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Blackfield Green Inquiry

Blackfield Green InquiryOn Tuesday 21 October, the Inquiry in Public into an appeal for planning permission to develop up to 360 homes on the edge of Warton opened at Ribby Hall's Woodland's Suite, starting at 10am.

It promised to be a long inquiry and was scheduled for eight days from 21-24 Oct and 28-31 Oct

Anyone can sit in the public gallery for part or all of the time the Inquiry is in session and can listen to the arguments being made by Fylde Council - who oppose the plan, and the developer, who wants planning permission.

This is another long counterbalance but the links below are shortcuts that will take readers to the days and witnesses of interest.

Day 1: Introductions and highway matters
Day 2: Fylde's Planning expert
Day 3: Introduction; Tony Wood (Parish Clerk); Warton's planning consultant; John Westmoreland; Tony Guest; Sally Wright; Jessica Ashworth; Mike Wright; Michael Gilbert; Trevor Clarke - and Fylde's Mike Atherton on Planning Policy.
Day 4: Introduction; Neil Stevens (LCC Highways) [again]; Mike Atherton [again]; and the Mr Gray - the Developer's Landscape Expert.
Day 5 Some updates, then Mr Gray (Landscape Expert) [again], and Mr Wolliscroft the developer's highway expert
Day 6 Introduction then Mr Tibenham, the developer's planning expert
Day 7 Introduction then closing statements, and finally a question from our MP

The Inspector - Richard Clegg - was new to us. We have not met him at any of the previous inquiries we've attended.

We're grateful to one of our readers who told us they believe Mr Clegg was a planning officer in nearby Wyre Council during the 1990's, and he was also the Inspector in the recent Staining appeal.

Mr Clegg introduced the appeal and said his job was to hear the arguments and prepare his report that would go to the Secretary of State for the decision. This was because the SoS had decided to 'recover' the decision and would take it himself.

The SoS may do this if it involves developments of more 150 housing units (which this does) or the development occupies a certain area.

He then asked the barristers to introduce themselves.

The barrister for the developer was Andrew Williamson of Walker Morris. He said he would lead the appeal and call four main witnesses.

He told the Inspector that the 'Statement of Common Ground' had been agreed by both parties to the appeal on Friday.

We find that unusual. We're used to such matters being agreed weeks before the meeting.

It's important because the Statement of Common Ground sets out what points the Council and the appellant have agreed before the Inquiry starts, and therefore they are things that will not be discussed at the Inquiry.

At worst this would be simply be agreement of the dates at which applications were submitted and so on, but they usually include a lot more items such as which planning policies are not in contention between the parties.

Speaking for the Council was barrister Gary Grant. He said he would call three expert witnesses:

  • Neil Stevens of LCC Highways
  • Fiona Riley of FBC Planning
  • Michael Atherton also of FBC Planning.

The Inspector noted that Warton's Parish Clerk, and one other representative of the Parish Council also wished to speak. He then noted about eight people who wanted to speak, either as individual residents or on behalf of local groups

As always, the first part of the first morning was taken up with administrative detail - checking whether all parties had copies of the most recent documents and so on.

Unusually (we thought) during this part of the meeting, the Inspector asked about applications for costs, and both the Council and the appellant said that, as things stand, neither expected to apply for costs.

This approach of addressing the matter of costs at the start of the inquiry is new to us. We're more used to applications for costs being dealt with after the inquiry closes.

Costs are usually only awarded against a party to the Inquiry when, say, there is deliberate time-wasting by one party, or if one of the parties introduces a topic that has not been in their original Statement of Case, and it causes extra work and costs to the other party to address and rebut the new evidence.

The Inspector went on to say he had visited all the sites to familiarise himself with the geography, but he would be holding an accompanied site visit later in the Inquiry.

There was then quite a bit of discussion about 'access' (ie where the 'entrance/s to the development should be from the existing road network). Part of this topic had been pre-agreed between the parties as a 'reserved matter' (ie something to be decided later). But, the Inspector said, the principal access was a matter that would be considered during the inquiry and there was also a discussion about which junction arrangement was current from the three or four options that the applicant had proposed.

Then there was also a bit of argy-bargy about why the Council was not pursuing some of its original reasons for refusal.

(After the developer had appealed because Fylde had not decided the matter in the time it was allowed, Fylde had to consider whether it *would have* approved or refused the application - in order to decide whether to contest the appeal or not).

In this case, part of that process generates the reasons why Fylde decided it would have refused the application, and those reasons become the basis of Fylde's case at the Inquiry.

The Inspector noted that Fylde had withdrawn some of its reasons for refusal after the developer had changed his plans to take account of Fylde's concerns, but he thought that the Statement of Common Ground was in conflict with this change in some aspects, and there was some discussion to sort this out

The Inspector said he saw the main reasons for the inquiry as being:

  • Concerns over traffic and highways
  • Whether the development of Warton needed a Masterplan or could be developed piecemeal.
  • Whether the development would be sustainable (That's a technical term about availability of things like public transport, doctors, schools and so on)
  • Whether there is enough Public Open Space within the proposed development.

The outline timetable for the 8 days was set out: the Council would bat first, and their first witness (LCC's Mr Stevens) would occupy most of the first day on highway matters.

Then on Wednesday (Day 2) Fylde's Planning Officer Fiona Riley would give her evidence and be cross examined.

On Thursday (Day 3) Fylde's Mr Atherton, also from planning, would present his evidence and be cross examined, then the Parish Council speakers and the public speakers would have their say.

On Friday, (Day 4) the first witnesses for the developers would be called and the developer's evidence and cross examination would continue through the second week.

After all these 'housekeeping' items were resolved, we moved to the opening statement on behalf of the developer.

 MR ANDREW WILLIAMSON (for the developer) 
said they had submitted the application to FBC, consulted with the Parish Council and held public exhibitions and consultations. Some comments were positive and others negative.

He said they had subsequently addressed some of the concerns raised in those consultations, especially about access to the development site.

But eventually they felt Fylde was dragging its feet and had not decided their application within the time they should have done, so they had appealed to the Secretary of State on the basis of non-determination by Fylde within the allowed time.

He went on to make the usual arguments - with which our readers will be familiar from our previous articles - about Fylde not having a 5 year supply of housing land, and said where this happens, it engaged the parts of the National Planning Policy Framework which, in effect, say that the imperative of development - as set out in the National Policy - overrode the decisions of local Councils who could not demonstrate they had a five years supply of development land.

(Readers will know that we regard this '5 year supply' figure as nothing short of seasonally adjusted alchemy arising from the midst of a large assembly of smoke and mirrors. The restrictions of what can and cannot be counted as 'granted planning permissions' is quite ridiculous and a lot more complicated to calculate than all of Gordon Brown's tax credit systems put together. To any sane person, the five year supply is not worth the paper it is written on. But, in order to justify the Government's growth agenda, it is what has to be used these days. That still doesn't make it right of course).

