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Minority 2 at Council

Minority 2 at CouncilWe said in the last counterbalance that, with each passing meeting, Fylde Council manages to reach new highs in delivering the most awful meeting it has held in this administration.

True to form, last night we witnessed another step along this path.

Whilst short (and less argumentative that some), it was, nevertheless, the second most awful meeting in Fylde's history.

We watched a crude demonstration of raw party political power triumphing over logic and common sense.

We watched Fylde Conservatives being wholly unable to convince other members of the council by the strength of their arguments.

We saw the Conservative hierarchy being so fearful that the future will show them to have been wrong, that they ran away from taking a decision.

To do this the Conservative group employed the last refuge of a scoundrel council - they delivered a 'guillotine' procedural motion which simply stopped the debate in its tracks and moved on to the next item of business without taking a vote on the item before them.

The last time that happened was the 'guillotine' in the dreadful 3 March Budget Meeting that closed the swimming pools, (and we all know what thet led to).

So what was it all about?  What had them running scared?

Well, it was all about one of the issues in what should be known as Fylde's emerging  'Local Plan.'

But as time goes by, this plan it becomes less and less Fylde's Local Plan and it becomes more and more 'Fylde Conservatives' Local Plan.'

It is no longer supported by 42% of our elected Councillors, and it has riven Fylde  Council asunder.

It might yet earn itself the epithet 'Fiddlers Folly' because it is Cllr Trevor Fiddler alone who is in the driving seat, taking Individual Cabinet Member Decisions that command only the support of his Conservative Party colleagues and almost no-one else.

Preparing the Local Plan has already cost Fylde taxpayers over £1million for gathering the evidence on which the decisions and policies are to be based.

Normally that would be money well spent if it secured the aims that local people want; if the plan reflected the beliefs and values of the local community.

But increasingly it is being shown not to do that.

It is failing to reflect the beliefs of almost half the Councillors we elect, and it has already failed to satisfy local people who understand the planning system- as evidenced by the unprecedented Joint Statement of Unsound Consultation issued by the ten community groups concerned with planning matters in Fylde.

We will get to what happened at the meeting shortly, but first we ought to briefly reprise what has led us here

Readers will remember that in 'Local Plan Rift' back in May 2013 we reported how the Local Plan Steering group was split over several proposals suggested for inclusion in the Local Plan.

In the end Cllr Trevor Fiddler (Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development) overrode the Steering Group's concerns and took an 'Individual Cabinet Member Decision' to approve *his* preferred version of the 'Preferred Options' for the local plan - as a prelude to public consultation.

Then in 'Local Plan: Preferred Options Consultation' in June 2103, we reported futher that the Conservative councillors at that meeting had dismissed the concerns of other groups on the Council, and also dismissed all their proposed changes to the plan.

Although there had been several issues put forward, the main concerns had been about flawed employment land calculations and housing need and numbers, which, it was felt, would lead to bad policy-making in the local plan.

Councillors comprising 41% of those at the Council meeting refused to endorse the Local Plan and voted against it. They issued a Minority Report outlining their reasons.

We covered this in 'Minority Report' in August 2013.

Then, in 'Planning Matters' we broke news of a 'Joint Statement' that had been issued by all the community groups in Fylde concerned with planning.

They too were unhappy with the local plan. They said they 'deplored' the Council's failure with regard to housing numbers and said the lack of proper information "so critically compromises the ensuing policy that we believe it renders this consultation phase unsound".

They called on the Council to suspend the (then current) consultation and withdraw the Preferred Options document until it was able to support it with its own declared housing requirement together with its related evidence and reasoned justification, adding that only then should an amended 'Preferred Options' document, be re-presented for public consultation.

Trevor Fiddler's 'Individual Member Local Plan' was heading for the rocks.

Subsequently, and without any trumpets, Fylde has quietly indicated its intention to undertake a new public consultation having made some changes to the plan. We reported that in 'Fylde's Local Plan: Re-Consultation'

But although nothing has yet been published, it is believed those changes don't take account of the key issues that were of concern to almost half the Council and the community planning groups.

But, as a result of the planning groups' Joint Statement that was issued, the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development did hold a meeting with the community planning groups.

There were no minutes, but we know that one chap undertook to liaise with planners about housing numbers, and another chap undertook to produce a detailed critique on the issue of employment land.

