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Pontins Puzzle

Pontins PuzzleIn Flight of Fancy? back in July 2006 we reported a talk given by Blackpool Airport about where it was planning to position itself. At that time there was hope for a major casino scheme in Blackpool (which failed to materialise of course).

Based on growth projections, the Airport's plan was to increase passenger throughput from 350,000 a year to 6 million a year over the following six years, and there was gossip that they had bought the Pontins Holiday site.

That turned out not to be true, but on Wed 03 Dec 2008 Fylde received a planning application (No 08/1049) to redevelop the site for 370 dwellings together with associated infrastructure and open space (This was later amended to 'up to 275 dwellings'). This plan to turn Pontins' Holiday Centre into an exclusive 370-property housing development had been announced by a company called Northern Trust. They told the Gazette the plans had already been subject to extensive discussions with Fylde Borough Council. (And that was back in 2008)

On 23 December 2008 in Pontins Development? we reported the exhibition staged by 'Northern Trust Company Limited' - which works out of the same Trevor Hemmings' offices in Chorley as 'Metacre' (who are also planning a development at Wesham). Northern Trust's plan to put housing on the Pontins Holiday Camp site, mostly toward the Squires Gate end was on display.

Site layout

Then everyone went away and considered the plans in more detail to see what the various parties and neighbours had to say about the idea.

A year or two later, in May 2010, the Gazette reported that plans had changed, and the application was now for only 275 homes after Blackpool Airport had raised objections to the scheme.

APPLICATION 08/1049 FOR 275 DWELLINGS

On 10th May 2010, Fylde's Development Control Committee considered application No 08/1049 - the (now revised) plan for outline planning permission for up to 275 dwellings.

Officers at Fylde were recommending approval of this smaller 275 dwelling scheme.

St Annes Town Council had been consulted and they had recommended refusal.

Blackpool Airport had also been consulted.

Their main objection to the previous (and larger) 370 house scheme had been about the principle of residential development on noise-sensitive locations in certain areas of the Pontins site. The airport said it planned to expand and increase the levels of operation - so it had objected to the principle of residential development on the Pontins site to the extent that the site is - or is expected to be, subject to unacceptably high levels of noise. It said it did not object to residential development on those areas that were not, or that would not become, the subject of unacceptably high levels of noise. They had argued that the Council must refuse the 370 house application.

An in an update of the objection sent in respect of the original scheme, the airport now said (of the revised 275 dwelling scheme) they had some doubt about whether the Council could legitimately determine the revisions, and they gave notice of reserving their position as regards the legitimacy of the procedure being adopted by the Council in this matter.

That's an unusual comment - and quite strong stuff. We'd have done a double-take at that point if we were Fylde.

They were also still of the opinion that a residential development in this location was not appropriate, and said an employment use or light industrial use would be a much better and more compatible use of the former Pontins site.

They also said if the Council was minded to grant planning permission for the proposed residential use, the Airport must be given protection from claims for compensation from the residents of the proposed development, and something called a 'Section 106 Agreement' waiving any rights to compensation on account of the noise levels should be entered into. They wanted this agreement to be binding on the future residential occupiers of the proposed residential units.

Fylde's officers said their belief, (based on the latest proposals), was that the noise from air traffic would fall within 'category B', (they used the airport's own forecasts of air travel growth figures at 2030). Therefore, they said, the proposal would conform with national and local planning guidance, and it would not have an undue impact on the amenities of future occupiers, nor would it unduly constrain the ability of the Airport to grow at a reasonable rate.

Fylde's officers recommended approval of the scheme.

There were a lot of conditions attached, but we couldn't see the one the airport had asked for about waiving rights to noise complaints.

Some councillors - such as Coun Michael Cornah and Maxine Chew - expressed concerns, but others such as Coun Paul Rigby told the Gazette: "I think this application has everything going for it - it's on a major bus route, next to the railway and next to the airport."

The vote, when it was taken, was overwhelmingly to approve the revised plans.

