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Moss Road - Latest

Moss Road - LatestThis article is about the long-awaited Moss Road replacement for Wild Lane.

Serious doubts are now being aired as to when or even whether it will be built.

And all the while, increases in traffic from new housing, the Waters Edge pub, and from Booths supermarket, are all subjecting Queensway to unreasonably long delays at peak times.

SYNOPSIS
We begin with an Introduction setting out the genesis of this article. That's followed by some Background about the history of the new Moss Road, and we conclude the first part of the article by bringing readers Up to date with some recent information.

Then we look at Cllr Paul Hayhurst's Notice of Motion before reporting his Introducing it in the Council meeting. We also provide a transcript of what Cllr Hayhurst said when Fylde's Audio cut out partway through what he said.

Then we report the main points of the Debate in Council which inevitably saw Cllr Hayhurst's motion defeated.

We then offer our own Conclusions on what had been said, before finally Considering the Missing Audio and some of the issues if it was not a technical hitch.

 INTRODUCTION

Those who follow the development of the Moss road closely noticed a spike in gossip about what was happening in the last month or so.

Fylde's Cllr Paul Hayhurst noticed it too.

Cllr Hayhurst has been involved with Kensington's plans for the Moss Road for a long time. It's in his ward as a County Councillor, and we know that until the Conservative group decided otherwise, he had been very close to the negotiations to bring the road into being.

In more recent times we believe he has not been included in these meetings, but he nevertheless maintains a close interest on behalf of his electorate in Fylde West.

So when he speaks on this matter we always listen.

 BACKGROUND

Readers will recall that the planning permission to build on the Queensway site (after several public inquiries, appeals, and legal cases) required Kensington to start building the new moss road after 'x hundred' properties had been built. But we think those arrangements have changed over time.

For the road's construction, the difficulty seemed to arise when Kensington's expected rate of building was so slow that it was thought it would take years and years before the Moss Road was even started. We recall hearing people talking about it being 14 years before the first part of the road came into being.

Faced with the prospect of 14 years of traffic chaos on Queensway, the powers that be set about first trying to persuade Kensington to hasten their development and, when that didn't work, negotiations took a different turn and inducements were offered.

If we remember correctly, our MP urged the Government to contribute something like £2m towards the cost to make a more or less immediate start but that didn't do the job.

As time went on others offered more money.

LCC shouldered design work and made cash contributions that we think came up to about £2m over time, Fylde Council set aside £1m when they had absolutely no responsibility to spend our taxes in that way, and we seem to recall another half million or thereabouts from Fylde for other support, as well. Other money toward the scheme came from Highways England and maybe other organisations.

All told, we think something approaching half the cost of the £19 to £22m road (the cost has gone up over time) was assembled from one or other of the public's pockets.

The last we heard officially was back in March this year, when Fylde issued a very positive press statement.

It included the following

'....A key site linked to the scheme is Kensington Developments Ltd's Richmond Point site, and construction of the first phase of this residential development is ongoing.

Activity picked up pace in 2017 to accelerate delivery of the road in view of the potential benefits to economic growth and travel in the area, with public and private sector partners working closely together to move the scheme forward.....

......The county council has completed the initial stage of the restricted tender process for the contract to construct the road, and began the final stage of the tender process with publication of documents on Friday 8 March 2019.

And work is in the final stages to bring together the funding to support the delivery of the road.

The partners working on the scheme include Lancashire County Council, Fylde Borough Council, Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, Highways England, Department for Transport, and Kensington Developments Limited.

If planning permission is awarded, project milestones are met, and resources are in place, a contract for the road's construction could be awarded for work to start in summer 2019.....'

The statement concluded by saying:

'Fylde Council Leader, Councillor Sue Fazackerley, said: "This is such a vital link for the Fylde transport system and I am delighted that tangible progress is being made.

"Fylde Council has made a considerable financial commitment to speed up the progress of the building of the road and our residents are anxious to see some signs of activity. Hopefully, this will escalate in the month ahead."

Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: "Finally we get to see work taking place on the M55 link road project. I've secured Growth Fund monies, supported bids to the Government and Highways England for further funding and lobbied ministers to get this road built. I'm delighted to see workers on site carrying out preparatory works."

Graham Cowley, chair of the LEP's Growth Deal Management Board, said: "Growth Deal funding enables key road schemes like this to progress and unlock land for both housing and business which is vital for local economic growth."

