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Think of England

Think of EnglandAfter Government opened the development floodgates at Queensway in St Annes, and gave Kensington permission to build 1,150 new houses, the floodwaters from Lytham Moss quickly spread, and threatened to overwhelm Wesham Moss (just as we said would happen in 'New Developments').

Wesham is an unsuspecting, chiefly agricultural, community. A natural supporter of conservatism (with both big and small C's), and it has just been dumped on by a Government that is hammering with all its might on the big red 'PANIC' button, in a futile attempt to restore 'growth' - economic growth - by raping the countryside to build houses that no-one has the money to buy, and on which, banks don't really want to lend anyway.

There's an old (and very un-pc) saying that goes... "If rape is inevitable, lie back and think of England."

But you can't even do that now, because it's England that's being raped of her farmland and her countryside.

If any borough in the whole of England should enjoy proper appreciation and protection of its farmland and countryside, it ought to be the one whose name means 'Let the field rejoice' - Fylde Borough.

But sadly, that's not going to be the case.

Wednesday saw Fylde's Development Management Committee called to a meeting at St Margaret's Church Community Centre in St Annes at 10am, to consider an (awful) report about planning application 11/0763: 'Land North of Mowbreck Lane, Medlar-with-Wesham'

The full text of the officer's recommendation on this application says "This outline application proposes the erection of unto (sic) 100 dwelling on an area of land allocated as Countryside in the Fylde Borough Local Plan. Having regard to all material considerations, including the clear steer from government through recent appeal decisions on similar proposals and Ministerial announcements, that the delivery of housing is a major priority and that barriers should not be placed in the way of the provision of new housing and the economic benefits it will deliver, your officers believe that there has been a major shift in emphasis in Government Policy since the previous appeal was determined and that the refusal of this application cannot now be sustained.

Accordingly, the recommendation on this application is that planning permission should be granted subject to a legal agreement to secure the delivery of affordable housing and other elements of the scheme and a series of conditions."


As we showed in 'Wesham (Again!)' back in January, the likely reality is that these 100 houses would be the first of a series of salami-slice applications aimed at gradually concreting over an arc of agricultural and/or countryside land that will stretch at least as far as the previous application and some believe will not stop until it reaches all the way to Treales.

The very able 'Wesham Action Group' described it as a cut-down version of the previous 264 dwelling application that was unanimously refused by Fylde's Development Management Committee in March 2010. They go on to say that a subsequent appeal, heard by Public Inquiry, also found the application to be unsound and the appeal was rejected by the Planning Inspectorate, whose decision was agreed and ratified by the Secretary of State.

The SoS's decision was then challenged in the High Court, and again was rejected, on the basis that the SoS had considered and acted in accordance with planning law.

So the question WAG no doubt want answered (apart from what part of "NO" do you not understand Mr Developer?) is what's different this time apart from (at present) fewer houses.

We say this, because they no-doubt recall a Government that has only just affirmed their support to protect: the green belt; countryside areas; and 'Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty' and more, when they amended their new draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)  (which they had published only a month or so earlier).

The draft NPPF was amended specifically to refer to countryside areas and not just greenbelt.

What on earth sort of Government is it that trumpets its 'Big Society' idea, and its 'Localism Act' as a central plank of its new direction - an Act that says local people and their local plan must make local decisions on planning - then it publishes a top-down centralised draft national plan; consults on it; is inundated with criticism about it; takes it back and changes the worst parts of it; publishes it, and brings it into common usage - only to change it again to something worse than they originally proposed.

The answer must be one that's either stupid, incompetent, or panicking.

Readers can perm any three from three.

And what does Fylde's officer's report have to say?

Readers need only remember the immortal words that will herald the entry of the bulldozers throughout Fylde :

".... the delivery of housing is a major priority, and that barriers should not be placed in the way of the provision of new housing and the economic benefits it will deliver,....."

So there we have it.

Time to pack up and go home chaps and chapesses.

No need for planning now.

Just let the developers go ahead.

We were quite shocked at Fylde's planning officer Mr Stell. We know him from other applications, and have seen him act several times. He struck us as an honest, balanced, planning officer. But this time we think he is well out of order. We even wondered if he had been 'got at'. His report appears to us to be very one-sided for the development.

Fylde's apparent willing acceptance of the latest shift in Government policy has been incredibly swift. No doubt they've been listening to the new Planning Minister Nick Boles - who has hit the ground running.

