www.counterbalance.org.uk

 

fylde counterbalance logo

search counterbalance

plain text / printout version of this article

countering the spin and providing the balance


 

Queensway Inquiry Mk2

Queensway Inquiry Mk 2

The second Queensway Inquiry opened today, on Tuesday 10th January 2012.


TUESDAY 10 JANUARY
Although it had been due to be held in the Studio Room at Lowther Pavilion, when we arrived at the Inquiry, it had been set up in the main hall, on account of the large number of people expected to attend.

Before opening time it was filling up. We counted about 120 people - a lot of them looking like builder types. Amongst those opposing the scheme we saw a few faces we knew from QED and from other pressure groups, including Defend Lytham and Wesham Action Group. There were also a smattering of  Councillors, of which Trevor Fiddler was the most prominent.

At 10 sharp, the Inspector, Mr Asquith opened the meeting. He explained the purpose of the inquiry and the reasons for holding it. (We covered these in previous articles so we won't go into them here).

Ace Rottweiler barrister Roger Lancaster was appearing for Kensington and usual and he was going to call five expert witnesses to give evidence that the housing was a really good scheme.

An unknown (to us) barrister Martin Carter was acting for FBC, and said he was going to call only one witness, which sounded a bit of a poor do, but he later showed himself to be quite sharp, so we're reserving judgement.

For LCC (who are supporting the road application), was barrister Jonathan Easton. We've seen him before. He's, a sharp chap with a very good, persuasive, almost avuncular manner of questioning, but we got the feeling he masters a first class grasp of the details as well as the big picture. He said he would be calling five expert witnesses.

The Inspector then asked how many members of the public wanted to speak, and up went a forest of hands. A list was duly made, and the inspector - evidently surprised at the numbers - asked people to avoid repetition where possible.

Next he attempted a timetable of sorts. Today he was having 1) Kensington, 2) FBC and 3) LCC give their opening statements. Then he would take public speakers.

For the rest of the inquiry, he seemed to want to take the issue of the Queensway development as the first 'topic' and the Moss Road as the second topic later in the inquiry. He would also need time to discuss the conditions that should be imposed if permission were to be given, then closing statements followed by a site visit at which no discussion of the merits or otherwise of the scheme would be allowed.

There was a bit of a palaver when Mr Lancaster challenged QED's representative, (who had registered to speak). He said if he was speaking as an individual that was fine, but if they were speaking to the written submission QED had submitted, then he would want to be able to cross examine on all aspects of that submission and might take the whole of the afternoon on that matter. QED were asked to come back with clarification about what they planned to do.

Then the Inquiry began in earnest.

KENSINGTON
 In his opening speech, Mr Lancaster for Kensington claimed there was "massive" public support for the scheme with 5,700 letters of support that built on the original consultation. He said refusal was contrary to the advice of planners at FBC. He said this inspector should attach "considerable weight" to the report of the previous inspector (who was overruled by the Rt Hon St Eric Pickles when *he* overturned the first inspector's recommendation and refused the appeal first time around)

He complained bitterly that Fylde had done nothing to overcome "their acute housing supply shortage"; that Fylde can't demonstrate a five year supply of housing, and it was not making any progress on its core planning strategy. He went on with a dozen other reasons why the Inspector should recommend allowing the appeal.

That's what he does, and he's good at his job. Possibly the best in the North West.  It's what he gets paid for.

In conclusion he said the scheme would bring massive infrastructure benefits, massive economic benefits, and it was just what was needed to get the country moving again.

Blimey, we thought, it only needs a Union Jack and the quiet strains of 'Land of Hope and Glory' wafting in the background to complete the picture he was painting.

FYLDE BC
Opening for FBC was Mr Carter. He said the report from officers that has recommended not defending at this appeal was exempt from public disclosure, but since Mr McAteer had published it as part of his evidence, it was now fully in the public domain. But he said that officers had no responsibility for making decisions. That was the role of Councillors, and the committee had not accepted their officers advice, and they had decided to maintain their resistance of the appeal.

He said the Queensway scheme was contrary to the development plan. They accepted they did not meet the greenfield target, but were worried about adverse consequences if this scheme went ahead. It was the largest application Fylde had ever had.

He said the Localism Bill was now and Act, and it had a firm commitment to abolish the RS housing numbers. Staying with localism, he noted Kensington had made not one mention of involving local people in producing the local plan. He went on to cite a number of other issues why the appeal should not be allowed, including the need to let Fylde BC decide when and where land should be released for housing, damage to the green belt and so on.

Lancashire CC
Mr Easton for LCC said the road would bring planning and economic benefits, it was part of Fylde's local plan. Fylde made no objection to the road, on the contrary, Fylde strongly supported it.

He mused why it had been called in by the Secretary of State and had decided that it was because it was in the Green Belt and because of its relationship with Queensway. He said he hoped to show how important the road would be.


Then it was the turn of local people. First off was

John Westmoreland for CPRE
He gave seven or eight main reasons to refuse the appeal: Biodiversity, Agricultural Land, and Green Belt; Housing Supply; It made a poor contribution to affordable housing need. It was premature to decide such a  big application before Fylde had done its own local plan, and could skew the result of that. He also thought the new Localism drive was beginning to have an impact, and he worried about further implications for greenfield areas elsewhere. He got a bit of a rough ride from Mr Lancaster under cross examination, but lived to tell the tale.

Carol Lanyon
Said she was a Saint Annes on Sea Town Councillor and on its planning committee, sometimes chairing it. She said the TC had opposed the first Queensway application, and had recently restated its opposition to the present appeal, and the Inspector would already have that.

She went on to say that today she was speaking not as a Councillor, but in her personal capacity as a resident. She had submitted a written objection, but just wanted to highlight  couple of points from it. They were the damage and limitations to agricultural land through bad drainage and after Cypress Point was built.

Warming to her theme, her voice grew in clarity and confidence as she progressed, until when she spoke about the increased regard that would have to be had for the views of local people, she was ringing in our ears.