Those in favour were Councillors: John Bennett, Ben Aitken, Maxine Chew, Michael Cornah, Barbara Douglas, Trevor Fiddler, Richard Fulford- Brown, Elizabeth Oades, Barbara Pagett, Albert Pounder, Paul Rigby, Heather Speak.

None voted against, but Cllr Kevin Eastham abstained from voting.

And so it was that (with the Section 106 conditions delegated to officers), Fylde granted outline planning permission for the development.

Northern Trust (in what looks to be a moment of geographical aberration) said they were "delighted that the planning application for part of the Blackpool site has been approved”

Demolition work began in September 2010

Three months later, on Friday 10 Dec 2010, Fylde received another outline planning application for 73 homes on the southern part of the Pontins site.

APPLICATION 10/0877 FOR A FURTHER 73 HOMES

This was considered by the Committee in June 2011, as application No 10/0877.

Officers said this scheme made a big contribution toward their requirement to meet housing need, it would not have any bad impact on road safety or ecology, and it would provided its required share of affordable housing.

Interestingly, they thought the proposal would safeguard the airport's future operations whilst ensuring there was no detrimental impact on future residents by way of noise pollution and aerodrome safety issues.

However, this new plan did involve development in the Green Belt (which is generally not allowed), but it was felt that - because the Green Belt boundary had been drawn in an "illogical" position (yes really) - that redevelopment would actually improve the setting of the Green Belt. (Oh Dear!)

This new application for a further 73 dwellings (in addition to the outline permission for the 275 already approved in outline). Was only for 2.5ha of residential development in a 6.3 Ha site. The remaining 3.8 Ha was shown as public open space.

This time, St Annes Town Council made no specific observations about the new plans.

The Highway Authority wanted to change the speed limit along the frontage to 30 mph

Blackpool Airport said they noted that new plan meant that the whole development now fell outside their predicted Public Safety Zone. But they were still very worried about noise. They argued that if Fylde approved it, the Airport's future development could be restricted, and that this would limit their ability to contribute to the economic growth of the sub-region.

In addressing this concern, officers told councillors "Officers accept that the Airport needs to be allowed to grow over the foreseeable future. However forecasts of future growth need to be realistic and reasonable...."

They went on to say that the applicants (Northern Trust) challenged the Airport's growth figures as being optimistic. They said the Airport's forecast of 812% passenger growth by 2030 didn't square with a Government White Paper forecast.

Northern Trust were also reported as saying that the Airport's growth forecasts were not supported by recent trends in passenger numbers and air traffic movements at the Airport. Annual passenger numbers had been in steady decline since 2007 and by 2009 annual passengers at the airport had declined by 46% to just 300,116 passengers.

Officers agreed. They said: "...Based on Blackpool Airport's growth figures for 2030, the proposed residential development would not pose a constraint to the growth of the airport in the foreseeable future, nor would the proposed housing be subject to an unacceptable noise environment. Your Officers consider that safeguarding the projected airport expansion to 2030 is a reasonable period and as such the proposal is unlikely to pose a threat to the future expansion of the Airport and its operations...."

But they also concluded that, because the proposal sought permission for inappropriate development in the Green Belt, it would be necessary to refer the application to the Secretary of State in order that he may consider recovering the application for determination by himself.

The final recommendation to councillors was:

That the application be referred to the Secretary of State as a departure from the Development Plan and "subject to receiving the authority to determining the application from the Secretary of State, planning permission be GRANTED subject to the completion of a Section 106 agreement to secure the provision of transport improvements, control over affordable housing, public realm improvements, LCC education, & waste contributions as set out in the report and the imposition of the following conditions:....."

There followed 29 complicated conditions that would have to be met, but again we couldn't see the one the Airport had asked for about protecting it from noise claims in the future.

However, the recommendation wasn't accepted, and permission wasn't given at that meeting.

The application for outline planning permission was deferred to allow further consideration of the representations received from Blackpool Airport, and to seek clarification from Lancashire County Council on other matters.

So it was that, on 20 July 2011, Fylde's Development Control Committee re-considered application No 10/0877.