He said recently, "Do you believe that planning works? - that clever people sitting in a room can plan how people's communities should develop? Or do you believe that it can't work? I believe that it can't work. David Cameron believes it can't work. Nick Clegg believes it can't work.

'Chaotic' therefore, in our vocabulary, is a good thing.

Chaotic is what our cities are when we see how people live, when we see where restaurants spring up, where they close down, where people move to.

Can you predict any of that?

Would you like to live in a world where you could predict any of that?

I certainly wouldn't"


What an absolute pratt he must be.

Can you imagine any Conservative voters supporting a government that thinks this approach to town planning is sensible?

In a speech earlier this year he launched an attack on the campaign against the Government’s planning revamp, led by the National Trust, saying "Business investment is deterred by the bureaucratic rigidity of our outdated planning regime. So it is essential that we press on with our planning reforms and do not allow the hysterical scare-mongering of latter-day Luddites to strangle developments that will boost living standards."

If it wasn't so serious it would be laughable. This fool is set to do damage everywhere he touches.

But the trouble goes much higher.

Having undertaken a Cabinet re-shuffle and made an appointment that is even more ridiculous than putting King Herod in charge of Mothercare, David Cameron's decision to appoint Nick Boles to run Planning shows that the lunatics really have now taken over the Parliamentary asylum.

And so far, Fylde's professional planners are willingly complicit in the adventure.

That's a foolish move on their part, because there must be big savings to be had when we close down Fylde's planning department.

After all, there's no point in planners being here at all if all they are going to become are Fylde's Planners of Mass Destruction.

The developers can do that single handedly.

And it's not only officers.

The night before the Wesham application meeting, Fylde held something called a 'Learning Hour.'   This was supposed to be a training/brainwashing session for councillors - especially those on the Development Management Committee in this case. We're told the aim was to convey a clear message about housing numbers and the five year housing supply.

The cynics amongst us thought it was more likely to be a backbone-stiffening exercise, and an attempt to browbeat those on Development Management Committee into approving the application.

We've been assured in high places that it was a long established and planned meeting date. And it is true that traditionally Fylde holds its 'learning hours' on a Tuesday evening. So we can only conclude that the session by Fylde's Portfolio Holder for Planning - Cllr Trevor Fiddler - was purely a co-incidence to be taking place on the evening immediately before the Development Management Committee considering the Wesham application.

We heard all manner of rumours about fines, and threats, and insistence that councillors *must* approve the application in the days leading up to the meeting.

We couldn't confirm any of them.

But when smoke is billowing out of all sides of a building it's usually a sign there is a fire.

And so it was we set off to hear the deliberations of Fylde's Development Management Committee in the hope that they would be the last bulwark of defence against the bulldozers that are again circling Wesham.

We hoped they would remember this bit of the NPPF.....

"For 12 months from the day of publication, decision-takers may continue to give full weight to relevant policies adopted since 2004 even if there is a limited degree of conflict with this Framework," it said. "In other cases and following this 12-month period, due weight should be given to relevant policies in existing plans according to their degree of consistency with this framework (the closer the policies in the plan to the policies in the Framework, the greater the weight that may be given)."

Today was also something of a milestone for counterbalance, as well as for Wesham. This was FBC's first meeting after St Eric Pickles' Statutory Regulations about Town Hall openness and transparency that came into effect on 10th September, and allows 'citizen reporters' and 'armchair bloggers' parity with more traditional media in reporting council and committee meetings. So to the 'Press Table' we went.

At quarter to the appointed hour the room was filling up. About 40 chairs had been set out in the public gallery and they were half full. We saw faces we knew from WAG and some from the developers. By five to, the seats were all taken, and most councillors had arrived. Cllr Mrs Jacques was substituting for Cllr Fiddler and Cllr Mrs Akeroyd was substituting for Cllr Armitt.

Cllr Fiddler's absence seemed odd to us at such an important precedent-setting meeting.

We overheard councillors talking about last night's learning hour / meeting (their own description of it was a "meeting") at which they seem to have been told that they have to pass applications such as this or they will fall foul of proposed fines in the future. We learned that Government has recently made a written statement to explain its intent in this regard. (We've tracked down a copy. Readers can follow this link to see a copy of DCLG's written statement).

