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Snippets April 2013

Snippets April 2013 FYLDE  ELECTS  A  LEADER 
Following the news we broke on 13th March that for almost the last two years, Fylde's Leader had not been elected to hold that position, the Council meeting of Monday 25 March finally received a proper report from the Chief Executive and a report from the Monitoring Officer regarding this matter.

As we had forecast, it was admitted that a procedural error had occurred in May 2011 when the Annual Meeting had failed to consider the election of a Leader as they were required to do by law.

The ruling group were notably subdued as they entered the hall for the meeting and it was significant that in front of Cllr Eaves' traditional seat was a card that said 'Cabinet Member' rather than the usual 'Leader'  (We doubt he was that either, but perhaps it had to say something)

There was added frisson to the evening because news was circulating amongst councillors that a camera crew from BBC North West News was on its way to Fylde, to film interviews after the Council Meeting.

Cllr Eaves was, of course, duly elected as Leader of Fylde Council at the Council meeting of 25th March 2013. This allowed him to select a Cabinet and so, from now forward, the decisions made by the Leader and Cabinet will be legitimate. The issue of decisions made during the interregnum hangs in the air for the moment.

We subsequently heard that since the matter of the Leader's validity was first raised (by a Fylde councillor) on 7th March, Cllr Eaves had been consistently told by officers that the claim he was not the Leader had no foundation at all, and of course he was the leader. We are reliably informed that, amazingly, he was only told the truth on the morning of the Council meeting of 25th March

The Monitoring Officer spoke competently at Council and she said all the right things, but we couldn't help wondering why there had been no earlier consideration and comment, and why it had taken so long for officers to admit the error that had failed to have a Leader elected - when it was obvious to anyone reading the legislation that Fylde had been in error since May 2011

Belatedly however, whilst the external facade is still one of seeking to preserve the reputational integrity of the Council, the matter is now receiving deep and serious attention behind the scenes. A barrister's opinion on the validity of decisions made during the interregnum has been sought and has probably already arrived at the Council. We believe this is likely to require some or all of the decisions made during the two year interregnum to be taken again because a legal challenge to any of them could well have grounds to succeed.

We also understand that Fylde has called in its Auditors to advise on the financial implications of the situation Fylde now finds itself in.  We suspect this will look at the risks of financial liability if a decision were to be challenged and probably also advise on the situation with the £30k a year Special Responsibility Allowances paid to the Leader and Cabinet when they were not legitimate, (and whether and how such sums should be repaid if that is the outcome)

There is more to come out on this matter yet.  We believe it is not, and never has been, just the simple matter of an administrative error that anyone could make. It is our opinion that at the bottom of this deep and nasty well will be something very akin to a 'Chris Hulme' moment, (although probably without the prison sentence). We will bring readers more on this matter as it is available.

We're now able to say who is standing for election for Lancashire County Council.

The Notice of Poll that fired the election starting gun was published on 22 March. From 25th March people could register their names as candidates if they have been proposed and seconded. Today (10th April) those who have been proposed had to decide if they wanted to continue with their candidacy or withdraw (For example, sometimes people register for more than one seat in order to withdraw from all but the one they consider the easiest seat to win. (ie the seat has the least competition for them).

This doesn't happen very much but we do see it from time to time.

So far as we can see, two candidates who had been nominated are not proceeding to the election They are shown as struck out in the list below.

On 17th April applications for postal votes will close - so if you want a postal vote you need to ask before then.

The election itself is on 2nd May.

We hope to bring you a more detailed 'Runners an Riders' for Fylde's part of the County shortly, but the plain list as at today is:

St Annes North
BUCKLEY Peter Ian (Con)
HENSHAW Howard (Lib Dem)
MCNAMARA Evelyn Iris (Green)
STEPHENSON Peter James (Lab)
TAYLOR Keith Knowles (UKIP)

St Annes South
HENSHAW Karen Maureen (Lib Dem)
ROBERTS Ian Stanley (Green)
SHERWOOD Robin John (Lab)

ASHTON Tim (Con)
GILLIGAN Carol (Lib Dem)
PATTERSON Irene (Green)
SHERWOOD Marjorie Janet (Lab)

Fylde South
BRICKLES Julie Ann (Ind)
PROCTOR William James (UKIP)
RIGBY Paul (Con)
TAYLOR Bill (Lab)

Fylde West
HAYHURST Paul Joseph (Ind)
MITCHELL Philip Anthony (Green)
PITMAN Sandra (Con)

Fylde East
DAVENPORT Dennis John (Lab)
MERRITT Karen Jean (Green)
OADES Elizabeth Annie (Ind)
VALENTINE Daniel Rossall (Con)

Interestingly there are Greens and UKIP candidates almost throughout.