The developer's barrister said Fylde no longer offered evidence in respect of its previous reasons Number 1 and 4, and he hoped that reasons 5, 6, 7 and 8 could be addressed satisfactorily.

He saw the main issues he wanted to address as being the same as those set out by the Inspector plus the impact of Warton Parish Council's new Neighbourhood Plan, and some issues in Fylde's Local Plan.

He said his first witness would speak about development and the character of the area. Another witness would address highways to show that, with some improvements, the traffic can be accommodated. He would also call a witness to deal with planning policy etc.

Then it was the turn of Fylde's barrister

said the case for FBC accepted that Fylde could not demonstrate a 5 year supply, but it did show a supply of between 4.1 and 4.8 years.

He accepted that considerable weight should be attached to a 5 year supply, but he said that number needed to be approached with 'sensitivity' because Fylde has a profile of improvement as evidenced by the large numbers of planning permissions that have been granted in the recent past.

He also argued that this was an inquiry into the development of land, and it should not become an inquiry into Fylde's Local Plan or its state of evolution.

He said despite the changes that had already been made, the appellant had not overcome the highways and transport issues and he said the effect of these is severe.

He went on to say the development needs to be more than sustainable, it needed to be strongly sustainable, but this development was not strongly sustainable.

He said all these matters weighed heavily against approval

He said Fylde had modified its view on some aspects of the application after changes had been made to the plans and, whilst the plan is adverse in its impact on the character of the exiting land, it was not worse than other areas around Warton and FBC now accepted this in terms of character.

Turning to Fylde's emerging Local Plan, he said progress was good, and after considering the results of a first Local Plan consultation, the Council had accepted that public objections to the original proposals for Warton mean it had to reconsider the number of houses to be allocated there, and Fylde had agreed that the housing proposals in the Warton Parish Council Neighbourhood Plan should be accepted. (These proposals will reduce the number of dwellings from about 1,200 to about 650).

However, in a note that we thought was unduly cautious, he accepted that because the Warton Neighbourhood plan was at a pre-completion stage, Fylde attached limited weight to it.

That conflicts with St Eric's view. He has said that he will expect to call-in decisions that conflict with Neighbourhood Plans that have been delivered to the Local Authority (which Warton's has)

Fylde's barrister said they would also look at open space and ecology, adding that these were not critical issues, but they were issues that needed to be addressed by the Inquiry, as was affordable housing provision.

By this time it was 11.30 and the Inquiry adjourned for a 10 minute break.

Then FBC called its first witness - Lancashire County Council's Highway expert, Mr Stevens.

He began by saying there were concerns about the traffic junction at Lytham Road and the former GEC Marconi site and this would be exacerbated by the proposed development.

We also heard him say that LCC Highways had 'significant concerns' about other aspects of the highway impacts.

Based on our previous experience of inquiries, when LCC use this sort of language, it usually means that things are not right. We've found them mostly to bend over backwards to accommodate developers wishes, so when they resist, it's quite unusual.

At times, when presenting his evidence, Mr Stevens went into what we thought were incredible levels of detail about the time that green traffic lights would be on and where traffic was going and how pedestrians and cyclists would respond and so on.

His evidence was not only about traffic count numbers and traffic volumes; it went right into the nitty gritty including bus routes and bus user needs. In connection with the 'sustainability' arguments, he was also asked to comment on the relative importance of Preston and Blackpool for shopping, and the need for public and other transport to get there.

He certainly had a solid grasp of what was proposed, and what the existing traffic was like in Warton, and he spoke confidently, if unenthusiastically about it.

It was clear that the traffic and highways issues were a key reason why Fylde thought the appeal should be dismissed.

Under cross-examination, the developer's barrister began by questioning the expertise of Mr Stevens. He asked whether he was an expert and whether he was speaking on behalf of LCC or FBC and so on.

He then seemed to be using correspondence with and from LCC that sought to make Mr Stevens contradict or disagree with what his evidence had said.

He also spoke about plans from years before about a by-pass that was once planned for Warton. We couldn't exactly see the relevance of this unless he was heading toward arguing that a plan for a former road that is no longer on the cards actually supported the case for development in Warton, or that the development would bring a new road that was equivalent to the once proposed Warton By-Pass.

To be fair, he did get into more technical highway issues after his initial overtures, but at the start, it seemed to us that his aggressive and staccato style of questioning had set out to unsettle Mr Stevens' confidence in his own evidence.

He may have scored some points, and we couldn't stay until the bitter end, but we didn't think he inflicted serious damage on Mr Stevens' evidence. However, that will be for the Inspector to decide of course.

So at the end of day 1, the battlefield between the main parties had been drawn.

There were smaller issues that would create skirmishes on the periphery of the Inquiry. But for the developer, the main argument as to why the appeal should be agreed was going to be Fylde's lack of a five year supply of housing land, and for the Council, the argument to dismiss the appeal was the adverse impact it would have on highways.

Sadly, we're not able to hear the second day's evidence, but we hope that one of our readers will attend and let us have their views on what happens on Day 2

We didn't manage to get to the Inquiry on day two, but from the accounts we heard from those that did, it was mostly more of the same. The developer's barrister focused quite a bit of his attention on questioning the credibility of Fylde's witnesses and the credibility of their evidence.

Sportsmen will understand the maxim that if you can't get the ball, you go for the man.

Bur readers shouldn't assume this approach makes the developer's barrister a 'nasty' man.  In our experience you often find that such folk are really nice people 'in private life' but, just as you might expect an actor to perform whilst 'at work', in their professional life barristers have to adopt a particular persona in order to achieve the objective they have been paid for, and if that means 'appearing' to be 'Mr Nasty'  it's just part of their job.

But - for entirely understandable reasons - those closely involved (and often emotionally involved) in a campaign find this difficult to take, especially when they feel their credibility has been undermined.

That said, we heard it said that Fylde seemed to have done a fair job of undermining it's own credibility because during Wednesday morning when Fylde's planners and representatives of the opposing barrister's team got together in an ante-room and reached agreement on the 'five year supply' figure.

It then became 'common ground' that it was not less than 3.5 years supply and not more than 4.1 year's supply.

Although some people will no doubt disagree, this process of reaching agreement between the parties is not wrong, it is actually encouraged by the Planning Inspectorate (that's not to say we approve of course, but it is how things work)

In her 'Proof of Evidence', Fylde's expert witnesses had said that depending on which of four scenarios you considered, Fylde could demonstrate it has a housing supply of between 4.1 and 4.8 years.

We thought it followed that, other officers from Fylde agreeing with the 'opposition' that it was only a maximum of 4.1 years, pretty much pulled the rug from under Fylde's expert witness.

We can just imagine the summing up of the developer's barrister when he points out to the Inquiry that Fylde's evidence on housing supply - on which the developer's main case rests - can't even be relied on to be accurate when they have agreed a different figure from that published in their evidence on the second day if the Inquiry.