Her concluding paragraph was, we thought exceptional, she said, "I also ask you to bear in mind that the voice of local people - as expressed through their elected Town Councillors, through their elected Borough Councillors and through the local campaign group QED, has consistently opposed Kensington's plans for this site. If the Localism Act means what it says - that local people should decide local planning matters - the message to you and to the Government could not be more clear"

There was no real cross examination as such, but we were exercised as they tried to establish whether Mrs Lanyon was opposing the housing or the road or both. It turned out that she was opposing the housing.

Brenda Lennox
Spoke from the heart after sending two letters of objection. She wanted to know about why the road wasn't being built before all the houses so we could see the impact it would have without the houses. She also wanted to know why it was being built piecemeal. She also criticised the kink in it and why the houses were being built on a bog. Mr Lancaster did his best to clarify her questions.

Palmira Stafford
Also spoke from the heart about how she came to choose St Annes for her home. It was because of its genteel old world charm and quietness. It was a peaceful friendly, small town. She was worried about the effects of a non-organic expansion of the scale proposed, and she thought that traffic would have to use unsuitable roads.

Edward Cook
Spoke on behalf of Defend Lytham. He reiterated DL's objection to the plans which included the fact that all the land south of the M55 drains through Lytham Moss and it only kept working because of constant pumping of the Liggard Brook. he said it was wrong to try to 'trade off' the road in exchange for the planning permission. He also addressed the issues of agricultural land, the flightpath, the need for local food production and said then plans were inappropriate and over intensive, and he asked the inspector to reject the appeal.

Janet Lees
Said she lived next to the moss and had moved there specifically to be able to access the country walks. She said it was highly valued by the local community and used by a variety of local groups such as scouts and others. She said it provided a sense of peace and space, and was home to a whole litany of forms of wildlife including protected species.

She said she was passionate about the drainage aspects and had tracked the changes to drainage arrangements over many years. The whole of the land from Blackpool drained through to Liggard Brook meaning that the land was regularly underwater in winter. She was worried that any development would adversely affect existing residents. She was also concerned about the effects of climate change.

Chris Homer
Of Croft Goode architects spoke in favour of the scheme saying he was aware of the benefits that Queensway would bring to the Fylde economy. It would be better for local businesses. It would provide quality housing that would be a huge asset for incoming families, and as a firm of local architects they were aware of the need for affordable homes.

Fred Moor
Spoke as part of QED last time but this time spoke as an individual resident. He provided technical arguments showing that the loss of agricultural land was wrong, that recent decisions by the Secretary of State in Fylde had increased the importance of protecting agricultural land,  that Kensington's plans for mitigation of soil were an illusion, and he criticised the idea of putting playing fields in a flood compensation area and in a flood plain when modern playing fields employed rapid drainage systems to clear the water. He then went on to make a personal statement of his views which in essence said it was not a good scheme, it was a bad scheme made barely acceptable by technical mitigation that was often illusory in practice. He said it was a sow's ear of a scheme masquerading as a silk purse.

Chris Howard
Spoke as a local resident and former lecturer in surveying. He argued that there was other land available including the former prebonds site. He said he thought that requiring the road to be built after 350 units had been occupied was too generous. It may be that 700 or more homes would have been built by that time. He thought the condition should be when 350 units had been completed (rather than occupied). He also took issue with Mr Lancaster's statement that a piled development was OK. He said that was categorically not the case, and the Cypress point development was not on the same sort of soil and with the deep peat on this site, viability could easily become an issue. He was also concerned about the number of cars the development would bring, and he raised the matter of the sewage, thousands of litres of which would be pumped to Smithy Lane pumping station which was already 'ragging up' (becoming blocked) he thought there should be a planning condition attached to the appeal requiring Kensington to upgrade the pumping station even though they had already said they would pay. Likewise there is a big water main across the Queensway site which will need to be diverted. He thought that should be attached to the application as a condition as well.

Bob Dagnall
Said he was a former housing sales and lettings manager and had been offered a job on the Park Lea estate in Blackpool when Faircloughs was about to build homes. he had turned the job down because it was bad land and not suitable for building, but Faircloughs had gone ahead. He said he gave the previous inspector a carrier bag full of newspaper cuttings to explain what had happened, and in case that hadn't got to this inspector he'd copied a summary of the saga for him. he said the Gazette's heading "Sinking Dream - Nightmare of luxury homes", showed how 14 of the houses built by Faircloughs had to be demolished because they were on bad land - and he said it's the same sort of land at Queensway.

He said the paper quoted Mr Denley Barrow, (one of Fairclough's directors at the time, who had at first denied there was any problem. But eventually fourteen houses were demolished. Mr Dagnall added that the Gazette report also quoted one of the Fairclough spokesmen as saying "The development was based on an engineering assessment, and that assessment was incorrect"

Under cross examination, Mr Lancaster seemed to have take exception to the use of Mr Barrow's name, saying that Mr Dagnall would know that both he and Mr Malcolm Hawe were directors of Faircloughs at the time and were now Directors of Kensington, but surely Mr Dagnall was not implying that Kensington had not built developments elsewhere that were satisfactory. Mr Dagnall confirmed this to be the case. Mr Lancaster went on to say that Cypress Point had been built by Kensington and he was not saying there were problems there was he? Mr Dagnall confirmed he was not making that or any assertion about Cypress point because he didn't know enough about that development, but he did think it had not been built on the same sort of deep peat soil that was found at Blackpool.

Mr Edwards
Spoke as the UK Sales Manager for Jewsons Builders and said he spoke on behalf of businesses and businesspeople, and he was looking forward to businesses profiting from the development. He said St Annes needed to grow if it was to survive and it would die if it didn't grow develop. He criticised those who had spoken in opposition saying "We should be praising Kensington for what they are doing". He argued - at times tetchily and frustrated - that Kensington were supporting small one-man band building firms and he couldn't understand why people were so against the development. In cross examination by Mr Carter, he clarified that he was not mandated by any business groups to speak on their behalf, but he was advocating the perspective of small businesses.

