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Kirkham Triangle: Public Inquiry Report

Kirkham Triangle: Public InquiryThis is our report of the Public Inquiry taking place at the Woodlands Suite, Ribby Hall, Kirkham. It started on 2 July 2013 and was scheduled for two weeks.

However, it only lasted for 3 days because, as we expected and predicted, Fylde did indeed abandon its residents in Kirkham - just as it abandoned the policies of its own local plan - when  it withdrew from the Inquiry and left the good people of Kirkham to argue the case against development.

DAY 1


The Woodlands Suite is a big function room, so it looked a bit empty even though there were about 60 people there.

The developer's barristers and technical specialists numbered about fourteen - that's the biggest contingent we have ever seen at a public inquiry. They were the massed ranks of legal and technical experts.

Facing them - on Fylde's side - there were initially four people, and this reduced to just two people for a while after the first interval.

Kirkham Triangle Appeal

Pinned up on wall one was a new combined plan showing what had previously been two developments, now as one.

Site Plan

The Inspector - Julia Gregory - advised that her report would go to the Secretary of State who would determine the appeal because it involves over 150 units and it impacts on Government policy.

For the Council, Barrister Jonathan Easton publicly broke the shock news that we had heralded in a newsflash last week - Fylde did not propose to call any witnesses - indicating they would not contest the appeal.

There were also about 20 or so members of the public who registered to speak at the inquiry, roughly half of which were Councillors of one sort or another.

The Inspector said she would prefer it if points made by the public were not repeated, and she asked those registered to speak to consider combining their points to save time.

She then went through the usual document-check to see if everyone participating had the same documents.

She then asked what the Council's position was regarding Proofs of Evidence because she had received an email from the Council's Solicitor Nicola Martin which said the Council will not be relying on any of the evidence in their witness statements; they would undertake no cross examination, and would confine their position to seeking conditions on the development.

Fylde's barrister said he would shortly make a statement to explain it all.

We thought this sounded like Fylde had 'done a deal' with the developer not to claim for costs if Fylde didn't contest the appeal.

This was confirmed for us when the Inspector later said "I understand there will be no application for costs" To which the developer's barrister indicated his agreement.

After some housekeeping matters, the developer's barrister made his opening statement. He said there had been 'productive discussions' with FBC

Then like the planning equivalent of a scud missile, he homed straight in on the 'Preferred Options Consultation Draft' of the Local Plan and made much of the fact that the area was allocated for development in it.

This, he said, had solidified the Council's view that this was a sustainable development.

He then gave all the expected planning reasons to support his case, before saying the Borough Council now accepted that the original reasons for refusal were met, and they had withdrawn from participation in the enquiry.

He then provided a copy of his opening (and, surprisingly, closing) statements for the inquiry. (Evidently, he didn't think the public would have anything to say that would cause him to alter his closing statement. Further confirmation - were it needed - that this was being seen as a 'done deal')

Then Mr Easton for Fylde Council presented a position statement on behalf of FBC. Readers can follow this link to see what he said in full, but in summary it was: the advice from Government said there should be constructive discussions between the parties at all stages, they had worked with the developer to make it a sustainable development.

He went on to say the Council would not plan an active part in the inquiry because the reasons for refusal had now been resolved. There had been a concerted effort by all parties and all objections have been overcome.

His statement included the following "FBC has .... kept its position under constant and careful review. In doing so, it has engaged proactively with both Appellant [sic] to seek solutions to the problems that gave rise to the refusal of both applications"

That bit about Fylde "engaging proactively" suggests, once again, that it was Fylde's officers who initiated the action that has led to the present position - just as the developer at the Wesham inquiry repeatedly claimed they had done there.

There was then some discussion about whether members of the public could question the developer's expert witnesses. Normally this is not allowed unless they are signed up to be a formal group with 'Rule 6 Party' status but the developer's barrister seemed so confident that it was all sewn up for him that he was magnanimous, and offered that if someone would co-ordinate the questions people had, as far as he was concerned, they could act as a Rule 6 Party after the end of evidence given by each of his expert witnesses.

