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Incompetent Planning?

Incompetent Planning?Tomorrow, at 5pm on Thursday 22 August 2013, Fylde's public consultation on its draft local plan comes to an end.

It has been an eventful few weeks in Fylde's history. The Local Plan Steering Group's advice was disregarded by Portfolio Holder Trevor Fiddler who, decided the Preferred Options on his own.

Then endorsement of the content was proposed by Cllr Fiddler and seconded by Cllr David Eaves at an Extra-ordinary Council meeting on 12 June 2013. The proposal contains controversial and untested numbers as Fylde's housing requirement, proposing 341 houses a year being built over the plan period. That would give a total of almost 7,000 new houses in Fylde.

To put that into scale and context, it means building new property that's roughly equivalent to creating another town the size of Lytham, within Fylde Borough.

Cllr Fiddler sought the endorsement of the full Council meeting (knowing that the Leader, Cabinet and other Conservatives would support him). They did.

Endorsement of the plan was proposed by Portfolio Holder Trevor Fiddler and seconded by Council Leader David Eaves. The Conservative councillors then used their majority to ensure the plan was endorsed. All of them voted for it.

But what the Extra-ordinary Council Meeting also did was show how divided Fylde Council is on planning - because 41% of councillors voted against endorsing the draft plan.

These councillors went on to publish a Minority Report setting out their reasoning for doing so.

Since then, we have seen uproar in Warton as news of 1,200 new houses broke onto unsuspecting residents, and we've seen Fylde passing what seems like every planning application it has considered, and not defending appeals when it had decided to refuse them, (such as Wesham and the Kirkham Triangle). We've seen the Portfolio Holder saying it's all the Government's fault, and others suggesting it's Fylde's fault.

Whilst the Government's anti-planning minister Nick Boles has indeed made life much more difficult for all councils with his ill-conceived and wrong-headed 'National Planning Policy Framework' (which appears to put a desire for economic growth over proper spatial planning, and which threw the promised localism baby out of the window with the planning bathwater and onto the scrapheap), Fylde is far from blameless for the mess we are in.

That's because the root causes of the problems at Fylde go far deeper than the last few weeks, so we have chronicled most of what we believe has gone wrong at Fylde and has led us to the current mess.

We're bringing together a series of separate threads about Fylde's Local Plan (which ends it's public consultation period tomorrow) to show how we got into such a mess, and we go on to consider where we should go from here.

In Failing To Impress back in 2010 we looked at Fylde's operation and said "At it's root, this is not really about administrative competence: its about who sets the agenda for local government. - Should it be local people, or should it be Government?

Who should influence the proportion of Council resources that should be directed to housing? Who decides whether planning permissions should be granted? Should the Council listen more to what local people say - or to what Government says?

This is crucial (and central) to much of what has upset people in Fylde in recent times.

We argue that the Coombes Administration - whilst it lasted - failed to pay sufficient regard to residents, but danced merrily to the tune of the New Labour Government in Westminster.

In his column, Cllr Coombes himself speaks about the "...difficulty of leading an organisation which has to dance to the tune of its political masters in Westminster, whilst at the same time endeavouring to deliver the wishes of the community it was elected to serve. With centrally imposed political structures, meagre funding, imposed targets and policies, I feel local town halls have become one of the most difficult areas of the public sector to work within."

Readers will note the order that these matters come into his mind. Westminster first. Residents second. Note also that he felt he *had* to dance to the tune of political masters in Westminster and only *endeavoured* to deliver the wishes of the community."

Those were his words and phrasing, not ours.

This went back to 2003 when the new Cllr Coombes claimed it was touch and go whether commissioners would be brought in to run Fylde. He was right as far as he went, but it was only because Fylde was listening more to its electorate (who had social housing well down their agenda) than to the Labour Government who had it high on theirs.

How times change. The present Administration listens more to Government than to its electorate. They voted as much. 'See 10. Rubber Stamping' toward the end of this series of article.

In the days of the former Commissar, there was little support for producing the Local Plan.

In our article Planning and Parking  we showed how Cllr Ashton siphoned off the remaining £10,000 of a Government payment of £22,500 that was given to Fylde Council to pay for essential work for evidence to develop planning policies. He used it to subsidize car parking prices one Christmas.

In that same article we also showed how nearly £200,000 was used for other purposes. We said

"...to support the planning department in 2004/05 they got £152,000 but didn't spend any of it.

In 2005/06, they got another £75,000, taking their total to £227,000 as at 31 March 2006.

During 2006/07 they spent £28,000, (so they made some sort of a start) leaving a total of £199,000 in the kitty at 31 March 2007

But then came the disastrous Streetscene debacle (see Incompetence or Fraud?) when Dim Tim reported a loss of £609,000 on the Wyre waste contract, and this, together with other losses caused by the equally disastrous attempt to replace the accounting computers (see No Accounting for Fylde) had to be found from somewhere.

