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One Week and Three Meetings

One Week and Three MeetingsThere have been at least three important public meetings this week and we have reports for our readers.

We have a detailed report on one at Wrea Green which we attended, and we have reader reports of the other two: one at Freckleton regarding fracking; and one at Newton regarding the proposed Gypsy site.

In reverse order, they are

After having seen Mark Menzies' strong letter to FBC, the last article we did on this matter (Newton Gypsy Site Application) recorded that we would be amazed if the application wasn't called-in by the Secretary of State - and that if it was called-in, he would probably refuse it.

We also said if it was called-in and refused by St Eric, then the Councillors on Fylde's Development Management Committee who voted to approve the application (That's Cllrs Ben Aitken, Kevin Eastham, Trevor Fiddler, Richard Redcliffe, Fabian Craig-Wilson, Barbara Nash, Tim Armit, Vivien Willder, and Christine Ackeroyd) might have to eat Humble Pie - because they would have been wrong to decide planning permission should have been granted.

We were subsequently contacted by one of those councillors - in good humour - who asked whether we would eat In the oven to warm uphumble pie ourselves if it *wasn't* called in and refused.

We told them we were happy to give an assurance that we would have a very big slice of pie, and in public, - as we had already done when we admitted to calling the McCarthy and Stone appeal wrongly regarding Victoria Hotel in St Annes.

Happily, the risk of our having to eat a large slice just got smaller, because St Eric has decided he *will* call-in the application and take the decision out of Fylde's hands.

The folks in Newton and Clifton are 'well-pleased' with this development, and are no doubt thinking (as are we) that there's little point in him taking the decision out of Fylde's hands if he's only going to approve the application - is there?

We hear there was a meeting of the Newton Residents Association on this matter on Thursday evening in the Newton Village Hall.

And we're told that over 200 people were in attendance.

They are now waiting for a decision on the call-in; but they're not resting on their laurels, because they are still paying significant amounts for professional help to support their plea and arguments for the call-in. A planner, solicitor and barrister have all been engaged.

Mark Menzies MP was given huge praise for his intervention and support in the matter, as was Cllr Liz Oades who arrived late from another commitment to a really warm reception from the meeting. Local ward Cllrs Peter Collins and Heather Speak also received an honourable mention for their performance at Development Management Committee.

Finally, we heard that a fund-raising bucket was passed round the meeting, and was quickly filled to the brim - with plenty of 20 notes in evidence.

So now, like the Newton residents, we await St Eric's decision on the application - and we've put the oven on to warm up the pie for whoever gets to eat it

Some time ago we heard from readers in Freckleton that a meeting regarding fracking was being planned.

From what we could gather, Cuadrilla was planning a drilling operation on or near Clifton Industrial Estate on Clifton Marsh, and a group of local people were forming to oppose the plan. They came together under the banner of 'Frack Free Freckleton'  and we heard they were pressing the Parish Council to hold a public meeting.

One of our readers who is connected to the group told us they were saddened when the Parish Council said it was going to hold a meeting, but would not have speakers from either side of the debate. They simply wanted to allow local people to have a say.

We're pretty much in favour of people having their say, but, as our correspondent pointed out, expressing views - without knowing what the details and the pros and cons were for the specific Freckleton site - was not going to achieve a great deal.

Next we heard was that the meeting was to be held this last Wednesday evening at the Village Hall.

Unfortunately we were not able to attend in person but we've had reports from several people.

The first correspondent described it as a sham meeting. They said it seemed nothing more than the Parish Council saying it was a fait accompli - and our informant was left squirming in their seat with embarrassment about how badly conducted the meeting was.

The chap introducing it was said to have mumbled the introduction, and the audience was shouting out "Speak up" and "We can't hear you" and "Haven't you got a microphone" at which point a man from an anti fracking group said he had one, and proceeded to move around the audience with it so people could speak, and adding his own comments on the end of what had been said by each speaker.

Another of our readers echoed the view that the meeting was a shambles

They said: There was no microphone until Gayzer produced one, and then proceeded to facilitate. Oh how we laughed. It was a great public turnout but a very poor performance by the Parish Council, adding that it was "a strangely riveting car-crash of an event, with Cllr Fiddler forgetting to fasten his seatbelt. He actually attempted to convince the public that they were only intending to drill a well, and had no intention of fracking."

Our correspondent continued "Then he tried to explain the fracking process".

