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Snippets October 2018

Snippets October 2018Health complications have necessitated a break in publication since our last article in August, but we're now happy to be back with a catch-up miscellany of news and views.

There were two significant issues at Fylde Council on Monday night this week: the Local Plan; and a 'secret' item about the Trust that operates Lowther Pavilion in Lytham.

We think that's likely to be something significant because it was debated with the press and public excluded from the meeting. No details were published in advance.

Furthermore, as at today, the minutes of that short agenda Council meeting have still not been published. That's often a sign of a contentious debate and the need for careful wording of what was decided.

So we've had a look at what Fylde HAS been considering in public about Lowther recently, and we make a stab at what the secret  debate might be about.

We're also covering some matters that took place at earlier FBC meetings.

SYNOPSIS

First we look at Fylde's new Local Plan. It was approved on Monday night. We're not impressed, but Fylde's residents are probably stuck with it until 2032.

Next, although we don't know the details of Monday's debate on Lowther Gardens Trust, we make a stab at what the secret meeting might have been about.

Next we report the unfortunate situation regarding Ex Cllr Albert Pounder who was found guilty of fraud against the taxpayers he used to represent.

Exceptionally, we also note the passing of John Westmoreland of Wesham. Although not an elected councillor or officer, his knowledge of planning matters in Fylde made him an indispensable point of reference for those outside (and quite a few inside) Fylde Council.

Next we look at a matter in which local councils have rarely been involved. The process to Disperse Asylum Seekers who become refugees in the UK.

We follow this with some very good news about Fylde's greatly increased funding for Disabled Facilities Grants. This will significantly increase Fylde's ability to make adaptions to private homes where someone has a disability.

We also have a quick look at a new organisation that Fylde has become involved with called the 'Economic Prosperity Board' which wants to oversee economic development across the whole of the Fylde Coast. We're nervous about where this might lead in the longer term.

We also have a look at some recent news about the Lytham Institute and Lytham Library. We note that dissatisfaction from Lytham residents is still rumbling on in the background. But a more positive view is emerging about Lytham Hall, and we bring readers up to date with recent developments there.

We then update readers on the Fairhaven Lottery Project - the bid for funds has now been submitted and should be decided in by the Heritage Lottery Fund in December. We also look at Fylde's plan to change the Parking arrangements at the Town Hall which will take £60,000 or so out of money that was originally destined for maintaining public car parking areas in Fylde.

Finally, we look at someone's view on Policing that we thought worth reproducing, and a surprising statistic reported by Councillor Ben Aitken earlier this year about the proportion of police officers time that is currently spent dealing with crime. We were surprised, and we think our readers might be equally surprised.


 FYLDE'S NEW 'LOCAL PLAN'

On Monday night, Fylde's 'new' Local Plan became the official plan for built development throughout the Borough.

During its 'transition period' (which has been at least five times a long as the (current) Brexit transition period), nobody has been sure how much weight to give to the policies within the fading (but currently adopted) Local Plan, or the (emerging) new plan - especially where there were differences between them.

It has been a time of feasting for planners and lawyers.

But from now, the new plan will reign supreme. (Well, apart from anything the Government wants to say about the matter of planning of course).

We're incredibly unimpressed with Fylde's new plan.

And we're even less impressed with the process that brought it into being.

We covered some of this in articles over the years, and more recently in our article 'The Local Plans Progress' (June 2018) so we won't go over that ground again, but our 'helicopter view' is that the new plan grossly over-estimates the scale of additional land needed for employment use (industry and so on), and grossly over-estimates the areas of land needed for additional housing.

Worst of all, it perpetuates Fylde's deeply flawed basis of 'need' for 'Affordable' (for which read socially subsidised, and mostly rented) housing.

The target numbers for Affordable Housing to be provided by this plan are still around FIVE TIMES the scale that is actually needed in practice.

Fylde's own official figures say:

  • In the year 2000, Fylde said it needed to provide 420 Affordable Houses a year.
  • In 2008 Fylde's stated Affordable Housing 'need' was said to have grown to (a ridiculous) 568 to 600 additional Affordable Houses every year.
  • In 2013, using a new way of calculating its 'need' Fylde said it needed to provide 207 Affordable Houses a year
  • In 2014 the previous year's 'need' was revised upward to 249 Affordable Houses a year

HOWEVER

By 2016, Fylde's LONG TERM AVERAGE RATE OF ACTUALLY PROVIDING THEM was only 38 Affordable Houses a year

And at the same time (2016), there was said to be an actual, REAL-LIFE BACKLOG of only 4 Affordable Houses a year!

Yes really!

Our sharp eyed readers will already have spotted that by adding Fylde's long term delivery rate (of 38/year) to the backlog need (of 4/yr) it produces 42

And this 42 is EXACTLY the maximum number of Affordable Houses that Fordham Research admitted was the maximum real practical need in Fylde for Affordable Houses back in the year 2000 when he explained that his figure of 420 houses a year in Fylde had added housing *need* to housing *desire* in order to compare Fylde within a national ranking system he had undertaken for some other Councils.

The difference here is crucial.

If you ask 'hands up who would like to pay an Affordable (for which you can read subsidised) rent, rather than the market value rent you are paying at present' - you will see a lot of hands go up. And they did.

Fordham admitted the real practical need for Affordable houses in Fylde was between 1% and 10% of the 420 which included both those in 'need' of subsidised housing and those for whom a subsidised rent was a 'desire'

We've been banging on about flaw this for years, and we regard the housing numbers - and especially the affordable housing numbers - as probably the most glaring mistake in the plan.

It might just be that the points we've been labouring about 'need' and 'desire' are beginning to be recognised.

A respected website produced by an experienced former planning inspector - which provides in-depth discussion of planning decisions and interpretation - had this to say in a blog posting of 17 October 2018 :


"An inspector determining an appeal against the refusal of outline planning permission for four dwellings in rural Hampshire has distinguished between housing demand and housing need (DCS Number 200-007-965).

Local plan policy allowed for small scale residential proposals of a scale and type that met a locally agreed need, the inspector recorded. The appellants argued that ‘demand’ for housing is synonymous with ‘need’.

The inspector reasoned that the distinction is that if there is a willingness and ability to purchase a home then there is a demand for it. However, if an inability to purchase a home of a required size and type arises, for reasons for example of unaffordability due to low income, then a person does not buy or demand a dwelling, but this does not obviate the housing requirements or needs of that person. She therefore disagreed with the appellants on this point.

In the case before her the inspector concluded that the appellants had not adequately demonstrated a specific and clearly identified unmet housing need in the local area to justify the countryside location of the proposal."


But back to Fylde's plan, which has a thread that connects the issues of employment land, housing development, and affordable housing together.

If, (for what to us seems to be party political reasons), you plan to double the allocation of employment land Fylde will have over the next 15 years.

And you do that despite having seen evidence in six of seven studies saying that you needed no more employment land than you have at present. (Because of changing patterns of employment through more automation, a massive growth in working from home, the gig economy and the changing nature of employment as UK manufacturing shifts to technology), then you also create an entirely mythical assumed need to house far more people to be working in Fylde as there are now.

So you vastly increase the need for extra housing.

And Fylde's policy that 30% of all houses provided by a developer must be (socially subsidised) 'Affordable' houses - (which are typically built for Registered Social Landlords at 25% below their market value) it means that the developers make less profit when building these houses.

And guess what - in order to cover the lesser profit they make building the 'Affordable' ones, they have to increase the sale price of their 'market value' houses.

So, the 'market value' houses become even less 'affordable' for young families trying to buy their first home.

And, at the other end of this equation, the grossly overstated new residential areas in Fylde take up the land we will needed to produce food and milk for the future.

Built development also annihilates the very green farmland that gives rise to the name of the area (Fylde = Green Land)

But that's what Fylde has done with its new plan.

Planning Chairman Cllr Trevor Fiddler tried a cunning move to shift the blame to others when he spoke about the new Local Plan.  In his introduction to it he said:

"... Mr Mayor, at the Council meeting in May 2005, I stood before this Council to present the then Fylde Local Plan. This contained policies that protected our precious countryside and agricultural land from inappropriate residential development. However, firstly, overnight, that Local Plan and most of its policies was made obsolete and became redundant following successive and radical changes to the planning process due to the Local Planning Framework, the Regional Spatial Strategy, and more recently, the National Planning Policy Framework.

