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Warton Anger

Warton AngerWhen Fylde released its 'Strategic Locations' map showing where they planned to develop housing between now and 2030 the good residents of Warton got a real shock.

Fylde plan to increase the size of the village by about 75%.

Councillors too were shocked. We don't recall its being discussed in such terms in the Local Plan Steering Group meetings, and it had not been proposed at this scale in the five options that Fylde consulted on last year.

Suddenly, out of the blue, (in more ways than one) this proposal appeared.

It's proposers seem to be either Fylde's planning officers or its Cabinet Member and Planning Portfolio Holder - Cllr Trevor Fiddler.

It is not supported by at least 41% of the Fylde Councillors, we know that from the 'Minority Report' they recently published.

But it is now on the table as the current proposal, and Fylde is consulting residents about it.

Fylde's officers must have picked up a clue about what people might say when they held the public meeting roadshow in Warton to explain what was being proposed.

When they did that in St Annes, they reportedly had about 30 people turn up throughout the day.

In Warton, 600 people turned up. They were queuing to get in when it opened and they were queuing to get in when it closed.

Subsequently the Concerned Resident's of Warton's Development group (CROWD) held a public meeting in Warton to identify volunteers to help oppose the plans, and they were overwhelmed with support.

As a result CROWD (which already had a backbone of members who have demonstrated first class analytical skills and a good knowledge of planning) have been re-invigorated with an injection of enthusiastic new blood  have helped the birth pangs of a new group - Warton Residents Against Poor Planning (WRAPP) - who all have something to lose, and a willingness to get involved.

WRAPP's influence was evident from the public meeting last Tuesday at the BAe Lightning Club's sports hall, because greeting you at the entrance was this sign:

Notice on the entrance door

We went to the meeting to produce a report and our analysis for our readers.

It was actually a Parish Meeting (which is not the same as a Parish Council meeting), and had been called and arranged by the Bryning with Warton Parish Council to allow all parish residents to have their say about the proposals.

We're great supporters of parish councils and this meeting is a good example of how they can be an effective organisation for their residents. No other organisation could have the democratic legitimacy to call a meeting of all parishioners.

And so to the Lightning Club at Warton we went on 6th August for the appointed hour of 7pm.

Readers who'd like to see a photo of the meeting can visit the LSA Express website to see their report. This time we were sadly not able to get a photo ourselves.

Chairing the meeting was Warton Cllr Julie Brickles - who must have been nervous at the prospect of managing a meeting on this scale - almost anyone would have been apprehensive. She was supported by other members of the parish council together with a small corporation of top Borough Council Officers (Allan Oldfield the Chief Executive, Paul Walker the Director of Development Services, and Mark Evans the Head of Planning and Regeneration) and Cabinet member and Portfolio Holder for Planning Trevor Fiddler.

By ten to seven all the 80 or so chairs available in the Sports Hall were taken, and about 30 people were standing, with a queue outside waiting to get in.

For reasons that were not entirely clear, everyone that came in was given a raffle ticket as they entered, and tearing these up slowed the process of entry a bit. It was probably to check how many people turned up, but we wondered if it was a clever scheme to swap the ticket for the roving microphone so you only got to speak once. We learned later it was just to check how many had entered.

By five to seven they were still queuing to get in and we were starting to lose count. We estimated 300 or so by the scheduled start time of 7pm and they were still coming in. The Chief Executive arrived at five past seven - that was probably not his fault, the queue to get in was unexpectedly long, and it will no doubt have made an impression on him. He is very strong in the customer focus area, and it wouldn't have escaped his attention.

At just after five past seven with - we estimated - around 400 people in the hall, the meeting started with the usual housekeeping and introductions from those at the top table. Then Cllr Michael Gilbert explained they were here to discuss the proposals set out by Fylde Council for Warton's development. Cllr Brickles who chaired the meeting then explained it was not a meeting for the Parish Councillors, but it was a meeting for the public to have their say. She had two roving microphones and if people would put up their hands, she would get the microphone to them.

First off was a chap (most did not give their names) who asked "Does anyone here think this is a good idea?" There was a loud and resounding "No!"

Then he asked for a show of hands of who thought it was a good idea and who did not. All except one lady who thought it WAS a good idea,  'voted' to say it was not.

