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Ticket to Watch

Ticket to WatchIn a hollow echo of the worst ever meeting of Fylde Council which closed our swimming pools (3 March 2008 Travesty of Democracy) Fylde's Development Management Committee on Wednesday is threatened with the use of tickets for admission to the public gallery.

The reason is that large numbers of folk from Wrea Green and environs want to demonstrate their opposition for the proposed sports facility  (Greenland Sports Village) planned on the edge of what is arguably the most picturesque and undoubtedly one of the most award winning villages in Lancashire.

Frankly, we think the substance of the matter is a ridiculous idea in that location and we fully support the officers view that it should be refused. We trust that Committee members will do exactly that. The proposal is not about meeting the needs of the local community, and there are major practical issues like access, transport and protecting the countryside.

But the Council has failed to adequately gauge the anger of local residents and their wish to make their views known to councillors they elected.

It is normal for meetings such as this, that will attract large numbers of members of the public, to be held at Lowther Gardens Pavilion which has a capacity of around 450 (e.g. the sale of part of Ashton Gardens in 1998, Lytham Quays in 2005, the travellers application at Hardhorn, and Heeley Road Hostel, to name but a few of the major issues whose meetings have been booked into Lowther)

But this meeting has been booked into St Margaret's Church Community Centre in St Annes, which only has a capacity of around 100. The numbers attending were entirely predictable, so why didn't Fylde's new Chief Executive make proper provision for people to exercise their democratic right to protest and lobby their councillors, and to attend and hear what is said by them at the meeting?

Instead, (as was threatened but not implemented at the Pool Closure meeting) they waited until the 11th hour - in this case on Saturday 31 March, before issuing an email to all councillors and published the following notice on their website.

"All Ticket Planning Meeting

Details of the Development Management meeting on Wednesday April 4th 2012 to discuss the Greenlands Farm (AFC Fylde Arena) application.
Wrea Green

Wrea Green


Due to the capacity of the venue being limited to 100 members of the public the meeting can only be TICKET ONLY.

The tickets are free of charge and have been distributed equally to the agent and the Wrea Green residents group. There are a limited number of tickets available from the Council, if you are interested in obtaining a ticket then please contact Sandra Connell on 01253 658517 and the tickets will be allocated on a first come first servce (sic) basis after allocation to those people that have registered to speak at the event.

This decision has been necessary on the grounds of health and safety after an appropriate risk assessment and to prevent disappointment.

The following risks were identified from the risk assessment:

A significant number of people will not be allowed access to the venue including old, young, infirm, potentially upset and people that have come on coaches so cannot go home

The requirement for additional resources to be on site to manage more people outside the venue than inside it

People that have requested to speak in advance (17 to date both for and against the application) will not be able to get in the venue if they are not amongst the first 100 to attend

A single coach or coaches of supporters or objectors could take the majority or fill all of the public places leaving one group unfairly represented

Parking and traffic congestion problems in the local community

Noise and nuisance in the local community and on property not owned by the Council

This is a decision made based on the grounds of health and safety inside and outside the venue as well as the wider local community in response to an appropriate risk assessment in co-operation with the owner of the venue and has been subject to careful consideration.

100 official numbered tickets will be printed on Monday April 2nd 2012 for the event and to ensure equity and fairness they will be distributed, free of charge, as follows:

20 tickets for the members of the public that have requested in advance to speak at the meeting
35 tickets allocated to the agent submitting the planning application for members of the public supporting the application
35 tickets to the representative for the Wrea Green residents objecting to the application
10 tickets to be available on application from the Council on a first come first served basis to potentially accommodate any other members of the public (from Monday afternoon April 2nd 2012)

The Council would like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding on this matter."

The email to Councillors claims it was only yesterday that FBC was "made aware that since the publication of the agenda for the Development Management Committee on Wednesday April 4th 2012 at St Margaret's of Antioch Church Hall, St Leonards Road West, St Annes, a significant number of additional members of the public are likely to attend the meeting."

The numbers were entirely predictable and it is a disgrace that Fylde did not anticipate the numbers likely to attend.