As a consequence, the ability for Fylde Borough to resist or prevent any detrimental development in the countryside has been seriously diminished...."

He omitted to mention that for this new plan, Fylde's Conservative group has deliberately chosen to cuddle up to, and wrap itself warmly within, the Government's comfort blanket of increased development, instead of finding ways to actively resist the worst effects that Fylde residents have seen - and (despite what he implied) they are likely to continue to see - significant further losses of Fylde's green land.

But support for the plan was not universal.

More than 40% of the elected Councillors had previously refused to support it during its gestation. They had issued two separate 'Minority Reports' arguing their opposition to its content and the process by which it was steamrollered through by the Conservative majority on the Council.

Ten separate community groups concerned with planning had jointly produced a statement of opposition to the process.

And a few brave souls tried to draw the Planning Inspectorate's attention to the inbuilt failings in the plan. But 'resistance was futile.' We quickly got the impression how things were going at the first Examination meeting.

As someone told us at that first day of the Examination: it had seemed to them that, when members of the public (as opposed to planning professionals and barristers) spoke, the Inspector put her pen down.

We didn't go to any more of the Examination meetings.

That said, Fylde did eventually have to admit that the plan they produced was not 'sound'.

And they accepted it needed TEN 'Main (for which you can read 'Major') Modifications' before it could be considered to be 'sound'.

These modifications included Fylde's failure to comply with the legal requirements to assess whether to protect designated wildlife, and failing to use the most recent population data in their calculations.

But the grossly inflated allocation of employment land and the ridiculous number of houses Fylde says are necessary were approved by the Conservative majority on the Council on Monday.

Speaking in response to Cllr Fiddler, (and we think speaking on behalf of many), Cllr Elizabeth Oades said everyone was very relieved that the Local Plan had finally been completed, but she noted that some of the measures taken were very unpopular.

She also spoke of the method of calculating the 'Five Year Supply' (which we have covered in extensive detail in 'Fit For Purpose?' and in 'Two Faced Planning' in 2016 and 'The Local Plans Progress' in 2018).

Both Cllr Mrs Oades and Cllr Peter Collins (before he was Mayor), with strong support from other Independent members of the Council, had consistently and vigorously argued for the use of what's known as the 'Liverpool' method of calculating this figure - because doing so would have made developments that have been approved in the last two years easier to resist.

But even though Fylde's Conservative majority had actually passed a resolution to use the 'Liverpool method' - a resolution that we maintain came into force two years ago when they voted it through - they did not have the courage or conviction to implement that decision.

And in the face of an onslaught from Cllr Mrs Oades and others calling for its implementation when the Council had just voted it through, the Conservative group (supported by officers who we believe were entirely and constitutionally wrong to do so) sought to - and did - use squirming, wriggly, worm-like interpretations and other weasel-words to backtrack from implementing the decision they took two years ago - until the Planning Inspectorate said they could do so during the recent Local Plan Inquiry.

Speaking to this matter, Cllr Mrs Oades said:

"I must say that I'm also delighted that we now have the 'Liverpool' method in place, and I think that it vindicates our stance in relation to that matter."

But I do feel that, because the Conservative administration decided to adopt the Vision Statement that will produce employment land and, consequently, employment related housing, to pursue a growth agenda, then our residents should know that the extent of current, and future building in Fylde, and the consequential loss of green land, is as a direct result of the Conservative administration.

This is something I did not support then, and do not support now."

To be honest we thought Queen Elizabeth had hit the nail right on the head.

Instead of conserving the best that Fylde has to offer, the Conservative majority party on Fylde Council has embarked on a growth strategy.

It has introduced - and is about to implement - a plan that is anything but 'conservative'

But barring unforeseen matters it will now go ahead.

However,  there could yet be another fly in the ointment.

In his introduction to the debate, Cllr Fiddler drew the Council's attention to the threat of legal action against the Council and its Local Plan, saying that a letter had been received late on Friday afternoon last week from solicitors representing several landowners in Fylde concerning land in Wrea Green.

It seems that in August this year, the Environment Agency reclassified the area in question from low risk to high risk of flooding, but this was after the close of the local plan Inquiry, and after the Inspector had indicated she did not wish to receive any further representations.

The landowners have an interest in land which is the subject of a planning appeal for more housing at Wrea Green, and this appeal is currently being determined by a (different) Planning Inspector.

The landowner's solicitors have argued that the Council cannot legally adopt the local plan because the Local Plan Inspector has not considered the effect of the (new) flood risk assessment, and they threaten to seek a judicial review if the Council adopted the Local Plan.

Cllr Fiddler said:

"The Council has, over the weekend, received counsel's advice, and internal legal advice - that the landowners position is fundamentally misconceived, and that the Council can safely proceed to adopt the Local Plan this evening, without there being a realistic possibility of the threatened judicial review.

If it is commenced, the Council will be replying to the solicitor's letter in robust terms, advising of our position."

He's probably right, but we've seen such cases produce surprising results before now, so we'll have to wait and see if anything further develops.

 LOWTHER GARDENS TRUST

The last item (No. 12) on the Council agenda of 22 October 2018 was headed 'Exempt Item – Not for Publication. Lowther Trust.'

Exempt items are used when the Council wants to debate a decision in private. They pass a resolution to exclude any members of the press and public from the meeting, and as such, it's usually the last item on an agenda.

Sometimes there are good reasons for doing this.

For example if they had to discuss or decide what to do about unproven allegations made about a councillor or a member of staff. Or someone's personal circumstances, health, or salary details and so on.

But Exempt Items can also be used to hide sensitive or embarrassing matters.

The usual way to do this would be to include something in the report that provides a legitimate trigger for the legislation that allows the press and public to be excluded.

Sometimes there is a brief description of the topic, but in recent years Fylde has taken to minimising what it says.

This Agenda heading only said 'Exempt Item – Not for Publication. Lowther Trust', and the resolution itself quoted the relevant formal legislation - which says that the exclusion was justified because it contained:

"Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information) and information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings."

So we had a look at what's been going through Committees in the recent past about the Lowther Gardens Trust, and we found three things of interest

The first was the Annual Report made by the trustees of the Lowther Gardens Trust in September 2017 which, amongst other things, said

"We have embarked on a bold redevelopment plan for the Pavilion..... We envisage the rest of the redesign costs to reach between £4 and £5 million and will raise some of this through public donation with the rest coming through grant funding."

The second was the Planning Committee of 1 August 2018 which had an application from a firm of architects working for the Trust in respect of:

"Alterations and extension of existing pavilion building, including a two storey extension to the east to form a first floor restaurant with external roof terrace, an extensions to the west of the building to form an education centre and studio theatre, timber cladding and glazing to existing elevations, reconfiguration of existing car park to provide 70 spaces, new pedestrian access, associated soft and hard landscaping works and demolition of existing public toilets, storage building and aviary structure"

This is a very controversial application which, as well as altering the Pavilion, by expanded its footprint (and its height in parts), it greatly enlarges the area of parking - to the detriment and extent that it would see the public toilets and trees and other planting along the road frontage being removed to completely open up the view of the Pavilion from the road. Furthermore, all the trees on the raised bed outside the main entrance were also due to be removed, as were other trees at the rear of the building, and the aviary building.

Several councillors were clearly unhappy at Planning Committee, and they raised questions about what was being proposed. Eventually the item was deferred for further information to be provided.

Whilst it was not necessary to do so, we would have expected that, as a matter of courtesy, and in the hope of reducing opposition to what was always going to be a controversial plan, the Trust would have made a formal, and far more detailed presentation of their plans to Fylde's Tourism and Leisure Committee before submitting a planning application. They chose not to do this.

