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Planning News May 2013

Planning News May 2013We've a few planning issues in this edition - the abandonment of plans for housing off Kilnhouse Lane, the abolition of the NW Regional Strategy, the Jones Homes application at Staining, and some (more) comments made by the Anti-Planning Minister Nick Boles MP.

It's a small cornucopia of news to update readers about some of the planning issues that will affect Fylde.

First the good news. The plans to put houses on a small patch of land opposite the Shell Kilnhouse Lane petrol station has been abandoned. We're not sure why. There was an enthusiastic protest group, there were local councillors who opposed the development, and from what we could see a lot of electricity cables underground. Whatever the reason, locals were happy to see the back of the scheme.

The second bit of good news is that the NW Regional Strategy (which St Eric revoked at the start of this Parliament in a flurry of wonderful promises about there being no need for regional plans because the views of local people through their local plans would reign supreme above all others) has finally been revoked.

The 'Regional Strategy for the North West (Revocation) Order 2013' came into law yesterday on 20th May.

But that was only after a lot of hassle to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment on its abandonment (total waste of time caused by those opposed to the revocation).

This Order has now removed its consideration from the things that must be taken into account in planning matters.

Sadly, it in Fylde's case, it doesn't look to have done much good with the housing numbers because of the Treasury's influence in appointing Nick Boles MP as Anti-Planning Minister in St Eric's department, where he introduced the National Planning Policy Framework that is doing an equally bad (if not worse) job as the former Regional Strategy did to planning.

However we can at least celebrate the demise of the RS and consign its lunacy to the dustbin of history.

Some news that's probably less good comes from Staining.

Back in November in 'More Planning News' we gave our take on the exhibition staged by Jones Homes.

In what was a triumph of hope over common sense to persuade residents it was a 'good thing', the nice young men from Jones Homes braved the polite but clear and strong opposition to the plans from local people.

We said at the time our concerns were chiefly the planning policy issues about extending the urban fence in what are obvious salami-slice applications leaving links ready for the next extension. But more than anything we were concerned about drainage issues.

As we saw in 'All Going Swimmingly?' when the stormwater and sewers overflow on the coastal strip, you can ease the pressure by opening the floodgates and letting it out into the sea. But in the hollow of Staining, you can't do that, and people's houses flood as in effect, the hollow fills up.

We saw on the Jones Homes' plans that large four foot diameter 'stormwater storage drains' were proposed under roads - the idea being that these would 'hold' stormwater and release it slowly through something called a hydro-brake to limit the flow speed to something like that of agricultural land.

If the sums have been done right, that might be the case for the houses now proposed, but it doesn't look to us as though anyone's looking seriously at the bigger picture as the salami slices of development stack up against each other.

We had the pleasure of a visit to Staining recently where, along with 20 or so other people we assembled in the very sensible church that doubles as a community hall when you curtain off the Altar. The Parish Council meeting had decamped there because there were LCC elections in the Community Centre proper, and the Deputy Returning Officer for Fylde didn't want anyone confused if two things were going on at the same time.

Staining meeting

The idea of the meeting was to help the local community co-ordinate its objection to the application and for the parish council to hear it.

The able Chairman (Cllr Steven Hall) ran the meeting really well. Unobtrusive yet in control, he let the people assembled have their say except when cross talking began and he brought them back to order.

This was a parish council at its best, it WAS the local community. Everyone united in the common good. It was the people and the parish council they elected working and discussing together how to resolve their problems.

How much better it was to see than the situation in St Annes, where for the most part, the Council has been seduced into believing they are a small borough council whose role is to make decisions and to have employed officers to do the work. How much better it would be if St Annes saw themselves as a larger version of a parish council like Staining, who have minimal admin support and where parish councillors work directly in harmony with their residents.

The main discussion at Staining was about the three minutes available to each person to make objection at the planning meeting tomorrow on Wednesday (22 May).

Cllr John Singleton asked if those opposing the plan had divided up the topics to maximise the benefits of the presentations and avoid repetition. They had. There were speakers lined up for The environment, housing stock, flooding/drainage, local infrastructure eg pressure on school places and medical services, planning policy. Cllr Singleton stressed the need for speakers to speak only on planning issues and not on personal views (which could not be taken into account).