So the £199,000 that should have gone toward getting the new planning system in place was swallowed up to offset the debt the Commissar and his financially incompetent Politburo Cabinet had built up."

This and other financial and administrative failures led to the under resourcing of the new Local Plan for Fylde Borough.

That, in turn, made Fylde vulnerable to developers, and we are today paying the price for the trail of failures in Local Planning that began early in the new millennium - and have built to a crescendo as those failures (despite Fylde's desperate but belated attempts to catch up) are now resulting in the loss of high quality Greenfield sites to development as developers appeal and Fylde say - in effect - we don't have a five year supply and the local plan is out of date so we can't argue against the developers.

The reason Fylde are so far behind is that the Portfolio Holders for 'planning' (initially Cllr Roger Small, then from 2009 Cllr Trevor Fiddler) were not able to persuade their colleagues in the Cabinet to allocate the resources necessary to do a proper job.

Part of Fylde's Medium Term Financial Strategy of 14 February 2008, said:

"The Core Strategy is an essential document which underpins the Local Development Framework (LDF process). It provides a long-term spatial and strategic vision for the area. Up to now funding for work on the Core Strategy has been through Planning Delivery Grant (PDG). However, this funding stream has now been fully committed. A revenue growth bid for £89k has been made but given the severe pressure on the this budget, no growth bids have been considered for 2008/09. Consequently, work on the Core Strategy will be severely delayed having an impact on timescales already agreed with GONW, Blackpool and Wyre Councils."

For those unable to read council-speak it says..... the Core Strategy and other documents are crucial things and we haven't got them, and now we've no money to do them either.

But....., unbelievably....., it got even worse.

A report to the Planning Policy Scrutiny Committee of 12 February 2009 (a year later) said this on page 60:

"Housing and Planning Delivery Grant / Area Based Grant
4. Housing and Planning Delivery Grant (H&PDG) of £107,000 (non ring-fenced) was granted to the Council in November 2008 and an area Based Grant of £22,500 (also non ring-fenced) was also awarded. The underlying purpose of these grants was to assist the Council in developing the evidence base for the Core Strategy."

What this means is that the Commissar got another £107,000 to put toward developing the new planning system, and also an extra £22,500 - which is what Dim Tim snaffled to offset the parking charges.

He was allowed to snaffle this before any ordinary member of the Council knew that the grant had been received or what it was intended for.

the report of 2009 also said:

"Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment
5. The Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) was commissioned from consultants (Halletec Ltd) in October 2007. This contract has however been terminated since the work submitted was of unacceptable quality. (we've actually seen it and we thought it was moderately impressive, but then we're not planning professionals) Remaining funding to re-let the contract was insufficient and offered up for in year savings to help the councilís significant budget position on the basis that new H&PDG monies were due in November (see above). Some work towards the completion of the project is being undertaken in-house on the direction of the Portfolio Holder. The Councilís termination of the contract is the subject of a threatened legal challenge."

"6. The importance of completing the SHLAA cannot be over-emphasised since not only will it inform preparation of the Core Strategy, but it will help inform development control decisions on the two large Greenfield planning applications currently before the Council (Queensway, St Annes and Mowbreck Lane, Wesham). Further Housing and Planning Delivery Grant would be awarded if the work can be completed by the end of March 2009"

What this says is that we didn't like the planning consultants we hired, so we've fired them after they've done the first bit of the work. However when we priced the work up with others, we didn't have enough cash to pay anyone else, so we gave up the money to get the Commissar out of the financial black hole, and we might get some more money if we can pull off 'mission impossible' and do several year's work in the next month with less staff than we had when we started.

It goes on to say in effect 'didn't we do well to cock all this up', and it shows how our arguments to refuse all these planning applications that were then, and are now, deluging Fylde are completely undermined by not having done the work we should have done in the first place.

Oh, and it also says we might be sued by the contractor we hired then fired.

Honestly. If it wasn't true, you couldn't make it up, could you?"

So we can easily justify concluding this section by saying that the Leader and Cabinet abjectly failed to provide the resources necessary to prepare the evidence that would inform the new local plan within the timescale that was required.

Albeit too late, Fylde did eventually start to put resources into the Local Plan. They started to assemble the evidence on which the new local plan would be founded.

As this process began, a little over three years ago, Cllr Fiddler called a meeting of Fylde's community groups concerned with planning.

All the main groups attended.

Cllr Fiddler said he wanted better engagement between councillors, officers and local people. He commended the professionalism and expertise of the groups present at the meeting and wanted to tap into their planning skills that had impressed him so much.

He was not confident that the evidence which had been commissioned by his officers - and on which the plan they were producing relied - was delivering accurate data, especially with regard to housing numbers. He especially cast doubt on the main body of work done by Fordham Research which he thought did not adequately separate actual housing need from the aspirational desire for lower housing costs from would-be applicants.

