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Newton Gypsy Site Application

Newton Gypsy ApplicationWe hope to make this another two part article.

It's about a planning application in Newton for Gypsy or Traveller family accommodation in caravans.

The first part is a reprise and update of the position from our last report in June 2012.

The second part (click to go to) is a report of the Special Planning Meeting held at Kirkham Community Centre on Wednesday 18th Dec at 2:30pm

PART ONE: 15 DECEMBER 2013
In our Snippets article dated 28 June 2012 we included a section headed 'Newton Troubles.' This was the report of a reader who had been to a resident's meeting about Fylde's planning application 12/0118 - which was in respect of a former builders yard, on land at Thames Street, Newton with Clifton.

The application was for

"Change of use of land to use as a residential caravan site for 4 no. Gypsy families each with 2 no. Caravans, together with the erection of an amenity block, erection of a boundary fence, installation of a package sewage treatment plant & the formation of a landscaped mound."

It has since had added "and alterations to the vehicular access".

Our reader believed about 170 letters of protest had been written to the Senior Planning Officer and the villagers were mobilising and organising to fight the application. Residents feared that this development would alter the character of the village.

Back in 2007, when a survey was undertaken for the Newton Parish Plan, 88% of the village said they did not want any further development or an extension of the village boundaries.

We have seen the letters sent by Newton with Clifton Parish Council (who are one of the more able parish councils in the area) seeking refusal. They addressed some well considered procedural issues before dealing with the site itself (which is located off what most folk would call a country lane and would not permit good access for large (or emergency) vehicles such as bin lorries because it is narrow, and is subject to standing water and mud along part of its length).

Using local knowledge, the parish council also argued the site was not suitable because of drainage and flooding issues, together with proximity to existing residential dwellings that leaves only an inadequate 15m buffer for landscaping and screening. The site slopes down toward the Ribble and is overlooked by properties on the higher ground.

The Parish Council then went on to say "Most Gypsy sites are mixed business/residential although the submitted application indicates residential usage. The use of power generators for example will be a cause of increased noise pollution and there does not appear to be any provision for fuel storage."

The Parish Council sought further clarification of this and other aspects, but concluded that even on the evidence available it should be refused.

Technically, in planning policy terms, this site is 'outside the limits of development' and until recently, Fylde has been quite good at constraining development in this area to sites within what they have define as the 'settlement boundary'

But that was before the Government introduced its new 'National Planning Policy Framework', and its ‘Planning Policy for Traveller Sites’ both of which Fylde is obliged to have regard to.

At the time of our earlier report, Fylde was consulting on its "Fylde Local Plan Issues and Options Consultation Document" and paragraph 7.79 said "The number of gypsy and traveller pitches required by each local authority in Lancashire was considered by the Partial Review of the RSS. The Lancashire Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment, which informed the aborted Partial Review, required that Fylde provided five transit pitches and assessed that there was a need for ten pitches for travelling showpeople. It assessed that there was no requirement in Fylde for permanent gypsy and traveller pitches."

That being the case, (because this application was for permanent residential, not transitory use), we thought it would be it difficult to see how an approval of this application could be recommended.

The most recent incarnation of the Local plan (which gets stronger in its importance with each iteration and release) is the "Preferred Options' version and, so far as we can see, it doesn't change that very much.

But the recommendation is to approve the application.

Fylde is going to come up with its own new policies on traveller pitches as a result of the Salford University study commissioned by Fylde and Wyre Councils, and that will probably make significant changes. But until those policies have been worked up, it's the present situation that prevails.

So two things govern the decision to be made on this application. Fylde's old former policies, and the Government's new policies.

Of the two, the Government's policies take precedence - partly because they are more recent, but mostly because hierarchically speaking, they have precedence.

We've read the officers report and the summary information that the has sent to councillors ahead of the DMC

At present, readers can judge for themselves, and follow this link for a Summary of the Newton Resident's Association's concerns, or look up the agenda for the Development Management Committee in Fylde Council's Website

We've looked at the agenda and, frankly, we regard the report as a bit of a mess.

