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Just A Minute!

Just A Minute!There was a frisson of surprise at the start of one of Fylde's Development Management Committee meetings recently, when Queen Elizabeth Oades challenged the minutes of the previous meeting.

Speaking about the conditions attached to the application for a traveller site off Thames Street she wanted to know who was responsible for implementing the conditions which the Committee had imposed.

She said that she had one view about what they had decided about the conditions, but other members of the committee appeared to have a different view, and she wanted the matter to be more clear in the minutes.

The chairman tried to defuse what appeared to be a question with the potential to grow into a small bomb (which eventually it did) by asking the officer to explain the situation.

Mr Evans from Fylde planning gave the formal position - Fylde imposed the conditions it believed were necessary. Sometimes these were based on advice from eg the Highways Authority or Environment Agency or whoever. When the work had been done, and when Fylde and their advisers were satisfied, the conditions were held to have been discharged.

Cllr Mrs Oades said she had seen information suggesting the Chairman had expressed the view that it was up to the County Council to implement the conditions relating to highways at Thames Street, and she was concerned if that was the Chairman's view, she thought it to be incorrect, and there may be other members of the Committee who might have different understandings.

She also thought this might have affected how the Chairman - and indeed other members of the Development Management Committee - had voted.

And she wondered if the Committee ought to re-consider the decision - and conditions - if there *was* such doubt.

Cllr Mrs Speak then said she had been told by the Chairman of the Newton Resident's Association that the Development Management Committee Chairman (Cllr Ben Aitken) had expressed the view that he did not expect the applicant to pay for all the highway work to discharge the condition. She worried that Cllr Aitken did not appear to believe the conditions imposed were the responsibility of the applicant to discharge.

She was also concerned that the advice Fylde had received from a specialist planning barrister had been received before all the information sent by the Highways Authority had been received, so the barrister had also not seen - what she regarded as - the onerous conditions imposed.

She thought the barrister's advice might have been different if they had known this information. So she agreed with Cllr Oades that it might have been an unsound condition, and she was unhappy voting to agree the minutes when there was such uncertainty.

Cllr Aitken said "On the matter of the Counsel, I have no idea if the Counsel saw the conditions"

Cllr Fiddler said he had agreed to have a private meeting after the Development Management Committee to discuss it with those involved to try and sort it out.

Cllr Duffy - incisive as ever - said the debate had come as a surprise to him, and he thought that all members would have understood it was the applicant's responsibility to discharge the conditions that the Council had set.

So - phrasing it as a question - he asked was he right in thinking that Cllr Mrs Oades was saying that the Chairman thought the conditions would be fulfilled by someone other than the applicant?

He had laid a classic "have you stopped beating your wife" mantrap.

The Chairman stumbled a bit, but then said whilst the conditions were upon the applicant, and he thought the highway in the immediate vicinity of the site might be considered as being subject to the conditions, he thought the whole of Thames Street was another matter, and that would be too onerous to be included in the condition and "We did not vote on that condition - it was not one of the conditions."

Other members of the Committee (audibly) disagreed with him.

He added in exasperation "It's too onerous for anyone to attempt to do, and if I am incorrect I'd like the officers and the portfolio holder to inform me."

The officers said the scheme of highway works had to be approved by the local authority. Then 'Condition 13' was then discussed to see what it said. It was read out in the meeting....

"No part of the development hereby approved shall commence until a scheme for the construction of the site access and the off site highway works of improvement has been submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority. Reason: In order to satisfy the Local Planning Authority that the final details of the highway scheme/works are acceptable before work commences on site."

The officer clarified the point for the committee and said the debate was really about the extent of the works that were required by the condition, and he suggested that although such decisions were normally a matter delegated to officers, he would be happy for this to have wider consideration - such as the Chairman and Vice Chairman and Ward members, or whatever, to determine the extent of the works. He said broadly they listened to what the Highway authority wanted and that was usually the criteria for judging fulfilment with the conditions.

He added that whilst the conditions were imposed on the applicant, it was up to him how he did them as long as they were satisfactory, and it may be that he could put pressure on another body such as the County council to do the works for him.

Then he sort of spoiled things somewhat by saying that Thames Street was an adopted highway and people might reasonably expect the Highway Authority to maintain it, by, for example, providing decent surfacing and decent lighting etc, so he was hinting at support for the Chairman's position.

Cllr Mrs Oades again bristled at the implied suggestion that the applicant might somehow avoid responsibility for meeting the condition - which she understood to be the whole of the highway works necessary because of the development. She said she thought she had no option but to read out what the Chairman had written to Cllr Mrs Speak - which was...

"As to the improvement, I have clarified this with Mark Evans. My comments to him are as I said to the person who rang me - I do not expect the applicant to make the highways improvements i.e. street lighting, walkways and road surfacing. The costs to the applicant would be out of the question. These are the responsibility of the Lancashire County Council"

Queen Elizabeth added that she had since spoken with the Director of Highways at Lancashire County Council who said they had no intention to undertake the works to Thames Street and such works would be the applicant's responsibility, with the planning authority having to enforce that because they have put the planning condition in place.

The Vice Chairman said he thought the condition had to be tempered by a test of reasonableness and fairness.

That view was not popular elsewhere around the table, and Cllr Mulholland formally disagreed. He said he appreciated what the Vice Chairman had said, but what was necessary was necessary if it was needed and if it was needed it was reasonable.

Cllr Collins said it was increasingly clear that the Chairman and Vice Chairman were unclear as to the extent of the conditions.

However it transpired the matter was - at least for that moment - defused by Cllr Fiddler's offer to convene a group to try to sort out the nature of the conditions and come back to the Committee. This was helped by the Chairman's undertaking that his comments were not in the minutes to be approved, and if he had to retract what he had said in whole or in part then he would do so, and Cllr Fiddler's undertaking that the conclusion of that post-committee private meeting would be made public.

And with that the minutes were approved as written - especially as FBC's Solicitor Mr Curtis pointed out that they did -as far as he could tell - reflect the wording of the decision made at the meeting.

Since then, we've waited to see what transpired from the private post-committee meeting, and the publication of those conclusions - as Cllr Fiddler promised.

Sadly, just like an earlier 'rebel' - (We're thinking here of Wat Tyler, who, during the 'Peasant's Revolt', put his trust in the honesty and integrity of King Richard II, and who believed the King when he appeared to have acceded to Tyler's demands and was conciliatory) - Cllr Mrs Oades must have felt sadly disillusioned when Fylde Cabinet's 'Planning King' (in this case Cllr Fiddler) suggested after the meeting he was going to do nothing about it, and things stood as they did.

Mind you, so far as we can tell, that's only an oral position, he doesn't seem to have 'published' the outcome at all - as he undertook to do.

It has to be good news that Queen Elizabeth wasn't killed during the 'negotiations' by the King's agents as Wat Tyler was. (Sorry about the mixing of historical periods here!), but the episode does neatly encapsulate the appalling abuses that are possible when power is concentrated in too few hands.

In attempting to represent and deal with the concerns of the electorate, able councillors like Mrs Oades, who was, of course, elected equally with every other councillor, but was not selected by Fylde's 'Leader' to be a 'Cabinet Member', are, in reality, mostly powerless and frustrated when those to whom the Cabinet's executive power has been granted close ranks against them.

The arrogant abuse of power is not an attractive sight, is it?

Dated:  14 February 2014


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