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Snippets: September 2019

Snippets: September 2019

With the first chill of autumn in the air, we bring readers a collection of shorter items about matters affecting Fylde and its residents.

This time we're covering news relating to: Lytham Institute and Library; Lowther Gardens and Pavilion; Fracking, and Changes to household waste (both nationally and in Fylde).


SYNOPSIS
We start with news of Lytham Institute and Library, noting first an Awful Finance and Democracy meeting which we'll report more fully later. Then we bring news of A Public Meeting on Tuesday, arranged by the Friends of Lytham Institute and Library to ask for the public's views on what they would like to see at the Institute in future.

Next we look at some issues at Lowther Gardens and Pavilion, including our confirmation that there WAS an Invalid Governing Document created by someone. We think might have improperly influenced decisions that the Council made. We also bring News and comment from some of our readers who frequent Lowther, before we Update readers with the latest news on the important court case about who will be running the cafe at Lowther Pavilion in future.

Then we look at a some recent snippets of news on Fracking, including a Second warning to Cuadrilla from the Environment Agency, and recent concerns about the Disposal of flowback waste water from the site.

Finally for this article, we look at some changes that are likely to come into being for Household Waste and recycling, looking first at why and what Changes might be coming from Government.

Then we look at some Household Waste Changes in Fylde, including Fylde's work so far and their future plans to Reduce the number of households that have more than one grey bin. There are also plans to Improve the collection of plastics.

We also look at the matter of Collecting Bulky Waste Items from households, and Fylde's introduction of New £400 Fixed Penalty Notices where householders cannot satisfactorily prove they gave waste to a Registered Waste Carrier if their waste is found not to have been disposed of correctly. We're not at all happy with this move at all.


 LYTHAM INSTITUTE AND LIBRARY

 Recent Finance and Democracy Committee Meeting

Lytham Institute and Library was discussed at an awful (and mostly-behind-closed-doors) Finance and Democracy Committee in July,  which saw raised voices, exasperation, and multiple instances of procedural failure that we're still looking into. We expect to report more on this later, but we don't think the leading members of the Council have yet properly understood what will be required of them - just as they didn't think the Institute was charitable gift

It was only the steadfast diligence of the Lytham St Annes Civic Society and their members that showed the Council  their view of the Institute was wrong and it WAS a charitable gift to be cherished, not their corporate property to be disposed of as they wish.

We think this is a story that's going to continue for quite a while.

 Public Meeting

The Friends of Lytham Institute and Library are holding a Public Meeting on Tuesday 17th September at 7pm in the Institute's 'Hewitt Room' on Bannister Street (opposite the side of Tavernors).

They are inviting the public to hear an update of the latest information about the Institute and Library, but mostly the Friends want to hear from local people about what they would like to see as the future use of the Institute now it is a charity and in the process of being registered with the Charity Commission.

Readers can follow this link to download a poster about the event and use it to email on to their friends. We understand all are welcome to attend and help the Friends group build a case for what local people want.

So - as counterbalance has been reporting for ages - despite trying to get out of it by pretending they still owned the Institute as a corporate asset - Fylde has finally had to accept the Institute's charitable status, and been obliged to ask the Charity Commission to register it as a charity with - at least at present - Fylde Council as the Trustee.

The Council no longer own the Institute to do with as they wish, and we think they will soon have to convey ownership of the building to the 'Official Custodian' (which is part of the Charity Commission itself).

They Charity Commission has a process that requires the public to be consulted about any changes of governance or the uses of a Registered Charity, and once registration takes place, there will be a formal public consultation about what sort of uses local people want to see for the Institute.

The Friends Group is getting ahead of the game and kickstarting that process for themselves by asking for everyone's views and ideas now.

Despite some confusion in recent print media articles, our readers should note that 'The Friends of Lytham Institute and Library' is an open membership voluntary organisation with a published constitution and officials elected by vote in a public meeting.

They are not connected with another group (who have their own ideas and agenda for the future of the Institute) called the 'Lytham Institute Working Group.' This group was not elected to office by the public, they do not have open membership, and have not sought to operate with the same sort of public openness and transparency that the Friends group has done, (although we suspect the Lytham Institute Working Group might argue they have a more commercial approach to the Institute's future).

 LOWTHER GARDENS AND PAVILION.

 Invalid Governing Document

Readers will know we've been on the trail of what we thought might have been an invalid 'Governing Document' for Lowther Gardens Trust.