That's not so much because it now recommends approval of the application, but because of the way it goes about it.

It's a dog's dinner of a report. Reading it, you get the impression that it originally set out in one direction then changed tack and swerved to come up with a new direction.

In several cases, the statutory bodies have issued corrected information or sent new or additional views in response to what they have been told by local people or the experts / consultants engaged by the community.

We might have hoped that the planning officers would have ensured all the essential or relevant information was available in the first place.

It's also clear that some of the statutory consultees have not visited the site and thus may not have made proper assessments of the physical conditions.

As an example of what we consider to be confused thinking by officers who wrote the report, much has been made by locals of the problems with flooding in and around the site, but the Environment Agency says - in effect - it is only concerned with flooding caused by tidal and fluvial sources (That means they're only considering the sort of flooding that occurs when the sea or a river bursts its banks and inundates an area).

Locals are pointing out (and sending photos of)  flooding that occurs when the ground is sodden with rainfall, and the lower-lying parts of the land accumulate floodwater.

All flooding is equally wet of course, and whilst the officer's report (correctly) says the Environment Agency can only object on the basis of tidal and river flooding, it then goes on to say that since 2010, ground water, watercourse and surface water flooding or problems have been the responsibility of 'Lead Local Flood Authorities'

And in our case Lancashire County Council is the Lead Local Flood Authority for this area. The officers report says "any incidents of surface water flooding should be reported to them" but it makes no reference to Fylde having consulted them on this planning application, or to any response or comment the Lead Local Flood Authority might have made with regard to what residents had claimed.

Nor does the report refer to any work that has been done by FBC to identify flooding problems. The Officer seems simply to have accepted the conclusion that if the EA say the sea or the Ribble won't reach Newton, then flooding isn't a problem, so it won't be.

This sort of 'inadequate' reporting can be caused by a lack of time to be thorough, or through incompetence, or it can be a way of getting around inconvenient aspects that don't support the recommendation you are making.

It's rarely possible to tell what the actual reason might be.

To us, there seem to be an awful lot of 'getting arounds' in this report.

In some cases there have been conditions imposed which, to us, seem difficult to implement at all. So might it be that the application could never be implemented, even if the permission is granted.

Some of the arguments advanced in the report are equally iffy.

Fylde's planning policy team claim to have assessed the application against

  • Fylde's existing Local Plan
  • The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
  • Planning Policy for Traveller Sites (PPFTS)

and they conclude...

The proposal is contrary to the adopted Fylde Borough Local Plan, but that needs to be weighed against the provisions of the NPPF and the Planning Policy for Traveller Sites.

They then quote the relevant bits of these two documents without indicating their professional judgement as to what sort of weight should be applied to each policy.

So in reality they've not assessed the application against anything, they've simply performed a Pontius Pilate outcome, pointed things out, then washed their hands.

That means it falls to the planning officer to judge the weight to be applied to the conflicting provisions.

He has first looked at Fylde's Policy called 'HL8' which relates to providing sites for Gypsies. He concludes there is generally no disagreement between Fylde's Policy and the national ones, so he believes "significant" weight should be attached to Fylde's policy HL8.

He then looks at Fylde's countryside protection policy called 'SP2'. This aims to restrict inappropriate development within the countryside, and he notes that Gypsy caravan sites are not included within the list of developments that Fylde considers appropriate within countryside areas (ergo they are 'inappropriate' - and to allow them would contravene Fylde's policy SP2).

But he then 'downgrades' Fylde's SP2 Policy - most probably because, as he says, policy HL8 (which is specific to Gypsies) allows the development of suitable sites in the countryside close to settlements. And (as he has also pointed out) he attaches more weight to policy HL8 because (he says), it accords with the two new national policies.

What he fails to point out though is that policy HL8 begins "Planning applications for sites for caravans providing accommodation for gypsies will be permitted where  *all*  the following criteria can be met:" (our emboldening)

And the ensuing list includes (amongst other things) "a). A need for gypsy sites has been pre-identified in the area by the council; or b). The applicant can demonstrate a need for a site in the area;"

Given that Fylde's own study presently says there is no requirement in Fylde for permanent gypsy and traveller pitches, we find it difficult to see how that argument can be used in support of approval.

