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Queensway Lost

Queensway Lost(With apologies to John Milton)

On 21 June this year - via the Rt Hon Saint Eric Pickles - the Government announced it had allowed the appeal by the Kensington PT Partnership on land south of Queensway, and thus granted planning permission for a disastrous 1,150 houses to be built on Lytham Moss.

When he *refused* Kensington's appeal for the first time (just two years ago this month), we elevated the Rt Hon Eric Pickles to Sainthood for what he had done for local people.

His plan for 'localism' was a certain vote winner for the Conservatives and, more importantly, it seemed as though it would restore people's faith in their ability to make a difference with their vote. Fylde had voted strongly Conservative, and almost immediately on taking office, St Eric squashed the Housing Targets and refused Kensington's appeal.

Life was as it should be.

But Kensington, who own - or have options on - a huge swathe of farmland encircling Lytham St Annes, care about their money-making activity that turns agricultural land at £7,000 and acre into building land with planning permission worth something like £800,000 an acre - so they made a legal challenge to the decision and it had to be re-considered.

Between 21 June and 22 June this year,  the benefit of what is now that planning permission from Government changed the value of the land at Lytham Moss - increasing it to give a gross profit of more than 100 times the purchase outlay.

What a difference a couple of years makes.

There are only three significant things that have changed since St Eric's first refusal of the appeal.

Firstly, the Regional Strategy had still not been fully abolished last time, and should have been taken more into account in his first decision - albeit the Government telegraphed its intention to abolish all of the Regional Strategies as long ago as it's pre-election manifesto. This situation allowed Kensington to successfully claim in court that the first refusal by St Eric had not taken proper account of the Regional Strategy, and thus the Government's first decision on the matter was set aside.

In this, his second consideration of the appeal, St Eric said he had considered the Regional Strategy and had given it 'some' weight. We don't think that is much of a change in practical terms.

Secondly, the planning permission for the Moss Road has been run in tandem with this appeal (last time there was no permission for the road, it had 'lapsed'), but that in itself cannot have altered the facts about the housing - because the previous plans relied on the existence of the road just as much anyway.

The only other significant change has been the introduction of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which has planning objectives that are less clear than they used to be, but includes an inbuilt and overriding commercial imperative to build. This was undoubtedly pushed by Chancellor George Osborne to help produce the illusion of economic 'growth' in the UK - based on increased debt. He simply cannot - or will not - see that more borrowing will make the economic situation worse. He has proposed more of the disastrous same direction that got us into the financial mess in the first place. Just take a look at our last article for a further explanation of the financial disaster he is unfolding.

In Fylde, the NPPF produced an unexpected (but very welcome) result in the appeal for 'the Vic'. But it has also brought an equally unexpected (but in this case unwelcome) result for Queensway - and in doing so, it demonstrates its potential for inconsistent decisions set within a framework that is less clear than before. It shows a Government failing in its responsibility to the people, and in thrall to (or in awe of) banking, finance, and business.

Queensway is undoubtedly a milestone decision and, together with the changed Government policy behind it, is a precedent-setting decision. It will have ramifications up and down the country as similar decisions are taken - either in the name of 'growth' or, more probably, in fear of litigation by aggressive developer litigants.

Middle England is now starting to feel the development shockwaves of Osborne and the Treasury's interference in planning policy.

Readers will probably have expected us to 'downgrade' St Eric from his beatification, but we don't plan to do that.

And that's because we don't believe he is behind this decision.

As we said way back in 'Change of Plan' in August 2011, we're entirely convinced that we see the dead hand of the Treasury Solicitors team behind this change of heart. We see a policy change introduced by Osborne and supported by Cameron, and we believe St Eric has had to accept the policy shift.

When faced with the Government's solicitors - who work from the George Osborne's Treasury - saying something like 'well since the NPPF was published there isn't really enough ground for you to base a refusal on Eric, especially if Kensington litigate on the matter.... but of course, as ever, its up to you to make your own mind up about it, but don't say we didn't warn you if it all goes pear-shaped' (or language to that effect). You can see why this decision might have come about.  And it's also why he will remain St Eric as far as counterbalance is concerned.

So what were the technical planning arguments used to allow the appeal, and where did things go wrong to allow such a situation to come about.

We can do little better here than to quote extracts from a QED letter we have seen. It was sent to Councillors. QED said:

"No doubt, you will all have seen the decision on Queensway and the consequences that will now follow.

Our options are now closed.
QED would like to acknowledge the support of the Councillors throughout this process. We have found that Councillors have acted with integrity, listened to the significant number of residents who opposed the application and acted on those views within the Development Management Committee.

Many may see this as a good decision for the rural communities, taking the pressure off from developers. However, we have read the detailed verdict report and consider the risks to be as strong as ever. The key element – a five year housing supply – will not be resolved by the Queensway decision. As QED argued through the Inquiry, most of this development will occur after year 6. Fylde still does not have a five year supply.

