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Planning Catchup

Planning CatchupThere's so much going on in Planning at the moment that it's difficult to keep up with it.

In this edition we're doing a catchup. We start with another of those awful "Individual Member Decisions" by Cabinet Portfolio Holder Trevor Fiddler.  We also look at the latest situations at Warton and Wesham and Wrea Green, and what's on the agenda for Wednesday's Development Management (Planning) meeting. Then we glance at some national policy clarifications by Nick Boles; then a look at Questions in the House, and have a quick look at some Labour Party planning for planning. then we report some shenanigans around the Local Plan Steering Group, and fnally, we digress as usual!


 ANOTHER 'STASI' DECISION AT FYLDE 
The absence of democracy at Fylde was once again underlined last week when the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Development and Planning took another of his infamous 'Individual Member Decisions'

This is where one single councillor - handpicked by Council Leader David Eaves - takes a decision on behalf of the whole council.

It is the greatest travesty of democracy there could be.

We elect 51 councillors to represent us and to take decisions on our behalf, and this awful Cabinet system empowers one single Councillor acting alone to take a decision - a decison that is crucial to the future of Fylde - entirely on his own.

For the purposes of this decision, that one councillor BECAME 'the Council'

And now, having made it, his decision is now the decision of 'Fylde Council'.

Readers who follow 'planning' will already guess what the decision was....

It was to state that he, acting as 'the Council' now accepts that the '[Fylde Coast] Strategic Housing market Assessment' is a robust piece of evidence and that the objectively assessed need for housing [in Fylde] will fall within the range of 300-420 dwellings per annum and there will be an estimated need of 207 affordable [for which read 'socially subsidised'] dwellings per annum.

He also decided that both the 'affordable' housing figure and the remainder of the [SHMA] document is a "material consideration for the purposes of Development Management".

We suspect that means his decision applies to planning applications with immediate effect.

We regard this as one of the worst decisions the Council could have taken. It will echo through decades as the day Fylde sold its soul to developers.

We believe the real housing need for people in Fylde is actually around 150 dwellings a year, but in Cllr Fiddler's 'Alice in Wonderland' world of planning you simply double it and add a few on.

Given that Fylde's overall income is now becoming so heavily dependent on something called the 'New Homes Bonus' (This is a bribe from the Government to encourage Councils to build as many houses as possible. Something like 20% of Fylde's overall income now comes from this), it's no surprise they are dashing for growth.

And it' should be no surprise to them if they pay the cost of doing so in the elections, as residents see their quality of life worsen - alongside the increasing urbanisation of their countryside.

If you want to see why there is an almighty rush to push this through now - even before the notes of the Local Plan Steering Group meetings that also considered it have been published - read on, dear reader.

It is yet possible that Cllr Trevor Fiddler's 'Individual Member Decision' could be called in for review by a Scrutiny Committee.

Under the Cabinet System, this is supposed to be one of the checks and balances to protect democracy.

The Scrutiny facility has been much trumpeted by those who would retain the Cabinet system - notably Cllr Tim Armit.

Calling the decision to Scrutiny Committee suspends it, and puts the decision on hold until it has been reviewed by a Scrutiny Committee.

So far so good.

If it is called in, the Scrutiny Committee has three options.

  • It can agree with Cllr Fiddler and let the decision stand.
  • It can send it back to Cllr Fiddler and ask him to reconsider it.
  • It can send it to the full Council and ask them to consider it.

The probability is that, because the political group of which Cllr Fiddler is a member has a majority on the Council, they also have a majority on the Scrutiny Committee, so the chances are that they will support the decision of their colleague and will agree to let it stand as it is.

But suppose for a minute they do not. Suppose his decision is so awful (which we think it is) that they cannot in all conscience agree with what has been decided: the most they can do is send the decision for debate at Council.

When it gets there, all councillors will be able to debate it and say what they think should happen. So surely that will put it right won't it?

The answer to that is "No"

At the conclusion of their debate the full Council has - under this awful Cabinet system - only two options.

  • They can agree with the decision that has been taken by Cllr Fiddler in their name.
  • Or they can ask him to re-consider it.