David Wild, Highways England’s asset manager for Lancashire, said: "We’re pleased to see plans for the link road progressing.

As well as securing a more direct link between Lytham and the motorway at junction 4, the contribution from our dedicated national fund to support growth and housing will help open up opportunities for new jobs and new housing. The new road will also ease congestion further along the motorway at junction 3."

But now the optimism of March is looking more and more misplaced.

 COMING UP TO DATE

We had contact from a reader early last month who had picked up gossip from staff at Kensington's site that all was not well.

Then shortly before 14th October, the agenda for a Fylde Council meeting was published. It had a lot of interesting items that we will be covering in future articles, but the one that caught our eye with regard to the Moss Road was a 'Notice of Motion' being proposed by Cllr Hayhurst.

A 'Notice of Motion' is a device by which individual councillors can have items placed on the Council's agenda and debated.

Cllr Hayhurst's was headed 'Notice of Motion – Moratorium'

That heading was most probably applied by the Council's administrative officers and, whilst it was technically correct, in our view it was equally selectively deceptive in that it made no reference to what the subject of the proposed moratorium was about.

Our experience suggests that this sort of thing can happen when the powers that be want to avert attention from what is an important topic for local people - to 'disguise' what the debate is really about so the press and others under time pressure - who scan the agenda headings to decide whether to follow up any of the items - can be 'duped' into not realising the full significance of the item.

But being from Cllr Hayhurst, we knew it would be of interest, and we went to the meeting to report for our readers.

 THE NOTICE OF MOTION

Cllr Hayhurst's motion was:

'That this Council investigates as a matter of urgency the feasibility of introducing a moratorium on any new planning applications for developments of five or more houses in St Annes. Such a moratorium to be implemented without delay and to remain in force until all finance is in place and all contracts and agreements signed, to enable work to be commenced on the new St Annes/M55 link road.'

Cllr Hayhurst is one of the most able and experienced councillors on Fylde Council, and we know - just as he would have known - that he didn't have a hope in hell of having that motion adopted by the Council.

But that wasn't the point. It looked to us as though he was simply trying to raise the profile of what was going on, and to highlight the trouble that was being caused on a daily basis for drivers trying to use Queensway to get to work, or trying to get their children to get to school.

 THE MOTION AT COUNCIL

Our earlier suspicion about Fylde's officers wanting to keep the matter out of the public eye was strengthened further when, as she introduced the item and called Cllr Hayhurst to speak, the Mayor said:

".... and before Cllr Hayhurst moves his motion, I would like to request that Councillors refrain from naming specific companies during this debate"

We've never heard anything like that said in more than 30 years of watching the meetings of Fylde Council, and we didn't think it was a very auspicious start to the debate.

So far as we could see it would have been almost impossible to have the debate without naming the parties involved in the funding negotiations taking place to deliver the road earlier than it would otherwise be provided.

Whilst only those involved can know for certain, we think it unlikely that the Mayor would have decided to say that off her own bat.

Much more likely was that she had been advised to say it by one of the Council's administrative officers - and if that was the case, we think it was a foolish decision.

Cllr Hayhurst wasn't impressed either, because he opened his proposition saying:

"Well, I do think it's a bit difficult not to name the company, Mr Mayor, because it's a company that deal with the situation that we're looking at."

He went on to explain that he had been late for the start of the Council meeting that day because he held up on the A585 for three quarters of an hour.

He told the Council that he gets about sixty-odd emails a day, and a huge proportion of those are from people who sit on Queensway for nearly an hour every day, with others spending even more time there. And the reason for that was that the link road hadn't been built.

Tellingly, he added:

"And its still nowhere near being built from what I gather."

He gave the background to the matter and spoke of the several Public Inquiries before Kensington were given planning permission in 2012. He continued...

"One of the conditions of that was that they would build the link road.

In their evidence - which they gave to the Inspector - Kensington said how terrible the situation was on Queensway. They also used the evidence from County Highways.

County Highways had said that at that time, that 300 further developments down there would make it that Queensway would be completely oversubscribed.

Since then, Kensington have been given 165 houses by this authority, at the same time, across the road, we have allowed 160 houses with regard to the PreBond site. We have allowed a pub to be built, we've allowed a Booths supermarket to be built, and at the same time, no link road.

But what has happened is that Wild Lane, which was one of the..., which took some of the weight off Queensway, has now closed.