UKIP clearly want to capitalise on disaffected supporters from the three main parties and we guess the Greens are after the votes of anti-fracking people that are growing in numbers, but probably not yet enough to dent the other parties.

You don't have to be a genius to work out that the Conservatives will probably lose control overall at the County. That's partly because of reduced party worker numbers who have left after being disenchanted with the way their party is moving (as evidenced by the big swing to UKIP in other elections), it's partly things like the incredibly stupid waste of money with Dim Tim's 20 mph signs - we heard him rant on about what he claimed was wasted money at Fylde's Budget Council meeting, and that was only for £120,000. At the County Council, he is managing to waste anything up to £9 MILLION of our Council Tax.

It's no wonder they are going to be unpopular.

LCC actually reduced their Council Tax precept this year. That's almost unheard of. So it's probably a gamble on their part that we'll have enough feelgood factor to re-elect the present administration again.

But at least equally important in this election will be the many people adversely affected by the change to benefit arrangements from this April.

Having an election a month after you have cut the payments that people have been used to getting probably isn't the best way of persuading them  to vote for you.

So we still expect to see the Conservatives losing control of the County - probably quite significantly. We think the independents and outsiders like UKIP will do well and pick up some seats. We're less sure about the Greens, but we think there will be a notable swing to Labour. (especially in some parts of east Lancashire).

So far, we've had two messages about the County elections from the Blue Mole, The first (in the February Snippets) advised us that 'paper candidates' for the LCC election were expected to Cllr Karen Buckley's husband for what Mole described as "a no-win seat in St Annes." We had a communication from him this week showing he is standing for St Annes North.

We also reported Mole's view that the shortfall in 'proper' candidates was attributable in part to the falling membership, which is down something like 25% in Fylde, and in part to what Mole calls 'an ill-informed selection process that excludes good candidates' ("because they are chosen by a committee from all over Lancashire, not from Fylde").

He now tells us of a chap expected to be standing for Conservatives in Fylde East, Mole says it shows how bad things are for the Fylde conservatives because he mostly lives and works in London, but he will use his mother's address to stand for LCC. Seems he's looking to start a political career and Mole tells us that because he is thought to fit the Conservative 'A-List' mould, he's been selected for a County candidacy.

A website comment attributed to him says "After 28 years of Labour control, the Conservatives took control of Lancashire in 2009. With the Conservatives back in government, this will be a challenging campaign."

We think he's right.

A small but significant example of how using the Cabinet System distances Fylde Council from common sense and practicality occurred in Elswick recently.

Workmen were spotted doing an impressive makeover on the bus shelters there - re-roofing, new wood in the window frames, replacement glass and painting. All in all, a very posh job. A reader approached the workmen and asked what they were doing. They said it was a makeover of all the bus shelters - it as costing thousands they said.

One of these bus shelters is more or less outside what was once Elswick Sanatorium, and later the infamous Bail Hostel. That's the only property near to the bus stop (which was obviously there from the days when it was a public building). But it's not a public building any more, it's the private house of Karl Crompton, the famous local Lottery winner who scooped £10.5 million about 18 years ago.

We can't think he has that much call for using the bus.

A local councillor told us the money spent doing up that particular bus stop had been wasted. The shelter should have been removed, because it's no longer needed, But with decisions being made without involving the ward councillors for the area in knowing what's going on, this sort of spending is always likely to happen.

Without much fuss, the 20mph Speed Limit Order in the Lytham North and South area of Fylde has been published as a Cabinet member Decision by Cllr Ashton on 08/03/2013

The details of the decision were: "County Councillor Tim Ashton, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport approved the introduction of a 20mph speed limit order in the Lytham North and South area of Fylde as set out in the report, attached at Appendix 'A' and shown on the attached plan (Appendix 'B')."