Well, whilst we don't want to convey any sense of irreverence, we can say that although the wheels of counterbalance might grind slowly, they too grind 'exceeding small.'

We have finally had an admission from Fylde Council that they do hold an invalid version (that's our description and the one we've seen used by the Charity Commission) of the Lowther Gardens Trust's Governing Document which purports to have removed the restriction that exists on extending the Pavilion or providing additional buildings.

We're now on our way to getting a copy of it.

The invalid document was sent to Fylde (electronically) on 28th January 2015.

What's still not clear is who sent it to Fylde, who authorised its sending, and who received it at Fylde.

We've also discovered that Fylde's Councillors were (formally but improperly) told that the Governing Document was amended in 2015, and that amendment changed the wording of the restriction which, (instead of maintaining the complete prohibition of extensions and new buildings), would have allowed extensions and new buildings to go ahead subject to: consultation; receipt of planning permission; and reference to covenants.

But at the time Fylde told its Councillors the Governing Document was amended in 2015, this so called 'amendment' had not (and still has not) been accepted by the Charity Commission and was thus not a valid amendment.

What we're still not yet clear about is whether someone sent this invalid Governing Document to the Council and was trying (apparently successfully) to hoodwink Fylde into believing the Governing Document had been amended to permit the Pavilion to be extended and / or have additional buildings provided (which it cannot), or whether Fylde itself was (or became) complicit in the deception that there was an amended Governing Document that authorised the work for which they granted a planning permission that could never be implemented because Pavilion extensions and additional buildings in the Gardens are prohibited by charity law.

We're still on the case, and we expect there will be more to report.......

 Readers Comment on Lowther

We've had a few comments from our readers about the gardens and pavilion in the last few weeks.

One told us that a meeting of a group of Pavilion users (we suspect local amateur theatrical or musical groups) was told by a senior Trustee that if it was not for subsidies from the professionals, and the goodwill of the Trustees, amateur groups would not be able to use Lowther because Lowther always 'lost money' on such shows.

Our reader explained it had also been suggested that Lowther Pavilion should have the final say on what shows the amateur groups provided, so as to fall in line with the artistic programmes the theatre wished to promote - and this showed a total disregard for the way in which the amateur groups operate.

Our reader also told us a few of the users had later commented that the speaker's arrogance and body language made it fairly clear the amateurs were only there under sufferance.

It did seem hard for the groups to continue when our reader further explained that the amateur groups now have to pay a £1 'development fee' on every ticket sold, plus a backcharge of 2% to amateur groups on the use of credit/ debit cards which together with another levy on every ticket sold equated to a total ticket levy of around £2.50 per ticket, and that was on top of the daily hire rates and additional charges the pavilion made for technical staff.

Another reader has told us about new parking charges that have been introduced since last time they were there.

They went to the Pavilion Cafe for lunch and found they now had to pay £2.50 to park, even if they were simply eating in the cafe.

They told us over time their experience had gone from 'Press the green button and free for an hour; to 'Free Parking if at the cafe' then 'Voluntary donations, and now 'Compulsory charges'. Our reader appears to have queried this new charge and been told it was because the cafe is a 'different business' (although it's not a different business to those who want to use the gardens of course).

So one stayed in the cafe queue for the food, and the other moved the car off the car park and onto the highway.

In another email, a reader told us the last time they we were at Lowther, they noticed that there is now a proper 'shop' set up inside auditorium selling crisps and sweets and a cold fridge of drinks there too.

They said all of this takes trade away from Cafe and very few people go there in interval nowadays, when there used to be long queues.

Another change had been the removal of programme and raffle ticket sellers for amateur dramatics productions from lobby and into the auditorium too (which means patrons go straight through the foyer rather than lingering and maybe going into the cafe for a coffee or whatever).

The impression we get from our readers is that under Fylde's eye, Lowther Gardens Trust, which is intended to operate the gardens and the theatre as a charity for the benefit of local people and visitors is setting a path to transition from being akin to a public service into something much closer to a business.

As this transition goes on, at some point the question needs to be asked whether what's needed in Lowther is a facility for local people to use, and a reasonably priced but high quality cafe/tearoom where visitors to the Gardens can get a coffee and cake or maybe a light lunch, or whether it should transform into a professional theatre that wants to rival the Grand in Blackpool, with an upmarket restaurant for those who can afford it.

