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Planning News Update

Planning NewsFirst today's late and excellent news: Fylde's Development Management Committee has resolved to contest the Queensway appeal. Our thanks to the reader who rang to pass on the good news. We'll bring you more detail on that when we get it.

The rest of this article has three main strands:

1). A reader's view of the 'Wrea Green Sports Centre' meeting

2). The Bloor Homes exhibition planning 150 new houses at Kirkham

3). An update on the national (and local) planning policy changes.

WREA GREEN SPORTS CENTRE
Sadly we weren't able to go to this meeting ourselves, but one of our readers - one who we know has an up to date and first hand understanding of planning issues - was there, and he has sent us a report which we're happy to publish, and we've added a few comments of our own after it.

He said:


The meeting was very well attended, with a large number of residents standing at the back and sides of the hall when seating was unavailable.

It was a local council meeting with a formal agenda.  

After dealing with police liaison (and the extremely low crime rate in Wrea Green), the Chair of the meeting indicated the application by Haythornthwaite Sports Foundation was next on the agenda.

This application is a re-submission and had already attracted strong objection from Wrea Green residents. A bit like Arnie and "I'll be back" - here it was again.

The Chairwoman called for the registered speakers (including the organised Save Wrea Green Action Group) to come forth and deliver their speeches (3 minutes a piece was called for).

Deliver them they did.

All the speakers spoke well and talked on a wide range of issues, Some residents spoke passionately and were clearly outraged and what was proposed. Other speakers spoke with equal passion and backed up their objections with planning policy arguments. Environmental issues were brought to the fore with concern over the land (rated grade 3b and 3a, so very farmable!!) and the wildlife such as newts and owls. Noise and light pollution was discussed as well as safety for residents over the amount of vehicles that would litter the roads.

Road safety issues were given an airing, again quoting policy, as well as local policy concerning the suitability of such an edifice in a rural location. Speculation as to disorder that may be result from exuberant sports fans was raised, and comments were heard from the audience, mindful of the Police liaison not long before saying what low crime there was in Wrea Green.

Each speaker received good applause and it was obvious that this community supported the objections being made. Were the speakers preaching to the converted? Yes - but they spoke with the support of the community and were putting forward reasoned arguments backed by policy.

A petition was presented with about 600 signatures objecting to the application. This is a significant amount of people (about 1500 residents recorded in 2001 census, which will include children) objecting to this.

As the final speaker said their piece, the Chair turned to the applicant to speak.

There were only 2 of them representing the stadium application. I found this to be quite brave, especially when confronted by a full house (possibly 300+).

Fronted by an impressive scale model of the stadium complex, one of the courageous gents stood up and we waited to hear the counter arguments.

We are still waiting.

It was not apparent that the fears and objections of the residents were addressed.

Instead we heard about the benefits of sport and the grants from the Football Association that would be available. From the outset the speaker received a rough ride. Being a local man (as he claimed) some of the comments were addressed directly to him. The Chair asked for quiet and the comments reduced but did not entirely disappear.

Notes were taken by the Applicant's cohort, but there was no real rebuttal to the Resident's objections. No applause was received once the Applicant's representative sat down (there was instead symbolic tumbleweed gently wafting across the room).

After a short recess the Parish Council received a cheer from the Residents, when they refused the Application.

It looks like the DCC next (or is it now the DM?) [Yes, it's Fylde Council's new 'Development Management' Committee] and we shall see what the appetite is for this venture.

The depth of feeling in objecting to this stadium is strong and the obvious passion and Planning knowledge gives the Wrea Green residents much credibility.

========================

counterbalance says: We've watched these applications stadium from a distance and wondered what was going on.

To our mind, it was a surprising application. An odd place to site a sports facility. True, it's close to a good road system, but it's not 'needed' by locals and it is incongruous in that regard.

The plan clearly isn't intended to respect the community in which it is (almost) situated. Wrea Green is closer to a retirement village than the sort of place that longs for football - that's typically the preserve of places like Leyland - when it was an industrial British motown area defined by a skilled manual C2 demographic that bulges with young men and young families.

South Ribble (in which Leyland sits) has 28 football pitches and one bowling green. Fylde has 28 bowling greens and one football pitch (well, metaphorically it has).

Wrea Green is almost as far from removed from a C2 demographic as you can get, and that's why we say the proposal doesn't respect its surroundings. But then the Ribby Hall holiday village doesn't do that either, and that's more or less across the road.

The sporting benefits aren't likely to cut the mustard with planners though.

Yes, recreation provision is an aspect of planning policy, but that's more about community facilities than sporting destination and venue management.

So if our reader's report is accurate (and we've no reason to doubt that it is), the approach at planning, sorry - 'Development Management' Committee will be interesting.

So we'll have to see how Fylde's development managers, erm, 'manage' it.
 


BLOOR HOMES PLANS

We did manage to get to the Bloor Homes 'exhibition' at Kirkham.

Prior to arriving we'd expected to see a massive scheme for something in the order of 2,000 homes given the size of the 'triangle' we'd seen in the paper. In fact it turned out to be quite a bit smaller. It was for 'up to' 150 houses.

The site is a field within the much larger triangle area and it is opposite and across the road from the entrance to the caravan site neat the Indian restaurant just before the Ribby Hall roundabout.

'A field' that will take 150 houses is still quite big of course, (It's about 5.5 hectares or 13 acres in old money), and there's almost no local infrastructure to support such a development nearby. The word coming from most of the locals we spoke to was mostly negative, albeit without any real anger.

The exhibition was a small, low key affair, with Bloor's staff on hand willing to talk about and explain what they were proposing, and there was no hard-sell going on. There were forms for people to leave comments which many did.

This is what the day was about of course. They wanted to identify likely public concerns so they could address them in their proposals.

