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Snippets March 2014

Snippets March 2014Our round-up of news and views accumulated over the last few weeks, including the Lytham By-election, Helicopter directions, Streetscene still rumbling on, Flooding prevention in Lytham, Living Wage considerations, Mortgage Scheme news, Some odd-looking  changes in Fylde's fees and charges, a quick look at the planning situation in Wrea Green, Warton and a note of the most recent Staining decision, and a brief introduction to Nick Boles' new Planning Guidance.

 LYTHAM BY-ELECTION 
Following the sad death of former Cllr Kathleen Harper, a by-election has been called in St John's Ward in Lytham.

It will be held on 27th March.

St John's elects three councillors and at the last full election the result was

  • 771 ACKERS Brenda Margaret (Conservative).
  • 717 ASHTON Tim (Conservative).
  • 704 HARPER Kath (Ratepayer)
  • 672 CORNAH Michael Scott (Conservative).
  • 424 GILLIGAN Carol Josephine (Liberal Democrat).

Those standing in the bye-election this time are:

Mark Bamforth (Ratepayer)
Exceptionally well known and highly regarded in his community, He runs the Warton Street Post Office. He was a Borough Councillor a while back when he was elected in the same intake as Tim Ashton and Roger Lloyd. He's a solid hard worker, runs on instinctive good common sense and we think he will take a lot of beating because he is already so well known.

Brenda Blackshaw (Conservative)
From Lytham. Not known to us personally, but we understand she has experience of elections and is known in 'candidate circles'

Bob Dennett (Green Party Stop Fracking Now)
From Ansdell, a caterer who specialises in outdoor events and especially hog-roasting. Chairman of the Fylde Green Party and committed anti fracking campaigner. Quite well known in fracking circles. It will be interesting to see his result. The anti fracking campaign in Fylde is definitely growing, but our own take is that it has not yet reached a critical enough mass to make the earth move - unlike the fracking he opposes!

Carol Gilligan (Liberal Democrat)
Very able and competent. First stood for FBC St John's Ward in 2011. Also stood in the FBC Heyhouses by-election where she did better but not quite well enough, coming third. She is a friendly successful, and no-nonsense Lytham businesswoman. Likely to put in the effort and run a tight ship of a campaign. She clearly knows how to make things happen, and is used to getting the job done.

Timothy Wood ( UK Independence Party)
Also of Lytham but not known to us. UKIP are riding high in the polls at the moment and he's likely to do quite well, but we don't think they will do as well in this by-election as they will in the European Elections.

Whatever the result, the by-election is unlikely to make a significant difference to Fylde's voting balance, but if the Lib Dems were to gain a seat it might increase their representation on some of Fylde's 'statutory' committees.

Turnout in by-elections is often less than in a borough-wide election and it's possible that could cause an unexpected result, but we'll have to wait and see if it does or not.

The St John's Ward by-election will be held on Thursday 27 March. Polling stations open at 7am and close at 10pm


 HELICOPTER ROUTES 
After the recent tragic helicopter accident in Glasgow, a member of the Resident's Organisation for Airport Review contacted our MP to seek support for measures to restrict the unnecessary flying of helicopters over the residential areas of St Anne’s.

Our correspondent argued that as a graduate Mechanical Engineer, he considered helicopters to be a significantly risky form of transport, and one in which a catastrophic mechanical failure leaves the pilot with little or no control over the craft.

He had previously been told that the flight paths of the helicopters were dictated by the Civil Aviation Authority, and he asked that the CAA should be asked to revise the flight paths for these helicopters (which are mainly service helicopters for the Morecambe bay gas rigs, and therefore should be approaching the airport directly from the Ribble estuary) so that they do not fly over the residential areas of St Anne’s, and thus remove an avoidable risk to residents.

The good news is that our MP was able to follow this up and one of the CAA's Flight Operations Inspectors met with folk at Blackpool Airport. Our correspondent said that since that meeting he has noticed at least a reduction in the number of helicopters approaching the airport over the residential area. It may not prevent all instances, but if there is a reduction it is at least something.

Sounds like a good result, and we should all be grateful to ROAR.


 HOW ARE THE MIGHTY... 
A reader mentioned a notable experience to us a short time ago. They were in the reception area of Fylde Town Hall and overheard a conversation between a visitor and the receptionist at the counter. It went like this...