And if he says "I have reconsidered it and the decision stands"  that's the end of it.

The full Council in session CANNOT OVERTURN THE DECISION OF ONE SINGLE COUNCILLOR.

That is the legal position under the Leader and Cabinet system of governance.

It is truly awful.

Fylde residents have but one chance to change this for next ten years, and it is in a couple of weeks time, when you can vote to require Fylde Council to change to using the tried and tested the Committee system in a local referendum.

We strongly urge you to do so on 22 May


 WHAT'S GOING ON AT WARTON 
There are two hot bits of news at the moment.

The first is that quietly and without any publicity at all, the applicant for the Blackfield Green development - which proposes to occupy the top left hand section of the planning doughnut with which Fylde Planners surrounded Warton, and would see up to 360 homes developed - has lodged an appeal to the Secretary of State for non-determination of his application within the time allowed to Fylde Council.

This probably means one of two things, either the developer was getting bad vibrations from Fylde's officers about the application, and they want it taken out of Fylde's hands, or (given the way Fylde is currently passing everything in sight) they are an aggressive and impatient developer. Time will probably tell which it is.

Secondly, the application to build 83 residential dwellings on land at Riversleigh Farm is before Fylde's Development Management Committee on Wednesday - and it has some very unusual aspects.

Firstly, the DM Committee will consider it on Wednesday 7th May, but the last comments do not have to be received until 10th May.

Many folk will find it odd (as any normal person would) - that the facts and views concerning the application will not all have been heard before the decision is taken. And they might ask themselves what's the point of consultation?, and whether what Fylde is doing is legal or not.

The answer (sadly) is that this application looks to be being rushed through for approval. It is being recommended for approval by Fylde's planners, and to cover the legal position we suspect they will either say (as the report says) that approval is subject to the signing of the Section 106 agreement (about planning gain monies), so even if they approve it on the 7th May, it's technical approval will be made until after 10th when the final comments come in but before the S106 is signed.

Alternatively they will say they are minded to approve it and propose to delegate the decision to Officers after the 10th May. (We've seen both systems employed before when Fylde has been desperate to get a decision through).

This sort of conduct is well worthy of a banana republic.

The other odd thing is that Fylde's Planners have got their policy knickers in a twist over this area.

Last June, a caravan park called Oaklands, which is next to Riversleigh Farm, applied for a 'change of use' permission to allow permanent residential use of the Caravan site (we think it was for 36 dwellings). Fylde's officers refused it, citing 5 reasons, one of which was that it would 'prejudice of comprehensive plan-led development of Site H8'.

(H8 is a 'planning area' shown in the graphic at the top of this page and more or less runs from the 'Car wash' and 'Braithwaite's Trailers' businesses on the entrance to Warton, across Oaklands Caravan site and Riversleigh Farm and up to the back garden fences of houses on Beech Avenue which most folk would say is the present edge of the residential area. It makes up the left hand side of FBC's Warton doughnut)

What they meant here is that if they allowed the Oaklands application to go through, it might block a 'better' development of the area they had zoned for housing.

Oaklands have appealed the refusal and the matter is still in flux.

But FBC is recommending approval (of what many would see as being the same situation) on the Riversleigh Farm development which is another strip of land within the 'comprehensive plan-led development area' they have designated as 'H8'.

To us this sounds like planners speaking with forked tongues.
Oaklands plan
We suspect the almighty rush is to get this and as many other planning applications as they can approved in Warton before the numbers there are reduced when Cllr Trevor Fiddler pulls a White Rabbit out of his hat (see later in this article) and the housing allocation for Warton is cut by anything up to 1,200 houses.

But we'd be surprised if Fylde's Development Management Committee doesn't go for a deferment on this application for more time to consider its implications.

Especially when the sketch layout for the Oaklands Caravan Park appeal is headed "Worked up between appellant and neighbour to the east" which is.... You guessed, Riversleigh Farm.

We figure quite a few Warton folk will be at the meeting (which is being held at St Margaret's Church Community Centre on St Leonard's Road, St Annes) and starts at 10am on Wednesday.

