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Rubber Stamping Committee

Rubber Stamping CommitteeAfter Fylde's Development Management Committee passed application after application because - they said - the Government required councils in Fylde's position to do so, the last Council meeting saw Cllr Charlie Duffy propose the motion That Fylde Council's Development Management Committee be renamed to the "Large Planning Application Rubber-stamping Committee".

We've no doubt that most people (including us at first) thought this was a bit silly and not worthy of a chap like Cllr Duffy.

We (and others) should have known better.

The meeting was a delight to watch.

Seconded by Cllr Julie Brickles, Cllr Duffy said over the last few years, councils across the UK had been encouraged to change their planning services away from 'Development Control' and toward 'Development Management'

Control was seen as negative and reactive and had a reputation for preventing development whereas Management was a more positive and pro-active approach.

Fylde thought the shift from Control to Management was a positive move, so they renamed their 'planning' committee the 'Development Management Committee' about two years ago.

But, he said, it hadn't worked, and Central Government Policy had removed their ability to determine large planning applications. To kick-start the economy he said that large applications must now be approved irrespective of what Fylde residents want or need.

He said "We no longer decide large planning applications, you know it, I know it, and of course, central Government knows it, because that's exactly what they want it to be. None of us in Fylde likes this situation except maybe some people who don't really know anything about planning and just blindly support party policy regardless of how loony it is, so what can we do? We've already tried talking to the planning Minister - that didn't work too well. We tried making decision according to our wishes and our needs - that doesn't work too well either."

He returned to his theme of what can we do, and said "We don't really have any choice, we must apply the law as it stands. But that doesn't mean we have to sit back and do nothing. I'm here to represent residents of Fylde. They don't want this present situation. We don't want it. So lets do what we we're elected to do and tell Central Government what we think of their policy. You might think the proposed name change is a bit frivolous, but I believe it would send a message loud and clear that Fylde Council aren't a bunch of puppets. We want to be able to manage development. We want to be proactive and positive, but we want to do this in a way that will preserve our borough for the future, not turn it into a building site."

Then he struck the (unexpected) killer blow when he said "If you agree with Central Government's planning policy, then vote against the motion. If you agree with the residents you were elected to represent I ask you to support the motion and let's send that message. And if you've a better way of sending the message, let's hear it."

And with that he sat down.

What this meant of course was that he had hit the Achilles heel of the ruling group. On behalf of Fylde residents, he was here, holding them accountable for what was being done in the name of their party.

And it got better

Leader Cllr David Eaves was quick to respond. He said changing the name of the committee was something of an insult to the members who sat on the committee and the work that they do.

He said changing the name to what had been suggested was "somewhat churlish" and it was "disrespectful to Fylde Borough Council and disrespectful to members who sit on that committee; and for that reason, my group will not be supporting this recommendation."

Cllr Trevor Fiddler - Portfolio Holder for Planning - tried to second Cllr Eaves (which of course he could not because it was not Cllr Eaves' motion). But he did call for a recorded vote on the matter.

If ever someone shot themselves in the foot, we thought that was a pretty good example of it. Here was the Conservative Group supporting Government policy *against* the residents of Fylde and they were calling for a vote to record that fact.

We thought it was a brilliant strategy thought out by Cllr Duffy, and then Cllr Fiddler went and lit the candles on the cake for him. This illustrated that the Conservatives had not - at this time - realised they were about to be 'had'.

Councillors from both 'sides' spoke for and against the motion with predictable points being made. Notably Cllr Trevor Fiddler said he was "disappointed" by Cllr Duffy's proposal, and Princess Karen Buckley said she couldn't believe this was a serious proposal, and changing the name of the Committee was simply ridiculous. She then went through a long list of applications that had been refused. Bless. It was a good response from her if the proposition really had been about changing the name of the Committee.

But of course it was not.