So overall, the views of those we spoke to about Wednesday were more depressing than optimistic.

We missed the first speaker, who represented the Parish Council, but we're grateful to our friends in Warton who provided this summary of his evidence.

In the absence of the Parish Council Chair, the Clerk to the Parish Council, Mr Tony Wood put the case for the Parish Council (PC).

The Clerk started out by stating that the Parish Council had been consistent in expressing their concerns and objections at every stage of the process, from when Pegasus first approached the PC in July 2013 with their fully-formed plans. The PC’s concerns and objections that were relayed to the Developer at that time related to viability, sustainability and suitability of their proposed development.

When the outline application for the 360 dwellings was submitted in Nov 2013 none of the PC’s earlier concerns had been addressed. The overriding element of the PC’s objection is that development of this site is not sustainable given the a) highways and traffic issues, b) flooding and drainage, and c) services infrastructure. Which are the very same issues being argued at this Inquiry.

Mr Wood reminded the Inquiry that the consultation on Fylde Borough’s Preferred Options Local Plan generated significant local opposition to the proposed 1200 houses.

Mr Wood said the Inquiry will hear a whole raft of facts, figures and assertions from the professionals in their respective area of expertise but he asked that the Inquiry take a moment to consider the ‘layman’s’ perspective and not just rely on statistics that can often prove misleading and not always correct.

Mr Wood pointed out that planning policy throughout the land now appears to hinge on the understanding of ‘Sustainability’ yet the most senior of planning experts, counsellors and Members of Parliament in this country cannot decide on a precise definition of ‘Sustainability’.

Mr Wood argued that most, if not all, of the traffic problems currently experienced were predicted and raised at earlier development applications. The addition of a further 360 houses on top of already approved developments is not only unsustainable, it is planning to fail.

Likewise, Mr Wood said that drainage and sewerage issues have been a local contention for years ; the absence of serious representation and objections from United Utilities is unfathomable to many within the community.

The Parish Council believe that the services infrastructure to support an addition 360 homes in this location is wildly exaggerated by the Developer and his proposed solutions highly questionable. Mr Wood pointed out the current lack of facilities in the village and that more car journeys would result which is contrary to the concept of ‘sustainable’ development.

Mr Wood said that the Parish Council accept that there is both a national and borough-wide obligation to provide more homes for the future. The absence of objections to recent developments of Meadow View (66 homes) and the GEC Marconi site (254 new homes) shows that the Parish Council is not against growth for the village. What the Parish Council does object to is development in the wrong location and to the detriment of the village and Parish. It was and is that desire that induced the Parish Council to embark on the Neighbourhood Planning opportunities offered by the Localism Act. The Parish Council fully embraced the ‘Neighbourhood Plan’ concept on the understanding that it is not about preventing growth but working together with the planning authority, developers, stakeholders and representatives within the community to ensure a sustainable future for Warton and sustainable growth.

Mr Wood drew attention to the Warton Stakeholder Meeting arranged by FBC in November 2013 with interested parties at which FBC’s Portfolio Holder for Planning and FBC’s Head of Planning & Development encouraged developers and landowners to work with the Parish Council and the community on a unified and cohesive ‘Master Plan’ for Warton. But this has not happened, the Developer has not engaged with the Parish Council about this proposed development .

Mr Wood pointed out that the publication of the Preferred Options Local Plan saw a frenzied rush by developers to get reserved planning applications in place, based on a vague and speculative pretext of future employment opportunities from the Enterprise Zone. Yet there is no evidence to support such jobs ; it is a hope, a wish, a prayer that there will be some miraculous economic recovery to bring this about. Recent job losses at BAE systems, the closure of Blackpool Airport and lack of interest in the Warton Enterprise Zone indicate this is not going to happen for decades if at all.

In conclusion, Mr Wood highlighted the incredible achievement of the PC’s Neighbourhood Planning Steering Group in getting the Neighbourhood Plan to the Submission stage, not forgetting they are all volunteers. Everyone involved embarked on an extremely steep learning curve and, while all contributed extensively, some individuals put in an inordinate amount of their own time in research and compilation, for which professional developers and agents would have been extremely well rewarded.

The detrimental impact that this development, if granted, will have on the future of Warton is insurmountable with regard to public confidence in local affairs. Its significance has the potential to undermine the whole Neighbourhood Planning process and local governance on both local and national levels. Should this development be allowed to proceed, it is so significant that much of our Neighbourhood Plan would have to be revisited ; provided of course that the community of Warton, the Parish Council and ever weary volunteers were minded to continue given that their wishes had been ignored.

Mr Wood gave a very confident and comprehensive presentation on behalf of the Parish Council and handled the subsequent cross examination skilfully. In Mr Wood, the Parish Council clearly have a very able and committed Clerk.

We arrived at the inquiry just as the consultant who had helped produce Warton Parish Council's Neighbourhood Plan was being cross examined.

The developer's team of eight lawyers and supporters were there - as they had been on Monday. Fylde was down to it's 'hard core' of four people, and there were about 30 members of the public listening to the proceedings.

As we sat down, the developer's barrister was asking Warton's consultant a series of questions to clarify what was in his mind when he prepared or advised on various parts of Warton's Neighbourhood Plan. The answers appeared factual and mostly straightforward.

Turning to the recent reduction from 1,200 houses to 650 or thereabouts which has been agreed with FBC, the barrister wanted to know on what that change had been based. The answer was that it was mostly to do with the geographic allocation of housing by FBC and a decision of the Cabinet Portfolio Holder.

Toward the end of his questioning the developer's barrister asked whether the consultant thought it was a bad thing that people might have to travel to Warton if there were not enough houses for people to live and work locally. That brought muted murmurings of exasperation such as 'Oh come on!' from the public gallery. This was quickly rebuked by the Inspector, and the consultant answered that it was not for him to make such decisions.

From the limited time we heard these exchanges, it appeared to us that the developer's barrister had focused his attention more on attacking Warton's new Neighbourhood Plan (and the process that had created it) than he spent addressing the aspects of appeal itself.

We think that's probably because the Neighbourhood plan - which WRAPP and the Parish Council produced in record time and after an awful lot of work - will prove to be the main stumbling block to stopping the development going ahead.

Next, it was the turn of the public to give their evidence.

First to take the stand was:

Spoke on behalf of Fylde Branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. He said Fylde was making progress with its plan, and, referring to the 5 year supply, he said there was a distinction between: Housing Supply, which is the delivery of completed new homes, and Housing Land Supply, represented by planning permissions granted.

But the National Planning Policy Framework (Para 47) was ambiguous, referring both to 'deliverable sites sufficient to provide 5-years worth of housing' and to 'delivery of a 5-year supply of housing land'.

He made the point that Fylde could only make the housing land available by giving planning permissions: they cannot make developers build.

