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Town Hall: 'Plan C' ?

Town Hall: Plan 'C'This is a really difficult article to write.

It's a bit like being glad that you're cured of pneumonia, but angry that they amputated your foot unnecessarily as part of the treatment.

What we have here in Plan 'C' is a plan that abandons all hope of building a brand new Town Hall (because it is not affordable), and looks to improve the existing building at lesser cost.

We're delighted about that aspect.

We have said many times before that a simple extension of the (old) Council Chamber (preferably southward to extend it over the cobbled yard area), and an external lift at the back of the building, would solve the DDA issue and give an adequate public gallery without attempting to 'overwhelm' the problems.

Where it goes wrong is, in our view, in two parts.

The first is that the scheme involves the sale of the Public Offices building opposite Wood Street.

This was the chief place of business of the former St Annes Urban District Council. It was conceived as a public building and we argue it should remain as such.

We'd actually like to see the St Annes Town Council operating from part of it, with front and ground floor being used as a heritage facility to display aspects of the Town's history (for both visitors and residents) and as a catering and retail outlet to help offset the building's operational costs for the Town Council.

Not everyone agrees with us of course.

We've had a stiff email from one of our readers who wants to know why the Council's Derby Road offices at Wesham - which he rightly says are fully DDA compliant - and could easily be extended to meet the need, are not being considered now.

He actually put it a bit more strongly that that.

He began: "Why do FBC insist on wasting vast amounts of council tax payers money refurbishing the offices at St Annes Town Hall when there is perfectly adequate DDA compliant office accommodation at Derby Road Wesham? Or am I just stating the blindingly obvious to the obviously blind!...."

He makes the point that Fylde Council is confusing itself with St Annes Council because it focuses its efforts on St Annes.

He concluded " Could it be that many of the St Annes based councillors do not know where Wesham is, and those who do, have no intention of ever going there. Perhaps they should be reminded that the name is FYLDE BOROUGH COUNCIL, and not SAINT ANNES BOROUGH COUNCIL"

His point has some validity. The Wesham Offices are the most geographically central, and more modern.

They also are more DDA compliant already.

The point were we diverge with our reader is that we favour the view of a former (and in our view more sensible) Council than the present one, which held that the majority of people in Fylde live in the coastal strip. It's something like two thirds of Fylde's population.

And of that block, the majority are in St Annes (which has a higher population than does Lytham or the whole of rural Fylde). So St Annes is the most convenient location for the majority of Fylde residents.

It was also the principal centre for public transport, and thus the easiest to access, even if you lived outside St Annes.

However the former Council considered that it was appropriate to have some offices that were more conveniently placed for residents of the wider Fylde, so they had an administrative office in Kirkham (at Town End) where the generality of questions might be addressed, and the Planning Department at the Wesham Offices.

The argument for having planning at Wesham was that although it was not convenient for the greatest proportion of residents, people would only apply for planning permission once or twice in their lives and those that did so were likely to be householders and not put to unreasonable time or expense of getting there when they did need to.

Some saw Planning at the Wesham Offices as a token gesture of course, but we were inclined to believe the former Council's explanation was genuine.

The second part of Fylde's recent decision we take issue with is the absolutely enormous waste of money that has already been lost into what are now, aborted plans, for a new Town Hall.

We estimate this has been around 850,000 since the former Commissar decided to build his white elephant.

We wouldn't be surprised if it had reached a million.

Certainly the 400,000 that the Council were 'forced to accept' for the Heeley Road Depot Site has been swallowed up to offset the profligate spending of the former commissar.

So whilst we welcome the new Leader's application of common sense, we remain unhappy about the potential loss of an important public building as we remain angry that he and others in his group allowed such huge losses to be run up before they ditched the dummy that was embarked on the path to financial Armageddon.

The meeting to consider the change of plan was illuminating.

Not all Councillors had given up on the idea of new offices.

Cllr Eastham made a last ditch plea to build the new office block onto the back of the Public Offices on Clifton Drive South.

Having listened to him at the Cabinet meeting, Cllr Eaves - with a good dose of 'Pickles' - said: "We need some responsibility and reality, in that Plan 'A' - which was quoted at some 7million; and Plan  'B' was 6.5 million is generally pie in the sky This Council can't afford that sort of Money"


He said the Council had to be realistic, and something in the order of 2m or 3m was the most they could afford. The six and seven million pounds "was just unreasonable"

Sense at last.

When the officer started his report, one of the best comments we've ever heard from a Fylde Officer came forth.....

It ranks alongside our personal favourite saying of former Chief Executive and now, sadly, deceased, Roger Wilkinson - a nice man if a little on the dour side - a bit like  Gordon Brown. He was Fylde's Borough Treasurer for many years, and was promoted to Chief Executive on an interim basis at a time when there was a high probability that Fylde would merge with Wyre and cease to exist.

Addressing a subsequent meeting of his Management Team he was heard to say "When I was appointed - everyone thought Fylde was doomed"


Our most recently favoured quote was from Paul Walker - Director of Strategic Development, who said of Plan 'C' : "....The schemes that we've worked-up to date, have looked at what is required, and not what we can afford - and what we're coming round to Chairman, is an option whereby we look at this building with a completely fresh pair of eyes and we look in a more pragmatic, cost-limited way, at what we absolutely have to do to stay here to make this building more fit for us in the future....."

Translated to a more simple version, this says - Previously we looked at and designed want the Commissar wanted. This time we've deigned what we can afford.

Also priceless.

It shows the absolute folly of letting the former Commissar loose on public money.

He adopted the former Chief Exec's approach and swallowed it  - hook line and sinker.

In council-speak this approach is summed up by the immortal phrase "Finance is a tool of policy"

Whenever you hear that, be very afraid.

What it means is that we'll decide our priorities, and what we want to do, irrespective of what they will cost, then we'll find a way of raising or borrowing the money to fund them.

It's the path that inevitably leads to financial ruin and deliberately throws common sense out of the window.

Thank God Cllr David Eaves is now in charge.

So the latest plan is to get another consultant's report on the structure of the Town Hall, and what they can do to improve it.

This might seem wasteful in terms of cost, but they have to do it because the last report they got (we think it was from a  firm called Harrison) said the Town Hall was falling down and it couldn't be improved.

So hopefully the new one will say it can.

It might be useful to compare the two. We think we have a copy of the old one lying about somewhere in counterbalance towers.

We'll see if we can hunt it down for a comparison when they do the new one. They might make interesting reading.

Dated:  27 September 2010


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