The key factors at the Mowbreck Lane Inquiry have also now been undermined. The Queensway appeal ruled Fylde settlement boundary policy is weak and the loss of agricultural land is now accepted by the government, and the five year housing supply shortage means a default Yes to almost anything.

In our view, the cause of the loss can be shared amongst the following:

  1. The long-term failure of the Council to produce an up-to-date Local Plan so it could control its own decision making process. It has been obliged to produce the plan for many years but it has dragged its heels and in the process put all of our neighbourhoods and the countryside of Fylde at risk. With Queensway, those risks have been realised. The green belt between St Anne’s and Blackpool has been irrevocably damaged. The only readily accessible countryside to residents of St Anne’s has been lost.

  2. A failure of QED and the Council to produce a strong enough defence at the Inquiry. Councillors have consistently given a very strong message to officers that the case should be defended. In our view, the case presented was not strong enough." "Time and again, points were scored by community groups. Time and again, those points were weakened because the local authority had raised no objection. In future decisions, we would recommend that Councillors take a greater responsibility for the oversight and decision making within the appeal case itself, rather than delegating all responsibility to officers.

  3. Both the Council and QED's case were undermined by the active promotion of the combined road and housing scheme by Lancashire County Council (who were partly funded at the last Inquiry by Kensingtons) and also by the inactivity of other governmental agencies and quangos.

  4.  A failure of the current Government to act on its promises to give local people a say in shaping their communities, and an abject failure to protect the countryside and the green belt despite all the rhetoric and promises made by ministers. Our view is that there is little point participating in the local plan options consultation for residents of St Anne’s. Despite the governments claim, the planning options for St Anne’s have been pre-determined by the loss of this appeal.

  5. A determined developer with deep pockets able to engage and mobilise significant resources to continuously adapt and promote the scheme throughout the process.

Going forward, we urge you to put momentum and keep momentum behind the revised local plan process. We are confident that the Chief Executive will support this throughout. We also urge you to review the housing numbers. The conclusion of a gross number of 280 is very surprising. We looked at the data and the calculations and came to a different conclusion. We would recommend that you seek a separate and independent view from those who put forward the 280.

To put this in context, Blackpool – a borough of twice the size of Fylde - has proposed reducing its housing target from 444 to 300. Fylde is proposing to reduced its from 306 to 280 even though it is forecast that Fylde’s death rate will exceed its birth rate (unlike Blackpool).

Common sense suggests that the Fylde number is far too high. In our view, every ward within Fylde will be at risk with a number as high as 280 even if Fylde completes its local plan. Fylde will need to maintain a 5 year supply (actually under the new framework it will be 6 years given consistent under delivery) and developers will probably have their own way for the foreseeable future. Even with the Queensway decision, and if the brownfield sites at Pontins, Heyhouses and Warton all come forward, Fylde is likely to have an undersupply against 280 per year.

Once again, we thank-you for your co-operation and support. We all have a common objective to make our borough a better place. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, the Queensway decision will make our community worse.

There is still work to be done on this application. The detailed plans and reserved matters will be of direct concern to residents close to the site and will enable further important refinement to influence aspects of what is actually built. There are a number of residents for whom this decision has very serious adverse consequences; they will need the Council and their local councillors support in what will now be difficult years to minimise the impact.


So - from the pen of those most involved - you have the causes as they see them.

We'd add a few more.

As we said in 'Flooding Bombshell' FBC's officers could and should have made much more of the flood risk. They were - in our opinion - intentionally recalcitrant over the issue of their revised Strategic Flood Risk Assessment, where, working with the Environment Agency, they could have made a much stronger case for refusal based on flood risk, and should have published their findings much earlier.

Instead, they delayed publication until a week or so before the Inquiry and thus allowed Kensington to propose its solution in the Inquiry when no-one else (such as QED) had the figures or the opportunity to challenge what Kensington proposed by way of mitigation.

We said at the time heads should have rolled for such dereliction of duty when the Council had said it wanted to resist the application.

It also didn't help that (as we said in Free Ride for Kensington at Queensway?) a senior planning officer - Assistant Director of Planning Services Mark Evans - submitted a private report and put it to Councillors in secret session - a report that recommended offering no objection to the principle of Kensington's proposed development this time around.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. We're surprised he's still in post at Fylde after letting down local residents and elected members so badly.

Furthermore, as we have repeatedly said, (most recently and forcefully in 'Housing Numbers') Fylde's acceptance of the patently ridiculous basis that was used for calculating housing need, has robbed the Council of its arguments to prevent developers claiming they don't have enough houses.

For heaven's sake!, as everyone can see from looking in an estate agent's window - they do! It's simply that some people can't afford them.