He also recognised that once something [such as the Fordham Report] became settled policy, it became ingrained into the organisational culture and unpicking that position was often slow and difficult, but he wanted the groups assembled at his request to help him by - in effect - challenging the evidence base that officers had assembled.

It was agreed at that meeting that the Cllr Fiddler would arrange for Council officers to provide a copy of the evidence base they had assembled by that date, and the groups would undertake a critical review of it.

The notes of the meeting record that fact.

Cllr Fiddler was so pleased with the outcome, he published the minutes of that meeting to all members of Fylde Council. Our readers can follow this link to see the full notes of that meeting.

In the event, despite several attempts, the evidence base was not made available for critical review - at least not until it was published as part of the normal local plan process for everyone to comment on. It remained untested in the court of public opinion, and it has still not been subjected to a critical review.

We drew attention to two specific instances of these flawed figures (there are many more) regarding 'Affordable Housing' in our article Planning Madness where we said

"At about the same time [2002], the Lancashire County Council's 'Joint Lancashire Structure Plan' (2001 to 2016) showed that Fylde had an annual need for just 155 dwellings of *all types*. Yet Fordham's study - which eventually became incorporated into Fylde's local plan, said there was a need for 420 'affordable' dwellings per year.

"In December 2011, Fylde Council's Annual Monitoring Report said "This review of the housing needs situation suggests that [an average of] around 568 additional affordable units would be required per year if all affordable needs are to be met. This compares with an estimate from the 2002 survey of 420 per annum." As readers will see, the persistent dichotomy between social housing numbers, and housing of all types, was being perpetuated."

There has been no critical review of the data established as the evidence base for Fylde. There is no proper transparent justification for Fylde using an overall housing requirement of 341 homes or more (as set out in the consultation draft of the Local Plan). Indeed some of the evidence is simply extrapolation and updates of previous nonsense figures - and this evidence is what is proposed to shape policy for Fylde to 2030.

So the Portfolio Holder's request for the evidence base to be critically tested did not take place, because 18 months later, no evidence had been provided for review. This was despite repeated requests to both the Planning Portfolio Holder and to the Council's Officers on behalf of the Community Planning Groups.

Instead of using the local planning groups to examine and test the evidence, Cllr Fiddler eventually took an alternative path. He decided to create a group of (mostly) councillors to consider the emerging local plan and its evidence. This group was called the Local Plan Steering Group.

The group had the appearance of being a sub-committee (and some officers clearly thought it was) but it was not.

Until a vigorously pursued Freedom of Information request and subsequent appeal caused its release to the public domain, this group had published no agenda or minutes, they took no 'decisions', and the meetings were not open to the public. They were simply an advisory group to Cllr Fiddler.

This structure meant the local plan debates were held in secret without the public being aware of what was being discussed (let alone what was decided)

When some of the minutes were released after the FoI appeal, we documented much of the argument about Housing Numbers.

At first, Fylde's planning officers wanted a figure of 280 homes a year to be built. Several councillors sought to reduce this. The officers argued it should stay at 280, then a revised figure of 278 was 'agreed' before that was changed to 306 a year by the Portfolio Holder who overrode the advice given by those he had asked for it from.

That was his prerogative because, under the awful Cabinet System Fylde uses, he - and he alone - must take the decision on the data Fylde puts out for public consultation with respect to the Local Plan.

There is little or no transparent justifying evidence to establish these figures. In some of the Steering Group meetings there seems to be a sort of horse-trading process going on with approaches like 'can we get away with this' and 'will this figure be thought too high'.

This isn't how it is supposed to work. The figure should be derived from evidence and justified transparently.

Despite claims that the Consultation Daft of the Local Plan was 'agreed' by the Local Plan Steering Group (a claim refuted by several members of that group) there was a special Council meeting to 'Endorse' his decision

Needless to say, when it came to a vote on this, several members of the Steering Group and their supporters voted not to accept the draft Local Plan proposed by the Portfolio Holder, and they sought amendments to it.

Equally needless to say, none of their amendments got past the Conservative block vote, or at least all the Conservatives individually coming to the same view at the same time.

So although the outcome of the Local Plan Steering Group process was a decision to endorse the Consultation draft version of the Local Plan. That decision was not supported by 41% of the Council who voted on the matter.

The Council is deeply split on the Local Plan. The Portfolio Holder has failed to carry an overwhelming majority of the Councillors with him, and there is no evidenced justification for the number he settled on - and to which, Fylde's Leader David Eaves and his Conservative colleagues have given their endorsement and support.

Fylde's anger with what central Government were doing boiled over late in 2012. Wrea Green was up in arms about repeated development attempts there, and Fylde's apparent inability to defend them. A meeting was brokered by our MP for Fylde's Portfolio Holder and Officers to meet with Planning Minister Nick Boles to clarify which permissions could, and could not be counted in the 5 years supply.