Receptionist: Good morning sir, can I help you?

Visitor: I've come for an appointment with Vivien Wood, Tourism Officer.

Receptionist (picking up the phone and dialling): What name is it please?

At this point, our reader said they felt that the visitor might have wished they had a name of more than two syllables as they replied "John Coombes"


 STREETSCENE LIVES ON 
The financial disaster that was Streetscene continues to rumble on.

Readers will remember how Fylde's catastrophic inability to monitor budgets because of a botched new computer system for its accounts led to gross overspending on parts and repairs after an uninsured depot fire severely damaged bin lorries that were then cannibalised and patched up.

It also involved an expensive move of depot to Poulton le Fylde. (Too long to explain here). Then when that lease ended, rather than return to the Heeley Road Depot Vehicle Maintenance Depot, they built a new depot for the bin men at Snowdon Road in St Annes.

We lost count of how much that was, but it wasn't cheap.

However, building the new depot at Snowdon Road meant the Council could then market the St David's Road Depot because only a few staff were left there.

They did sell the site. And the good news was that New Fylde Housing paid FBC £489,120 for it.

The less good news was that in order to persuade New Fylde Housing to pay that price for the land, FBC gave them a grant of £615,000 from the ringfenced Affordable Housing budget so they could pay it.

Yes really!

We make that an overall loss to Fylde's accounts of about £125,000 on the deal. Oh, and until now, they've also been paying to rent a temporary depot in Lytham to house the few remaining displaced staff who were at St David's Road North.

Some of the money they 'got' from St David's Road Depot went toward repairing the Town Hall Roof and buying 'additional land' at Snowdon Road.

And next year's budget (from April) includes £320,000 for the construction of a building on the Snowdon Road site to "create health and safety compliant, fit for purpose accommodation. The new building will accommodate vans and trailers along with operational supervision, and once delivered, it will allow the surrender of the current lease on the temporary depot in Lytham"

We figure if we were to track down and add up all the spending that flowed from the disaster that was Dim Tim's Streetscene department, our readers would be as horrified as we are.

And this is from a Council that is proud of the way it manages its finances.


 FLOOD PREVENTION, LYTHAM 
The present system of pumping drainage water at Lytham bears an uncanny resemblance to one at Hull where vast areas of land were flooded when the sea broke through Hull's defences and overwhelmed the pumps. They refused to pump water up from the drainage dykes, ditches and rivers that was keeping Hull free from flooding and sadly people's homes were ruined.

With this in mind, local people - chiefly farmers we understand - have recently sought to persuade our MP to lobby for drainage improvements in the south Fylde area.

Now, we've a memory long enough to recall this very same pressure about 25 years ago when former GRE Farms Manager Roland Kirkman succeeded in getting significant improvements made. The ditches were deepened, the new (Hull like) pumps were installed and the water table for the whole of South Fylde was lowered. A lot of money was spent at the time.

That made the agricultural land better for the farmers

It also allowed the re-drawing of the floodzone map - because the risk of flooding (chiefly around Lytham but extending to parts of St Annes) was lessened.

That, of course had the side effect of making some land that had previously been in a floodplain, shifted out of it, when the floodzone map was re-drawn.

The follow-on from that change was that more land became suitable for housing development.

Since that time, (and in common with Somerset and elsewhere) we suspect little or no maintenance of the drainage dykes and ditches has taken place and they have silted up again.

Enter our MP to have a go at making improvements.

Meetings were held locally, and the Environment Agency (who we suspect should have been ensuring the dykes and ditches were kept free flowing but didn't) prepared a scheme of improvement that would take two years to implement as it cleared waterways in the east of the town.

Some of the work has been done (replacing penstocks etc), but the Environment Agency's funding bid for the majority of the work was turned down by Government.

We understand Mr Menzies is taking the matter up with the Floods Minister himself, and after all the trouble with flooding elsewhere - attributed by many to the same sort of maintenance neglect we have seen in Fylde - perhaps there is a chance that something will be done after all.

As a start, we'd like to see the ditches cleaned out as they should have been for the last 25 years.