They heard that a further letter (from the Solicitors acting on behalf of Blackpool Airport) had been received on the 14th June 2011, objecting to the application, (Note that this letter had been received at Fylde the day before it considered the application at its meeting of 15 June).

The solicitor's letter from the Airport argued that approval of the development "will constrain the future growth potential of the airport and future occupants of the dwellings will be adversely affected by current noise levels let alone increasing noise levels as the airport grows. The application is also contrary to the aims and objectives of greenbelt policy".

Officers now said that since receiving that letter, a meeting had been held with Blackpool Airport who contended that the residential development proposed at this site would come within noise category C based on their 2030 growth forecasts of 812% because the noise contour plan submitted with the application was based on incorrect data.

Blackpool Airport undertook to send a plan showing the correct noise contours but, (in what we thought was an eerie echo of the wording that saw Britain go to war in September 1939) the officers had to tell the committee that, by the time of the meeting, no such plan had been received.

So, using the plans that had been supplied by the Northern Trust (which the Airport claimed were wrong) and, in what they described as "the absence of any evidence to the contrary", the Officer's recommendation remained unchanged.

The Gazette reported Fylde's Assistant Head of Planning Mark Evans as saying "the airport had already indicated they would take their fight against approval further."

He also told them "The (airport) letter makes reference to the fact as this would have to be referred to the Secretary of State, if the committee was minded to approve the application, the airport would make strong recommendations to the secretary of state to encourage him to recover the application.”

Coun Tim Armit was reported as saying: “The airport has, for two months, been writing these letters to us saying they are going to do something and not doing it; so I can’t start to take that seriously.”

The only councillor to vote *against* disregarding the airport’s objections and approving the development was Coun Kevin Eastham.  He had raised concerns about a small portion of the site which fell within the Green Belt and said it was “wrong” to build on that land.

The Committee resolved to delegate the decision on application 10/0877 to officers, in consultation with the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Committee.

That's not quite as daft as it sounds, because Committee was obviously going to approve it themselves if they could, but they had to check with Government first. So assuming that went OK, it could then be approved on the say-so of the officer.

On 29 July, Northern Trust put out a press statement saying " Northern Trust is pleased to announce that planning permission has been granted for their Phase 2 plans at the former Blackpool Pontins site. The planning application for Phase 2 was submitted following the successful application for 275 family houses on the initial 22 acres last May. The Phase 2 plans on the southern part of the site are for 73 homes....

The proposals which have been the subject of extensive discussions with the local planning authority, local councillors and local community will regenerate the former derelict holiday camp, and substantially enhance the quality and attractiveness of the area....

...It is hoped that, subject to confirmation from The Secretary of State and completion of a Section 106 agreement, that work will commence on this important gateway site within the next 12 months. We look forward to working closely with Fylde Borough Council and our development partners to ensure a viable high quality scheme is delivered as soon as possible.”

But on 4 August 2011, the Gazette reported that "Blackpool Airport has slammed a council for failing to properly consider the detrimental impact a new housing development could have on the region’s economy." and it said that Airport bosses were set to submit a new noise report to Fylde Council that week – and they hope it could be enough to see the case re-opened.

Airport spokeswoman Sue Kendrick told the Gazette “We hope Fylde Council will see the noise report and realise they have failed to adequately consider the impact because they didn’t give us the time we requested.”

Fylde's Mark Evans was reported as having said the council was waiting for a noise report to be submitted by Blackpool Airport. He added: “As for the case being reopened there’s no requirement to do that, it depends on the findings of that noise report and we will have to wait and see.”

APPLICATION 11/0611 FOR "RESERVED MATTERS"

Probably in anticipation of matters going smoothly, on 29 August 2011, Fylde received another application (No.11/0611) from Northern Trust for approval of what are known as 'Reserved Matters' (Completion of reserved matters convert an outline permission to a full permission).

The reserved matters applied for were : Access, Appearance, Landscape, Layout, and Scale, in respect of 238 dwelling units.

