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Wrea Green Sports Plan

Wrea Green Sports PlanIn Ticket to Watch, we previewed Fylde's arrangements for the Development Management Committee to consider a planning application for a 'sports village' near to Wrea Green.

In an update to that article, we also mused about the problems and uncertainty caused by the introduction of the new National Planning Policy Framework.

In summary the application for outline permission and access for a 'community sports facility' comprises football pavilion building, a floodlit artificial football pitch, four grass football pitches, a floodlit artificial hockey pitch with pavilion building, jogging trail, and a football ground to provide permanent home to AFC Fylde with one stand for 1,400 spectators and standing areas giving an overall capacity for 2,500, and the infrastructure associated with such a development.

Wrea Green has set its face against the plan which it says (and we agree) is not to meet the needs of the local community. (We think it has potential to become a regional scale facility). The report of the planning officer said there were pros and cons, but overall he thought the cons to carried more weight and he recommended refusal.

We were fortunate enough to get a ticket to grandstand the planning meeting to be able to bring readers our impression of what happened - so here it is.

At just before 9:40 outside, this was the scene, and they were still coming. We saw two coaches and a double decker bus waiting to unload.

Waiting to get in

As we were waiting, a councillor of our acquaintance, who well knows our dislike of decisions taken in secret, said he thought the meeting would be taken in private. Then his face cracked and he laughed. It was all good humoured.

At 9:40 the doors opened as promised, and those with tickets - or those like us who had reserved them by phone and were picking them up at the 'box office' - were admitted. This is what got you in. It's worth a mention because it is both a piece of paper, and a piece of history. It represents the first ever time that Fylde has found it necessary to limit attendance by issuing tickets.

Ticket for planning meeting

Note it's red. That's probably because red photocopies as black on most copiers, and it would discourage forgery. So in we went through an efficient (but competent) ID check at the entrance door where a lot of hopefuls without tickets were waiting.

By 9:50 the room was full. People were quiet and orderly. The Committee Clerk was explaining procedure and asking people not to stand in (and block) the main fire exits. Folk were standing all round the room. We managed to find a seat near the front and settled in.

We did a quick count we made it six rows of 13 chairs = 78, plus councillors, officers and suchlike of 25 = 103, plus we could see 36 standing and there were more outside in the hallway we couldn't see so perhaps another 40 to 45 were listening. We make that  probably 140 to 150 people overall.

Shortly after 9:50 a 'late observations' sheet was handed round to Councillors. This had a late representation that had only just been received and, crucially, it also had two pages of update for members in relation to the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

Readers will recall that yesterday we provided a pre-meeting update to 'Ticket to Watch' were we explained we were concerned that the officer's report had relied on national guidance which, (as of last Tuesday when the Government published the NPPF), had been abandoned. This looked to be a rectification of that situation.

The meeting started bang on 10am, and the Chairman (Cllr Ben Aitken) told the public speakers that they should respect the time limit of three minutes per speaker, and use the microphone, as the meeting was being videoed. He said only those who had registered would be called to speak. After the public speakers (for and against), Wrea Green's Cllr Andrews would speak. After that, there would be a ten minute break before the committee heard from the officers, and debated their decisions.

There were technical matters first - Cllr Harper was substituting for Cllr Speak, and Cllr Brickels was substituting for Cllr Hardy. Then Fylde's Andrew Stell gave a quick introduction, the key point of which was that Recommendation 2 of his report should be removed because it related to Government guidance that was no longer in force (because the NPPF had abolished it).

We were pleased to see Fylde's officers were sufficiently on the ball to take account of the NPPF.

It turned out that the officer's report had been published on Monday, and the Government announcement of the new NPPF was on the Tuesday. Hence this is one of the first applications (nationwide) to fall within the new guidance. We'll have more on this later. First, it was the turn of the speakers who were against the scheme. (Note that we apologise in advance for any misspellings of names. We only had oral sources to go by).