Ian Roberts
Said he was a local resident who wanted to question the 5,700 letters of support claimed by Kensington. He thought the letters had not been a spontaneous outpouring of public support for the scheme and wanted to know if they had been arrived at via petitions or direct mailshots to people. He gave his own experience (which we've heard many times before and indeed, commented on in 'Queensway Second Inquiry Due Soon'). He said he had been approached whilst shopping and asked if he wanted to support a new road across Lytham Moss, the development at Queensway had not been mentioned.

Mr Lancaster said Kensington had wanted to re-assess public support, and 4,000 of the 5,700 lived in the vicinity of the site, and that most people in St Anne's knew about Queensway.

John Ardern
Said he was a local estate agent who had a financial interest in seeing the development proceed. He said he had watched St Annes demise over the last 50 years, and when he came from School lane around Queensway, he saw only rough scrubland and bushes with barbed wire and he couldn't use it or access it. He couldn't see any of the amazing wildlife that other people had commented on, but if it was developed there would be a nice nature area and a proper conservation area and it would look much better (At this point we were put in mind of the Joni Mitchell song - 'They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum and charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see them. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till its gone, They paved paradise and put up a parking lot")

Mr Ardern was clearly angered by what he saw as those holding up progress, saying the town desperately needs new investment. He said Lytham has Hall Park which had added over 1,000 houses and since it was built Lytham had prospered and St Annes had declined.

In cross examination by Mr Carter for FBC, Mr Ardern readily confirmed that he was an estate agent and admitted his firm had a tie-in with Kensington and he gave them space in his shops to put up displays and so on.  Mr Carter had made similar points to the others who spoke in favour of the development, pointing out that they represented businesses that had a potential benefit from Kensington

Adrian Fielding
Said he was speaking as a resident and not part of QED who had submitted a written representation. He said he lived adjoining the site and saw the prospect of 200 houses creeping ever nearer to him over the years. He said it caused a great deal of stress and worry for him and his young family.

And there the first day closed.

We can't get to all the days, although those with time available can simply drop in and out and listen as they wish to.

There won't be many public speakers on the subsequent days, just one or two who couldn't make it on the first day.

The Inquiry will now fall into highly technical and detailed arguments - and even get quite esoteric looking at where the bus service that Kensington say they will provide for 10 years will stop and so on. There will be hugely complicated traffic figures produced to show that the scheme will make things wonderful.


WEDNESDAY 11 JANUARY 2012

 ONE OF OUR READERS REPORTS.......
o
n the DRAINAGE and FLOODING evidence.

An expert has taken detailed level mappings of the site.

The expert confirmed the site will drain into Moss drains and then Liggard Brook (numerous pumps described in several zones with the new flood compensation areas) but run off will be attenuated to green field run off rates.

It was noted and accepted that the 2011 Fylde Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (SFRA) [See Flooding Bombshell'] was a bone-fide and correct document (i.e. not a draft) (He made the specific point that evidence for the proof was gathered in October pre-document).

(According to our latest info from Fylde, this it is still a draft and not yet published. It hasn't even been shown to Councillors. Quite how anyone is supposed to check what is being said here until this data is made public is beyond us)

It was accepted that sites numbered 30 & 31 (in the revised, but not yet published, Fylde SFRA - See Flooding Bombshell') were as stated in that report, *BUT* it was argued that site 31 is made up of several parts which are in various flood zones (1 to 3) and that the Queensway housing is all in the zone 1 part.

Therefore, it was argued, that the SHLAA site boundary is not precise enough, and Kensington's Queensway housing part of site 31 is in flood zone 1.

Of course we've yet to see the detailed floodzone maps that Wyre have produced for Fylde on this matter, so we can't conclude one way of the other at present.

Kensington said they also recognise needed to raise floor levels above the 4.05m level (so floors will be 700mm above the 1 in 100 year flood level) and that they must attenuate all run-off to green field run off (no mention of effects of piling or compression in this regard but that may come tomorrow).

We wonder if the ground levels are raised above the flooding level in some areas, and this is to reduce the risk of flooding in the proposed houses, where will the water that was going to be there go? will it be a problem to existing houses around the area?

The drainage expert noted and accepted the Blackpool Coastal protection strategy document. [which we described in Flooding Bombshell' ]

Our correspondent said the quote of the day went something like this: Mr Lancaster: (while leading his drainage witness through the Fylde Coastal Defence Strategy with a picture of Fylde under water from a coastal breach). "Can you indicate on the map the location of the Application site." Witness: "In the middle of the large blue area").

The view our correspondent had was that which we have already set out in Flooding Bombshell' - that Coastal defences will need to be strengthened
(and it is assumed that they will be funded from central Government funds)

Kensington have produced their own site-specific flood risk assessment which is now signed off by the Environment agency (letter produced at last minute yesterday) which includes whatever modelling they did for climate change - so it must be all OK.

 End of argument was the view Mr Lancaster took.

Our correspondent concluded that the inspector will have to weigh it all up - in particular whether Mr Lancaster's interpretation of Fylde's SFRA is correct and whether the Environment Agency letter carries the day!

Part of the difficulty here is that Fylde have not objected on flooding grounds and have not put in any evidence themselves. That means they can't cross examine what Kensington's expert has said on flooding, and only the Inspector will be able to pose questions about it to Kensington, and he won't have seen the Fylde SFRA either.

We suspect there is more to hear about the flooding situation.


THURSDAY 12  JANUARY 2012

We open with another of the public statements submitted to the Inquiry'

Councillor Tony Ford
Of Fylde BC and St. Anne’s Town Council. He chairs the Town Council’s Planning and Environment Committee. He said the Town Council was looking forward with great anticipation to playing a much more influential role in planning matters now that the Localism Bill has been placed on the statute books.

