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Unscrupulous?

Unscrupulous?We've been taken gently to task - by folk on both sides of the debate - for not making comment on the plans for the former 'Scruples' site on the promenade in Lytham, (between the two parking areas on Lytham Green).

It's an issue that seems to have polarised public opinion - especially in Lytham. From what we can see from emails arriving with us, it's something like 50/50 for each of the front running schemes.

Fylde Council has been running a consultation on the proposals / ideas. Their (extended) period for consultation ran to 30th September and received over 2,000 responses - comprising 1,700 consultation submissions together with an opinion survey containing 504 comments conducted by a member of the public.

Quite honestly, we thought there seemed to be enough opinions and options floating around, so we didn't need to add our 2d worth of comment - but, since we have been asked by several folk, we will....

A nameless 'spokesman' for FBC told the Gazette that Fylde's officers were: "astounded by Fylde's sense of civic pride" (whatever that might mean), adding "It really has been astounding - one of the largest responses to civic involvement in many, many years."

Whoever it was that gave the quote to the Gazette doesn't seem to have been around long enough to remember the petition of over 8,000 signatures handed in by the Supporters of Ashton Gardens against the sale of part of the gardens when the former Commissar wanted to raise some money, nor indeed the completely unprecedented and truly astounding 44,000 signature petition organised and delivered by Barbara (later Cllr) Pagett in the 1988 battle to successfully prevent a quarter of the gardens being sold to Safeway.

There were also a few thousand people who didn't agree to the former Commissar closing the swimming baths either. counterbalance recorded some photos of them, and reproduced a wonderful theme song of those events in our article High Performing Council, (which is still as relevant today as it was then)

But in Fylde Council's current incarnation, a response of 2,000 views is considered astounding.

We've seen lots written about the former 'Scruples' site in the last few weeks, and heard comment from many perspectives, but what we've not been able to do is to find the true genesis of this present issue.

To many, it appears to have been an unsolicited offer from 'Park View For You' who broke news of it publicly in the LSA Express of 29 August.

But we find it hard to believe that this offer came sailing out of the blue without FBC knowing at least something of it - and perhaps even having some sort of involvement with preparing the proposal from Park View, especially when FBC themselves sent out an email to selected people a week earlier, on 22 August - seeking views on what became the 'Park View' scheme and other possibilities.

So until we have something more definite about the scheme's genesis, we'll have to leave that question open.

What we do know is that back in 2010 several Lytham groups, including the LSA Civic Society, met with Fylde Council and Lancashire County Council look at what might be done with the Scruples site. We believe some broad design principles were agreed, from which plans were prepared by LCC's choice of landscape architect. The Civic Society decided to make £10,000 available towards the project. We understand this sum remains available from them.

But their scheme now appears to be in a sort of development 'beauty contest' with the scheme proposed by the 'Park View For You' group.

Another thing we know is that in January 2011, a draft report of the 'Blackpool and Fylde Coast Protection Strategy' was published. This sets out proposals for coastal defence along the whole of the Fylde coast and, as far as we can tell, is Fylde's most up to date published document on the matter. It is one of the documents used as part of the evidence base for the Fylde Local Plan that is currently causing such controversy.

The Coast Protection Strategy contains some proposals of its own that we regard as also being controversial, but as yet, no-one has picked up on them.

For example Appendix C of the document includes an area of coastline known as 'Sub Unit F1.4' This runs from Granny's Bay to Lytham Windmill, and for this stretch, the coast protection objective is (as would be expected) to 'hold the line'.

To do this, the proposal set out in the report is to:

"Replace existing revetment along Lytham Promenade with concrete sloped/stepped revetment with a wide promenade and set back wall;" (This involves breaking out of the existing structure and replacing with a concrete stepped revetment with a wide promenade with set back wall to contain wave overtopping) and,

Relocation of Lifeboat Station: The existing location of the lifeboat station is not in-line with the natural alignment of the coastline; therefore, there is an opportunity to relocate the lifeboat station."


So the plan to replace the seawall at Lytham sounds something like the one Blackpool have built (steps going down to the beach), and it appears to create what sounds like a secondary wall on the Lytham Green side of the promenade walkway (which might be wider than the present one). We figure a plan like that could have a pretty big impact on whatever was going to be put on the former Scruples site, irrespective of whether it was a landscaped area or a sandpit/water feature (which seem to be the two main contenders).

That is, of course, assuming this is still the current plan for the coastal defences. The Coast Protection Strategy is subject to something called a 'Strategic Appraisal Report' (best not to ask). It's a process which is going on at present.

There was a report to Fylde's Politburo Cabinet on 18 September 2013 headed 'Fylde Water Management Partnership' which said: "The Fylde Strategic Appraisal Report (StAR) sets out the key coastal defence projects identified in Fylde. This takes reference from the Shoreline Management Plan previously adopted. The strategy is going through final consideration at DEFRA and once approved will form the framework for specific coastal defence projects at Fairhaven Lake, Church Scar, Grannyís Bay, Pleasure Island, Lytham Green and Lytham Creek."

