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St Anne's Town Plan

St Annes Town PlanThe St Anne's on the Sea Town Council has announced it is embarking on a Town Plan.

It shows a determination to move things on.

This year, the Town Council increased its staffing budget from 8,000 to 20,000 and their premises budget from 1,500 to 18,000. They also increased their publicity spend from 1,800 to 12,000. The latter includes an item of 5,000 for the town plan.

From within the salary increase they have taken on a full time administrative person to support their part time clerk; and a temporary member of staff specifically for the Town Plan.

They have also taken on new premises at the West Lodge entrance to Ashton Gardens (former CAB office). We heard the cost was reputed to be good value from Fylde Council (It was either 3,000 or 6,000 a year we can't remember now, though we hear Kirkham Town Council's rent for their office and Council Chamber was around 300 a year). We can't vouch for any of the rental figures and no-one is keen to publish them, it seems.

But, as we can see, can see things are moving.

We hear the Town Plan is now moving forward too.

Generally, we're in favour of Town and Parish plans. Provided they are a true expression of the views of local people, they're a valuable source of information, and a tool to guide the decision of the Parish or Town Council itself. We were impressed with the Elswick Parish Plan and the Freckleton one. But when they're done badly, they are a disaster. By steadily and imperceptibly nudging their direction, and by controlling the information that feeds into the process, it is perfectly possible to end up with a very warped plan.

Perhaps the best example of this was the appalling deception that former Borough Chief Executive Ken Lee and his colleagues allowed or instituted in respect of housing in Fylde. That process resulted in the Fordham Housing Need and Desire Study which tried to change the character of Fylde by changing the housing mix to include much more social rented housing. This was done quite easily by simply adding the word "Desire" to the title of the survey. After its publication, everyone refers to it as the "Fordham Housing Need Survey", but it isn't. Its a survey of housing need AND DESIRE.

That addition made all the difference - because it meant the number of people wanting social rented housing was about ten times the number that actually needed it. (Think about it for a moment - if you are in private rented housing paying 100 a week rent and someone asks if you would like to go into a socially subsidised similar property at 70 a week, how many of those questioned in the survey were likely to say no?).

This warped process produced a housing "need" of ten times the real number, and gave Fylde a ridiculous set of figures for its local plan. The number of all types of houses needed for the local plan was 155 dwellings per annum and the number of affordable (socially supported) houses (that should have been a small part of the figure of 155) was a massive 420 dwellings per annum.

This was more than double total number of houses defined in the local plan for ALL types of housing.

But no one spotted (or had the courage to speak out about) this lunacy, and it has been a feature of Fylde's planning since around 2000. Even now it is affecting the decisions Fylde Council makes, and it is only the outspoken common sense of Cllr Trevor Fiddler that dares draw attention to its stupidity, and only now, ten years after it's inception, is there light beginning to shine in this dark corner of deception.

That incident serves to illustrate just one of the ways the results of such plans can be manipulated.

So there is a danger with the St Annes Town Plan if those in control were to see their role as social engineers with a mission to change the nature of, rather than reflecting the wishes of, local people.

It does happen. Only last week it became clear that mass immigration into the UK had been - at least in part - for ideological reasons to change the nature of British society - and that unspoken deception was from our own Government.

But back on the local scale, we understand that at the present time, selected local groups and "service providers" are being invited to attend workshop meetings to set the scope of the Town Plan.

A series of broad issues has been identified, (Social, Economic, and Environmental) and within each of those, a number of specific topics have been set out for comment.

The workshops (one was held today) are being asked to say whether these topics are important to them or not and whether they are seen as a problem.

If they are thought to be a problem, then what solution does the group or service provider think should be applied to it?

They are also being asked whether there are any topics that are not listed.

The results of these workshops will be collated (and possibly edited - we don't know about that yet), before being displayed at an exhibition "to inform the community of the town plan process and to confirm key issues"

At this point we become distinctly unimpressed with this idea.

The community should not be 'informed of the process' or asked to 'confirm key issues', they should be leading the process and setting the agenda, not responding to agendas set by agencies and hand-picked invitees.

The next stage planned after the exhibition is a household survey. This will "consult householders on key issues, priorities and possible solutions". Again we think this is the wrong order to achieve the right result.

Then a draft Town Plan will be prepared, and that will itself be opened for consultation.

It's probably too early to come to final judgements about the process at the moment.

Whilst it appears to be based on, and will no doubt seek to claim its legitimacy from public consultation, we think it could be very easy to massage and manipulate the results - because the dataset on which public consultation is based will be set by agencies and special interest groups - and the results of their deliberation are likely to flow through a narrow editorial channel before the public hear about them.

How much better it would be to ask the community first, so everyone has equal input into choosing the issues that concern them.

We recognise St Annes is bigger than a village and is thus arguably more difficult to manage, but it breaks down into seven village-sized wards of around 3,000 electors that could have been dealt with as communities of interest.

We would have thought a better process would be to first issue the Household Survey using open questions combined with open invitations to a series of public meetings arranged for each ward, where Councillors could meet their electorate, explain the process, and hear and discuss the issues that concern their electorate at first hand.

That's what parish councillors are for, and that's what (should at least) mark them out from the Borough Councillors who are less hands-on and nitty gritty.

But this process treats The Town Council as if it is a mini Borough Council - using paid officers. This distances Town Councillors from the community they serve and the feelings of local people, and we can't see it as a wise direction to follow.

We think a process using the general electorate as the first point of contact would broaden the information base and be likely to be more representative in its result.

But it is not to be, and we shall see what transpires from the process the Town Council has chosen to implement.

We intend to follow the process and keep our readers informed of progress along the way

Dated:  24 February 2010


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