There was also some concern about transport and the cumulative impact of traffic in the salami-slice development proposals that was not being seen as the big picture.

Cllr Albert Pounder said he was concerned that if approved, this plan might result in a re-drawing of the settlement boundary that would give the green light to even more development.

That night at least, Staining was a community united with its parish council. A joy to behold. Grassroots democracy in action.

We've seen it all before of course. Name a village threatened by inappropriate development and you'll find an enthusiastic community group - often working with its parish council - who go through an incredibly steep learning curve to acquire the expert and specialist knowledge needed to counter the expert arguments advanced by the mercenary planners working for developers.

Save Wrea Green Action Group, Defend Lytham, Concerned Residents of Warton's Development, Wesham Action Group, Queensway et al. They've all done (or in some cases continue to do) it.

These people are all local heroes. They donate hours of work and research to understand the arcane planning policies at the heart of the arguments, and to be able to find the weak spots in the arguments made by the developers.

But in Staining they look to be at a disadvantage. The developer has submitted four late amendments to make the scheme more palatable to planners (although these were dismissed as being cosmetic by the parish council /public meeting). They included, for example, the use of red tarmac and bigger signs to make the junction safer. Yes really.

There was some talk of progress on the local plan and the housing numbers in that document. Cllr Pounder said "We've all decided where they're.... what's in it. It's basically option five I think"  (We hope to have more to say about Fylde's Local Plan preparation in a future article).

One speaker said the worst option being considered in the Local Plan for Staining was Option 4 and the best was Option 1. Another person said they should use prematurity in relation to the developing Local Plan to refuse this application now. Another criticised the environmental work undertaken by the developer saying it was partly reliant on a document that was a public opinion/report not a proper survey, and the Wildlife Trust had said that a proper survey should be done.

The bad news was that the planning officers were recommending Fylde's Development Management Committee that the plans should be approved, albeit that officers appeared to regard it as a finely balanced decision.

Their report says "The residential development of such land is contrary to Policy SP2 of the FBLP and so the application should be refused unless there are material considerations to outweigh this policy objection."

It then goes on to say that the Swivel Eyed Loon of an Anti-Planning Minister Nick Boles MP (that's actually our take on him rather than Fylde's), has introduced the National Planning Policy Framework which, as we've said before is a top-down planning policy of exactly the sort the Government said they wouldn't have any more under the Localism initiative - where the Local plan, decided by local people, would reign supreme. The NPPF is being used by developers to steamroller and flatten public opposition to developments across the land.

And right on cue, Fylde's planners - who are now completely out of touch with the opinion of the residents they should be serving - say the NPPF is a material consideration that overrides the local policy objection because Fylde cannot demonstrate a five year supply of developable land using the (we say) ridiculous criteria set down by Government that are intentionally rigged against local people and local plans worse than a three-card-trick con merchant could dream up.

So on Wednesday, it looks like it will once again be down to the brave Development Management Committee at Fylde to listen to the arguments of residents and to refuse this application in the face of their officers.

We hope they will do exactly that.

If they want another reason, apart from the ones they will hear from Staining's residents, they could do worse than look at the agreement that Fylde is about to sign up to under the Fylde Peninsular Water Management Group of which Fylde is a member (see 'All going Swimmingly?'). The draft document (which was due to be ratified on 22 April) was appended to a report by 'Development Services' to Fylde's Community Focus Scrutiny Committee meeting on 4th April 2013. The document has a range of measures for adoption by its constituent bodies, including Fylde.

Target No.8 of that agreement is about restricting 60% of new housing to Brownfield land.

It says "Brownfield land should be prioritised for new development over Greenfield land. Development of existing Brownfield land presents an opportunity to reduce surface water runoff more than could be achieved through development of Greenfield land. It will also help to limit the discharge of wastewater to pre-development rates. This will lead to less surface water entering the sewer system and limit the wastewater generated."

It also says "By May 2013 Local Authorities will ..... Develop a list of proposed new Greenfield and Brownfield development within the Fylde and wider areas."