The next chap wanted to know what type of houses the were, and where all the people to fill them would come from. He said with clear anger "Who in their wildest dreams would have thought of this stupid idea - we've been through this once before with the bypass. It's greedy men trying to make money out of it and we won't stand for it"

This was met with much sustained applause and cries of support.

If Cllr Mrs Brickles harboured any hope about this being an easy meeting to manage, it was dispelled at this point.

The next speaker was the lady who voted for the development. She said she wanted Warton to improve and develop. She criticised the Parish Council for voting against a retail park in the past and said she wanted better facilities like a supermarket and schools and medical facilities that would only come from expansion of the village.

Fylde's planning officer Mark Evans responded by saying they had selected broad strategic areas for development. Roughly 60% of the areas shown would be housing, the rest would be open space, roads and so on. And he confirmed that 'community infrastructure' (planning speak for more facilities) would also be part of the proposals.

He said they were currently consulting the public on the proposals and also seeking the views of statutory bodies, and they would listen and consider the responses. (What he didn't make clear here is that at least one of the statutory bodies will favour Warton because it's near to the sewage treatment facilities and can be added in with minimal additional infrastructure such as piping and pumps. Neither did he repeat the comment from Cllr Duffy in a meeting about a planning application in Staining where the community and the statutory undertakers had completely different views about flooding. Cllr Duffy had been told that where the community and the statutory undertakers had conflicting views, he should give more weight to the views of the statutory bodies)

Mr Evans did say that after consultation, the Borough Council may disagree with residents and continue with the scheme at Warton, or it might modify the plans, or it might abandon the plans altogether. He said they had looked to expand the main settlement of Lytham St Annes, then land at the edge of Blackpool and then had to look at existing larger settlements such as Warton, adding that the expansion around villages would be done in a separated exercise as a second part of the scheme.

We understand that, at present, around 30% of the houses Fylde says it needs are 'reserved' for expanding the smaller villages. That's a row to come in the future of course.

Then it was back to the audience. One chap wanted to know about the effects on wildlife and protected species such as bats that were in some of the areas. Mr Evans said that they would have to comply with EU regulations on protected species.

Another man asked why the plans were so advanced before anyone had heard about them.

Then a chap in a striped blue shirt near the press table asked very simply "Where are these people coming from, and why do they need to come here?" adding that there was not enough businesses to take the sort of numbers that were being spoken of as employees.

Mr Evans said they got the numbers from the Office of National Statistics who produced the projected population growth for Fylde.

This comment produced a lot of shouting and aggravation. Mr Evans tried to continue to explain about the designation of the Enterprise Zone at BAe, but was shouted down by the public anger.

Cllr Fiddler asked people to be courteous, he said "We don't gain anything by having questions put in a rude way. The countryside is protected, I have defended Warton previously regarding the bypass scheme"

He said the building was being directed by Government for 7,000 houses, and Fylde was in a "straight jacket". He said most 'lay people' (as he terms people who are not planning experts - as though planners have some divine insight or some religious discernment to know best) didn't agree with the Government, and to some extent he didn't agree himself, but Fylde's officers were doing the Government's bidding.

He went on to say that in order to get the infrastructure (such as improved medical, educational, and shopping facilities and so on), you had to have the development to pay for it, because the Government and Local Government couldn't or wouldn't pay for it any more. He added that the strength of the top table who had come to the meeting showed how importantly the views of Warton residents were being taken.

He then went on and on about the bypass, which is not even in the proposals. In fact we got the impression that he spoke of little else for the whole meeting. We'll return to this later in the article.

A lady then asked why the houses were all shown on Greenfield sites when there were Brownfield (previously developed land) elsewhere.

Cllr Fiddler said they couldn't demonstrate that there was sufficient space on Brownfield sites so it was clear they would have to use Greenfield land.

Later in the meeting a chap in a sharp suit (which often seems to indicate a developer these days) said "Is a 25 acre Brownfield site too small to make a difference?"

There was hesitation on the top table.

He went on "Are you aware of any sites of that size?"

Cllr Fiddler stumbled a question "You've got one in mind?"

The man responded "You should know it. It's the site at Great Birchwood which is 25 acres of Brownfield land"

Mark Evans responded with "That site is in Green Belt land and we won't look at strategic allocations in the Green Belt" - And with that he condemned the Greenfield (as opposed to Green Belt) land around Warton to development, because an already developed site in an area designated as Green Belt could not have it's developed status changed to housing.

The meeting moved on.