Eventually, Cllr Duffy was asked to sum up. He said "it doesn't really come as a surprise to me that words like 'churlish' and 'childish' and 'insulting, and 'disrespectful' were used tonight. I just ask you to bear in mind that... did ... did you really think that I thought this motion would be passed?

There was never any chance of this motion being supported. I have seen the Conservative Councillor constitution, and I was pretty safe in thinking that this motion wouldn't go anywhere. So there was never really any chance of it causing any embarrassment or disrespect to the members of the DM Committee"

To the smiles of his colleagues on the independent seats, (and as we watched his performance with increasing delight), he continued, and little light bulbs hovering over the heads of the Conservative councillors suddenly flicked to 'ON' as they realised how he had manoeuvred them to have a recorded vote in which they supported the Government's planning policy against the wishes of their electorate.

Princess Karen was the first to spot it and, give here her due, we thought she smiled at how clever Cllr Duffy had been. Cllr Armit was next to see the light.

 Sadly a few simply didn't get it at all, but most eventually did.

Cllr Duffy congratulated Cllr Redcliffe who, he said, had come closest to realising why his motion was proposed in the first place. He said "Cllr David Eaves said it was insulting and disrespectful to the members of the DM Committee, but it was never going to happen anyway. But what is insulting and disrespectful is that we're not being allowed to do what we were elected to do. It's Central Government's Policy that's disrespectful to people who give up their time to try and manage development in the Fylde."

He then echoed Cllr Fiddler's request for a recorded vote, saying "Really there were two reasons for me bringing this motion tonight, and believe me when I tell you that I knew that by putting this frivolous, childish motion forward I was setting myself up for ridicule.

I don't mind that.

I'm trying to make a point.

The point is that central Government need to be told where we stand on this. That's the first point, and I don't think we're doing enough to do that."

"As I said when I introduced the motion, I said if you've got a better way of making that point, then let's hear it. And nobody's come up with any better suggestion. I think the Portfolio Holder and the Leader of the Council should be doing something to try and make sure that Central Government realises how Fylde feels about their policies."

"The second reason for my Motion tonight was to make it clear to the electorate, what Fylde Councillors think of Central Government policy [at this point lots of lightbulbs pinged 'ON' over Conservative heads]. Every time we have a planning application where we have to allow it because we've no choice, we have to apply the law, there are many disgruntled residents, who point the finger at us and say 'why did you approve that?' So that is my second reason for the motion tonight. So we can have a debate about it and make it clear to Fylde residents - the people that elected us - the fact that we don't want to do this. We don't always want to approve some of what we're being told we have to."

"You'll see by how people vote tonight who's happy with Central Government policy, and who's not."

He had cast the Conservative members in the mould of having to defend the indefensible.

Having scored what amounts to the civic equivalent of a direct hit, he went on to rub salt into the open wound he had inflicted "I'm glad there was a debate, I'm actually glad that it... I did think that it might be all the independents and non-conservatives speaking tonight [he had foreseen the possibility of the Conservatives not responding at all to his motion, saying nothing and simply voting against it - which would have defeated his purpose of course, but they were not sharp enough to see that coming], so I am glad you've taken part in the debate,..... and I'm glad you've been allowed to." at which point - and with perfect comic timing, he paused to let the laughter from those around him subside, before adding "as I said, I have read your constitution" [which prohibits any Conservative from speaking or voting against anything that they have collectively agreed in a group meeting before the Council meeting].

"As I said when introducing the motion, if you agree with Central Government policy, vote against it. If you think it's a silly name, vote against it. But I will be voting for it as a way of telling Fylde Borough Residents that I certainly, do not agree with Central policy being imposed on us.

I will abide by it, and I will continue to be responsible in Development Management meetings. I will take a pragmatic approach, but I want Fylde residents to understand that we're doing that because we have no choice."