We're preparing a serious and in-depth article on some massive and sweeping changes in that should (but probably will not) come into full effect this April with regard to drainage in the UK. (The April date depends on how much the Government is prepared to spend).  We'll have it for readers soon.


 A CURIOUS PARADOX 
As well as shifting policy on its recycling (where Fylde now puts less emphasis on recycling - by charging for re-cycling bins that were previously 'free'), Fylde has now got itself into something of a policy muddle on the 'Living Wage'

The 'Fylde Pay Policy' which was adopted as recently as Full Council on Monday 27th January says quite unequivocally "The Council does not have a policy to pay the Living Wage in preference to the Minimum Wage for posts that are remunerated at the Minimum Wage."

Yet just 16 days later, at the Cabinet meeting on 12 February, a sum of £15,000 for 2014 (and in each of the subsequent years) was reported as being in the draft budget under the heading "Introduction of Living Wage"

The text accompanying the item explained that "The Living Wage is an hourly rate set independently and updated annually. The rate is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK and is at an hourly rate which is currently higher than the National Minimum Wage. Employers choose whether to pay the Living Wage on a voluntary basis. The introduction of the Living Wage at Fylde Council will increase the hourly wage rates for around 10 to 15 employees at a total estimated cost of £12k per annum". A small sum was also included with respect to apprenticeships.

However, at that Cabinet meeting, Princess Karen asked for the item to be withdrawn because there might be some 'financial implications' relating to paying it to agency workers.

This might mean that she was expecting to introduce the 'Living Wage' for Fylde employees (contrary to policy), but then someone spotted that under EU originating rules, agency workers should be treated no less fairly than direct employees.

We guess there must be a significant number of agency workers at Fylde now. This may be because of cost minimisation on directly controlled staff, but Fylde was also doing a lot of grounds maintenance contracting work for Schools and Fire Stations and housing associations up and down Lancashire (from Lancaster to Skelmersdale and east to the Burnley area. We suspect these might have used agency staff (but we can't tell for certain because these operations are treated more like off-balance-sheet activities and their funding isn't always clear).

If this was the case, then it could explain the need to have a re-think.

But the bit we found confusing was, when Fylde had only just confirmed its policy *not* to pay a 'Living Wage' for posts that are remunerated at the 'Minimum Wage', why would they include a budget item to pay it at all?

And if it was judged to be morally right to pay a 'Living Wage' to direct staff, why would it require a re-think for payments made to staff employed via an agency?

Surely the underlying logic is the same irrespective of how many people you employ?

But either way, it's not going to happen because the in the budget approved by the Full Council meeting, there was no mention of paying a 'Living Wage' at all, and no budget for it. So it looks as thought he idea has been quietly dropped - at least for the moment.


 CLEARING THE MORTGAGE 
Also on finance, the on-off, love-hate relationship with Fylde's own version of the 'Local Authority Mortgage Scheme' that would have helped first time buyers come up with the deposit for a home of their own has been scrapped.

Seems like the Government's scheme to do the same thing was duplicating what Fylde planned to do so it is no more. That's saved the Affordable Housing money a commitment of about £1m


 MORE MONEY PUZZLES 
Staying with cash for a while longer, we were initially puzzled by the 'prudential borrowing' heading in Fylde's forward accounts. It ranges from about £50k a year to £300k a year - excepting for 2017/18 when it suddenly zooms up to £1.4 million for that year.

Admittedly, that's the year when the first phase of the Sea Defence scheme looks to be starting on the ground at a cost of about £12 million, and it may be connected with that.


 CHANGING CHARGES 
As readers will know, Princess Karen is the politician currently in charge of the money at Fylde. Together with the finance officers she has made a first class job of pulling Fylde back from the financial abyss it was staring into under John Coombes and Paul Rigby.

She's also in charge of what are know as "Fees and Charges" which the council makes for some services - and each year she brings a report saying what charges should go up, and which (if any) should come down.

The 'LSA Express' has already covered the changes to parking charges, so we're not going to duplicate those comments here - save to say that a new one-hour charge has been introduced on several car parks at half the price of the former 2 hour charge.

Fair enough some would say, but it flies in the face of the call from local businesses for 2 hour parking on and off street.

But what we were quite surprised (and indeed shocked would not be too strong a word) about was some of the *big reductions* in charges that Princess Karen's budget has just ushered in.