A clue as to what might have motivated it's non-reporting to the Tourism and Leisure Committee might be found in the report of the Planning Officer at Planning Committee who referred to representations the Council had received during the consultation period, saying:

"A number of representations have been received which refer to a covenant and a Counsel opinion. Covenants are not planning matters and are not taken into consideration when determining planning applications, and as such a breach of a covenant could not be used as a reason for refusal of planning permission. That said in order to provide clarification Officers have sought advice from Legal Officers who have confirmed that they are very familiar with the William Moffet opinion as they originally instructed him. The issues covered in that Opinion were about restrictive covenants and whether or not the council held Lowther as a charitable trustee. Neither of those matters are capable of being material planning considerations, so their advice is to disregard them in assessing the application."

This matter is something which in our view, should have been reported to - Fylde's Tourism and Leisure Committee who have some responsibility for the recreational, cultural and community facilities such as parks and gardens in the area, and also because it proposes something which, superficially, at least, appears to contravene a covenant not to extend the Pavilion - which the Council has been told is not within the terms of reference of the Planning Committee.

We recall a big debate at the time Fylde's Chief Executive Ken Lee announced plans to create a civic suite and Council Chamber as a second storey extension on Lowther Pavilion. It was the benefits of the covenants enjoyed by others around Lowther Gardens the that kyboshed that tomfoolery.

Since then, the Lowther Gardens Trust has come into being.

As a registered charity, it is controlled by its governing document. But what we don't know at present is whether the provisions of the covenants were incorporated into the governing document.

Either way, we imagine the covenants are still enforceable on whoever owns the land if neighbours chose to do so, (as they did, or at least as they were planning to do, last time re-development of the Pavilion arose as a proposal) and it is entirely right that as a Trustee of the Trust, Fylde Council understands its legal - and potentially financial - risks and responsibilities in this matter

But the third, and most recent mention of the Lowther Gardens Trust - and therefore the one most likely to be affecting the Council now, was buried in the 'small print' of the 'Outside Bodies Report' presented to the Tourism and Leisure Committee on 6th September by Councillor Brenda Blackshaw.

Cllr Blackshaw is the Council's nominated Trustee on the Lowther Gardens Trust and as such, is duty bound to report the main points from Trustees meetings. This time her report said

"The planning application for the redevelopment is currently under consideration by Council. Decision anticipated soon.

The Trust are in negotiation with leaseholder of the cafe over implications of the redevelopment proposals and hope to come to a agreement."

So although we're not yet in a position to say just what this 'Exempt Item' was about, it looks to us as though it was about the proposed redevelopment of Lowther Pavilion, and in particular, probably about the cafe - and given the reason for the exemption, we imagine it is to do with the financial or business affairs of someone to which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings.

Our experience suggests this sounds awfully like one party is considering taking another party to court with regard to the proposed developments at the Pavilion.

There's also a suggestion in our mind that the debate might have been controversial - because, as at our date of publication today, the Minutes of that short agenda Council meeting have still not been published, and that's often a sign of a contentious debate and the need for careful wording of what was decided.

There's something very fishy going on here, and we've no doubt we will be reporting further on this matter.

 Ex COUNCILLOR ALBERT POUNDER

Ex-Councillor Pounder been in the news recently for the wrong sort of reasons.

Readers who are registered with us to be notified of new counterbalance articles via notify@counterbalance.org.uk   also receive occasional exclusive newsflashes when something of note comes our way.

And a year ago, on 19 October 2017, we reported his resignation, saying:

"Whilst we've been away, we understand Cllr Albert Pounder suddenly and unexpectedly resigned from Fylde Council. We think was due to be  the Mayor next year as well, so it's quite a shock. We have no further information as to the reason for his resignation at this time, but a Bye-election has already been triggered."

As regulars know, we 'don't do' articles about the private life of civic figures - unless, exceptionally, it is a matter that also affects their judgement and ability to perform their civic role, or, in the case of alleged illegality, unless there is a successful prosecution.

Although we had no firm knowledge of the circumstances of his departure last year, the rapid triggering of the bye-election that we mentioned was a clue to the fact that something was seriously wrong in this matter. (Normally - even in the case of sudden and significant personal ill health, there would be a delay in triggering a Bye-election in the hope that recovery from illness could be effected)

A sudden and unexpected resignation, coupled with the rapid triggering of an election can sometimes suggest a desire to create distance between the parties.

Ex Fylde Conservative Councillor Pounder had held several senior posts in various Conservative Cabinet reshuffles at Fylde, and he was in line to become Mayor in 2018. He also seemed to be part of the inner circle of Fylde's Conservative group from what we observed.

When in our company we usually found him to be quite confrontational in nature. His opinions were usually strongly held and, we thought, sometimes rather abruptly formed. We thought he showed character traits not unlike some of those of the present incumbent of the USA's White House.

We also seem to recall he had quite a serious heart attack in the mid 1990s and was away from his Council work for some time as he recovered. We don't recall whether this was also the time that he reduced his involvement with his marquee hiring company, or whether this period of ill health might have been the trigger for the financial support he secured connected to his reduced mobility.

But in November 2016, he got into financial arrears with his Council tax payments to Fylde of just over £1,400.

After he had been summonsed to court for this, he blamed the arrears on a change in his pension circumstances which had arisen without him realising it, adding that it was quickly rectified once he was alerted to the problem, and all the money had been repaid before the case went to court.

But you can never tell where this sort of thing might lead, and a year later in October 2017, news of his shock resignation from Fylde Council leaked out.

In January 2018, he appeared at Blackpool Magistrates Court charged with defrauding Fylde Council of more than £10,000 in housing and disability benefits. The fraud was alleged to have taken place between August 2014 and May 2016.

It was alleged that he dishonestly failed to tell Fylde Council about his true mobility and care needs in order to make a financial gain.

He elected to be tried at the Crown Court at Preston where, in July 2018, he denied the charges.

The Court heard that he had been in receipt of Disability Living Allowance since 1996 and this had provided him with funds under the Motability Vehicle Scheme.

The Court was also told about his problems with breathlessness and his very limited walking ability - which meant he could only walk 50 yards or so before experiencing severe discomfort, together with other health related problems.

But Department of Work and Pensions officers told the court they had been authorised to, and had, carried out surveillance on Mr Pounder which included time at Staining Village Field Day. They told the court they had seen him walk more than 200 yards and had seen him clearing up tables before folding a table and carrying it indoors.

Jurors found him guilty of the two charges.

It would probably not be difficult to paint this sorry story as a picture of someone who intentionally set out to secure financial gain, but we can also see the sort of problems that can arise in what some folk refer to as the 'benefits trap' - where, once you become acclimatised to receiving money to support a genuine condition, if that condition changes and improves, it must be difficult to both identify the precise point at which it changes, and to voluntarily reduce the income that is being given to you in support of it, by reporting that change in your circumstances.

We say that not to excuse or justify what the court decided Mr Pounder had done wrong, but we can imagine how it could have slipped into place and then become difficult to deal with.

After the jurors found him guilty, the court decided he should serve a 26 week jail sentence, but suspended it for a year. It also required him to be subject to an electronic tagged curfew period, and ordered him to pay a surcharge of £115.

Some of our readers have commented to us that paying £115 seems a small price for having taken over £10,000 worth of benefits improperly, and some have asked whether the 'Proceeds of Crime' legislation should not have been used to reclaim the loss that had been incurred by taxpayers.

Others have said the money might already have been repaid, or it simply may not be available in any case.

So it's clear a range of views exist amongst our readers as to the appropriateness of the sentence.

For our own view, we imagine the disgrace it has brought to his family in the small rural community of Staining will be quite significant, and further retribution is probably unwarranted.

 JOHN WESTMORELAND

We don't normally write obituaries for someone who has not been elected to civic office, but we have to make an exception for John Westmoreland.

John WestmorelandHe was a leading light in the Fylde branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and a man whose knowledge of planning in Fylde was encyclopaedic.

Exceptionally, he could see both the big picture and the fine detail with clarity and perception in all aspects of planning policy and practice.

A veteran of many public enquiries where, on behalf of CPRE, he gave expert evidence about planning in Fylde. His knowledge of planning law and practice was as good, if not better than, some of the planning professionals we know.

He was a source of solid, reliable information, and we know many of Fylde's councillors would consult him for help or advice on behalf of their electorate. He also participated in various planning consultative bodies that had been established by the Council.

Born in 1949, he had interests in walking, cycling and photography and well as electronics.