The quote from one Councillor was echoed by several "Last night was a useful meeting - but no-one was happy"

The Development Management Committee meeting began with the brief introductory statements, including one from the chair that the usual rules of debate would apply unless there was a proposal to defer the decision, then he would take that as the first vote. The meeting began with the public platform.   First up was:

MARTIN HOWARTH   (Wesham Town Councillor)
Wesham TC had objected. They own the playing field adjoining and have concerns about several aspects, including flooding. "This is the wrong place to build houses whether its 1, 10 or 100 houses, it's wrong." He said the changes brought by the NPPF had brought no change to the nature of the land and its importance. He concluded "Your decision today will steer the whole development of Fylde for the future and we hope you will refuse it"

JOHN WESTMORELAND   (CPRE)
As always, Mr Westmoreland produced clear planning policy arguments to justify the committee refusing the application, not last the quality of agricultural land, and the adjoining biological heritage site.

ANDREA GALBRAITH   (Chairs Wesham Action Group)
Said there were no special circumstances here as was agued in the case of Queensway. She spoke of high grade farmland and asked the committee not to see WAG's proper planning policy arguments as "parochial Ninbyism"

She said 'sustainable' means something that is "not to the detriment of future generations" and this will be detrimental. She concluded "I urge to you do as you did before, and defend your local policies and vote no to this application"

BRYCE GALBRAITH   (Resident)
Dealt with traffic and highway problems, together with public transport, and infrastructure issues and concluded "Please refuse this application"

DAVID ROWE  (Resident)
He said the main reason for approval would be that Fylde can't meet its five year supply test, but I believe your officers are letting you down because of the way they are interpreting the Strategic Housing Land Availability. He went on to explain the housing numbers as he saw them, and the need to tailor the supply. He urged rejection.

LORNA FLEETWOOD  (Resident)
She said the community of Wesham has shown objection to this application, and all levels of officialdom has refused the previous one. She said it was still outside the urban boundary. It was still Best and Most Versatile land. Nothing has changed. She noted that over 500 houses have been built in recent years. She said the character and rural nature of Wesham was being changed, "and  you, our elected representatives, can put a stop to this today". She closed with quotes from a DCC councillor at the last application who had said "It would be an act of utter vandalism to build on this land"

DAVID PICKERVANCE   (Tenant Farmer)
Said he was responsible for land drainage, which is why the Environment Agency says there are no drainage problems. The brook is already overcrowded and this could lead to heavy fines for him. He spoke of the water use by crops and hedges on the application site which soak up and disperse into the atmosphere over 44m litres of water a year. He said this water would have to go into the brook if the land was built on and it couldn't take it. He had had a professional flood risk assessment done and sent copies to FBC.

JANE STACKHOUSE  (Farmer)
Noted that Fylde's policy EP22 says planning should not introduce or worsen conflict between urban and farming areas. She explained her family were suffering such problems already and adding further property adjoining would create an even more attractive danger to young children. She said farms and ponds were not a conducive environment for building houses next to. She concluded "The proposal is a recipe for disaster that can only conflict with farming operations."

DANIEL PICKERVANCE  (Tenant Farmer)
Said that losing this highly arable land will remove a valuable source for our family. He said the local anaerobic digesters increase pressure for agricultural land in Fylde. He said the development would have a catastrophic effect on some of the best and most versatile farmland in Fylde. He implored the committee to stand by their original decision and protect the land. He concluded, "When you have a bad idea and you halve it it dosn't become a good idea"

JOHN SANDERSON   (Farms downstream from this development)
He said development is driven by either need or greed. When the M55 was developed it disrupted all the local drainage. The existing waterways could not take the volume of water as things were now. He stressed the incompatibility of farming and urban areas.

JOHN SMITH   (Resident)
Said Sunnybank Mill has 21,000 square metres of unused derelict land. He went on to describe, in graphic detail what he said was the stinking bog with rats,  rubbish and debris that the redundant Sunnybank site actually was. That should be developed before countryside and farmland.

He said "If you pass this [application] it will be the start of a cancer that will spread from Fleetwood Road to Treales. There is only one sensible decision, and it has been made four times before. Kick it into touch"

GERARD BILLSBORROW
Spoke of the difficult circumstances for Mr Pickervance who as a tenant farmer 100 years ago would not have dared stand up to the landlord. 50 years ago it was still difficult, and even today you can only admire his courage in standing his ground. He suffers a constant threat of pressure for development.

