Two Faced Planning
As we said in 'Fit
for Purpose?' (and just as we had expected), fur and feathers were flying again at Fylde's last Development Management Committee on the 7th September.
Cllr Fiddler re-assumed the role of dictatorial Portfolio Holder, trying to pronounce how the previous decisions of the Committee would be 'interpreted'.
by his fellow Conservatives (who hold a majority on the committee) he set about trying to enforce what we might with some justification call a 'decree' (but which was
actually in the form of a written statement of 'clarification' from the Planning Officers) and to browbeat some of the councillors into pretending they have not decided what
they actually did decide at their meeting on 15 June 2016.
He now thinks the officer's statement of clarification has overridden the decision the Committee took on 15 June - and from what we can deduce from speaking to people at
Fylde - it is thought likely he will assume this position as fact, because the officers have formed a 'Praetorian Guard' around his position and appear ready to confirm that
black is white.
We regard this as an absolute disgrace.
It is not (and should not be) possible for an individual councillor or, more especially, employees of the Council to re-interpret either the wording, or the meaning, of
a decision that a properly constituted committee first took, then subsequently confirmed, at its next meeting.
It illustrates in sharp relief that Fylde's elected members outside the ruling group are being badly let down by their officers - whose acts and omissions in this matter
demonstrate to us that their requirement to be impartial has been compromised, and is fatally flawed.
We have the full story below.
We begin with a Prologue of how we got here, then we take a light-hearted look at how Fylde has managed to move from incompetent 'Alice in Wonderland' Planning into the
realms of Fantasy Planning.
Then we Get More Serious and take a first look at the Clarification Statement that officers had introduced to the DM meeting of 7th September, before going on to look in more
detail at What the Clarification was Trying to Show.
Then we consider some Reasons Why This Might Matter.
Next, we pick up What Has Happened since the bad tempered DM meeting of 27 July, before we look in some detail at the
Decision Taking Rules at Fylde, and we outline what
some of the terms used in them mean.
We then offer readers a chance to know just What Happened at the Meeting via our verbatim transcript of the key part of the meeting, before
offering our Conclusions about what we see as being the rights and wrongs of the matter, then we look a bit more broadly at why we think Fylde's new Committee
System is not working as well as it should in some of its Committees.
In advance of the meeting, Fylde's main planning officer had produced (or had been prevailed upon to produce) a note of 'clarification' - the intent of which was to override
a properly constituted decision taken by the elected councillors of Fylde's Development Management Committee.
The principles underlying his move represent a complete travesty of democracy, and they illustrate so clearly what is wrong at Fylde.
But in our view, the bigger villain of the piece was the committee Chairman, Cllr Fiddler.
We've previously heard him describe the current planning system in the UK as 'Alice in Wonderland' planning.
Well, we don't demur from that.
But we are going to extend his use of literary characterisation a bit.
During Fylde's Development Management Committee meeting, where the flying fur and feathers put us in mind of a more animal-based metaphor, we lighted upon the idea of the
'Pushmi-Pullyu' from the Dr Doolittle stories.
That's because Cllr Fiddler has introduced into Fylde, the novel planning concept of being able to face two ways at the same time.
Supported by his Conservative colleagues on the committee, and his assertion that Fylde's Chief Executive and other senior officers have closed ranks around him as his
Praetorian Guard, he has re-written Fylde's Governance rules not only to allow, but to virtually require, the officer's technical 'clarification' statement to de-facto override
two previous decisions of the committee.
And in doing so, he showed that Fylde's planning policy on housing numbers is simply to have to two different policies, for the same subject, at the same time.
Depending on who you're talking to, you tell them your housing policy is one thing, and when you talk to other people, you tell them its the other.
PLANNING AND FANTASY
With this move, Fylde's Local Plan has finally graduated from the University of Incompetence.
It now dwells in the realms of Literary Fantasy, alongside Dr Doolittle and his two headed friend.
Fylde's Pushmi-Pullyu has more than a passing similarity to the one that accompanied Dr Doolittle from Africa to England.
Anyone who has read the Doolittle stories will remember that it had two heads, one at either end of it's body, so it could eat with one head whilst, at the same time talking
with the other, and not be rude in doing so.
Talking out of its rear end seems not entirely out of character with the modus operandi of the Chairman in this matter.