 WHAT'S GOING ON AT WESHAM 
There are two applications on Wednesday's DM meeting agenda concerning Wesham.

The first item is the final details of permission for the 100 house site that was, after refusal after refusal, finally allowed on appeal when FBC's officers threw in the towel and offered no evidence to oppose it.

This was a disgraceful betrayal of Wesham's residents, and it is now back for probably its final decision before building starts. Wesham Action Group did a magnificent job of holding back this development when it was 250 houses and succeeded in having it refused several times in various incarnations, including an appeal, but they finally lost when FBC let them down after the development was reduced in scale to 100 properties.

And, predictably, the agenda for Wednesday's meeting now has what everyone knew would be 'phase two' (with probably more eventually) this time for for 264 houses.

Except it isn't.

It is a proposal to surround and extend the application above that FBC gave up on.

So this now more or less becomes the application that has been refused so many times, including on appeal and what are Fylde's planners recommending?

You guessed, they're recommending approval.

You simply couldn't make it up could you.

The planners report says they recognise that "residential development of Countryside land is contrary to Policy SP2 of the Fylde Borough Local Plan" but they go on to say that "a key material consideration in the determination of residential planning applications is the need for the council to deliver a supply of housing land equivalent to 5 years of its agreed annual target. The council’s latest information (from December 2013) is that it is unable to deliver the necessary housing supply and so a proposal that delivers sustainable development must be supported unless it is proved that it will cause significant and demonstrable harm."

This is plain rubbish.

Things changed when the National Planning Practice Guidance was published on 6th March - and well after December

Fylde's officers know this, and Planning Portfolio Trevor Fiddler knows it (because he said it to another Councillor in what he thought was a private conversation at the last Development Management Committee - except he hadn't turned his microphone off ).

He said "....Basically one of the aspects is, if there has been a moratorium - you see we've been penalised, we had a moratorium which said you can't build more than 155 houses a year, and then the RSS came in and said we're penalising you because you haven't delivered the 360 houses a year, well we couldn't do, because we had the moratorium - so we've got a backlog and we'll add that backlog on to your 360 which means you won't get a five year supply.

There's reference in this new Guidance that says if you were subject to a moratorium, and that was imposed on you, you can ignore it, which then kicks us into having a five year supply. The simplicity of that argument is such that lets us say 'Take the bull by the horns, we're interpreting that as we've got the five year supply and all these other things kick in'

He added (referring to an application at the previous meeting) "You see if that went to appeal, the inspector would determine that on the latest development - the new planning Guidance"

The implication here is that Fylde now has a five year supply - as of the new National Planning Practice Guidance issued on 6th March, but in this report, officers are using a previous date to justify recommending approval so they can maximise the number of approvals now, and make life easier for them in the future.

We're not impressed with what is yet another example of fork-tongued planning.



 WREA GREEN NEWS 
As readers who are signed up for notifications already know from our Newsflashes, the four appeals that surrounded Wrea Green have now been determined without a Public Inquiry. The result was

  1. The Planning Inspector has REFUSED the Appeal for 32 houses on the 53 Bryning Lane site.
  2. The Planning Inspector has APPROVED the application for 25 houses behind 54 Bryning Lane, but has set 17 conditions on this approval.
  3. The Planning Inspector has DISMISSED The Moss Side Lane Appeal.
  4.  The Planning Inspector has APPROVED the application for North View Farm, but has imposed 23 conditions.

Our friends in CAPOW! at Wrea Green believe that given the high appeal approval rate locally, this is a relatively good result - even though it's not what CAPOW! and local residents wanted.

And you have to say that with the high number of conditions the Inspector needed to impose, there must be a question about those that *were* approved if it was necessary to restrict the approval to that extent. (At a recent Fylde Development Management Committee it was said that any application needing more than fourteen conditions should probably not be approved anyway.)

There are also what appear to be some inconsistencies in the Decision Notices, and whilst these probably won't affect the decisions that have been taken already, they might affect future decisions. That's why clarifications are now being sought by CAPOW!

A Judicial Review of the Inspector's decision is possible, but such matters are never entered into lightly and we don't think it would happen here.