He went on to say that every permission was an opportunity to build, regardless of the housing market, and every planning permission should unconditionally contribute to the 5-Year Housing Land Supply until it expires.

He also argued that Councils should not have to pass more and more permissions to replace those not being exploited by the industry.

Mr Westmoreland is highlighting exactly the sort of 'smoke and mirrors' tricks that we have so long refereed to. He went on to outline Fylde's other planning policies that argued against allowing the appeal.

He also addressed alternative sites for new housing at Warton saying "the ‘elephant in the room’ is the 75 hectares of previously-developed land declared by BAE Systems as not required for their future operations. Currently only 8.5 hectares of the 39.7 hectare North Zone is proposed for Phase 1 of the Enterprise Zone. And, of course, BAE has already released the 7.8 hectare ex-GEC site now being developed for housing."

In cross examination, he was asked for clarification of some of the things he had said, and there was one exchange in which he was asked if he was arguing that part of Warton's new Enterprise Zone should be used for housing (rather than using greenfield sites). He said yes it was. Then the developer's barrister asked him if CPRE had objected to Warton's neighbourhood plan because it supported the Enterprise Zone. The answer was no. Predictably the barrister then sought to damage the credibility of CPRE's evidence based on what he said was a policy inconsistency.

What he was doing of course was storing up points for his final summing up to be able to say something like "There is no credible evidence against agreeing this appeal, and he will then go on to list all the inconsistencies that he has collected during the Inquiry.

This will make it look bad for those who are opposing the development but they shouldn't worry too much. The Inspector will have heard all this sort of thing before and will be used to sorting the wheat from the chaff

Speaking for Concerned Residents of Warton (CROWD) he said they were a small group that applied a critical oversight to things affecting Warton and to planning in particular. He gave the background as to how Fylde's existing Local Plan was prepared, how that had affected Warton.

He's one of the few people in Fylde who can do this as he is a 'veteran' of a the inquiry into Fylde's previous local plan going back to 2003 and probably has as many Public Inquiries into specific appeals under his belt as we do. He is a mine of information about what underlies how we got to where we are today.

He spoke of the various justifications that has been given to develop areas around Warton, one of which had been to make it a Key Service Centre. (That's where the centre attracts people from outside Warton rather than just the resident population).

He also spoke of the letter sent to Mark Menzies by David Eaves and Trevor Fiddler which proposed their justification for many less houses than Fylde was currently planning. We covered this letter in our article 'Incredible Housing Numbers' and readers can follow this link to download a copy of the letter and report that was sent to our MP.

He spoke of the errors in the Gimley report, and Fylde's failure to see or act on them, that had caused green land to be prioritised for development over redundant industrial land - all of which had led to Fylde's Strategic Housing Land Assessment identifying large areas of land around Warton for development.

He addressed the background to, and the reasons for, the first Minority Report by independent councillors (which we covered in our article: 'Minority Report' of August 2013). He also addressed the Joint Statement (the Declaration of Unsound Consultation) issued by 10 community groups concerned with planning. he also noted that Fylde had recently 'paused' their local plan process and were about to re-issue a revised Preferred Options consultation document.

He then turned to the issue of Employment Land and advanced the sort of arguments with which our readers of our article Minority 2 at Council will by now be familiar.

Including reference to the second Minority Report  issued and supported by 42% of councillors disaffected with the proposals for Fylde's Local Plan, he showed how increased employment does not require additional land because of changing patterns in working - including many more people working from home, and today's industries needing much less land than historic sources of employment.

Cross examination was brief, but included a question to Mr Guest as to whether he had challenged various matters at the time they arose. Mr Guest said "Yes", to which came the response - "So you views were taken into account by the Borough Council at the time weren't they? "

To which Mr Guest responded without hesitation "No, they never do"

That brought a smile to everyone's face, including the Inspector's.

SALLY WRIGHT  (of Warton Residents Against Poor Planning)
She said the whole idea had been to turn Warton into a town and specifically into a Key Service Centre.

She had been concerned about it and tried to find out more. As she did so she found other people who were concerned, and collectively, they did not support the idea of such massive growth in Warton, so they grew into a group to challenge the proposals.

She spoke of the Parish Poll that had been conducted following the huge Parish Meeting at BAe  (which we reported in Warton Anger) and the resulting 98% opposition expressed by local people. She said WRAPP did not oppose development altogether, only poor planning - by which she said she meant "ad hoc unplanned development."

She said Fylde also opposed ad-hoc development and the Portfolio Holder had agreed that the 1,160 houses were only deliverable if there was very signifcant growth in infrastructure, and that the reduced figure of 660 or so houses was a reflection that this scale of infrastructure would not be delivered.

Taking a leaf out of the developer's barrister's approach, she went onto the offensive and criticised various aspects of the developer's approach, calling *their* credibility into question.

We saw the inspector react to some of the points she made, and you could see they had struck home well. We thought her evidence was well prepared and very well presented.

Although she was quietly spoken, this was a tigress fighting for her community. She clearly had them behind her, and she had an absolutely solid grasp of what she had said.

It resulted in no questions from the developers barrister.

It seemed to us that he knew when his case would not be improved by taking someone like Mrs Wright on. 

(Vice Chair of the Warton Neighbourhood Plan Steering group)
Speaking in a confident, clear and strong voice, she said she and other residents had been advised by our MP that a Neighbourhood Plan was a key document to regulate the development in Warton, so she had got involved and helped to prepare it.

Then she went straight into attack mode, and criticised the Developer's failure to offer what's called 'Public Realm' money in association with the development (That's to do with funding for social infrastructure). She also criticised Fylde saying that none of the money Fylde had received from the Government in 'New Homes Bonus' had found its way to Warton.

She quoted from a letter from St Eric which - in very glowing terms-  congratulated the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group (of which she is vice chair) on producing their Neighbourhood Plan.

Using official Government Public Accounts Committee figures and decisions, she tore into, and destroyed, the aspirations for employment growth at Warton's enterprise zone that the developer was using as a key part of their justification for the development.

She said the Public Accounts Committee had heavily criticised the Government's predictions for job creation nationally. She said the Enterprise Zone bid for Warton had predicted the creation of 2,206 new jobs over a 22 year period, but the Government - in response to criticism from the Public Accounts Committee had now hugely reduced the number of jobs predicted from Enterprise Zones across the country and they had admitted that their initial estimate was "wildly optimistic".

She said two years into the proposal, the latest evidence for the Warton Zone, (whose original estimate had been 2,206 new jobs) was that just two companies had signed up to *relocate* to Warton's Enterprise Zone, with just a handful of jobs. She said "This includes NO new Fylde jobs"

She said Fylde's own MP had said the Warton Enterprise Zone would be a 'slow burner' and there might only be a small net gain of jobs in ten years time.