Quite where the '238 units' comes from is a bit of a mystery. It's not the 275 that were granted outline permission subject to conditions, and it's not the 73 extra ones. Perhaps it was for those that were outside the Airport's zone of noise concern. We simply don't know.

When officers received this application, they will have begun to consider it, but it looks as though their consideration was interrupted by having to re-reconsider further information regarding the previous application for 73 homes, so we're putting the 'reserved matters' application into 'suspended animation' for the moment.

APPLICATION 10/0877 IS CONSIDERED AGAIN

On 14th September 2011 Officers reported to the Development management Committee on "Additional Information in respect of Planning Application 10/0877" (the second, additional 73 homes scheme at the southern end of the site).

This report rehearsed many of the previous arguments and concluded "On the 8th August additional representations were received from Blackpool Airport as an objection, in the form of a report describing the level of environmental noise affecting the site and rates this in terms of the noise exposure categories set out in PPG Note 24, Planning and Noise. Your officers have assessed the Noise Assessment and are of the opinion that the recommendation should be unchanged from that decided by the Committee on 20th July 2011, subject to the imposition of planning conditions."

But, the report submitted by the Airport’s Noise Consultant said, "the site is dominated principally by noise from road and air traffic. In places, neither road nor air traffic will dominate the noise environment and under these circumstances, a mixed sources condition is met." There was a noise contour plan from the airport as well.

The airport's consultant concluded "that most of the southern part of the site and a significant portion of the northern part of the site lie within Noise Exposure Category C for which PPG24 advises that when assessing a proposal for residential development, planning permission should not normally be granted."

So it looks as though the airport were saying that the mixture of noise from both the road and the aircraft would push the site outside what was acceptable in terms of noise nuisance.

Officers countered this argument at Committee by saying "The main noise source would be from road traffic with air traffic additional to this. On this basis there is no objection from the Council’s Consumer Wellbeing Department subject to the imposition of planning conditions." and they proposed a new condition "‘Prior to the commencement of development, a scheme for the provision of acoustic ventilation and glazing to be installed in the proposed dwellings shall be submitted to and agreed in writing by the local planning authority. The approved schemes shall be implemented to the satisfaction of the Local Planning Authority prior to the first occupation of any dwelling."

The reason for this condition was said to be ‘In the interests of ensuring no noise detriment to future occupiers from the adjacent uses.’

Other new conditions were also proposed: e.g. to have the houses designed so the kitchens and bathrooms were in the noisiest areas, and to include 'noise bunds' & walls to reduce noise impact. (This is now getting silly - cb)

The officers concluding recommendation was "That subject to receiving the authority to determine the application from the Secretary of State, authority to grant planning permission for application 10/0877...." followed by more or less the same delegation arrangements we referred to in the previous meeting.

However, the Committee did not grant planning permission. The resolution was "to defer consideration of this matter to the next available meeting of the committee."

But they didn't consider it at their next meeting.

In fact, since that time, there have been six Development Management Committee meetings, the most recent being just three days ago. But it has not been reported to, or considered by, any of these six meetings.

Something distinctly odd is going on.

BACK TO APPLICATION 11/0611 - "RESERVED MATTERS"

On what appears to have been 2 September 2011 (but probably was not), Fylde wrote to the applicant to confirm that the reserved matters application (11/0611) had been withdrawn by applicant, following a letter to Fylde dated 5th September 2011 (This 5th September letter *from* the applicant is not listed as a planning document on the publicly accessible file, so we don't know what it said)


APPLICATION 11/0790 - A NEW APPLICATION WITH NO SUBJECT

Intriguingly, a new and mysterious addition has appeared on Fylde's planning server for the Pontins site.

It has been allocated the reference number 11/0790 but gives no description of what it is, saying only that the current status is "Received - not yet validated" This usually means there is something wrong with the application that has to be corrected before it can be registered.

There are no "associated documents" - such as plans or application forms either.

At this point, things start to get really confusing (as if they weren't confused enough already!) so please bear with us as we try to unpick what's been going on.