But when this became known, other councillors wanted to be in on the action as well. Cllr Mrs Oades served a Notice of Motion and an Extra Ordinary Council meeting was called to debate her call for "...the Government to urgently revise planning legislation and the new planning reform to give the Localism Act more weight in order that District Councils, not developers, determine future land allocation for housing need within their Districts....."

The fly had got into the ointment.  What was initially going to be a meeting to help Fylde with its 5 year arithmetic at Wrea Green was turning into a 'kick the Government' encounter and Fylde Councillors ended up voting for it unanimously. Moreover, an oral undertaking was give to include Cllr Mrs Oades in the deputation to Whitehall

We heard gossip that Mr Boles was not best pleased with this development and privately suggested he might not be available unless it was only Conservative councillors who went. We've no way of establishing whether that was accurate or not, but in the event, Cllr Mrs Oades did not join the London trip to see him.

Fylde published a positive spin on the meeting saying "Help may be on the way to help Fylde beat off a rash of planning applications after a Fylde Council delegation met Planning Minister Nick Boles."

It added "Councillor Trevor Fiddler, Fylde Council cabinet member for Planning and Development, said: ""We made a strong case against what is a draconian policy and Mr Boles appeared sympathetic to our plight. We now have to wait for his written response and his written proposals which he has agreed to send.""

and "He said he would instruct the Planning Inspectorate to make contact with Fylde to help us in the interpretation of government advice."

and "Mr Boles also commented on the previous annual house target of 306. He said he wanted us to have the confidence to come up with our own figure Ė and said he would look on that sympathetically."

and "We also told him of the major planning application for 2,000 houses near the end of the M55. It is on the boundary with Blackpool which means there are complex boundary issues of transport and wastewater infrastructure. The minister said his staff would help unblock these technical issues which would help us to consider this application quicker."

But despite Fylde's optimism, that meeting didn't seem to have produced much fruit. The 'draconian' policy has not ended. Fylde does not appear to have had any advice that has helped it change the way it does its sums on the five year supply. There does not appear to have been and successful unblocking of the technical issues at Whyndyke farm. If anything the matter is worse because instead of 2000 homes, Fylde now only plans to put 560 there.

The only positive thing to come out that we could see is that Fylde has been asked to have the confidence to produce its own figure (which every other Council has also been told to do). And that's not much help either, because Fylde can't do that transparently and objectively until all the evidence is assembled and up to date - which won't be until late into 2014. And if it plucks a figure from the air, it will be torn to shreds by developer's barristers at either planning inquiries or Judicial reviews - as it has been in recent years.

So we still seem to be at odds with the Government. You might expect that stance from 'opposition' councillors, but Cllr Fiddler is still using terms like "Alice in Wonderland Planning" to describe the Government's planning policy, and that's despite the fact that in recent weeks our MP has told the Express that

"Each Council must come up with its own figure when deciding its housing needs and must be able to defend that number if it is challenged.

I believe the number of properties being built in Fylde in recent years has been adequate, something which is borne out by the amount of empty properties, both older homes and new builds, available in the Borough.

Having had a meeting with the chief executive of the council I have informed him I will support a figure which reflects this."

Given that Fylde's draft Preferred Option says unequivocally (6.20) "This assessment [its own assessment of its housing need] will be based on the latest ONS household projection figures" (and is thus an assessment of need based on population predictions for the future) it's difficult to square this with an alternative calculation that uses the historic data of how many homes have actually been built in recent years as its basis - and is likely to come to a different number altogether.

In an attempt to bring more policy conformity to the decisions of the Development management Committee, Cllr Fiddler has vigorously supported the recommendations of a Peer Group Planning Review. This saw a handful of officers and a councillor from other councils to look at how Fylde 'does' planning.

Predictably they were critical of the way planning works at Fylde. That's understandable. Fylde is an exceptional Council. It is unlike any other in the country. That's because it has an outstanding number of independent councillors who work entirely for their electorate and not for the political party in whose name they stand.

In most other places - and to our great sadness - the party political system has ruined the ethos of local councils. They are almost all policy driven. But in Fylde there remains a significant proportion of councillors who have no interest in, and who will have no truck with, pure policy. They are only interested in the *effects* of policy on their electorate.

In other words they care about what happens to the people that elected them more than they care about party policy.

So it's not at all surprising that Fylde and other Councils see things differently. But Cllr Fiddler wanted them to bend more toward Government policy on planning than toward the wishes of their electorate. He wanted them to pay more attention to that nice Mr Boles who's ruining the English countryside

So in an effort to make Fylde conform to Government Policy, Cllr Fiddler has been pressing for this Peer Review despite almost everyone at the Scrutiny Committee who considered it speaking against it (See Snippets April 2013).