Echoing Cllr Mrs Lanyon earlier, he said the Town Council made representations to the previous Inquiry, and objected to this particular development. Likewise he too was speaking as a local resident. His main concerns were:

Sustainability - The development would not have the facilities and services to make it a sustainable community. It would be car-dependent and would encourage shoppers and business users to go out of town. He thought it was unlikely the school would ever be built (insufficient children to make it viable, especially in the current economic climate), and this would put pressure on the existing schools - and the school run will be exacerbated. He said it would skew the town, changing its axis, and the development is so far out from St Anne’s that it will draw people out of the town not enable them to be part of it.

Need - He said there was no shortage of housing in St. Anne’s. There were already hundreds of empty homes. He accepted the need for affordable housing but said there were numerous brownfield sites suitable for housing, many already with planning permission for homes that developers have not done anything with.

Flooding - He has an allotment on Shepherd Road (within a mile of Queensway). The water table seems to have risen and, after heavy rain, parts of his plot (and others) become sodden. Long-established plot holders with 30 years of experience say the site never used to flood but they have noticed the changes over the years, especially since Cyprus Point was built.  He said the Town Council had to spend almost £3000 on additional allotment drainage to minimise flooding nuisance for adjacent houses. He said in his honest opinion Queensway was not the right site on which to build over 1,000 houses.

Localism - Under the new Localism Act, local people would have greater responsibility, and a greater say, in planning matters affecting where they live. The new Act will allow for consultation with local people about how they want the area in which they live to develop. He welcomes the changes and was making his strong personal objections now. He said local people had, via their elected representatives, consistently opposed Kensington's plans for this site. He said recent efforts to hood-wink local residents into agreeing to support this development through a misleadingly worded petition should be ignored. The Localism Act was designed to do exactly what it says on the tin - local people should decide local planning matters, and, echoing what Mrs Lanyon had said, he too said the message was clear - Let LOCAL people decide on LOCAL planning matters. People do not want a development of this size and scale in their locality. The Town Council representing 32,000 people have submitted objections, the Borough Council representing 72,000 have objected to this plan. LOCAL people have expressed their views, their concerns, and their objections through a democratic process. Their views should prevail – this is at the heart of LOCALISM and enshrined in the Localism Act.

Reader Comments
We also had a few comments from our readers who attended on Thursday, where on Mr Lancaster for Kensington concluded questioning his flood/drainage witness Rob Bowley.

They mopped up the "additional QED statement of Jan 2012 Page 11 references to the SFRA", including quoting the Planning Officer's explanation why it had been necessary to update the SFRA.  But Mr Bowley again just said the "new map was the same" without mention of any change to the risk levels of the sites shown on the map.

(And, of course, without our seeing the flooding information prepared by Wyre for Fylde, no-one, not even our elected Councillors, is in a position to challenge what is being said by Kensington who have not only seen, but claim to have further extended the flood risk analysis. The absence of the information from FBC is a disgrace. We have made that point forcibly to the Council in the last few days. We understand officers have had it since July).

Mr. Lancaster also rebutted Mr Moor's statement on drainage, saying that
"No (housing) water flows into the Farmland Conservation Area - it is there for the 1 in100 year event."  But then added that "T5  water will enter the FCA".   [T5 is Kensington's service road from what would be the Moss Road to Kilnhouse Lane - so we're still unclear!]

He said sports pitches are OK to have in Zone 2 - PPG25 says so, and that "A fast drainage system will be installed"  He also said the playing fields will not need a causeway.

Turning to concerns expressed about foundations and the deep peat soil, he said house foundations are specialist-designed, and said." I can't find any evidence that homes are uninsurable at Cyprus Point"

We were told by another correspondent that in an exchange with someone Mr Lancaster had said something like  "surely you're not suggesting that people can't get insurance on Cypress Point are you" adding that he thought such a claim was "completely without foundation."  at which point even the Inspector had a chuckle.

He went on to address points made by Mrs Lees. He said "It's fluvial not tidal "- then referred the Inspector to the "same responses given to QED's evidence."

The Inspector wanted to know if the witness had any evidence that Cyprus Point was causing flooding?" Mr Bowley  said "No."

Mr Lancaster's Highway witness then took the stand, and subsequently, a start was made on Mr Hesketh, who spoke about ecology.

We're told there was an increasingly loud clattering sound from the on-stage scaffolding job which was predicted to go on for days - so the Inspector asked to move to the studio....  Our correspondent  told us that in his opinion, "opening the safety curtain would provide more entertainment than the Inquiry will in the next few days." and he probably wouldn't be attending again.

We detected a growing sense of despondency.

What we think is at the heart of that despondency (which seems to be settling over a few of the objectors at present), is simply the weight of numbers.

Roger Lancaster, using a combination of moderately aggressive tactics to some of the opposition folk (e.g. threatening QED with four hours of cross examination if they gave spoken evidence that referred to their written submission), and being able to fund a seemingly endless series of technical experts who appear to rubbish what the opposition people have said is bad enough. But when you add to that a County Council that is almost as supportive of the scheme as Kensington is (they're being bankrolled by Kensington on this one), and who are fielding just as many experts as Kensington to support the scheme. Then you look at Fylde Council who have only one witness, and are fighting on very few of the grounds available to them. And then you look at the local people and younger QED members who can't afford to have a fortnight off work to attend the hearing and argue their case - (and that's time needed quite apart from the hours of weekend and midnight oil they've already had to burn to get as far as they have), they've done a magnificent job in preparing arguments against the scheme.

But when they seem to have their arguments rubbished by experts and are unable to respond themselves, it starts to look and feel like a walkover, and folk will become dejected.

What's missing from that equation of course is the work they put in to prepare those arguments.

And no matter how many experts Kensington bring in, it is the case made by the arguments that counts, and Mr Asquith the Inspector has seen it all before. He knows the arguments QED have made have validity, because on several occasions, he is asking Roger Lancaster more detail about the questions that QED have posed in their submission.

