overturned on appeal.

We think he probably hasn't thought this through properly because if Government did that, there would be nowhere for developers (who were not very gruntled with the Planning Inspectorate's decision) to appeal.

Given Fylde's officers' apparent reluctance to advance robust arguments that support their own local plan policy, and the way they - or at least someone - seems to have convinced Fylde's more influential councillors to toe the party line on granting permissions in spades, we wondered if the 'Special Measures' threat might hold any particular fear for Fylde.

Readers can make up their own minds from the 2011/12 data below.

Local Authority % all planning applications decided in 26 weeks  % major planning applications decided in 26 weeks
Blackpool 97 76
Chorley 98 85
Fylde 94 52
Pendle 100 100
Preston 94 71
Ribble Valley 91 52
Rossendale  99 87
South Ribble 98 83
Wyre 99 90

There are about 340 Councils on the Government's list (a small handful of which there is no 2011/12 data for). Fylde is placed around 320th out of 340 for it's % of deciding major applications, and around 305th out of 340 for its % of all planning decisions.

Readers can follow this link for the source data for these stats.

Government has also made a great fuss about Councils having to grant planning permissions where they are not able to demonstrate they have given enough planning permissions to satisfy a 5 year supply of development land.

We don't plan to go into the details here, but suffice to say that what can (and can't) be counted within these 'five years supply' figures is highly regulated and, to most members of the public, the counting methods are about as clear as mud, and as straightforward as those 'seasonally adjusted employment figures' that hid the true unemployment numbers in years gone by.

Now. Our sharper readers might be tempted to say well, the answer is really Meercat Simple. Find a justification to say that only, perhaps, 150 houses a year are needed, and you can more or less solve Fylde's 'five year supply' at a stroke.

We're quite sympathetic to this view. There are (in our opinion) perfectly good grounds to argue a reduction of the new housing numbers to something in this order because Fylde's own demographics actually show a decline in housing need (more deaths than births). It can also be argued that we should not be forced to cater for need generated externally - for inward migrants from say Manchester, East Lancs, or elsewhere, especially if that provision damages the area that makes it so attractive. Furthermore, there is a debate to be had about the extent to which we should cater for families that are fragmenting through divorce and separation.

But it's not that straightforward.

This is because the housing number that Fylde eventually settles on, will be tested by the Planning Inspectorate. And they seem to have swallowed Mr Osborne's line on growth.

The best recent example of this we have seen - pointed out to us by friends in CPRE - is currently in Salford, where Planning Inspector Richard E Hollox BA (Hons) BSc (Econ) MPhil FRTPI FRICS (no less) is examining Salford's new local plan.

We're told that the chap who put Salford's plan together (Chris Findley) is head of planning for Greater Manchester as well as Salford, and is probably the most high-powered / influential planner in the north west. His evidence-base for a new, lower-than-RSS figure is held by some to be excellent; and indeed, it contributes to the Government's growth agenda by allowing for more housing than would be required to meet the trend-based projections.

But Mr Hollox has said this of Salford's housing numbers: "In my judgement, the Core Strategy is unsound in its present form in that it does not demonstrate an adequate and realistically deliverable supply of housing land and I do not, at present, have the information to recommend main modifications to make the plan sound."

Maybe it's time for a new planning term - 'Making a Hollox of it'

So it looks as though Salford is to follow Wigan, whose Local Plan hearings have also been suspended - apparently on the basis that unless they bring their housing numbers up to at least those in the Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS), their new plan will be judged 'Unsound' and they will have to change it.

What on earth is going on here?

You might well ask, Dear Reader.

If you are not already confused, please bear in mind that these are the same RSS numbers and housing targets that were spoken about by Eric Pickles on 11 June 2010 at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London when he said:

".....We are definitely going to do this. We are going to shake up the balance of power in this country. We are going to change the nature of the constitution. Be in no doubt about our commitment to localism. I know I look like an unlikely revolutionary, but the revolution starts here.

It won't be in a single action or a single law. It will be through dramatic and bold actions, but also small and incremental changes. Localism is the principle, the mantra, and defines everything we do.

You might think, well, all governments talk like this. But we've proved it by getting on and doing it.

  • We've made HIPS history and already the number of homes being put up for sale has gone up by 35 per cent.
  • We've given a lifeline to thousands of businesses in ports who had huge backdated business rates hanging over their head.
  • We've scrapped the top down housing targets and meaningless regional spatial strategies.
  • We've put an end to the 'garden grabbing' which has seen acres of land lost to intensive development.
  • We've cut the ring fencing and red tape which comes attached to hundreds of millions pounds worth of central government grants.
  • We're leading by example in making central government more open, more transparent, more accountable.
  • And we're showing we're serious about saving money. Taking pay cuts ourselves, shining the spotlight on public sector pay, and leaving the public to draw their own conclusions.
That's not bad for four weeks work, if I do say so myself. And we have more in store for the next few weeks."