This chap doing the employment land is someone counterbalance has a lot of regard for. We think he's pretty sharp in spotting planning policy blunders.

Back before 2007, he was the first person in the whole of Fylde to see the folly of what became the ludicrous 'Affordable Housing' scandal that had been set in train by a former social-engineering Chief Executive to make Fylde more egalitarian.

This chap alone spoke out about the preposterous report commissioned by Fylde's Chief Executive which said that Fylde needed 420 'Affordable Houses' (socially subsidised houses) every year, when the (then) Joint Lancashire Structure Plan said only 155 dwellings a year OF ALL TYPES were needed in Fylde Borough. And Fylde Council itself was only allowing the building of an annual average of 254 dwellings of all types per year.

None of this lunacy was understood by any of Fylde's councillors at the time.

They were persuaded that the consultancy undertaking the work was a highly respected, well regarded outfit - and it was.

What was wrong was the brief they had been given, and more especially the steer that had been applied to their work, and the conclusions that Fylde's officers drew from it.

The consultants later admitted that their findings had not been intended to define how many affordable houses Fylde needed. It had simply been a 'benchmarking exercise' to be able to compare Fylde with other councils, so they had used industry standard models to effect the comparisons.

They also said the real need for affordable housing in Fylde was approximately one tenth of the 420 they stated.

So it should have been 42 of the 155 houses a year, not an impossible 420 of them.

But the scale - of what we believe to be this officer-inspired con-trick intended to vastly increase social housing in Fylde to 're-balance' its electorate along more egalitarian lines - was so vast that neither the public nor councillors was able to see or challenge it at the time.

But the chap from Warton did.

And he took on the consultants at a Public Inquiry and wrought the admissions of the 'ten percent' real need from them.

But his incisive perspective on this matter was ignored by planning policy-makers at the time, and, on the advice of its officers, Fylde went on to adopt the ridiculous statement of 'affordable housing' need for 420 socially subsidised houses a year - the remnants of which are still with us.

That disaster has been - and still is - driving large chunks of housing policy at Fylde.

We predict the same thing is about to happen with Fylde's statement of need for Employment Land.

Both the 41% of Councillors who produced the first Minority Report, and the chap from Warton, have come to the same conclusions about the employment land.

Their conclusion is that Fylde's planning policy officers are leading the Council toward allocating about TWICE as much land for employment as will be actually needed.

In itself, that is bad enough, because it will consume green land for factories and businesses.

But it's even worse that that, because its calculations also fed into Fylde's Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment - which led to an assumed non-availability of Brownfield land on which to build, and meant all Fylde's Strategic Housing Land Allocations would be directed toward Greenfield land.

And we all know what happened there - housing developers homed in on Fylde's designated SHLAA land just like wasps round a jam pot - just ask anyone who lives in Warton, or Staining or Wesham or Kirkham.

So, having had Cllr Fiddler invite him to do so last April, the chap from Warton produced his employment land critique a month later, and sent it to Fylde, expecting to meet with planners and the Portfolio Holder to discuss the concerns and flaws he had set out.

That didn't happen.

Cllr Fiddler got the officers to - in effect - rubbish the critique based on its summary, then he reported that to Fylde's Local Plan Steering Group - without even letting them see the full critique with all the details.

In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

At this point, history began to repeat itself again.

The independent members of the Steering Group were unconvinced - but, without having been given the detail, they were not fully in the picture.

However, they knew enough to know what they were being told was not the whole story and, once again, they refused to endorse what the Portfolio Holder was proposing.

He (once again) dismissed their concerns, and went on to take another 'Individual Cabinet Member Decision' that agreed with the officers' dismissal of the critique.

The Independent councillors called for a copy of the full critique to be made available to them and, having read it, decided to petition for a Scrutiny Meeting to look further into the matter.

More than enough councillors assented to the call-in request, and the Scrutiny Meeting was held on 10th September.

It was a good meeting in the sense that many of the arguments were outlined and concerns were expressed.

But it was evident that the Portfolio Holder either knew so little about the employment land matter himself - (readers will remember this is the same chap who agreed to the sale of Melton Grove without, on his own admission, knowing much about it, but believing it was not Conservative Party Policy for Councils to manage social housing), or he was so unsure of his arguments on it - that he had specially imported the Consultants who had prepared the study in the first place - to argue his case for him at the Scrutiny Committee.