HARRY SMITH  (Lifelong resident)
Said he had never objected to any development before but this was of a different order. He recounted the sightings, and the importance of wildlife on the adjoining marsh. The had noted kingfishers and deer. He said there was no way the present wildlife would stay if houses were built.

He was also especially worried about the recycling of half a billion litres of water which is supposedly cleaned, but you wouldn't drink it.   He said it could, for example, include particulate rubber from tyres, together with zinc, and iron which are biological toxins for plants.

He concluded by saying "If FBC value this land as the people of Wesham do, you must turn down this application"

CLLR ALAN CLAYTON   (Local Councillor)
Said it was unavoidable for him to refer to the former application, because this is simply a cut-down version of it. He had never known such opposition to a development. Wesham Town Council had submitted detailed objections and he urged the Committee to have regard to them. He spoke of losing the best and most versatile agricultural land, not only for its intrinsic value, but for its economic value as well. He said "Once this is built on, there is no going back"

When Fylde's Planning Officer Andrew Stell spoke, he ran through the application in more detail. He concluded that with only 2.8 years of qualifying housing target land, Fylde could not meet its five year target requirement, so the argument moved to sustainability, and because this site adjoins existing development and is well connected, it is a sustainable site.

He then considered the visual aspect and noted that, as a smaller development, it was less of a problem. He said it represented a 6% increase on existing property in Wesham and that was not excessive.

He spoke of the NPPF and the Government's recently expressed intent to encourage growth, and officers thought this outweighed the other aspects.

Turning to the agricultural land issues he noted that there was undoubtedly Best and Most Versatile agricultural land on the site, however, he said, the view taken was that this was not the only BMV land in Fylde so, (he appeared to argue), it wasn't as important. He accepted though, that the conflict on best and most versatile farmland did still exist.

At this point we formed the view from his manner and his delivery that either he was nervous at having to say this in front of a public gallery that was clearly ready to disagree with him or, more likely in our view, he didn't really believe what he was having to tell them.

On drainage, he said United Utilities and the Environment Agency raised no objection to the scheme provided the runnoff from the development went into a sustainable drainage system.

He said that since the previous refusal the National Planning Policy Framework had changed things, and in his view, this outweighed the conflict with local policy and so the application should be approved.

QUESTIONS FROM COUNCILLORS
Cllr Mrs Nulty asked about several matters including travel plans, and the way LCC had interpreted sustainability in different ways to Fylde.

She also asked if the flood risk assessment done by the farmer had been sent to United Utilities. The answer was "No" Fylde had received it but had not sent it to either United Utilities  or to the Environment Agency.

Cllr Mrs Speak asked whether the brownfield sites in the area had been considered. The answer was "No."   She also asked whether local people had been involved in the development by the applicant. Mr Stell said he couldn't answer.

Cllr Goodrich asked about the settlement boundary.

Cllr Mrs Chew said they had heard a speaker that morning say that FBC were the only council that didn't include sites with no signed Section 106 agreement in place in the 5 year figure. Mr Evans said it was a matter for local determination, and Fylde decided to do it this way. He couldn't speak for other Councils.

Cllr Duffy took this up shook it like a terrier. He said he couldn't see why the NPPF couldn't override the Strategic Housing Land Availability rules, and he wanted to know how close to its target Fylde would be if it counted all the permissions including those where Section 106 agreements had been signed. The reply from Fylde's Mark Evans (Head of Planning and Regeneration) didn't satisfy Cllr Duffy who persisted that the requirement was not a requirement of the new NPPF.

He then said FBC had, in effect, lowered their 5 year supply without absolutely needing to do so, and they had caused themselves this problem by not including the S106 sites in the Five Year Supply figures unless they were fully signed up with agreements.

For planning anoraks at this point you could hear a pin drop. For non-anoraks we'll explain.... 

Put simply, the Government says that every Council must have in place enough planning permissions to build as many houses as they say are needed over the next five years. If they can't demonstrate this provision by next year, the Council  will have to automatically grant every planning application that is submitted or it will be granted on appeal (until the number is reached).

To make matters worse, the Government imposes various criteria that limit which planning approvals can be counted.