She tore into the evidence in Fylde's Local Plan saying "I'm not an expert in planning, I'm a layman, but there are a number of experts in this room, but none of them are prophets"

She went on to say Fylde's plan was founded on economic growth in three key areas, Whitehills; the Enterprise Zone; and Blackpool International Airport.

(You can just see where this is leading Dear Reader, can't you....)

Holding back the delicious moment of triumph, she went on "The experts told us that - and I quote from the Local Plan - 'Blackpool International Airport will drive economic growth, attract inward investment and create and sustain jobs.

Clearly, none of the many experts foresaw the sad demise of Blackpool Airport within 15 months of the Preferred Options local plan being published"

We thought the only bit she missed here was adding in something the number of jobs that have been *lost* as a result of the airport closing.

On a wider scale than the inquiry, she is quite right.  Fylde's emerging local plan was predicated on employment growth in those areas and now that one third of it's strategy has been removed - at a stroke - it's time for Fylde to go back to the drawing board yet again.

As she said planners are planners. They are not prophets.

She said Warton's Neighbourhood Plan was the voice of the village and was a sustainable plan for development for Warton's future. It's proposed 650 or so additional homes would support about 6,000 new jobs and that was more than enough, adding that only 10% of BAe's existing employees lived in Warton." (and as we will see later, there is no shortage of houses for sale there).

She said the appeal "Is all about location, location, location and sustainability, sustainability, sustainability. This is not the correct sustainable location. This development will not benefit the community."

Nearing her conclusion she referred to other, more sustainable land on which the developer had options - Clifton House Farm - and had acknowledged that this was a more sustainable location.

She concluded by saying that she didn't want Warton's residents to feel they had been duped by the Localism Act as they would if this appeal was allowed, and she suggested that the NPPF should not be allowed to undermine the Localism Act, and so the appeal should not be allowed.

Like Mrs Wright, she did not simply defend her case, she went on the offensive and attacked the developer's plans in several areas.

Both ladies displayed tremendous courage in what must have been a nerve wracking ordeal for them.

This had been another first class presentation of evidence, and was perhaps even more clear and firm in style than Mrs Wright's, but it was equally impressive.

Under cross examination she was a very strong witness.

Perhaps, having watched the developer's barrister's for two days and noted his - shall we say, forthright, style, she was expecting hostility - and she was a little overly unwilling to give any ground. She stood firm on what she had said and withstood the questions. She had given a bravura performance - and she did those residents who had placed their trust in her, proud.

Spoke as a resident and business owner and as a member of WRAPP. Although he spoke in quiet measured tones, he went straight onto the offensive, attacking the developer from the outset for their lack of consultation.

Quoting our MP Mark Menzies from Hansard on 9th July 2014 he said "In the village of Warton, the local community has been exemplary in how it has embraced the local planning process.

As a result of the people of Warton’s hard work, the council has identified other areas in the borough that it believes are more suitable for taking up the balance of the houses originally proposed for Warton. I believe that that approach reflects the core principles of the Localism Act 2011.

To my disgust - I'm still quoting from Mark Menzies in Westminster - to my disgust I have learned that developers want to ignore all that work and are proposing to put in planning applications to take the number of houses in Warton to more than 1,400. It appears that developers are using the lack of a five-year housing supply as a loophole to ram through applications against the intentions of the council and the wishes of the local people."

Mr Wright went on to say that he did not believe the Inquiry should be an examination of the Neighbourhood Plan (which is what it seemed at times) he reminded everyone it was an inquiry into the developer's application.

He then argued topic by topic that the development would urbanise the countryside and cause serious traffic problems. He referred to LCC's view that Warton should not have more traffic until its highway infrastructure was improved. He also spoke of the ecology issues that were unsatisfactory.

He showed photographs of what he said was ecological damage the developer had wrought on a previous site, and contrasted that with what they had said they were going to do there.

He concluded that the proposal was unsustainable and it was in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

His arguments might have been more 'technical' than previous speakers, but they delivered no less impact as far as the inspector was concerned.

There was no cross examination. The developer's barrister said he would address all the points in his evidence in chief.

Spoke as a resident of Warton, (although we know he is also a member of the Parish Council).

He noted that the proposal conflicted with Fylde's Policy SP2 which sets limits on the area for the residential development of Warton except in some specific cases, none of which applied in this instance, and that policy alone required rejection of the appeal.

He also referred to Fylde's policy called 'TREC 27' which related to recreational space, and that policy said this must be provided as single central useable facility.

He said in this case it cannot be so provided because in its latest incarnation, this was effectively two estates. But in the absence of enough information on the plan, he had estimated there would be about 164 houses on the west side. He said "...assuming they would average 3.5 bedrooms per house, the total area required by TREC 17 would be, for that side alone, is 11,808metres square" adding that he had "measured the play area on the plan and it appeared to be about 1,600 square metres, 13.5% of the required area.

Ever the practical man, he said the area also had quite a lot of woodland and the only recreation he could see going on there was tree-climbing and dog walking and "when the tree climbing fraternity return home with their shoes covered in dog muck, I'm quite sure they will be told not to go there again. So that fails straight away"

The TREC 17 comment seemed to cause the developers team to become more unsettled than we had seen them thus far. It looked to us as though it was something they did not have covered, and a flurry of activity took place amongst them for a short time

We were then regaled by Mr Gilbert with an interesting and amusing story about the volume of sewage in the pipes at present and some practical problems about unpleasant smelling gases percolating up through 'U' bends in some local houses. He could not see that increasing the flow of sewage with another 360 houses would improve that.

Mr Gilbert also addressed traffic counting where he had taken some counts himself and he predicted traffic 'chaos' if the development went ahead.

He said the 650 dwellings proposed in the Neighbourhood Plan included the 416 already under construction or approved and yesterday the developer had suggested this had to be allowed "because the BAe employees come from all points of the compass, as only a very few of them - less than 10% - actually live in Warton. What's the matter with Warton I don't know, whether they're afraid of the noise from the aircraft or what, but the suggestion was that we have to allow this [appeal] so there will be houses for BAe workers. The BAe workers seem to have indicated quite clearly they do not want to live next door to where they work because there's always houses up for sale in Warton. They don't actually choose to buy them. At the current moment, at the Meadow View houses being built, Taylor Wimpey are making an offer of £5,000 a house reduction for BAe workers who want one. I haven't notices a queue there for that."

He went on to cite other examples.

He re-iterated the poor interest in the Warton Enterprise Zone explaining at a recent meeting he attended, he had been told that the first firm to move in had brought with it just five employees and that made the predictions look "ridiculous" and he argued that with reductions in future BAe employment, the demand for houses would go down, not up.

Turning to the offensive, he said the appellant had claimed there were medical and banking facilities available in the village. passing judgement on this assertion he said: "Technically correct. Those facilities are on the BAe site, provided by BAe, solely for their employees. Those offsite cannot use them, so that can be ignored to start with."