Those applications that now have permission will move into the "Reserved Matters" arena, where CAPOW! will be looking to minimise the impact of the development that has been given permission.

But Just when Weary Greeners thought it was safe to go back into the water, along comes yet another application. This time it's for the erection of up to 100 houses on land that lies to the east of Willow Drive with access to the land formed by demolishing No 15.

Details are sketchy as yet, and we understand Fylde has yet to publish details about it, but its application number will be 14/0302 for those who want to keep an eye out for it.

 NATIONAL POLICY 
In what we see as the prelude to a softening up of the electorate before the parliamentary election next year, the Anti-Planning Minister Nick Boles is using a considerably softer tone - but not to the Planning Inspectorate.

He recently wrote to Sir Michael Pitt, Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate (which is a (supposedly) independent arm of Government) to say he was cross.

He began "I was very troubled by the media coverage of the recent Inspector’s report on the examination into the Reigate and Banstead Local Plan. On reading the report, I was disturbed by the Inspector's use of language, which invited misinterpretation of government policy and misunderstanding about the local authority's role in drawing up all of the policies in the draft plan. I am writing to restate very clearly the Government’s view of Green Belt policy and Local Plan examinations."

That's not the sort of language Ministers are normally seen to use.

It also explains why we believe we can use the word "supposedly" in relation to its independence from Government.

Mr Boles went on "Fundamental to the National Planning Policy Framework and to this Government’s planning reforms is the idea that local authorities, and the communities who elect them, are in charge of planning for their own areas. That is why we abolished the top down regional strategies, why we have emphasised the primacy of the Local Plan and why we gave communities the powers to create neighbourhood plans."

We wonder which planet he's living on if he thinks anyone will believe that.

Yes you can have a Neighbourhood Plan to set out what you want and don't want in terms of development, but only if what you want fits within Government Policy, and is within the Policies of your local council!

He went on to say that Councils have always been able to 'adjust' Green Belt boundaries, but that must be a Council's decision, and it would have to be an "exceptional circumstance" anyway.

Sir Michael wrote back to (effectively) say 'Ooops, sorry about that' - to which Nick replied to say more or less "I should jolly well think so"

It seems it was less what the Reigate and Banstead Local Plan Inspector actually did, but more how he spoke about it, and things have calmed down again.

The dust seems to have settled on this spat - for the moment at least.

But what it does show is a shift in direction from Government.

They know their (we believe misguided) 'building on green fields policy' (to kickstart the economy) has haemorrhaged Conservative supporters in droves (especially those who wanted to be conservative about their countryside), so there is a need to make it appear it was all a nightmare from which we're waking up and it will all end happily ever after.

(Except it wont).


 PLANNING QUESTIONS IN THE HOUSE 
Having told the Express he was "disappointed" by the Planning Inspectorate's approval of two of the Wrea Green applications. Mark Menzies MP was also quoted as saying that ".. the Inspector made what I feel is the wrong decision" and adding that "Due to a number of errors in the four Decision Notices CAPOW emailed the Planning Inspector yesterday to seek clarification on about 20 issues, but have been advised it would be a month before we receive a reply"

That quote of "before *we* receive a reply" sounds to us like pretty good support for local people - just as the people in Newton have found.

But Mr Menzies has gone even further.

Sensing Fylde resident's mood on planning, last week, he tabled a question in the House "To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what steps he is taking to ensure that the wishes of the local people and decisions of the local council are given priority in appeal decisions by the Planning Inspectorate."

Sadly it wasn't St Eric but it was the Anti Planning Minister Nick Boles who replied to say

"Planning is a quasi-judicial process; it is a long-standing feature of the planning system that there is a right of appeal, just as there are with other local quasi-judicial decisions such as on licensing applications, gambling applications or parking fines.

The Localism Act 2011 has strengthened the role of Local Plans and abolished the last Administration’s top-down Regional Strategies. Our streamlined National Planning Policy Framework strongly encourages areas to get up-to-date Local Plans in place, and we have been actively supporting councils in doing so. Local Plans now set the framework in which decisions on particular applications are taken, whether locally or at appeal, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

Once adopted a neighbourhood plan will also become part of the area’s statutory development plan—an example of this Government’s localist agenda. Both local and neighbourhood plans are founded on thorough community involvement and are subject to public examination and consultation. Almost 1,000 communities have applied for a neighbourhood planning area to be designated, with 850 areas now designated. Planning inspectors will take full account of all the evidence that is before them, including representations made by local residents and other interested parties. Each representation should be considered on their merits, paying careful regard to the relevant policy and material planning considerations.