The Inspector hesitatingly agreed and, after a morning break from 11:25 to 11:40, Cllr Mrs Oades was chosen and the co-ordinator of questions.

Then it was the turn of members of the public to speak. First was:

John Smith
Someone we know from the Vic Public Inquiry. He's a plain speaking no-nonsense, fit-as-a-butchers-dog cyclist. He said he's lived here for 76 years and that Kirkham and Wesham was a non-starter for employment. He argued if this scheme went ahead it would turn it into a dormitory area for people who work elsewhere. He said 'It's Skelmersdale in the making - an absolute disaster' He said it would turn the area into a rabbit warren, a bolt hole for people who work elsewhere.

He then went on to say there are huge areas of Brownfield land in Kirkham that should be used first, and he gave the examples of Sunnybank Mill - 25,000 square yards of derelict industrial land in the middle of Kirkham, and the former experimental station on its outskirts.

He said he had no confidence in the Council who had also backed out of Mowbreck Lane, adding that, after many refusals of permission and rejection of appeals there, Fylde's officers had privately advised the developer to submit a revised plan which was similar to the one the Committee had refused permission for, but Officers also withdrew from that appeal just before it started.

He said "Fylde Borough Stinks - to put it mildly", adding that "developers are only interested in money. They are oily-tongued verbal engineers who tell us that development would be good for this area. This Council is prepared to lie down and let developers walk all over them. They're useless. I hope you [the Inspector] will stand up to them and run them out of town."

Cllr J Cameron
Said the site was outside Kirkham and not connected. The road is congested. He made the point that the Local Plan Issues and Options Consultation Draft was just that, a consultation. It was not the local plan, it was not in force and should not be used.

Cllr Alan Clayton
Said he was extremely disappointed that Fylde's officers had withdrawn from the Inquiry and made the same point as Cllr Cameron to re-inforce that it was only a consultation draft. He told the Inspector that Wesham and Kirkham and Wrea Green Town/Parish Councils were opposed to the development and it would impact on local services if allowed.

Neil ?  (Sorry we didn't get a surname)
Said he's never been to one of these before and it had taken him by surprise that this was how a public inquiry worked. He said he was "gobsmacked and horrified how Fylde had 'worked' this situation and sold people down the river"

He said he lived on the edge of Dow Brook and there was a problem. The stretch under his garden had to be culverted to prevent erosion, and since that time the flow had multiplied several times and it is now dangerous.

He said the water was often within an inch or two of the top of the culvert and that meant it could easily overflow and cause flooding and erosion of his property, and he wanted to know who would compensate him for such loss. He was sure that the new development would increase water flow.

For the Council Mr Easton tried to reassure him that there would be a drainage condition requiring the developer to limit the drainage from the housing area to the flow rate that exists from a Greenfield. (They do this by installing 'sustainable drainage' using flow restrictors and large diameter pipes or underground tanks or areas of open water like ornamental ponds - which will take and temporarily hold the volume of water under storm conditions until it can flow out slowly). But few seemed convinced that this could be achieved.

Philip Langley
Said he has known the site since the 1950s when it was a cross-country course for his school. From November to March the fields were totally waterlogged. He said this was caused because the Ribble is tidal and at high tide it flows in reverse along 'Wrongway Brook' (which, he said, is why it has that name).

He told the Inspector "You're the only hope we've got. To give Fylde Borough Council Planning the benefit of the doubt, they're totally incompetent." Chided by the Inspector he then agreed to withdraw this remark, but clearly it was what he felt.

Cllr Elaine Silverwood
First read out three statements from residents who were unable to attend.

1. Jane Ashton (Aston?)
A local resident who wished to object because the development was outside the settlement boundary and outside a clearly defined boundary which was the Kirkham Bypass, a road by its very definition that bypasses, and thus encloses, the town of Kirkham. She also argued on the grounds of local services, biodiversity, flooding and road safety. She said Kirkham needed the right development in the right places, but this was neither.