He's not going to be taken in, so there's no reason to be downcast.


 

 

 

FRIDAY 13  JANUARY 2012

Before we get into the main party case, we thought we'd mention the statement of

Jon Harrison
Who said he wanted to object in the strongest possible terms, believing it to be unnecessary and not in the public interest. Fylde didn't need 1000 plus dwellings created at a stroke, and to destroy one of the countries top 20 birdlife and insect habitats by building on a greenfield site comprised of high quality farm land would seem almost an act of vandalism when there were ample brownfield sites available within the borough to meet its housing needs.

He said St. Annes alone had four such sites blighting the street scene by their ‘bomb site’ appearance and they would provide space for upward of 750 dwellings.

He criticised the idea that only the Queensway development could fund the motorway link road. He also commented about Kensington's ‘petition’ showing public support for the development. He said from personal experience and the comments of some of his friends, signatures were acquired by employees of the developer, and the ‘petition’ was sold to the signatories on the basis that if they wanted the road they had to support the development.

He asked the Inspector to note that if localism is ever to become a reality it should start here. The residents of this beautiful town should be allowed to determine its development based on a sound, unbiased information from which they can make informed decisions.


Main Proceedings
When we arrived on Friday, Mr Hesketh was just finishing giving ecology expert opinion for Kensington. Mr Hesketh is the worst sort of expert to have oppose you. He's quietly spoken, always ultra reasonable, widely respected for his ability and thorough. His manner is what you'd expect from a funeral director - sensible, reassuring, capable, and on your side.

Only he's not!

That's not to say he's always right. He's not that either, and he sometimes seems to stretch the truth just enough to fit the version of events he wants you to believe. But he does it ever so gently and nicely you hardly notice he's spoken.

He too was countering some of the QED evidence. He challenged their assertion that this site is one of the most bio-diverse in Fylde, arguing that Fylde Bird Club were content with the mitigation measures, as were the RSPB, and it was now even better since Kensington had moved the 'finger of houses based on what the previous inspector had said.  (We suspect they have moved because the flood zone has changed, but at present that can't be proved). Like we said, he's ever so reasonable.

He also said QED had incorrectly interpreted Guidance Document "PPS9". He said the sequential test QED had described did not apply because it was only mentioned in one place in the document and the arguments were not expanded in the text of the document.

That sounds like dancing on a  pinhead to us.

Speaking about the adequacy of the mitigation measures proposed, he said that all the main parties agreed that the mitigation was adequate, and that it was enhanced from the mitigation proposed in 2009.

We thought - that's as may be, but the whole purpose of mitigation is to make something that's bad 'less bad'.

It's not about making it  better, or even good.

So what he was really saying was that everyone can all agree that a less bad scheme is better than an even worse one. Great. That's like saying a chocolate fireguard is better than no fireguard at all because it will take a few seconds to melt before it is useless.

And that situation is equally well described with that 'Victor Meldrew' style word we use from time to time that begins with B and ends with ollocks.

After Mr Lancaster had finished taking his expert through the evidence, there was no-one to cross examine him. LCC were on the same side, and Fylde had not cited ecology as one of their arguments. so they couldn't challenge what was said.

It was thus up to the Inspector to pick up the points that QED had made in their submission and he had one question.

He said "At 5.269, the main QED submission suggests that shale gas drilling might have some impact and he wanted to know if that was Mr Hesketh's province of Dr Manchester's (LCC Ecologist).

Mr Hesketh started to duck the issue (sorry, couldn't resist that one) in favour of Dr Manchester, but then said "Well, there's thought to be no problem with the temporary permission, but if full scale drilling was planned, with drilling rigs and wellheads and so on above ground, then they would have to show that those operations would not affect the swans in their planning application."

Sharp cookie, that inspector.

We wondered if he was thinking what we were thinking. - Kensington's proposal for the houses has, in effect chased the swans and other posh ducks away from the St Annes side of the site. The Farmland Conservation Area has been created further away from the houses to encourage and provide for the swans that are disturbed by the development.

The Farmland Conservation area  now reaches right up to the field next to the one in which Cuadrilla are currently test drilling.

If, as some predict for Fylde, we might eventually see 400 drilling rigs, set only a few hundred metres apart, there's quite a risk of disturbance at the Anna's Road end of the FCA and it may be that the FCA simply cannot do what it is supposed to do - provide a safe, undisturbed haven for the birds. Squeezed at both ends they might simply up and off.

And for some species, that will be a contravention of European regulations.

That poses an interesting question. The housing application is ahead of Cuadrilla, so we might end up wondering whether to allow the Cuadrilla development in view of potential disturbance for wildlife.

But if the Cuadrilla application had been ahead of the Queensway one, the FCA might well be further away from it (and thus nearer to St Annes), and we'd be wondering whether the housing should be allowed to disturb the wildlife.

If a future Cuadrilla application comes in and only that or the housing could be approved (on the basis safeguarding the wildlife), which would be the more important, the houses, or the gas resource?

After Mr Hesketh came Mr Appleton who is Kensington's expert for Landscape, Green belts and Soils and Agricultural Land. He undertook this role at the previous inquiry as well where we thought he performed a bit like a terrier. Teeth in, shake it till it's dead, then smile.

Last time we recall an exchange with Fylde's Barrister where he failed to give what the barrister appeared to believe was an honest answer when pressed several times. In effect he argued that back was not black, it was a shade of grey. That barrister threatened to make a report about his being an 'unreliable witness' we think was the terms used. So we were hoping for an interesting cross examination.

In his evidence, he said that the Masterplan layout had changed to take account to the previous Inspector's comments and the 'finger' of houses had been removed (He failed to mention they would have been under water as well).

He said the roads would be on embankments and that was not uncommon for this area. He said the existing road across the moss was on an embankment.

We might take issue with him there. It looks as though it is on an embankment but in reality what we have is moss land on either side of the road that has been drained and has sunk, that has been farmed and had peat cut from it as fuel and shrunk because of that, it had suffered wind erosion when dry and has sunk because of that. So it's not an embankment as much as the land sinking on either side of it.