And there is an even closer comparison.
Dr Doolittle had acquired the ability to converse with animals, and thus been able to cure some sick monkeys.
Their relatives - who were grateful to the Doctor for what he
had done - decided to reward him by persuading the Pushmi-Pullyu to accompany him back to England - to make his fortune.
When they took the Pushmi-Pullyu to meet him, there's a lovely passage as he meets the creature for the first time:
"What in the world is it?" asked John Doolittle, gazing at the strange creature.
"Lord save us!" cried the duck. "How does it make up its mind?"
"It doesn't look to me as though it had any," said Jip, the dog."
"This, Doctor," said Chee-Chee, "is the pushmi–pullyu - the rarest animal of the African jungles, the only two–headed beast in the world!
Take him home with you and your fortune's made. People will pay any money to see him."
And so it was that the Pushmi-Pullyu became the cash cow laying the doctor's golden eggs (if that's not stretching and mixing the wildlife metaphors too much for our
This is much the same as planning at Fylde - where the Chairman's aim in one of his heads - is to cover Fylde with as many houses as he can get away with - so both
developers and the Government will pay Fylde good money to see them there, and at the same time, his other head will tell people they're not really going to be built. (Just ask
the folk in Warton about THAT story).
AND he will avoid the risk of planning appeal costs by turning his body around and saying (with what was his rear head) Fylde will argue at the planning inquiry that they
should not be built, whilst in his other head he knows he can simply withdraw from arguing Fylde's case as soon as the Inquiry opens.
So in a way, Fylde's version of the Planning Pushmi-Pullyu is even better than the original.
It is an even more fantastic policy.
As well as generating cash in the form of the New Homes Bonus, it also cuts your risk of spending on planning inquiries if you use the withdrawal method.
The fact that it also covers Fylde in concrete is just unfortunate collateral damage consequent upon having chosen this lot of people to run the show.
The ones happy to agree to operate with two heads and two faces.
TO GET MORE SERIOUS....
The background to this matter, and the lead up to the meeting we're about to report is in our article 'Fit for Purpose?' and new readers should probably see that before
picking up the story below, as we're not going over that older ground in as much detail.
The meeting agenda item was an officer report, with an attached 'Statement' from the officer.
The report's Summary said
".....A statement has been produced in order to ensure there is no misunderstanding of the application of planning policy in the determination of
Until greater weight can be afforded to the emerging Fylde Local Plan to 2032 the methodology preferred by Fylde Council is to address the shortfall over the immediate 5
year period in line with the “Sedgefield” approach as it is considered that this approach is more robust having regard to current circumstances. "
The 'misunderstanding' that his Statement purports to clarify is actually one of the approved Minutes from the DM Meeting of 15 June.
And the wording he sought to 'clarify' was exactly the wording that had been proposed to that committee by the same officers.
"2. Approve the policies in the housing chapter (Chapter 10: Provision of Homes in Fylde) of the Publication version of the Local Plan for immediate use as ‘Interim Housing
Policies’ for use by the Development Management Committee and for decisions determined under Delegated Authority by the Head of Planning."
Readers need to understand that the text referred to in chapter 10 includes the following words:
"The shortfall of 802 homes has been spread over the remainder of the plan period and added onto the annual requirement figure of 370 homes resulting in an annual
requirement figure of 420 homes from 2016-2032."
This is also known as the 'Liverpool' of method of calculating the backlog, whereas an alternative method - known as the 'Sedgefield' method - recovers the shortfall over
just 5 years, meaning that for the first five years of the plan the requirement for houses is higher.
The nub of the issue is that the Officers had recommended, and the Committee had decided, two things.
- Firstly they decided to adopt the provisions of chapter 10.
- Secondly they made a separate decision to apply those policies for immediate use in determining planning applications.
The outcome of that must be that the (alleged) shortfall of housing will be calculated using the Liverpool Method, and secondly, that method of calculation was to be used
when determining housing need with respect to planning applications from the date of the meeting at which it was approved
SO WHAT WAS THE CLARIFICATION TRYING TO SHOW?
What the officer's 'clarification' statement for this meeting attempted to show was that firstly, because the wording about the shortfall being recovered over the whole plan
period was located in part of the text known as the 'Justification' for the policy (i.e. it sets out how and why that policy will be applied) as a sort of 'preamble' or
'introduction' to the wording of the Policy itself, then it had no force, - because, they argued, only the wording within the policy has force.