According to FBC's planning server, the status of the various applications on the Pontins site is as follows:

a). Ref. No: 08/1049 :Redevelopment Of Site For Up To 275 Dwellings Together With Associated Infrastructure And Open Space.  Status: "Application registered" (although it was actually approved subject to a Section 106 agreement on 10th May 2010, and Northern Trust's own website says "Outline planning for Phase 1 was granted in May 2011 for 275 homes of which 30% are deemed affordable"

Application data

b). Ref. No: 10/0877 Outline Planning For Redevelopment Of The Site For Up To 73 Dwellings Together With Associated Development And Open Space (Phase 2 Pontins), Clifton Drive North, Lytham St Annes, FY8 2SX  Status: "Pending Decision"

c). Ref. No: 11/0611 Reserved Matters For Approval : Access, Appearance, Landscape, Layout And Scale For 238 Dwelling Units Former Pontins, Clifton Drive North, Lytham St Annes, FY8 2SX   Status: "Withdrawn"

d). Ref. No: 11/0790 No description  Status: "Received - not yet validated"

Application data
 

Some of these are puzzling. For example, the first application (numbered 08/1049) was clearly approved at the Committee meeting of 10 May 2010, but it shows in Fylde's website as "Application registered" rather than "approved" or "granted"

And there is no obvious reason on Fylde's planning application records for the withdrawal of application number 11/0611 for the reserved matters, and the letter requesting withdrawal is not listed as being available as part of the application.

And the apparent new application (as yet unvalidated) is puzzling in that it has no description of what it is about.

When so many unexplained matters come together like this, it's not uncommon to smell a rat.

Things got even worse at the Queensway Inquiry on 13 January 2012. Expert planning barrister Roger Lancaster (not one to get his facts wrong in a hurry) was arguing against some of the housing numbers QED had quoted to be built on the Pontins site, and he said something like "I don't blame QED for getting this next bit wrong - (they had included Pontins in the housing numbers for FBC's housing requirements), I only found out about it myself in the last day or so, but the Pontins scheme for 275 houses has been withdrawn."

He went on to try to get FBC to make comment on the (more recent) 73 houses at Pontins. But they stayed silent and smiled. He said he would take that as a probable agreement that the 73 were withdrawn as well.

It was at that point that we sent a newsflash to our subscribers saying "We heard from the Queensway Inquiry today that the planning application to build around 275 homes on the Pontins site has been withdrawn, or it is not to be proceeded with."

But since then, Northern Trust have apparently denied this to be the case.

However, they do have the site up for sale on their website.

So it was a growing puzzle, a conundrum - until we found something that might explain at least some of what's been going on.

We came across what at first we thought was a court judgement against Fylde Council and in favour of Blackpool Airport.

It was a report of a case undertaken by Planning Consultants - Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners.

They have published it as an example of the work they do, and is headed

The Queen (On The Application Of Blackpool International Airport Limited) - Claimant
AND
Fylde Borough Council - Defendant
AND
Northern Trust Limited - Interested Party

The background to the claim is that the airport had instructed Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners to act for them

It looks as though they were preparing a Judicial Review of Fylde's decision(s)

The Grounds for a claim against Fylde were:

  1. The absence of summary of reasons on the Decision Notice
  2. The failure to include a Statement re. Environmental Information
  3. The absence of details in the Design and Access Statement regarding approximate location of buildings, routes and open spaces, and the failure to express heights in measurements.
  4. Failure to notify the Civil Aviation Authority and Blackpool Airport
  5. Failure to notify as above upon receipt of further Environmental Statement Information (Environmental Impact Assessments Regulation 19 / now renumbered 22)
  6. Failure of the Environmental Statement to:
  • fully assess cumulative effects
  • accurately assess the scheme as amended
  • fully assess noise impacts
  • fully appraise baseline conditions – a Biological Heritage Site
  • Failure to attach conditions necessary for mitigation
  • Failure to attach valid planning conditions
  • Failure to interpret and report consultees’ comments in Committee Report

As a result of these shortcomings, Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners were ready to argue Fylde's decision "was irrational and inadequately reasoned” and to undertake a Judicial Review of Fylde's decision(s)

In response, Fylde thought Grounds 1 (the summary of reasons) and 2 (the absence of ref to Environmental info) were unlikely to persuade the court to quash the decision it had made.