Having trained at Salford, his working life saw him at British Aerospace in their electronics department where he was regarded as having exceptionally high professional standards and being very thorough and professional in his work.

We found him to be a very private man - not in the sense of isolationist, on the contrary, he was frequently the catalyst that brought us and others to meetings on issues of concern, but he spoke little of his private life.

He became Secretary of Fylde Branch of CPRE and was Secretary of his local Community Trust in Wesham

We would often share email exchanges with him, especially when he saw matters that needed to be highlighted in public, or when we needed to confirm our understanding of some of the more arcane bits of planning law. He was a ready source of thoughtful and detailed analysis of the most technical of planning policies and documents.

There is no doubt he will be very greatly missed by many people in Fylde, and we offer our condolences to his family.

 ASYLUM DISPERSAL

Although it's a while ago (June to be precise), we picking up something at an Environment Health and Housing Committee meeting that caught our eye as being interesting.

Its about the process that disperses people across the UK when they are granted asylum here.

So far as we can tell, this is not a 'migration' issue (although it does involve folk from other countries living here). It's about people who the Government decide are in need of refuge or asylum because they are at risk of harm (technically 'fleeing persecution') in what has, up to then, been their home country.

 How it Began in Fylde

In the UK, asylum happens through the Home Office arm of Government, but - as is the way these days - they are wont to 'outsource' the job.

And in the case of the North West, they outsource it to a large, stock-exchange-listed company called 'Serco'.

Serco are one of the 'Big 4' public services outsourcing firms, (the others being: G4S, Atos and Capita).

We've no time for any of them and we don't actually believe in the principle of contracting out what should be the role and direct responsibility of Government Ministers that the electorate can hold to account.

As an example of what can go wrong with outsourcing, according to the website 'Shine a Light', both Serco and G4S had billed the Ministry of Justice for applying electronic tags to ex-offenders who were no longer being tagged, who were in prison, or who were dead.

That's a whole can of worms we'll have to leave wriggling for the moment.

Suffice to say here that we have doubts about the willingness of private companies to absorb the ethos of selfless public service and become deliverers of such services. And we have absolutely no confidence in the ability or capacity of civil servants to properly let, administer and manage contracts with firms of this scale.

However, at present, things are as they are.......

Serco run an initial accommodation facility in Liverpool. This seems to be a sort of 'reception centre'.

In this role, Serco are linked with an organisation called 'Migrant Help' - a national charity providing services to asylum seekers, (and also to victims of Human trafficking and other migrants). It delivers independent advice and support including outreach and community development work in the North West.

They have staff permanently based at Serco's facility in Liverpool.

And there's another group involved called the 'North West Regional Strategic Migration Partnership'. This is "a network of local authorities and partner organisations focusing on the statutory duties to migrants with care needs who have no recourse to public funds"

The Home Office contract with Serco is to deal with, and process, Asylum Seekers. Then, if a positive decision on their asylum application is received, they will then receive refugee status, and be eligible for all manner of assistance from Government agencies which Serco will assist them to secure.

Serco also provide the accommodation and transport for destitute asylum seekers, and they use 'Migrant Help' in their day to day operations in such matters.

A local council like Fylde is not actually obliged to co-operate with either the Home Office or Serco. But they are required to deliver a range of statutory services to asylum seekers.

Back in 2016, North West councils were approached by the Home Office and the North West Regional Strategic Migration Partnership to consider being part of the range of places into which asylum seekers would be dispersed.

Until then dispersal had only really worked through some of the larger Metropolitan councils, but now Government wanted to widen dispersal across the North West region (and, presumably, other regions as well).

Councils like Fylde could see positive benefits in being able to have some influence on decisions in their areas in this matter and, together with other councils, they have generally agreed to support the idea and undertake preliminary (typically postcode based) checks in respect of all the properties that Serco might want to acquire as dispersal accommodation.

The new initiative has resulted in asylum dispersal happening in 31 local authority areas in the North West.

Lancashire has fully participated, and each Local Authority agreed some provision when it started in 2015/16.

Fylde Council agreed Serco could procure up to 5 properties in which to disperse asylum seekers in our borough.

As at 1st May 2018, just 2 (of the 5) properties had been sourced, and these accommodate 11 people. A third property was in the process of being arranged.

Between 2016 and this year, Serco had actually requested Fylde to consider 33 possible properties.

8 of these did not proceed after feedback from Fylde, (who thought 6 of them were unsuitable because of concerns about 'community cohesion, hate crime and anti-social behaviour' and another 2 properties were in 'unsuitable locations').

This left 25 possibilities. But three of these were then withdrawn by Serco, leaving 22 possibilities

Of these 22 properties, it transpired that Serco decided not proceed with 15 of them (typically this was likely to be because the properties had already been let before Serco could do the administrative work to inspect the property and negotiate with the Landlord), and in another 7, the procurement process was unsuccessful (most probably because the payment Serco offered was insufficient, or because of some other deal-breaking requirement they wanted to impose).

Part of the difficulty here seems to be that once Fylde has given it's OK after the postcode check, all the properties must be inspected by Serco and have a full survey to see they meet the standards set out in the Home Office 'Statement of Requirements'. This covers the physical condition of the property, as well as setting minimum requirements for fixtures, fittings, furniture and equipment.

It also requires the property to be leased to Serco - usually for a period of 5 years (This surprised us a bit, especially given the 6 month tenancies that some of the less well off folk in Fylde have to endure).

From what we could understand, Serco more-or-less seem to become the (intermediate) property landlord for the asylum seekers as well as managing - or at least overseeing - their social and health needs.

Furthermore, as the report to the Committee also said:

"Serco have struggled to secure private rented accommodation within Fylde, due to the strength of the private sector market within the Borough. Properties that have passed the [initial Fylde] check are often let before Serco are able to negotiate with the Landlord."

So those were the causes of the situation that left just the three properties that have (or will soon be) occupied in Fylde.

 Widening the Dispersal Again

With further widening of dispersal in mind, and using projected asylum growth figures, the Home Office and the North West Regional Strategic Migration Partnership has asked Lancashire Authorities to agree to an increase. They have requested an additional 30 dispersal properties in each Council area.

Fylde's officers (sensibly in our view) expressed concerns that such a figure would be meaningless, due to the difficulties that Serco have faced in securing private sector accommodation within Fylde.

Of the initial agreement of 5 properties, only 3 have been secured since 2016 (roughly 60%).

This proposed next phase is to run for a further 12-18 months, and officers suggested a further pledge to try to agree another 10 (not 30) properties for Serco to try to procure, (in addition to the initial 5).

This would result in a maximum figure of 15 properties housing dispersed asylum seekers in Fylde, but Fylde would look at the situation once again if Serco got close to reaching that number.

Cllr Susan Fazackerley wanted to know why Serco was finding it so difficult to find suitable properties in Fylde.

The officer explained it was to do with the demand for rented property in Fylde.

Cllr Fazackerley asked the blunt question - Were Serco not paying enough?

The answer was that Serco are contractually bound by the financial situation that they find themselves in. Their contract is set out by the Home Office for which they receive specific levels of funding. They had a range of options they could offer private sector landlords, and a range of leasing options, but success in procurement of the property depends on the negotiations that take place between Serco and the private landlord.

Without much debate and after the officer's comprehensive setting out of the facts, Fylde's committee approved their officer's recommendations.

Dispersal of Asylum seekers is not a topic we often hear about in Councils and, to be honest, Fylde is really only on the perimeter of the process between the Home Office, Serco and local landlords with property to let, but we thought it was an interesting topic, and perhaps our readers would think so as well.

 DISABLED FACILITIES  GRANTS

Another item on the June Environment Health and Housing Committee meeting that caught our eye was about grants to provide major and minor adaptions in homes where someone has developed a disability.

These adaptions include such things as the installation of wet room showers, stairlifts, and ramps, which allow householders to live more independently in their homes.

It caught our eye because there are big changes being made to the way it works.

Much more money is being made available to adapt homes for people with a disability, and also Fylde is changing its criteria under which people are eligible for the grant.

So, in theory at least, it should now be easier for a lot more people in Fylde to have adaptions provided.