The Scrutiny Chairman, Cllr Mulholland - not a man given to wasting his breath on inconsequential matters said "It's often said you get what you pay for, and I'm glad this was free. I wouldn't have wanted to have paid for it" He went on to say it gave the impression that the officers are right and members should listen to them.

The cause of the Scrutiny Committee's anger was the planning straight jacket that the peer review sought to use to constrain Fylde's Development Management Committee and the Local Plan Steering Group.

A classic example of this Peer Group's lunacy was their proposal for Fylde to undertake "a policy of mandatory training for the Development Management Committee and the Local Plan Steering Group"

That's nothing short of ideological brainwashing to effect control by the state. It's exactly the sort of coercive persuasion that both Orwell and Huxley would well recognise, as 1984 and (the real) Brave New World predicted.

Clearly unhappy that the Local Plan Steering Group had dared to speak against his proposals in the local plan, and that the Development Management Committee was listening to Fylde residents too much and not paying enough attention to his planning policies, he vigorously spoke in support of implementing the proposals of the Peer Review.

This is all the more Orwellian when you consider that the Local Plan Steering Group has no decision making powers at all. It is nothing more than an advisory group for heavens sake! Yet Cllr Fiddler wants it's members to have 'Mandatory Training' in Planning Policy.

The coercion involved is that if they do not attend the brainwashing sessions now being prepared, they will not be allowed to act as members of either the Local Plan Steering Group or the Development Management Committee.

When coercive persuasion is used to effect the will of the state in planning, and when people like Cllr Fiddler either cannot see it - or worse - actively support it, then 1984 has finally arrived at Fylde.

In 2012, Fylde undertook the first of thee consultations on the Local Plan. It came up with a series of five options for the spatial development of the Borough.

We set these out in Local Plan Rift where we said in rough outline the five options were:

"Option 1: Focus development on Lytham St Annes
This would see 50% of all development in and around Lytham St Annes, with 45% in Kirkham, Wesham, Warton and land at junction 4 of the M55 and Squires Gate. The remaining 5% would be allocated between all other settlements

Option 2: Equal focus on Lytham St Annes and Kirkham
The second option would allocate 50% between Lytham St Annes and Kirkham, with 45% in Wesham, Warton and land at junction 4 of the M55 and Squires Gate. The remaining 5% would bee allocated between all other settlements as above.

Option 3: Lytham St Annes and Key and Local Service Centres
Would see 40% in Lytham St Annes, and 55% in Kirkham, Wesham, Warton and land at junction 4 of the M55 and Squires Gate

Option 4: Lytham St Annes and rural dispersal
Proposes 40% in Lytham St Annes and 45% Kirkham, Wesham, Warton and the land at junction 4 of the M55 and Squires Gate. It would also see 13% allocated between Wrea Green, Elswick, Newton, Singleton, Clifton, Staining and Weeton, and just 2% in other defined settlements.

Option 5: Equal focus on Lytham St Annes and land on the SE edge of Blackpool This would have 80% split between Lytham St Annes and land on the edge of Blackpool (ie Lytham St Annes and land at junction 4 of the M55 and Squires Gate), together with 15% in Kirkham, Wesham and Warton, and 5% in other settlements. This option is probably likely to focus on developments around Whyndyke farm, and the land surrounding the airport and at Pontins."

When the consultation concluded, the official view was that the majority of support was jointly for Option 2 and Option 5 but we're told by insiders that Option 5 was a clear winner in the eyes of the public.

But when the plan actually came out as Fylde's 'Preferred Options' there were several proposal that had not even been tested by public opinion in the Issues and Options consultation a year earlier.

For example, Warton was to have 1,200 new homes encircling the existing settlement. It would increase Warton by 75%. It would also turn it from being a Local Service Centre (which serves the local population) to a Key Service Centre (which seeks to attract people from more distant places outside of Warton for services such as shopping education, healthcare and so on).

None of this was in the Issues and Options consultation which described development at Warton at worst as being "moderate", and which at para 6.8 said "Wesham, Freckleton and Wartonís roles as Local Service Centres will be maintained through all the options"

There are also other examples of proposals (that were not in the Issues and Options Consultation), being added to the Preferred Options. For example the 'Employment Land Study' which contributes evidence to decisions on how much land is needed for employment purposes in Fylde was not even published when the Issues and Options consultation was undertaken. It was published after the consultation period closed.

So there are proposals in the Preferred Options that were not in the original options on which the public was consulted.

Furthermore and most tellingly, Option 5 (which had the most public support) has not been proposed as the basis for future development. Once again Fylde seems to be listening without hearing.

In the past, Cllr Fiddler has heralded this site as the saviour of Fylde's countryside. The idea was to put the lion's share of Fylde's housing need here because it was estimated to take something like 2,000 houses - and that would protect countryside around Fylde's villages.