So people are spending hours on Queensway every day, and I think part of that is the responsibility of this authority - because the fact is that we have allowed 325 houses to be built when County Highways said that 300 was the maximum, the maximum, that Queensway could take."

He went on to give more examples of the problem - and spoke of the developments allowed at Cropper Road which resulted in parents taking children to school in St Annes and having to go both ways on Queensway, and queue up on both ways adding he had been told it can take an hour and a half for them to get children to school.

He said that was Fylde's responsibility.

He went on to say...

"...since Kensington were given planning permission back in 2012, we have agreed with them on numerous occasions to relax the conditions which were placed on their initial planning consent. I spent yesterday afternoon trawling through the Planning Portal and it was application after application after application by Kensington, to let them off the hook. And I feel that we've got to do something Mr Mayor because the fact is that Kensington are taking us for a ride.

Two major things which they applied for was back in 2013, they asked for us to remove the need for affordability to be on the first 300 houses, then they applied for 66 houses in December - they were granted 66 in 2017 - and a further 165 on October 10th 2018.

I came in this Council Chamber on October 10th 2018 and pleaded with the Planning Committee not to allow that 100 houses, and what I said to the Planning Committee - because I was told that a deal is just around the corner, it's going to be sorted out soon - and I said I'll be back in 12 months time.

Well, a year and four days, and I'm back, telling you we're in the same mire as we were then.

And yet we still have no policy to stop any further planning applications in St Annes..."

Cllr Hayhurst admitted that he expected to be told it was not possible to do what he had proposed when Cllr Fiddler (Chairman of Planning Committee) spoke, but he felt it was necessary to bring the matter out into the open, and he wanted the officers to think about what can be done to alleviate the situation.

He actually continued speaking to his motion (as Fylde's webcast shows), but from this point in what he said, there is no audio.

For reasons that are not clear (and not stated on the webcast), the audio of what Cllr Hayhurst was saying stops at just after 2hrs 14 minutes into the meeting, and it does not come back on until just after 2hrs 18 minutes into the meeting when Cllr Hayhurst sat down and the Mayor asks if anyone wishes to speak to the Motion.

So four minutes of what Cllr Hayhurst said is not audible.

Fylde might say there was a technical hitch that caused the audio not to record.

It's equally possible, especially given the Mayor's request at the start of the meeting, that what he said has been cut from the recording.

We've no way of knowing which of those alternatives is accurate, but fortunately, we have our own recording of the meeting and we can now reproduce what Cllr Hayhurst said.

 THE MISSING AUDIO

Cllr Hayhurst continued:

"....I gather that Kensington are again, prevaricating with regard to the latest, the latest conditions, which, with regard to Homes England, and the fact is that it's likely I would have thought that this road is not going to be built.

Kensington have initially said that they would provide £16 million for that [...2/3 unclear words...] £11 million and yet they still won't even sign the papers, they still won't go ahead with this road.

So the fact is that I'm sure that we are going to find ourselves, having leant over backwards throughout the last 7 years to accommodate Kensington, I'm quite sure that we're going to find ourselves with Queensway completely chocker every day and still no Plan B.

So I feel that this Authority should start thinking about Plan B and what we should do is thinking about what we can do to relieve the situation if that road does not go ahead.

I think back to Wyre.

Remember, Wyre Borough Council have asked us to take an allocation for the housing for them, because Highways England wouldn't let them build the houses that they wanted to build in Poulton, in Thornton and in Fleetwood because of the A585. Because the A585 is full.

Surely we should be doing something similar on Queensway. Surely we should be making sure that the people that we represent do not have to spend 2 hours a day on Queensway, and that is what's happening.

And every day I'm getting more and more and more emails from people, and people are getting more and more and more annoyed.

I feel that Kensington should do the right thing, because its Kensington who suggested they should build the houses so we could get the road, and what the Inspector had said was - I quote what the Inspector said - he said, the construction of the M55 Link has, in the view of the local planning authority, and highway authorities, considerable public benefit. It is necessary if more than 350 dwellings are to be built on the appeal site without significant adverse effect on the safety and convenience of highway users.

So he's actually saying 350 houses will create safety problems. And our problem is that we have already allowed 325, plus the pub, plus the supermarket. It's about time that we did something as an authority.

So I moved in the Notice of Motion. I know I'm going to be told we can't do it, but having said that, I do hope that what I've said tonight will make the planning officers think about what we can do if Kensington walk away.