The Vice Chairman of the Parish Council spoke to say they intended to do a 'Neighbourhood Plan' which meant that if any development came to Warton they would benefit from cash. Mark Evans noted that the proposed plan was phased over several years, partly to ensure that junctions and the link road are in place (The link road is the Preston Westerly by-pass which will run from Lostock Hall in South Ribble to a new 'Junction 2' on the M55 at Catforth. A bridge would need to be built across the River Ribble and greenbelt land would need to be carved up to make way for the link.).

A chap called Trevor Clarke said he wanted to address a question to Cllr Fiddler. He had heard Cllr Fiddler on the radio that morning speaking about a lady who had complained about houses that might be built opposite to where she lived, and he thought Cllr Fiddler had said they were going to be built in Warton because Wrea Green didn't want them, Kirkham didn't want them and Staining didn't want them. Was that correct?

Cllr Fiddler said "I appreciate the point you make. If we have to put 7,000 houses in Fylde they have to go somewhere and if we don't identify areas where they can go it will be taken out of our hands"

We didn't think that was a terribly good answer to the question really, but then Cllr Fiddler went on again about the Warton bypass. He seemed to be trying to get people to say they wanted the bypass (when plainly they didn't)

A lady spoke to say that Lytham St Annes was having 1,600 houses and Warton 1,200. She said we have no facilities here and Warton is a spot on the map compared with Lytham St Annes "We will be one massive housing estate" she added.

A man from the audience asked whether people's opinions should be sought by a Parish Poll (that's a sort of referendum for people in Warton.)

Cllr Gilbert explained he had already looked into it and it was possible, but it would cost about 1 per taxpayer on the Parish Council's tax if one was held.

A lady had a question for Mr Evans. She wanted to know how he could stop developers land banking planning permissions then not building. Mr Evans replied to say he didn't find that a problem in Fylde "It's just that they're slow, not refusing to develop"

Again, we didn't think that answer was good enough. Fylde has repeatedly said that developers who don't develop, or who don't sign all the agreements, cause the number of houses they have been given permission for not to be counted as part of the planning permissions Fylde has granted, so Fylde has to keep on granting permission to meet the five year supply of land the Government says they have to demonstrate is available.

Another chap wanted to know why 'Option 5' at Whyndyke Farm had been disregarded. Mr Evans replied that it had not been disregarded. The system of allocations had looked at strategic development in 1) Lytham St Annes, 2) Whyndyke and 3 Warton.

A lady said that Whyndyke could take 1,500 houses, but only 300 were proposed there, and she wanted to know why?

Someone else at the back shouted that Fylde's officers should read the Minority Report (published recently by councillors who dissent from the current draft of the local plan).

Mr Evans said Whyndyke had been designated as a 'mixed development' site and would have only 560 dwellings because United Utilities say it will take time to put the drainage in. He added that the whole of the Whyndyke site was in the proposals, but it was in them as a mixed development.

Now, we think there's some 'off the main agenda' stuff going on here.

Mr Evans appeared to suggest it was a foregone conclusion that Whyndyke would be a mixed development when, in fact, it's no more fixed as a mixed development  than Warton is to have 1,200 houses.

It's a proposal; nothing more.

Furthermore, the details set out in the Minority Report by Fylde Councillors opposed to the proposals in the current draft version of the local plan show quite clearly that the agent acting for the potential developer of Whyndyke disagrees with Fylde's planning officers about what is possible in terms of housing and drainage.

And again, as one of our readers has pointed out, one of the Fylde officers at the Wesham Local Plan Consultation told him that Whyndyke farm would only deliver 500 or so houses due to the massive cost that would be needed to provide sewerage. But when the officer was challenged about the cost of a proposed 'Junction 2' being provided on the M55, and that would be likely to cost more than a new sewer system, he was told that was a different matter.

Perhaps it is, but it's all infrastructure and it's all money spent in the public good. So we don't think Mr Evans' and / or Cllr Fiddler's proposals for the Whyndyke farm site being limited to only 560 houses stack up as being credible at all. There must be something else driving their reluctance to put the majority of Fylde's housing there. But as yet, we can't see the bottom of that particular tin of worms.

Then the man in the stripy blue shirt took the roving microphone again and said "My question about where are these people coming from and where are the jobs for them has not been answered. And as for going on about a by-pass, there's no money for a by-pass - you can't even maintain the roads we've got now" (much applause and shouting). he continued "I will fight this every way I can and I will put your damned costs up a lot". With great vehemence he added "I will fight this ALL THE WAY" which drew much applause from the public.