As we have seen, this was also the chief site within 'Option 5' in Fylde's 'Issues and Options' report

We know there have been issues with drainage and sewage disposal from this site, but despite this being the Fylde public's most popular option emerging from the 'Issues and Options' consultation, Fylde has allocated only 560 dwellings there in the Preferred Options document.

This is because Fylde is proposing to have this site as what it calls a 'mixed development' to be housing and employment land.

The Minority Report published by dissenting councillors from the Local Plan Steering Group believe otherwise. They contacted the landowner's agent (who we believe to be the respected firm of Cassidy and Ashton). The Minority Report says "We have spoken to the agent of the landowner and he informs us that it will be possible to deliver 100 houses per year, 500 in the first five years and up to a total of 1,500 within the plan period. He also informs us that the developer will also supply a school, roads, bus routes, shops, cycle lanes and employment land on the site which will mean that, rather than developing a big housing estate on the edge of a town, all facilities will be on site and sustainable. He also states that the statutory infrastructure providers are on board with this development and are happy that there will be more than enough capacity in the system. Blackpool Borough Council is also very happy with this development as it will fulfil housing need for Blackpool as well as employment land which in turn also complies with the 'Duty to Co-operate' between councils."

So for reasons best know to himself, Fylde's Portfolio Holder Cllr Trevor Fiddler decided not to take advantage of this - the preferred option of the public - it was clearly not his own preferred option.

When someone discards the advice they ask for from their colleagues if they don't like what it says; when they consult the public to seek opinions then fail to act on what the majority say should happen; when they choose to drop a surprise bombshell of 1,200 homes on Warton and expect to be able to get away with it; when they abandon communities to developers for the sake of implementing party policy; when 41% of the council so strongly oppose the plans that they feel the need to issue a Minority Report - then we have to ask about the quality of the judgement of those making the decisions.

When the department they are responsible for invites planning applications that are refused by Councillors, then won on appeal by developers when Fylde declines to produce a case to defend its decision to refuse, and this results in costs awarded against Fylde, you also have to question the judgement and control of the person responsible for running the show.

There is a further issue of judgement.

As we reported in Special Measure for Planning, it is currently touch and go whether Fylde will be placed in Special Measures (which would mean that aggrieved developers could go straight to the Planning Inspectorate to have their planning applications determined). Some say this is the reason that Fylde has been passing application after application - in order to get their stats up in the April to June 13 quarter and avoid being named and shamed.

We hear from an insider that Fylde is currently trying to 'fudge' the figures to show that they have done just enough to get through. Whatever happens (and we hope to bring you news on this very shortly), Fylde was one of seven Councils whose performance put them firmly on the Special Measures trajectory for the first 18 months of a two year assessment period, and it has been passing a lot of applications recently - some of them, like the flats on St Annes Promenade, are in absolutely clear contravention of its own planning policies. So once again the judgement and competence of those running the show must be questioned

counterbalance has a friend whose favourite quote is "I judge people on what they do, not what they say" - and if that is applied here, we think the judgement exercised by the Portfolio Holder for Planning has been found wanting.

In Rubber Stamping Committee, we explained how Cllr Charlie Duffy exposed local Conservatives who would not support their electorate to send a message to Government about Fylde Council's inability to refuse large planning applications within the Borough. He also ably illustrated that not one of them had a better idea to send such a message than renaming what is currently Fylde's Development Management Committee into 'The Large Planning Application Rubber Stamping Committee.'

Using Geoffrey How's analogy, "It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain."

If Fylde's Conservative majority is impotent to protect its electorate from development, we have to wonder about the part being played by Cllrs Eaves, Fiddler and Aitken in the planning process.

As we reported in Minority Report, at an Extra Ordinary Council Meeting called to endorse Cllr Fiddler's 'Individual Portfolio Holder's Decision' to consult on a draft of the new local plan (when he knew there were things wrong in it, and that not all the evidence had yet been assembled to support it), the majority Conservative Group endorsed his decision, but 41% of Fylde's councillors voted against it.

That's a sizeable proportion, and it shows the extent of the split that rages in planning at Fylde.

The things wrong are not just minor changes to wording. There are fundamental disagreements about the evidence that is being used to justify the policies such as the unexpected and disastrous plan to encircle Warton with 1,200 new homes that was not proposed in the Issues and Options consultation at all.

So at its meeting of June 12th, Cllr Fiddler proposed, and Cllr David Eaves seconded, the recommendations set out in Councillor Doctor Trevor Fiddler's version of the new Local Plan that proposed - amongst other things - building at least 341 new homes a year until 2030.

We must all be grateful for the bold and unprecedented move - chiefly by the Independent, Ratepayers, Non-Aligned and most of the Liberal Democrat members of the Council - who produced a Minority Report which highlights the contentious issues, points to flawed evidence as the basis, and refutes the conclusions of the 'Preferred Options' draft of the local plan.