Mr Gilbert made some telling points in a very practical and sometimes humorous way, and we feel sure the Inspector will have taken note of them.

There was no cross examination for him.

TREVOR CLARKE (not sure if we heard the name right)
Finally in the public speakers, Mr Clarke said that Mr Gilbert had stolen most of what he planned to say. He said he was a local resident who had noted that the land did not support arable crops, it was used for animals because it was too wet for crops, as was his garden. So he was worried about the effects of the development on drainage.

He also expressed concern about the traffic, especially that which was affected more or less every alternative week by a two-car wide road on which Fylde AFC's supporters and visitors parked when there was a home match, turning the road effectively into a one way at a time road. He also said he thought the plan would drive traffic onto Harbour Lane.

That concluded the public speaking session.

Next up was another of Fylde's planning officers. He dealt with broad planning policy matters, and, as far as Fylde was concerned, he was their expert on the things that most people find nebulous such as the character of the area and the impact of development and so on. His evidence wasn't concluded, so he'll be back.

So, what's our summary of the day? What was the feeling at the end of it?

Well, as far as those opposing the development are concerned, today was about as good as it gets. It was their turn to have their say - and they did. They were well prepared, and their evidence was well delivered. They will have gone home tonight feeling much better than on the previous two days.

Sadly, that's not going to last for long, because tomorrow, the developer's team starts to present it's evidence.

Once again, we can't attend tomorrow, so we're going to have to catch up, unless any of our readers who are going can oblige with their take on the events.

Today began with the usual housekeeping, sharing of documents etc, but also with the Inspector stating that he was mindful of advice given to him that a Friday afternoon would not be the best time to have the site visit, and he confirmed that it would now happen after half term.

NEIL STEVENS: (LCC Highways)  - again
The first FBC witness of the day resumed his evidence from Wed after being given the opportunity to look at some further traffic modelling data from the Appellant's highways consultant (Crofts).

He gave a number of reasons and a very detailed explanation as to why LCC still have serious concerns and Fylde's barrister concluded that the improvement scheme for the Lytham Road/Church Road junction was not deliverable.

(Residents were obviously pleased to hear it so forcibly articulated but still surprised that all the emphasis from LCC has all been on the junction and not about the 600+ cars exiting/entering the proposed site every day along the narrow road and s-bend that is Church Road).

Under cross examination, the developer's barrister picked up on what the PC and residents were arguing the day before, trying to get Mr Stevens to agree that, if the Enterprise Zone only generated as many jobs as the Parish Council were suggesting, then the predicted traffic numbers would be 'grossly overstated'

Mr Stevens was also asked if the Preston Distributor Road would also provide relief.

He agreed it would have an impact and that overall movements in the area would change, but it would be a complex piece of work to take account of the impact of the Distributor Road (which isn't expected to happen until around 2021).

There was then a long discussion about when the new BAe Gatehouse would be opened which itself would have implications for the surrounding network. Mr Stevens had suggested (on Wed) that he thought the Gatehouse was opening sometime in 2015 but said he had got that from a more detailed Enterprise Zone Masterplan that was not in the public domain.

The Inspector expressed his concerns about the loose ends in the Enterprise Zone Masterplan, and the lack of detail and timings of any associated highway changes.

He concluded this session by asking Mr Stevens a number of questions including:

  • the proposed 'staggered' arrangement for access to the sites either side of Church Road; cycle access to/from the sites;
  • construction traffic impact.

Mr Stevens pointed out that there was no provision on Church Road/Hillock Lane for safe access by cycle to the centre of Warton, that traffic assessments do not take account of possible multiple, concurrent housing developments across Warton, and he went on to confirm that this development cannot be accommodated on the local network.

Overall, we thought he gave a measured and dogged defence of his evidence.

MIKE ATHERTON (FBC Planning) - again
Fylde's barrister took Mr Atherton through the reasons why he believed that this application should be refused, ie sustainability of the site.

Under cross-examination, he said he was reasonably happy with the developer's Masterplan for the development, and with masterplan that set the proposed development in the wider context of Warton, but that there remained some outstanding issues.

The developer's barrister suggested that his reasons for refusal were not 'precise, full and clear' as required by planning legislation.

Interestingly, the Warton bypass was raised by the developer's barrister. He asked who would be expected to fund it if one was required!

Yes, really.

The barrister then produced a letter from 2007 regarding the Adopted Local Plan and its replacement, in which Fylde had said that policies would be replaced 'promptly' – asking if 'promptly' was consistent with the Local Plan not being adopted until possibly 2016.


He got Mr Atherton to admit that FBC has no criteria in its adopted policies for the definition of 'sustainability', and then enjoyed himself by going through a number of local amenities such as the local chippy, and getting Mr Atherton to agree that the walking distances for each were "not that bad really, are they?" in comparison with other residential locations in the village.

Oh dear!  Talk about scraping the barrel.

There was then a (significant) discussion about delivery of the site in relation to the 5 Year Housing Supply.

Mr Atherton's view was that, because of the time that it will take for the appeal process to run its course, then selling on to a builder, then settling the reserved matters, and then preparation of the site, only 60-90 houses might be delivered in the next 5 years.

We then got back to the debate on the Enterprise Zone job numbers and the Preston Distributor Road, and the resultant demand for housing growth in Warton but Mr Atherton pointed out that the new road might encourage more commuting.

He as also asked if BAE themselves had objected to the application - Mr Atherton said they had not, but that they only normally respond to planning applications if there is an adverse impact on their air operations.

Finally, the Inspector asked for clarification on some issues, eg. was Mr Atherton was happy that there was some Green Belt within the site that the Appellant proposed to retain as agricultural land, and that he was happy with the amount of allocated Public Open Space.

Fylde's barrister got the last word in by getting Mr Atherton to say that the pedestrian/cycle connectivity though adjacent sites was not deliverable because

  • those sites are not within the Appellant's control,
  • that accessibility issues will result in more car journeys and that (to the amusement of all) the opposing barrister’s view that walking distances to amenities "was not too bad" is not a term used in the NPPF!

In concluding, Fylde's barrister addressed the Inspector and said that a consideration for the Secretary of State should be that this site will only contribute 60-90 houses in the first 5 years.

The Appellant's case began with their Landscape Design expert Mr Gray explaining his view.

Fylde's barrister put a number of reasons for refusal to him (flooding concerns, connectivity etc) but he fended off everything put to him very confidently and robustly.

He seemed to struggle to accept that the village could be damaged by the developer's plans.

He said there would be no flooding issues and then went on the offensive to say that the landscape design was exemplary, by bringing out the character of the area and repairing damage to the fringe of the development caused by 20th century development - so Fylde's reasons for refusal were not justified.

He agreed the pedestrian/cycle links to adjacent sites were largely aspirational, and when asked why they had not been proactive in getting together with other landowners / developers to address FBC's & LCC's request for a comprehensive masterplan for Warton, he blamed FBC/LCC saying that it was their responsibility (not individual developers) for getting developers around the table.