We found that the cost of licensing a Sex Shop has been reduced from £4,110 to just £1,570 and the annual fee for a Casino license was down from £1,652 to just £250.

Furthermore, the annual fee for Bingo premises had gone down from £1,000 to £220 (a new application for a Bingo license has dropped from £2,378.00 to just £180.00)

A Betting premises license went down from £2,378 to £180, and finally, an Adult gaming centre (whatever one of those is) dropped from £2,000 to £180.00

Maybe there's a special reason for these reductions that we don't understand. We suspect there must be - because we didn't have Princess Karen (who is doing such a good job with Finance at Fylde), down as a Bingo / Casino / Gambler type, let alone the other topics!


 LOOMING PLANNING APPLICATIONS 
Both Warton and Wrea Green are in the thick of it for planning applications at the moment.

Wrea Green
Wrea Green is a bit further advanced, and seems to be doing slightly better, in that at least Fylde has said it will refuse the applications there.

The developers appealed (either against Fylde's refusal or because they said Fylde were taking too long), and a Planning Inspector was appointed.

After a look at the sites, he decided they were so complicated and interrelated they couldn't be decided by just looking at written submissions. He said there would have to be a Public Inquiry, where opened discussion of the issues would take place.

It's believed he made this decision for a handful of reasons, but amongst them was the Inspector's belief that all the interested persons who have made submissions had not been made aware of additional evidence that came in outside the consultation period and, in accordance with something called 'the Ashley principle' and in the interests of natural justice all parties should have the opportunity to respond.

(An inspector *must* ensure that all parties know about any evidence submitted outside the consultation period, and so be able to comment).

In the Inspector's view, it was necessary to explore the views of interested parties at an inquiry because this would give them the opportunity raise matters and ask questions of main witnesses which, in practice, could only be explored at an inquiry.

Then one developer (or possibly more, we're not sure) complained that a Public Inquiry would cost them oodles of cash and they didn't want to have to pay barristers to represent them at a public inquiry. They wanted to go back to written representations.

The upshot of this spat was that the Planning Inspectorate's High Command decided that this appeal should be *started* under the written procedure pending a review of that specific appeal, and of the other appeals under a new Inspector.

And the first Inspector was removed from the case.

We then heard another of the developers had written to the Inspectorate asking for it to be dealt with *at* a Public Inquiry (presumably because they thought their case was stronger than the other developers if it was done that way)

In the meantime, another application for Wrea Green was lodged with Fylde.

(As the Monty Python sketch would have said "This is all getting too silly")

Inspector No 2 - (following in the footsteps of Inspector No 1) has been appointed, and has reviewed 3 sites already. He is going to come and have a look at the North View Farm application in Wrea Green for himself tomorrow (on Tuesday 11th March), after which (presumably) he will decide whether he will be able to deal with the inquiry in written representations, or whether, like Inspector No 1, he believes it will need a Public Inquiry to be able to disentangle the interrelationships between the applications.

(It's quite possible that different developers will be making different claims as to things like the ability of existing roads, schools, health facilities etc to cope with the influx their development will bring, and someone is going to have a look at the whole picture).

What we think this will turn into is a feuding pack of 'hyena developers' tearing each other apart over the chance to build in the expensive and desirable village of Wrea Green before Fylde's emerging Local Plan affords it better protection.

Getting any sense from this situation is looking closer to Mission Impossible than anything else.

Warton
Folk here are angry with Fylde because they created the 'Warton Doughnut' of development plans.

FBC propose to change Warton into a place that serves the needs of more than local people, and to do this they need to grow the population so it will support growth in services and infrastructure. That has made the folk of Warton - who want to stay more as they are - very angry.

But that anger has intensified because on the back of the plans Fylde has announced, developers are stampeding-in to grab a slice of the goldrush even before Fylde's plan is finished.

So now there's now a winner-takes-all contest being waged over the land around Warton simply because Fylde said it was considering these sort of areas for future growth.

You can see why Fylde isn't going to be popular.

One of the developments there is know as 'Riversleigh' and consists of about 85 Houses. It seems FBC told them that their environmental report was insufficient and it needed to be done on a wider scale.

We're told the developer went straight to Government who said they didn't have to do a new Environmental report.