Equally we have to ask how the Council leader David Eaves, and Planning Portfolio Holder Trevor Fiddler, can have mis-managed the process to produce this Preferred Option to the extent that 41% of Councillors are unable to support it.

The Minority Report argued that the evidence base for the proposals put to public consultation was flawed and incomplete.

It is.

Probably the best (but by no means the only) example of this is how Fylde has derived the figure of 341 new homes a year until 2030.

Firstly, the discussions - as evidenced by the records of the Local Plan Steering Group deliberations from 2011 (which Fylde has not published but we have a copy of - see Housing Numbers for the background), show that the Officers proposed 280 new homes a year.

Cllr Fiddler said the figure of 280 corresponded broadly to completions in Fylde in recent years.

Cllr Armit said that housing delivery was 255 historically,

Councillor Nulty felt that the figure should be 260 rather than 280,

Councillor Redcliffe felt that unless there was something significant that had changed, he would not want to go to 280,

Councillor Aitken argued for a lower figure to protect agriculture.

Councillor Fiddler went on to say that a 255 figure was a median which was more in line with the historic rate of delivery of new homes in Fylde over the last decade.

Councillor Aitken presented a graph to the group which depicted the number of dwellings completed between 1990 and 2010. It suggested that the 20 year average worked out at around 252 dwelling per year.

Councillor Goodrich commented that whilst he was not unhappy with the 280 figure, he was more concerned about a compliant, defensible figure.

Councillor Fiddler confirmed that the position should be sound and reasonable and that the 255 figure was a median that was fair and could be defended.

It was agreed they should substitute the 280 figure with 255 and in this regard, the Assistant Director: Planning Services be asked to further comment on this at a later stage in the process.

He did. He said that, for the purposes of establishing a target housing figure for inclusion in the Core Strategy, a gross housing figure of 280 dwellings per annum should be used as a base figure. And it was, until a further meeting in march 2012 reconsidered the matter and proposed a gross housing figure of 278 dwellings per annum was used as a base figure.

And there it stayed until March 2013 when there was considerable division over a plan to make it 306 dwellings a year. As Portfolio Holder, with responsibility for making the decision, Cllr Fiddler set this as the number, which, because of complicated and 'seasonally adjusted' calculations required by Government becomes 341 in the Preferred Options document - which also says that the 306 is based on the former Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) figure.

Secondly That RSS was one of the first things the Government said it was going to revoke. It took some time to do that but it is now a dead duck. So you have to ask why Fylde based its housing number on a discredited and obsolete claim

At this point we can see that the basis for establishing the number was anything but transparent, objective and based on sound evidence.

Thirdly the main evidence was known to be out of date before the consultation was issued. The two principal sources of evidence are the Office for National Statistics (ONS) household projection figures derived from the Census, and the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA).

For the ONS figures, Fylde's current figure is based on their 2008 projections. But the 2011 ONS projections were published on 9th April 2013, yet they were not used to give updated data by Fylde in its 'Preferred Options' - published almost three months later in June - which says (6.20) this will only be done for a future consultation. This is expected next year and probably not long before the final version is sent to Government. That will leave almost no time for policy changes based on the new figures, and certainly not enough time for the public to be properly consulted on them.

The other main contributor evidence, the SHMA, is dated 2008 and this is what has been used to inform housing need. There is currently a huge new survey of the Fylde coast housing market taking place by a planning consultancy.

We're told this will produce new evidence and figures for housing need, so Fylde cannot establish its final figure for housing need until that is completed. We were also told at the Preferred Options roadshow that this would probably not be ready until just before the final version of Fylde's plan went to the Secretary of State for his approval in the Autumn of 2014, but we've since heard it may be available for Spring/ Summer 2014.

Either way, again, the current Fylde consultation is based on out of date evidence.

Fourthly - since the RSS (which previously set the housing requirement for Fylde) - has been abolished, there is now no defined housing number for Fylde. So the Government require FBC to produce it's own figure for housing numbers. But because Fylde did not allocate sufficient resources to the local plan process for literally years, we are way behind where we should be in the process, so Fylde cannot establish a proper evidence based number - until data like the new ONS figures and the new SHMA figures are taken into account.

That's at the root cause of our current vulnerability to developers. There is no figure that Fylde can point to in order to refute claims by developers that Fylde does not have a 5 year supply of developable land.

It's why planning applications are now being granted like Indulgences in the middle ages, and why Cllr Fiddler - fiddling whilst the Fylde's farms are frittered away to development - is still consulting on a figure that is discredited by Government; is obsolete; and is out of date.

Would you trust these people to sell you a secondhand car, let alone plan your future for the next 15 years?