HOWEVER
He goes on to say that the new 'Duty to co-operate' introduced into the NPPF by the present Coalition Government has an influence, because 'there is an obligation to examine needs on a wider level. This includes considering need in Wyre and Blackpool as well as Fylde Borough'

We know the previous study found a need for almost 28 pitches in the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre area up to 2016.

Fylde needed less than one pitch. Blackpool needed 24 pitches, and 3 Travelling Showmen sites were needed in Wyre.

In practice what this means is that although Fylde's most recent study has a nil requirement, Blackpool's requirement is probably going to have to be partially met in Fylde at some point in the near future unless the law changes.

We're hearing unconfirmed reports that Fylde's new study might show a need for 15 or so pitches in Fylde as part of the 'duty to co-operate' - This would help address Blackpool's needs.

The planning officer concludes that "...the need for additional pitches in the wider area remains a significant material consideration in favour of granting planning permission for this particular site"

He concludes that the lack of an 'identified need' for sites in Fylde means the application conflicts with that requirement, but the evidence of need in the wider area is a material consideration weighing in favour of the proposal, and the Government's policies on how to assess and address identified need for traveller accommodation are significant material considerations weighing in the Applicant's favour.

This is all about interpretation, and about who you believe.

There are other arguments rehearsed in his report that we find equally insufficient or unconvincing, if not downright confusing and misleading.

We're told that the community in Newton is distraught. There is disbelief that such a scheme could be recommended for approval, and they do believe no one should have support to develop open countryside outside the development boundary.

But the point to take from all of this is very clear.

On their own, Fylde's existing planning policies would demand this application be refused.

No contest.

If it is approved, it will be for only one reason - and that is the change that has been made to national planning policy by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives working as the present Coalition Government.

We hope to bring our readers a report from the meeting on Wednesday as soon as we can.

18 DEC 13 - PART 2: COMMITTEE AND DECISION 
Although the meeting had a scheduled start of 2:30, we arrived at 1:45 to find most of the Development Management Committee already set up in the main hall of Kirkham's splendid community centre.

The main official positions were set up on the stage - which, at Kirkham enjoys a considerably elevated status. The committee members were ranged in two ranks of seven, facing each other on tables that formed the longer leg of a 'T' from the stage.

About a dozen members of the public were already present and folk were standing in small groups around the room in quiet discussion. A low hum of conversation filled the room.

But this was a 45 minutes before the start time. Clearly, this was going to be a packed meeting because a steady stream of people were arriving all the time.

We counted about 120 chairs set out, and we thought that a lot of people would be standing, (and that's on a cold and wet Thursday in the middle of winter, just three days short of the shortest day). Undoubtedly local people were, by their presence, demonstrating deep concern about this application.

By 2:10, the chairs were about half full, and a couple of police officers had take up an unobtrusive station standing in the back corner of the hall. By 2:13 the chairs were all taken and people were beginning to stand against the walls.

A 'late observations' sheet went round the Committee.

It had several points, three of which we regarded as crucially important.

Firstly, the County Highways department was doing a very passable impression of a circus acrobatic team as they repeatedly somersaulted in their recommendations which ranged from 13 Dec: "I consider that it would be inappropriate to grant permission...." to 19 Dec it's up to FBC to decide so ".. we would not wish to see it become a highways reason for refusal and would not wish to defend it [in] an appeal process."

Secondly  on 16th December, notification had come from the 'National Planning Casework Unit'  to say that any decision to approve this application should be made subject to a Call In by the Secretary of State for Communities and Government - our very own St Eric Pickles MP.

Thirdly and *very* unusually, Mark Menzies MP had sent a letter to FBC,  the essence of which was that he didn't want to be accused of trying to impose his will on councillors, but he wanted Fylde to refuse the application, the most relevant of his quotes being "In my view, having visited the site personally, I feel the area is completely inappropriate for this type of use, and the planning committee should look at refusing the scheme."