However, what Cllr Duffy and Cllr Mrs Chew had seen was that Fylde had made it virtually impossible to reach their target by self-inflicted additional criteria regarding "Section 106 Agreements" that impose even more restrictions on what you can count as a 'planning permission'

(Section 106 Agreements are about developers making contributions to e.g. infrastructure like schools, roads, and so on)

So it looks as though Fylde Council's own choice to limit what it can count as "Planning permissions"  are what is causing the problem with the five year supply in the first place.

Mark Evans repeated that the process and criteria they used were simply what the Council had already decided. He said he had asked colleagues in other councils about the criteria *they* used, and, there were, he said, "variations".

Cllr Pounder. Said he understood that when permission was granted 'subject to a 106 agreement' it is not legally granted until the S106 was signed, so we couldn't count them anyway, could we?

Cllr Duffy was having none of this. He - almost alone - had seen the chink of light and was going for it. He demanded to know Mr Evan's approximation of what the position would be if Fylde applied more relaxed criteria about S 106 agreements as some other councils in Lancashire were doing.

Mr Evans prevaricated, but when pressed further, said he had roughed out some estimates, and it might just be about result in Fylde having a five year supply instead of a 2.8 year supply of land with "planning permissions"

He added that if things changed as a result of his enquiries, and they could change their criteria to what others were using, then they would be able to defend future planning applications.

Cold comfort for Wesham's residents though, we thought. Too late for them!

At this point it was ten to twelve and we had a comfort break for ten minutes.

COUNCILLORS DEBATE
After the break we started with Councillors comments. First off was

Cllr Mrs Lind Nulty, who said it would come as no surprise that she was opposed to the plan. She had consistently opposed inappropriate development and this was inappropriate. She said she proposed refusal of the application and was immediately seconded in this move by Cllr Maxine Chew.

She said "We must not let our Fylde constituents down". This site has been refused on proper planning grounds from Fylde's own decision all the way through to a judicial review of the Secretary of State's refusal. She said no matter how many houses they approved, none would get built until the national and international financial situation changed.

Very capably, she then went through her reasons for refusal (which had mostly been rehearsed already by previous speakers), giving a bravura performance, quite the best we have ever seen her give. She also said it would prejudice the council's own plan being prepared if this was granted now.

Quoting Eric Pickles who, it seems,  had been quoted at their 'Learning Hour cum meeting' last night she noted his expressed view that "Local opposition in itself is not a matter to be taken into account" and said he was right - on its own it was not a sufficient reason, but there were a host of good, technical planning reasons for refusal.

Adding a bombshell she said she had spent a lot of the night last night considering a statement that was made at the 'Learning Hour' that they should   "Let these (selected applications) through and, we will begin to be able to defend our countryside"

If that was true (and we have no reason to doubt Mrs Nulty), it was absolutely disgraceful. The underlying logic bears no relationship to planning policy and everything to vulgar pragmatic expediency. It flies in the face of the Golden Rule of Planning which is that all applications should be considered on merit.

Cllr Mrs Maxine Chew said she could not agree with the Government that we can build our way our of recession. She said she had been horrified with what she had read at the end of a link provided by the Chief Executive from Saint Eric Pickle's department. She said it was threatening and, as an elected councillor, she would not be bullied like that.

She said she thought our MP MPs (* Please see update/correction at the end of this article) had let us down badly, and she predicted an avalanche of complaints to MPs as the threat of development became more widely known throughout the UK.

She concluded by saying there was a quote attributed to Churchill, about "lions being led by donkeys", and she said 'I hope this committee is a lion and the donkeys in government can go and build in their own back yards'

Cllr Mrs Heather Speak said the officer's recommendations were not strong enough. She agreed with all that has been said, and she would vote for refusal.

Cllr Peter Hardy said they had a lovely spot, and they must not ruin it and damage the agricultural land, and they should not set a precedent by approving this application. Based on proximity to a BUS and farmland he said he would go along with refusal.

Cllr Peter Collins said the Government thought it could build its way out of recession, and thousands of houses were planned for Cot tam (north west of Preston), but the County Council say the M55/M6 junction is already at, or over, capacity and he couldn't see how more housing development could go ahead. He said it was infrastructure building that was needed, not housing.

He added that he thought Cllr Frank Andrews had summed the situation up best at the 'Learning Hour cum meeting' last night when he said "Building too many houses is what got Spain into the trouble it is in now"

The Vice Chairman - Cllr Kevin Eastham began by saying they, like the Government were in an invidious position. he said the average number of people per household used to be over four, but now it is 2.3 and dropping.