 Court Case

Readers will recall that after the £4,000 of taxpayers money that had already been spent by the Chief Executive (using what he referred to as his 'emergency' powers), the Conservative group on Fylde Council voted to further increase the subsidy payment they give to Lowther Gardens Trust by another £175,000 of taxpayers money to provide the resources to defend the legal case that the cafe owner had lawfully instituted when the renewal of his lease on the cafe was refused by the Trustees.

Frankly, we regard the decision not to renew the lease as absolute madness for what is a very popular and well respected cafe in the gardens and, if we had the power to do so, we would have sought the removal of those Trustees who voted for non renewal in the knowledge that they did not even have the resources to fund their ambition, and were not lawfully allowed to unreasonably refuse consent to renew it.

The Trustee's decision - which to the best of our knowledge - was not checked with Fylde before they decided not to renew the lease, left the cafe proprietor with no choice but to contest the legality of the Trust's decision not to renew his lease.

That, in turn, put Fylde in a position where (we understand) the appointed Trustees were threatening to resign if the Council - via us its taxpayers - would not pick up the tab for the possible legal costs of up to £175,000 they were facing.

The threat of their resignation would have left the theatre potentially inoperable unless Fylde assumed direct control itself or brought in temporary management.

We'd have said good riddance, and done exactly that.

However, Fylde didn't, and they remain ready to fund the court case.

The matter has been rumbling on in the background - mostly we believe because of a need to assemble evidence of the ability, competence, costs and resources of each of the parties to operate the cafe.

We heard from Mr Lince at the Tourism and Leisure meeting on 5th September 2019 that the Court hearing dates have now been fixed as being 11 to 13 November, in Preston.

 FRACKING

Whilst there's been a lot going on since fracking was suspended, we've picked out a couple of significant points for our readers.

There are meetings that take place between representatives of Cuadrilla and the community. Often these meetings have interested parties present and contributing (eg the Police, the Environment Agency and so on).

We understand a recent one of these had people from the Oil and Gas Authority (who have a great deal of say and influence about fracking) present.

We heard there was concern that they might get a rough ride from local people who were at the end of their tether since the earthquake that caused the site to be suspended, and were losing confidence in the Environment Agency (who we now regard as useless) and the other regulatory agencies.

However, it seems that when they were invited to update those present, they gave a confident and forthright statement of the situation.

We were not there but have spoken with some who were, and the impression people came away with was much better than they had expected.

It seems the OGA people has said that magnitude of earthquake was not expected by anyone involved. It was not within Cuadrilla's Hydraulic Fracturing Plan, and the OGA has asked Cuadrilla to undertake considerable work to let them understand and explain why it had happened.

We were told they expected the work they had asked Cuadrilla to do would take quite a long time, and that fracking would remain suspended until it was properly and exactly understood.

That sounds like months or years rather than weeks to us.......

Another couple of bits of fracking news that caught our eye were.....

 Warning Number 2

A second written warning has been issued from the Environment Agency to Cuadrilla for breaches that included: failure to properly monitor groundwater; failure to report missing data to the EA; and having inadequate staff training on sampling and quality control.

Readers can follow this link to download the EA report in pdf format

 Treating Fracking Waste Water

Another snippet we picked up was the eventual end point of the fracking water that arises at the Preston New Road site.

Labour's Yvette Cooper found from the Environment Agency that the water leaving Preston New Road is tankered to a Yorkshire waste treatment plant run by a company called FCC Environment.

They specialise in treating industrial, chemical and hazardous waste liquids, and are one of very few UK sites that can handle waste fracking fluid.

Their site is near Yorkshire Water’s 'Knostrop' sewage treatment plant in Cross Green near Leeds, close to the River Aire.

We did once hear that the process to dispose of such waste involves the liquid being held in a tank then treated with flocculating agents to make the solids (clay and silt and other particles) settle out into a sort of 'cake' at the bottom of the tank, from which the (now clearer) liquid is extracted and maybe further treated before the cake of solids at the bottom of the tank is dried and skipped for removal (we guess to landfill but are not sure).

Whether this is the process in use by FCC Environment we don't know, but we were told at the time that it was a fairly well known way to treat such waste.

But what's been causing a bit of excitement is that fact that because of its exposure to underground rocks, the fluid can pick up the naturally occurring radiation that exists in them and the fluid itself becomes mildly radioactive.

Folk in and around Leeds have been worried about the radiation especially (although of course there are now lots of other chemicals which Cuadrilla has permission from the Environment Agency to use), and have found that after treatment, the fluids are being discharged into the River Aire.

It was made worse when local campaigners found that neither the Environment Agency, nor Yorkshire Water carry out radioactivity monitoring on waste liquids discharged into local water systems (although they do test for some other things).