The driver for the change is a broad brush move by Government to ease the pressure on the NHS, by increasing the money it spends in grant aid to adapt people's houses - in the hope of reducing the number of people who have to go into hospital, and to increase the rate of discharge from hospitals

Government also hopes to reduce the number of people going into care homes (where the Government has to pick up the costs for those who are less well off)

In short, by improving facilities for people to remain in their own better adapted homes, the aim is to ease pressure on the NHS and reduce (or at least slow the rate of increased) spending by Social Services who are the default funders of care home residents.

At Government level, the policy is called the 'Better Care Fund' and it has created a unified budget for health and social care services to work more closely together in local areas, based on a plan agreed between the NHS and Local Authorities.

But its introduction is somewhat complicated because of historic boundaries between the NHS, LCC's Social Services, and Housing Services provided by local councils.

The Better Care Fund aims to start breaking these barriers down, and County Councils are now required to pass on funds for Disable Facilities Grants to enable housing authorities to do their stuff.

It now works like this:

Whereas Council housing services used to receive Disable Facilities Grants funding direct from the Department of Communities and Local Government, this money now comes from the bigger budget at the Department of Health - which is turn delegates its distribution to the local 'Health and Wellbeing Board' at LCC - who pass it on to the councils in their area.

It the final year that funds were provided directly to local councils by the Department of Communities and Local Government (2014/15), Fylde received £382,794 to distribute as Disabled Facilities Grants to local householders

In the first year of the new scheme (2015/16), Fylde received £467,963

In 2016/17 Fylde received £848,621

In 2017/18 Fylde received £929,565

In the current year (2018/19) Fylde is due to receive £1,010,510

Soon after the Millennium, the Government also introduced legislation that relaxed constrains, and made it easier for councils to decide how best to meet local needs. So around that time and for several subsequent years, whilst they had increased flexibility (but not increased the money),  there was always a waiting list in Fylde for Disabled Adaption grants.

As readers can see, that situation is changing dramatically.

But it may not altogether be out of the goodness of their heart that the Government is providing the extra money.

If only a relatively small percentage of the massive Health and the Social Care budgets is spent keeping people out of the NHS and Care Home systems, it could result in overall savings (or at least it could mop up some of the large increases that are anticipated from our ageing population in the future).

Fylde (in line with other Councils) now finds itself having an 'embarrassment of riches' in relation to Disable Facilities Grants funding, and the report to the Committee noted the need for Fylde to spend its allocation to avoid the possibility of unused funds being clawed back by LCC for re-allocation elsewhere.

The report went on to argue that LCC has not indicated a definitive intention to ‘claw back’ any unused funds at year-end, but it would be prudent for the Council to take action to reduce the prospect of that happening.

So (on the assumption that current levels of grants to councils are maintained) the report to Fylde's Environment Health and Housing Committee recommended five main changes to its Private Sector Housing Assistance Policy - to widen the scope for those who are eligible for funding.

Those main changes are:

1 "Removal of means test for certain types of adaptations (under £6,000) for single adaptations, and £10,000 for two adaptations across all tenures (for 2018/19)".

These would typically include:

  • Bathroom conversion (i.e. removal of bath and installation of Level Access Shower/Wet Room)
  • Door widening to allow wheel chair access
  • Providing access to properties such as low threshold doors and access to gardens
  • Hospital release cases identified by Health Professionals
  • Ramps to aid access to the property (over £1,000)

Fylde's officers also sought the right - in exceptional circumstances - to consider a more flexible approach by offering adaptation items that are not usually available under the Disable Facilities Grants, such as the provision of safe rooms for children or adults with behavioural/mental health disabilities.

The report also noted that removing the means test as above, and providing grants to those who might otherwise be able to afford the cost themselves, was still justifiable in support of easing pressure on the NHS and on Care Home costs, and the adaptions would still be subject to approval by LCC's Occupational Health staff to 'prove' that those requesting the facilities did actually need them.

2 "Removal of the 'test of resources' for the installation of equipment recommended by an Occupational Therapist and procured by LCC."

The report also recommended that the 'test of resources' for the supply of equipment should be removed. The aim here was to speed-up the rate at which this is installed. Equipment would include the following:

  • Stairlifts
  • Through floor lifts (for wheel chair use)
  • Ceiling tracking
  • Wash Dry toilets

3 "Introduce provisions to allow additional funds above the DFG maximum (subject to budget availability)"

The present limit was £30,000. But in recent years, Fylde has handled a small number of complex adaptation cases where the tendered cost of works has exceeded this maximum, and the report recommended that the Council permits the award of a supplementary grant, in cases where the list of works recommended by an Occupational Therapist has been market tested and exceeds £30,000

To avoid overspends, this supplementary grant would only be offered subject to budget availability, and any such additional grant should not exceed £20,000.

4 "Targeted promotion of Disabled Facility Grants through a social care capital project."

Fylde also want to increase the number of Disability Grant adaptions it makes.

The increased funding they now receive has cleared the waiting list, and in order to use up their embarrassment of residual riches, the report proposed some modest promotion of the service saying:

'...it is now necessary for the Council to increase the level of referrals for adaptations in order to maximise the use of our BCF allocation. Rather than a 'public advertisement' of the service it is recommended that a targeted promotion of the service to health professionals such as hospital nurses and General Practitioners (GP’s) be employed. This will ensure that the applicants have undertaken some form of prior assessment of need/disability assessment and that the Council are not inundated with unsuitable applications....'

5: 'Undertake a capital project with a registered provider to increase the numbers of adapted sheltered/temporary housing properties to improve the local housing offer. '

We (and the report) were less clear about exactly what this means, but from what we can deduce, it allows Fylde to spend the Disabled Facility Grant money with Registered Social Landlords to allow them to adapt properties they owned to increase the stock of properties that are suitable for letting to those with a disability - for example, the supply of stairlifts to certain sheltered properties.

It also seemed to apply to....

"work to adapt flats used as temporary accommodation by the Council which are owned by our main registered provider"

We don't exactly understand what this means, unless perhaps, it is for homeless accommodation that Fylde has to provide, or some similar sort of situation.

6 Other assistance covered by the policy

This set out some other matters that could be supported using funding from other sources, including Energy Efficiency (with funds from the 'Cosy Homes in Lancashire' scheme, and separately, from the 'Green Energy Affordable Warmth Grant')

 So Is It All Good News?

Well, yes and no. The fact that Fylde now has an embarrassment of riches, no waiting list, and it is considering 'advertising' the scheme to health professionals means they can now more or less spend significant sums to help anyone who is judged to be genuinely in need of having adaptions made to their property to make it more suitable if they have a disability. Committee chairman (Cllr Ben Aitken) described it as

"....One of the success stories of Fylde Borough Council. We should be saying to ourselves ' What a good job we're doing' One million pounds we've got, to get independent living for individuals who are in need, and value for money, and one of the things we're very careful about is that it's value for money, and that people that need it genuinely get the grants...."

But there's a fly in the ointment....

In order to clear the hurdle of 'need' - the requested adaptions must first to be cleared by Social Care teams (at Lancashire County Council), and then assessed in a site survey by the Occupational Therapy teams (at the County Council).

Once the survey is completed, the result is sent to Fylde who then provide casework support, confirm eligibility, undertake technical surveys, find a suitable contractor and monitor the quality of the work to completion.

The 'fly' in the ointment seems to be that LCC don't have anything like enough capacity of Occupational Health Therapists to meet the demand that has increased throughout Lancashire as each District Council (like Fylde) is feeding a greatly increased number of applications through to LCC.

Fylde's Cllr Aitken said:

"....We found that the biggest problem was the Occupational Therapy set up at Lancashire County Council, so we recommended to Lancashire County Council that they get their act together and, of course, if you recall, those of you who are regular Members [of the committee], we asked for more Occupational Therapists, and in fact, although they haven't got their full quota, they're still trying to get more Occupational Therapists and they appreciate this...."

Cllr Sandra Pitman wanted to know how long it was between an application being received and the completion of the work.

The officer explained that before the extra funding from Government was provided they had two waiting lists. The first waiting list was at LCC - for the work to assessed, and then referred to Fylde for action, and then a separate waiting list at Fylde for funds to undertake the work.