And I've got to say if I was a betting man - and I've spent seven years chasing Kensington - if I was a betting man I know where I'd put my money."

And with that the sat down and the audio of the meeting miraculously reappeared .

 THE MOTION IS DEBATED

The Mayor asked for speakers on the motion and Cllr Gill and Cllr Fiddler were called.

Cllr Gill referred to the new 'Fylde Healthy Living Supplement' which the Planning Committee had adopted and which Cllr Gill said was relevant to this matter of the road.

Then Cllr Fiddler spoke. As expected, he said that to even try to introduce what Cllr Hayhurst wanted, they would need 'robust evidence' to show the significant harm to St Annes and in his opinion they wouldn't be able to prove there was harm when the 'golden thread' running through the local plan promotes a presumption in favour of development and the delivery of housing.

And even if sufficient harm could be demonstrated, nothing could be done now because it would have to go out to public and other consultation and there would be considerable objections (we suspect he means from the developer lobby).

But, he said, the most important reason was that to link such a policy as Cllr Hayhurst was proposing to the Link Road is illegal in planning terms, and Fylde would be deemed to have acted irresponsibly, most likely leading to significant financial penalties being imposed.

For these reasons, he asked councillors not to support Cllr Hayhurst's motion.

This little cameo of the meeting sums up a lot of what's wrong with Local Government today.

The Government has, for the most part, taken control of services like planning that used to be decided by local people for local people, and they have removed local discretion over swathes of what should still be local decisions.

The Government's awful 'loose leaf' planning system called the 'National Planning Policy Framework' (NPPF) sets its own far too detailed requirements for local planning (not least the evidence and process required to demonstrate a severe level 'harm' as Cllr Fiddler mentioned)

Expensive barristers dine out lavishly on the money paid initially by developers to challenge decisions made by a Council (and then often recovered from the Council if they lose) if they don't comply with the Government's NPPF.

And it's not only in Public Inquiries that challenges are made these days. Sometimes the matter goes to a Judicial Review (if there is a claim that a council, or the Government, has exceeded its authorised powers).

The Government says there is a housing shortage and their way of solving it is to require councils to permit lots more houses to be built.

Our lone voice in the wilderness on this matter isn't going to change anything anytime soon but we fundamentally disagree with the Government's house building policy here.

The real cause of the problem has little to do with housing need related to the UK birth rate (well certainly not in Fylde anyway). It's all to do with the national increase in family fragmentation through divorce, separation and 'single person' living - this (at least) doubles the number of dwellings a country 'needs.'

Pressure for housing in Fylde also exists because of the great desire for inward migration to Fylde - as people from less attractive areas want to move to what they perceive to be a 'better' coastal area - often for retirement.

So we argue the Government needs to change social policy, not housing policy if it wants to start to solve the housing problem.

And with that short digression over, we return our attention to the Council meeting.

Some councillors spoke in support of Cllr Hayhurst, but we pick up our report where Cllr Redcliffe (Vice Chairman of Planning) spoke.

He said probably most people didn't need to be reminded of the lack of progress, and no-one was satisfied, but then, using the sort of mental ju-jitsu switch that he often deploys, he said there were concerns about the legality of the motion, and if it was adopted, it might actually be counter-productive.

He went on to suggest that if Fylde was 'difficult' it wouldn't help to move things forward, saying:

"Indeed I would argue that it may be undermining current efforts to come and bring this project to a conclusion, so I make a distinction between sympathy and applying a bit of common sense, and I cannot support this motion."

We were disappointed with what he said. Not for the decision, because Cllr Hayhurst's motion was never going to get approval, but we were disappointed at the tone and the underlying philosophy that underpinned Cllr Redcliffe's approach.

To us, he was advocating a path of appeasement and pacification, and the only place that will get him is more money being taken from the pockets of  taxpayers.

So we come to the opposite view as him.

He sympathises with Cllr Hayhurst's logic, but not the decision that Cllr Hayhurst came to in his motion.

We have sympathy for Cllr Redcliffe's decision, but we simply can't agree with the underlying logic he has used to arrive at it.

At this point the debate concluded, and Cllr Hayhurst was invited to sum up on his proposition

He said he had got the response he imagined would come, that the Council would be irresponsible, if they approved his motion, but he went on to ask...