So their first attempted 'get out of jail' card was that the Committee can only apply the words of the policy itself when taking decisions on planning applications, and THOSE
words don't say how any calculation should be done at all.
This is a complete nonsense.
As we said in 'Fit for Purpose?'
"....as the officer who wrote this biased piece of information knows full well, this Publication version of the Plan (and every Local Plan we've ever seen) says ( in this
case at Page 14, and in bold typeface in the Plan).
"1.8 The Local Plan should be read as a whole and every policy and supporting justification should be considered equally together and a balanced judgement needs to be made
when determining planning applications."
So the justification for the policy is to be read equally with the policy it supports.
Paragraph 1.8 gives equal value to both then policy itself and the 'justification' part of the chapter - and failing to point out the relevance of this to elected councillors in the 'clarification' statement attached to the agenda is incredibly bad professional practice
for an officer.
That's why we have described his 'clarification' as 'biased'.
If such an omission had been undertaken in order to intentionally mislead the committee, we
would have used even stronger criticism - but we simply cannot know whether the omission was intentional or not.
The second 'get out of jail' card played by the officers was an attempt to convince the Committee that there was already in place a decision of the Council that had adopted
the 'Sedgefield' method, and that was what they should use.
This is simply not the case - as we showed in detail in our article 'Fit for Purpose'
The examples cited by the officers are inaccurate (as we previously showed), and we have not been able to find any Council resolution to use the Sedgefield method.
We found several instances where both the Liverpool and Sedgefield methods had been used in practice by Fylde (at different times and in different planning applications),
but we could find no formal policy decision by FBC to use one method or the other.
In our previous article, we said this did not mean a policy did not exist, it just meant that we couldn't find it.
However, given all the fuss this matter has generated, we're now pretty comfortable in saying that if a formal policy to use the 'Sedgefield' method DID exist, it would have
been wheeled out by the officers before now. So we're now pretty confident in firming up our view that there is no such decision of the Council.
We maintain there is only ONE decision of the Council on this matter and that is the decision of the 15th June - which was to adopt the provisions of Chapter 10, and secondly
to apply those policies for immediate use in determining planning applications.
There can be no other proper interpretation of the matter.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
We imagine our readers are asking at this point: well, why does this arcane technical stuff matter at all, and why would Fylde want to say one thing when it means another.
We think there are three elements to answer that question:
1. Fylde wants the money from the Government's 'New Homes Bonus'.
Not long ago Fylde was predicting that this 'bonus' would provide almost 20% of its income. The Bonus is cash paid by the Government in respect of houses that are built in
your borough. The more houses, the bigger the bonus you get.
Next year, Fylde will receive about £9.7 million in overall income.
Of that, the Council Tax we pay to Fylde amounts to just over half, at £5.66 million) and the New Homes Bonus is expected to bring another £1.87 million. Another income
(via Business rates) of £1.8 million and other Government grants (of around 0.4 million) make up the difference to £9.6 million.
So it would be no wonder if the ruling group wanted to build as many houses as they can get away with to get as much money via the bonus as they can.
2. Using the 'Sedgefield' method of calculation, it is harder for a Council to demonstrate it has a 5 year supply of housing land.
At the time of the June meeting Fylde had a 4.8 year supply and the Government says that any council which is unable to demonstrate a 5 year supply must add a further 20%
'buffer' to its housing requirement. This makes it even harder to show a 5 year supply of course.
So if you wanted to maximise your income from the New Homes Bonus, it would actually pay to keep the housing supply number at less than 5 years.
Because that way, you have to grant almost every planning application that is submitted, AND you can blame the Government's rules - because if you don't approve it in time,
the developer can appeal to Government. And when that gets to an inquiry, if the council offers no evidence (as Fylde has done several times by withdrawing it's case at the
last minute), the permission is invariably granted.
In this scenario, the Council avoids any inquiry costs, it retains its eligibility for the full New Homes Bonus (which they would not do if they contested the inquiry and
the Planning Inspectorate or the Government gets the blame from the community because they granted the permission.
3. However, Fylde now has to produce a new Local Plan.
It's already late and there will be more trouble if it's not in place by 2017.
