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Snippets and the Vic: June 2012

Snippets and the Vic: June 2012QUEENSWAY TO GO AHEAD
Sad to report that Kensington's planning application for 1,150 homes on Queensway has been approved on appeal, as has the plan for a new Moss Road.

We'll bring readers an analysis shortly.

We were wrong - and we are delighted we were wrong.

In a note circulated by Newsflash to our readers who are signed up for our free email notifications, we advised that the Planning Inspectorate has turned down McCarthy and Stone's appeal to demolish the Victoria Hotel building in St Annes, and turn it into an apartment block.

This is a ground-breaking decision, and of national significance.

Fylde Council had previously refused planning permission (using a very unusual approach for that refusal). They cited community value of the pub as the reason for turning the application down.

In 'The Vic Public Inquiry' and in our previous article 'Vic Inquiry Due Soon' we said we were concerned that planning folk at Fylde might be provoking a confrontation between established planning policy and the new localism, in order to discredit some aspects of localism.

Based on the planning policies that existed at the time of our first article, there was no way McCarthy and Stone's appeal should have been refused.

Furthermore, the relevant bits of the Localism Act that would have given some value to its continuance as a community facility had not been enacted. So we couldn't see any prospect of Localism being used either, hence our view that the appeal would be allowed and the Vic would be demolished.

But what we (and we suspect many of the professional planners) missed along the line, was the impact of introducing the new 'National Planning Policy Framework' by Government.

This Framework had a terrible conception and birth - with huge opposition to it's proposals (as we have mentioned in several articles). Government modified it and blunted some of that opposition, but many still saw the deletion of over 400 pages of detailed national planning guidance and its replacement with just 50 pages of philosophy, as a recipe to deliver a housing growth agenda irrespective of public concern and other factors.

But - at least on this occasion - it doesn't seem to have been used in that way .

The new National Planning Policy Framework is much more high level (which some people might describe as being more vague) than the previous advice, and that has allowed the Planning Inspector a much greater freedom of expression within it.

And she has used that freedom in the case of the Vic.

She listened to the campaigners and to the LSA Civic Society (who deserve a deal of credit for their part in forming her decision) and decided they had the better case.

To us, it looks as though she came to a view that the Vic appeal should be turned down, and subsequently constructed arguments chiefly using arguments from the NPPF that support that conclusion, but either way, it's the right result.

Her report says she had to consider where the planning balance lay amongst competing arguments eg.

  • Whether the Vic was a heritage asset and, if so, how significant it was
  • Whether the Vic was an established, valued, community facility, capable of having a viable future
  • Whether the proposal would help meet an identified housing need.

About the heritage value, she says "I take the view that, in terms of EH’s categories of value, the VH [the Vic] has sufficient aesthetic, historical and cultural value to be of local significance and to merit consideration in the planning balance. Therefore, in my determination, the VH [the Vic] is a heritage asset that is undesignated."

In terms of the significance of its heritage value, she says "The impact of the proposal would be a total loss of a nondesignated heritage asset of local significance. This must be considered in the planning balance."

Turning to the second of her tests she concludes "I am satisfied that the VH [the Vic] represents an established, valued community facility, which integrates a wide variety of people and meets a range of social needs."....... and "The loss of the VH [the Vic] would significantly detract from the community’s social needs and the sustainability of this community. In my judgement it would also have an adverse impact on the regeneration of the St. Albans Road area."

Looking at the housing need she says "In order to meet the housing needs of families and younger households as well as the elderly, it would seem that there is a need to balance the type of housing in the area. Whilst the proposal might result in older households moving out of family houses, thereby releasing them onto the housing market, there is no guarantee that this would occur or in what numbers. Given the level of in-migration of the elderly, if any such houses were released, this might be in another administrative area outside of the Fylde Borough."

And with those (and a few more) reasons, she concluded that the appeal should be dismissed.

You can follow this link to download her full 31 page report.

Whether she formed a view and then found justification to support it, or whether her view flowed from the evidence that is presented in her report, we're thrilled.

We're thrilled for the campaigners led by 'Brigadier' Nash. Thrilled that an important piece of the history of St Annes will not be demolished for apartments. Thrilled that the visual aspect of that part of town is set to remain in character, thrilled that the Community might get to keep what the Inspector and several participants described as a 'working-class local' and thrilled most of all that the process of the appeal has not damaged the concepts of localism and has, if anything, strengthened its importance.

We began by saying we were wrong when we had previously predicted the appeal would be granted, and we have never been more delighted to be wrong.

Whether the professional planning officers at Fylde will also be as delighted we couldn't say. This is another significant decision they got wrong. We think they are still stinging from their earlier recommendation to approve the aerospace development at Warton - which Members refused to accept, and where an Inspector dismissed an appeal proving the members of the planning committee right. Officers also got it wrong on Pontins last time around.