They told us they thought Cllr Fiddler should have brought a spade with him as he dug himself deeper into the hole he had created for himself.

"He then went through his usual process of telling us we were intelligent individuals until we got together.

And then told us it was Government policy, so the Parish Council could do nothing about it, and we must accept it.

He told us that if we wanted to go home and put the gas fire on, we must accept fracking is a necessity."

We understand that comment went down like a lead brick.

Oh, and the Parish Council wouldn't let a technical expert address some of the public's concerns because Cuadrilla weren't there, so it wouldn't be a balanced view.

Apparently someone in the audience suggested that if the Parish Council didn't want to hear the answers *they* should leave.

We're told the applause in support of that suggestion was deafening.

A third correspondent told us "The Freckleton meeting was a total shambles.

It was a disgrace.

We arrived when the hall was almost full at 6:40.  By 7 it was packed.

People stood all round room, easily  150+ 

There was no PA system so anyone half way back - as we were - could not hear.  It was left to Gayzer to organise this which took another 10 minutes.

Trevor Fiddler was patronising, misinformed, and rude. He said meeting was called because fracking was planned for Clifton Marsh and the aim of the original meeting was to gather the concerns of the people of Freckleton regarding this.

People were expecting to find out how fracking would affect them, the Clifton Marsh and the River Ribble. They were encouraged to ask questions at first but the councillors, including Cllr Threlfall made it plain that they were only there to note questions, not answer any.

However, Cllr Fiddler then went on to say he had a letter from Cuadrilla to confirm that this site would now not be fracked only explored - so it was not really necessary to ask questions about fracking.

He seemed unable to deal with the anger he was creating and made silly comments that fracking processes involved only washing up liquid and the fracking fluid produced was no more than table salt!  

So no answers, only misinformation. No experts.

People demanded information, and Cllr Fiddler eventually conceded that the people of Freckleton wanted a further meeting to answer their questions and be fully informed.

There were people who wished to speak who were refused (both pro and anti) and who the pubic wished to hear.

It ended as it began, in chaos,

An anti fracker took to the microphone.

The plug was pulled mid sentence.

The hall was plunged into darkness for several seconds and most people left in anger and frustration."

Said "It was a master class in *How NOT to hold a meeting -* and absolutely hilarious.

  • Large full hall, and lots standing, but no sound system.
  • The Cllrs were seated at same floor level as audience so could neither be seen nor heard (at least till Gayzer went to rescue with his own sound system).
  • No structure to meeting announced.
  • No intro given to those on top table till about 45 mins in, and many of those didn't stand when they announced themselves.
  • No experts invited or allowed to speak, even though some were present in audience.
  • Chair did not have control, and audience made lots of loud comments throughout.

One cllr stated that Freckleton Parish Council can do nothing, it is in hands of LCC as waste and mining authority rights, and some other cllr said that the Government wants it so nothing they can do - lady behind me called out 'Stand up and be counted' !

At one point Cllr Trevor Fiddler said that it had been called to address the concerns of a delegation to a previous parish council meeting about fracking at Clifton Marsh...and as a letter from Cuadrilla stated they did not intend to frack...that was end of the meeting......if the delegation wanted to discuss fracking generally - they should have said so !!!

But that wasn't the end because Freckleton residents are not tame !!

(but given they could see the discussion that was wanted - I would have thought they could 'go with the flow' a lot more gracefully and constructively).

A lot of questions about fracking with either no answers or misleading answers were given and there was a lot of concern about flooding effects on Marsh and storage of radioactive materials there.

So a vocal audience that asked when they would get answers; and asked that the expert present allowed to speak ; and even asked that expert could speak after council left, all contributed to a pretty annoyed and frustrated audience, when council turned lights off with most of audience still there!

Talk about council keeping residents in dark ;-)

Hilarious, but really - it was a totally wasted opportunity to talk to people about what is happening - and what the genuine issues are."

Sounds like we missed an eventful meeting.

There are few - if any - places in the UK that typify the idyll of a mostly forgotten village life more than our picturesque village of Wrea Green.

Nestling in the Fylde countryside it is proud to have the simple character of a bygone age, with cricket on the village green, a pub and church attendant, and an air of quiet, restrained, dignity.

It's the same sort of restraint that you get in parts of Lytham, and is borne of the nature of the people who live there. Both have more than their share of retired professionals and, in the case of Wrea Green, pretty much upmarket professionals to boot.

These are not the sort of folk you see expressing their views in public or writing to the paper, but they know how to make things happen behind the scenes.