Cllr Fiddler said that additional development would bring forward the need for a by-pass, but he was getting the message that Warton residents would be more relaxed about a smaller number of houses and infrastructure.

We suspect most people would have missed it, but this was the point at which Fylde has first indicated its willingness to climb down from the number of houses that will be built at Warton. We'll look again at this a bit later in this article.

A chap called Jim Bennet spoke. He said he had reported to FBC there were bats and Barn Owls in a hangar, but Fylde had said there were none and the hangar came down for development. He said this consultation was pointless, he had no confidence in FBC Planning, and he warned those present not to be fooled by their promises. He warned everyone to watch their backs because he had lost out.

A lady wanted to know why there was a need for residential property when 15% of properties for sale in Warton had not moved within the last 12 months?. Mr Evans said that was just a snapshot of conditions now and they were planning for the future, not for the present.

A chap said he had been told last week that there would be no planning officials at this meeting, and he claimed it was only the public pressure that had brought them there.

We heard something similar from a couple of other sources so we suspect he was probably right.

A chap who seemed to know quite a bit about BAe said they were decreasing, and now had less people there than at any time in the last 25 years. He said "If BAe want to expand they will probably do it at Samlesbury where they find it less difficult to work with the local council" (Applause). "Also", he added "once land is allocated for housing in the plan, developers will see you in court if you refuse them"

Mr Evans said they would use other parts of the new plan to argue against them but admitted that if land was allocated for housing they could not refuse it.

Another chap wanted to know why the Council had not looked at putting houses on the existing rail line at either Moss side or Salwick. Mr Evans said the new motorway link road would include a park and ride at Cottam (just north west of Preston) and people could get to the railway using that. We thought he rather missed the point that was being made. It was about the most sustainable and appropriate location for development, not how people could get to a railway station.

Cllr Fiddler chimed in and spoke again about the Warton By-pass. He trotted out the now familiar story he tells about Fylde's previous moratorium - blaming a previous government for wanting to focus development on Brownfield land in industrial East Lancashire, Manchester and Liverpool, saying this meant that children of Fylde people had to go and live in East Lancashire. We thought this was bordering on being a party political statement that was out of place in the meeting.

We also believe he is wrong. Cllr Fiddler has said more than once that Fylde has a declining population. More people die than are born, and the number of houses needed for the recent birth rate in Fylde is more than exceeded by the numbers of people who die in Fylde, so we need less houses not more. The real drivers for housing need in Fylde are additional houses for divorce and separated couples and inward migration, not the former government's policy of housing renewal.

Then we got to what we thought was the real reason he had been banging on about the Warton By-pass.

He said that because of the moratorium on house building in Fylde, Lancashire County Council had used that as evidence to delete the Warton By-pass from its plans. The argument being that it could only be funded by development (Government or LCC would not pay for it to be built) and development was not going to happen in the foreseeable future (at that time), so they removed it from their plans for future highways.

What we thought we saw here, was him trying to get it re-instated to LCC's plans by proposing all this development around Warton.

We regard this as a worrying sign. We recall both 'Defend Lytham' and 'Queensway Environmental Defenders' warning that they thought there was a secret agenda to link Junction 4 at the end of the M55 first to Cypress Point, then, using the large roundabout from that will be just before Cypress Point to provide a fast road to run from that roundabout to by-pass Warton, and link with the existing Freckleton By-pass and onward to Preston. You might call it the South Fylde Relief Road or something similar. We think this would trigger swathes of development between it and the coastal area, spreading Lytham St Annes all along the south Fylde coast, bounded by the new road. And here was Cllr Fiddler making the case for a section of it  - to by-pass Warton.

A chap asked why, if it was so important, there was no reference to the Warton By-pass in the proposed local plan. Cllr Fiddler said that a by -pass could only be provided by developer contributions via what are known as Section 106 funding, and if the developments proposed around Warton were used for that, "It would leave almost nothing for other infrastructure"

We interpreted his language to mean he was asking (or even expecting) the people of Warton to put up with increasing the size of their community by 75% and having almost nothing to show for it except a by-pass that they didn't want anyway.