That sounds frightening, but from the little we know about chemistry, flocculation and soil water, we suspect there ought to be less worry about the liquid and more (if any) worry about radioactivity in the 'cake' of solids that gets disposed of, because - as we recall from long ago teachings - the radiation is more likely to be chemically bound into the chemistry of the silt and settled particles than in the residual fluids.

 HOUSEHOLD WASTE CHANGES

Two committees at Fylde have just considered changes that will soon apply to household waste.

Fylde's recycling rate peaked in 2015/16 at 51.4%. But just as we predicted, this has dropped significantly because of the so called 'subscription' charge that was introduced for green bin waste.

Green bins were first introduced to meet the EU criteria for 50% of household waste to be recycled.

Instead of a massive programme to cut non-recyclable household waste, councils realised that by doubling the waste they collected (by adding in readily recyclable green garden waste), the tonnage that could be recycled immediately increased to over 50% - and Fylde (and the UK) stayed within EU requirements.

But for reasons we have explained in great detail before, the introduction of charging for green waste was always going to reduce the rate of recycling as less recyclable waste went into the waste stream

Fylde has now reached the point where its recycling rate has dropped below 40%.

We think this is mostly due to charging for green bins, but some of it will be the decline in newsprint as less people take daily papers and get their news and analysis online.

This reduction is happening across the UK, and Fylde is not exceptional.

The situation gives rise to two problems. Firstly the UK is not complying with EU requirements for 50% recycling (although some might say that could cease to have relevance in the near future), and secondly, because of the wrong-even-in-principle decision promoted by the Liberal and Green end of politics to try to change people's behaviour by making non-recyclable waste punitively expensive to dispose of.

So now we have charges for tipping that bear no relation to the costs of the service.

The latest figures provided by the County Council show that (despite the disproportionately inflated tipping fees) landfill waste is increasing by 3% a year.

In 2016/17, the cost of landfill to LCC was £47m. This is expected to rise to over £75m in 2024/25, and Lancashire as a whole is now recycling less than half (45.7%) of the total waste.

So those that worry about these things are pondering what to do.

When he was Environment Secretary, we did hear about a plan from Michael Gove to reinstate compulsory green waste collections (without charge) by local councils. That scheme was wending its way through Parliament, but Mr Gove has another focus at the moment, so we might have to wait a bit to see what happens.

Also (at least with him), you need to watch for the sting in the tail.

This time it was to institute a WEEKLY collection of 'Food Waste' using smaller receptacles from around 2023. We think his idea here is to remove food (especially protein) waste from the definition of Household Waste.

We also think this plan to remove food waste (and its associated public health problems from flies and other vermin) might  allow him to stretch the frequency with which other grey bin 'Household Waste' would be collected to maybe three or four weeks.

Those changes might cover the cost of re-introducing 'free' green waste collections and upping the percentage of recycling.

But probably because those measures are a long way down the legislative pipeline, Fylde's councillors have not been asked to consider them yet.

They have, however been asked to consider some others, and we fundamentally disagree with one of them.

 HOUSEHOLD WASTE CHANGES IN FYLDE

 Reduction Of Grey Bins

Councillors have just been told (note they have not been asked to decide) that Fylde's officers have been carrying out a review of properties with 2 or more grey bins.

First, the officers wanted to be sure nothing had changed since the 'extra' grey bin was originally approved.

Nowadays, extra bins are only considered for households of 5 or more permanent residents or if there is some exceptional eg medical) circumstances in the household.

Since the review started, (and without seeking any authority from the Council) Fylde's officers have already removed 195 grey bins and refused permission for another 62, diverting (as they say) 97 tonnes of waste from landfill per annum - (We would argue that's probably a theoretical average figure).

At present 846 multiple grey bin properties are currently still on Fylde's list for review in the next  phase of the project.

So if you have two or more grey bins in a household of less than five permanent residents, you can probably expect a call.

 Improved Plastic Collections

In an effort to further boost recycling rates the County Council is changing its waste processing to get more plastic out of the landfill stream.

We understand that from late this year, the hope is that households will be able to recycle plastic pots, tubs and trays, as well as plastic bottles, so things like yoghurt pots, margarine tubs etc could be recyclable as well, but the change isn't yet expected to include plastic film or bags.

 Bulky Household Waste

This is not stuff you can put in your grey bin. It's big things like mattresses, fridges, chairs, and so on. At present Fylde arranges collection of these for a separate charge starting at £21.50 for up to 3 items excluding fridges or freezers which are around £43 each and sheds which are around £50.