So it was with interest that we went along on Thursday evening to a public meeting called by the Parish Council and shared with a recently formed protest group called the Community Association for the Protection of Wrea Green (which produces the rather snappy and indefatigably Superman style acronym of 'CAPOW!').

By the starting time of 7:30 it was standing room only, with maybe 50 people seated from a total of 110 or 120 people in the room.

Parish Council Chairman Janet Wardell opened the meeting and explained the purpose was to hear the views of the village regarding developments proposed for their village. She said they had a set selection of speakers first, then the meeting would be opened for public comment.

She outlined the situation where three applications (of 50, 32, 25 homes) had been recommended for refusal by the Parish Council and Fylde had refused them, but each of the developers had gone to appeal and that appeal was now likely to be heard by an independent inspector who has visited in December and decided they needed a public inquiry to determine them.

Since then a fourth application (of 49 homes) had been made on another site.

The Parish Council had again recommended refusal, and Fylde had agreed. She said at present it was unclear whether that too would go to appeal.

She then introduced Parish Cllr John Molyneux who ran through the reasons they had sought to have the applications refused in more detail. Essentially these were drainage, scale, impact on protected species, good agricultural land, and uncertainty over public realm contributions.

Cllr Wardell then introduced John Rowson of CAPOW! who gave a presentation on what was proposed and what CAPOW were doing about it.

He said a recent housing needs survey done in the village showed the need for housing, and it was much less than was being proposed, adding that it had been met by developments already agreed in recent years in any case.

He said they didn't need any more large detached houses, and their draft village plan says there should be no development to the south east because that would shift the locus away from the central village green and result in an eccentric village.

He explained that CAPOW had prepared evidence and sent that to the Planning Inspectorate when everyone thought it was going to be dealt with by 'written representations', but CAPOW was about to apply for 'Rule 6 Status' which more or less gives them parity with FBC and the developers to argue the case in the public inquiry. CAPOW would be able to call their own witnesses and to cross examine the developer's witnesses.

He said he expected the inquiry to be held at the end of April or the beginning of May, and CAPOW were preparing for it now. They had secured the support from three independent councillors who would speak for them, and CAPOW is about to receive training in what is involved in being a Rule 6 Party from others who had been through the experience. He also hoped to see whether they could raise a delegation to speak with the planning minister.

His colleague then did a 'call to arms' explaining they had been on a rapid learning curve since last April and now they were to be involved in a Public Inquiry, CAPOW needed more folk to get involved to share the workload. He urged people to contact him at the end of the meeting or to write in by email.

Cllr Mrs Wardell then said there was still a lot of uncertainty as they did not know when or what form the Public Inquiry would take. She explained that their Fylde Borough Councillor was at another meeting but was coning on to Wrea Green when that had finished. She also expressed disappointment that the MP had not attended after being invited.

That was a theme picked up by many others during the evening and there was widespread discontent that more was not being done by their MP. The perception of the meeting was that government was at fault for causing the problem with the planning reforms it was introducing, and they should sort it out.

Then it was the turn of the public.

Mr Utley wanted to know whether the MP had elaborated as to why he did not attend. Cllr Wardell said he was only travelling back from London that day, and would not be back in time.

Mr Bagot said he wanted to talk sewage - a comment which lightened the atmosphere a little from the seething resentment of government that was dominating the meeting. He wanted to know if United Utilities had considered the in-combination effects of all the applications on the drainage of the village. The Parish Clerk said they had.

Mr Nelson asked why their Borough Councillor was not present. Cllr Wardell repeated that he was at a FBC meeting but was expected later.

Mrs Parker said she wrote to the MP after a previous planning application and was unhappy to be given a generic reply. She added that the MP's explanation which, she said, had been to the effect that there were simply too many letters to answer about this application was not adequate.

Another Chap was concerned about traffic, especially on Bryning Lane as it is now, and that's before the construction works and the eventual traffic increase he said.

Mr Langford said he was part of the group that had produced their village plan and asked what its status was now? We think it was the clerk who replied that it was complete, but it had to fit in with Fylde's Local Plan and that would not be ready for several months.

Anticipating the next question which was probably going to be why did it have to fit inside Fylde's plan for Wrea Green?, the Clerk said - in what we think is the most memorable epitaph of localism - "Localism is dead now, so you can have whatever you want, as long as it's what we agree with"

Next, a lady spoke about flooding and said the problem was already bad in the village.