And Fylde did not accept the arguments Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners had made under Grounds 5 (failure to notify further ES info) and 8 (invalid conditions)

However Fylde accepted that the remaining arguments vis

3: Deficiencies of the Design and Access Statement
4: Failure to notify CAA / Blackpool Airport
6: Deficiencies of the Environmental Statement
7: Failure to attach mitigation condition
9: Failure to report consultee comments


were substantive and substantial, and it looks to us as though the case didn't even get to court - because the concluding outcome was " A Consent Order was issued 18 October 2011: Permission Quashed"

We're told by those who move in more knowledgeable and elevated circles than we do, that Blackpool Airport must have made an application for judicial review of the Council's decision to grant planning permission.

Having been advised that they had no proper arguable defence, Fylde will have 'consented to judgment' (hence a 'consent order'). This is equivalent to throwing in the towel.

It is also probable that Fylde will have had to pay the Airport's costs.

We don't know how much they will have been but it might be interesting to know.

So, if this view is right, we've discovered something that looks incredibly like a cock-up by Fylde's planning officers.

But the bit we still can't quite work out, is precisely which decision has been 'quashed'

Our elevated and informed friends suggest it is probably the decision about the reserved matters, and that explains why it was withdrawn, (and by implication, that's what Mr Lancaster was referring to).

But we're still not sure. That reserved matters application didn't go to Committee - so we don't see how there can have been 'a decision' to quash with regard to that application.

We've a nagging thought that keeps intruding into our consciousness that 'quashing' of the first outline decision could explain why that is currently showing as 'Application Received' status when it was clearly a grant of permission by Committee.

If the first outline decision *has* been quashed, another possibility is that the mystery application numbered 11/0790 was a new application for the whole site with a different layout, and that's the one that Roger Lancaster says was 'withdrawn" (and the same one that Fylde is showing as 'received - not yet validated).

Or maybe 11/0790 is a completely new application anyway, and Fylde are trying to square the airport's concerns before it's made public.

Again we have complete lack of transparency from Fylde Council about what they are doing. We suspect that even the planning councillors won't know the full story.

It could be that neither Fylde nor Northern Trust want the full story to come out before they have some sort of fix in place. (Fylde because it is embarrassed to have failed to do its job properly so far, and Northern Trust because they want to sell the site, and the negative publicity will drive down the price they can get for it).

Maybe people are being careful with words here.

Perhaps the Pontins site hasn't been "withdrawn" as Mr Lancaster alleged, maybe it's just 'not validated' or 'Decision Quashed' - and by being careful with the words they use, Fylde and Northern Trust can create an impression other than what is really happening.

One of our more cynical readers suggested that because they were stalemates of Metacre at Wesham, Northern Trust might withdraw this application so the housing numbers wouldn't count against Metacre's proposals at Wesham, and then re-submit it after the Wesham appeal.

That's a bit far fetched we think - but either way, we say there will have to be a lot of changes made to present plans if there is to be some development at Pontins.

We've argued for years now that the former Pontins is a unique site for transport. It ties together the railway, the airport, the tramway (and arguably a slipway for landing smallish boats). There is also room for coaches, buses and a lot of parking.

A railhead / transport hub giving undercover access to the airport, railway and tramway and having sufficient space for buses and coaches would be a really 'good thing' for the local economy - in both Fylde and Blackpool.

We live in hope that someone with vision and authority will see the sense in this.

But one thing is sure.

And after this debacle, Fylde will need to be sure the airport is happy with whatever plans are proposed.

Perhaps Fylde will now come clean on what has really happened, then we'll all know where we are.

If they do, we'll let you know.

Dated:   21 January 2012


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