2 Ron Matthews
Questioned the figures in the five year supply (which we say is the planning equivalent of the find-the-lady-trick). He said in reality people would walk down the by-pass where there were no footpaths and this was a dangerous development. He also argued that what might seem to be generous Section 106 agreements now, could lead to future reductions based on claims of unviability at a later date. He said the principle of development beyond the by-pass was wrong.

3. Duncan Copperthwaite
Said it was nationally recognised that in Lancashire there were few areas at risk of flooding, but the area between Kirkham, Singleton, and St Michaels was the most at risk of groundwater flooding due to rainfall. He recognised the SUDS system to limit capacity, but argued that when that failed to constrain the volume, it would flow overground into Wrong way brook and cause much bigger problems.

Cllr Elaine Silverwood
Then spoke on her own behalf. She began by challenging the assertions and conclusions of Mr Gomez, the developer's expert on socioeconomic impacts. She said he had painted Kirkham as a town desperate for more custom, using Kirkham's application for a Mary Portas grant and a proliferation of charity shops, but he had failed to recognise that there was no way of stopping any retail premises opening as a charity shop, and the fact that the application for the Portas Grant had generated publicity for the town, before, during and after it - which was part of their reason for making it.

She then quoted from a recent survey that said only 1 in 10 of residents in the St George's estate use Kirkham Town Centre, most get in their car and drive down the bypass to Tesco, and the proposed development was even more isolated and further away than St George's.

She argued that the developments didn't reflect the character of the town which is a market town with a strong local community. She also spoke of accidents on the by-pass and added "We have been accused of being parochial - but we have also heard from residents who are horrified that FBC is failing to represent them", and spoke of being let down by officers who should have been presenting questions and challenges to the developer's experts.

At this time it was 1:15 and we broke for lunch until 2:15

After lunch there were the usual housekeeping issues, copied documents from the morning session were distributed and so on, then Cllr Keith Beckett of Kirkham - who had asked to show some photos and a short video - was given permission and, after some technical problems with the projector and laptop, he got underway

Cllr Keith Beckett
Explained the flow of drainage water through and around Kirkham to the Ribble and said 'Wrongway Brook' was connected to the flooding problem.

He showed photographs of the A583 just before it reached the Ribby Hall roundabout and illustrated how, in times of heavy rain, a combined sewer bubbles up through the road with back pressure, causing water and sewage to fountain 6 or 8 inches high in the road.

He argued this was because the sewer was pumped up to the top of the hill nearer to Blackpool and flowed down the A583 to the entrance to this site under considerable pressure, and when the pipe became full, it forced its way up through holes in the manhole cover in the road.

This process causes a flood right across the road (where there is a permanent 'flooding' highway sign that has to be opened up) and he said as cars go through it they spray the font of nearby houses. He had photographs of this happening.

His pictures were very convincing.

A lady living opposite later said she had seen a van travelling too fast and aquaplaned, somersaulted, and landed upside down in a tree.

Cllr Beckett also showed a video of the brook that is normally a trickle but which becomes a six or eight foot deep torrent that sometimes overflowed the banks and caused flooding of large areas of land in Kirkham - an area he likened to the size of Fairhaven Lake.

He posed the question, "With flooding already like that, how could Kirkham take any more?"

Under questioning by the developer's barrister he was asked if he respected the decisions of Fylde's Planning Committee. He said "Not always." He was then asked if he had read what the Environment Agency had said about the flooding and replied that he hadn't read it, he didn't know, and he didn't care because he was showing them what was happening in practice, adding that "Anyone can write words on paper, I'm dealing in pictures, showing you the evidence of what actually happens"

The barrister was having difficulty dealing with his blunt speaking and common sense (as opposed to planning policy speak) and it looked to us as though realised he could probably take the matter no further.

Cllr Linda Nulty
Said she was a member of Fylde's Development Management Committee and knows the area well.