It was for his statements like this, (and for refusing the 1,150 house Queensway scheme on its first appeal), that we dubbed him "Saint Eric Pickles"

But it now looks as though the RSS targets - whose abolition was *so* important it was announced on just the second day of the new Conservative/Lib Dem Government's existence - are still being used as sticks to beat Local Plans two years later.

You have to wonder if the Government has changed its mind, and it's going to keep the Regional Strategies after all, now it has a 'Dash for Growth' in progress.

As a result of these policy changes by Government, and the labyrinthine rules to decide which sites you can, and can't, count in your 5 year supply; and how much weight to apply to RSS numbers that are supposed to be abolished; and the confusion that has been engendered by conflicting aims in the (top down if ever there was one) National Planning Policy Framework, planning in the UK has been turned into a complete and utter mess.

And it's a mess that is damaging people's lives.

The confusion has produced comments like these in Fylde's officer reports to Development Management Committee. (Those below are from the recent Richmond Avenue re-application at Wrea Green)

"....the policy situation has changed with the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework that re-emphasises the importance of councils being able to deliver at least a 5 year supply of housing land and is supportive of sustainable development which is described as a ‘golden thread’ to the document. This is articulated in paragraph 14 which states that councils should grant planning permission for such proposals where the development plan is silent on their subject unless the adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, or there are conflicts with other material planning considerations."

and

"The most recent government guidance on this is provided in a series of local and national appeal decisions on similar proposals and in Ministerial announcements. These are clear that the delivery of housing is a major priority and that barriers should not be placed in the way of the provision of new housing and the economic benefits it will deliver. There has clearly been a major shift in emphasis in Government Policy since the previous applications were under consideration, with the current emphasis on aiding the economic recovery of the country. In the absence of any strong planning arguments against the development package that is proposed it is your officer's opinion that a refusal of this application cannot be sustained."

and most interestingly of all (for us, at least)

"Your officers are also conscious of the similarities between this site and proposal, and the site and proposal at the site off Mowbreck Lane in Wesham that was before the 12 September 2012 meeting of this Committee. Whilst the decision of the Committee was to refuse that application, the officer opinion on the scheme remains that the development there was acceptable, and is here. Accordingly, the carefully balanced recommendation on this application is that planning permission should be granted subject to a legal agreement to secure the delivery of affordable housing and other elements of the scheme and a series of conditions."

What we smell in this paragraph is a very large rat sitting in the middle of it. (More later).

What we are seeing now are approvals being granted on 'second appeals' and 're-considerations' by the Secretary of State on sites that he has previously refused permission. The most recent of which is a permission for 2,000 houses appealed by Cala Homes (who caused so much trouble for the Government as Regional Strategies were to be revoked).

And arguably worse than that, are the applications that are now reversing previous decisions at, and by, Fylde.

Specific examples of this sort of thing are the 'Government Offices' site at Heyhouses, where to general public acclaim, FBC refused the application for a mixed development.

The developer appealed.

The NPPF was published.

The developer re-submitted exactly the same application before the appeal was heard. It was then recommended for, and approved by, Fylde's Development Management Committee.

What was that about localism and the primacy of the local plan?

What happened to the promise that the planning policies contained within the Local Development Plan would be the arbiter of planning decisions?

The answer is they have now been thrown out of the Government's window.

Another example is the Richmond Avenue site in Wrea Green with which we opened this article.

This was the subject of two similar planning applications, one of which was refused by Fylde and the other withdrawn prior to the date of the Committee (where it was to be presented with a recommendation for refusal). These recommendations for refusal were based largely on proper planning policies concerning conflict with the Local Plan allocation as countryside; the loss of agricultural land; and concerns over the depth of information provided concerning other planning considerations.

The resubmission was - amazingly to us - recommended for approval, and the application has now been approved - despite the fact that there has been no change to Fylde's planning policies that caused previous applications to be refused, (or to be recommended for refusal).

But the most amazing one is yet to come, and we confidently predict it will be at Wesham.

Here, the Wesham Action Group (WAG) mounted a fierce and very successful campaign to argue for refusal every time an application has appeared.

The first application - a 264 dwelling application was unanimously refused by Fylde's Development Management Committee back in March 2010.