We're told his inability to defend his decisions personally cost another £400 in fees for the consultants.

Cllr Fiddler's personal lacklustre performance at the meeting was in sharp contrast to that of Queen Elizabeth, who had led the call-in request and delivered a masterful grasp of the issues with what she said.

We asked for a copy of her presentation and are grateful to Cllr Oades for providing it. We think our readers will want to read what she said, and can follow this link to download a copy.

Cllr Charlie Duffy also excelled, forcing an admission from Cllr Fiddler that the previous employment land report (known as the Grimley report) had flaws, and was still influencing planning policy today, because the flaws had not been corrected.

We were at the call-in meeting and were entirely confident that the case for changing the interpretation that had been applied to the data in the latest consultant's report had been made overwhelmingly at the meeting. But the Conservative members, led chiefly by Cllr Ben Aitken, all decided they would not accept any alterations at all.

Their arguments were vacuous. They could not even produce a proper justification or reason for their refusal to call-in Cllr Fiddler's decision, and instead had to rely on not giving any reason at all for rejecting the call-in.

The proposition of Cllr Oades and Cllr Duffy was: “To call-in the Individual Cabinet Member Decision on the Employment Land Study and ask the Portfolio Holder to reconsider the decision as it was considered that the decision taken was not in the interests of the inhabitants of the borough for the reasons outlined in 1 to 5 above."

Calling it in would have meant nothing more than asking Cllr Fiddler to reconsider his Individual Member Decision.

The subsequent vote reflected absolutely the Conservative group majority of nine votes, all of whom voted down the motion:

For the motion to call in the decision were: Councillors Brickles, Chedd, Chew, Duffy, K Henshaw, Oades, Silverwood. (7 votes):

Against the motion were Councillors Aitken, Andrews, S Ashton, Craig-Wilson, L Davies, Donaldson, Jacques, Redcliffe, Willder (9 votes):

Abstentions (0)

Following the motion being defeated, the Chairman (who was unable to attach any reasoned justification for the decision), simply indicated that the call-in request would automatically fail because of the vote, and the Individual Cabinet Member Decision (dated 27 August 2014) would be therefore implemented.

We had watched the debate, and the best that those who opposed the motion could offer by way of argument had been to say, in effect, "Well, we've paid the consultants a lot of money and our officers know what they are doing. They're the professionals and we should take their advice"

This was exactly the same argument that was made about the consultants who undertook the research into the - now discredited - affordable housing numbers back in the 90's.

Those consultants were also considered competent and 'too big to fail' - and they too had to be believed, even though the interpretation of the data they collected was subsequently shown to have been skewed and interpreted without sufficient questioning by Fylde's officers.

So the outcome of Fylde's recent Scrutiny Committee was that reasoned argument was flattened by the steamroller of raw party political power, and the call-in was refused.

Also voted down was another proposition by Cllr Oades and Cllr Duffy that the Scrutiny Committee should establish as 'Task and Finish Group' to make further investigations into the issues surrounding the decisions about Employment Land.

At this point, readers might like to take a moment out, to reflect on the efficacy of Scrutiny committees that contain a majority of councillors of the same party that exercises party political control of the decision that was taken in the first place.

We suspect if our readers do that, they will see the folly of this Cabinet System and be grateful that Fylde looks set to discontinue Scrutiny Committees when it moves to Committee system next May.

Back to today, and, frustrated at the Scrutiny Committee's inability to give a reasoned and logical justification for its decision, and concerned about future planning policy, the seven Independent and Liberal Democrat councillors whose call-in was refused, produced yet another Minority Report - which looks at the issue of Employment Land flaws in more detail.

Readers can follow this link to download a copy of what we're calling 'Minority 2'.

It's quite readable and worth looking at.

It explains in clear terms, backed up by statistical information from the consultants report, why the decision taken Cllr Fiddler took, is wrong.

But, not content with simply advancing their views with the second Minority Report, Cllr Mrs Oades also went 'over the head' of the Scrutiny Committee that had refused point blank to look further into the matter.

