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Snippets: September 2012

Snippets: September 2012 BLUE MOLE IS BACK 
Our friend the Blue Mole has been in touch again with some follow-up news about developments in Fylde's Conservative Group that doesn't usually appear in public. As usual, the nature of the information BM provides means we can't corroborate it from other sources.

Readers will recall that BM previously told us about shenanigans around the County Council seat for Fylde South, and they mused that Cllr Fabian Craig-Wilson might be de-selected in favour of Princess Karen - who was threatening to challenge Cllr Eaves for the leadership of the Council if she didn't get selected herself.

In the event, neither of these happened.

We all know that Cllr Eaves survived the Annual Meeting of the Council in May with his leadership intact, so any threat to his position evaporated on that day. And it now seems that Cllr Craig-Wilson will not be de-selected in favour of someone else.

With it being summer - (most councils almost close down their member business for August) little has been happening for BM to report, but they have told us of David Eaves' intervention in the St Annes South LCC candidate selection.

It seems that rather than testing Fabian Craig-Wilson's determination, he bowed to her threat to leave the Conservatives and stand as an Independent, and he demanded that Princess Karen Buckley, Ben Aitkin and Cheryl Little withdraw as candidates for this seat, or risk losing their positions of special responsibility (like being on the Cabinet).

Apparently he got his wish with Princess Karen and Cheryl, (but we imagine this will not encourage them to canvass for Cllr Craig-Wilson, and it will leave the Conservatives weaker in what will become a very hard fought LCC election campaign).

Blue Mole also thinks this decision will come to haunt Cllr Eaves.

As we've been told before, BM expects him to step down as Leader due to family and health grounds very soon. It appears that the inside track on this is that those with the most influence in the Conservative Group are said to "want someone with a backbone". And with three years to go until a general election, the very ambitious Princess Karen has time on her hands for a while.

She's a very determined and able lady with quite possibly some of the cleverest advocacy skills on the Council. She shows the same sort of driven behaviour as did former Commissar John Coombes, and because of that, we worry she will cause all the same sorts of trouble if she were to become leader.

We have one huge issue with Cllr Eaves' leadership - his failure to do what should have been his duty to the residents of Melton Grove. But other than that, he has shown an intention to offer the best aspects of being a Councillor. The sad part is that he has not been able to deliver them. We believe this is because of a clique of hard-line party-political types who force group policy away from seeking the consensus that Cllr Eaves set out to achieve within the Council.

As we said of the former Commissar and his colleagues on this very issue in 'Enter the Puppet Master' as long ago as October 2010:  "Backing David Eaves with his consensual style is not going to be first nature, but if they don't, and they back an unholy alliance of power-crazed individuals who got them into this mess in the first place, means they will face the political wilderness for longer that they thought imaginable, and they will be punished at the polls next May. "

Well his colleagues did back him to a point, but that backing seems to have fallen apart in recent months.

For the most part, politically ambitious folk like Princess Karen either don't understand, or perhaps won't accept, that the job of a borough councillor is to provide counsel, and to look for consensus. It's not the same thing as the role of an MP at all.

A local councillor's job is to 'humanise' and to add a local perspective to the otherwise techno-professional role and decisions of employed officers. Councillors are there to make sure it is perspective on the man on the bus - not that of the technocrat, or the man in the Political Party - that drives the Council's decisions.

It sounds to us as though she is playing a waiting game here. As a Princess, she might well be seen as the natural successor to Cllr Eaves if he were to step down, as Blue Mole suggests.

However, we digress. Back to Blue Mole's take on the St Annes South situation: Cllr Ben Aitken apparently ignored the instruction from Cllr Eaves and went on to suffer a defeat against Cllr Craig Wilson in the Conservative candidate selection meeting for the St Annes South LCC seat. But it's thought that the selection panel were probably not aware of the possibility of Cllr Craig Wilson 'crossing the floor'

Blue Mole goes on to tell us that the list of Conservative Candidates LCC is not looking that healthy, with a number of potential candidates who are being pressured to stand, and others with an unclear view of what the role requires of them in terms of a time commitment during working hours.

This requirement to attend daytime meetings can catch-out unsuspecting prospective councillors - as some of Fylde's present councillors, whose work frequently takes them away from Fylde, have already found.

BM thinks the story for some of these folk could have a messy ending. We're inclined to agree.
 