Fylde don't seem to want to publish much more information about it on their website, so it's best to go to the Wyre Council website. They have a page  where they have published some brief details of the Fylde programme. It says:

"The Strategic Appraisal Report (StAR) covering all the above schemes will be submitted to the Environment Agency (EA) in March 2013, and presented to them in May 2013. Should approval of the StAR be granted, then the project specific Project Appraisal Reports (PAR's) can be produced with a target submission date of October 2013.

The current areas of concern are the constant breaches in the sea walls protecting Fairhaven Lake and Church Scar, overtopping of the sea wall at Pleasure Island, and erosion of the sand dunes where the "hard" and "soft" defences meet.

Should the approval of the above reports be forthcoming, then construction of new toe protection, sea wall and promenade could commence at Fairhaven Lake in April 2015, with work on the other defences to follow on in future years."

So it sounds as though that confirms some sort of change is in the air for Lytham.

There's another thing we know, Fylde's new Corporate plan has an item that says one of their new priorities will be "New coastal defences that protect communities and provide an improved public realm/recreational resource"

Finally, there are environmental constraints of the site and its geography.

The publicity put out for the Park View scheme includes the following statement "Years ago the children of Lytham had a sandy beach with a paddling pool, and a pier and a swimming baths. On the beach they had slides and donkey rides. But now the baths have been turned into luxury flats. They have nothing left of the paddling pool and the only thing you'll see on the beach is dogs and pigeons"

The lack of a sandy beach is down to the changes in the tidal patterns of the estuary following things like the building of the 'training walls' which aimed to constrain the width (and thus increase the flow rate) of the outgoing Ribble to create a scouring action that would reduce the need for dredging when Preston was a port, and of course the eventual cessation of all dredging which brought about huge changes in waterflow patterns.

The changed post-dredging flow patterns bring silt from both the river itself, and from boulder clay soils in North Wales and deposits it on the beach in the (now) slower moving water. The silt settles out, then mixes with what was once sand, and, as a result, the finer particles of silt settle between the sand grains, creating a pioneer 'soil'.

This reduces the ability of the beach to dry out and, over decades of silt contamination, it reaches the point where pioneer plants can establish themselves on what was once as beach.

That process inevitably leads to the creation of a saltmarsh and the destruction of the sandy beach.

Fylde had huge university-based studies and several experiments done in the 1980s and 90s to try and prevent / reverse this happening, but eventually concluded that the only real solution was not practical (in effect it would have extended the development of Lytham town another mile out to (what is presently) sea. They concluded - not unlike Canute, that the natural process was beyond sensible control, and took the view that they would try and make the most of the encroaching saltmarsh for birdwatching and the like.

In effect, they were making the best of a bad hand.

A side-effect of the increasing saltmarsh is that each March, there are unusually high tides that come after the winter period when the saltmarsh has died down. These high tides pick up the dead grass (which has the consistency of straw) from all over Southport and Hesketh Bank and Longton, Warton and Lytham and float it off to be deposited along the cost at the high water mark and (when combined with particularly stormy conditions around the Ides of March and the full moon), it also lands it on the former Scruples site, on Granny's Bay grass area and sometimes, on Lytham esplanade. This is a feature that needs to be taken into account in any proposals.

Flowing from the decision to abandon attempts to control the spreading saltmarsh, the estuary was given all manner of designations protecting wildlife. We don't have the precise boundaries of these sites to hand, but the former Scruples site is either adjoining, or actually within:

  • a British Heritage Site
  • a Site of Special Scientific Interest
  • a Special Protection Area
  • an area designated under the RAMSAR Convention

Fylde's '2020 Vision' for Lytham and St Annes specifically sees Lytham becoming a hub for the 'Ribble Coast and Wetlands Regional Park' ("By 2020 the Ribble Coast and Wetlands will be an internationally recognised destination based on its environmental significance which will be conserved and enhancedĒ).

The importance of these environmental designations cannot be overstressed.

The SPA in particular has, at its root, legislation that requires planning applications within or affecting it only to be approved if they are either a). essential for human health and safety or b). of demonstrable benefit to the bird population.

In effect this is a planning veto on many of the things that most people would consider normal and sensible. It's most probably the reason we don't now have a hovercraft service to Southport, for example - that was not something that was essential for human health and safety and it was anything but of benefit to the birds.

End of.

So because both the 'front running' proposals for 'Scruples' constitute 'development' and will almost certainly require planning permission, they will probably be weighed against any threat they pose to wild birds.

Now, you and I might not think increased human activity on the beach would cause any harm to the birds, but if that was the case, we'd both probably be wrong. The RSPB gets quite upset when people take their dogs (or for that matter, their children) onto the beach and the dogs (or children) frighten the birds causing them to (literally) take flight.