To be honest, in all our considerable experience of local government workings, that's the first time we've ever seen such a strong public statement on planning from a Fylde MP.

Mr. Menzies went on to cite reasons why it should not be approved. His letter was addressed to Fylde's Chief Executive so perhaps it wasn't intended for publication, but it was circulated as part of the late observations so it is now public.

Surprisingly, given the MP's view, and the requirement to limit their decision to being 'Minded to approve' to allow for the decision to be taken by St Eric, the concluding comment of Fylde's officers was that the 'late submissions' contained no new issues not addressed in the report, so the officer conclusions remain unchanged.

These people simply can't see the train hurtling down the track at them can they?  You have to wonder how fit-for-purpose they are.

When there was only about one minute to go to the starting time, the large hall had a complete single and, in some places, a double line of people standing around the room. We estimated there were probably about 300 people present. An awful lot of Newton had come, and as we know from experience, for every one that attends one of these meetings there are about 80 others of the same view.

The meeting started on time with the usual outline of procedure. There were three substitutions on the committee: Cllr Oades subbing for Cllr Hardy, Cllr Brickles subbing for Cllr Mrs Nulty, and Cllr Ackeroyd subbing for Cllr Pounder. He had been able to attend the morning meeting though.

We recalled that he has the 'Hardhorn' traveller site in his Staining ward so if he wanted to vote for approval of the Newton application that might have made it a bit iffy for him in the eyes of his own electorate. That said, we've no doubt he had a good reason preventing him from being present during the afternoon.

Readers with an interest can see a YouTube webcast of the full meeting when it is posted by FBC within the next few days

The planning officer outlined the item and said the application was recommended for approval subject to the Secretary of State's power to call in the decision.

Then the first of nine public speakers from the Newton Residents Association began their three minute presentations. 

PETER TUFFNELL
Mr Tuffnell is a Chartered Town Planner engaged by the Newton Residents Association. He argued for Fylde to adopt a precautionary approach to whether the site had been 'abandoned' or not.

He said the site adjoins floodzone 2 and 3 and the Lead Local Flood Authority had not been consulted, (confirming what we had suspected in our prelude to the meeting).

He covered a wide range of issues in great brevity within the three minutes allowed, but concluded that this application should be refused on the basis of 'drainage' - adding that, in respect of 'need,' it should either be refused or deferred because insufficient information had been supplied on this matter.

We thought he did a very professional job.

HOWARD DUCKWORTH (Flooding)
Spoke on flooding and with the aid of a EA floodzone map. He said Thames Street was in Flood zone 2. He argued that the maps do not show the boundary with sufficient precision and the site often had standing water and should have had a 'site specific' flood risk assessment undertaken before the matter came to committee.

He said there was no evidence of any drainage from the site and produced amazing photographs of an overflowing dyke (that looked more like a river) and of Thames street living up to its name, and being completely under water. We thought he spoke very well, and he was applauded warmly by the those in the public gallery, as indeed were all the public speakers.

ROBERT  ?  (Sewage)
Said the sewers were either overloaded or on private land which was not available to the applicant. The way around this - as proposed by the applicant - was to install a 'package sewer treatment plant' which would serve up to 18 people but would discharge into local open dykes. He argued that there were occasions when there was insufficient water flowing in the dykes to dilute the sewage.

DEREK INGHAM (Road safety)
Spoke about many issues. Thames St. was only 2.8m wide, had poor sightlines and no footpaths. He said Fylde has applied conditions on sewage and drainage that were "unenforceable" The drainage authority had required thee mandatory conditions which, he claimed, if implemented would make the site unviable and cost prohibitive.

ANNETTE VERNON
Spoke firmly and said the design that had been submitted was not to scale and it aimed only to maximise the number of caravans that could be fitted onto the site. She said no amount of screening would resolve the visual and amenity problems for local residents. She also said that in her view the extent of the conditions imposed meant that without them FBC would have to refuse the application.