She submitted a 'Notice of Motion' to Monday night's Full Council meeting (6th October 2014).

Her proposition read

"In response to the Policy Development Scrutiny Committee's recent decision not to call in the Cabinet Member Decision regarding Employment Land, a minority of the Committee have published a Minority Report to explain our concerns.

We believe there is a serious risk that the Local Plan could be found to be based on conclusions that are unsound, and we therefore call for this matter to be addressed in detail via a Task and Finish Scrutiny Group.

We propose that the Council:

i) receive the Minority Report, and

ii) request the Policy Development Scrutiny Committee to establish a Task and Finish Group to investigate in detail the concerns set out in our Minority Report, and that Mr Guest, who submitted his critique at the request of the Portfolio Holder, be invited to become part of that Task and Finish group, and

iii) that a further report be made to full Council by the Scrutiny Committee."

She then outlined the background and summarised the content of the first part of the Minority Report.

She said the Local Plan Steering Group had not been allowed to see the full paper, nor its conclusions, so it had been impossible for them to consider the underlying logic and reasoning.

She also noted that the Scrutiny Committee called to consider the call-in request did not have the full paper provided.

She said "When I asked why not, I was told that it would be unfair to send out the paper without the Fylde Employment and Premises Study. I insisted that it would be ridiculous for a Committee to discuss a paper without having sight of it. And the paper was subsequently sent out electronically and as a paper copy. Even so, a member of the Committee determining the call in, admitted that she had not read *any* of the paperwork. The call-in failed by nine votes to seven. The member who admitted not having read any of the information voted not to call it in.

The reason for our concern in this matter is that we genuinely believe there are flaws and errors in the employment land policy which, if not corrected, will render the local plan unsound. These flaws will undoubtedly be rehearsed at the Inquiry in public, in front of an inspector."

She went on to say the impending re-consultation on the whole of the local plan would mean a further investigation of employment land would delay things nor would it lead to additional costs.

At the end of her introduction, she asked the Mayor to take each of her propositions as a separate vote.

Cllr Charlie Duffy seconded her propositions.

We suspect that without Cllr Oades realising it, her request for separate votes threw what later looked to be the Conservative group's carefully crafted plan to 'defuse' the item into disarray.

At the time the debate started, we didn't understand why several of the senior Conservatives quickly spoke up to argue against having a vote on each item.

Cllr Fiddler was first, followed by Cllrs Buckley. They wanted a vote taken on all three items as one.

At the time, it looked very much as though they were intending to vote against everything.

The compromise, well brokered by the Mayor (Cllr Eastham), was to say that resolution (i) was nothing more than a statement of fact, and that would not need a vote as, by being distributed to Councillors for the debate, the Minority Report had de-facto been accepted by the Council. In doing this, he secured agreement of Cllr Oades that items (ii) and (iii) would be taken together.

When he asked who wished to speak to the proposition, the silence was deafening.

Not one Conservative hand went up to ask to speak.

At first, we thought this probably meant they had pre-arranged not to debate the matter, and would simply to vote against it to defeat it (in the same way the call-in request had been defeated).

But later, it dawned on us that they simply had not rehearsed what to do or say when the Mayor agreed to split the first item from the other two and accept it without a vote.

We believe they had hatched a plan to disregard the item altogether, but the Mayor's decision to separate out the first item had scotched that as far as accepting the report was concerned.

To set the ball rolling, Cllr Mrs Nulty spoke and said she had always been of the opinion that this study was flawed and, if the assertions were true, and she believed they were, they needed to look in more detail why six of the seven models the consultants had used said they would need less employment land than is currently identified, and the seventh had said they would need twice as much.

The answer to this is to be found in the report itself.

The six models - as recommended for use by Government - use complex assessments of things like predicted population growth in people of working age from the Office of National Statistics, and they look at the future plans of existing businesses using Fylde wide business surveys, and so on, to produce a range of forecasts. These are then modified for the likely effects of known situations such as the effect of the Enterprise Zone at Warton and so on.

These six permutations will undoubtedly have consumed that vast part of the consultants time and their £30,000 cost.

The seventh option simply took the area of land that Fylde had actually allocated to employment use in the last 'x 'years (which Fylde themselves publish), then divided it by 'x' to give the average area per year, then multiplied that average rate by however many years they wanted to project it into the future.