Cllr Fiddler is wont to speak of the Government's 'Alice in Wonderland' planning system, but if he thinks he's going to sell that scheme for a new by-pass to the people of Warton then he's living in Cloud Cuckoo land and enjoying the Mad Hatter's Tea Party

At this point, our friend in the blue stripy shirt left the meeting. We heard him say to himself before he left "This is a complete waste of time, they've made their mind up"

As a more seasoned watcher of these things, we were less sure about that, but we could easily see why he would have thought it.

Another chap - who'd been wanting to get in for some time - said his house and business fell into one of the areas zoned for development, and the first he had heard about it was when he was contacted by a developer who asked to meet him to discuss building on his land. He said "No-one had discussed this with me before designating my land." He said he was cynical that they needed the number of dwellings at all and he cautioned that they need to scrutinise the data very carefully. He concluded "Experts sit before us, but they're not prophets"

Just about summed it up really, we thought.

Then a lady repeated the question asked by the striped shirt man twice earlier "Who are going to live in these houses?"

Cllr Fiddler trotted out a variation of an answer we've not heard him use before. He said in effect, 'If you stop building houses, the price of existing houses will go up, and people from outside Fylde will be able to outbid local people for them'

We thought this was a curious argument coming from a solid Conservative free marketeer. But in any event, we're not at all convinced that the comparatively wealthy folk in Fylde have resources and incomes that are lower than those living in East Lancashire or wherever. We don't think that argument stacks up at all well.

Another chap said he's returned to Fylde 18 months ago after living abroad and he said "I chose to come and live here, but what's happening now is total destruction before our eyes. The timing of this is totally wrong. It appears totally unjust what we, the residents, have heard. What you have heard tonight is 'Go Home, we don't want your plans" (Much applause and voices in support)

Another chap said he had calculated that to justify the new houses, the Warton Enterprise Zone would need to offer 42,000 jobs

This brought hoots of derision and much laughter at the lunacy of the logic he had exposed.

And with that the Chairman started to call the meeting to a close, but was interrupted by the chap who had suggested a Parish Poll.

After a short discussion his wording for a poll was accepted as being "Are you opposed to the amount of land to be allocated for house building in the Borough Council's present proposals for the future development of Warton" and put to the meeting that wording was approved - it seemed to us to be unanimous.

The Chairman then called for a formal show of hands from the meeting on whether to call a Parish Poll, saying it needed 10 supporters. Again a forest of hands shot up to support the idea of residents having a sort of 'referendum' on the Borough Council's plan for Warton.

The outcome won't be legally binding on the Borough Council of course, but as the legislation suggests, it will be a foolish council that continues with something that is widely opposed by its residents.

And with that the meeting drew to a close.

So where do we go from here?

Well, our take is that undoubtedly, the Borough Council will pull back from this proposal at Warton. They would probably not get a Conservative councillor elected (or re-elected) ever again if they do not do so. What has been demonstrated here is bad judgement.  We think they will probably have a re-think and cut the number in half or something like that.

That begs the question that, having tasted the blood of planners, will Warton residents accept something like 600 new properties, and where will the other 600 or so go?

The most obvious answer to the second question is to review the 'mixed use' planned for Whyndyke - (as other Councillors have already called for in their 'Minority Report'), to increase the housing ingredients and to decrease the commercial / employment ingredients of that 'mix'.

Alternatively the 600 could be distributed amongst the currently unpublished proposals for villages, increasing their share of the overall figure to more than 30% or so. That will be politically popular (because the controlling Conservative group have very few councillors at risk in the rural area which mostly returns independent councillors), but it will risk and equal backlash from a host of smaller, but no less vocal rural residents.

Our own take is that the figures themselves are wrong. Cllr Fiddler and / or his planning officers are accepting too high a figure as the number of houses he needs to provide, and wrongly estimating the supposed 'backlog' that need to be counted as well. We have seen credible figures that suggest that instead of Cllr Fiddler's 306 houses a year for the plan period, the real number needed is about half of that - around 150 - 160 a year. That's all yet to come out of course, and we look forward to the debates that will take place on it.

One thing to come out of this debacle is credit for those councillors who produced the Minority Report and who wanted the proposals changed before they went out to public consultation. Another thing must call into question the competence and judgement of those making decisions about the local plan in Fylde.

That's the underlying, (and bigger) story that flows from recent events.

It's one that we expect to review shortly.

The meeting was at the Lightning Club and it produced thunder. The question is really about how soon the storm will follow

Dated:  12 August 2013


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