JULIE MOTTERAM  (who was a professional environmental officer)
Spoke about the requirement to minimise impact on biodiverstity, and that a phase 1 study had shown contamination with asbestos and flyash on the site, together with heavy metals. She said it should have a 'phase two study', but if that had been done it would have made the site unviable. Like the previous speaker she said Fylde shouldn't attach conditions that they couldn't enforce.

NORMAN HARRIS (Visual and residential amenity)
Said the site was overlooked because it was 8m below the ground level of properties on Grange Lane. He also showed a photo illustrating how nature had re-colonised the abandoned site before the present owner cleared off  the vegetation. He ranged over other matters as well.

DAVID THOMPSON ('Need')
Spoke very clearly and strongly about whether there was need for the development or not. He said Fylde's own policies said there was no need.

Sub-regionally, he said Blackpool has not been consulted on this application, nor had Wyre BC. There was no confirmation of their need. There was no conformation of the Gypsy status of the applicant, and Fylde had proposed no conditions limiting the use of the site to specific named families - arguing that a failure to do so meant the site was open to change and could become transitory.

MICHAEL GORNALL
Did a summary of the points that had been made. He said

  • The site was subject to flooding
  • Sewage arrangements are not EA compliant
  • The land is contaminated but you can't tell how bad it is
  • There is no evidence of 'need' for gypsy sites in Fylde
  • There is no evidence of wider need
  • It will harm the amenity and setting of Grade 2 listed buildings
  • It will result in highways safety issues
  • Compliance with all the conditions will make it unviable.

He concluded by saying that the planning expert consultants they had employed simply couldn't believe what Fylde had done with this application.

He sat down to thunderous applause and cheering from the 300 or so people assembled.

The chairman then justly complimented the speakers on their presentations.

Responding to the issue of flooding (which had been self evident from the photographs), Fylde's Mark Evans said that sites of less than 1 hectare meant the Environment Agency did not require a flood risk assessment to be done (thus implying that was all OK then, and no further consideration was needed).

There were several instances where this sort of thing had happened.  Fylde's officers seemed to be 'hiding behind' the views of  a consultee - and in particular using the consultee's views or circumstances to justify a decision they wanted made.

One councillor commented strongly on this approach. In response to a  question about the achievability of conditions that might be imposed, Mr Evans said - in effect - the barrister says it doesn't matter whether the condition is achievable or not,  Cllr Mulholland - always worth listening to - picked this up and said it was simply not satisfactory. He said there was a need to check the professional advice provided, not just to accept it, and he said that was especially true of the highway authority in this instance. He said he couldn't go along with approval of this application on highway grounds alone.

The case officer then presented his report, following which the debate began

CLLR MRS HEATHER SPEAK
Wanted to know if it wasn't considered suitable for a caravan park why was it suitable for a Gypsy site? Mr Evans said they were assessed against different policies in the local plan, (e.g. tourism versus residential policies) and that gave a different result. She also asked how the conditions were going to be enforced, (which was more or less met with: as they usually are), and she expressed concern about the loss of residential amenity.

CLLR MRS ELIZABETH OADES
Asked for more detail on the enforcement process and followed this up with an argument that a Government circular addressing conditions applied to permissions says - in effect - if planning permission would be refused without the conditions it should be refused anyway..

Mr Evans responded to say they had consulted a barrister who had said Fylde's conditions were OK, adding that the applicant knew of the conditions and didn't think they're unenforceable.

At this point Cllr Mrs Oades asked whether the applicant had seen the 'late observations' sheet  which had changes to some of the conditions, to which Mr Evans said "No"

The point Queen Elizabeth had made here was that the applicant had therefore not agreed to all the conditions.

She went on to ask again about enforcement, and specifically how things like the size of the caravans and the number of people on site would be regulated.

Mr Evans replied (after saying he did not want his answer to be taken as flippant), that they could measure caravans and count people, adding that usually they relied on local people's involvement in planning to advise them if a problem arose.

At this point there were groans and the laughter of disbelief from the public gallery - which brought  a rebuke from the chairman.

Cllr Mrs Oades also asked why there had been no 'site specific' flood risk assessment to which Mr Evans replied that the Environment Agency said there was no need.