She wanted to strongly object to the new joint plan which had been submitted to the inquiry. She said in her view it was a new application and the appeal should have been withdrawn and the new plan submitted to Fylde as a new application in the usual way. She also objected to the consultation draft of the Local Plan being used as evidence because it was simply a draft for consultation and would, in all probability, change.

She highlighted many of the planning arguments in a quiet and competent way, most notably the second part of a paragraph in the NPPF which, she said, developers always leave out, and that was the bit that said planning permission need not be given if there are adverse impacts that demonstrably outweigh the benefits. She said that was the case here. She then spoke of the practicalities of the development, especially transport.

She said "I was one of the majority of councillors who voted to support the officer's recommendation and refuse development and I feel very frustrated at what has happened"

Moving on she discussed housing need and set out why there was no local need, and concluded by asking the Inspector to give due recognition to the wishes and concerns of local people

She spoke very well. When she has time to prepare her case, much of what she says makes good sense and scores points.

Questioned about the meaning of 'comprehensive development' she said her understanding was that this reason for refusal was about the comprehensive development of Kirkham rather than the comprehensive development of Little Tarnbrick Farm.

Cllr Richard Nulty
Contrasted the build rates against permissions given and said there was no link between permissions given and houses on the ground. He said he accepted that some obstacles could be engineered out, but the site's isolation from the town could not be changed.

He spoke of 'Wesham' and 'Wessam' the latter being the name used by the local community and the former being used by what he called dormitory people who did not take part in the life and culture of the town. He said this was very much the case for many who live on the St George's estate on the existing edge of Kirkham who, he said, claimed to live in a separate community called 'Lower Wrea Green' rather than being part of the market town of Kirkham - this produced much laughter in the public gallery. He noted the proposed development was beyond that estate, and across the by-pass. He also mad a good point about the 30% affordable homes that would be provided because, he argued, his experience as a volunteer in the Citizen's Advice Bureau suggested the 'affordable tenants' might have difficulty accessing say. Tesco, because of the bus fare costs.

In a friendly, and occasionally humorous way, we thought he scored a series of solid body blows on the proposal.

After a break from 3:45 to 4:00pm, we heard from

Cllr McIver
He began by saying the developer's use of the term Local Plan was incorrect, it was for consultation not the plan itself. He first criticised Fylde's officers for, as he said 'showing contempt to residents who were here today when they [Planning Officers] left the meeting.

He said he was a young family with a first child born this week and he and his wife had been here five years. He said they fitted exactly into the category of people the development is aimed at, but he wouldn't be buying one if they were built. It didn't fit into the community of Kirkham and gave practical examples of why he thought it would be an unsuitable development for his family.

He said there were 270 homes advertised for sale in Kirkham on the 'Rightmove' website and it wasn't the shortage of houses that was the problem, it was the shortage of mortgage availability as he knew only too well.

He spoke confidently and well, and he lobbed the occasional grenade into his presentation to make sure everyone stayed awake - for example he said as a Kirkham Town Councillor he felt sorry for the Borough Councillors - some of whom were evidently as surprised by this mornings revelations from Fylde as the public were.

He also managed to persuade the inspector to visit Ribby Road and environs between 8:30 and 8:45 the following morning to see the existing traffic problems in that area.

Cllr Liz Oades
Began by explaining how there had been a been an enforced Government moratorium on house building in Fylde from 2003 to 2008 when they couldn't approve any planning applications, but now - with a different Government, Fylde was being told to catch up with the backlog caused by the moratorium imposed on them.

She said they had sought clarification from the housing Minister that they didn't need to account for the moratorium and it had been said that they did not.

If that was the case, she said, Fylde already had more than a five year supply of land with the appropriate planning permissions. She said Fylde had asked our MP to secure this advice in writing from the Minister and she hoped that would arrive before the Inquiry closed.

counterbalance has long said we have no confidence whatsoever in this entirely artificial five years supply figure. It's a con as bad as 'find the lady.' By varying the basis on which the numbers are calculated (such as the date you start counting, or whether you only count those permissions with full Section 106 agreements in place and so on), the impact on meeting the identified housing need can vary enormously. We regard it as an entirely artificial construct.