Yes really.

That's all there is to it.

This 'Historic Land Take Up' approach only measures land that has actually been taken up.

It does not take account of land that had been released as businesses moved from an existing site a new location in Fylde (leaving their former site available for others), nor does it address other - more complex - matters.

So, when you use the Historic Land Take Up system,

  • you only count new land that's been put into use, and don't subtract the land that is released from use,
  • and you don't recognise that 23% (and growing) of all workers in Fylde now work from home (so they don't need any additional land),
  • and you fail to account for developments in technology that mean that less land is needed anyway (eg the knowledge industries such as IT need far less space per employee than say, shipbuilding would)

so it's no surprise that find you need more land than at present.

Fylde says it needs twice as much - when the other six models range between needing less land, and needing about the same.

This crude 'Historic Land Take Up' calculation could not possibly justify the £30,000 that the consultants were paid to undertake the work.

As the chap from Warton has told us, it could have been done just as well by any of Fylde's primary school classes for little more than a few bottles of pop and a few bags of crisps.

Yet, amazingly, this is the method of calculation that Fylde is has chosen as it's preferred way to predict our future need for employment land.

We believe the simple overview we have provided here for our readers shows the issue in stark relief.

It also shows why almost half the Council are concerned about what Fylde's local plan will say.

Cllr Elaine Silverwood wondered if the real driver for the policies about to be adopted was the New Homes Bonus - where the Government pays councils a bonus payment for all the new housing plans they approve.

She wondered whether the excess growth in predicted employment was in order to justify more and more housing to get more and more money from the New Homes Bonus. She said "I cannot see a problem in forming a Task and Finish Group. If we're wrong, we're wrong. Fine. Everybody holds their hand up. If not, at least we know we're going forward with the correct information."

Cllr Charlie Duffy said he was really concerned about how the way the critique had been dealt with. He criticised the officer' handling and their response to the matters raised. He went on to say that that it was a complex matter and he appealed to members who did not feel they fully understood it properly, to abstain from voting on it.

He said Fylde was smaller than both Blackpool and Wyre, yet it planned to have twice as much employment land as Blackpool and Wyre added together, and he said it deserved a closer inspection, adding "I would hate to think that the amount of employment land that's been proposed is there just purely to meet the aspirations of the Council, or even worse, that it's there just to push up the number of new homes and increase the amount of New Homes Bonus"

Then the first Conservative broke the silence. The Brigadier wanted his 2d worth. He whinged that this was the third time he had "had to listen to this argument, both at the scrutiny and at the special scrutiny."

He said it was about employment, not houses.

Moving into full lecture mode, and drawing on personal experience, he said he had been an employment consultant for 25 years, and the one thing he knew was that you could not predict what was going to happen.

(If that was the case, we wondered why he had agreed to paying BE/AECOM £30,000 of our money to do exactly that).

Using this vast knowledge, he continued "I helped to re-deploy the whole of Birdseye/Walls in Kirby in North Liverpool from their site and they said that was the end of Kirby. It was going to die. QVC the shopping channel is now employing ten times the number that Birdseye/Walls did"

He's probably right, but readers might spot that this was about the re-use of existing land, not about how much new land was needed.

It also demonstrates how modern employment needs less space per employee.

He continued "We had a site that was derelict - Cookson's Bakery. Some houses went on to it. The Land Registry next to it. Danbro are moving in there and creating hundreds of jobs"

Again, these are both changes in existing employment land, not about defining future need. (The Cookson's example also demonstrates the reduction in employment land that arises when sites change to housing. That means less employment land, not a need for more).

He went on to say "Inenco has moved from St. Annes to Lytham and has created even more jobs"

Again this is about moving from one site to another, not about new land. And again, although it did not suit his argument to say it, Inenco's move to existing employment land in Lytham released their former employment site (Petros House) which is now the subject of a planning application for residential use.

This again perfectly illustrates how overall land is reducing whilst employment itself is increasing.

He said "If we don't have the land, we won't have anywhere for us to attract business. The Conservative coalition has created 2m jobs since 2010. 2m Mr Mayor and we are looking here saying we don't need any more in Fylde. The Black cloud's hanging over us. We're going to have fewer and fewer, so lets not use it"

What he's doing here of course is demonstrating his ignorance of the matter..