A subsequent appeal was heard by Public Inquiry. This also found the application to be unsound, and the appeal was rejected by the Planning Inspectorate, whose decision was then agreed and ratified by the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State's own decision was then challenged in the High Court by the developer.

This challenge was rejected by the court on the basis that the SoS *had* considered and acted in accordance with planning law.

Shortly after that, the developer submitted a new 100 dwelling application on part of the area of the previous one. WAG described it as "a cut-down version of the previous 264 dwelling application that was unanimously refused by Fylde's Development Management Committee in March 2010".

We reported the Fylde Development Management Committee meeting that considered this application in 'Think of England'

Coincidentally, the night before that meeting, Fylde Council held a 'learning hour' (about housing numbers) for all councillors. We were told by some who attended that it was a thinly veiled brain-washing session aimed at councillors on planning, and it attempted to frighten councillors into voting for applications because FBC was not able to demonstrate the required five year supply.

We were told the message that came across from those presenting the case was that planning councillors should let this Wesham application - and one or two more - go through, in order to reach the figure needed for the five years supply. After that they could start to sensibly refuse applications again.

We cannot prove or disprove whether what we were told was true or not, but we heard the same views expressed by several councillors who attended the 'Learning Hour' - so they, at least, came away with that impression.

But in the event, and as we reported in 'Think of England', the '100 property Wesham application' was refused by Fylde's Development Management Committee. The vote was six for refusal, five against refusal, and three abstentions. The vote was interesting, and appeared largely to fall along party lines

Against Refusal were
Cllr Aitken (Conservative), Cllr Eastham (Ratepayers), Cllr Mrs Craig-Wilson (Conservative), Cllr Goodrich (Conservative), Cllr Pounder (Conservative),

For Refusal were
Cllr Mrs Chew (Independent), Cllr Collins (Independent), Cllr Duffy (Independent), Cllr Hardy (Independent), Cllr Mrs Nulty (Independent), Cllr Mrs Speak (Independent),

Abstentions were
Cllr Mrs Ackeroyd (Conservative), Cllr Mrs Jacques (Conservative), Cllr Redcliffe (Conservative)

We also understand that Cllr Mrs Willder (Conservative), had to leave before the vote was taken. We further understand that Cllrs Mrs Akeroyd and Mrs Jacques were substituting for committee members who could not attend on the day (Cllrs Armit and Fiddler respectively).

So it may be said that those Conservatives who abstained (or did not stay until the vote) in effect allowed the Wesham refusal to stand.

We now hear that the developer has re-submitted virtually the same application,  just three weeks after their previous application was refused.

So far as we can ascertain, the only difference this time is that the developer has included an assurance that they will not seek further planning permission for at least three years - unless FBC itself zones the land for development.

This re-submission is not as a result of a policy change. The reasons for refusal are just the same now as they were three weeks ago. And in this case there has not even been a new National Planning Policy Framework that could have changed Fylde's view.

So, you'd expect it to be refused again wouldn't you? And it will all have been a waste of time.

Why on earth would any developer resubmit so quickly when nothing had changed?

We suspect there is something odd going on here, and it's appearance is heralded by the appearance of the 'Wrea Green rat'  we identified above.

We would not be at all surprised to find that when this application comes to be heard, officers will again recommend approval of this resubmitted Wesham application - when their Committee decided to refuse it only three weeks ago.

Nor would we be surprised to find a different selection of Conservative committee members sitting on the Development Management Committee when it comes to consider the re-submission of this application, (perhaps ones that can be better relied upon not to abstain or to leave the meeting early), and that the inbuilt Conservative majority will unite to grant an approval through the Development Management Committee - a decision that some will no doubt see as being on party political lines.

If that's what happens, people might be tempted to wonder whether the developer had been tipped-off to make a re-submission so quickly.

If that's what happens, people might be tempted to wonder how Fylde has allowed it's planning process to become so politicised.

If that's what happens, it will be a decision that stinks.

If that's what happens, it will rightly heap ridicule on Fylde's planning process and turn it into a public disgrace.

If that's what happens, we think it has the potential for long term damage to what was once a straightforward, honest, trustworthy, non-party political committee. A committee that took decisions on behalf of its own electorate, using its own planning policies as set out in its own local plan. Not a committee that took decisions on behalf of any political party.

WAG has just put out a press statement in which they say "Linda Nulty, Wesham's Ward Councillor, has challenged the right for this application to be submitted. She has an ally in Fylde's MP Mark Menzies who is concerned about the interpretation of the planning rules by Fylde. He has written to the CEO of Fylde asking for explanations and seeks 'urgent answers' so he can deal with the queries he has been receiving from concerned residents.