Adding insult to injury, the email says "At the time the venue was booked the Council had been made aware that a number of members of the public would be attending the meeting and selected a venue based on the information available at the time. However, because of a change in circumstances since the publication of the agenda it is now likely that in excess of 200 members of the public may turn up to the venue which can hold 100. In response to this information the Risk & Insurance Officer attended the venue this morning and discussed with the owners the implications of this. After taking into consideration the requirements of the planning committee it was confirmed that the venue can safely house 100 members of the public (78 seated and 22 standing)."

So it looks as though, - with, in reality, only 10 tickets available for the general public - we, and a great many other interested parties will not be able to report first hand on what has been said by our representatives.

This meeting was always going to have a lot of public interest, and the attempt to justify Fylde's administrative incompetence (or worse) in failing to prepare properly for it, is only compounded by the obviously fabricated, weasely, attempted use of 'elf n' safety'  to restrict access to the meeting.

There is an argument that the meeting should be postponed to allow a bigger venue to be used - one that will accommodate all those members of the public who want to hear and see what their elected representatives say.

So why wasn't Lowther used this time?

Could it be that the Lowther Trust, which we understand, formally took control of the management of the Lowther Gardens Trust today (1 April 2012). wouldn't agree to the booking?

Whatever the reason, the administrative arrangements for this meeting are a shambles that not even the former Commissar's administration could stomach.

Restricting access to democracy by issuing tickets is bordering on tyranny.

PS: We've just spotted the significance of the date... but sadly, the April Fools in this instance are not our readers

Update 3 April 2012

We're happy to tell readers that, having made application, we now have a ticket for the event, so we *shall* go to the ball, and we'll bring our readers who can't get there, a pen picture of what happens.

Having cogitated a bit more on the application and the report, we're developing something of a worry about it.

The officer's report - is fine (and very balanced) as far as it goes - but it will almost certainly have been prepared and published before the DCMS announcement of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) last Tuesday (27 Mar).

On that day, Steve Quartermain, the Government's Chief Planner wrote to all planning officers to say "The policies in the Framework apply with immediate effect. Implementation arrangements are set out in Annex 1 to the Framework."

Scrutiny of Annex1 appears to suggest that Councils like Fylde without a new style local plan have 12 months during which they can give full weight to their existing policies even if there is a limited degree of conflict with the NPPF.

But it also has a paragraph saying "However, the policies contained in this Framework are material considerations which local planning authorities should take into account from the day of its publication. The Framework must also be taken into account in the preparation of plans."

This new 50 page NPPF has swept away over 1,300 pages of previous policy in 44 separate documents, so as we see it, even if Fylde can rely on it's local plan for the next 12 months, it is no longer safe to rely on those former Government policy documents. They are, like the Monty Python sketch, 'a deceased parrot' And the officer's report does - at least in part, rely on some of them.

That's not his fault. In order to get the statutory period in between the publication of the agenda and the date of the meeting, it's almost certain his report had to be completed before last Tuesday's announcement by Government. (Before which no-one knew what they were going to say!)

So what does this mean?

Well, unless there is some comprehensive addition or correction to the report at tomorrow's committee, it can be argued that present report is not (technically) competent because of its reliance on aspects of Government policy that ceased to exist last Tuesday. So the advice it gives to members is, at best, dubious.

Worse, it can also probably be argued that unless the members of the Committee have been trained in what the new National Planning Policy Framework require of them (and what policy they must abandon), they are not (technically) competent to make the decision on this matter either.

Now, Government isn't going to get into a hot sweat about a sports stadium application of course. The wrath of Government isn't going to descend in the heads of Fylde's planners and the Committee.

But if the decision goes against someone who is a tenacious applicant, it could create a rather wide avenue down which he could walk an appeal against Fylde's decision. And if his application has been determined without precise guidance to the committee on the implications of the NPPF, we can see a serious risk of a successful challenge to that decision.

The underlying problem here is the conflict between the localism agenda and the needs of the Treasury (which we have highlighted before). The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, (Minister for Decentralisation and Planning) made it very clear as he led the passage of the Localism Bill through the Select Committee stage that the first of the three fundamental objectives of the Government's planning reforms was to put power in the hands of communities to shape the places in which they live.

George Osborne has, in effect, now overruled that approach to make economic growth the primary objective.

And we suspect that, for a while at least, even our own Rt Hon St Eric Pickles will have to tow the new party line on planning - and that makes us more concerned about the prospects for Queensway than we were previously.

Dated:  1 April 2012


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