However, with the additional funding Fylde has received, she said Fylde now has a waiting list of zero. So there is no-one on a waiting list at Fylde.

The Chairman intervened again saying that the only hold up now was at LCC - because there was a shortage of Occupational Health Therapists.

All the officer's recommendations were approved, so once Lancashire County Council get enough Occupational Health Therapists in place to cope with demand, matters should greatly improve.

Readers will know we often criticise Fylde for its failings, but in this matter we can highly commend the officers who have seen a doubling of the funding they manage, a doubling of their department's workload to action the works, and almost no additional staffing. Officers with that capability are a real credit to public service.

 ECONOMIC PROSPERITY BOARD

In our article 'Combined Authority II' of February 2018, we chronicled the demise of the pan-Lancashire Combined Authority being driven hard by Blackpool's Council Leader.

But we also spoke of the creation of an "Economic Prosperity Board" and promised to have more to say about it in a future article.

Well there has been some progress, and this is a quick update for our readers. We intend to cover this matter in more detail in future.

After a whole series of identity re-brandings (from the ill-fated 'Re-Blackpool' to the 'Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Economic Development Company') what had essentially been a plethora of private companies with council officers as their Directors decided to call it a day, and a new type of organisation has been formed.

It's a Joint Committee. And it's quite a rare sort of beast.

We were (and are) very much opposed to the idea of routine public services being delivered by specially created one-off private companies.

It's difficult, if not impossible to see how well our public money is being spent. They rarely publish agenda and minutes, their proceedings are usually not held in public, yet they are chiefly run and managed by officers whose salaries are paid from the public purse.

We regard several such entities we have known over the years as a device to circumvent the democratic transparency that the law requires of Councils.

So our readers might have expected us to have been pleased when this private sector decision-taking body decided to abandon its private company status and reverted to calling itself an "Economic Prosperity Board' (which in technical constitutional terms became a 'Joint Committee' with representation from Blackpool, Fylde And Wyre councils together with some private sector folk).

We ought to have been delighted, because the Economic Prosperity Board is subject to the rules that govern democratic accountability.

And to the extent that is being applied, we are.

But that's not the whole story.

Like the DUP and their concerns over the North-South Irish Border in the current Brexit negotiations, we're also nervous about any organisation or arrangement that might result in the loss of any of Fylde's individual character or its constitutional independence.

Whist we're very happy to work in collaboration with others, shared sovereignty does not appeal to us at all, so we're not as excited as some might have expected.

So what's been going on?  Well we can report that the Joint Committee has been formed, and has had some meetings.

Initially we thought its main focus was going to be the Enterprise Zones in Wyre and Fylde (one of which also has a small area within Blackpool), and it does indeed appear that Enterprise Zones will be one plank of its operation

But at the first 'proper' business meeting (after the meetings to set itself up) it became clear that this is animal has much wider aspirations than the Enterprise Zones, and is looking to speak with a unified voice on the economic development of the whole of the Fylde Coast.

We're as uncomfortable with that idea as we are with the arrangements that have been snuck in at Fylde that keep its proceedings out of the public eye, and with the Economic Prosperity Board's own apparent preference to exclude the press and public from its meetings for all but the most simple of its items.

It seems to be doing this JUST IN CASE the representatives present might want to speak about something they can justify excluding the press and public for.

We'll have a closer look at this body - and the secrecy it craves - in more detail in a future article, but readers need to be cautiously wary of what's going on - and more especially, of where it might lead.

 LYTHAM INSTITUTE AND LYTHAM LIBRARY

Dissatisfaction with the County Council's decision to abandon its agreement to use the Lytham Institute building on Clifton Street to house Lytham Library, and to provide a much reduced library facility in Lytham Town Trust's Assembly Rooms continues to rumble on uncomfortably in the background.

There was a public meeting at Lytham Institute in July when the leading lights updated everyone on the latest situation. There was widespread criticism of LCC from the floor of the meeting, despite attempts to stay positive by the Chair, and also criticism of Fylde for not opposing the reduced library service.

There was also confusion as to the cost of the change to LCC.

It was argued that if (as had been the case) LCC reduced their use to the 41% of the Institute building (the area they had used for most of their occupation), rather than the 61% they expanded to in quite recent times (but no longer used), they could have reduced their payment to Fylde (which is based on the area of the building that LCC occupy) and this would have changed the figures on which LCC made their decision to use the Town Trust's Assembly Rooms.

One speaker said that the officer's report to LCC emphasised in no less than five places that the area usage figure was 61% and it was argued by several in the public meeting that LCC had taken the decision on a false premise.

We suspect this alone would have given reasonable grounds for a judicial review of the County Council's decision, but there was no-one with the will or the funds to take such a case forward.

We saw this cleverly done elsewhere, where a child brought a JR against a County Council who had done something similar involving a children's section. Because the case was brought in the name of a minor, Legal Aid funded the costs of the Judicial Review.

Several people at Lytham's public meeting wanted to know if it was only Lytham where a competitive bidding process had been introduced to re-open the library.

The meeting was also uncertain about the nature of any future contact it should have with Lytham Town Trust.

Some speakers were very critical of the Trust, and wanted them taken to task for having prepared a competing bid that was submitted in opposition to the proposals that the Friends of Lytham Library had prepared.

Others sought a more conciliatory tone, suggesting that the decision was now a 'done deal' so the Friends group might as well try to work with the Town Trust to obtain their support to protect the future of Lytham Institute.

The Chairman also sought views from the floor on whether there was a will to continue to oppose the Library being moved into the Assembly rooms or whether the focus should now move to securing the future of the Institute building. Again, we heard views expressed for both (and other) options.

We thought the comments from the floor on this aspect seemed quite evenly balanced but if anything, the majority was just about in favour of fighting the decision rather than accepting it and moving on.

County Cllr Tim Ashton (and several other Fylde councillors) were present at the meeting and, following some questions about the role of LCC, he was invited to speak.

In characteristic form he went straight into the 'party political' message about Labour closing the libraries and the Conservatives opening them again, saying

"If we hadn't had Conservative control at the Country Council this library wouldn't even be here now and there'd be no chance of it being reopened"

In the face of a rising tide of anger from the floor at his manner and his party-politicising of the issue he (again characteristically) raised his voice to shout down the uprising he had generated.

The Chairman intervened and tried to calm things down. Cllr Ashton next accused previous speakers of having 'jaundiced view of the Town Trust' before launching into a history of its origins and explaining that the Town Trust have been busy with Lytham Hall. He said

"And it is true that, when I made this issue some 12 months or so ago, about the library service and the potential, cos I could see this coming down the road from a number of years ago, that the Trust at that time weren't really interested because they'd a lot on their plate at Lytham Hall. There were a lot of disagreements at that time, some of them legal matters and accounting matters and I won't go through them now, but a lot, they had a lot on their plate at the time.

But that Board don't forget, is made up of people like you and me. These are local people. They are local people that are quite acceptive of arguments and persuasion....."

As he spoke, it was evident to us that most of the people present were dissatisfied.

There remained considerable anger toward the Town Trust which erupted again when Cllr Ashton said they had put a competing bid in, and in answer to several cries of 'why?' from the floor, and to the Chairman's question as to why the Trust did not consult with the Friends of the Library before doing so, the best Cllr Ashton could manage was to say he didn't know; they had not done anything illegal; they were a charity, and they could do what they want.

To be honest, we thought that answer was something of a cop-out from the man who - as in the debacles of Melton Grove, and Lytham Hall which preceded this one - had inside knowledge and experience of working on the County Council, the Borough Council, the Directors of Melton Grove, the Directors of Lytham Town Trust, and the Directors of Heritage Trust for the North West.

But there it was. He had no other answer to give.

In answer to a further question as to whether or not the Town Trust had realised that putting a competing bid in would make the proposal submitted by the Friends group more difficult, if not impossible, to realise, he said:

"They must have realised that. I mean, I stayed away from the Town Trust and its bid to put the library in that building, for obvious reasons because I was supporting this particular campaign as I should have done."