We've picked this theme up before. It's not that Fylde's population is growing, it's that divorce and family fragmentation is one key driver of supposed housing 'need' - and inward migration (not necessarily in Fylde's case from overseas), is the other.

Our net need for housing on Fylde's own population projections is actually falling.

Quite when a Government that professes to be pro-family sees the light and stops feeding the divorce and family fragmentation monster with housing, the sooner it might have more of a chance of keeping families together for longer. (If hubby or wife can't get somewhere else to live as easily, maybe they'll try a bit harder to stay together as a family, with all the social benefits that condition rewards society and their children with)

<OFF-TOPIC RANT OVER>

But having begun well, Cllr Eastham changed tack and quietly as subtly developed arguments to approve the development before saying he proposed that it should be approved. (There was much murmuring of discontent from the floor at this proposal)

Cllr Ben Aitken (Chairman), and sometime former 'Farmers Friend' because of his professed and laudable aims to preserve Fylde's farmland was, on this occasion, quick to second Cllr Eastham's proposition to approve its destruction with this application.

(As procedure anoraks will know, technically it wasn't a proposition, it was a counter motion - because it negated Mrs Nullity's proposition and the same effect could be achieved by voting against that - and it probably should not have been allowed, but the debate had already gone on a long time and brains were getting tired).

Cllr Charlie Duffy started to pick up something Cllr Eastham had said but appeared to think better of it and simply said "I'm trying to consider this application on its merits."  Adding that they could only decide on the basis of the National Planning Policy Framework and that it was difficult, and that they do have to consider the contribution it would make to the five year supply, but based on what Mr Evans had said earlier, it was possible that if they didn't approve it, the Council would only be 46 houses short of its five year target, and he thought that should be defendable at appeal. He also thought that the weight attributed to their arguments would increase over time.

This is one sharp cookie of a Councillor. We've said it before and we say it again, we see in him a future Leader of the Council, and a wise and able leader at that.

At this point the Chairman invited Head of Planning Mr Evans to comment on what had been said by Cllr Duffy.

Seasoned watchers might wonder if that move was an invitation for Mr Evans to disassemble what Cllr Duffy had said. Mr Evans did say that Courts had held ministerial statements as being policy, a point Mr Curtis later confirmed.

Cllr Mrs Nulty came back at this point with another sharp spot. She asked what Mr Evans would be the effect of using the Council's own (in our view already inflated) "housing need" number of 278 houses a year in the five year calculation, as opposed to using the one the officers *had* used which was the 306 houses a year promoted by the (widely discredited and soon to be abolished) Regional Strategy.

Mr Evans' response seemed to be that it would, of course, reduce the number of planning permissions they had to deliver.

We started to get uncomfortable here. What we had seen over the morning appeared to us to be an officer class that appeared to display little empathy or commitment to achieve the aims of the Council for which they were working. A  'Teflon coat and white gloves approach' such as this means their professional integrity remains pristine and sparkling, but that comes at the expense of spoiled lives for others.

We thought we saw Mr Evans trying to 'help' this (and other) applications through, in order to comply with the artificially low five year target that officers had proposed in order not to sully their hands with anything that was 'distasteful' or at least was not 'perfect planning'. We thought the way councillors had to drag them into the reality of everyday life suggested they had been presenting information that was not inaccurate or wrong, but presented selectively in order to suit an unseen agenda - maybe one that would help avoid being held to account for not doing enough already to prepare for meeting the needs of the five year supply.

Perhaps we are wrong here, but it was the impression we gleaned from the meeting. The exchanges suggested a clear reticence to help the council meet the desires of its communities and accentuate the positives in calculating the five year supply for example. Yes it was being re-looked at now, but that looking appeared reluctant, and almost as a last resort, not proactively in helping members to achieve their planning objectives.

And, of course, as we said before, it's this sort of attitude that has cost St Annes its only remaining piece of countryside attached to the town at Queensway.

We were now moving toward the time for a vote, and we had done a quick sum. Although planning is supposed to be non-party political, we suspected the meeting of the night before had sought to influence, and we thought a vote along party lines was not impossible. Using what had been said in debate and the party allegiances as a further indicator, we predicted a decision something like 7:6 in favour of refusing the application, with some we couldn't call at all.