It concludes by saying that "By June 2013 Local Authorities will "Promote Brownfield development, building on policies such as Wyre Council’s Preferred Core Strategy, which states that 60% of new housing provision will be on Brownfield land."

We see no mention of this proposal in Fylde's officers report, yet as a member of the Fylde Peninsula Water Management Group, FBC's Development Management officers at least must have been party to the preparation of this plan to limit 60% of new housing development to Brownfield (previously developed) sites.

And here they are, ten days away from the date by which it is supposed to come into effect, recommending not only the development of Greenfield land, but Greenfield land outside the settlement boundary - and there is no mention whatsoever of the proposal to target 60% of new housing to be on Brownfield land.

So we hope the good people of Staining can rely on Fylde's elected representatives to do the right thing and refuse this application.

The late news on this matter seems to be that the Committee might be persuaded to undertake a site visit, and if that happens, it's likely the consideration of this application will be deferred to another meeting, so we may not have a decision to report for our readers on Wednesday.

The walking disaster that is the Anti-Planning Minister Nick Boles MP recently told the Telegraph that "Homeowners should stop objecting to development and instead have constructive rows with officials to ensure better housing is built in the countryside"

This man has been a walking disaster for planning in the UK.

But there may be hope.

The Telegraph interview reported him as admitting the Government could not defeat what he called "Nimbys" and he appealed for compromise in the face of what the Telegraph called "a growing Tory backlash in the countryside over controversial planning reforms".

counterbalance has been predicting that backlash for some time. It is hugely damaging to those parties that are wedded to using the entirely wrong-headed idea that housing development can kickstart the UK's economy by getting even more debt into the system.

Mr Boles admitted to the Telegraph that he has “no idea” whether the storm caused by his reforms could lead to him being replaced as planning minister.

In conceding that the Government will never defeat “nimbyism” he said he wants to work with protesters to “channel” their anger. It seems he wants to 'manage' it, adding “What we want to do is persuade people who might currently put all their energy into objecting into taking part in neighbourhood planning processes, commenting on local plans, getting involved in a design review process, actually articulating what they want from new development - accepting that we all need the new development because we all have kids or nieces or nephews or people we know who desperately need places to live.”

This is absolute rubbish. Especially in Fylde. His plan, like the Regional Strategy before it, is about finding homes for inward migrants and families fragmenting (chiefly via divorce and separation). The demographics of Fylde show that the need for households for the indigenous population is actually declining (apart from the needs of divorce etc).

Asked whether he will still be planning minister in 2015 despite the controversy caused by his reforms Mr Boles told the Telegraph: “I have no idea... I do feel sometimes that I’m the point on the end of the battering ram and maybe once my point is blunted I’ll be cast off and replaced by a new sharper implement. But for the moment I’m very happy and the Prime Minister gets to decide these things, not me.”

Seems he's more of a realist than we first thought.

We live in hope of his going quickly, but also in the smouldering, resentful anger that he was put there to do what he has done in the first place.

As with the present furore over the Government's disregard for traditional conservative values (which has hastened the defection of thousands of their supporters to UKIP), Ministerial appointments like Mr Boles - who has publicly said neither he nor George Osborne nor David Cameron nor Nick Clegg believes in 'planning' - have simply poured petrol on a smouldering fire running the length and breadth of our country.

More recently, on 13th May, Mr Boles was speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Civic Societies when they met at Portcullis House - just across the road from the Houses of Parliament. Laura Sandys MP opened the meeting which was well represented by MPs, partner organisations and civic society representatives. She began by stating how personally supportive she was of Civic Voice (the new name for the associsation of Civic Societies) and gave a brief background to her personal association with the civic movement.

Nick Boles MP spoke to explain that neighbourhood planning is a genuine attempt to support economic growth and encourage development but in a way that has community support. The Minister said that in 20 years time he genuinely believes that people will look back at the introduction of neighbourhood planning as a real change in the way people engage in their community. He finished his address saying that he was trying to convince his parents to undertake a neighbourhood plan for their own village in Devon.

Griff Rhys Jones (representing Civic Voice) responded by saying his parents should create a civic society. (Nice one Griff!).

