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Ballam Road Appeal Date

Ballam Road Appeal DateReaders might like to know that on Tuesday 27th April at 10:00 in the United Reformed Church, St. George's Rd. St. Annes, an appeal hearing will open to consider Fylde Council's failure to grant planning permission on land just outside the Lytham settlement boundary off Ballam Road.

Actually, the hearing is only nominally about Fylde's failure to deal with this matter in time. The Inspector in this hearing will really consider the application as though she was Fylde's Development Control Committee, and she will decide whether to grant planning permission or not.

Anyone can attend the hearing. They can and listen, and, so far as we are aware, speak, if they have something to say on the matter.

The hearing is expected to last for two days.

An appeal Hearing is not the same as a Public Inquiry. It is much less formal, it usually does not involve barristers, and is more a round-table discussion on the matters involved. It gives a chance for local people to have their say.

So how did we get to have a Hearing?

Well, in Snippets - February 2010  we reported a planning application that a chap called Peter Whitehead had submitted. He wants to extend Lytham by developing a new housing area on the dark green field along Ballam Road just past the posh houses on Laburnum Ave.  He wants outline permission to build somewhere between 14 and 64 houses on this plot.

Whilst things were going well with FBC planners, he was happy to let the application for planning permission run on. However, as soon as it became clear that Fylde's planners were going to recommend refusal, he upped and appealed to Government, saying that Fylde had taken too long to decide the matter.

There was also an issue about his providing a homeless hostel off site in St Annes instead of providing affordable houses as part of the development. Readers will recall that this brought the Heeley Road Hostel Group into play and they took up the issue with the Planning Inspectorate.

Our Snippets feature speculated that several sites for the hostel could be in the frame, but we thought the co-incidental report in the LSA Express about the YMCA plan to acquire the Catholic Club and former school on almost adjoining sites on St Albans Road, and the fact that the YMCA are also a Registered Social Landlord of the type that can operate hostels, might put that site as favourite.

We reported that the Hostel group were unhappy that the Inspectorate's Planning Officer, Nicholas Patch, had refused to release (what he himself had said was) public information about the location of the hostel under the Freedom of Information Act, and told him they were going to take his decision up with the Information Commissioner.

However, we understand that before they could do that, the Inspection or Compliance department of the Planning Inspectorate itself got in touch with them and pointed out they could ask for an internal review of the Inspector's decision to refuse to provide the information if they wanted to do that first.

We figure that move had more than a whiff of panic about it.

We're told the Hostel Group agreed, and, after a lengthy period, they were advised that although the Inspectorate admitted it had been in breach of the regulations by not providing the data or explaining which exception applied, having examined all aspects of the request, and noting that the agent had now withdrawn the hostel plans, they believed there were grounds to exempt the former information from public scrutiny, and that is what they intended to do.

You might think that the Hostel Group were a bit miffed at this - being led up a path that appeared to promised results, only to find that their expectations were dashed on the rocks of twisting interpretation.

They probably were.

Like so many of the quasi oversight organisations today, (ombudsmen, external auditors and the like), Rule One seems to be try to find a reason not to accept the complaint, and if (as in this case) that fails, Rule Two seems to be to find an obscure reason to reject it, and thus protect the reputation of the organisation under investigation.

It has been our experience of ombudsmen for example that even when they are forced to look at a case, they come up with answers like 'Well yes, there has been maladministration, but the degree of personal loss you have suffered is not worthwhile our investigating' which in effect says that even where maladministration is found, they're not interested in all instances of it, only those that are cost effective for them to investigate or where the individual has suffered significant personal financial loss as a result of it.

So much for maintaining proper standards.

But, we understand there were developments in the background of this application (connected or otherwise, it's difficult to say) that made the decision more palatable for the Group.

Whilst the lengthy consideration of their complaint was going on within the Inspectorate's own inspection department, four quite crucial things had happened.

1). At Fylde's development Control Committee in January, they quite properly decided that if they had been asked to approve the application on the information presented, they would have refused permission, chiefly because the development would be out of character with the area, it would constitute ribbon development, it is too far from the shops and facilities along poor roads and pavements, problems with street lighting, the built up area and site access and a host of other reasons, not least the loss of Grade 2 agricultural land.

2). To prevent its disclosure to the Hostel Group, the Appellant had been forced to remove proposals for the offsite hostel and the affordable housing from his plans altogether. He now says he could provide such facilities on site, or maybe offsite if he could find somewhere.

3). The deal with the Church and YMCA fell through.

4). The Planning Inspectorate decided that because of the public interest they would not decide the matter by "written representations" (an exchange of letters), but they would agree to the Fylde branch of CPRE's criticism of the written representations process, and stage a local hearing where members of the public could turn up and have their say on the plans.

The Planning Inspectorate also subsequently appointed (Ms Jean Russell) to chair the Appeal Hearing.

The paperwork for all of this is now published on FBC's Website. For as long as it lasts there, you can follow this link to see it. If you want to see the documents, you'll need to click on the 'Documents' tab.

The case put forward by agents on behalf of Mr Whitehead is long, (151 pages), but much of it is bulked up with copies of other planning application and appeal decisions on different sites which they hope to use as precedents.

We think the Inspector will be a bit sharper than that, and will recognise that in planning, all decisions are on the merits of the individual site and application. We also think we can see quite a few flaws in the case made for Mr Whitehead, but that's a matter for the inspector of course.

The Council's  Planning Officer has also produced a statement of the case the Council intends to make at the Hearing.  We've managed to get sight of it and, whilst it is shorter (23 pages), from what we can see it is cogent and comprehensive.

It rehearses the decision of the planning committee and the appellants grounds for the appeal. It shows how the location is contrary to several of the Council's planning policies.

It goes on to highlight the confusion about the number of houses and the layout and the access that would be suitable, and it explains the problems with the loss of good agricultural land.

It  puts some store on the uncertainty about the lack of Affordable Housing, and calculates a target number that the Council thinks should be on the site.

It goes on to explain the problems with off-site provision of Affordable Housing (no land identified, no planning permission for it etc) and even if these problems could be sorted it would be likely to take a long time which conflicted with the Appellant's stated benefit of developing the houses quickly.

It's possible, of course, that the Appellant could come up with a surprise ready-made package of offsite affordable housing at the last minute, but unless he can do that, we think he's in trouble.

The officers report also majors on the problems with the access arrangements - which are almost impossible to resolve as far as we can see.

So, the stage is set for the hearing to take place on 27th. If you've time on your hands you might like to call in for some (or all) of the Hearing and see democracy in action. There will be some public seats and you won't have to pre-book. People will no doubt come and go from The United Reformed Church Hall on St George's Road during the proceedings, just as they do at Public Inquiries.

If we can, we will go to the hearing - and keep our readers who can't go themselves - informed of progress.

Dated:  12 April 2010


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