The final part of the process is to have the Plan examined and approved by an external Planning Inspector. And that's just about to start at Fylde. The public consultation
closed on Thursday 22 Sept 2016.
But no sensible Inspector is going to consider - let alone approve - a plan that does not demonstrate a five year supply of housing land. That's the case even if it's 4.8
years like Fylde. It's not enough.
So to be able to submit it's Local Plan for examination, Fylde HAD to be able to show it has a five year supply. It did this by changing the method of calculating it (It used the
'Liverpool' method) and that gives it a supply that exceeds the 5 year minimum requirement.
That is the change that was approved at the 15th June Planning Committee.
But the officers had also recommended that they add the bit about using that method for future planning applications from that date. (i.e. not just for the local plan).
And it is that second part of the recommendation that has caused all the trouble.
The Committee agreed to the officer's recommendation (which Independent Cllr Peter Collins had himself proposed only a few short weeks before), and the Chairman either
didn't think, didn't see, or at least he claims not to have thought or seen, that they were voting to change the way the calculation was to be done for future planning
And when he realised this had provided a justification for refusing some applications, (and also potentially ran the risk of losing - and having to pay costs at a Planning Inquiry),
he tried to pretend that it is not what they decided.
But it is what they decided.
And if you are a resident whose life is about to be spoiled by some of these new houses being built close to you, you will be angry. You will make the case forcefully to
your councillor (as the Kirkham Dowbridge residents did with Cllr Oades). She in turn made the case at the Planning committee very comprehensively.
She is an experienced Councillor and she knew that their earlier 5 year supply decision should have allowed her to use a wider range of reasons to justify refusal of the
application, and she sought to use them.
But the Chairman was having none of it.
As we reported previously, not only did he refuse to allow the Committee to debate the matter of whether the 5 year supply condition could be applied in this instance, he
also refused Cllr Oades' call for the Council's legal officer (who was present at the meeting) to rule on whether the matter was a material planning consideration that the
Chairman should allow the Committee to consider.
It's our firm view that Cllr Fiddler refused to allow the legal officer to advise the committee (which we believe was actually the Legal officer's duty as well as his right,
because he was also acting as the Council's Monitoring Officer in this instance), because he knew what that advice would be, and he did not want to hear it.
And that's why there was such an awful row between Cllr Fiddler and Queen Elizabeth Oades at the meeting as we reported in
Warton Inquiry and the 5 Year Supply Issue.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE PREVIOUS MEETING?
That meeting resulted in more or less a 'no score draw' on the matter of how to calculate the 5 year supply.
We understand that emails and meetings took place after the event, and strong words were exchanged.
We were told that there was dispute and uncertainty amongst the officers in the immediate aftermath of the last meeting, as to what the decision meant and whether it applied
from now onwards or not, with some taking one view and others being less certain.
Finally, someone (and we assume it was the Chairman, but it could have been someone else) must have asked or required the planning officers to produce a 'clarification' of
the decision that would show that what the Committee had decided was not what they said and not what they recorded they had decided.
An officer did so as an 'Information Item' on the agenda.
Less scrupulous Chairmen display little compunction in not having these so called 'Information Items' debated.
They seek to ignore and pass over them as being on the agenda for information only.
A better Chairman (and there are some at Fylde) would ask if members had any questions or propositions to make regarding the information that was presented. If a proposition
is made, it would turn the information item into a 'decision item.'
But, as we say, that applies to the better Chairmen, not those who try to gloss over information items quickly.
When you read the officer's statement of clarification you will see the depths that Fylde now plumbs.
Those wishing to be saddened by a demonstration of appalling governance and administration can follow this link to read the officer's statement setting out how and why the
decision the Committee took (and subsequently ratified), was not, in his view, what they actually decided.
We now move forward to the meeting at which the officer presented his statement of clarification.
The item was tacked onto the end of a long agenda involving detailed consideration of planning applications.
As we had expected, by the time they got there, Councillors were tired and fratchy. So the stage for further conflict was set.
We previously said we thought we might see the Chairman try to bluster and bully his way out, or we might see a different decision proposed and taken to the one taken on
As we had expected, at about 1:30pm, after three and a half hours of debating complex planning matters, the committee was indeed fratchy and tired when it reached this item.
A QUICK PRIMER ON DECISION-TAKING RULES
This issue is a crucial matter to Fylde - not simply because it affects all future planning applications; but in our view it is even more important for the governance
failure it represents.