And again here at the Vic, they got it wrong. Although the Councillors on the Development Management Committee got it right (by voting for refusal and ignoring their officers' recommendation to approve the demolition and re-development). It was those same officers - and their political masters in the Cabinet - who subsequently judged that no evidence should be presented to the Vic inquiry in the hope that they wouldn't have to face a claim for costs if they lost - who have been shown to have let down the community they serve.

On the other hand, 'Brigadier' Nash - with his St Annes on the Sea Town Council hat on - has carried the day and deserves the credit for his efforts. We salute what he, and Cllr Carol Lanyon of the Town Council did against all the odds, but we wonder - what now? Will the campaigners be able to retain the community drive that has brought them this far? Will we see a 'Community Interest Company' bring a more businesslike feel to proceedings? Will their plans become mired in red tape and council prescriptions?

The first hurdle will probably be to look at how - as a community group - they might raise the finance, and to embark on the process to develop a business plan that will make the Vic - and some community use of it - viable.

We wish them well.

We're amazed and horrified to have discovered what we believe is another first for Fylde.

They're selling off the Public Offices and other land to fund a renovation of the Town Hall. We're not ecstatic about that, but it was known policy before they were re-elected, so fair enough, they have a mandate.

And equally, we know that on occasions, (such as competitive tendering), some people believe it is necessary to avoid letting potential tenderers know how much you think the bids might be - and what you have budgeted. (Or they might inflate their prices to that figure).

But we've seen it all now.

Someone (presumably a Cabinet member) has made an 'Individual Member Decision' regarding asset disposals which could be the Public Offices or some other asset of course.

That in itself is bad enough. It approaches the Russian system of issuing personal decrees. (And we've seen how Trevor Fiddler messed up his 'Individual Member Decision' when he sold Melton Grove without knowing anything at all about it).

But this time, the whole of the Member Decision has been declared Exempt Information, and all its details have been excluded from the press and public.

The notice on Fylde's website simply says "19 June 2012 Accommodation Project - Asset Disposals. This item contains exempt information under paragraph 3, Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information), of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 "

Irrespective of the content, this is appalling.

It is yet another reflection of this absurd and awful Cabinet system of Governance that concentrates the authority of Council into a single person's decision - when we elect 51 Councillors to consider and debate and consider what is the best way forward.

Taking decisions in secret - and not even letting it be known what is being decided - is ably described in a single word.


Having considered details of proposals to transfer parks and open space assets from FBC to St Annes on the Sea Town Council, their Policy Committee Chairman (Cllr Nash) reported a meeting he had with the Portfolio Holder at Fylde Borough Council who had advised that if the Town Council wished to have a transfer of the Open Space Assets in St Anne’s, a formal approach needed to be made to FBC.

So the St Annes Town Council Policy Committee resolved: "That the Council be RECOMMENDED to request of the Borough Council that the ownership of all the Open Space Assets in St. Anne’s and associated property currently charged to St Anne’s Council Taxpayers through Special Expenses be transferred to the ownership of the Town Council and that the Borough Council be asked to enter into early negotiations in order to deliver a transfer by the 1st April 2013."

When that recommendation was considered at the next Town Council meeting on 15 May, the full Council resolved to approve the Committee's decision with only one vote (Cllr Barbara Mackenzie) against.

Surprising then, that we're now hearing news of a complete U turn that's about to be announced, and that the transfer will not now take place.

We have heard it was discussed at a high-level extra-ordinary meeting of Fylde's Conservative Group one recent Friday evening where it had belatedly dawned on them that it would be electoral suicide for FBC to agree to transfer assets using the same process that has been used to date, because it would cost (and this is our own estimate) somewhere between an extra £20 and £35 per band D household depending on what happened with Lytham's open spaces.

Given that it would likely provoke a challenge using the Localism Act - and in any event there would probably have been no Conservative County Councillors elected next May - if a Conservative controlled Borough Council and a Conservative controlled Town Council colluded to produce such a huge increase in the April Council Tax Demands at this time of austerity (let alone the prospect of losing any by-elections that might crop up), sense seems to have prevailed.

We understand some - and especially Cllr Nash of the Town Council - were not happy at effectively being told to 'back off' (We're told some heavy duty arm-twisting took place within the Group). One correspondent described his demeanour as "furious." But we have to say we're pleased at the decision.

It was conceived as a con to get more tax out of people. Former Deputy Chief Executive David Joy admitted as much in a public meeting when he said "and yes, the agenda is the avoidance of capping" - So we're pleased that it's over.   At least for now.

The campaign called '38 Degrees' has sent us a reminder that the latest 'Big Brother' proposals by Government to give greater and wider access to personal privacy online now have an online petition you can sign to signal your opposition to the Government's proposals. It seems that over 150,000 people have already signed up. We've reproduced this link to their petition for readers that what to oppose the plans.