(We know Fylde did get all the developers with an interest in Warton around a table to try to persuade them to wait until a masterplan was prepared, but they would not agree to do so)

After Fylde's cross examination, the Inspector asked if any of the third parties / residents who had spoken in the public session on Thursday wanted to ask the witness any questions.

This move surprised some people (and us). It's not how we have seen Inquiries conducted before. The system we we're more familiar with requires anyone wishing to question witnesses and so on had to become what's called a 'Rule 6 Party' which brings with it a lot of work and responsibilities.

So we checked up.

And we found that it is now official guidance from the Planning Inspectorate to allow members of the public who have registered and have spoken in the Inquiry to question the witnesses.

We have to say it's a very welcome move, and we congratulate the Planning Inspectorate for this change.

Taking advantage of the new ability, local resident Sally Wright asked why they had not engaged with the community since their consultation event.

The developer's side responded to say they had addressed some residents concerns, but obviously they couldn’t please everybody.

She then asked why they hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that this site was unsustainable and that this scale of housing wasn’t needed or indeed wanted by the community. Their barrister said that this would be addressed by a later witness.

The last session of the day was worth staying for.

The appellant's Landscape Visual Appearance witness was given a severe grilling over his statement that the development would have 'moderate to substantial' impact on the existing pastoral landscape but that the overall effect would be 'neutral'.

The witness tried to stick to his guns - but even the Inspector was growing irritated with the confusing message that he was hearing.

The session went into overtime and it was agreed that it would be continued when the Inquiry resumes on Tuesday.

Given that residents and third parties that spoke on Thursday will be allowed to ask questions of the Appellant's witnesses, it should make for compelling viewing next week.

counterbalance is grateful to the residents of Warton who have taken the trouble to put together the remaining proceedings for our readers (because we were not able to attend on Week 2)

The second week opened up with some updates from FBC including:

  •  the SHMAA – FBC had provided, overnight, a written submission explaining why their housing supply figure ranged between 4.1 and 4.8 years
  • Local Plan Settlement Hierarchy – again, overnight, FBC had provided a written rebuttal of Tony Guest’s argument that Warton should be regarded as a rural settlement rather than a Tier 2.

The first witness of the day was a continuation of Friday’s examination.

Mr Gray was questioned further by both FBC’s barrister and the Inspector to try to clarify the confusing evidence that Mr Gray gave on Friday. Mr Gray said he stood by his submission (moderate to substantial visual impact but overall neutral effect) and that mitigation measures would offset any adverse impacts. Those residents and 3rd parties that spoke the first week were invited by the Inspector to ask questions of the witness and they did. The Inspector put some final questions and then put the witness out of his misery.

The Developer’s barrister led Mr Wooliscroft through the reasons why he disagreed with LCC’s position that the impact on the local network would be severe and took the Inquiry though his very detailed technical evidence.

He confirmed that the growth factors included committed developments and anticipated Enterprize Zone growth.

Mr Wooliscroft felt that, if the Preston Western Distributor Road was implemented, Church Road/Lytham Road would not need any further modifications (conveniently omitting the fact that the Developer is claiming that most of the Blackfield Green development will be completed by 2019 but that the Preston Distributor Road is unlikely to be open before 2021 ; and that a significant number of BAE employees work on the Fylde and will continue to use Wrea Green and Church Road for commuting).

Based on his evidence and sound methodology and modelling, Mr Wooliscoft’s view was that the impact on the local network would not be ‘severe’ (in NPPF terms). He believes that LCC have used unsound modelling.

 Mr Wooliscroft also believed that his proposed changes to the Lytham Road/Church Road junction (widening of Church Road on the approach to the junction and signalised pedestrian crossings) would improve safety.

On sustainability, Mr Wooliscroft argued that local amenities were within acceptable walking distance and would be more accessible from the appeal site than from some current locations in the village.

The Witness was resilient in the face of a number of questions put to him by FBC’s barrister, robustly justifying the methodology he had used and economic growth assumptions.

In the Statement of Common Ground, both parties had agreed to differ on the modelling and traffic numbers used by both parties, so that whilst Mr Wooliscroft agreed that, based on LCC’s numbers, the Blackfield Green development could have a severe impact on the local highway network, that wasn’t the case using his numbers.

On sustainability, Mr Wooliscroft agreed that Blackfield would be a large scale development but that in itself would bring opportunities.

On public transport provision, Wooliscroft accepted that their proposed re-direction of the existing Wesham to Lytham bus service around the new development could not be guaranteed.

And finally, the witness was questioned on the suggested completion date of 2019 which, he said, was based on building starting late 2015 and a build-out rate of 40-45 dwellings per year on both sides of the site. This was deemed very optimistic by the FBC barrister.

The second day of the second week started with the Inspector confirming dates for the site visit (13/14 November) and said he would be happy for 3rd party reps/residents to accompany him.

FBC’s barrister brought the Inquiry’s attention to the latest Secretary of State’s announcement relating to an appeal in Wiltshire in which the SOS had given weight to community planning. What was significant about this appeal was that the Wilshire NP was at a very similar stage to Warton’s, ie. still out for consultation.

The Developer’s leading consultant, Mr Tibenham of Pegasus, came to the stand and was invited by his barrister to re-state his client’s position. In doing so he highlighted that fact that Fylde’s Local Plan was out of date, that FBC did not have a 5 Year Housing Supply and the NPPF’s ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.

Mr Tibenham made a couple of corrections to his Proof of Evidence in respect of

  1. Housing delivery performance across Fylde - though he did not think this made a material difference and
  2. The Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group minutes which he had originally said did not exist ; he now acknowledged that the minutes did exist. He then expressed some regret that he hadn’t engaged with the community following the Stakeholder meeting in Nov 2013 - but then blamed it on the Parish Council as FBC had stated that the Neighbourhood Plan process was now the vehicle for progressing the wider Masterplan for Warton! [last Friday, their Landscape witness had blamed FBC for not getting developers round the table to progress the masterplan].

With regard to recently announced BAE job losses highlighted by residents earlier in the Inquiry, he said that the numbers relating to Warton were not material. Mr Tibenham then went on to try to discredit the Neighbourhood Plan saying that the housing number of 650 being promoted was not based on sound evidence. His view was that the NP should carry very little weight in this Inquiry. It was also his view that a Sustainability Environment Assessment (SEA) would be required before the NP could be progressed any further. He discounted recent Secretary of State decisions that had found in favour of Neighbourhood Plans (though he hadn’t seen the most recent decision).

He then explained why he thought 150-200 houses could be delivered within the next 5 years, based on recent evidence associated with the GEC Marconi and Meadow View developments.

He discounted a number of issues/concerns that had been raised earlier in the Inquiry (masterplanning, loss of agricultural land, air quality, tree preservation orders, design code, Affordable public/private housing ratio, green belt protection).