The one thing that a Council should have as inviolate at its core is that decisions are taken, recorded, and implemented as per the wording of the decision.
That is the entire point of having the formal process that surrounds recommendations, propositions, amendments and votes.
An officer's recommendation is what it says. It recommends a form of words that the Committee might want to consider as being a suitable decision for the agenda item in
Any member of the Committee is free to propose those words - or to propose some alternative words of their own - to become the decision.
Once a form of wording has been proposed (and seconded by another member of the committee), it becomes a 'Motion' (i.e. it has been moved and seconded) and that form of words
must be put to the vote - unless another councillor proposes an amendment to the wording (and that too is seconded by another committee member).
An Amendment is a proposal to change the words of the Motion being discussed - by taking words out of it or by adding words to it (or both), as long as the effect of the
amendment could not be achieved by defeating the motion.
So an amendment which proposes the opposite of the Motion should not be accepted by the Chairman. (e.g. if the motion says 'we should do something', and an amendment is
proposed that says 'we should not do something' it is not a valid amendment - because it is simply a direct negative of the Motion - and voting against the motion would have the
If a valid amendment is made, the Chairman must stop the discussion on the Motion, parking it to one side, and begin a debate on the Amendment that has been made.
This debate on the amendment explores the arguments for and against this different form of words.
When debate on the amendment concludes, the Chairman will call a vote on the amendment.
If that vote results in a majority, then the amended form of words becomes the Motion, and the 'old' one is abandoned.
But if the amendment does not get a majority of the votes, then the amendment is abandoned and debate re-commences on the 'parked' original Motion.
That is, unless further amendments to the wording are proposed, (or in some cases amendments to the wording of an amendment)
Eventually, either the words in the original Motion, or a revised form of words incorporating one or more amendments, becomes the wording of the resolution (decision).
The point of our lengthy procedural explanation here is mostly to highlight to our readers that it is THE FORM OF WORDS which create any motion or amendment that are
*absolutely central* to the decision that the Council adopts.
And it is extremely important that, (having had the opportunity to change the wording and the meaning of the Motion with suitable amendments), the wording of that final
Motion is voted on by the Committee, and that the agreed form of words becomes the resolution (decision) which is implemented without change.
In the case of the resolution of 15th June meeting, the officer's recommendation was proposed and seconded. It became the Motion. No amendments were proposed. So the Motion
that was voted on by the majority became the Resolution (decision).
Now, if the Chairman (or anyone else) had thought the words they had been recommended to use by the officer - i.e. to
"Approve the policies in the housing chapter (Chapter 10: Provision of Homes in Fylde) of the
Publication version of the Local Plan for immediate use as ‘Interim Housing Policies’ for use by the Development Management Committee and for decisions determined under
Delegated Authority by the Head of Planning."
were the wrong words, or were inappropriate words, then it was open to them at that point to make an amendment to those words.
But no-one did.
If, (as the Chairman clearly wants), the change to the Liverpool method of calculation is only to be used after the Local Plan has been adopted, the Chairman or someone
else, should, at that meeting of 15 June, have proposed an amendment which would have said something like.....
"delete the word 'immediate' and add the following words at the end of the sentence "from the date at which the Local Plan is adopted"
(or some similar wording).
That would have achieved what he (obviously) wants, but either he had not read the agenda properly, or he was not alert enough at the meeting, or he did not properly
understand what he was voting on, to propose such an amendment.
In fact, when it came to the vote he put forward the officers recommended wording himself. There were no amendments, and he took the vote on the words that the officers had
originally proposed. A majority of the Committee voted to approve them, so they became the decision that has to be implemented.
The words 'with immediate effect' became the decision.
There is no escape from that. It is as a crystal clear wording, and a crystal clear decision.
SO WHAT HAPPENED AT THE MEETING?
As this is such an important issue, we have transcribed most of the debate, so readers can see the key issues in context.
At the conclusion of the previous agenda item the Chairman said "OK, shall we adjourn for Lunch?"
Cllr Mrs Oades: "Are we not dealing with the Information Items?"