Concluding her questions she asked about vehicles, saying the site was too small for them to be kept within it and that meant that, in reality, the parking couldn't be controlled could it? Mr Evans did himself no favours when he said even if there were no parking restrictions on Thames Street it was so narrow that any vehicle parked there might well be an obstruction and that would be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.

CLLR PETER COLLINS
Criticised the plan submitted by the applicant saying it was not to scale and looked as though it had been done on the back of a fag packet. He said the Government's guidance on the requirements for spacing caravans meant they could not be fitted in and comply with the advice. He wanted to know if that was a 'material planning consideration?' Mr Evans  said it was. Cllr Collins responded well how can you fit them in if it is not a scale plan. Mr Evans replied that the plan said on it that it was to scale.

Like the flooding, no independent checking of these claims appeared to have been made.

Cllr Collins wanted to know if Fylde's emerging plan would identify new Gypsy sites. Mr Evans said it would.  Cllr Collins argued we should be finding a better site than Newton, and Fylde was jumping the gun if they approved this application. Mr Evans said that prematurity, on its own, was not a satisfactory reason to refuse the application.

Whilst that is true, what he left unsaid was the host of other arguments that could have been employed to make prematurity a strong and 'not the only reason'

CLLR RICHARD REDCLIFFE
Always speaks carefully and usually well. He asked about whether Fylde would be able to monitor the movement of caravans, and about the impact of lighting and about visual amenity (what it looks like).

We got the impression these were 'patsy' type questions. They were relevant, but in comparison with the important issues they paled in significance. We thought that was an ominous sign, as was the fact that Cllr Trevor Fiddler had said nothing so far. He was obviously holding his powder dry.

CLLR CHARLIE DUFFY
Was concerned about whether or not there was a 'need.' He said he understood the duty to cooperate, but wanted to know what contact Fylde had had specifically regarding this site with Blackpool and Wyre.

Mr Evans fed him the we've been discussing things in general for several months and had regular meetings line.  He should have known better. Cllr Duffy is not a man to be fobbed off like that. He asked again what specific permissions had been given in Blackpool, and Wyre and whether either had specifically made a request for Fylde to take up any of their need.

The implication here was that Fylde had not even been asked to co-operate by Blackpool or Wyre.

He also asked if the officers had thought there was no 'need', would they still have recommended approving the application.

Again he was given a fobbing off answer, so he apologised for not making his question clear enough (nice touch we thought, he's a master of the self deprecating put-down that is nothing of the sort) and pressed the 'need' question once again.

The best Mr Evans could manage was that the balance of need would change, but whether that would be significant enough to change a recommendation he wasn't sure.

What our readers can see here is the squirming of an officer who is first trying to sidestep a cogent question, then the wriggling to avoid giving the answer that is obvious to almost every one of the other 300 people in the room.

CLLR MRS MAXINE CHEW
Said she was very concerned about the impact on the grade 2 listed buildings and their setting and wanted to know why Fylde had not asked for a historic environmental statement.

She also said there was no condition preventing eight rather than four families in residence, and that she had seen for herself broken asbestos sheets all over the site.  She believed the contamination conditions needed beefing up.

CLLR KIRAN MULHOLLAND
Said he thought the matter of need was crucial, and he was very disappointed in what he was hearing.   He said "I would hate to think that Fylde is going to be used to meet the need for Gypsy sites in Blackpool" adding that if Fylde had no need for such sites that should take priority. He was clearly an unhappy man.

CLLR TIM ARMIT
Began by praising the presentations from the Newton Residents Association. He said he disagreed with Cllr Chew (He's making a habit of this, he did that on the Wrea Green application as well), He said he was uncomfortable why they were here, and if the word Gypsy was deleted from the report and they were talking about houses, he said they wouldn't even be having the meeting.

But then - aping what is so often the style of Cllr Fiddler who performs a sort of oral jujitsu as he begins in one direction only to turn 180 degrees and steam off in entirely the opposite one - he said there were already substantial vehicles using Thames Street and the statutory undertakers say development is OK.