And it came into force on 14/03/2013 so we can stand by for the signs shortly (but Lytham's turn will probably be after the election - where Cllr Ashton is expected to seek re-election).

The signs are going up elsewhere in Lancashire at the moment, and the good news is that according to Cllr Ashton, it's not now going to cost £9 million of our taxes to implement, it will only be "around £7 million". So that's alright then.

We've long held the view this wrong-headed and wasteful project (the emphasis should be on proper road safety education for children - as it used to be) will cost the ruling group at County Hall a lot of votes from angry motorists come the election. Chickens coming home to roost really.

Lovely old fashioned word, isn't it? Lots of folk getting hot under the collar about this. And even more because it's EU regulation inspired.

Shops are under pressure from the internet (well, at lease those who can't or haven't adapted to an internet future) are under pressure, so that's understandable. But from what we can see, this is not so much about market stalls or popup shops.

Peddlers are people who carry their belongings in a holdall or suitcase and stand to offer goods on street corners. We can remember seeing such folk when, as a child, we were taken to the great metropolis of Liverpool, where in exchange for a old sixpence (old money) we were presented with toy monkeys that swung between two sticks when you pressed the button, or painted toy snakes with articulated joints that moved very realistically.

These experiences were not a million miles away from the sort of street entertainers that shopkeepers love to have about the place today. So we think the proposal stands more of a dose of looking at than its had locally so far.

We keep hearing that things to encourage 'footfall' (awful word) are very desirable - so we can see some benefits to making town centres more erm, entertaining. The issue should be more about regulation of numbers and styles.

That said, we agree that street trading with market stalls is a different kettle of fish and can be very damaging to the image of upmarket shops. But even there, a lot depends on the nature of the 'market'. For example. Lytham is quite keen on its Christmas Market, and the Farmers Market in St Annes is also mostly popular because it brings people into town.

We saw nothing in the Budget statement to dim our view about the impending cultural clash over Shale Gas exploration and probable exploitation. We've shown how public opinion is moving toward opposition, then in the budget, George Osborne MP said he wanted Britain to "tap into new sources of low cost energy like shale gas" He went on to say "Shale gas is part of the future. And we will make it happen"

His tone with the "and we will make it happen" bit struck us as standing out from the whole budget. It was a tone that would have fitted well in a vitriolic divorce case. It said, as though through clenched teeth - "I absolutely don't care what anyone says, we will have shale gas and we will have the money from it."

He went on to say "As the shale gas industry develops the government will ensure an effective planning system is in place and by the end of the year will produce guidance for the industry to ensure the planning system is properly aligned with the licensing regime and regulatory regimes principally: health and safety; and environmental protection. The government will keep under review whether the largest shale gas projects should have the option to apply to the major infrastructure regime."

That begins to have shades of the Canadian situation about it. What he means is that he will probably use something called the Planning Infrastructure Commission to bypass (actually override) the planning requirements that have to be followed by local councils. It's a 'do as I say not do as I do' situation.

Government created powers for themselves to do this a year or two ago - probably with airports and nuclear powers supplies in mind. These powers remove a lot of the usual requirements for balance and consultation. We saw something similar used to devastating effect around Leyland when the 'Central Lancashire New Town Development Corporation' rode roughshod over council planning regulations. In effect the law was created to give them carte-blanch specifically to do this

So it looks to us as though "nationally significant infrastructure projects" are going to include shale gas.

The potential for more serious conflict just ratcheted up a few notches.

And as if to vivify our prediction, we note our friend the sharp lady from the Friends of the Earth is arranging a walk/demonstration against fracking ahead of the County elections. The plan is to assemble at County Hall at 11.30am Saturday 20th April and walk to Preston Flag Market for a midday gathering. Those attending are urged to bring friends, family, banners, props, leaflets etc. Apparently there will be a cake for the best slogan. (Always one for a challenge, we were about to embark of a whole series of puns and double-meanings at that point, but have spared our readers the agony).

A little understood throw-away line about Whitehall budgets that many will have missed. We think this will have probably the furthest reaching effect of all the budget measures in the longer term, but most people have missed it.

Whitehall has two types of budget - we can't remember their specific names just now, but one sort is a budget as everyone understand it. A sum of money set aside to do something with. Build a new school or power station might be an example (actually these might not be such good examples given the tragedy of off-balance-sheet accounting that the PFI scheme has brought in, but bear with us on this). The idea here is that you have a fixed sum of money from which you spend and at the end, you're either within the budget or you've overspent it.