All well and good, but here comes the rub.

A provision of legislation requires all occupiers of domestic properties to take reasonable measures to ensure that waste produced on their property is only transferred to an authorised person for disposal.

In other words you have to use a licensed waste carrier to dispose of waste.

In the words of Fylde's report on this matter

"An authorised person is defined in law and includes the council waste collection service (i.e. bulky waste collection), a registered waste carrier (i.e. an authorised skip company) or an operator of a registered site (i.e. household waste recycling centre at Saltcotes Road). This responsible waste management reduces the risk of domestic waste ending up in the hands of those who would fly tip it."

But the change that's coming soon is that Fylde are about to introduce Fixed Penalty Notices to Householders.

 New Fixed Penalties for Householders

The snappily named 'Environmental Protection (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England and Wales) Regulations 2018' have amended section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and give Councils the power to use Fixed Penalty Notices.

Fylde argue that they will investigate instances of fly tipping and look for what they call evidence of waste ownership - such as an envelope with an address on it, and if the householder of that address cannot provide adequate evidence that they used a Registered Licensed Waste Carrier to dispose of the waste, they face a likely Fixed Penalty Notice of £400

This new use of Fixed Penalty Notices is said to be being implemented because

"....Obtaining sufficient evidence for a prosecution has been difficult – the test for the evidence is beyond all reasonable doubt and we are often reliant on members of the public to provide witness statements – the majority of which do not wish to do so. "

The officer report also said that the option to serve a fixed penalty notice for fly tipping for “low level” incidents such as single items or small amounts (car boot size) has proved very successful.

The Fylde Fixed Penalty Notice is £400 - with the option to reduce to £200 if paid with 10 working days."

We have two fundamental disagreements with this proposal

Firstly, it removes the requirement for there to be no reasonable before people are 'fined' by an individual whose sole opinion is relied on to judge their guilt.

We understand that as far as Fylde is concerned, only householders able provide evidence such as.....

  • Details of business and of any vehicle used which can be linked to an authorised operator ;
  • A record of checks made, including operators registration, permit or exemption number;
  • A receipt for the transaction which includes the businesses details of a registered operator; or
  • A copy of photograph of the carrier’s waste license or site permit.

.... will be acceptable to avoid a Fixed Penalty Notice if the householder's waste (even if given to a tradesman in good faith), ends up not being disposed of correctly.

It is not right in principle that judgements such as these are made outside the normal legal system that has served our country for hundreds of years.

Secondly, the requirement for the householder to provide evidence as proof of innocence (as above) wholly destroys the concept of British law that insists individuals are innocent until proven guilty.

It creates an extremely dangerous, slippery path (and a precedent) toward the weakening of tried and trusted legal principles for matters that are much wider in scope.

That's why we oppose Public Space Protection Orders and their Associated Fixed Penalty Notices as well.

There's a good reason that atop the Old Bailey in London the figure of Justice is blindfolded - and it's nothing to do with a descent into more cost-effective ways to 'fine' people.

We say it is wrong in principle that a householder should be penalised for the failures of a tradesman undertaking work for them, over whom they have no control regarding what they do with unwanted materials that arise.

It should be 'the polluter' themselves that is prosecuted, not those who cannot control what is done with any waste arisings from work undertaken.

The concepts and tone of these reports further illustrate the shift that is taking place in local councils as they turn from being the providers of equitably funded shared community services to become moneymaking community oppressors.

A quote from the report....

"Fixed penalties that are set too high for local conditions, or are likely to be higher than the Court imposed fine in the event of non-payment, will lead to substantial non-payment rates and so are counter-productive."

and from the officer introducing it.....

"... So if you, as a domestic resident, are using a white van, for example, to take away some waste from your house, then you need to make sure that they are a registered and licensed carrier for that waste.

So the 'Duty of Care' is the householder's duty of care. So as a householder you have a responsibility to make sure that it's disposed of correctly. There is also a responsibility on the contractor or the individual that is collecting and disposing of that waste, so it's a twofold thing.

And last week at the Environment Health and Housing Committee, there was an item specifically on the Duty of Care towards the householder and the new provision which now allows us to introduce a fixed penalty notice as a type of softer enforcement for lighter issues if you like rather than going for a full blown prosecution...."

Echoing the spirit of a famous former Prime Minister, it is

"Wrong; Wrong; Wrong."

Dated:  13 September 2019


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