 MP GETS NEW HOME 

Fylde's MP (Mark Menzies) has had a move in the reshuffle. Previously he was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Charles Hendry at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, but has moved in the re-shuffle to become PPS To Housing Minister Mark Prisk MP - whose responsibility for housing is within St Eric's Communities and Local Government Department.

In some ways that might be considered a sideways move, but it brings Mr Menzies into close contact with St Eric and his team, so we think it might turn out to be a good move for Fylde.

On what must have been almost his last day at Energy and Climate Change and, as good as his word at the Fylde Shale Gas Panel Meeting, he drew attention to the need for an independent body to regulate the Shale Gas industry in the UK.

Hansard reports it (verbatim) as

"Mr Speaker: Order. The House must calm down, as I want to hear Mr Menzies."

"Mark Menzies: The Government do aspire to be the greenest Government ever, so, with that in mind, will the Prime Minister assure me that before any decision is taken to extract shale gas from Fylde there will be both a public consultation and the establishment of an independent body to co-ordinate a gold standard of regulation so that the environment is never compromised?"

"The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend will know, all fracking operations for shale gas have been suspended while we study the minor tremors that occurred in Blackpool last year. The Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society have produced a full independent review into the risks of fracking and I can assure my hon. Friend that any future shale gas production would have to meet stringent safety and environmental standards, follow deep consultation with local communities and fit within our overall energy commitments."


Whilst we didn't exactly see that as a "Yes", the fact that the issue has been raised will add to pressure for it to happen.


 SHALE GAS ADVISER? 

Staying with the 'shale gas' theme for a moment, we're puzzled over something we read.

And before we start, we'd like to make it clear that we intend no criticism or disrespect of any sort to Mr Hill who has been advising Fylde's Task and Finish Group on matters connected with Shale Gas exploration by Cuadrilla.

But a statement by Fylde Council apparently made on 6 September on its website set us thinking. It included the following "Mr Mike Hill does not currently hold any formal advisory or support role on behalf of the Council." and   it struck us as being an unusual statement for the Council to make about the status and role of the chap that had advised the Fylde's Task and Finish Group on Shale Gas. We thought something quite odd was going on, so we had a closer look at what he had done for Fylde.

The main documents in this matter as far as FBC is concerned are the meeting notes and the concluding report of the Task and Finish Group of 17 May 2012, and the deliberations of its parent committee, the "Community Focus Scrutiny Committee"

T&F Group Report included this quote in the Chairman's Introduction:

"I would like to thank members of the Task and Finish Group for giving so much time and energy to this scrutiny review and, in particular, Mike Hill (Technical Advisor) who has assisted the Group in digesting a great amount of information, much of which has been in depth and of a highly technical nature and has required all our concentrated effort."

Section 2 of the report said:

"2. Membership of the Task and Finish Group

Members:
Chairman of the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee - Councillor Kiran Mulholland

Vice-Chairman of the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee - Councillor Christine Akeroyd

Councillors Tim Armit, Susan Ashton, Susanne Cunningham, Nigel Goodrich, Ken Hopwood, Richard Redcliffe

Officer Support
Lyndsey Lacey - Principal Democratic Services Officer, Andrew Dickson - Head of Technical Services

Technical Advisor
Mike Hill (Local Chartered Electrical Engineer)"


The report also said (9.8) "The Group also worked with a local technical advisor (Mr Mike Hill) who has engineering background in the oil and gas industry."

At para 9.16 it said "To assist the Council within (sic) technical understanding of the shale gas operations, the Group appointed (on a no fee basis) Mr Mike Hill (local chartered engineer) to act as the Councilís technical advisor at the various meetings of the Group."

On p37 the report said
"(i) The Groupís technical consultant attended most of the Groupís meetings and was able to advice on the technical and engineering aspects of the operations. Some of the concerns that he had raised for consideration by the group are detailed in the minutes appended. In addition, his response to the fact sheet issued by the group is also appended. Evidence of Technical Advisor (Mr Mike Hill)"

In its 'Appendix B' (which set out notes of the various Task and Finish Group Meetings), the (first?) meeting of 15 August 2011 (p44) notes that: "The Chairman made reference to a meeting that took place on the subject at the Town Hall with a concerned resident (Mr Hill). He explained that Mr Hill had previously offered to help FBC with respect to shale gas exploration issues. Members were advised that Mr Hill had experience in the gas and oil industry and had worked in Algeria and Libya.