So far so good

But the other sort of budget isn't a budget at all, its simply a cost centre. You just spend as you need to.

This applies to things like wars (where you can't simply run out of shells, bullets and rockets), and also to things like unemployment benefits (because you cannot effectively control the number of people who employers dismiss), and things like epidemics and so on (where you can't afford not to deal with the consequences - think BSE and Foot and Mouth and Spanish Flu for people).

These don't have a set amount budget, they simply cost what is spent on them in any one year and at the end of that year a figure of spending is produced.

What was heralded in the budget was a change to the latter. Instead of simply being a cost centre, Osborne has suggested that in future it should be possible to set a cap on such spending. In effect turning it into a real budget.

The long term result of this change could be for example that say, employment benefits would be constrained within a finite amount and could either 'run out' at some point during a year, or have to be reduced as the year progressed in response to demand, in order to stay within a fixed budget.

Potentially the long term implications for this direction are huge.

The Government's 'Growth and Infrastructure Bill' is on its way through the House of Lords and last Tuesday, Lord True, who is also the leader of Richmond Council, successfully proposed an amendment to allow councils to opt out of the proposal that would otherwise give carte-blanche for domestic extensions of around 6 or 8 metres by extending the scope of what are called "Permitted Development Rights" (something you can do without asking for permission).

He said "The government has suggested a world where, in close suburban neighbourhoods, people can put up a six-metre or eight-metre back garden extension and people in the house to which they may be attached have no right to a say or to object. It is not hard to imagine the shock and dismay that some people will feel if they ever find our that it is happening to them. They will feel powerless and they will feel angry. This proposal is not about growth - it is ludicrous to argue that a few back-garden extensions would kick start the economy".

We think his statement is quite difficult to argue with, and a narrow majority of the House of Lords agreed with him. It voted 217 to 211, to amend the Bill which now goes back to the Commons - and they have already said they want to overturn the Lords amendment.

So we wait, and no doubt some who understand planning will now lobby their MP about whether to overturn the Lords' amendment.

Our friend the Blue Mole tell us there is a lot of activity with the Conservative group who are said to be rattled by the FCAG governance petition, and are hoping to dig in to oppose it. BM reports they are getting more aggressive and using strong arm tactics to try to derail the petition, saying a senior Cabinet member has been going into shops and bullying them to rethink having the petition. BM also mischievously suggested there is no truth in the rumour that they asked Cllr Aitkin to sign the petition in the hope this would encourage other people not to.

In another Lords statement, Baroness Hanham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government) recently announced the following.

"It is with pleasure that I announce the coalition Government’s decision to revoke the regional strategies for the West Midlands, north-west and south-west.

Subject to parliamentary ratification, this completes the abolition of every regional strategy in England, thereby fulfilling an important coalition agreement objective and ushering in a new era of true localism across England. This is a milestone moment for planning and localism in this country. From now on, every local community in England will have more control over local planning and development.

The top-down approach of regional strategies from the previous Administration imposed centrally set building targets on communities and coincided with the lowest peacetime levels of housebuilding since the 1920s.

The abolition of these unpopular and counter-productive regional strategies reinforces the importance of councils’ local plans produced with the involvement of local communities, as the keystone of the planning system. It is this approach that will help deliver the homes, jobs and infrastructure we need.

The Government are also revoking the remaining, outdated county-level structure plan policies in these areas. In recognition of the importance that the coalition Government place on the green belt, the order revoking the south-west regional strategy will not revoke the safeguards around the north-east Somerset green belt known as policy 6 of the Somerset and Exmoor National Park joint structure plan. This reflects the fact that this Government are determined to protect our cherished natural and cultural heritage.

These decisions follow region-specific assessments as outlined in my Written Ministerial Statement of 25 July 2012 (Official Report, col. WS66-68). Orders giving effect to these decisions will be laid in Parliament shortly.

The reasons for the decision to revoke these regional strategies are set out in the post-adoption statement for each region, which will be placed in the Library of the House and published on the department’s website when the orders are laid in Parliament."