Janet Wardell
Spoke as Chairman of Wrea Green Parish Council who, she said, work to represent the wishes of local people. They had held an open public meeting which 164 people attended. Only one person at the meeting spoke in support of the scheme and he was the agent for the application. They had conducted a village referendum, in which 98% of returns were against the proposal. She said the complex was not relevant to Wrea Green, and Wrea Green neither wanted or needed this on their land.

Julia Jones
Spoke as a resident. She said there was no justification for the scheme. The site was good agricultural land, much of it Grade 3a which is 'Best and Most Versatile' She quoted from PPG 17 (which of course was Government guidance that was no longer valid). However she said that the aims of PPG17 were supported by the new NPPF. She said the application failed to provide for the demographic of Wrea Green - there was nothing for older people in it. It failed to show local community involvement, and there had been 343 letters of objection generated from 600 homes.

Jill Burns
Said the sporting claims were not robust and not supported by evidence. She said they were based on a  KPMG study undertaken for Fylde BC's own  recreational purposes and it failed to assess all recreational sites, especially school sites such as Kirkham Grammar and Maryfield. She said that if the scheme was built it might render existing playing fields less important and provide potential for their redevelopment based on redundancy.

John Rowson
Said he acknowledged that PPG 17 was now out of date. He spoke about public transport and suggested the site was not convenient for public transport. Any evening activity would be outside the bus timetable. On Ribby Road there had been nine accidents in the last few months. He produced figures for traffic and speeding and he warned that as AFC Fylde progressed, so traffic would increase as well.

John Wheatman
Spoke about footpaths and parking. He highlighted footpath problems, poorly lit roads, and said the site did not provide safe access for community sports. He said as the club progressed as was its declared intention, so the present 306 parking spaces would be insufficient. He argued that the applicant's plans to use nearby fields as overflow car parks was not satisfactory. He noted that the site had no capacity to increase from 306 cars.

By now, a pattern was starting to emerge. It was a pattern of well informed, well disciplined speakers each holding within their allotted three minutes. No-one rushing at such speed that you turned off from hearing them; each person taking one aspect of the argument and presenting it clearly and cogently.

counterbalance has been around a few contentious planning applications and planning inquiries held in public, and we know our way around them. These people were working to the same level as QED and WAG, and they were impressive.

Liz Rugman
Spoke about noise. She said football is a noisy game, and it would be unacceptably noisy for residents of Wray Crescent who adjoin the site. She said noise was a key method of expressing support or opposition for the teams playing the match and it would be wrong to try to restrict the exuberance of fans with the sort of draconian measures that would be needed to ensure residents would not have their quiet enjoyment removed. She said there would be tannoy speakers with announcements which would also be unacceptable for residents, especially if as appeared to be the case, that pitches were in use from 9am to 10pm because of the mix of uses that were planned.

Julie Gaywood
Spoke about light pollution. She said the floodlighting would destroy local amenity and disturb residents. The scheme would floodlight an area of 4.5 acres in the middle of the countryside. She said it would destroy the rural ambience of the area and could not be satisfactorily controlled by conditions. She noted that lighting was the planning officers third reason for recommending refusal. She said the plans for lighting poles would be taller than any trees on the site and therefore the trees could not protect residents and anyway, football took place in winter when there were no leaves on the trees.

Tim Gillmore
Spoke particularly impressively we thought. He spoke of unacceptable urbanisation of the countryside, noting that the proposed stadium was 25% bigger in plan that the B&Q warehouse. He said it was out of scale with the surrounding area. He noted that Blackpool FC's lights were only two metres higher than these were planned to be. He said there would be a need to generate income from functions and maybe even businesses on the site which would bring their own problems and he noted that the lighting (lux) levels would be 500 times the existing light levels even *outside* the application site. He threw a spanner into the works that was picked up by others later when he said that he did not believe the proposal was financially viable. He said the applicant's most recent accounts showed a liability of 250,000 and net current assets of minus 37,000 which was not encouraging.

Unnamed Lady
Spoke about the adverse impact on the visual character and conflicts with Fylde's adopted local plan.