On Public Open Space, he quoted the Neighbourhood Plan for evidence of a shortfall in the parish which this development would address (so having rubbished the evidence base in the NP he then cited the evidence base in the NP when it was convenient to do so).

When asked by the Appellant’s barrister to sum up, Mr Tibenham said this development would have a social benefit, providing affordable housing, improving bio-diversity, generating additional spending in the local community and New Homes Bonus, would create construction jobs and benefit the supply chain, would create a stronger boundary around Warton and provide public open space.

He was invited to express an opinion on the latest Secretary of State's decision in Wiltshire which had been received just that day – his initial view was it didn’t change his position, he still had reservations about the NP’s site allocations and pointed out that in the Wiltshire case, there was no Enterprise Zone involved.

Under cross examination by the FBC barrister, Mr Tibenham accepted that Warton was designated a local rather than key service centre and that the proposed development was an extension to the settlement into open countryside, going beyond what is in the Adopted Local Plan.

Under questioning about community planning Mr Tibenham reiterated his views about the quality of Warton's Neighbourhood Plan and the fact that it still had a number of hurdles to clear. He also pointed to the fact that both the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and LCC had separately questioned the fact that the Neighbourhood Plan’s growth predictions were partly based on views allegedly expressed by Mark Menzies that ‘the EZ would be a slow burner’.

At this point a resident interrupted and suggested that the Inquiry invite Mark Menzies as a witness on behalf of the Parish Council but this suggestion was not taken up!

As aside, during the initial consultation on the Neighbourhood Plan, the separate written responses from the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and Lancashire County Council use exactly the same wording to dismiss the ‘slow burner’ quote –

  • “The LEP cannot support the description of the Warton Enterprise Zone site on page 36, right hand column, or the reference to it being a "slow burner" on page 13: The wording is not sourced or evidenced and should be deleted.“ or try this
  • “The County Council would not support the description of the Warton Enterprise Zone site on page 36, right hand column, or the reference to it being a "slow burner" on page 13. The wording is not sourced or evidenced and should be deleted."

Spookily similar!

Mr Tibenham was cross-examined about the proposed delivery rate and the FBC barrister suggested to him that concurrent housing developments in Warton (GEC Marconi, Riversleigh) could mean that the market would be saturated. Mr Tibenham’s response brought gasps and laughter from the public gallery when he suggested that the Riversleigh development (83 houses) was targeted at the ‘lower end of the market’. In response, the FBC barrister had some fun and pointed out that the Riversleigh developer might well have a similar view of the Blackfield Green proposals.

Mr Tibenham would not be shifted on his view that the delivery rate and timescales were achievable, despite it being such a large scheme and various seasonal ecological surveys that would have to be completed.

With regard to the ‘planning balance’, Fylde's barrister questioned a number of aspects including claimed benefits – meeting local need, affordable housing mix and economic benefits accruing directly to the local community. In response Mr Tibenham said that ‘more chimney pots’ meant more financial benefits.

The FBC barrister put it to him that if the LCC’s view that the impact on the transport network was severe (in NPPF terms) then the development was unsustainable ; also that the landscape impact was moderate to significant. Mr Tibenham did not accept the network impact but did accept some landscape visual impact. In response to a question about the latest Secretary of State's decision, Mr Tibenham reiterated his view that the difference was that Warton has an EZ, guaranteeing growth.

Residents and third parties were then invited by the Inspector to cross examine Mr Tibenham. These included questions about meeting the local need, why the developer had not engaged with the local community (he regretted this but had expected a formal invite from the Parish Council – he agreed it was a missed opportunity), and recovered appeals. It was also pointed out to Mr Tibenham that, despite claims earlier in the Inquiry that it was BAE who had pushed for Warton to be a Key Service Centre and SLD in the Local Plan's Issues and Options phase, BAE had not provided any response or objections to the draft Neighbourhood Plan.

One resident questioned Mr Tibenham about trust and confidence issues that had arisen during the planning process with false claims and lack of engagement with the community by Pegasus/Hallam Land Management. Another resident managed to get the witness to (reluctantly) agree that there were sites across Fylde (and indeed in Warton) that were more sustainable than Blackfield End Farm ; Mr Tibenham also agreed that the 25% growth already approved for Warton (416 planning permissions) was substantial and that the 40% (650 houses) growth promoted in the Neighbourhood Plan was very substantial. Mr Tibenham was also asked if he was aware of the current plans to improve the village centre with public realm money to enhance the experience for residents - which would be completely undermined and made redundant by the Appellant’s plans to totally re-engineer the crossroads to made it traffic friendly.

As a final act of the day, a Wrea Green resident was given the opportunity to express his concerns about the proposed development and the knock on adverse traffic consequences for his village.

The Inspector opened the final day by confirming the arrangements for the site visit on Thursday 13 November (unaccompanied) and Friday 14th November (accompanied by two representatives each from FBC, the Appellant and the community).

A couple of late written submissions from residents were accepted by the Inspector and a Parish Councillor and resident of Warton (Mr Michael Gilbert), who had attended every day of the Inquiry, stood and congratulated the Inspector for the way he had conducted the proceedings and for giving the community the opportunity to have their say.

One of the final acts of the Inquiry was for both parties to try to come to some agreement on planning conditions (draft S106) should the development be given the go ahead. These had been worked up between the parties during the Inquiry and were now tabled for discussion and agreement. The Inspector took the public gallery somewhat by surprise by inviting those residents and 3rd parties who had previously spoken to contribute to the discussions – which they did, seeking clarification and some changes.

This was another first and welcomed.

It was left to both parties to make their closing statement.

There were no surprises.

The Inspector closed the Inquiry by thanking all those involved and for the way residents and third parties had conducted themselves.

The overall impression of residents and third parties was that the Inquiry had been conducted in a very fair and open and inclusive manner and that the Inspector had given local residents and third parties every opportunity to make their case and cross examine witnesses.

The word on the street is that some locals we have spoken to are are quietly hopeful the decision will go their way.

It's also notable that the outcome of the appeal will not be known until April 2015 – a month before the General Election.

And one final point.

In the House of Commons on Monday, our MP Mark Menzies posed a question to the new Planning Minister Brandon Lewis. He said: “May I take this opportunity to praise the residents of Warton in my constituency who recently submitted a comprehensive neighbourhood plan in line with the Government’s aspiration for community engagement? Does my hon. Friend agree that neighbourhood plans should be given full consideration by local councils at the earliest opportunity?”

To which Mr Lewis replied : “I congratulate my hon. Friend’s community on going forward with a neighbourhood plan. He is absolutely right. Local authorities should move forward to get them to the referendum stage as quickly as possible—the average at the moment is just two months. I hope that his community will benefit from that as well.”

So we're hopeful St Eric will reward the hard work of the residents of Warton and dismiss the appeal.

Dated:  11 November 2014


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