Questions to Mr Boles from civic society members included one about converting offices to housing. The Minister said that commercial property was needed but all evidence points to more housing and it is the responsibility of Government to maximise existing buildings to provide housing.

Griff Rhys Jones picked this point up and said that although he agreed with some of the Minister’s point, it seems the that the Government were essentially saying, “we want you to get involved, decide what you want locally, but oh, we are going to ignore you anyway and do what we want”. Adding that even if the truth is different, this is very much the perception that people have.

Nick Bowles said that when talking about Localism in the early days, perhaps the Government had been at fault in letting people believe they could do what they want, when in reality Localism had been about *how* things will be delivered, not *what* would be delivered.

This is pure tosh of course.

It's nothing more than the difference between a promise made before an election and its delivery afterwards.

This attempt to bend the truth put us in mind of an anecdote a reader sent us the other week, about a young girl who had kittens to dispose of.

It went like this

"A pretty little girl named Suzy was standing on the pavement in front of her home.

Next to her was a basket containing a number of tiny creatures; in her hand was a sign announcing FREE KITTENS.

Suddenly a man on an environmentally friendly bicycle followed by a line of big Lexus cars pulled up beside her.

The grinning man got off the bicycle.

"Hi there little girl, I'm the leader of the Conservative Party. Just call me “Dave”, What do you have in the basket?" he asked.

"Kittens," little Suzy said.

"How old are they?" asked Dave

Suzy replied, "They're so young, their eyes aren't even open "

“What kind of kittens are they?"

"Conservative supporters," answered Suzy with a smile.

Dave was ecstatic.

As soon as he returned to one of his cars, he called his PR chief and told him about the little girl and the kittens.

Recognizing the perfect photo op, the two of them agreed that he should return the next day;

and in front of the assembled media, have the girl talk about her discerning kittens.

So the next day, Suzy was again on the pavement with her basket of "FREE KITTENS,"

when Dave's motorcade pulled up, this time followed by vans from BBC, ITV, ABC, CNN and Sky News,

Cameras and audio equipment were quickly set up, then Dave hopped off of his bike and walked over to little Suzy.

"Hello, again," he said, "I'd love it if you would tell all my friends out there what kind of kittens you're giving away."

"Yes sir," Suzy said. "They're UKIP supporters."

Taken by surprise, Dave stammered, "But...but...yesterday, you told me they were Conservative supporters."

Little Suzy smiled and said, "I know.

But today, they have their eyes open."

That story serves as an allegory as to how the eyes of the many have now been opened to the huge damage that rampant development - encouraged by Mr Boles and the Treasury - is doing to our established towns and villages.

The best we can do at present is take some comfort from the fact that the Anti-Planning Minister - who is so keen to re-write the history of Localism - at least knows that the hand of history on his shoulder will show the purpose of his appointment was only to be a hatchet-man to demolish the promises that Localism enshrined.

Some legacy that is.

Dated:  21 May 2013

UPDATE 24 May 2013
The Staining application went more or less as expected. The officer introduced the item in what seemed to be a hesitating manner, suggesting it was not all going to go according to plan.

Cllr pounder asked if he had a better photo of the entrance because the one he had put up didn't show the narrowness of it.  Sadly no photo was available.

Cllr Pounder then moved deferment of the item for, he said "many reasons" including flooding, size of the entrance, need for the houses, especially affordable ones which he said they already had difficulty letting. He spoke of a 60 foot deep tank to collect water for dispersal to the sewer, and he thought the Committee ought to see the site.

Cllr Goodrich said he was concerned about the wet conditions following phase 1 and he was intrigued that Blackpool had refused a similar application (that was either 150m or 2km depending on where you measured it from), and he thought there were similarities and Blackpool had decided to refuse it.

Cllr Nulty said they needed to consider the 5 year supply as well, and Cllr Chew was adamant that both United Utilities and the Environment Agency to explain why they had so little to say about what everyone knew was a wet area. Cllr Hayhurst spoke to support the deferment saying that he had the public realm manager out recently. He thought the entrance was horrendous and the Committee needed to see it.

There was a unanimous vote to defer, probably to next month.


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