"... isn't the Planning Committee irresponsible continually, continually waiving conditions on Kensington's developments. It's not just this latest one, it was Cypress Point as well. We somehow... Somehow, Kensington seem to have a hold over this council whereby they get planning permission and then they come back and there's a load of conditions and they start whittling them down, applying to this council to remove the conditions.

And also the fact is, isn't it irresponsible of a Planning Committee to keep pouring more into...., when they've already poured a quart into a pint pot, isn't it irresponsible to continue pouring into that pint pot?

And that is what we're doing.

And I've heard the deputy mayor say this could be undermining the situation with Kensington. He said the same thing on the 10th of October last year, and I said I would be back again.

I think we all know what's happening, I think we all know and everybody keeps coming to me outside the meetings saying 'Paul I agree with you absolutely on this' but the point is, we are in a situation where we've got no Plan B, we've got no policy if this road does not go ahead, and whereas we were told that, 'well, it could take 10 years to build the road when the planning application was lodged.' it was lodged in 2008 - we should have had the road by now if it had taken 10 years, and that road has not even been started.

Not only has it not been started, but it's not been agreed.

The money's not been put forward, and basically we could lose that road, and all I'm trying to say to you all, and I'm sure your emails are like mine, you will have people coming to you all the time telling you about the problems that they're experiencing daily, and its about time this council started listening to those people. We represent those people. Those people are crying out for help.

And if that road does not go ahead, then we are in an absolute mess in this Authority."

The vote was never in doubt, and the motion was lost.

 CONCLUSIONS

We regard Cllr Hayhurst as being on the inside track as far as the new Moss Road is concerned, and if he's worried whether it will go ahead at all, we suspect others should be too.

We get the impression that each time a council or government department finds a bit more money to put into the cost of building the road, the increasing cost of construction (it started at £17m and now seems to be around £24m) - and the proportion of public money that the developer feels is necessary to bring it about more quickly than his planning permission required - continually seems to move just out of reach.

So what happens if Cllr Hayhurst's fears come to pass, and the various parties and Kensington cannot agree funding to deliver the road early?

Well, there are actually two roads. One called T6 which replaces Wild Lane and runs from more or less just past Cypress Point to Cropper Road roundabout, and another called T5 that runs from the present traffic lights on Queensway across to join T6 partway along it. We're grateful to Fylde's planning officers who have just brought us up to date on this matter.

The present situation appears to be that before 'x houses' have been occupied (not just built), Kensington are obliged to pay money in stages for Lancashire County Council to build the roads.  So far as T6 is concerned the numbers triggering Kensington's need to pay are:

  • Before occupation of the 150th dwelling to pay the full cost of the T6 from approx Cropper Road to Annas Road
  • Before occupation of the 300th dwelling to pay the full cost of the T6 from Annas Road to approx the Moss Sluice
  • Before occupation of the 425th dwelling to pay the full cost of completing the T6 Road
  • For the T5 Road, before occupation of the 375th dwelling to pay the full cost of the T5 from the initial part of T5 to the Moss Sluice.

In practice, we think the T6 Road won't be built in sections, so the County Council would probably build it some time after the 425th dwelling, allowing for a period of construction.

Our own experience of development in Fylde suggests an average developer build-out rate of something like 50 houses a year per site. So on that basis, we might have another 8 or 9 years to wait if the early funding agreement isn't concluded.

 AND FINALLY....

We really do hope that Fylde's lack of audio for part of Cllr Hayhurst's speech was the result of a genuine technical problem.

But if it wasn't, and it is an edit carried out after the meeting - to remove what he had said from the public arena - then we're very disappointed and not a little angry.

We should absolutely be able to rely on organisations like local councils to be honest and transparent in the information they publish. But if they publish it selectively, or remove parts of it selectively, then it becomes 'fake news.'

Our regular readers will know we have long been uncomfortable with the Councils use of media professionals who, in practice, shield those we elect from what should be proper public scrutiny and personal accountability for their decisions and actions, by using bland, sanitised, 'spin doctor' press releases with quotations from individuals whose lips they have never passed.

The 'press statement' issued by Fylde's own spin doctors and quoted at the start of this article is an almost perfect example of the 'sanitised spin shield' that is so prevalent (and insulting to our intelligence) these days.

But if Fylde did decide to censor what Cllr Hayhurst said in a public meeting, it is wholly unacceptable and it is a practice that should not be repeated.

Dated:  08 November 2019

 

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