It's all to do with wasted effort when the birds need to build their energy by feeding on grubs in the mud. Even if the human activity didn't actually 'damage' the birds, it most likely wouldn't meet the planning criteria of being essential for human health and safety, or be of demonstrable benefit to the birds - so if planning permission is required and the proposal affects the Special Protection Area, we imagine it won't be plain sailing.

En passant, most of the other 'lost features' noted in the Park View publicity information are to do with changing tastes, either because of the decline in those taking holidays in Lytham (since the first Comet took off to the guaranteed sunshine of Spain in 1958) and things that were once a public facility supportable by a combination of residents and holidaymakers that may no longer be justifiable/viable solely by the number of residents. They have also been affected by changing public tastes, and not least, the changing demographic of Lytham.

But we digress.

So what of the two main schemes?

Well for the moment, you can see them set out on their respective websites 'LSA Civic Society'  and 'Park View For You'

The Civic Society scheme is, in essence, a low key assembly or meeting point that would explain aspects of Lythamís heritage and its location. The Park View scheme is essentially a sand and water children's play feature whose maintenance would be funded by - and here we have to be careful so we'll use their own wording - "a beach style hut selling refreshments, ice cream, drinks and snacks, enabling us to create new job opportunities for local people."

Of course it's this commercial activity that has upset most of those who oppose the plan. They see it at best as the thin end of a wedge, and at worst a recreation of a Golden Mile stall - or worse.

It's not the first time some commercial activity has been proposed on this site. Apart from the former failed uses as a cafe, nightclub and roller-skating rink, it was most recently proposed to be a 'Juice Bar'

Way back on 28 November 2006 we published an article about this use in 'Have They No Scruples?'

The former Commissar had designs on exploiting this underused asset and making it a 'Juice Bar'.  His call was taken up and advanced, first by none other than the intrepid Cllr Tim Ashton, and later Cllr Paul Rigby (who was not from Lytham and could thus avoid the antipathy of Lytham folk when he supported the idea)

Much of what we said in that article is relevant now, so it might be worth having a look at.

The derelict 'Scruples' building was demolished and the site was cleared by the Lytham St Annes Civic Society who paid £14,000 to the Council of the day for the cost of the work (when the Council itself said couldn't afford to do it).

The Civic Society - as part of their donation and subsequent agreement - extracted from the Council an assurance there would be no further commercial development of Lytham's Esplanade.

When FBC were reminded of this, the Juice Bar idea became a dead duck, and everything went quiet again.

Until this year, that is, when the Park View scheme hit the papers.

We have to say that of the two, we prefer the Park View one the least. The area was used as a temporary summer sand pit for a short time once before, and we know there were continual problems with dog and other fouling, and broken glass (usually from drinks bottles cast from the promenade late at night around weekends). Each time glass was found, the sand had to be emptied and re-filled.

Furthermore, the proposed water feature would require expensive filtration and / or chemical treatment to reduce the risk of disease and infection being carried in the water.

Both of these are technical problems that can be overcome, but the cost of doing so is disproportionately high for a small area like this, and - if it must be self funding - we think that would lead to the need for an income generation source bigger than the one described as being envisaged in the Park View scheme.

We're also disinclined to favour more commercial developments on the Green. Like Topsy, they have a habit of growing, and we'd prefer the focus for business and commerce in Lytham to be the town centre.

But we're not overly in favour of the Civic Society scheme either. Whilst in our view it might be the better of these two, our own preference would be to return the area to being part of the natural beach.

We're aware that would destroy the heritage that exists by keeping the structure of the former mussel washing tank area intact, but in reality it's the same as Pontins - a business that was no longer viable and was removed. We agree the loss of the heritage connection would be a sad price to pay, but from what we can see, returning the area to nature is the most likely way this area will not be regarded as being suitable for exploitation and 'development' at some future date by an administration keen to sweat what it sees as its 'assets'.

With opinion polarised in Lytham, and sides being taken, whatever Fylde does (unless it does nothing) it now looks like it will upset around half of Lytham.

Now that their consultation is closed, FBC say "the responses will be collated, analysed and summarised in preparation for a report to one of the Councilís scrutiny committees. This process will take approximately six weeks given the need to consider alternative proposals that have been made, petitions that have been submitted and requests to consider policy and regulation in respect of the foreshore. A report is expected to go before a scrutiny committee in the New Year, details will be published in advance and the meeting is a public open meeting.

The scrutiny committee will make any recommendations to the Cabinet which is the executive body responsible for making any decisions regarding the use of Council assets. Once the scrutiny committee have made recommendations then a report will be presented to the first available meeting of the Cabinet. The report will again be published in advance along with the date of the meeting that will be open to the public."


So no doubt we will be looking at this again in the New Year.

Dated:   14 October 2013


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