Maggie Ayres
Talked about the scale being unacceptable urbanisation. She said the applicant had produced no evidence to show that AFC Fylde need to move from their present site which, she said, could be developed where it was. There was no need demonstrated for the three clubs to be on one site, and it was necessary to retain the unspoilt countryside to preserve the separation of Kirkham and Wrea Green.

Neil Fenton
Said that Kirkham Town Council now manage the open spaces in Kirkham and were working with Kirkham Junior FC (who would use the facilities proposed at Wesham) to secure funding for improvements to the grounds in Kirkham. He said this (the Wrea Green) development would jeopardise Kirkham TC's plans - which offered more prospects than Wrea Green - for improvement of the Kirkham facilities and children needed access to them.

Simon Waite
Said the application claimed it would produce economic benefit. He argued that the claim was speculative, but the economic threat was real. He said the development proposal mentioned investment of 10m but that again was speculative. He said the Committee didn't have and economic forecast let alone a viability report. He said the proposal is that of a tenant with no assurance of ongoing tenure. The club was reliant on one major sponsor. He asserted that the threat of financial disaster was real.

Angus Leason
Said the development was not sustainable as a permanent home for AFC Fylde. He said they were aiming for League promotion by 2022. There was no prospect for further expansion, either within or adjoining the proposed site, and this must be considered because once they rise above the 2,500 capacity the site itself won't expand. He said Fylde recognised a capacity of 2,500 for the proposed ground, but LCC highways had worked on the basis that only another hundred or so people on top of the 300 or so that attend matches currently would need to be accommodated in traffic. He also said that it would destroy good agricultural land and concluded "Agricultural destruction is permanent, a home fro Fylde AFC is not"

Ann
Said the plan had no links to Wrea Green which has already got a green that supports village based sports. They have football, three sides of senior cricket, a Tennis Club etc. She said Wrea Green already has its own Sports Foundation. She noted that the applicant's Statement of Community Involvement accepted that none of the proposed uses were connected to Wrea Green, adding that none of the Wrea Green clubs were linked to the development. She said provision was being determined by what could be squeezed in around the proposed stadium.

Ann Wilson
Said she thought it would bring a threat to the current Community Sports Foundation, in that it would monopolise community sports funding streams to the detriment of existing community sports clubs. She gave some examples. She was also concerned that the close link between Kirkham Juniors and AFC Fylde would weaken the link between the junior club and its host community. She said "This does not promote community cohesion, it promotes AFC Fylde"

We thought she made some unusual, but thought provoking points that are worthy of more consideration.

Eileen Greaves
In a voice that was, at times, breaking with emotion she said she lived at Greenlands Farm House, and that the lane to her house was owned by Mr Haythornthwaite. She said the boundary shown on the officers plan was wrong in this regard and that there was another small discrepancy (which the officer freely admitted was his drafting error on the overhead slide ). She said she lives within the boundary of the proposed site and - with clear emotion in her voice and eyes - she said she had never expected something like this to be built around her home. She said progression to a large sports stadium was the aim and that could increase the stand capacity to 4,000 plus.

John Molyneaux
Spoke as a Parish Councillor about the destruction of the countryside and the impact on a  rural area. He said the countryside around Wrea Green was a major tourist attraction - especially for Ribby Hall. He said the countryside was a fundamental tenet of the village and it would be destroyed with this proposal. He quoted FBC Planning Policies with which he said the proposal conflicted.

David Whelton
Said it represented unacceptable urbanisation. Wrea Green was renowned as Lancashire's best kept village and had won the official title for many years. It had a quintessential village green, and they needed the countryside to separate rural Wrea Green from urban Kirkham.

Lady
Next was a sharply dressed blonde lady who didn't give a name - or at least we didn't hear it if she did.

A star performer, she was absolutely on the ball, and probably gave the best of all the presentations against the application.

She said it was a Greenfield site and countryside designation. She had read the final NPPF when it was published last Tuesday and concluded that it supported refusal because the application as proposed damages the countryside, and because it is not likely to contribute to community involvement - both of which were central tenets of the new NPPF.