We also heard him do a throwaway comment about the asbestos, saying that it might have been blown off a nearby barn - as though that eliminated the health danger it presented, and the need for wherever it was found to be treated as a contaminated site

He said if they rejected the application it would only be to satisfy the people at the meeting, and they would probably lose it on appeal. He proposed they accept the officer's recommendation.

In our view, his were not the arguments of convincement, they were the arguments of expediency.

By this point we could see a picture developing. Cllr Redcliffe's patsy issues and Cllr Armit's unconvincingly genuine proposition made it seem to us as though this would be a case where the Conservatives were likely  to vote for approval of the application, and they had a majority.

CLLR MRS ELIZABETH OADES
Appeared to see the same traits, and said she thought Cllr Armit was sometimes perverse. She said she was bemused by his highways comment.

She then let out that she had spoken with a highways officers at the county council (She is also an experienced Lancashire County Councillor) and he had, after seeing evidence from the Newton Residents Association consultant and undertaking his own site visit, produced a second report which had changed the LCC recommendation to one recommending refusal.

But after that second report and after further contact to LCC from FBC planners, his boss at LCC had overturned his comments and changed the LCC recommendation yet again.

Cllr Oades argued that many of the conditions Fylde's officers had recommended for approval she regarded as being unenforceable to the extent that they were, in fact, a disguised method of refusing the application. She said "At this moment the Borough Council does not have a need, and the applicant had demonstrated a desire not a need," and she said it should be refused.

CLLR KEVIN EASTHAM
Is Vice Chairman of the committee noted that the advice they were receiving from the Highway Authority was inconsistent and that followed a period of significant re-organisation within the County Council.

CLLR MRS HEATHER SPEAK
Said there was no proven need, and there had been on consultation with neighbouring authorities on this application. The applicant had produced no evidence of need, and she rehearsed many arguments before proposing the application be refused. Cllr Oades was quick to second.

CLLR TREVOR FIDDLER
Spoke (we thought very patronisingly for him) and said he appreciated that Cllr Speak was speaking for her residents, and that was understandable.

The point he was trying to make here was that she was letting her emotions spoil her planning policy considerations. That was absolutely not the case. We could see from the preparation she had done that her arguments had all been based on proper planning considerations.

We thought he was, unusually for him, patronising and mud-slinging with that opening comment.

He pointed out that the Bambers Lane Gypsy application in Westby  - on the border of St Annes - had been recommended for refusal by officers but the committee had voted in favour of it, so they must have thought there was a need for more gypsy sites at that time. He said he agreed with Cllr Armit

He concludes with the implied threat that the arguments couldn't be supported in an appeal situation and they knew the consequences of that.

This was a veiled threat about the costs that might be awarded against Fylde if they lost an appeal.

We thought that was pretty rich coming from the man who just persuaded the Cabinet to spend another £105,000 on producing the local plan which is now comfortably heading toward an overall cost of half a million pounds. So we don't think he has much room to talk about how much things cost.

Cllr Mrs Speak and four others called for a recorded vote on the revised officers recommendation that the Committee was minded to approve the application (in order to allow SoS time to call in the decision if he wanted to do so)

The voting was:

To approve the recommendation: (9)
Cllrs Ben Aitken, Kevin Eastham, Trevor Fiddler, Richard Redcliffe, Fabian Craig-Wilson, Barbara Nash, Tim Armit, Vivien Willder, Christine Ackeroyd.

Against the recommendation were: (7)
Cllrs Peter Collins, Julie Brickles, Heather Speak, Liz Oades, Maxine Chew, Kiran Mulholland, Charlie Duffy

The public gallery was not at all happy, and we saw several of the Conservative councillors harangued by small groups after the meeting, some with expressions that looked very much to us like 'I'm sorry but I had to do it'

There is no whip in planning of course, everyone is supposed to vote according to the facts of each application.

But Fylde's Conservatives have been know to use the term "whip" very literally, (to mean a written instruction sent to all conservatives to require them to vote in a particular way), and they probably rightly say that has hardly ever happened.