After a period in the wilderness as far as the Fylde Conservative Association (who, we understand, excluded him from their organisation) is concerned, we're told that former Wesham Councillor Simon Renwick, L'enfant terrible of Fylde and always a colourful and strong minded character, who removed to work with Paul Maynard MP (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) has been again invited to join the Fylde Association. This time as a Special Advisor because of his success with his parliamentary work. You never know where these things lead in the future.....

We had a message from a Newton resident asking why we hadn't covered the issue that is domination the lives of quite a few people there. The truthful answer is that we were not able to go to the meeting to hear what went on. However, we've now heard from some friends who were there and we bring you their take on what happened.

The application (ref:12/0118) is in respect of a former builders yard, on land at Thames Street, Newton with Clifton, and the application is for "Change of use of land to use as a residential caravan site for 4 no. Gypsy families each with 2 no. Caravans, together with the erection of an amenity block, erection of a boundary fence, installation of a package sewage treatment plant & the formation of a landscaped mound."

Our readers says they think about 170 letters of protest have been written to Mike Atherton the Senior Planning Officer and the villagers are mobilising and organising to raise thousands of pounds to fight the application. Residents fear that this would alter the character of the village.

In 2007, 88% of the village said in the Parish Plan survey that they did not want any further development or an extension of the village boundaries.

We understand that the 12th April Newton With Clifton Parish Council meeting was packed with around 200 anxious members of the public. (And given the trouble that has arisen from the unauthorised development of a site at Hardhorn, that's hardly surprising).

We're told the meeting was well organised and acted as a vent for the head of steam that had built up as public speakers outlined their reasons for objecting to the application - some using proper planning grounds, others in a more general sense.

The residents were organised and the mood determined. For example, even at this stage, we're told there was discussion about how best to raise funds for a barrister at any appeal that might be launched. It seems one idea was for a lottery at £20 a ticket - if each household in Newton bought a ticket, it was said this could raise approximately £13,000 with just one prize of something like £2000.

That offers better odds than the National Lottery.

We understand FBC is likely to hold the planning meeting on this application at a suitably large venue (maybe Lowther Pavilion?) to avoid the need for ticketing arrangements as happened on the Wrea Green application for a sports village.

We've seen the letter sent by Newton with Clifton Parish Council (who are one of the more able parish councils in the area) who are seeking refusal. Their letter addresses some well considered procedural issues before dealing with the site which is located off what most folk would call a country lane and would not permit good access for large (or emergency) vehicles such as bin lorries because it is narrow, and is subject to standing water and mud along part of its length.

Using local knowledge the parish council also argues the site is not suitable because of drainage and flooding issues, together with proximity to existing residential dwellings that leaves only am inadequate 15m buffer for landscaping and screening. The site slopes down toward the Ribble and is overlooked by properties on the higher ground.

The Parish Council then go on to say "Most Gypsy sites are mixed business/residential although the submitted application indicates residential usage. The use of power generators for example will be a cause of increased noise pollution and there does not appear to be any provision for fuel storage." And they seek further clarification of this and other aspects, but conclude that even on the evidence available it should be refused.

Technically, in planning policy terms (mind you - after the Vic decision that's a less clearly defined area than we thought), this site is 'outside the limits of development' and Fylde has been quite good at constraining development in this area to sites within what they have define as the 'settlement boundary' so it's unlikely they will want to see it extended by this application.

But even more damning of the proposal is that Fylde is currently consulting on its new planning policy document and this will gain in weight as time progresses. Paragraph 7.79 of the "Fylde Local Plan Issues and Options Consultation Document" says "7.79 The number of gypsy and traveller pitches required by each local authority in Lancashire was considered by the Partial Review of the RSS. The Lancashire Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment, which informed the aborted Partial Review, required that Fylde provided five transit pitches and assessed that there was a need for ten pitches for travelling showpeople. It assessed that there was no requirement in Fylde for permanent gypsy and traveller pitches."

That being the case, we find it difficult to see how an approval could be recommended.

We'll try to keep readers informed.

We're picking up a story that might have some future repercussions.

Westby Parish Council held a meeting at Ballam Church on 14th June, and there was quite some discussion about a letter from shale gas company Cuadrilla who are about to start work on the Annas Road site - which is just over the boundary from St Annes in Westby.

We're told that one of the Westby Parish Councillors, a current Fylde Borough Councillor, and a member of the public spoke about their concerns regarding what Cuadrilla were doing, and the fracking process that is anticipated in the near future.

But two other Parish Councillors (one of whom was a former Fylde Borough Councillor) spoke up in favour of the exploration, indicating they saw no problem with Cuadrilla, either now or if they went into production. They apparently gave the impression there was no need to waste time on it at the Parish Council meeting.