We were *well* impressed (as they say). She was clearly as much on the ball as the Council's officers, and indeed as are anoraks like counterbalance from time to time.

She went on to say that in her view the NPPF imports the concerns from PPG17 so they still apply but in a different form. She added that Fylde's MP Mark Menzies had told her that the NPPF was and is intended and designed to put power into the community, and she said the proposed development was in direct conflict with this.

Alan Greening
Was the final speaker. We know him of old. He's A former auditor and former Borough Councillor. He was always someone with an auditor's eagle eye for accuracy, and we half expected a bombshell from him. But he said all the previous speakers had covered what he intended to say, so he would just add that according to his calculations, the number of people who would be likely to secure rate reductions as a result of the development would mean that something like 150,000 a year less rates would be collected, and that would be a loss to Fylde taxpayers.

And with that, the speakers against the application ended.

Speaking first *for* the application was:

Peter Woods
Spoke as Secretary of Kirkham Juniors FC who stand to benefit from the scheme. He explained how the Junior Club had grown over the years, and that this would provide additional, not replacement capacity for them. He said there was still strong local demand, and the proposal would allow them to access additional funding. It would also allow them to create stronger links with AFC Fylde and create a player pathway from the Junior club right through to AFC Fylde.

Frances Thompson
Spoke as a hockey player, coach, umpire and administrator. She said their club would also benefit from the scheme. The currently have 90 adults and 70 juniors and their catchment area is the whole of Fylde. They have been looking for a permanent new home for 20 years. At present they use the pitches at UCL Preston which are substandard for their needs. She said they need a new home.

Here again we detected a pattern emerging. The speakers were all winning the hearts and minds of the Committee, but none was addressing planning issues. They were selling the idea based on the providing sport for youngsters which, like motherhood and apple pie, no one is going to gainsay. What they were not doing was saying why it was the right place, or better still why it could only be built in Wrea Green.

Martin Booker
Spoke as the Community and Business Development Manager for AFC Fylde. He said they ran after school clubs and provided free coaching for 150 pupils a week. They provided free matchday tickets for families whose children participated in the activities. He said Greenlands would allow them to expand those facilities and include provision for the disabled. He said that would be a community benefit.

Eric Picton
Said he moved to Fylde 37 years ago and was heavily involved with local sport. He said the 2011 census showed that there will be a 20% increase in 5 to 9 year olds between 2010 and 2022 and we needed to encourage young people into sport to combat obesity.

Duncan Cowburn
Spoke as a Trustee of the Haythornthawaite Sports Foundation. He said there were six trustees who were all members of the local community with an interest in sport. He said David Haythornthwaite was giving the land and money for the project. He summarised the benefits, (but again he was arguing the benefits of the sport, not the planning). He went on to say the construction would use high quality materials.

David Haythornthwaite
Said he spoke as the primary funder. He had created the Foundation because he was passionate about sport. He said it was about bringing sport to young people. He said he was a Fylde man. His first house had been in Kirkham and he now lived in Lytham. He was a family man and has first hand evidence of the benefits that sport can bring to young people. He has raised over 60,000 for charity. He is a successful businessman with 120 people employed, and all products made on the Fylde coast. He said "Fylde has been good to me and I want to give something back". He said the scheme would benefit the whole of south Fylde at no cost to the taxpayer. It would be run by a Charitable Trust. There was no financial risk as the land was being gifted. He said in his opinion, that overwhelming community benefit should outweigh the objections.

Patrick Earnshaw
Spoke from Carr Hill School. He said he had listened with great interest to both sides of the arguments presented. He had sympathy with the residents but he believed the change would be beneficial. He said the Borough Council needed to look at the whole of Fylde, not just one geographic village. He said there was a deficit in sporting facilities and if this plan went ahead it would have a "transformative impact on Carr Hill School"

And that concluded the public speakers *for* the application.

