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Minority Report

Minority ReportThe Under Fylde's dreadful Leader and Cabinet System, the responsibility for deciding the planning policies (and the areas of land they applied to) in the latest draft of Fylde's new local plan, lies with just one person - the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Cllr Trevor Fiddler.

However, when considering what to put in it, he invited Fylde's Development Management Committee members and some other people to become 'The Local Plan Steering Group' where issues could be debated. The details of this are all in our article 'Local Plan Rift'

We've heard him give two different accounts of why he did this.

The first was that he recognised how undemocratic it would be if just one person took the decisions, so he wanted to broaden and deepen the range of views going into the draft plan.

So, in order to circumvent the legislation that requires him to take the decision alone, he invited the entire Development Management Committee to become the Local Plan Steering Group. The idea was that they would act as an advisory body to him.

We've also heard him tell the Cabinet that he invited the DM committee on board because he thought if they were part of the plan making process, they would be more likely to stick to the policies they had agreed, however unpalatable they were for the electorate in the future.

In truth, it could be either of these reasons, or even both.

But whichever it was, his plan has just backfired on him.

For the last 12 months we've been reporting significant disagreements in the Local Plan Steering group, especially about housing numbers. The agenda and minutes of these meetings were being kept secret, but we pursued a Freedom of Information request and, eventually, after much argument, we had the agenda and minutes released, together with a promise to publish them in the future.

Then the agendas stopped being published again and the minutes that were published were partially redacted. When we asked about this we were told it was to allow full and frank discussions by officers and members.

In other words, if the public got to know what they were discussing, there would be such an outcry, and so much public pressure on Councillors, that they would not be able to take what are euphemistically called 'difficult decisions' - i.e. decisions they know the electorate will be angry about.

Fortunately, Fylde has an exceptionally high proportion of independent councillors who are not beholden to any party whip. They are independent of mind and spirit, and we know they were arguing strongly against the imposition of large numbers of houses and against other aspects of the plan.

Clearly there was disagreement going on behind the scenes. We can also see that areas were added in at the last minute. Areas that were not mentioned - let alone consulted on - during the 'Issues and Options' consultation. 1200 houses for Warton is one. The Kirkham Triangle is another.

Furthermore, hints about designating existing farming land as employment land around Junction 3 on the M55 brought a flurry of land transactions in that area as word got out and prospective developers snapped up land in that area.

Cllr Fiddler had supposedly set up the Local Plan Steering Group to advise him, but when there was substantial disagreement on matters like those above, he simply said he would take the decision himself.

In effect, Cllr Fiddler took his bat and ball home.

Then, when all the decisions for the draft plan had been completed, in order to try to restore some democratic legitimacy to his decision - which he had taken and issued alone, like a tinpot dictator's decree in a banana republic - his proposals went to a special meeting of the full Council to be 'endorsed'

He said there (and has since repeated) that the decisions of the Local Plan Steering Group were unanimous. This is plainly incorrect.

Those of the opposing view to his had sought many changes in those steering group meetings - only to be told no change would be considered.

To make doubly safe there would be no changes, Cllr Fiddler classed his 'Individual Member Decision' on this matter as being 'urgent'. He argues that it was urgent because the timetable for the local plan could not afford to be held up by anything. (That's despite the fact that it won't be sent to the Secretary of State for his consideration until Autumn 2014, and a Public Inquiry will follow that so the plan won't 'start' until 2015 at the earliest!).

We believe this 'urgent' classification was nothing more than a device to prevent those councillors who opposed the proposals from having them 'called-in' and debated by Fylde's Scrutiny Committee. ('Urgent Decisions' are immune from Scrutiny on account of their urgency).

But this matter wasn't urgent in that sense, we believe the urgency was simply a trick frustrate opposition.

In true despot dictator style, he presented the illusion of democracy, then flexed his muscles showing his true colours, and has since tried to silence the opposition.