He is confusing employment and jobs with the land that is needed to support them.

If he had read and actually understood the BE/AECOM consultants study, he would have known that in Fylde - as in other places - employment is going up, but the land needed to sustain the increased number of employees is going down.

That's because today's employment - (with it's emphasis on automation and homeworking) - needs significantly less space per employee in terms of additional land than has been the case in the past.

We were surprised that an employment consultant of 25 years standing didn't seem to understand that.

He believed they did not need a Task and Finish Group and they should just get on with the local plan.

Next up was Conservative Cllr Tim Ashton. He said that ten or more years ago, the Fylde coast was known as 'Costa Geriatricaa' but he thought that had now changed - "hopefully for the good" he said, adding that families and younger people were changing the demographics of the Fylde Coast.

We have to admit we've not seen the evidence for that in Fylde Borough where, as we understand it, the demographics - especially in the coastal region -demonstrate an increasingly aged population, but there we are.

He said "I'd like to say, to my opposition members, that we should be shouting from the rooftops, that Fylde is open for business. We want to attract entrepreneurs who are going to employ people and create jobs, and sustain jobs. I don't want to see Fylde - Lytham St Annes, Kirkham, Wesham and all the rural areas - as a dormitory, where people are living there and travelling to Manchester or Preston and so forth to their jobs. I want to have jobs on the doorstep"

He continued "To some extent Mr Mayor, I agree with Cllr Oades about the employment study, that the figures are wrong. We haven't got ENOUGH employment land in them. We should have more.

There's some clear blue water between myself and my colleagues and the opposition over there. We believe in creating jobs and rewarding successful businessmen and making sure that Fylde can be sustained. We're not NIMBY's on this side of the Council Chamber Mr Mayor. We want to see success. And success then breeds success"

Our regular readers will not be surprised to find that we fundamentally disagree with Cllr Ashton's approach to local government.

As a failed aspirant Police Commissioner who still appears to aspire to higher office, he sees Fylde Council purely in terms of party politics. To us, he is a politician, not a councillor.

And whilst not taking issue with the need to attract employment to the area, we again see him, like the speaker before him, as not having read, or at least not having properly understood, that increases in employment do not directly require increases in the land allocated to it.

The BE/AECOM report illustrates this with great clarity.

And with respect that is due, we're less willing to be lectured about the needs of business by someone who did not even seem to be able to sustain the family business that was handed to him.

The Mayor showed his hand somewhat at this point by saying that they seem to have lost sight of the fact that this [the BE/AECOM Study] was a professional report, which, as a council, they had paid experts to produce on their behalf, and he thought that was a material consideration.

What we think he was missing here is that the information BE/AECOM produced is, for the most part, not in dispute.

What is disputed is the interpretation and selective use of that information being made to fit a vision of growth that is not justified by the evidence.

Cllr Chedd picked up this point and said the problem was that they were planning to ignore six-sevenths of the professional report, and were just going for the one seventh that seemed to suit an agenda that was already in place.

He also picked up on Cllr Nash's examples saying they were about moving from site to site, not about a need for additional employment land.

Cllr Eaves said the Minority Report really did challenge the professional commission, but - adopting the line from Scrutiny - he said it had been commissioned from a very well respected organisation with a history of successful commissions, and has defended their methodology at planning meetings.

He said "Any alternative is a report, commissioned outside the council procurement and without the input from our planning policy professionals should be carefully considered and that is the reason I will not be voting for this notice of motion this evening"

He also said he believed a Task and Finish Group would be an expense for the council, he thought it would delay the local plan, and he thought it could delay the local plan considerably, and any delay would continue to open the door to developers to pressurise the council, especially into rural land, for development that the council did not want.

We really struggle with this.

Like Cllr Richard Redcliffe, he makes all the right noises, but when he sat down, we were left with the impression that Cllr Eaves had been simply hoovering up possible reasons to argue against looking into the matter when, in reality, he wasn't open to being convinced by any evidence anyway. To us it seemed a polite, but sham, argument.

Cllr Redcliffe did another presentation very similar in style to the masterclass in disagreement he gave at the recent Shale Gas meeting.

He began by saying he'd read the Minority Report and did not disrespect it. Nor, he said, did he want to question the motives behind the report.