He said the loss of Best and Most Versatile agricultural land for the houses was 8.5 ha. Mr Lancaster followed up to say the loss from the moss road scheme couldn't be taken to count against the housing scheme (that's despite Kensington having paid for the road application, paid for the experts to produce the evidence for it and quite possibly (though we don't know this to be fact, paying for the experts to attend the Inquiry on LCC's behalf, oh and despite Mr Lancaster opening the batting by saying if Kensington didn't fund the road it wouldn't get built)

Then we got into some quite detailed stuff about the proposed Nature Park. It seems that Fylde were claiming that part of this would be lost to agriculture. Mr Lancaster asked the witness if Fylde had objected to the loss of agricultural land on the nature park at the last inquiry "No"

Expanding further Mr Appleton said although Fylde claimed there would be 4 Ha loss of BMV land, he disputed that because the land would not be significantly modified and it could thus return to agriculture if it needed to. He actually said "if the country were to run short of cabbages, it could quickly be changed back to BMV land.

He then dealt with an issue about the wetness of the area limiting the grade to the land. Others, including QED had raised the matter which said in essence that if Kensington had been maintaining the drainage on the existing land better than they were, some of the Grade 3b land (which is not Best and Most Versatile) could move up to 3a or higher (which is BMV), he said wetness was not the only reason to downgrade land.

Here he was telling the truth, but not the whole truth. The actual quote from the soil survey his own soil expert (Mr Stephenson) says "Sub Grade 3b ..... These soil types fall within wetness class IV. They are limited to this sub grade by moderate to severe wetness and workability factors" (The workability is about the lack of ability to work the land because it is wet).

Economical with the actualité - as they say

Best and Most Versatile loss was one of the areas that Fylde had argued on. They contended that as well as the loss admitted by Kensington, there were a further four or so hectares that would be lost under the nature park.

He warmed up on Mr Appleton with some easy questions. An example of this was his use of the salesman's technique of getting the punter into a positive frame of mind and ready to agree by stating the obvious, so Mr Carter for Fylde said. "The re-use of soil for playing fields and gardens and the like - can we agree that these areas are not agricultural land are they"

"Yes, we can agree"

"And with regard to the nature park, the western half of that is in the floodzone isn't it ?" ..........."Yes"

And the soil report says the soil is a mix of Grade 3a and 3b isn't it?"......."Yes"

"But there's no precise figure for the split"  ...... "No, we didn't do an analysis on that area"

The Nature park is about 12 Ha isn't it?"  ....... "Yes"     "And roughly half of it is not in the floodzone?" .......  "Yes"  .......  "So that's about 6 ha, and would it be fair to estimate that about half of that would be BMV land?"  After an exchange of descriptions, Mr Appleton agreed that he thought that area might contain about 3 ha of BMV.

Mr Carter moved in for the kill.

"But that land is going to be lost to the development isn't it, because the Nature Park Area, is to remain as such 'in perpetuity' by a legal agreement is it not?"

Mr Appleton agreed that it was an 'in perpetuity' agreement, but said that didn't matter because if it were ever needed for agriculture it could be changed back.

We watched the blade flash as Mr Carter raised the knife. "But, Mr Appleton' you will know, as I know, that the Planning Act defines types of development - operational, and planned - and the nature park is thus development is it not?"

Down came the blade, plunged deep into the heart of the argument.

"Yes, but" began Mr Appleton - and, after a lengthy series of attempts to say the rules didn't matter because in practice it could become agricultural land again, (and where we thought he came perilously close to being openly dishonest in order not to lose the point), he was eventually forced to make himself look foolish by maintaining his stance when it was clear to everyone he was wrong, as Mr Carter said "Are you conceding that 11.5ha will be lost [not the 8.5ha that Kensington admitted to] because of the Queensway scheme.?"

The knife struck again

Mr Appleton said "No" he wasn't conceding the (blindingly obvious) point and was then was reduced to scrabbling about for arguments to mitigate the loss of face he was suffering (Fylde hadn't done an assessment of all the agricultural land, and other factors needed to be taken into account, and you can't assess this against other land), all of which were dismissed as the irrelevance they were by Mr Carter who had shown the accuracy of his own statement, and the unreliability of Kensington's expert witness to give reliable technical information on this matter.

Mr Lancaster tried to pull it back in re-examination of his witness, saying that FBC hadn't raised this matter at the last inquiry and so on, but we didn't think he was convincing.

Mr Lancaster's next witness (after lunch) was Tony McAteer. He's the main planning man in the Kensington Inquiry. He fights hard, but we've always found he fights fair, and if he's wrong or doubtful on something he will be candid about it.

Mr Lancaster opened the question on the number of years supply of housing that Fylde had.

This always takes ages and is basically a theoretical and arcane argument about imaginary numbers of houses that are needed. It's witchcraft dressed up as science.

The Government's (stupid in our opinion) laws say that Fylde has to show it can meet its housing need for the next five years by identifying land for housing development that will meet that need.

There are all sorts of vagaries that go into this melting pot. The number of divorce and separations (needing two homes where there was one before), the number of families fragmenting, immigration, population projections and so on. But at the end of it, now that the ridiculous target from the last Government set out in the Regional Strategy is discredited, Fylde has to produce its own target number.

That's about to be announced, so there was a greatly argument in the Inquiry about how much weight should be attached to which figures and so on.

Equally the legislation is very prescriptive about which sites can be counted within the five years. You can only count those with planning permission and all the other hurdles cleared, and there the developer says he plans top build them within the five year period. So, for example, when Kensington say they will only build say 100 of their 1,150 houses each year, only 500 of them can count toward the five year target.

Frankly it's a giant game of lotto

But the biggest con of all is that some people claim that you should backdate the number when you arrive at it - so Fylde would already be years behind even when it's number is published.