Furthermore, as has been said before, even once the full permissions are given, there is no site in Fylde that has EVER built more than 50 houses a year because the demand is not there to meet faster sales. All that happens is that the developers balance sheets get stronger as they bank the planning permissions and the land value multiples exponentially.

Cllr Oades continued by giving a history of the development boundary in Kirkham. She spoke of the isolation of the existing St Georges estate, and the traffic and accident record of the A583 from which access to the proposed development would be granted - and make it worse for accidents in her view.

She indicated that Kirkham had large areas of Brownfield sites, with 25 acres just the other side of the railway.

She referred to the 'Preferred Options' document and explained how it showed that because of inadequate infrastructure the possible development of this area could not be before 2020 anyway.

Then she got angry and loosed off some missiles. She said that she was appalled at how Fylde had capitulated today. She said she had first seen the new plan at a private meeting last Wednesday. It had never been subjected to proper consultation or due process. She had spoken about the highway arrangements with the County Council who had told her they were not acceptable as set out on the new plan.

However she said that she rang them again this morning and was told that FBC officers had worked over the weekend with the developer to agree a form of words that would satisfy the County Highways department and, as result, they had removed their objection today.

She concluded by saying that if this appeal was allowed, it would negate the public consultation on the Preferred Options for the emerging Local Plan.

Cllr Heather Speak
Said she objected to development on this site. She couldn't see how the Government determined how much need and demand there was for houses. She spoke from the heart saying this plan was not based on the needs of local people it was based on a perceived need from Government to get the economy moving, adding that was not a price worth paying by local people. She suggested the development should go on Brownfield sites in Kirkham as there were plenty of them. She also said that at Development Management Committee meetings it was very depressing to be told by officers that they should approve developments because the Government would do so if they did not, and then they would not even be able to impose the relevant conditions.

Mary Fletcher
Said she was a resident on the A583 and she opposed the development. In clear and concise tones she articulated the reasons - outside the settlement boundary, there are plenty of Brownfield sites and so on. She also provided data from research she had done by ringing schools and asking about places available. We thought she must live close to the area of flooding on the A583 because she said her neighbour's house "gets a full frontal wash whenever traffic goes past in the flood". She also was the person who told the Inquiry about the van aquaplaning and landing in a tree. She concluded by explaining that when her children were due to attend a college in Preston she asked LCC if they could put a bus stop on the A583 near to where they lived. The County had replied that they could not, because the road was too dangerous to have bus stops placed on that part of it.

Finally, a lady whose name we didn't catch spoke about the shortage of GPs in the area and said it wasn't simply a matter of adding another GP to the practice because their premises were not able to be expanded.

And with that, the first day of the Inquiry came to an end. Sadly for us John Westmoreland of CPRE had been deferred until the following day. He is presenting technical evidence about the five year supply and we would especially like to have heard it discussed, but with other matters pressing, we were not able to attend the second day.


DAY 2
We're grateful to a reader who was able to be present at the second day who has provided an outline of events that we're happy to publish.

An early feature was CPRE's alternative assessment of the five year supply. In our view, CPRE's arguments for lower housing numbers are mostly right, but they don't go as far as we would in this matter. We would also challenge the evidence of need on which the numbers are based.

CPRE took the figures derived from Fylde's evidence base and updated them for the results of the new 2011-based household interim projections. These 2011-based figures are the first to use the recently released 2011 census data and they show a lower growth in households compared with the 2008-based projections that FBC had used in its analysis. The outcome - according to CPRE - is an annual average requirement of 265 houses a year rather than FBC's 306 houses. (We agree with their logic, but think it should be much lower if provision for net inward migration to Fylde is reduced or denied)

They also argue that the plan now runs to 2030 (rather than 2021 which FBC had used), and accounting for the extra years means that the average requirement (adjusted to include the moratorium shortfall spread over the new plan period, and the 20% penalty buffer imposed by Government) to 375 houses a year rather than Fylde's 489 house a year.