There had undoubtedly been a lot of disagreement in the Local Plan Steering Group. As we reported in 'Local Plan at Council' disagreement boiled over again at the Special Council meeting when members who were opposed to several of the proposals sought to have amendments made to the plan before it went out to consultation.

All of their amendments were rejected - even the ones that pointed out errors.

So we had the ludicrous situation of the Portfolio Holder, supported by his Conservative colleagues defending things (some of which he had admitted to be wrong) going out to public consultation without being corrected.

We believe the processes of taking his bat and ball home, and declaring his decision 'urgent' have turned out to be a big mistake.

He and his colleagues will now reap the whirlwind he is creating.

Denied any other opportunity, those dissenting councillors - both from the Local Plan Steering Group and from that Special Council meeting - have published a 'Minority Report' setting out why and what they cannot agree with in the draft local plan.

This situation is without precedent at Fylde, and quite possibly it is without precedent more widely. It is not something that happens much at all in Local Government

Readers can follow this link to download a copy of the Minority Report in full, but we will have summarise its content below.

The authors say it has been published:

  • to help members of the public understand what is happening during the period they are consulted on the proposals;
  • to highlight areas of concern that the signatories believe have not been adequately researched and/or addressed;
  • to explain why a significant proportion of Councillors voted against its endorsement

The key points in the Minority Report are:

EMPLOYMENT LAND
================

The Report claims that the Council has used flawed evidence to determine the area of employment land that is required between now and 2030.

We understand details of this claim include a study containing errors prepared in 2006 and carried forward to the more recent studies.

It is also flawed because the most recent, and main, study to produce the 'evidence' considered seven alternative methodologies to arrive at the figures for the employment land requirement to 2030. The methodology that was adopted does indeed show increased need as it is set out in the draft Local Plan, but it is the only one of the seven to do so.

The other six ways of calculating the need (All proposed by the same consultants), showed only a tiny fraction of this need, and, in some instances, that the existing supply of employment land is already more than enough until 2030 - so no additional land is needed.

This matter is crucial because if existing employment land can be released for housing, the areas of Greenfield required for housing can shrink significantly.

HOUSING NEED
=============

Again, the Minority Report makes the case that the evidence base for housing need is flawed. It says that Fylde has more people dying than are born, so on pure demographics we need less, not more houses.

It argues that the figures used for fragmentation of households (divorce, separation, children leaving home etc) are overstated in the draft plan.

It also argues the original Fordham Housing Need Assessments overstated and inflated real housing need, and, like the employment land study, this has carried forward to current estimates.

We've long criticised Fylde's use of the Fordham report that said of all the housing needed in Fylde, only 3% was needed for what people would describe as normal houses for sale. The rest (97%) needed to be socially subsidised housing.

That's complete rubbish.

Can any of our readers see the sense in Fylde requiring 97% of all houses built to be socially subsidised?  Of course not.

But it got worse.

Using the twisted logic and the doublespeak for which Fylde became infamous, the Council used the Fordham Report to conclude that Fylde had a 'need' for 420 extra affordable dwellings per year, and, as we said in our 'Affordable Housing' article ..."You would have thought Councillors might have spotted something was wrong - when the Joint Lancashire Structure Plan for 2001-2016 showed an annual need for *only 155 dwellings OF ALL TYPES* in Fylde Borough, and the Council itself was only allowing the building of an annual average of 254 dwellings per year."

So this new figure of *need* for 420 'Affordable (socially subsidised) Houses' a year was plainly preposterous.

It still is, and its updated ramifications are still with us today, which is what the Minority Report is saying.

Finally the Minority Report notes that before accepting it as factual evidence, a legitimate debate needs to be had about the political objective of destroying the countryside in order to cater for potential inward migrants from outside Fylde who want to live here.

We couldn't agree more.

HOUSING FIGURES
================

The Minority Report criticises the Council's failure to use the most up to date population data from the Office of National Statistics, and argues these should have been incorporated before the draft plan was released for public consultation. Not to have done so means the council is knowingly consulting the electorate on figures it knows are erroneous because they are already out of date.