That may be true, but they also have a requirement for all conservative councillors to follow the voting of decisions made in group meetings, and this produces the same practical effect as a whip. But here again, they're not supposed to have prior group meetings about planning (making advance decisons would be unlawful), so that criticism can't be applied in this instance.

So it must have simply been that all the Conservative councillors (plus Cllr Eastham) all became simultaneously convinced that this was an application that should be supported when all the other councillors (except Cllr Eastham) did not.

Either that or something else was in operation here - perhaps it could have been something like if you don't follow my lead and vote the way I do, you'll be removed from the committee or something like that.

It certainly looked like something of that order was in place judging by the sheepish expressions on the faces of some Conservative councillors who - in the morning visit we have no doubt would have been horrified at being asked to approve the application on that site - and who were, in that same afternoon, holding up their hands to vote like sheep and support  something they knew to be wrong.

Our concluding impressions were

1). Newton Residents Association had done a fantastic job in preparing and articulating their case. In our view their arguments clearly won the day.

2). Fylde's officers showed once again how out of tune they are with the public they should be serving, and how selective, slithery and slippery they will make their arguments to slide them around what is plain common sense.

3). This was a site that should never have been entertained for residential use but, for whatever reason, Fylde's officers had decided this application was going to be passed, and they would find a way around every argument put in the way of approving it, no matter how stupid those workarounds might be.

But this is not the end.

It may be that St Eric will call in this application and decide it himself.

We see two salient points here.

In our prelude, we concluded that if this application was approved, it would be because of the change that has been made to national planning policy by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives working as the present Coalition Government. We still hold that to be the case. Essentially it was the NPPF's 'Duty to co-operate' that Fylde's Conservative majority used to justify this decision.

HOWEVER

As we have already said, the letter from our MP is a clear-as-can-be that this application should have been refused.

We would be amazed if he did not think that St Eric Pickles would support him in that view, and we regard it as no co-incidence at all that Fylde has already been told they may not take the final decision until St Eric has decided whether he wishes to determine the matter himself.

We're going to make  a prediction here. Predictions are always dangerous to do - as readers will remember when we predicted the result of  "The Vic" inquiry so spectacularly wrong. But we have also made some successful predictions - and we make another now.

If this decision is taken by St Eric Pickles himself (and we have every reason to believe it will be), then we predict the residents of Newton will be able to sleep easy in their beds for the future.

In his ministerial speech he said "...We want to make sure people can take control and take responsibility in their street, their estate, their town. Solving problems and taking action for themselves. With neighbourhoods, people working together, as the basis for the big society....""

And (before the anti-Planning Minister Nick Boles was appointed), almost the very first job that St Eric did was to write to Councils telling them to have their Planning Enforcement Officers on hand and contactable over the Bank Holiday weekend in order to serve 'Stop Notices' on developers that tried to jump the gun and apply for retrospective Planning Permission after they had laid foundations over a Bank Holiday weekend.

This 'retrospective permission seeking' had become a favoured practice of those building hardstanding and fencing for gypsy camps without planning permission, and with no council officer available over the bank holiday to stop it happening, many were getting away with it.

St Eric understands Local Government, and he positively exudes plain common sense. He has the common touch and instinctively understands the needs of ordinary people.

We strongly believe he will call-in this application and that he will refuse it.

If that happens, we think Newton will have cause to be very grateful to its MP.

They will also expect the Fylde Conservatives (and Cllr Eastham) who voted for approval yesterday to eat humble pie.

And we go further.

If St Eric's decision *is* to overturn Fylde's preference and refuse planning permission, we think the Planning Advisory Service should be called in again by Fylde in order to effect 'mandatory training' of those councillors who (wrongly) voted in support of the application,

Cllr Fiddler has been vociferous in calling for such training to be given to those who supported residents and refused planning permissions that were subsequently overturned on appeal. Lets see how he likes it if the tables are turned.

We sincerely hope Mr Menzies and St Eric restore some common sense to this decision by calling it in and refusing it.

Dated:   19 December 2013


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