On the supply side they argue that Fylde has failed to take account of the 200 houses that should be added in at the BAE Warton site after FBC produced these figures.

All of this combines to show that, in fact Fylde currently has a 5.4 year supply of housing land rather than the 3.8 years that Fylde currently reports. This would mean there is no housing shortfall.

Readers can follow this link to the full text of CPRE's submission to the Inquiry. NOTE: The attachememnt has changed since the first one we published (which was CPRE's pre-inquiry submission). The one now linked is the oral statement made at the Inquiry by CPRE. It adds a new  paragraph (para 4.1), and a new section (Section 5) to the previous document.

We understand Mr Westmoreland also reiterated a point made the previous day by Cllr Liz Oades about the Council's past housing performance, saying that from 2003 until the adoption of the RSS in 2008 the Council was under a moratorium due to too many homes being built against the (then) Joint Lancashire Structure Plan target. he said this led to the bizarre situation that the Local Plan as amended in 2005 has a requirement for just one new home!

Needless to say, CPRE's figures attracted a lengthy cross examination by the developer's barrister (although the previous day we thought the barrister had accepted the figures produced but disagreed with the logic about the 'moratorium shortfall' and when it should count from and to).

As we have said before, to us, the so called 5 year supply figure is nothing more than a con. The results can be manipulated depending on when you start counting the need and so on. It's no better than trying to win at 'Find-the Lady' and that's pretty impossible.

The rest of the day was taken up with evidence given by the developer's four main expert witnesses and, true to the promise, Cllr Liz Oades was able to raise questions to them following a 10 minute adjournment at the end of each expert's evidence.

According to our correspondent, the most controversial evidence was that of the specialist on affordable housing: saying there was a critical shortage. He referred to the 3 studies including what we regard as the discredited one from Fordham - and said he saw little wrong in Fordham's findings. He said it was 'the only study to break down to sub-areas' and that 'Kirkham and Wesham had not satisfied their requirement'

He also said that 'the following DTZ Study in 2008 found an slightly higher requirement'. and he argued that 'The waiting list is not a comprehensive assessment of the number of affordable homes required'. and 'How the Council manages its waiting list is not a planning matter'.

At one point the Inspector said  'I need clarity on the Council's affordable housing policies, ie. contributions, 60%, 40%, the IHP, etc..' but because Fylde was not participating in the Inquiry, the question was directed to, and answered by, the developer's witness, not Fylde's barrister!

So we appear to have had the highly unusual situation of the appellant's expert giving evidence to the Inspector on how she should interpret Fylde's affordable housing policies!  It should, of course have been answered by Fylde's barrister or its own Planning officers, but they remained silent.

And with that the second day closed, leaving just the site visit, the Unilateral Undertaking and the Conditions to do today, the third and final day of the Inquiry.

So where does this leave us?

Well, one person at the inquiry told us that after Day One's revelations about Fylde's withdrawal, the situation reminded them of Geoffrey Howe's 'Broken cricket bat' speech in his Ministerial swan song criticism of Margaret Thatcher, adding that the assembled public were being treated as little more than Aunt Sally's for the sophisticated planning experts employed by the developers. Clearly, that person thought it was a lost cause.

"We've been well and truly shatfed" was another (less polite) comment from another member of the public there.

This, and the first public speaker's comment of "Fylde Borough Council stinks - to put it mildly" summed up the anger there is in Kirkham about what Fylde has done to them.

So most people attending seemed to believe it is now a 'done deal' and permission will be granted by the Secretary of State.

We're less certain. We can see a margin in favour (because of Government policy), but we'd not put the chances higher than about 55%-60%. There were clear points scored about the isolated nature of the proposal, and about flooding and about road safety. We also though the matter of the validity of the 'Preferred Options' document was less clear cut than some would believe.

The decision will be made in due course and we will be told the result, but there are much deeper problems that this application has caused. These will linger long after we hear the result of this inquiry.

The crucial overall points to keep in mind in this regard are these:

Fylde's officers recommended that the application be refused planning permission when it went to Development Management Committee.