He accepted there was a lot of information in the report. Nor did he agree that there was - as someone else had said - only one way to go when you'd read the report. He said to agree with that would assume and presume a lot.

He also said he was suspicious why, out of the seven models, the one that showed growth was selected.

But he said he was also at the Scrutiny meeting and heard the call for a debate, and that's what they were having now about whether there was a role for a task and finish group.

He said what it boiled down to was whether the report in front of them provided robust evidence, and where they should place their judgement.

He said there were opposite arguments and conflicting data, and they had to decide whether to trust what the Portfolio Holder and the Planning Officers and the Consultants were saying.

He said the question was whether they should invest more importance in the report before them that had been produced by a group of well-meaning councillors and well informed councillors including an awful lot of input by the chap from Warton, which he respected, or whether to listen to the advice of their professional officers, the Portfolio Holder and the consultants..

He said having read the report, he realised that, like all models, no-one knew what lay ahead in the future. He said historically we had been through a deep recession and we were now in a very different position, and what he didn't like about the report was that it was almost based on negative premise. He said he thought there was nothing wrong with having aspiration and nothing wrong with having vision.

His logic was skilfully balanced, and the arguments he made were skilfully woven to conclude that the Minority Report would not get his support.

But, (we think because he had actually seen the flaws pointed out in the report, he had left himself just enough wriggle room; he had sown just enough doubt into his decision, that it would let him off the hook lightly if, in the future, it was shown to have been the wrong decision.

Then, when everyone thought the debate was over, Cllr Fiddler spoke..

Referring to a proposition at previous meeting he said "The motion before us, to set up a Task and Finish Group to report on Fylde's Employment Land needs is a different beast. In my opinion it is totally irresponsible. Irresponsible for three reasons"

The first was that awaiting the findings of a Task and Finish Group would delay the local plan considerably and prolong the vulnerability in dealing with countryside applications.

The second was that the Minority Report was based entirely on an interpretation of employment land needs by a resident of Warton, and the authors of the report had pre-empted deliberation by a Task and Finish exercise because they had already rubbished the evidence of the BE consultants and denigrated the professionalism of Fylde's planning officers.

Thirdly he said it was irresponsible because the Local Plan Inspector at the Examination in Public stage would be presented with two conflicting sets of evidence. His task will be to decide which is sound enough to allow the plan to be adopted, and he repeated the 'trust the consultants' line. He argued that getting it wrong at that stage would delay the adoption of the Local Plan by 6 to 9 months or even longer.

He went on to remind the meeting that there had been an earlier Minority Report that challenged much of the planning policy produced by Fylde's officers, adding that subsequently, planning appeals had supported the officer's interpretation and in doing so dismissed the arguments in the Minority Report, and in the Mowbreck Lane Inquiry this had resulted in substantial costs being awarded against Fylde.

And using this he tried to assert that "The independents are frequently on the wrong side of the planning arguments"

We have to say we take issue with a lot of this. A Task and Finish group would not delay the local plan unless it was decide that the Minority Report was right and the conclusions drawn from the BE/AECOM study were wrong.

But suggesting they should press ahead (even if the information was wrong) is yet another echo of Cllr Fiddler's previous form - where he put out to Public Consultation a version of the Local Plan that was based on such incomplete and inaccurate information that it eventually has had to be withdrawn - and is shortly to be re-issued and re-consulted upon. His Individual Member Decision to do that will result in at least a six month delay. He is no person to lecture others about causing delays.

Secondly, it should matter not who makes the challenge, nor why. The only issue is the reliability of the evidential conclusions on which planning policy is to be based. As the well known saying goes. Garbage in. Garbage out.

We're heading toward garbage planning policy.

Furthermore, the Minority Report did not rubbish the evidence at all. This is a direct quotation from it "We take little exception to much of the evidence produced by BR/AECOM. Nor, (as is stated in the Scrutiny Committee Minutes) do we question the reliability or reputation of the work of BE Group." So we wonder if Cllr Fiddler had actually read it?

Thirdly he says it's irresponsible because when presented to the Inquiry in Public both arguments will confuse the inspector and delay things. We don't think it will confuse the Inspector at all. We're confident in the belief that - unless changes are made quietly and behind the scenes by Fylde as a result of all this hoo-ha- the Inspector will recognise Fiddler's Folly for what it is. Folly.