Chairman (Cllr Fiddler): "It's up to you to make your points. They are information items and not decision items"
Cllr Mrs Oades: "Well, I would like to address the five year housing supply"
Chairman: (sotto voche) "For obvious reasons"
Cllr Mrs Oades: (less sotto) "For very obvious reasons"
Cllr Mrs Oades: "OK? Thank you. Well, I note this information item, but I don't agree with it. Firstly, this Council has a minute of the 15th June in which it says we will
use the policy with *immediate* effect. Now that is quite clear and the officers that made that policy are the same officers that talk about Sedgefield, they say 'with
immediate effect' and that's from the 15th June..."
Chairman: "Can I just interrupt, and its becoming a habit of mine with our exchanges on this subject. The reason why this is an information item today was to try and be
definitive, and put a line under the debate that you entered into at the previous DM meeting, when you said that the June meeting of DM had this impact on our previous policy,
and therefore had consequences as the whether we use the Sedgefield or the Liverpool method as a consequence of the different opinions. You had your opinion, and you're welcome
to it, and you're entitled to it, and I gave advice to this Committee, saying that the officers had a different position, and my advice to members of this committee was to take
the officers view rather than your opinion.
As a consequence of that position I thought it only wise that we have before us this morning, a definitive statement from the senior officers of this council, which included
the Chief Executive, the Chief Legal Officer, the Chief Planning Officer, to have input into that contradiction between Cllr Oades and myself as Chairman.
That meeting took place, and the conclusions of that meeting are outlined in that report. I think the report before members this morning is very simple and very
straightforward. It has a view which is at variance to the interpretation of Cllr Oades.
I don't think we need to spend too long dwelling on the fact that Cllr Oades may have a position which is at variance with the rest of the Council. But having said that,
Liz, you can come back to your point.."
Cllr Mrs Oades "Thank you"
Chairman: "But we will not spend too long, because I think we have a definitive position.
Cllr Mrs Oades: "Well you will not be surprised that I disagree with you, because I believe my opinion is based on fact. I have asked the Chief Exec what is the policy of
this council? He has written in an email to me 'the policy of the Council is that of the 15th June.'
We do not have a policy which says we should use Sedgefield. We do not have a policy that says we should use Liverpool....."
Chairman: Can I interrupt, can I interrupt on behalf of the Committee..."
Cllr Mrs Oades "I'm sure you're going to"
Chairman "...well, it is my prerogative as Chairman. We have a situation where this Committee. The DM Committee, in the resolution in March, made a decision that Sedgefield
was the way that we dealt with.... "
At this point someone in the public gallery, said - ostensibly involuntarily to themselves (but in a voice that was probably not sotto enough) - 'No you didn't'
There was then a short interchange which the Chairman concluded by saying he accepted the Committee had made a recommendation to full Council, and that was not a decision of
The Chairman continued:" But it was the sentiment of this committee, the DM Committee. It agreed with the position that [the officer] and his paper that we continue with
Sedgefield, and that went to full Council.
This Committee has endorsed the position by making that recommendation that Sedgefield is the reason why, and it has been explained ad-nauseaum, and it's explained again
today. And Liz, I am sorry but you constantly, like a dog with a bone, you will not let go. Now I can't take it any higher and the senior officers are saying and the advice
we're given, and I'll just bring [the officer] in, because you've now again reiterated a position that the June position overruled the March decision.
Cllr Oades: I will say it did overrule and I'll speak to that. At the end of the day, you and I are not going to agree, but you keep interrupting me and again, you're not
letting me make my point.
What this Committee did in March, was make a *recommendation* to Council. I didn't agree with that then, but I lost that vote. That's democracy.
That recommendation went to Council, but you put the guillotine on. "
[This 'guillotine' was a procedural device deployed at Council by Cllr Fiddler not to have any debate or vote on the matter].
"There was no debate, so all you agreed to do was not accept the Liverpool method.
You didn't accept the Sedgefield method. So therefore it hasn't been debated, and we have a situation that in June, we made a decision. This Committee made a decision, that
[ Attempted but inaudible interruption again by the Chairman]
Cllr Mrs Oades continued "No, no. It *was* a policy decision because it said "with immediate effect." OK, we have to wait for the plan to be published, for part of that to
come into effect, but the phrase, *which the officer put in* is "with immediate effect". That is a policy of this committee now, because it says "with immediate effect" and I
will argue with you on this because I am right. I am right, and we will take this to the nth degree. I can assure you I will take it to the nth degree because I *know* I am
right. When it comes to governance, I am right on that point.