It was reported that Mr Hill had provided some documentary evidence of correspondence that he had had with Cuadrilla, Environment Agency, Department of Climate Change, the Chairman of the Select Committee for the DECC Lancashire County Council
(sic) on matters associated with Shale Gas drilling in the area."

We didn't actually see a resolution to appoint Mr Hill to the Task & Finish Group (which would have been quite proper, as members of the public can take part in scrutiny meetings, though Fylde seldom uses this provision), but the first resolution of the meeting was "1. To ask Mr Hill to present his report to the next meeting of the Group."

At the (next?) Meeting on 27 September 2011 the report was not presented, but at the meeting of 19th October 2011 it was. The notes list those present under the following headings: Members, Officers, Observers, and "Other Representatives Mr Mike Hill (Technical Advisor)"


Mr Hill did not appear on the list for the meeting of 5 December 2011, but was listed under the description "Other Representatives" at the meeting of  14th December as "Mike Hill - Technical Advisor". He was also listed thus at the meetings of: 29th February 2012; 14th March and 23 April.

The Minutes of the Special Community Focus Scrutiny Committee 17 May 2012 record "The Chairman then invited comments and questions from the members on the content of the report and advised that Mr Mike Hill (The Task & Finish Groupís Technical Advisor) would address any technical concerns raised."

So when we produced our counterbalance meeting reports, we felt we were on fairly safe ground to refer to him in Shale Gas Update as "Mr Hill - who seemed to be an ex-officio member of the Committee, acting as their technical expert." (Here we were implying he was there not as a Councillor, but as an individual there because of his former positions and experience)

And again when we reported our MP's meeting as 'Shale Gas Panel'  we referred to Mr Hill as "Mike Hill. (X Details removed at Mr Hill's request X), (Advisor to FBC Task & Finish Group)" and later in the article described him as "Mike Hill (who was asked to provide technical advice to FBC's Task and Finish group) "

So it came as quite a surprise to us to see "the media" being blamed for incorrectly describing him, when the following statement quietly slipped onto FBC's website

"FBC Announcement

Fylde Council would like to state that Mr Mike Hill does not currently hold any formal advisory or support role on behalf of the Council.

Mr Hill did provide advice to the elected member scrutiny committee task and finish group that looked into the exploratory drilling work carried out by Cuadrilla held early this year. Mr Hill has no formal connection with the Council as stated by the media recently; he is not a spokesman for the Council in any capacity and his views and opinions are not representative of the Council. Mr Hill has not claimed otherwise, although his position has been incorrectly stated by the media.

Fylde Council is part of the formal consultation process when any mining or mineral applications are submitted to the County Council but does not have any delegated powers to approve or refuse the application."

We can only recall ever seeing one similar statement by FBC and it was when the leaflet promoting the cause of planning permission for AFC Fylde was circulated in Wrea Green (see Not the Wrea To Do It) and which caused a big stir. At that time Chief Executive Allan Oldfield said "...There has been no advice from any planning officer at Fylde and the council completely dissociates itself from the contents of the leaflet....Ē

The wording of Mr Oldfield's Statement is a lot stronger in the Wrea Green issue of course, but there appear to be similarities in both, and we're not yet sure what's going on. If any of our readers know, we'd like to hear from you.


 SECRECY ROWS 
Readers will have seen in the local papers that Kirkham (and other) Councillors are unhappy about the way a £100,000 grant from Government for town centres is to be used. But they were even more furious about the *way* the decision was made.

Sadly we missed what we were told was a difficult Scrutiny Call-In meeting for Leader David Eaves who seemed to have some sympathy about the way the decision had been made (in effect by something he called an "Informal meeting" of the Cabinet and which was subsequently 'announced' at a proper Cabinet Meeting).

That's not possible of course, there cannot be such a thing as an "Informal Cabinet Meeting". So if that's what he said, we suspect he's going to end up qualifying it as meaning to have said something else, or retracting it.

We hear the row is still rumbling on in the background. That's despite a call-in of the Cabinet's decision having been rejected at Scrutiny Committee on the casting vote of its Chairman Cllr Fabian Craig Wilson.

We think there is more to come out on this story and we will be keeping an eye on what happens.