The report also argues that the simplistic approach which uses an "all age" average household size to convert the population figures to housing unit numbers should be replaced by a model that accounts for the predicted significant age shift towards elderly residents (who will live in significantly smaller households).

Again, we couldn't agree more.

AREAS OF SEPARATION
===================

This is a new concept and akin to the effect of Green Belt designation in that it seeks to maintain an area of inbuilt land that separates towns and villages, helping to retain community identity and seeking to avoid the creeping urbanisation seen in East Lancashire, Manchester and Liverpool where built-up towns and parishes run imperceptibly into each other. The draft plan proposed one such area at Wrea Green. Those Councillors supporting the Minority Report want to see more of them introduced, and have published a list of at least eight other places where they believe it should have been applied.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING POLICY
==========================

A late (and as far as we can tell) unreported change slipped in to the wording of the draft plan - probably by officers- looks tiny, but would have an enormous impact. As now worded, it allows developers not to build affordable houses where they are providing market value housing, but to provide a sum that would build them elsewhere instead.

(The practical probability argued by the Minority Report is that these 'affordable' (socially subsidised) housing payments would end up as properties in places like Kirkham, Wesham and Warton potentially creating social housing ghettos).

When this matter was raised at the Special Council meeting called to endorse the Portfolio Holder's decision to approve the draft plan, it was clear that Cllr Fiddler was not aware of the change that had been made to the wording of this policy because he said if it was as reported, it would be changed, but he would not accept an amendment to change it in the consultation draft, and it would be changed *after* the consultation.

So again, the public are being consulted on factually incorrect information that could have been corrected before the consultation draft was published.

JUNCTION 3
==========

We've been saying for some time that there is a plan to designate land around Junction 3 on the M55 as employment land. We heard the gossip last Christmas as we were told wealthy local folk were buying up farmland all around the junction. Clearly something was going on.

The Minority Report says land in the immediate vicinity of Junction 3 has been 'assessed but not included' in the draft plan, but it argues that by designating a new area of employment land to the west of Fleetwood Road it compromises land nearer to the M55. If the Employment Land to the west of Fleetwood Road remains in the draft plan it could join Wesham to Greenhalgh on the left hand side and so, therefore, to Junction 3 on that same side. The fear is that this would make the whole area around the M55 junction vulnerable to Employment / Industrial uses.

The implication here is that by stealth, the unspoken plan to use land around Junction 3 for an industrial estate or similar, is being 'built into' this draft plan because land nearby will be allowed to 'mission creep' all the way up to the M55 once the plan is approved.

STRATEGIC HOUSING LAND MAPS
============================

The draft plan properly includes maps of the sites that were initially considered, and are now proposed for development in this plan. But there are also separate maps showing land that was initially considered, but is no longer under consideration. The Minority Report argues these maps should not be included as they give succour to developers who want to chance their arm with a development proposal on such land.

We'd have thought that there wasn't much point including maps of some of the areas you're not going to consider for development. It should be all or none in our view. But the Portfolio Holder thought differently and would not accept the amendment to delete them.

WHYNDYKE FARM SITE
==================

This is probably the fundamental cause of much of the furore that has built up around the Kirkham Triangle and Warton.

The Issues and Options consultation of last year showed this (Option 5) was the most popular location for housing in Fylde. But Officers have since said that because Whyndyke could not be delivered within the plan period, its inclusion would render the plan 'unsound'.

Those supporting the Minority report have spoken with the agent of Whyndyke's landowner who said it will be possible to deliver 100 houses a year, giving 500 houses in the first five years and up to a total of 1,500 within the plan period.

The Agent also told them that the developer would supply a school, roads, bus routes, shops, cycle lanes and employment land on the site; that the statutory infrastructure providers were on board with this development and were happy there will be more than enough capacity in the system.

Not bringing this area fully online as the draft plan shows, means that other areas have had to be found, and Warton and the Kirkham Triangle have been added in for large areas of housing.