Mr Hetherington said they were all affected by these schemes. Wrea Green was a special place and has a special ambience. He said that point had been well made already, but he was concerned that they should not argue against or for one or other site, and that the parish Council and Fylde Council and CAPOW should present a unified opposition to all the schemes.

Another chap asked if the press had been invited. Cllr Wardell said they had been at the start of the meeting taking photographs. He wanted to know if TV had been approached. Mrs Wardell said that was on their to-do list and they hoped to approach 'North West Tonight'.

We were there of course, but regular readers know that counterbalance only really counts as 'Other Media' (as christened by Jennifer Cross of 'X Associates' who told a FBC Committee she had noted "reports about the Asset Transfer scheme in the press, and in "other media").

At this point Cllr Frank Andrews arrived hot-foot from his FBC meeting. He spoke briefly about the matter saying 3 or 4 applications would be appealed, and all levels of local authority so far had said they should be refused so that should carry some weight.

He also said that taking the 3 or 4 applications together would be helpful because it meant they were looking at 200 houses which was 'stupid'. He added that he had spoken with Mr Stell (FBC PLanning) that day and the fourth site had not yet decided whether to appeal or not.

He said the Whyndyke Farm application for 1,500 homes received by Fylde just before Christmas would go to the planning Committee in mid March and he thought it would be helpful to have that decision 'in the bag' before the Wrea Green appeals were heard.

Another chap spoke and asked "Why are the politicians against us now" adding that in his view, the housing crisis was because of population growth caused by immigration, and it was unsustainable. He said we were already the most populated country in Europe.

There was a palpable - almost audible - sense of disbelief or disagreement with what he said from those who would probably consider themselves to be more 'enlightened' - but we thought he was spot on.

The only thing he missed was the next step - which was that the immigration itself was encouraged by successive Governments to increase the working age population in order to support pensions and healthcare benefits of older people, and most recently by Labour to compensate for the burgeoning baby boomer generation that is now entering retirement.

In reality, it's nothing short of a hideous ponzi pyramid of people which can never be reconciled, it can only be put off until the day it explodes - as it surely will, and the whole fallacy comes tumbling down into social unrest.

But, as ever, we've digressed again....

Mr Moulding said the village shouldn't be frightened about getting a barrister.  Others suggested there may be some barristers in the village.

The Chairman asked if anyone wanted to speak for the development (We believe there was a village-resident developer in the audience): Silence

A chap then wondered if organising a petition might help, and a lady responded to say she had organised a small one recently on a different subject. She had found people were very ready to sign it but it was very time-consuming to do. This descended - in the way that these things always do - into trying to decide what the wording of a petition should be.

After some discussion on this, Fylde's Cllr Frank Andrews suggested that if it was addressed to Mark Menzies MP and began with something like "We are not prepared to support you at the next election" it might wake the Government up.

We were quite surprised at this. No doubt Cllr Andrews will say he meant it ironically, but in the context of the wider debate it didn't seem that ironic to us.

What we think it does - very ably - illustrate, is what we said in our last article "So it's no wonder that MPs from both of the governing parties are having a really difficult time keeping all their plates (political party members, electors, councillors, developers, and their own party hierarchy) spinning and happy."

Clearly, although Newton are ecstatic with what has been done for them, Wrea Green currently takes a different view.

The MP bashing session concluded with one chap who said it was all very well to send messages to the MP but it would be much better to have a discussion with him in person at a time of his choosing. Cllr Mrs Wardell said that Mr Menzies had previously indicated he would only speak with the Parish Council, not directly with residents.

Another man asked how developers found out about the plots of land to develop. The Parish Clerk explained about the SHLAA and how FBC had been required to produce a 'long-list' of possible sites.

The meeting concluded with John Rowson of CAPOW! who, together with his colleague, made a final call for support and explained that although they had a desire to work together with the Parish Council and Fylde, the Borough Council had taken the advice of the statutory agencies regarding drainage and highways, so CAPOW couldn't agree with FBC on matters such as that, and would have to present their own arguments to the inquiry.

So there we have it

Yet another planning protest group is forming in Fylde because of the Government's planning reforms that seek to use planning as a tool of economic development.

This is being repeated all across the country and, unless they can bring about a rapid policy reversal - which we think is most unlikely - it could cost the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat support group dear at the 2015 elections (not to mention what's widely anticipated to happen in the European Elections this May)

Dated:  10 January 2014


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