Clearly (if he was doing similar sums) that result wasn't going to be what the Chairman was wanting (Given his declared support and seconding of Cllr Easthams proposal to grant permission), and it was at this point that Cllr Albert Pounder spoke up.

He said he was minded to move for deferment. He said this was such a  contentious decision and he thought they should have more information about the housing numbers. He was seconded by Cllr Redcliffe who said he has also been sorry that the Committee had not had a formal site visit.

Prompted by the Chairman, Cllr Pounder agreed that the uncertain issues were mostly about how the five year supply might be calculated, and Mr Evans was invited to say whether he thought a deferment would bring further enlightenment in a month or two.

The reply was bad to follow, but the impression was that Councils should not seek to defer in order to circumvent the five years supply figure, and that the developer might submit an appeal based on non-determination within the time allowed.

For a short time there was a bit of confusion. There had been a seconded proposition, a seconded counter-motion, and a seconded amendment. The Chairrman asked Cllr Mrs Nulty if she would again read out her reasons for refusal. She did so, citing chiefly that it was contrary to settlement policy and the loss of agricultural land together with the appropriate parts of the NPPF.

It was at this point that the Chairman proposed a further adjournment to enable the proposer and seconder to consult with officers on getting the grammar of their proposals right.

Nothing wrong with that at all. We guess it also provided time for him to take some soundings of individual members of the committee in order to help him gauge the likely result of a vote.

It wasn't clear cut, but we thought we might just have detected a little chicanery going on here. Nothing wrong, just a mild attempt to move the vote in a particular way. We suspected he had realised the likelihood was that the vote would go in favour of refusing the application, and he was preparing to settle for second best,- a deferment of the decision altogether.

When business resumed the Chairman called the meeting to order and said he hoped people would see that Fylde was trying its best to understand and to listen to the needs of the community.

Before moving on to a vote, he reminded those present that when he opened the meeting he had said if there was a move to defer the decision, he would take that vote first.

There had been a move to defer, and he was moving quite smoothly and seamlessly toward that end until Cllr Kevin Eastham (quite unwittingly it appeared) broke the progress of this particular 'slow train to Georgia'  and put a fly in the ointment by asking Mr Evans if he thought a delay might provide them with new information in say, month or two?

Mr Evans said he couldn't really say.

Cllr Aitken resumed his path, saying "When we do the vote whether to defer or not, a vote to defer is not opting out, it's a realistic decision".

The vote was taken and lost on majority show of hands. The decision would be made today. The tension increased.

That left Cllr Mrs Nulty's proposition on the table and, being fair, he did not seek to have Cllr Eastham's counter-motion to approve the application voted on first.

Someone had asked for a recorded vote, and the committee were reminded that under their new Constitution, that call had to be supported by at least five people. A show of hands was called for and more than five went up, so the vote would be recorded (attributed to individuals).

The resultant vote to  REFUSE   Planning permission was:
 

Cllr Aitken Against Refusal     
Cllr Eastham Against Refusal
Cllr Mrs Ackeroyd Abstain
Cllr Mrs Chew For Refusal
Cllr Collins For Refusal
Cllr Mrs Craig-Wilson Against Refusal
Cllr Duffy For Refusal
Cllr Goodrich Against Refusal
Cllr Mrs Jacques Abstain
Cllr Hardy For Refusal
Cllr Mrs Nulty For Refusal
Cllr Pounder Against Refusal
Cllr Redcliffe Abstain
Cllr Mrs Speak For Refusal

That was six for refusal, five against refusal, and three abstentions.

So Metacre's application stands refused. We were very pleased that the Committee did such a good job of the debate, and they did not allow themselves to be browbeaten or brainwashed into submission. In fact, any instructions or threats that might have been made at the 'Learing Hour cum Meeting' would seem to have been counter-productive. Committee dug in its heels and went on the offensive to challenge the way they had been constrained by the Section 106 issue amongst other things.

So we say well done to them and to the Wesham Action Group. It was an example of  a good committee in action.

Dated:  12 September 2012

UPDATE 13 September 2012
Cllr Mrs Chew has asked us to clarify that she actually said "our MPs had let us down" ie in the plural, not "our MP had let us down (in the singular). We accept we might have misheard what she said, and the conclusion of her sentence does indicate plurality, so we're happy to publish this correction at her request. cb


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