"As Cllr Collins said, the committee name should reflect the work carried out by the committee. I don't really want it to be called the 'Rubber Stamping Committee' either. But, I don't think it should be called the Development Management Committee. It's not what we do. It may in some way be what Fylde Borough Council does, but it's not what the Committee does. So I think the name is wrong. After this debate I would like to see the Portfolio Holder and the Leader of the Council coming up with some idea, some less frivolous and childish idea, to try and get Central Government to acknowledge the fact that we don't want the rules to be the way they have made them."

There was then a show of hands for a recorded vote - where the vote of each councillor is recorded as yes, no, or abstain, and to long and glum faces on the top table of Cabinet members a flurry of independent hands went up to produce the ten votes required for a recorded vote.

The voting record is below.

What we saw that evening was a bravura performance of the sort we have not seen at Fylde in many years.

Cllr Duffy had clearly thought through each of the possible routes that flowed from his proposition and accurately assessed the probable outcome of each. He entered the meeting with the Conservatives standing ready to heap ridicule on him, then, like a Grand Master chess player, he strode through the meeting with confidence and clarity, cutting a swathe through the opposition with his sword of truth flashing in Lowther's spotlights.

The Mayor moved on to next business after his motion was (expectedly) lost, but that's by far the end of what will flow from that meeting.
  

Cllr Fiddler and Eaves and Buckley and any of the other Cabinet members with active brain cells will be stinging from what happened to them, and whilst as yet we can't predict the outcome, it's likely there will be ructions behind the scenes.

To rename it to the "Large Planning Application Rubber Stamping Committee"  the voting was:

Cllr Brenda Ackers Against   Cllr Gail Goodman Against
Cllr Ben Aitken Against   Cllr Nigel Goodrich Against
Cllr Christine Akeroyd Against   Cllr Peter Hardy For
Cllr Frank Andrews Absent   Cllr Kathleen Harper For
Cllr Tim Armit Against   Cllr Paul Hayhurst For
Cllr Susan Ashton Against   Cllr Howard Henshaw For
Cllr Timothy Ashton Against   Cllr Karen Henshaw For
Cllr Keith Beckett Absent   Cllr Paul Hodgson For
Cllr Julie Brickles For   Cllr Ken Hopwood For
Cllr Karen Buckley Against   Cllr Angela Jacques Against
Cllr Maxine Chew For   Cllr Cheryl Little Against
Cllr Peter Collins For   Cllr Kiran Mulholland Absent
Cllr David Chedd For   Cllr Barbara Nash Against
Cllr Alan Clayton For   Cllr Edward Nash Against
Cllr  Simon Cox Absent   Cllr Linda Nulty Abstain
Cllr Fabian Craig-Wilson Against   Cllr Elizabeth Oades For
Cllr Susanne Cunningham Against   Cllr Albert Pounder Against
Cllr John Davies For   Cllr Dawn Prestwich Abstain
Cllr Leonard Davies Against   Cllr Richard Redcliffe Against
Cllr David Donaldson Against   Cllr  Louis Rigby For
Cllr Charles Duffy For   Cllr Elaine Silverwood For
Cllr Kevin Eastham Against   Cllr John Singleton Absent
Cllr David Eaves Against   Cllr Heather Speak Abstain
Cllr Susan Fazackerley Against   Cllr Thomas Threlfall Against
Cllr Fiddler, Trevor Against   Cllr Vivien Willder Against
Cllr Tony Ford Absent      

Group breakdown of the vote...

FOR the proposition

Con:  0 Ind: 12 RateP: 2 LibDem: 2 NonA: 1 Total: 17

AGAINST the proposition

Con: 25 Ind: 0 RateP: 0 LibDem: 0 NonA: 0 Total: 25

ABSTENTIONS  (7)

Con:  1 Ind: 2 RateP: 0 LibDem: 0 NonA: 0 Total:  3

ABSENT at the vote  (8)

Con:  3 Ind: 1 RateP: 0 LibDem: 1 NonA: 1 Total:  6

Dated:   20 August 2013


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