That (predictably) was the argument that Kensington made. Fylde on the other hand seem to be saying that their new target number will start from when it is published, and they refuse to accept a 'backlog'

And so the 'bidding'  started. Mr Lancaster said Fylde could show a 1 point something year supply of which on the best possible interpretation Fylde could make would go up to a 2.06 year supply.  Fylde on the other hand claimed it's figures showed it would have a just over the required  five year supply when its new figure, (widely heralded to be 288 dwellings a year or less) is in place, and 'backdated' claims are excluded.

On we went, playing the game of 'targets' with claim and counter claim about how and what you should count in the stats to get to the 'target'

And this is where Roger Lancaster dropped the Pontins Bombshell. He was arguing against some of the numbers QED had quoted, and 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.

Doing so helps his case of course, because the less that can count toward Fylde's five year supply, the more important Queensway becomes.

Sadly, we couldn't stay to the end of the day, but we did manage to get a the Pontins information out as a 'newsflash' to those readers who have signed up for (free) notifications when a new article is published.

So there we are until Tuesday, when the Inquiry re-opens and Mr McAteer resumes evidence and cross examination.


TUESDAY 17 JANUARY

MR MCATEER'S EVIDENCE

We arrived half an hour into the Inquiry at 10am to find it suspended whilst enquiries were made about the great banging noises emanating from offstage at Lowther Pavilion.

Staff had been dispatched to see if it could be quietened or stopped. It couldn't, so the Inspector said it was not tolerable to continue in such noisy circumstances and he would move into the side room where it might be (and was) quieter. Staff were dispatched to set up the side room and an adjournment of 40 minutes was declared.

We recall seeing copies of some emails about timetabling of the event and Fylde had suggested the most suitable venue for the Inquiry wouldn't be available until May. Kensington had objected to such a long delay before the start of the inquiry, and FBC had said the only space available for 2 weeks would be the studio room to which we were about to decamp. Looks like they were right.

Decamp we did, and the enquiry resumed with the cross examination of Kensington's Mr McAteer.

Fylde's barrister flowed smoothly and, as you would expect, he had a good grip of his topics. Mr McAteer (as we have said before) is a good witness and gives ground where it is right to do so. That said, he felt the need to 'qualify' some of the answers he was pushed into giving.

Frequently, when invited by FBC's barrister to agree to something that had been stated or published by Fylde, he said "That's what it says" and was picked up by the barrister who asked if that reply meant that he disagreed with what Fylde has said on this, or that he thought Fylde was not telling the truth?.

The response was "No, it was simply a statement to confirm that's what it said"

It's all in the perception of course.

Mr Carter (for FBC) went through, and obtained Mr McAteer's agreement to what had happened at Mowbreck Lane at Wesham, where the Secretary of State had found reason to refuse the appeal, and a court had subsequently confirmed the refusal following a Judicial Review.

He then went on to say that when those were found to be appropriate decisions by the Secretary of State, things were much further behind then they are now weren't they? The Localism Act was only a Bill, and much further back in the Parliamentary Process than it is now, and the clarity of the intention to abolish regional strategies was much less certain than it was now, and Fylde Council - although it may not have published anything on its Local development Framework yet - had made more progress toward its Local Plan hadn't it?

So, since the Wesham decisions, things were now even more advanced, therefore more weight should be attached to the outcome of those decisions shouldn't it?

And of course, the same things applied to the issues that refused the Ballam Road appeal didn't they?

Point scoring punches, we thought.

There was another nice little foray by Mr Carter when he was talking about counting 'windfall sites' and things like conversions of existing property and their relationship to the target housing numbers.

Mr McAteer appeared to say that windfalls should not be counted and he disagreed with the view of FBC on this.  Mr Carter then said but Kensington is represented on the Steering Group that came up with that policy isn't it?  So you have already had input into that decision by Fylde?

Yes, but.......

Those that had been downhearted because Kensington seemed to be 'winning the arguments' will have taken heart from today as Mr Carter landed body blows, if not knockout punches, on Kensington's case.

Mr Carter went on to show how Judge Sycamore in the Wesham case appeared to be in conflict with some of Mr McAteer's statements and views, and he suggested that in this case, it was Judge Sycamore that was in the right, and  Mr McAteer that was in the wrong.

There was also an interesting exchange on agricultural land where Mr Carter noted that the designation of Best and Most Versatile Land is part of the Development Plan Process, and that because Fylde hadn't undertaken that aspect yet (but would do so as part of the plan process),  he invited Mr McAteer to agree that its absence was simply that Fylde hadn't got to it yet?

He also referred to the Guidance in PPG7 about evaluating Best and Most Versatile land, and said that in local plan preparation terms, it wasn't only BMV land that counted. It applied to all agricultural land in local plan terms didn't it, and Queensway was a large area of agricultural land wasn't it? Mr McAteer agreed - with one of his increasingly frequent 'qualifications' aimed at weakening what he had been pushed into agreeing.

Mr Carter then turned to the issue of public support and laid into the 5,700 letters supplied by Kensington. He said they had been elicited as a result of contact with people who supported the scheme, and he invited Mr McAteer to agree that if he had wanted to ensure an objective view, it would be necessary to have the number of those that had refused to sign and to have the survey undertaken by an independent body wouldn't it?

Mr McAteer disagreed. He said the fact that people had a choice whether to support the scheme or not meant that it was a proper process.

Mr Carter continued, but the process was that people stood in town centres or wherever and approached others or were approached, and asked if people supported the scheme and those that said yes were asked to do a letter weren't they? Mt McAteer said Yes but a few of them sent in unsolicited letters.

Mr Carter said, so - according to that process it's akin to a petition isn't it? Mr McAteer disagreed, saying they has sent letters in giving their name and address. Mr Carter said he thought it was still akin to a petition because signatories to those also provided their names and addresses.

He suggested to Mr McAteer that had no record of the people who had refused to sign had he? Mr McAteer said "That is correct". Mr Carter continued, so how can you know what the true picture is?