Maybe campaigners will take heart from an application in Wyre where planning approval was granted back in November 2012 to build eighteen apartments and houses on a Greenfield site near in Hall Lane, Great Eccleston. It had been opposed by their Parish Council and by a local protest group called 'Counterbalance' which is clearly a really good choice of name, but in fact, has no link to us!

The planning officers there had told the committee that the environmental report did not recommend refusal, and it was all OK - when in fact the County Ecologist had said it needed more information to make the decision. As a result, two residents launched a Judicial Review of Wyre's decision to approve, and were this week told their case had been successful and the planning permission Wyre had granted was quashed by order of the court.

That sort of thing does give real heart to people who feel the dice are heavily stacked against them.

A small (but no less important in principle terms) development of just 13 houses on Nine Acres Nursery at Warton (which is immediately outside of the village boundary of Warton and is allocated as Countryside in the Local Plan), was approved to the dismay of local campaigners at a marathon six hour FBC Development Control Committee meeting on 26 Feb.

This decision continues a bad precedent set by another decision which was pushed through after having been strongly supported by one Councillor at Fylde - seemingly against all planning logic.

There was also an application for a site in Staining called 'Kings Meadow' on the DC agenda of 26th Feb. and it had many of the same arguments as the Warton one. Councillors from Warton and other areas spoke up in support of Staining residents to oppose it - or at least defer it.

And it was deferred.

However, when the Warton site was discussed, the Councillor representing Staining on the Development Management Committee voted to approve the Warton application, (despite its planning circumstances being very similar to Staining).

This led one Warton observer to comment that when the deferred Staining application went back to Fylde's Development Management Committee they hoped Cllr Pounder from Staining would get the same level of support for it that he had given to Warton.

We're also told that one of the bigger Warton applications is expected to be on the agenda of the Development Management Committee next month, and that will be a test of how Fylde is likely to deal with the others.

The present planning system nationally is a dog's breakfast, and in Fylde it is a complete disaster.


 NEW PLANNING GUIDANCE 
Still on the theme of planning, the Anti Planning Minister Nick Boles has announced his new 'Planning Practice Guidance'  website - which was published last Thursday (6 March) and is the right-hand column of

http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/

So as far as we can tell (Mr Boles' formal announcement to Parliament is not until Thursday this week), the new guidance is in place, and appeared to have been come into force already because the Introduction says "On 6 March 2014 the  Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) launched this planning practice guidance web-based resource. This was accompanied by a Written Ministerial Statement which includes a list of the  previous planning practice guidance documents cancelled when this  site was launched."

This is the first / final version of the new guidance which, being only internet based, can now be updated paragraph by paragraph whenever the need is seen to arise by Government.

This new Guidance replaces a supposed 7,000 pages of former guidance,  and condenses it down to a supposed 1,000 pages (though you can't see  it all in one place because it is spread over a myriad of web pages).

The website has a built-in search engine, so in theory you can wordsearch the whole site, but if you get into difficulty or don't trust the results, you can always use this little trick.....

Paste the following into a Google searchbox

site:http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/

(note there are no spaces). Then leave a space, and add the words you
want used in your search

eg for a five year supply you might use

site:http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/ five

(note the space between the website name and the search term)

Up come the results *within that site* wherever the word 'five' appears

(That's a trick you can use on any website ;-))

Whether it changes anything for applications that are already 'in the pipeline' we're not sure, but guidance on that will soon be available no doubt.

The headline changes promoted by Mr Boles include a greater focus on developing Brownfield land, prevention of flooding, and a relaxation in the 5 year land supply issue. There are other changes that have not been headlined.

Some believe the changes are an improvement.

We doubt it.  

We suspect there will be bad stuff hidden in the detail.

The anti-planning minister, is already on record as saying the reforms he had already made to the planning system could cost the Conservatives votes at the next election.

In a very rare instance, we agree with him in this.

We think these headline changes are less to do with improving the system and are really about making planning appear more palatable in the run up to the 2015 election. It gives middle England 12 months to forget its hostility to the disastrous planning decisions that have already been made.

Whether they do or not, remains to be seen.

We hope to do a more in-depth article on the changes when we've had time to study them.

Dated:   10 March 2014


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