 BIN A BIT LATE 

We're pleased to be able to praise the council for the way it went about the changeover from boxes to bins. It's a better system and it was exceptionally well planned and organised. If Fylde did everything as well as it has done this, we'd have little to complain about.

There's one fly in the ointment though, as set out on their website last week.

They were scheduled to commence the final stage of bin rollout during 17th Ė 28th September, when the remaining 7500 properties would change over

But this 'Phase 3' bin rollout has had to be delayed, and will now be schedule for the fortnight commencing 15th October (15th Ė 26th October).

A message on their website says "The bin supplier (MGB) have recently notified us of a problem with the 180L bin tool and they have consequently had to suspend production to rectify this problem. A specialist engineer has been flown in from Canada and MGB are confident that the tool will be repaired so that bin production can commence again shortly. Unfortunately this means that they will be unable to manufacture the required number of bins in time for the scheduled rollout and it has therefore been necessary to delay the delivery of bins to phase 3 properties to ensure a seamless rollout once delivery commences. This unfortunate problem is outside the Councilís control however we do apologise for any inconvenience the unforeseen delay may cause for Fylde residents.

Phase 3 bin rollout will now be schedule for the fortnight commencing 15th October (15th Ė 26th October). There will be no other changes to the delivery schedule, apart from the revised date i.e. if residents were scheduled to receive their bins on the 17th September they will now receiving them on the 15th October. Similarly deliveries scheduled for 18th September will take place on the 16th October and so on. MGB have guaranteed that they will be able to achieve this revised delivery slot, limiting any further delays for Fylde residents. The waste management team will take all the necessary measures to address residentsí concerns and queries and ensure that phase 3 deliveries are carried out smoothly during the rescheduled rollout."


To those affected, we'd say they're worth the wait.


 20 MPH LIMIT ON ITS WAY 
The (in our view inappropriate) 20mph more or less blanket coverage in residential areas that is being proposed by Lancashire County Council is coming to where you live quite soon if it's not here already.

We're of the view that the existing 30 or 40 mph limits are perfectly adequate to balance the free movement of vehicles and the safety of pedestrian road users. It's not as though cars today are less able to stop than the ones on our roads when the 30 limit was introduced. It's not as though the people now have slower reaction times. It's not as though their sight is much worse. Optometry technology is far more advanced. No. Quite the reverse would be true in most of these instances.

And in circumstances where there might be particular problems either through incapability - such as outside schools or old peoples homes; and through traffic volume - such as exceptionally busy roads and traffic junctions, the use of zebra and other crossing mechanisms provides the opportunity for pedestrian priority to be accounted for.

So why is this drive for 20 mph limits going on and who's pushing it?

The LCC website still lists Dim Tim as being the "Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport" so he's the chap responsible for bringing-in this loony idea. (Although a reader told us last week they had overheard some gossip that this was not the case any longer. That gossip is entirely unconfirmed at this stage, but it could have some foundation if he's having to step down in order to campaign to be Lancashire's "Top Cop" - a prospect at which, like Mme Christine Lagarde, "We shudder")

LCC say of their plans "By introducing the 20mph speed limits in residential areas and outside schools, we want to reduce the number of road accidents and increase safety for all Lancashire residents."

The greatest trumpeting of this safety advance is to afford less risk to children.

Anyone would think LCC had turned into a branch of the Health and Safety Executive (who themselves have achieved little more than becoming responsible for lowering our national productivity and competitiveness, and encouraging ridiculous Codes of Practice that tell people which way round to hold a spade and insult the intelligence of capable artisans). "The Health Safety and Welfare at Work Act" would be the first Act to be repealed if we had the power - and there'd be a long list of other, similar Acts following it, very quickly.

We'd have thought the job of a Highway Authority would be to provide proper surfaced roads that highway traffic can proceed along quickly and efficiently, not making it more difficult for them, and slowing people down.

According to some research we have seen, we can expect 75% of our readers to disagree with us on this topic - because that's supposed to be the proportion of members of the public who support the introduction of 20 mph limits. We very much doubt that statistic will stand up locally, but in case it does, we'll apologise to them now for the views we're going to introduce here, and go into more detail on in future articles.

Our objection to the reduction to 20 mph comes in two parts, in principle; and in practice.