WAG highlighted this in the DMC meeting held in mid September where they successfully objected to the need for more housing in Wesham. This was a factor that split the way the committee voted - there was a lack of solid information which allowed for a fair judgement to be made on actual building stock in the pipeline much of the evidence was, it seemed, based upon 'presumption'. The Head of Planning at Fylde Borough Council, Mark Evans was tasked with reviewing the figures on the instance of councillors. Previous to this the numbers showed a shortfall of 859 dwellings; after the re-assessment, he announced that it was 128!"

Alice in WonderlandPlanning has become an utterly hopeless mess.

The Gazette has quoted Trevor Fiddler as saying at the Wrea Green meeting "...we have been forced into this position. Six months ago we could confidently have supported refusal. We are now in an Alice in Wonderland crazy world of planning where the process is detached and is no longer suitable"

But it doesn't have to be like this.

We think he should have more balls on behalf of the people of Fylde he was elected to represent.

Firstly, as far as the Wesham specific situation is concerned, FBC could have suggested / required that officers decline the repeat application.

We think they could have declined it under Section 70b of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which allows a resubmission to be declined if it is a "similar application" and has been refused by FBC, and the time within which an appeal could be made to the Secretary of State under section 78 has not expired.

From what we can see this provision to decline has not been applied. The Wesham re-submission appears to have been accepted by FBC, though it is not yet clear who made the decision to accept it, and why or how that decision was made.

Secondly, and more importantly, perhaps Fylde could take the same sort of view as is being taken by Cheshire East Council.

Here, after Cheshire East refused to grant planning permission for 200 homes on the outskirts of Congleton, an appeal, heard by Planning Inspector Andrew Jeyes, recommended reversing that decision, and Eric Pickles' final decision did overturn Cheshire East's refusal of planning permission.

Cheshire East is now about to pursue a legal challenge to the government's decision, claiming it is unsuitable, that it posed a threat to the landscape, it was an unsustainable development and that more suitable sites were available elsewhere.

Cllr Michael Jones, Conservative leader of Cheshire East Council, told 'Place North West':

"Our towns and villages are under siege from an unprecedented onslaught of unplanned development proposals. As an authority we are also saddled with unrealistic housing targets from an unaccountable regional planning system."

"When an inspector supports the heart of the Council's case and acknowledges that the proposal would locally harm the character and appearance of this area of countryside, contrary to the development plan, but then says 'this is outweighed by the need to secure a five-year supply of deliverable housing land' - I find this perverse."

"I find it perverse that we grant permission for over 1,800 homes in one year but find that only 700 or so get built the next. It is further perverse that, while we are forming our Local Plan, the floodgates are opened so irresponsibly by a planning inspector. This could seriously undermine Sandbach, Crewe and Nantwich."

"This is particularly worrying when there are inconsistencies in decisions being made by the planning inspectorate."

"It is a challenge during the toughest, deepest, most austere housing market seen in history and when building rates are so thoroughly depressed, for any Council to be sure of providing five years of truly-deliverable land. So I find this decision perverse."

He went on to say the council supported development, but it had to be in the right places with the right infrastructure, and they should re-inforce, not undermine the Council's Local Plan.

He concluded "This legal action is necessary to help ensure a greener and more civilised future for all our towns - and Cheshire East Council will fight, using Council Tax payers' money, to protect you, the people of Cheshire East, and your families."

That's what Trevor Fiddler could, and in our view, should, have said and done, a lot more often than he appears ready to do.

It's not as though Fylde couldn't afford to protect its green land if it chose to do so.

It's net budget requirement 2011/12 was originally estimated at £10.986m.

During the year staff were asked to spend with restraint until the uncertainty caused by the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review was more clear.

They did, and, as a result of in-year savings or staff reductions made, the net revenue budget requirement dropped to £10.388m part way through the year. The out-turn delivered underspend even on that reduced figure, at £9.325m.

The net result (with a few other minor money movements) delivered what Fylde itself called a £1,100,000 surplus as at 31 March this year, (which Fylde put into its reserves).

Spending some of that to protect the green character of the area would cost taxpayers nothing. It's money already in the bank.

Cllr Fiddler said planning was become like Alice in Wonderland.

We'd say it's more like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

But if they had more courage, maybe Cllr Fiddler and the Conservatives could focus more on the wishes of their electorate, then they could be grinning like the (East) Cheshire Cat.

Cheshire Cat

Dated:  12 October 2012


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