Councillor Frank Andrews
Spoke as the Borough Councillor representing Wrea Green. He said he too had spoken with Fylde's MP who had told him he did not believe this location was right. He said it runs against the principles of localism. Cllr Andrews argued they were not simply being NIMBY and cited other developments taking place in the village. But he said this application was not appropriate because

  1. It was not sustainable. The highway footpaths were inadequate, and 306 spaces for parking meant there would be 900 cars looking for somewhere to park and nowhere to go because nearby fields were too wet to use for overflow parking in the (winter) football season.
  2. Progress up the Leagues will need a larger stadium and bigger ground.
  3. The proposal failed to consider the impact on people in Wray Crescent (Light noise etc) and they can't apply limits on use to protect residents without restricting the ability of the Foundation to secure grants (which would want assurances of hours of availability).
  4. The applicant had not demonstrated need for the Wrea Green community.
  5. Clubs should reflect the identity of their host area.
  6. There are widely supported and deeply held objections. A petition of 600+ signatures was elicited when there are only 600 houses in Wrea Green.
  7. The loss of agricultural land would be forever.
  8. The committee should listen to the residents.
  9. He agreed with the planning officers that there was unacceptable urbanisation, a lack of community involvement, there would be noise and disturbance, and for these and other reasons, the application conflicts with the local; plan.

With the public speakers ended, the Chairman called a 10 minute comfort break, after which Planning Officer Andrew Stell briefly summarised the application and noted that it was an outline application with all matters except access reserved.

He said the Fylde Borough and Regional Strategy were both part of the development Plan and remained relevant, however the NPPF had been introduced the day after he had published his report and that had removed PPG 17 and a number of other national policies. He said therefore we now have to take account of the new NPPF.

Using a quote from Paragraph 14 of the NPPF - which says that for decision takers such as Fylde's Development Management Committee, the NPPF means....

  • approving development proposals that accord with the development plan without delay; and:
  • where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out of date, granting permission unless:

    - any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole; or

    - specific policies in this Framework indicate development should be
    restricted.

So, he said, his advice to the Committee was being revised in the light of the NPPF. He then went on to outline the arguments for and against and concluded that it should be refused except that the references to (now outdated) PPG's should be removed and the refusal re-worded to comply with the new NPPF.

At this point the Head of Planning - Mark Evans - gave Committee an update on the NPPF and an exposition of how it applied to this application in particular. Readers can follow this link to see the 'Late Observations' pages that set this out.

He said it had been published the day after Fylde's agenda and it replaced all the PPGs and even some Ministerial Statements. He said that whilst the broad contents had been signalled by Government, there were to be transitional arrangements and they were not known until the NPPF was published, so Fylde could not take account of it before it was published.

He said the central tenet was a presumption in favour of development unless there were circumstances that justified an alternative. He then went on to explain in detail the paragraphs of the NPPF that made changes which affected this application (as set out in the Late Observations' pages )

He concluded by saying he had come to the view that the underlying policy had not been changed by the NPPF and there was a need to involve the local community, but because the NPPF had now been published there was a need to revise the wording of the recommendation to ensure compliance with it.

The Chairman said he would ask Mr Evans to go through the details just before the vote, and moved onto questions and debate by members.

Cllr Kevin Eastham
Said he wanted to thank the professional team of officers for an excellent report and their adaptation of it to the new NPPF at short notice. He said all applications have points for and against but Committee could only say "yes" or "no". He thought an Outline application was not the best way to have approached this proposal but they were where they were and he accepted the Officer's recommendation. He proposed that the application should be refused.

Cllr Linda Nulty
Asked a question about the scale of parking provision and whether there was a business or viability plan or not.

Cllr Charlie Duffy
Asked if the was greater detail about the height of the lighting columns, but was reminded that those details were not within the outline application.

Cllr Kiran Mulholland
Also asked about the lack of a business or viability plan. He said if it was an unconnected agricultural building of a similar size, they would normally expect to see an independent viability study. Mr Evans advised that Committee could ask for one, but Officers had not felt it appropriate to do so. They were generally used in connection with conditions that would prevent agricultural development becoming 'normal' development.