The democratic vote of the Development Management Committee was to refuse this application

But their paid officers, their hired hands, went against that their own recommendation and their Committee's decision, and worked with the developer behind the scenes to circumvent a properly made democratic decision not to allow the development.

Having done so, they then withdrew their case and threw in the towel before the Inquiry began.

You have to ask why this might have happened.

It could be that the two developers have overcome all the objections by combining their proposals into one new plan, but after a recommendation to refuse, followed by a Committee decision to refuse, we believe the officers should have required that change to be tested in the planning process. They should have required it to become a new application - especially as it is nothing like the plans that were originally submitted.

And if, as Fylde's Barrister's position statement suggests, it was officers who initiated proactive engagement (ie if the officers suggested what the developer should do to get planning permission), it is a travesty of what they should have done.

We certainly do not condone hired hands working behind the scenes to circumvent the decision of their Committee. The crime of betraying one's country, especially by attempting to overthrow the sovereign or the government is classed as treason. It's just as well this doesn't apply to overthrowing decisions of Local Government, isn't it?

It may be that, as we said in 'Special Measures for Planning?' the officers have become persuaded to 'pass everything' in order to scrape their performance statistics up above the threshold that would put them into 'Special Measures'.

We can see that officers might see this as a greater good - a price worth paying. Being put into 'Special Measures' for planning applications would put the power of decision making into the hands of the Planning Inspectorate, not local councillors.

To avoid this event, they could be just passing everything until they get to the numbers needed. But even if that is the case, we believe it is wrong to do so when it attacks and destroys the potential for unity and consensus amongst the councillors.

We believe the officers performance in this matter is not only a disgrace, it is outrageous, and it can do nothing but add to the deep and terrible anger that is now once again developing between independent councillors in the rural areas, and the ruling urban Conservative group. We have already seen early examples of how this antipathy can cause awful planning decisions - with each side trying to teach the other a lesson, and the public get caught in the middle. It's bad for everyone.

When David Eaves took over from John Coombes as Leader, he told us we could expect to see much more consensus in Fylde's way of working. He might well have been genuine in his wish at the time, but clearly he is failing to deliver on his promise of consensus working.

We believe he will never be able to do so as long as this dreadful Leader and Cabinet system is in place and it thus continues to deny proper democratic participation *and voting* for ALL elected Councillors on important matters such as preparing the local plan.

His present direction - which is not helped by having a strong-minded individual Councillor with Portfolio Holding decision-making responsibility for much of the preparation of the Local Plan - is storing up much greater trouble for the future.

Fylde is an organisation that ought to be seeking consensus working, but their current idea of consensus is metaphorically chucking half-bricks at each other.

Heaven knows what will happen when the anger boils over; but one thing is for sure, it's not going to improve things.

Dated:    4 July 2013

UPDATES 5 JULY 2013
Various readers have contacted us since we published. We're happy to summarise the points they made.

One told us that Cllr Oades' cross-examination of the developers' planning expert (Mr Lee) was excellent. His references to Kirkham (as opposed to Kirkham and Wesham) was not a device. He had failed to appreciate that there were two separate parishes. He was caught out more than once having, for example, referred to the Kirkham scout hut, which, of course, adjoins the Wesham Community Centre. There's no doubt that Cllr Oades rattled the developers' team.

We were also told that the Inspector made a good point at the conditions / section 106 stage, noting that because the Section106s were unilateral, there was no requirement on the local authority to apply payments made to the purposes intended.

One correspondent was concerned about the way the developers' representatives referred to Fylde's barrister as 'John' in a very friendly way for most to the time, and that Mr Easton seemed unduly close to the 'opposition'

Another said that as they went through the UU, and then the Conditions, Fylde's Planning Officer Mark Evans spoke - simply to confirm that the Council was happy with everything being put forward by the applicants. Apparently this provoked a very loud public ejaculation of "It speaks!"

One believed there were more grounds for hope than most might have thought, and In any event, Kirkham could be very proud of itself.

We hope they're right.


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