\there was also an exchange about how much information had been given to people asked to give their support, and whether that included the development, or just support for the road. Again, they could not agree.

Finally on public support, Mr Carter referred to the Gazette's online poll which, according to Mt McAteer's evidence had shown a majority in support of the scheme. He asked - "With what rigour was the poll carried out" Mr McAteer said "I don't know." Mr Carter continued, "Does it, for example, prevent multiple voting? Mr McAteer "I don't know" Mr Carter concluded by saying "Well how can we attach any weight to it then?

As we have said before, we think the future will see such surveys and polls to be used in evidence, undertaken by trusted organisations with experience of such matters.

There were also questions of greenbelt and transport for Mr McAteer to answer. before his evidence concluded and we reached the lunch recess.

After lunch it was expected that Lancashire County Council would open their batting on plans for the Moss Road. We were not able to stay.

However.......

ONE OF OUR READERS WRITES.....

On Tuesday afternoon the County Council ran through witnesses for Ecology (Dr Manchester / Mr Hesketh), Flooding (Mr Bowley,) Traffic (Mr Cleve) and Planning (Mr Haine)

In the ecology there was not much new - but there was a debate around conditions concerning the effects and location of the link road construction compounds (which must be 200m from the FCA), lighting and how barn owl fatalities would be monitored.

Interestingly the lighting was seen as a potential problem by both ecologists and the airport. The airport because they enabled birds to perch and the ecologists because predatory birds would use them to launch attacks on the farmland birds - the result being that the lights would likely need spikes putting on them to discourage birds.

Dr Manchester in her examination thought the barn owl fatalities could be counted by Fylde bird club - Mr Hesketh in his examination helpfully expanded and saw it as a function of the farmland conservation area manager and that if necessary the landscape/cropping around the FCA could be adapted (we thought this slightly misses the point in that the FCA is only a small part of the length of the road).

As the afternoon wore on and time moved towards 5pm the witnesses appearances grew shorter and shorter as Inquiry fatigue appeared to set in as neither Fylde nor Kensington's teams could ask any questions. Mr Bowley made a brief re-appearance to describe the flood compensation arrangements for the road. Mr Cleve took the inspector through a brief description of the scheme and its strategic relationship covering various traffic matters.

The inspector specifically asked about the Fylde local plan which states 50% of the road would be funded by developments around Whitehills.

Mr Cleve could not answer fully - and this question was later picked up again by the County's final witness Planning Officer Mr Haine - whose brief appearance at the Inquiry in the afternoon was only surpassed by Mr Otterwell for Fylde (whose proof of evidence was taken as read!)  It was a whirlwind 5 minute climax to the County's witnesses - characterised by a series of abrupt Yes / No answers with no deviation or repetition.

There was specific reference to localism where he advanced his own view of localism (probably in response to Mr Moor's comments on a recent planning application for the Victoria Hotel in Fylde that had been refused on the grounds of community concerns) - that all decisions would still be made on local and national planning grounds.

It was unclear, but did sound very much that Mr Haine was aiming his remarks at least partly at the Support Queensway petition which was, ironically, in favour of the road (presumably in fear of the precedence it might set for other schemes in Lancashire).

The argument he made against Fylde's local plan statement that the road would be 50% funded by developments around Whitehills appeared to be that firstly, the statement about funding the road was in a pre-amble to Fylde's Planning Policy TR13 (and so, he argued, it was not part of TR13) and anyway, it has been superseded by the offer to fully fund the road by the Queensway application.

[That's very thin ice in our view. The preamble that introduces the policy explains and clarifies the 'why' and 'how' of the policy statement. Both are part of the local plan - but when you have to try and convince someone that black is really dark grey, you sometimes have to get the smoke and mirrors out (cb)]

When invited to say if there was anything else he would like to add - he rounded off with an unprompted assertion that effectively as there were no longer any EMP1 planning applications at Whitehills - the road could only be funded by the Queensway housing scheme.

[What he didn't say was that LCC have a large chunk of land off Cropper Road near to Whitehills, and if the road is built, it's likely to become much more valuable. However, if LCC were to consider developing it before the moss road is built, they could well be asked to bear a big part of the cost of the road (cb)]

In a change of plan for the rest of the week, the site visit is taking place on Wednesday and the Inquiry restarts at 10am Thursday for 'Conditions' followed by closing statements.


Saturday 21 Jan 2012

The Inquiry has now closed and the Inspector has gone away to consider the arguments made to him.

The legions of experts from Kensington and LCC drove their arguments home with scale if not with precision. Many will have left thinking that Kensington will have won the battle.

We don't think that.

We can't see anything that has changed in their favour from last time. If anything events have moved against them. as Fylde's barrister demonstrated.

We also think that the Rt Hon St Eric Pickles won't be convinced to change his mind. He's all for localism. He brought in the Localism Act specifically to give local people more say in how they are governed.

Some are now subverting that desire to claim that Parish, Town and Borough Councils are the voice of local people and they're the ones who should be listened to. Others say it is, and should be, as the old St Annes Council armorial bearings said "Sallus Populi Suprema Lex Est"   (the good of the people be the supreme law), and the will of the people directly should carry sway.

But either way as Cllr Mrs Lanyon said at the Inquiry " "I also ask you to bear in mind that the voice of local people - as expressed through their elected Town Councillors, through their elected Borough Councillors and through the local campaign group QED, has consistently opposed Kensington's plans for this site. If the Localism Act means what it says - that local people should decide local planning matters - the message to you and to the Government could not be more clear"

So now we wait for a while to hear the verdict. Last time it took from December to July to have the decision, but that was interrupted by a national election, so we guess it could be April or May when we hear.

Our own prediction?

Kensington's housing: Appeal refused

LCC Road Application: Could go either way, but probably approved with some changed conditions.


Dated:   21 January 2012


info@counterbalance.org.uk

To be notified when a new article is published, please email 
notify@counterbalance.org.uk