But, just as the Baroness was announcing that the housing numbers in the NW Regional Strategy are about to be finally buried, a survey from planning consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP) showed how councils are under increasing pressure from the Governments' recently published National Planning Policy Framework to raise localised housing supply plans.

NLP's research revealed that 44% of local plans submitted to the Planning Inspectorate this year had been required to improve their housing targets in order to secure approval of the Plan by the Inspectorate.

They noted that whilst a move away from Regional Strategy targets resulted in 55% of local authorities submitting plans for reduced housing supply, many councils had been forced to raise their targets to at least the former Regional Strategy levels due to 'soundness assessments' based on the NPPF. (Plans have to be tested for 'soundness' by the Planning Inspectorate after they are produced and before they are implemented).

This can (and indeed, has) resulted in Councils being told to 'go away and do it again' when the Inspector appointed by Government doesn't think the plan is 'sound' enough.

Clear evidence of the underlying logic being imposed here came as a High Court judge ruled that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) takes precedence over the Localism Act and out-of-date or incomplete local development plans, after a case involving a 1,000-home development in Gloucestershire.

Tewkesbury Borough Council had sought to overturn a decision taken by St Eric Pickles, (which had approved 1,000 new homes on open farmland).

They argued in court that his decision undermined the democratic process because it was for the council to determine the provision of housing locally through establishing a local development plan though consultation with the local community.

But Mr Justice Males found that the existing local plan was out of date and therefore carried little weight. Furthermore, although there was an emerging joint core strategy between three local councils, he found that strategy was incapable of meeting the demand for housing over the next five years.

Matthew Spry, Director of Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners said: ‘Localism created a political expectation that housing targets could be cut, but this is not being reflected in sound plans. Over the past 12 months, the NPPF has been putting upward pressure on housing targets and only the historic but extant Regional Strategies and/or a lack of good quality evidence has stopped plans from having to increase their targets even further.’

Commenting on the same matter, a Government spokesperson said: ‘The Government has abolished top-down regional strategies, while safeguarding the Green Belt and other important environmental protections. It is up to elected local councils to draw up local plans to determine where development should and shouldn't go but the Localism Act gives councils the final say on what is in their local plan.’

Which, of course, is about as accurate as Michael Fish's hurricane predictions.

In another hard hitting and cogent response to the Government's new direction on planning, the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), in association with the National Trust, has recently published "Localism at Risk: Is the NPPF delivering planning for people?

It asks whether the National Planning Policy Framework is delivering planning solutions that reflect the needs and concerns of local communities.

Fylde's answer is a huge 'NO' to that.

To achieve these results, senior local government politicians and officials in 94 Councils were surveyed, and 60 per cent of those who responded disagreed (or strongly disagreed) that the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has had a positive impact on their ability to deliver a Local Plan that reflects local needs and priorities.

They also found that 53% of Councils would miss the March deadline to produce a local plan, and this would put Councils (and the communities they serve) at greater risk of speculative development. They estimated 25% of Councils were more than a year away from completion.

So we are not alone.

Many of the LGiU respondents expressed concern that the Planning Inspectorate (who Government use to review Local Plans), is, in fact, causing more centralisation of the planning system rather than localising it - because Government is perceived to be prioritising development over the views of local people.

The research found that housing land availability was the most common reason for a Council's new Local Plan being rejected on advice by the Planning Inspectorate, but that communities are most concerned about protecting their natural environment.

The LGiU report came hot on the heels of another report - this time published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, who argued the emerging evidence raises significant worries about whether the reformed planning system can secure development the Treasury says our country needs, and whether it can prevent damaging schemes being implemented in the wrong locations.

The report (Countryside Promises, Planning Realities) highlights that the views of local communities are being overruled time and again, with major new housing development being allowed to sprawl across precious countryside.

Launching the report, CPRE Chief Executive Shaun Spiers said: "CPRE has closely observed how the NPPF is being implemented on the ground and what we have seen is deeply disturbing. Despite the rhetoric of localism, it now seems that local communities are increasingly powerless to prevent damaging development even in the most sensitive locations."

These sentiments are being echoed by communities across the country and can be nothing but damaging to the Government whose natural and former staunch supporters are turning against them in droves.

Anger with changes to the Planning System boiled over at Fylde last week too, when a "Planning Peer Challenge" report (organised by the Local Government Association (LGA), in cooperation with the Planning Advisory Service), and dated August 2012 was presented to Fylde's Community Focus Scrutiny Committee.