The Minority Report argues to have Whyndyke as the preferred strategic location for development.

KIRKHAM TRIANGLE AND WARTON
============================

It follows that if the Whyndyke site is fully used, the sites at Kirkham Triangle and Warton need not be developed, and that's exactly what the Minority Report says.

It makes the points (as we made in our article 'Triangle Inquiry') to explain why Kirkham is not suitable, and reminds readers that the proposals to encircle Warton will increase the scale of the village by more than 75%. It argues that justification for this is weak because it hinges chiefly on the accuracy of predictions for employment land need (which the Minority Report not accept), and the expansion predicted for the BAe Enterprise Zone which as the draft plan says are ‘based around high technology industries’, and which typically produce low volume employment opportunities)

It also hinges on Warton changing from being a ‘Local Centre’ (serving its own community) to become a ‘Key Service Centre’ (which would serve a wider than local area).

The Report argues neither of these locations is necessary or acceptable and they should have been removed from the proposals before the draft plan went to public consultation.

CONCLUSIONS
=============

To conclude, the Minority Report reproduces the votes as they were cast in the resolutions at the special Council Meeting called to endorse the Portfolio Holder's Individual Decision so people can see who voted for the amendments, and who voted against them.

The voting shows that 41% of councillors at the Special Council meeting were unable to support the resolution, and did not endorse the Portfolio Holder's Individual Member Decision to approve the plan for consultation

The Minority Report concludes with a list of the names of the Councillors who support it.


So what's the Minority Report for? Why has it been published?

Well, first and foremost it is to dissociate the dissenting councillors from the decisions made in their name.

Usually, when decisions have been taken by the Full Council, those who dissent recognise they are not in a majority and accept the will of the many. But in this instance a very significant minority of the Council feels it is necessary to publicly express and maintain their dissent.

We're sure many of them see it as a betrayal of the electorate that they represent. They see the majority Conservative Party machine steamrollering this issue through Fylde Council - as it has done with other issues - and putting Government Policy ahead of the wishes of the local electorate. Regular readers will no doubt remember it was Cllr Trevor Fiddler who also took an 'Individual Member Decision' to sell Melton Grove ' because it was Conservative policy that councils should not run social housing'

So for the sake of their consciences, for the sake of concern for their electorate rather than party dogma, and in order to explain why they voted against even endorsing the draft plan, the Councillors who produced the Minority Report have formally taken a stand to oppose the draft Local Plan.

Secondly, it leaves those same Councillors free to speak out publicly against a decision made by a majority of the Council in their name.

Thirdly, it will draw attention to those areas that are based on flawed evidence and need to be changed.

Fourthly, it will help those who wish to object to policies in the draft plan to identify the areas they may wish to focus their objections

We know that - as we write this article - there are various groups and individuals preparing arguments to challenge several of the aspects of the draft local plan, and no doubt those individuals will present their own evidence for changes to be made in due course. We suspect many of the points made in the Minority Report will be echoed by those individuals as they seek to argue their case to have changes made to the draft local plan.

In essence this Minority Report is a Standard; a flag of dissent planted in the ground. It will become a rallying point around which those who object can gather their forces.

It will help to expose the failures within the draft plan, and the evidence on which it is based. And it will help to unify opposition.

In the future, it might be shown to be the genesis for change and, because such a high proportion of councillors did not support it, those individuals opposing development at Public Inquiries will no doubt be making reference to the weak support Fylde's planning policies enjoyed within the Council that created them.

It signifies that the ongoing, and increasingly bitter dispute, between the Minority Report Councillors on one side, and national Conservative planning policy - supported (but disliked) by Fylde's Conservatives - on the other, shows no sign of abating.

Unlike Tony Blair who said things can only get better, the prevailing view in Fylde is that in planning, things can only get worse.

That's why we said of Planning Portfolio Holder Cllr Trevor Fiddler earlier in the article "He will now reap the whirlwind he is creating."

Dated:    5 August 2013


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