Since the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced, the number of appeals received has fallen as has the number allowed. The quality of local decisions also remains high—99% of decisions are made locally with only approximately 1% of planning applications overturned on appeal. Housing starts and housing construction are also up, as are permissions for new homes. This means there is more local decision-making, and our reforms are supporting badly-needed new homes within a locally-led planning system."

It's a bit disingenuous. Trumpeting that 99% of decisions are made locally when (probably 98% of those) are loft conversions or small domestic extensions fails to separate and give figures for the large developments on new homes on Greenfield sites that cause the anger.

And saying you can appeal 'like a parking fine' makes it sound fine (sorry for the pun), but it isn't - because with a parking ticket the aggrieved person can appeal.

But with planning, only developers can make appeals, the aggrieved and angry public cannot appeal against a permission that has been granted.

This is why it's only quasi-judicial.

If it was judicial we would be able to appeal as well.

We see the minister's reply as a fob-off, but at least a shot has gone across his bows and, as we have seen, he is getting more sensitive to public (or perhaps we should say electoral) opinion and is being (slightly) tougher with the Planning Inspectorate.


 LABOUR ON PLANNING 
With the prospect of a Labour Government never too far away, we thought a quick look at Labour's position on Planning was worthwhile.

Last year, Mr Miliband said a Labour Government would increase the supply of new homes in England above 200,000 a year (which doesn't bode well for those that want to have some green fields left), and Sir Michael Lyons, was asked to lead a housing review for the party.

One of his key themes will be the creation of New Towns and Garden Cities, and Sir Michael is looking at what barriers there might be, and what solutions might be needed to overcome them and effect delivery of the houses. He's looking at:

  • How new settlements could be financed;
  • The UK's "Land and land value capture";
  • Infrastructure.
  • And at what the most effective and appropriate mechanisms and or agencies might be for delivering this huge number of houses.

He also wants to look at how can a local authority or (ominously) groups of authorities could best be incentivised to come forward and identify locations capable of sustaining large scale sites for New Towns and Garden Cities.

Sir David will also look at what's being called "A Right to Grow" and this will include:

  • How labour can ensure that Local Authorities that want to expand - but do not have the land on which to grant planning permission without cooperation from a neighbour - are able to do so, and
  • What are the incentives, disincentives and requirements (and what is the correct mix) that should be used to ensure cooperation between Local Authorities to cooperate in a joint-planning process in their areas?

This sounds plain awful to us.

It means that a greedy place with no soul, - one that has concreted over all the land it has, will be able to invade and effectively annexe land for development in another borough where the burgesses have been more careful about maintaining their green spaces.

Sir Michael's report is expected in the autumn.

We think there's a lot here to worry about, and we'll have a closer look at what's going on when time permits.



 LOCAL PLAN STEERING GROUP 
This disaster for Democracy (which we have chronicled ad-nauseaum) run by Cllr Trevor Fiddler (Cabinet Member for Development and Planning) continues to break new ground in its attempts to keep its machinations secret and in in removing transparency from its operation.

Readers will remember that Cllr Fiddler and his colleagues recently refused to make these meetings open to the public, despite the fact that they discuss and debate the most important work on Fylde's books.

Fylde has admitted that the law requires it to publish the agenda and notes of these meetings, but it does so as late as possible. - The last lot of publications saw agendas published after the meetings had taken place, together with one for a meeting that was taking place the day after its publication.

This, of course, is intentional.

It is designed to prevent interested parties from being able to exercise their democratic right and making their views known to local councillors before the meetings so as to both inform and influence them.

It is a tragedy made worse by the fact that this Cabinet Governance system revels in secrecy and obfuscation. It is behaviour that insults the electorate, and for which, thankfully, we believe the day of reckoning is close at hand.