Furthermore, Cllr Fiddler's argument in trying to link the first Minority Report (which addressed nine areas of policy) to some residential planning application appeals is based on an invalid conflation of arguments. It's like arguing that because Fido is a dog; and dogs are loyal; Fido must be loyal.

His comparison with Wesham is especially odious when we remember that the reason the Wesham planning appeal collapsed was that, on the morning of the appeal, Fylde threw in the towel and decided to offer no evidence..

But, right at the end of his speech, Cllr Fiddler exploded the device that we suspect was assembled in the Conservative Group's pre-meeting and said

"Because of the exhaustive time in debate and the considerable consumption of officer time and resources, I am obliged to move that the Council moves to the next item on the agenda"

This was absolute tosh.

This was no justification for not taking a vote on the matter.

It was simply an excuse to run away from taking a decision.

What we see here is a local Conservative Party caught with its foot firmly on the pedal of growth..

Politically, it wants to be able to visibly demonstrate its support for 'growth' by allocating more land to it than it knows is needed - probably in order to justify more housing and even more 'growth' - much to the chagrin of rural residents.

But it finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

It probably knows the Minority Report is right, but cannot vote to support an investigation that will only show they are on the wrong track (just as they were wrong about the Affordable Housing and Grimley reports); and they cannot dare not be seen to vote against the Minority Report if it will eventually be shown to be right.

Their only solution is not to take the decision at all.

That's what we think they did.

They ran away from it by using a procedural device.

Like the other 'guillotine' motion ('That the question now be put'), this 'move next business' device is a Standing Order procedural motion.

But unlike the one used in the 3 March 2008 Swimming Pool debate, once seconded it requires the meeting to immediately vote to move to the next item of business *without taking a vote on the matter that was being discussed*.

It was seconded.

Both Cllr Tim Ashton and Cllr Eaves stood to second it but the Mayor decided Cllr Ashton was first.

Fylde's Constitution offers no option here.

If 'move next business' is proposed and seconded, the vote to do so must be immediate and without debate.

The Mayor - who seemed to have been primed to expect this (because, as he said, "I am advised - and I've got the rules of procedure here - that whilst I would like to call upon Cllr Mrs Oades [as the proposer] to sum up here, the motion in front of us means that the Mayor must immediately put the procedural motion to vote without discussion"

A furious Cllr Oades said "They're too frightened for me to sum up Mr Mayor"

Fortunately - Cllr Silverwood and several others requested a recorded vote, so our readers (and the electorate) can see who was unwilling to let themselves be seen to vote against the Minority Report.

The Monitoring Officer then clarified that the vote was whether to move to the next item of business or not.

The vote was

For moving to the next business
Cllrs: Ackers, Armit, S Ashton, T Ashton, Buckley, Craig-Wilson, Cunningham, L Davies, Donaldson, Duffy, Eaves, Fiddler, Goodman, Jacques, Little, B Nash, E Nash, Pounder, Redcliffe, Singleton, Threlfall, Willder,

Against moving to next business
Cllrs: Chedd, Chew, Clayton, Collins, J Davies, Ford, Hardy, Hayhurst, H Henshaw, Hopwood, Nulty, Oades, Rigby, Silverwood, Speak, K Henshaw.

Cllrs Eastham, Fazackerley,

The Monitoring Officer declared the motion carried with 22 votes for, 16 against, and 2 abstentions

And with that the item was dismissed.

A red-faced Cllr Duffy (who, unsurprisingly, looked as though he had lost the will to live at seeing such antics as were played out) had clearly voted the wrong way by mistake, and was teased by those around him. His vote made little difference in the wider scheme of things. It just slightly reduced the percentage opposed to the motion.

We were also surprised at Cllr Fazackerley's abstention. It may have been that she did not feel to have had enough time to digest the details of the Minority Report, or that she disagreed with her colleagues dismissal of it, - or some other reason altogether, but we did think it unusual.

So, at the end of the day, as at Scrutiny, the Conservative block vote carried the day and the planning policy on Employment Land remains wrong..

But it's not going to be the end of the story.

Not by a long chalk.

Dated:  8 October 2014


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