So we do have the policy which says "with immediate effect" we will use - it doesn't say the Liverpool method, but it describes the Liverpool method, it says we will cover
the shortfall housing across the period of the plan. That *is* the Liverpool method. So....
Chairman: "Can I..."
Cllr Mrs Oades: I'm just going to finish what I'm saying Chairman because, quite frankly, I know what [the officer] put in his paper, and his paper dealt with the Sedgefield
method, but the same, the same paper, should have had in it that Inspectors have actually, and the Government has said, that you can just as well use the Liverpool method. That
was omitted from [the officer's] paper. Further down on the advice it says you can use the Liverpool method, and ..."
Chairman: "Liz, Liz, Please!"
Cllr Mrs Oades; "Let me finish, and.."
The Chairman bangs his gavel
Cllr Mrs Oades: "..., and you should look at each application on its merits, and that's what this committee should do. That's what we're taught when we first come onto
Chairman: "Cllr Oades, I have to bring you to order..."
Cllr Mrs Oades: "You can try, but not too hard, because I've finished now"
Then the Chairman called the planning officer to speak.
Planning Officer: "I disagree entirely with that statement Cllr Oades. My report to this committee, which was then considered by full Council clearly set out that both
Liverpool and Sedgefield had been accepted by the courts as acceptable ways, now you said that I'd not mentioned it. I disagree entirely. It is clearly mentioned in my report."
Cllr Oades: It was not mentioned at the last committee meeting at which we kept being told that we have to use Sedgefield. You were not here, and I was referring to your
The Officer: "To committee? The one that dealt with the five year supply?"
Cllr Mrs Oades: "Yes, that report"
The Officer: "The second point is that on the Information Item you will see about two thirds of the way down, is actually the extract from the resolution. And that was to
approve the policies in the housing chapter. If you actually turn to the housing chapter, Chapter 10 in the emerging plan, the policies are the ones in the dark boxes, clearly
saying 'Policies.' etc. Not one of those policies makes a differentiation between the two elements. I put the emphasis there in that statement, the Policies because I wanted to
emphasize the original.,. so it's my emphasis it is an information item.
But clearly, the supporting text does, for the plan, refer the Liverpool methodology. To spread the shortfall over the plan period. But for the reasons I reiterated in my
original report, on whether we go with Liverpool or Sedgefield, which came to this Committee and subsequently full council, those reasons still are pertinent.
Until we have an adopted plan which accepts that, has been examined in public, the safer route, and the more robust route, is to stick with Sedgefield. And I remain of that
The meeting continued in this vein, with other Councillors contributing and eliciting further disagreement and argument at varying intensities for another 20
minutes or so, at which point the arguments and shouting reached their highest crescendo, and eventually, the Chairman brought the item to a close as it finally erupted into
something approaching anarchy.
Banging his gavel furiously, and having to shout over the top of other committee members who disagreed with him to make himself heard, (not Cllr Mrs Oades on this occasion)
"I bring this meeting to a close, simply because I've answered that question, [the officer] has explained to you, [another officer] has explained to you, but you
don't seem to want to listen. You've got a position which you're entitled to, and my advice to the Committee is to go along with your professional officers and their advice
rather than the advice given by Liz Oades. So I'm sorry, the meeting is closed.
So, dear reader, what to make of it all?
In reality, it's another 'no score draw.' This meeting passed no resolution to change to the previous position. But the Chairman and the officers have tried to circumvent
the proper democratic process by attempting to 'clarify' (for which read 'change') the Committee's previous decision. So we can expect to see this matter rising up again
at future meetings.
In our view the only way to lance the boil is to have the matter debated at full Council which has the power to change the decision the Committee took on 15th June. But we
suspect that's not going to happen for the same reason that he applied the guillotine at the previous council. Several of the rural Conservatives feel strongly that the
Liverpool method *should* be used, and were not likely to support his position, so he risked losing the vote.
We have no doubt that, in terms of procedure and governance, the Chairman is wrong. The decision to apply the method of calculation set out in the minute of 15 June with
immediate effect is clear and unalterable.
The planning officer's attempts to circumvent what it says do not, in our view hold water.