Cllr Fiddler knows, and Cllr David Eaves ought to know, that the figures in the Preferred Options are wrong, but they refused - point blank - to make any changes to the 'Preferred Options' document before they issued it for public consultation.

That means Fylde knowingly asked the public for comments on a plan whose entire basis was wrong in respect of housing numbers (and we would argue, a lot more besides).

It must say something about the importance that Fylde's Conservative majority attaches to its electorate when they are prepared to feed us duff information and demand sensible planning rationale as our view on it.

From the foregoing we can conclude that:

1. Little changes. Commissioners were almost brought in to run Fylde in 2003 because of housing matters, and Fylde is almost (or might yet be) put into Special Measures for Planning - chiefly because of housing in 2013. These illustrate the disagreement Fylde often has with Government policy but, interestingly, the former shows Fylde supporting the wishes of its residents, the latter shows it supporting Government policy against its residents wishes.

2. Fylde's Leader and Cabinet abjectly failed to provide the resources necessary to prepare the evidence that would inform the new local plan within the timescale that was required.

3). There has been no critical review of the data that was subsequently established as the evidence base for Fylde. Volunteer Community Planning Groups in Fylde were asked to do this by the Council in 2010. Eighteen months later, Fylde had not provided that evidence for review, despite requests to both the Planning Portfolio Holder and to the Council's Officers. Some of the evidence now used is simply extrapolation and updates of previous nonsense figures.

4). A Local Plan Steering Group of councillors was established with the intention of lending a cloak of quasi-democratic legitimacy to the evidence review. But the process backfired and 41% of the Council who voted on the matter refused to endorse Cllr Fiddler's Individual member Decision to approve the Preferred Options. The Council is deeply split on the Local Plan.

5). Cllr Fiddler's trip to London to meet the Minister in January this year has not been the success it was hoped to be. The 'draconian' planning policy has not ended. Fylde does not appear to have had any advice that has helped it change the way it does its sums on the five year supply. There does not appear to have been any successful unblocking of the technical issues at Whyndyke farm. If anything that matter is worse because instead of 2000 homes, Fylde now only plans to put 560 there.

6).Cllr Fiddler (supported by Cllr Eaves) wants to use coercive persuasion and brainwashing to make councillors on the Development Management Committee and the Local Plan Steering Group toe the Government's line on planning, rather than represent the views of their electorate. They will have to undertake 'Mandatory Training' or face the sanction of not being allowed to sit on that committee.

7). Proposals like the Warton developments that were not consulted on in the 'Issues and Options' paper last year have been added into Cllr Fiddler's Preferred Options as a surprise and out of the blue. He might have been surprised at the reaction from Warton. We were not. Furthermore Option 5 (which had the most public support in last year's consultation) has not been proposed as the basis for future development. Once again, Cllr Fiddler and Fylde seem to be listening without hearing.

8). Plans to put 2,000 homes at Whyndyke farm - the proposal most supported by the Fylde public - have been scaled back to just 560 homes - and probably resulted in Warton getting its surprise 1,200 homes. Yet other councillors claim the site's agent tells them he can provide a total of 1,500 in the plan period together with associated infrastructure, and that the statutory bodies (for drainage etc) are all on board and say there is enough capacity in the present system. But Cllr Fiddler, who once saw this site as the saviour of Fylde's villages has changed his mind and only wants 560 homes there.

9). The evidence is in this section is clear. There has to be a questioning of the judgement and competence of those whose decisions are so unpopular with the electorate and which split the council almost down the middle.

10). Local Conservatives have been exposed as dancing the Government's tune and not supporting their electorate to send a message to Government about Fylde Council's inability to refuse large planning applications within the Borough. None of them could offer a better idea than renaming what is currently Fylde's Development Management Committee to 'The Large Planning Application Rubber Stamping Committee.'

11). The dissenting minority councillors disagree so strongly with Cllr Fiddler's decisions they have produced their own Minority Report. We have to ask how the Council leader David Eaves, and Planning Portfolio Holder Trevor Fiddler, can have mis-managed the process to produce the Preferred Options to the extent that 41% of Councillors are unable to support it and feel the need to say so publicly.

12). The basis for Fylde's housing number is not accurate, transparent, objective or based on the sound evidence they said they would use. It is instead based on a discredited and obsolete number that has then been 'seasonally adjusted.' Cllr Fiddler knew they would not have the proper evidence until next year, but both he and Cllr Eaves refused to change the consultation document knowing it to be wrong in this and several other respects. Yet he has the nerve to demand sensible planning policy comments on his inaccurate and flawed proposals from Fylde residents.

When you add this lot up, we think it's outrageously incompetent. And it's about time Fylde residents asked some of those who are responsible for the planning mess that is Fylde Council at the moment to consider whether they have the right to continue to wreak havoc with our countryside and with people's lives.

Dated:  21 August 2013


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