He also said he was optimistic about the future of the Institute building based on the plans and costings they had already prepared, adding

"There's no reason why we can't go forward with the business plans we had, just without a library service in this building. Now it may be that we can persuade the Town Trust to not have the Library Service in the Assembly Rooms, but that's down to the Town Trust at the end of the day, they will have to decide that."

Toward the end of the meeting a chap said that an email he received from the Chairman had a link to something called counterbalance, and he asked the chairman to explain to him who they were (laughter from the floor). He also asked if the Chairman generally agreed with the views that were expressed in the article.

The Chairman said she thought the counterbalance article was fairly accurate, but the chap pressed her further on an article that had been reported in counterbalance which had originated from the Fylde Ratepayers group regarding the situation, and which had been headed '4 Hats Ashton Scuppers Lytham Institute' and he wondered if counterbalance was a publication of the Fylde Ratepayers.

Fylde Ratepayer Cllr Roger Lloyd who was present said that specific article had been published by the Ratepayers Group on its Facebook page, and it must have been picked up from there and re-reported by the counterbalance website.

The Chairman added that the counterbalance article was a very factual history of the campaign really.

She asked if he found the counterbalance article useful, the chap said 'Oh yes, very useful.'

We're pleased to have been of help.

And with that the meeting closed.

The Chairman promised to digest what had been said, and talk it through with the committee of the Friends group to try to find the best way forward. We imagine that's going on at present.

We're also detecting what seems to us to be a delay in progressing the adaptions needed to the Assembly Rooms (and in particular plans to provide a disabled access ramp at the front of the building). LCC's costings were never published, but we wonder if the installation of a ramp is going smoothly and was wholly provided for in the budget.

We're also aware of three separate initiatives not connected with each other or with the Friends Group, which are being pursued by interested individuals and groups regarding this matter, and if the Friend's Group, (or any of the other initiatives) produce matters of interest to our readers, we expect to report them here.

 LYTHAM HALL UPDATE

There have been a few reports from Cllr Richard Fradley to Fylde's Tourism and Leisure Committee in recent months.

These were all along the same lines. Basically things were going much better. The Town Trust had re-filled the position available to them on the board of Heritage Trust for the North West, and a HTNW representative had been invited onto the board of Lytham Town Trust.

We understand these are new faces, and that normalisation of the relationships between the parties is being sought.

There's also talk of some sort of a 'joint committee' between the two bodies to agree and address the restoration works (as opposed to maintenance) at the Hall.

That's really good news, and exactly what we said Fylde should have been pushing-for all along, instead of adopting the ridiculous and disgraceful 'bully boy' stance it did adopt toward HTNW.

That said, this issue is not yet out of the woods.

The damage that was done to the reputation of all three parties in this matter is likely to take years to heal properly, but at least the omens for its doing so look a lot better than they have done in recent months.

There also still remains the issue of the shortfall of the £1m or more of large scale 'match funding' necessary to trigger a large restoration grant from the National Lottery.

Readers will recall £1m was pledged by Lancashire County Council, only to be later withdrawn on what we regard as an extremely flimsy pretext to mask a change of heart by the Labour administration at County Hall (which had assumed control of the County at the last election but one).

In our view, the withdrawing of this grant that had been pledged by LCC caused HTNW's inability to complete the scheme as envisaged.

This in turn saw the Heritage Lottery Fund refuse to fund a reduced scale restoration to match the funding available.

The outcome was that the whole restoration project became suspended amid recriminations and criticisms (led, or at least fuelled disgracefully by FBC) about whose fault it all was.

That funding shortfall still exists, and isn't going to be easy to rectify.

In fact, its now probably worse than before because we've no doubt that other works will have been found in the intervening time which will undoubtedly have increased the restoration work and costs above those envisaged in the previously approved scheme.

It's expected that roughly half the total cost of restoration will be provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund if they agree the works and costings, but that means the other half of the cost must be met locally, partly in hard cash, and partly by people volunteering their time to help at the Hall as volunteers (the notional value of their work is allowed to be counted as a contribution in kind).

The cash element of match-funding will still be really hard to find when you're probably looking as a sum that will undoubtedly be more than £1m - and could be two or three times that figure.

In the meantime, two things are happening.

The new general management is doing a good job under the extremely challenging circumstances to generate more and more activity at the Hall, and to raise income. We expected this to happen, given the experience of those involved, and they are delivering successes.

There has also been quite a bit of cosmetic work undertaken by volunteers, and some work specifically funding by, for example, the local Rotary group and other organisations, businesses and individuals.

This work is crucially important to make the Hall appear sufficiently attractive to people who might be willing to pay for its use, or to attend functions there, but we doubt that the scale of income likely to be being generated at present will make much of a dent on the very expensive restoration work that will need lottery funding.

But again, the direction of travel is positive.

And just on that topic of finance; to date, we've not heard anything more about the charitable foundation that HTNW had proposed.

As we understood it, this was going to receive the income and donations made to Lytham Hall, and from which works at the Hall were going to be funded. We don't think this Foundation has been set up yet, so at present, we're not clear how, and by whom, and how the broad brush income and spending is being managed.

We'll bring readers more when we have news to report.

 FAIRHAVEN LOTTERY PROJECT

After the success with its own Ashton Gardens Lottery scheme, Fylde is once again in the process of applying for another Heritage Lottery Grant - this time in respect of Fairhaven Lake.

After the infamous Jet-Ski operation introduced at Fairhaven just before the Millennium, (but subsequently closed at a days notice on the orders of a high court judge after vociferous complaints from local residents about noise), we're nervous about new developments at this location, and some of the proposals to (once again) increase activity there could produce a similar resident reaction if the scheme goes ahead.

In January 2017, the Council had a (preliminary) Lottery Development Grant totalling £165,500 (FBC had to contribute £54,866 of this), to cover the costs of preparing the main grant application - which itself would apply for another capital grant of £1,476,664 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to provide for 'the full restoration of Fairhaven Lake & Gardens.'

The total cost of the scheme as envisaged at that time was £2,516,989, so Fylde had to find the difference (of just over £1 million) from other sources

A masterplan had been prepared and as always, like Topsy, ''It just grewed'.

So it was that in July 2018, the new estimated total spend had become £3,013,394, of which the Heritage Lottery Fund was being asked to pay the same as before (£1,476,664).

This meant that Fylde had to generate £1,536,730 and this was to be made up of:

  • FBC Capital Fund: £400,167
  • FBC funding for Stannah bank re-grading and footpath formation: £120,000
  • FBC Parks and Technical Services Budget for in-house landscaping: £72,930
  • FBC Increased management and maintenance Costs over 5 years £100,000
  • Environment Agency - funding for inlet repairs and some landscaping/surfacing £328,636
  • RSPB donation £8,000
  • United Utilities £60,000
  • Café operator contribution to fit-out £15,000

All of the above was described as being already 'secured' (We're not sure if that means its in the bank or simply that it had been pledged, but we think it will be the latter for the non FBC costs).

There was also something called Other Fundraising - which was expected to raise another £357,897 of which just £15,000 was described as 'Secured'

Hopeful other sources in this remaining £342,897 were:

  • Sport England Community Asset Fund £131,791
  • Coastal Community Fund £130,000
  • Lawn Tennis Association £51,106
  • Lancashire Environmental Fund £30,000

Finally, Volunteer time valued at: £74,100 was also counted

This proposed project is within the 'Parks for People' scheme and specific to public park restoration.

However, this scheme is being discontinued as of December 2018, and if successful, Fylde's application will be one of the last public park projects to be considered for full 'Parks for People' capital funding.

A new scheme of general heritage grants is to include listed buildings, museums, theatres etc. - and public parks will compete with these buildings for funding - making a successful bid for parks even more difficult in the future.

Even this current application will be difficult.

It will face significantly greater competition compared to recent years, because less lottery tickets are being sold and, as a consequence, this reduces the budgets available to the grant-giving organisations like the Heritage Lottery Fund.

So in order to avoid suffering the same sort of fate as Lytham Hall, and in case any of the funding does not materialise, officers asked the Council to underwrite any shortfall in the remaining £343,000 - and the Council has agreed to do this.

The application was submitted by the due date of 31st August 2018 with a decision due in the second week of December 2018.