His explanation about it being in the supporting text is selective and incomplete. We say that because the Local Plan itself indicates that the supporting text has similar -
if not exactly as much - weight as the policy itself, and there has never existed a policy decision of the Council to use the Sedgefield method as the officer has tried to
claim. So we attribute almost no weight to either of his claims.
Officers responsible for securing good governance at Fylde have, in our view, also failed in their duty, and badly let down the councillors who operate outside the ruling
majority party to which Cllr Fiddler belongs, as they have closed ranks to justify the indefensible, and allowed a properly constituted minute of the Council to be
re-interpreted to have a meaning as something other than it says.
We also wonder why we should bother to have a Council at all if decisions on which method to use in any particular planning application are to be abandoned to technical
officers in fear of the Planning Inspectorate.
The name of the document at the heart of this argument is the LOCAL plan, but it is anything but a plan prepared and approved by local people.
This is evidenced by the fact that local people representing ten community groups with an interest in planning matters issued an unprecedented
Joint Statement of Unsound
Consultation when its first consultation version was published.
Nor is it supported by around 40% of the elected Councillors, as the publication of two separate 'Minority Reports' has shown.
We now hear that Wyre Council is likely to make a formal objection to Fylde's plan unless Fylde agree to support 'Highways England's' plans for alterations to the A585
(we plan an article on this shortly). If a formal objection is made by Wyre, it looks set to cause even further delays to Fylde's Local Plan.
So we're less than sure the plan will make it to adoption without further changes, and we're curious about what might happen if Fylde's Local Plan misses the deadline the
Government has set for it.
Planning Minister at the time (Brandon Lewis MP) made a statement in 2015 which included the following
"In cases where no Local Plan has been produced by early 2017 – five
years after the publication of the NPPF – we will intervene to arrange for the Plan to be written, in consultation with local people, to accelerate production of a Local Plan."
Readers can follow this link to download a copy of his statement.
We understand from elsewhere the 2017 date is 31 March 2017, and whilst we don't much agree with the Government taking over any of a Council's functions, in theory it could
be on the cards if there are more delays.
Mind you, we don't really expect it will happen. Fylde has already been in this sort of situation before (about the length of time they were taking to decide planning
applications). Their stats showed they had already failed the test before the actual deadline, but at the 11th hour, they persuaded the Government to reclassify some of their earlier
a different category. That changed their results, and removed Fylde from the 'failure' category, and it was thus not placed in 'Special Measures' (see
'No Special Measures')
But in the meantime, because the officers have closed ranks around Cllr Fiddler's wrong interpretation of the decisions that have been taken, there is little prospect of anyone
doing anything to rectify the matter. As far was we can see, that would require something like a Judicial review of the decision - and the cost of that is likely to be
unaffordable for those concerned.
There may be some more general hope in the Governance review that Fylde commissioned - once the report is published - but it looks to be languishing in very long grass as
far as we can see, so the omens for that are not good.
It also seems to us that Cllr Fiddler has yet to fully adapt to the change from being a Portfolio Holder and taking decisions on his own, to chairing a committee - where we
would argue that his role should be to help and support all the members of that committee to express their own views - and to involve as wide a range of councillors in the
decisions that the Committee is required to take - as it is possible to do.
Instead of this, what we saw was a Chairman who had a fixed position and intended to impose that outcome come hell or high water.
We were also concerned about the extent that the (now abandoned) period of Cabinet governance has damaged the understanding of their role that rank and file councillors should
have. Many now seem to accept their role in the Committee to ask questions about agenda items - rather than taking ownership of them and proposing motions or amendments to what
officers have recommend, or to call for agenda items of their own choosing to be debated. Apart from a few, most 'backbenchers' still seem to have little ownership of decisions
made in their name by committees of which they are a part.
That's probably partly the fault of Fylde's Conservative group - who did not want to change form the Cabinet system in the first place, and are happy to acquiesce in this
condition, but perhaps even more it is the fault of Fylde's officers who, in our view, are not creating a level playing field in which all councillors may operate on an equal
And the instance we have just reported is but another example of that.
So all in all, we think it's likely that Cllr Fiddler will succeed in having Fylde's 'pushmi-pullyu planning service' face in two directions at the same time.
But his success in this endeavour does not mean it is right.
Nor does it yet provide us with governance arrangements in which we can place our trust and respect. Albeit that that might improve with time.
Dated: 27 September 2016