The agenda for the meeting of 23 April had, as its Item 2 "To consider the notes of the previous LPSG meetings held on 25 March and 16 April 2014 ( to be circulated)"

So on 22 April we asked for a copy, only to be told politely that the notes of the meetings could not be provided because they had not been circulated to Councillors. We were subsequently told they had not even been written, so they could not be provided. It was expected that they would not be completed until the next meeting of the group - which was on 8th May.

We simply do not believe what we were told.

We remain convinced that the notes of these former meetings are being deliberately held back until other discussions render them either irrelevant or too late to be altered.

This is all part of the disgraceful information management and manipulation that has become the daily diet of this awful administration.

And the items being discussed are not trivial. They include the housing numbers for the next 20 years and the results of Fylde's (supposed) consultation on its Local Plan Preferred Options.

Readers will remember that Fylde's Options were based on evidence that was known to be out of date, on data that was incomplete, and a process that used unjustified assumptions based on that data. It had the Portfolio Holder for Development and Planning - who is supposed to be in charge of the whole process - wallowing in his ignorance about what his out-of-control officers were doing.

This again is obfuscation. If you consult on options that are based on evidence which you subsequently change, the consultation you have conducted can - for the most part - simply be discounted.

Fylde's Local Plan is a public disgrace, and we will be amazed if it enjoys the support of the Fylde electorate whose pockets will be more than £1m emptier by the time it is completed.

We suspect it will face widespread public opposition when it comes to the Public Inquiry into its soundness.

HOWEVER

As we have said many times, we expect Cllr Fiddler to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute.

It would not be the first time he has angered people and lowered their expectations only to rise up at the end clutching the ears of a large White Rabbit between the fingers of his right hand and a magician's (or perhaps a 'Mad Hatter's') hat in his left.

He's fond of the Lewis Carroll analogies, referring to the Conservative Government's system of planning as "Alice in Wonderland" planning - on more than one occasion of our hearing.

We always thought his White Rabbit would be an announcement about development at Whyndyke Farm which is where more or less the whole of Fylde wants it to go according to the results of Fylde's 'options' consultations.

But we heard some gossip that Fylde's officers were holding out against using Whyndyke.

Certainly we know that Councillors from Fylde met with their opposite numbers at Blackpool (in whose area a small part of the Whyndyke site lies) in order to try to break the log-jam that had arisen, and we heard it said they met without officers from Fylde being present - whether that is correct or not we have not been able to confirm.

But we're now getting stories that the salvation 'White Rabbit' site may not be Whyndyke at all. It might be in broadly the same area but a bit further south, and after 8th May we expect an announcement that a new site has been found for up to 1,200 new houses.

This should ease the development pressures - especially on Warton. But it will be too late for sites in Wwarton that will already have gained permission one way or another but chiefly because of FBC's plan to use Warton their own 'growth magnet' for developers.

And we don't think we will hear about the White Rabbit until after 8th May because Fylde wants to get as many permissions under its belt as it can before it puts the brake on.

We believe that's why there is all the secrecy about what the Local Plan Steering Group is doing, and why there's an application for Warton on Wednesday's Development Management Committee that will be debated and decided BEFORE the public consultation on them has run its course.

When you see such things, you just know that shenanigans are going on to try to manipulate the outcome.

That's not how planning should be done.


 A DIGRESSION TO END 
Warton has featured in our planning articles quite a bit recently, and we have previously linked the situation there with an election to the Parish Council.

We've now heard that the Parish Council election had been won by an independent candidate - because he was the only person to have his name put forward as a candidate.

Readers will remember our report saying we thought Conservative supporters appeared to have called for the election contest (when it is common practice to fill Parish vacancies by co-opting someone), and we said we presumed it would be a relatively painless litmus test of support (or otherwise) for the Conservatives in Warton after their disastrous planning proposals had angered so many people.

 The decison to call the election would have imposed a small cost on Warton residents, but in the event, they did not even field a candidate,

A well know former Conservative had a name to describe such a situation: It was "Frit"

We wish the new Warton Parish Councillor well.

Dated:    5 May 2014


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