But one oddment we spotted at the previous Tourism and Leisure Committee (on 7th June 2018) had caught our eye.

It was an item on proposals to control barbecues, outdoor cooking and other forms of fire on Council owned land by using a Public Space Protection Order.

PSPO's enable fixed financial penalties to be levied on the say-so of a council officer, without the checks and balances of using bye-laws. Regular readers will know we have an aversion in principle to the use of PSPOs

Before PSPOs can be introduced however, there has to be serious public consultation on the proposals. This was undertaken for Fylde, and (amongst comments from several other organisations) the report on consultation to Fylde's Tourism and Leisure Committee included the following:

"Consultation was undertaken with the Preston Black Minority Ethic (BME) Forum as part of the Fairhaven Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stage 2 Target Audience Consultation.

A key objective of the BME Forum is to support consultation and co-ordinate on the barriers and issues facing BME Communities to achieve social and community cohesion.

The forum advised that well managed, designated barbecue areas would facilitate community support and participation and could lead to more diverse cultural events and activities on Fairhaven Lake."

That report also contained the following

"The Friends of Fairhaven Lake (FoFL) who are an important stakeholder do not support the full prohibition of barbeques and instead support the option of providing designated barbecue areas."

"The Fairhaven Lake and Garden Restoration HLF Project Board were asked for an opinion on providing a designated barbecue area or not - during the board meeting on the 30th January, 2018. Concerns were raised that the HLF encourage councils to utilise community engagement, education and provision of well-designed facilities to prevent anti-social behaviour. Prohibition is viewed as a last resort after all other options have been explored. The board were
unanimously in favour of a designated barbecue area."

"This option was not supported by The Black Minority Ethnic (BME) Forum."

"A blanket ban on Fairhaven Lake may affect the success of the stage 2 Heritage Lottery Fund application for Fairhaven Lake and Gardens which is due to be submitted by the end of July. This would be in respect of it having a negative impact on community engagement and a ban not being supported by key stakeholders (the Friends of Fairhaven Lake (FoFL) and the BME Forum) seen by the Heritage Lottery Fund as essential to have the support of to ensure a successful application."

We were surprised that information had not also been included in the report to the Tourism and Leisure Committee on the Fairhaven Lottery Scheme given its (apparent) importance in securing the lottery grant.

We suspect the 'Barbecues PSPO' won't be raised at Fylde until after the decision on their lottery Grant for Fairhaven.

Funny old world, innit?

 TOWN HALL PARKING

The Council also recently approved a scheme to 'improve' the parking around the Town Hall as the final phase of the Town Hall's renovation works.

Using £60,000 from their more general 'Car Park Improvement' scheme, the plan for the Town Hall is to reduce much of the grass area at the front, and increase the number of spaces by parking the cars at right angles to the promenade (rather than parallel to it as they do now), but it does also create a ceremonial flagpole area with enhanced pedestrian paving and a 'Welcome to Fylde' sign (yes really) and a 'Civic garden/breakout space' (whatever one of those is) outside the fire escape doors at the Lytham end of the building.

The report on the car parking changes and resurfacing to the Finance and Democracy Committee on 24 September 2018 noted that

"A recent borehole survey found that parts of this section has inadequate sub-base which will need reconstruction if any resurfacing work is to prove effective......This section now requires resurfacing including the reconstruction of the sub-base."

To our knowledge that sub-base has been working satisfactorily for the last 35 years that we've been about in these parts, and we've got serious doubts about the arguments being made here. But we suppose they did bolster the arguments of those councillors who want to do this resurfacing work.

The report also contained the following gem:

'The Accommodation Working Group recommended the provision of a dedicated space for the parking of the mayoral car along with four dedicated councillor car parking spaces (one of which would be identified for the Council Leader).'

We've absolutely no problem with the space being reserved for the Mayor of the day.

The Mayor is Her Majesty the Queen's representative in the Borough and must be accorded pre-eminence in all matters.

But the same cannot be said for the 'Leader' of the Council whose role became wholly redundant when the Council changed back to operating a Committee system in 2015 after the public referendum.

This 'Leader' is a non-job that costs Fylde's taxpayers and EXTRA £10,000 a year of completely wasted money paid as an allowance ON TOP OF HER ANNUAL ALLOWANCE AS A COUNCILLOR .

The role of Leader has no place in the present Governance system of Fylde.

This case was even made by the Council Solicitor's advice to the council (just before the change from Cabinet to Committee system) who said:

"The role of the Leader of the Council will also change significantly.  Under the present system, the Leader is responsible for appointing the Cabinet, chairs Cabinet meetings and has authority to take any executive decision on behalf of the council.

Those responsibilities will no longer exist under a committee system.

The leader would still be expected to be the political figurehead of the council and the leading advocate for local communities. However, his formal responsibilities would be confined to answering, or choosing another member to answer, questions from members of the public at council meetings."

This £10,000 is quite possibly the greatest waste of public funds that Fylde pays out every year.

Adding a reserved and designated parking space to this complete and grossly expensive non-job is a little short of a disgrace.

 POLICING MATTERS

There was a letter from a retired Detective Inspector on the subject of policing in the Gazette of 18 October 2018.

We couldn't agree more with most of its content and we're taking the liberty of reproducing here in the hope that our friends at the Gazette don't mind.

Under the heading 'Police Need to Get Back to Fighting Crime' it said:

'The first thing I learnt as a police recruit was that the primary object of an efficient police force is the prevention and detection of crime.

Recently released statistics reveal that there has been a staggering increase in all crime but particularly burglary. The most intrusive and invasive crime anyone can face has soared by 78 per cent.

I am aware that other former colleagues share my exasperation with the current state of policing and the warped priorities of the new breed of liberal-minded senior officers, who have never been seasoned thief-takers but are sociology graduates immersed in the dogma of diversity.

They constantly pander to every passing political fad -from painting police cells in customer-friendly colours and encouraging male officers to wear stilettos to highlight domestic violence, to painting their nails in rainbow colours in support of the LGBT movement and the modern slave trade. There have been other gimmicky ridiculous schemes.

They have focused on cyber crime, historical sex abuse, hate crimes and online abuse, neglecting traditional crimes and the reassuring presence of coppers on the beat. When did any of us last see a patrolling copper?

In defence of the accelerated closure of all our police stations, the police hierarchy blame the lack of Government funding and yet they themselves are pleased to accept sky-high earnings and retire on gold-plated pensions.

The final straw for me and what must be a massive blow to the morale of the hardworking bobby, permanently at the coal face of operational policing, was the cowardice of Sir Craig Mackey, the acting head of the Met.

He locked himself - with his own safety in mind - in his car at the Westminster terror attack, as he witnessed one of his officers fatally stabbed.

This was in contrast to other, unarmed, brave individuals who ran into danger to help the stabbed officer.

He should be stripped of his knighthood and fall upon his sword, but don't anyone hold their breath.

Remember those at the top lead by example and the rank and file follow.

What a sorry and deeply shaming tale this is.

In the meantime, mind how you go and remember, if you want to know the time in the current climate, you will have to look at your watch!"


His letter put us in mind of a comment made a while ago by Cllr Ben Aitken

It was at one of Fylde's Environment Health and Housing Committee meetings (on 20 June 2017 to be precise). Cllr Aitken represents Fylde on various police and security bodies which fall within this committee's Terms of Reference.

At the conclusion of an item about 'Rapid Deployment Cameras and the Provision of CCTV' - and in response to a question from committee member Cllr Roger Lloyd about increases in local crime figures, Cllr Aitken told the Committee.....

"It's been recorded Councillor Lloyd, in the last six months... Well first of all, one of the main - I may as well tell you 'cos this came up yesterday - one of the main things is better reporting of crime.

Now, what you've got to realise first of all, is that police officer's time has been broken down into these two categories I'm going to tell you.

Dealing with criminal activity: 19% of their time is dealing with criminal activity

46% of their time is dealing with mental health issues."

We genuinely were shocked at this revelation, and it brought to mind columnist and writer Peter Hitchen's prophetic  and historic description of the British Police becoming 'Paramilitary Social Workers'.

That quotation also made a big impression on us when we first heard it as well.

Dated:  26 October 2018

 

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