Cllr Nigel Goodrich
Said it seemed to him that the objections were location specific. He supported the Vice Chairman and seconded the move to refuse the application.

Cllr Maxine Chew
Said she shared the concerns of the Vice Chairman. She also wanted to congratulate the speakers who had all been excellent. She'd heard the presentations from both sides. She concluded that they needed to protect the countryside, she was concerned about the ongoing viability / suitability of the site, It was not a community facility. It would be detrimental to residential amenity. It threatened existing sport funding in Wrea Green, there was no public transport to the site and light pollution would be severe. It constituted urbanisation of the countryside. The loss of agricultural land would be a tragedy, it was irreplaceable. It was against many FB policies and she concluded the NPPF supported refusal in this instance, as did she.

Cllr Linda Nulty
Said she also wanted to congratulate everyone on their behaviour. She totally supported the improvement of sport and sporting facilities and had been delighted to be at Wembley when AFC Fylde won the competition but there needed to be clear separation between Wrea Green and Kirkham, and this would become Brownfield urbanisation. It didn't support the community in which it sits and there was a definite traffic problem. Based on personal knowledge of the area she said (to much agreement from the public gallery) "I would never allow a child of mine to cross Blackpool Road to get from Kirkham to Wrea Green" She said she had come to the meeting with an open mind and had not decided which way to vote but had now decided. She was very worried about the impact of the new NPPF but she agreed that it supported refusal, as did she.

Cllr Trevor Fiddler
Was pushing against the tide. He's an able advocate and persuasive speaker. He began by endorsing the professionalism of the officers and the behaviour of the public. He said officers had concluded that the decision was finely balanced and he was worried about how it might be considered at an appeal. He noted that countryside is important but they had approved the present ground for AFC Fylde in the countryside in a less sustainable place than the one now proposed.

We thought he did his best to muster arguments for approval but he was always going to be outvoted by the others.

He did say (and this is something we hope to look at shortly as we have known about it for a while now) "There is a misconception that localism empowers local communities to say 'No', and that's wrong". He used the example of the Victoria Hotel in St Annes where he said a Barrister had been engaged by FBC and had told the Council they couldn't defend a refusal when the localism provisions have not been given effect and the Council would now offer no evidence to the inquiry.

Cllr Fiddler tried to say that the Wrea Green issue was the same. We didn't agree.

He concluded by saying "I'm not going to move approval because it won't be seconded, but I'm just adding some balance to the debate"

Cllr Kiran Mulholland
Disagreed with Cllr Fiddler, saying that none of the reasons for refusal here were based on localism, they were all stand alone planning reasons. He argued that if the applicant had been able to convince local residents of the benefit, they could have come along to the Committee and asked for current policy to be overridden. He said "that's what localism does"

Cllr Charlie Duffy
Said "It's a good application in the wrong place" Which, so far as we were concerned just about summed it all up. Many in the public gallery seemed to agree with him. Adding a rare note of humour to the proceedings, he picked up an earlier  comment from Cllr Mrs Nulty who had said she "hoped the plans for the lighting were not set in stone" and suggested the lights would actually be better if they were set in stone. He concluded that wherever it was built it would likely be built in the countryside, but this was not the right place. He would support refusal.

Cllr Peter Collins
Said in his view, and on balance, the officers had got it right. There were many well known clubs on the verge of promotion to a higher league and we couldn't impose, for example Sheffield Wednesday playing AFC Fylde at Wrea Green.

Cllr Richard Redcliffe
Said he wanted to make the point that the scheme had a lot to commend it in terms of meeting sporting need, but this was clearly the wrong location.

With no further speakers, the Chairman asked Mr Evans to read out the reasons for refusal,  which he did.

The vote was all the Committee except Cllr Fiddler voted for refusal. Cllr Fiddler voted for approval.

Joy spread unrestrained through Wrea Green as the texts and phone calls "back home" flowed, and we imagine The Grapes would have been a pretty good place to spend the afternoon today.

It now remains to be seen if there is an appeal. Mr Haythornthwaite is not easily discouraged.

Dated:   4 April 2012


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