It was a report that was highly critical of Fylde's planning process. It criticised officers, but mostly criticised members (in effect for being too democratic!) It contains quotes such as

  • "Before the recent improved coordination of the plan, this work was typified by a great deal of evidence being gathered without a clear overall direction for doing this."
  • "It is unclear as to how widely shared and owned the Planning vision for Fylde (as set out in the Local plan) is by both officers and members. The absence of this shared aspiration makes clear focus and prioritisation difficult for officers. The risk is that this will impact adversely on delivery."
  • "At the present time there is little mutual trust between the Planning Service and the Corporate Management Team and the perceptions of a blame culture within Fylde Council pervades."
  • "There is a lack of recognition among Fylde’s wider elected member community about the importance of and need for development."

With one exception there was universal condemnation of the report by councillors.

The Officer introduced it by saying it had been a service offered by the LGA and it had been undertaken free of charge to Fylde. The idea was that it would bring Fylde 'in line' [our quotes] with other councils. He noted that Appendix 2 gave the results of an "Action Planning Day" and the plan was that Scrutiny Committee would consider the report and make recommendations to Cabinet tonight (It will actually be to the first legitimate meeting of the Cabinet in almost two years but sadly, because of a previous engagement, we won't be able to attend).

In essence, officers were looking to, and had already started working on, the thirteen action points in the report, and they wanted the Scrutiny Committee to endorse what they were doing and planning. The report itself says "The intention now is that the council takes ownership of the recommendations from the review, finalises the action plans started and completes the necessary action plans for each of the remaining recommendations."

The 'in line' wording is key to this matter, and it raises three salient points.

Firstly if, as Government said ".... the Localism Act gives councils the final say on what is in their local plan" then there ought to be no attempt made by any Peer Review Group to standardise or unify the plans and processes of one council with another. So bringing Fylde 'into line' with others is entirely the wrong approach. The Peer Review report should have celebrated the diversity of both plan and process that it found. Clearly, a majority of those conducting the review have not yet caught up with the idea that it's alright to be different.

Secondly, the report (as with nearly all similar reports from 'outside' Fylde) fails to take account of the primary driver that makes Fylde different from almost anywhere else. Demographics. Fylde has a very high preponderance of older people and a very low proportion of younger people compared with both the Lancashire and the national average.

This population mix is what gives Fylde its culture and its distinct and different outlook. Fylde's particular culture chooses the political mix at elections and thus and direction we take, and it requires account to be had of its particularity. Fylde will never be comfortable being 'in line' with anywhere else, because Fylde is not 'the same' as anywhere else.

Thirdly, we worry about the timing of this report and we wonder if we can smell something of a rat. This report is dated last August. Officers have already started work on four of the action points identified, so you have to wonder how long this report has been languishing in departments, and why they chose to bring it to Scrutiny at this time?

There are some grounds to believe this could be more to do with bringing councillors 'in line' with the officer's belief of what should be done.

If so, the tail is trying to wag the dog, and that has to stop.

Nowhere was this problem more evident than in the arguments over the Metacre application at Wesham - where there was a damaging and fundamental dichotomy between officers and elected councillors. The applicant repeatedly stated that Fylde's officers had invited the re-submission of an application after the previous one had been refused by the Committee. The Committee consistently refused to entertain the application and, as we showed in 'Wesham Stitch Up?' and 'Wesham Overrun' officers and members were living on separate planets.

We said at the time "We believe DMC members did the right thing. The committee represented the views of their electorate and said "No."

That was the right thing to do and, if it costs us - well, Amen to that.

We have a greater problem with the role of officers in this matter but the establishment will probably close ranks around them to produce an ongoing, festering distrust that isn't healthy at all."

In such circumstances it was not at all surprising to us to see the Peer Review report appear at this time. Some might see it as one of the steps in which the establishment sought to close ranks around officers and at the same time expose members to the chill winds as they are brought 'in line'

What was clearly evident at the scrutiny meeting was the festering distrust we spoke of, and something is going to have to give here.

First to speak was Queen Elizabeth Oades who said she was not at all happy with the report which she said was "By officers, for officers" She said in her eyes the report had no credibility.