Deal with that via public subsidy to potential homeowners if necessary, not by grossly overstating need and concreting over the countryside.

We also place particular blame on Lancashire County Council and its collusion with Kensington who funded all the experts to create a design for the moss road that would be acceptable financially, but sub-prime in terms of road safety. We also believe - despite what LCC argued at the inquiry - that they have not properly thought through the problems that trying to hold the water that comes from the road and the new housing area will cause if, as United Utilities will require, they have to hold it back to enter the main drainage system at field run-off rates.

We are also critical of United Utilities. They know there will have to be an additional sewage pumping station or additional capacity added to the existing one, but they chose to say this could be settled after the planning permission was given and raised no objection to the appeal.

We now believe it's no accident that they decided to stall their planned additional sewage treatment works off Mains Lane last autumn. (See 'Sewage Sea Shore' for more details).

They will have seen the possibility of Queensway (and Whyndyke Farm 3,000 new houses altogether), being given permission and will have wanted to see what happened before siting their new facility.

Equally we're not at all surprised that they have just this last week (after the Queensway decision) announced that Mains Lane is now only to have additional sewage storage tanks provided (rather than a treatment works). Now they know they will have to cater for another 1,150 at Queensway, and probably 2,000 houses at Whyndyke, the issue of where to put the new sewage works is back in the melting pot.

Finally, we also argue - as we have consistently argued - that Fylde has never understood how important its agricultural land is. The very name Fylde means field. Agriculture as an industry is by far the biggest industry in terms of land use and impact on the countryside. Fylde's tourism officers can tell you how many people buy seaside ice creams on a wet Tuesday in July and what socio-economic groups they belong to, but Fylde's planners have no idea how much of their own agricultural land falls within grades 1 to 5, and why it does so. Nor do they know how difficult or how easy it would be to change those grades. And they have no idea where the various grades of agricultural land are located and how they relate to each other.

The impact of this is that some of the potentially best farmland in Fylde (and it would be if Kensington had ensured the drains and ditches had been better cleared) will now be destroyed. Fylde lifted not one finger to try and save it on agricultural grounds, irrespective of at least two planning policies that said building should not take place where there was land of lesser quality (i.e. using a sequential approach and the worst land first).

So for all these reasons, we say Fylde's officers have a case to answer in respect of pulling their punches on this appeal, even though its elected members said they would have refused to grant permission. Fylde (especially via it's planning officers) subsequently created, or allowed the conditions to come about, that justified the Government changing its mind, and granting the appeal.

But that said, the decision *was* made by Government, and that's where the buck has to stop.

We know readers who are now putting their property near the site up for sale, before it goes any further.

We know another reader (who we might have expected to be a 'natural' Conservative voter) who was so incensed that she has written to tell the Conservatives that they will never again enjoy her support.

It is inevitable that the decision will have electoral consequences like this, and those consequences are likely to grow in significance as development in order to create the Treasury's illusory debt-based  'growth' actually gets under way. Not just at Queensway, but across the country, as the same thing happens elsewhere.

On the Queensway scheme itself, our main worry is the land drainage and the foundation arrangements linked to the soil. The plans that LCC drew up to deal with drainage as far as their road was concerned were little short of a joke to anyone with an understanding of the local circumstances. If LCC think they can do what they planned to do, we predict there will be trouble.

So what will happen next, what will we see?

Well, taking those questions in reverse order, the answers are firstly that not much will happen on site for a while. It's thought by those in the know that (with one exception) it could be several years before much happens at all.

What does happens now, is a discussion between FBC, LCC and Kensington, about the actual details and positions on the ground of things that are at present only on 'illustrative' plans.

On site, probably the first thing most people will notice will be the pre-loading with stone. To what we expect to be the dismay of current lovers of the moss, there will be vast areas (the route of the moss road, the housing area) covered with a great deal of heavy stone that will be tipped there. The aim of this pre-loading is to squash the peat soil underneath the stone to make it a better and more firm foundation on which to construct things. (And of course, it will displace the water that the peat previously held, and that has to go somewhere).....

Then the development is likely to be built in three or more phases with perhaps a hundred units a year depending on market conditions - starting at the Queensway end and advancing in stages towards Wildings Lane to enable the wildlife to 'relocate'.

The road infrastructure will be constructed in stages, triggered by pre-agreed occupation levels being reached - the new cross road from Wild Lane to Queensway and the Queensway roundabout will complete before the upgraded Moss Road to Whitehills.

Development of the school site is the responsibility of Lancashire County Council - if they fail to fund and commence build of the school within pre-agreed timescales this too will revert to housing.

There might well be other implications. A boundary review might well be needed, and changes to Councillor numbers to effect proper representation. It could even result in the creation of an additional ward.

All this is, of course, unless Kensington sell the site on to another company such as Redrow - as they have done on several of their other sites that received planning permission.

Dated:  11 July 2012


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