In principle, (and as with the underlying logic of supposed 'miss-selling'), the philosophy underpinning the reduced speed limit further contributes to the removal of personal self-reliance and the creation of a culture that expects others to take responsibility for *our* actions.

It is a step further in the direction that promotes a culture to make our lives 'safe' and 'harmless' (and these days to have the 'right' not even to be 'offended' in some instances).

In our view this is a dangerous direction for society at large to be travelling. It moves us ever further away from the culture of risk, reward, and personal responsibility that produced incredible individuals who made this nation into a great world power, and brings us ever closer to Huxley's 1932 prediction of our future society operating on the basis of "Passive obedience, material consumption and mindless promiscuity."

The supposed crime of 'mis-selling' holds that it is the role of the seller to ascertain the circumstances of the buyer so that the buyer is only offered things that are 'suitable' for them. That's absolute rubbish. In reality it is the responsibility of the buyer to make sure that what they are considering  *is*  what they want, and it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to educate children well enough to become self reliant, responsible adults who are able to make decisions for themselves by considering the evidence they feel they need before arriving at a conclusion. The existing crimes of misrepresentation and fraud are adequate to address those who deliberately set out to defraud by lying to potential buyers.

Just so with road safety, it is self-evidently the responsibility of parents and teachers firstly to ensure that no small child is left unattended on a highway until they reach the age where they understand the risks associated with roads and what to do about them. Secondly, it is also the responsibility of those same people to make sure that children learn how to act responsibly on a highway and grow into self-reliant, confident road users of one sort or another, (or in a few cases, to provide practical support for those in the community who will never achieve that ability). The existing law has provisions for those who set out to disregard proper highway behaviour.

It is not, and should not be, the responsibility of the rest of society to make allowances, and to suffer measures like lower speed limits - or, for example, pavement enclosures with pedestrian railings on every kerb-edge - to eliminate the risks associated with vehicular traffic, in order to make up for the failings in the education of road users.

Our objections to reduced speed limits for residential areas in practice, are to do with further disadvantaging those seeking an efficient network of highways to accommodate home and business deliveries (increasingly important since internet shopping became popular) to be made as quickly and productively (and therefore as cheaply) as possible; the difficulty of driving at such low speeds in modern cars; and issues with air quality.

We've been having a close look at what's happening and we'll be returning to this topic over time. There are huge chunks of our taxes being spent on this project and it warrants a good dose of looking at.

The only good thing in all of it is that the Administration who brought it in at County Hall are up for election next May, and we can, at least, change the people who thought it was a good idea when we come to vote.


FORMER STOCKS AND BONDS SITE, HEYHOUSES

In a worrying sign for all Fylde's residents, planning councillors were urged to (and did) reverse their previous decision on the Government Buildings site.

Readers will recall that Fylde recently refused it chiefly because of concerns about the impact on St Annes Town centre of a proposed new supermarket it would bring to the out of town area.

In 'New Developments' we said of the applicant "With the cheek of the devil, they resubmitted the exact same application that Fylde had already refused. But they resubmitted it after the Government's National Planning Policy Framework was issued. In effect they were saying - You're going to lose an appeal, why not save yourselves the expense and cost of having to fight us by giving in now and granting the application."

And sure enough, Fylde's officers have now said  the application is balanced in relation to the positive and negative impacts of the development. They've consulted a specialist retail expert who says that there would be an impact, but not enough to justify refusal since the Government published its National Planning Policy Framework, and in any case St Annes town centre is going to get an Aldi, so that's alright then, isn't it.

And in any case, Fylde need to increase the number of housing permissions they've been granting because they can't meet Fylde's gold plated five year supply figure  (which  has now had another 20% buffer increase tagged on to it)

So the officers recommended approval and, on 24th Sept,  Committee approved the re-sumbitted application. And the only thing that has changed is the Government's foolish desire for illusory debt-based  'growth' that won't happen - because everyone can see the debt mountain has to be cleared before we can get back to anything like normal.

And even then, we're not going to see growth-inflating-debt-bubbles like we saw before. People have now seen the naked Emperor of debt for what he is - foolish and dangerous. The world has changed, but politicians haven't yet grasped that.

This is yet another nail in the coffin of both the Conservative and LibDem Government, and unless something really strange happens, another nail in the coffin of a planning department at Fylde that serves almost no useful purpose any more.

Dated:  25 September 2012


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