We've heard this sort of view expressed before of course and we're about as convinced of it as we are of those at the opposite end of the spectrum who say shale gas exploration should be stopped in principle. We're in favour of proceeding cautiously and slowly.

That said, there is huge public anger developing over the underground explosions that are part of the geophysical survey and it's doing Cuadrilla and their supporters no good at all. Cuadrilla have now agreed to limit the charges to at least 250m away from residential property - but they'd already positioned charges just 50m away in some places and they say they can't dig them out - so they have to be exploded. That process has upset a great many people, some of whom are claiming damage to their property, and we hear a scheduled anti-fracking meeting held at Wrea Green earlier this week was calling for heads to roll.

But back to the Westby meeting, and it seems that later in the meeting there was further discussion of Cuadrilla, and we're told that Westby's Cllr Harold Butler seemed unhappy that members of the public were accusing the Council of doing very little about it.

We've been told that he went on to add that his palm had been crossed with silver by Cuadrilla, and this lead to a fractious exchange when he was taken to task by another Parish Councillor for not declaring an interest in the item.

Things got better (or worse), when, in his defence, he apparently implicated another Westby Councillor who, he alleged, had taken money from Cuadrilla and was also arguing on their behalf at the meeting.

Now, we're not saying that it was wrong for either of these Parish Councillors to have taken money from Cuadrilla (if they did). Assuming it happened as we have been told, it might be fees for storing items on their land, or for an option for a future drilling site, or a lot of other possible reasons for a payment to be made.

But if they were in receipt of payment from Cuadrilla, it would normally be expected that they should declare at least a personal interest in that item and, more probably, declare a prejudicial interest (one where the interest is sufficient for a reasonably informed person to come to the view that their judgement might have been affected). If you declare a prejudicial interest, you must leave the room whilst that item is discussed, and take no part in the debate.

We understand a complaint about non-disclosure has been filed with FBC's Standards Body, and information is being assembled to see whether the two councillors concerned have a case to answer.

There's no doubt going to be more on this matter, and we'll bring our readers the results when we are able.

We've previously reported that Cllr Goodrich was likely to be moving north of Lancaster shortly and we said he had initially planned to stand down from FBC, then he decided he would carry on for a while longer and travel to Fylde as necessary for Council work.

We heard from an insider last week that the reasoning behind this is thought to be less to do with 'political' concerns about his party being popular or unpopular, and more to do with a shortage of election fighting funds and volunteers to do the streetwalking and canvassing in a second by-election in Heyhouses.

The implication of what we've been told is that the Conservative machine isn't raising the sort of funds and volunteers they used to do (We understand that each ward has to fund-raise each year to contribute to election and other costs), and elections are quite an expense. Also, some of the local party folk are being ground (and apparently wound) up by national HQ which, we are told, is causing dissatisfaction here on the ground and dampening enthusiasm.

We're also hearing there is friction between the Conservatives on Fylde Borough and St Annes Town Council, with those on the TC being seen as out of control and causing all sorts of problems. We've no evidence of this, but it was always likely. The Town Council uses a Council and Committee system which allows all Councillors a say in all the decisions it makes. Once you've tasted that system and seen how well it works, the awful Cabinet system that Fylde uses is a bitter, not better, experience.

We've also been told to watch whether Cllr David Eaves stays as Leader after the Heyhouses by-election or whether he steps down in favour of family commitments, allowing Princess Karen to take the reins in Fylde. If there is to be a succession, it's no doubt a matter that will percolate up the chain toward London. Fylde is considered a safe Conservative Council (and a rock solid Conservative Parliamentary Constituency) and it's likely the powers that be would not want to lose such a council to 'no overall control', (which we think could be a possibility later this year or next spring).

Maybe a change of leader would be seen as an opportunity to dump all the unpopular stuff with them. It wouldn't be the first time such a thing had happened.

We were sorry to hear that Cllr Armit's initiative to close off Wood Street to traffic during the Golf and to have a sort of music festival in the temporary pedestrian area it would have created has been squashed following concerns about traffic movements.

We understand he had secured at least an informal agreement with Lancashire County Council that it would be OK but it seems that at the 11th hour, other advice to LCC effected a change of mind and they said they would not grant a road closure order. We don't know if Cllr Ashton (he of the ridiculous 20 mph everywhere speed limit) played any part in this decision, but he is in charge of Highways for Lancashire.

Even though the road isn't going to be closed, there will still be music taking place at several venues along the road, so it's not a complete loss.

Just on the topic of preparing for the Golf, we've noticed steam from newly laid tarmac appearing all over the place. Planters are being polished and streets given an extra dose of TLC.Take Notice

 There are also a lot of new signs going up - some of our readers have commented on the way they obstruct pavements is some places.

One reader sent us this sign from Tonga, suggesting that it might be Dim Tim's next signposting crusade.

Dated:  28 June 2012


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