Cllr Fiddler reminded her that one of the people on the review team was a councillor which brought the sharp retort of "Yes, but the rest are officers"

The Chairman, Cllr Mulholland - not a man given to wasting his breath on inconsequential matters said "It's often said you get what you pay for, and I'm glad this was free. I wouldn't have wanted to have paid for it" He went on to say it gave the impression that the officers are right and members should listen to them. He said it praised the Chairman of Development management for his leadership, but he had abstained on an item at a recent committee, and Cllr Mulholland thought that was an extremely bad example of leadership.

Cllr Oades chimed in with "I believe we are right and the Government is wrong on this issue, People will be resigning wholesale from planning if this report goes ahead"

Cllr John Singleton said he had picked out what he referred to as "some weasel words" of the report which say they should streamline meetings and reduce the opportunity for debate. But he argued "We are still democratic and people's opinions are needed"

Cllr Fabian Craig Wilson said she had read every page of the report and said in her view it did seem to be "officer-centric" adding "If you cut people out of the process you are cutting out democracy and people will not trust you."

Cllr Kath Harper was concerned about the section referring to the relationship between planning and the corporate management process, saying there seemed very little trust in the Management Team.

Cllr Fiddler reminded everyone that the Planning Advisory Service (who had helped to bring the report about) was an agency of Government - implying that we ought to expect Government to set a path to be followed.

Cllr Tony Ford was the only one to speak in support of the report. He said he was disappointed and surprised. People had come from the outside and had no preconceptions. He likened it to a school report and said it was evidence based. He was disappointed that people had dismissed it out of hand.

The Chairman responded to remind everyone it was a snapshot of what had been seen on a visit of limited scope. He noted that they had not seen a whole DM committee and even the half day visit to a DMC meeting was seen only by part of the team. He concluded that he did not think it had been a thorough enough study to warrant much support.

There were two sets of recommendations, and this confused things somewhat. Officers had made their own recommendations which included supporting the 13 recommendations in the Peer Review report.

Cllr Singleton wanted whatever was recommended to be prefaced by a statement making it clear that before any decisions were made, each of the individual recommendations should go back to Scrutiny with more detail.

This was the nub of the problem. The wording of the recommendations themselves were so bland they attracted little objection. The problem (as evidenced by the Peer Report's  preamble) was what was clearly going to be in the detail.

With everyone except Cllr Ford speaking against the report it was clear it was going nowhere, and it appeared to us that a salvage job was launched by officers. They said it would be pointless for Scrutiny to give them the green light on recommendations that would take up lots of officer time to investigate and report further, only to find that work had been wasted because the end result was not acceptable in principle. They said they really needed a steer about which of the recommendations were acceptable now.

Then Cllr Fiddler weighed in and said there were four recommendations in particular that he would hope the Committee would agree as they would make it easier for him to deal with the matter at Cabinet. The Chairman (having noted the clear view of the Committee that they would not be supporting the report) initially argued against accepting any recommendations, but he succumbed to Cllr Fiddler's continued argument and was seduced into considering the four.

Just when he might have thought he has achieved a balance, the Committee Clerk appeared to tell him that the Committee should really consider each of the other nine recommendations and come to a view on whether to support each or not.

An understandably irritated and recalcitrant manner overtook the Chairman - and was reflected by others on the Committee - as they ploughed through each of the 13 recommendations and approved each of them in turn with no enthusiasm whatsoever and did so with bad grace and evidently against their better judgement.

At the end it was not even clear whether Cllr Singleton's preface was to be included - the Clerk said she would include it in the preamble. That, of course, makes it not part of the recommendation to Cabinet.

Some might think that was game, set, and match to officers.

What we thought we saw was the late ambush of a decision that was going one way but was, in fact turned in another direction altogether.  It might also have been seen by some as the establishment closing ranks.

But that said, we have no doubt the underlying aims of the Peer Review report will not prevail.

It may transpire that the officers will be put onto researching and preparing the more detailed lower levels lying beneath each of the 13 recommendations.  It wouldn't be the first time Fylde has wasted money in this way.  But with the almost united opposition from a broad cross-section of councillors and parties, they have not a hope in hell of having them implemented if they are taken further.

A wise officer would quietly drop the whole report into the receptacle at the end of the desk.

Dated:  10 April 2013


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