They said "There were no overriding ecological factors present that would preclude future development". That usually means there is some important wildlife on the site, but the effects of the development on it could be 'mitigated' (i.e. the level of damage that would visit on the wildlife if the development went ahead could be made less bad - so the Wildlife won't mind will it?).

The exhibition also said there was no flood risk "from external sources." Curious turn of phrase that, 'external sources' We wonder if there is some sort of a threat from the brook that runs through the site then.

They also said all the things you would expect to accentuate the positive - there's a big need for housing in Fylde, and Kirkham is a 'primary settlement' They will 'retain existing vegetation where possible', and preserve Brook Wood. It will provide much needed family housing, create 240 jobs including apprenticeships, and provide £1.5 million to the local community over six years (presumably in what are now called community infrastructure levy payments), conveniently located for bus services, only 23km from the national rail network, and the houses will have the latest eco-gadgets to satisfy the climate-change enthusiasts.

So is it a good thing?

Well, that's for the good folk of Kirkham to decide - at least as far as Mr Pickles localism agenda is concerned.

We picked up since the exhibition that a few local people are looking at the idea of forming a group to oppose the development. We know some of them and hope to be able to keep readers in touch with development on this proposal as they happen.


NATIONAL PLANNING POLICY ISSUES
In 'Planning Protest Grows' we noted that after CPRE's expression of concern, the National Trust had thrown it's weight behind the growing opposition to the Government's new 'Draft Planning Policy Framework for Growth'

A day or two afterwards, we saw the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Royal Town Planning Institute, and a host of others such as the Ramblers and the Woodland Trust had also thrown their weight behind a call to ditch key parts of the proposed changes.

They were joined by 25 of Britainís chief planning officers.

More objections have been added since, and Fylde's own Council meeting recently decided not only to express its disagreement, but to send a delegation to Whitehall to make its opposition to the proposed new Planning Policy Framework very clear to ministers.

Queen Elizabeth Oades proposed it, the Chairman of Development Management (Planning) Ben Aitken seconded it with a slight amendment to the wording, and Planning Portfolio Holder Trevor Fiddler added the idea of sending a delegation to Whitehall.

This is Fylde's planning top brass who understand the trouble it would bring.

Well done Fylde.

The visit probably won't achieve anything specific, (such delegations rarely do). But what it will do is to add to the authoritative voices of dissent - which in turn increases pressure on the Government.

This pressure from the public, from organisations and from professionals is having an effect.

Ministers have found themselves on the back foot defending their proposal.

Greg Clark began by accusing the National Trust of "misleading" people, and suggested the Campaign to Protect Rural England always "objected to every change".

But ten days later, although he maintained that the changes were "absolutely crucial" he found it necessary to agree to talks with his opponents, saying that "particular aspects" could be addressed if groups such as the National Trust felt they were unclear.

Sensing some backtracking, those who will benefit from the proposals, (and their supporters) went on the offensive.

The National Housing Federation (NHF) said the housing market would be plunged into "crisis" without government action to address the "chronic under-supply of homes", and that the shortage was hitting home ownership rates and boosting rents.

We're told that George Osborne said that sticking with the current planning system "puts at risk young people's future prosperity and quality of life", adding that "No-one should underestimate our determination to win this battle. We will fight for jobs, prosperity and the right protection for our countryside".

Right on cue, Builder Redrow's founder Steve Morgan told the Telegraph that the UK planning system is a "living nightmare" and he called for "common sense and rational thinking" in the debate about reforming the laws. He added that Redrow "spends more on planning fees than bricks" (we might give one of their houses a miss then :-)) and that the British system is the "most bureaucratic in the Western world".

Ministers chimed in again to say that "Reforming a slow and inefficient planning system will be good news for the small business looking to expand; for the young family hoping for more affordable house prices; and for the community wanting to decide on their own future. This is our opportunity to unlock the new investment and new jobs the country needs. We cannot afford to miss it."

Locally, North West Lancashire Chamber of Commerce's Babs Murphy told her members "Across Britain it is now time for the business community to stand up to those who would preserve the country in aspic. Naturally we all want to protect areas of great beauty and natural diversity, yet business's experience of planning on industrial estates, in city centres, and in even the most modest small-town developments shows that the system and its bureaucracy are a serious brake on economic growth, prosperity and jobs."

She added that "We must publicise the worst planning 'horror stories' and remind our leaders of the investment and jobs foregone. Above all else, we must prevent a government climb-down - as future growth depends on it."

So, in sharp relief, the battle for the soul of planning rages.

Ministers are claiming in public that they're not for turning.

Privately, they're clearly rattled, and planning escape routes.

Whether that will be enough for the Jam and Jerusalem of Middle England we doubt.

We can see a lot of backtracking coming in the 'Regs' as they're known in local government circles (The detailed regulations published as a Statutory Instrument after the Act itself gets Royal Assent).

That's assuming it gets that far anyway.

There is another big petition calling for a pause and a rethink. It's being organised by a group known as '38 Degree's (apparently, that's the angle at which an avalanche happens. In the UK, 38 Degrees claims it can enable people to act together to create an avalanche for change).

Right.

You can follow this link if you want to add your name to the petition. https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/save-our-countryside

Last week the first crack widened for ministers.

Speaking at the Conservative party conference, Greg Clark said that the National Planning Policy Framework would be delayed to allow councils time to draw up local policies (something like two thirds of the 350 or so planning authorities do not have a new local plan in place. The last Government changed the whole system and it has been in turmoil since).

We're hearing in terms of an eighteen month delay.

So it looks as though the furore that George Osborne created with his 'Planning for Growth' agenda is having the heat taken out of it with a postponement.

Returning to the local perspective, we also hear that Fylde's new housing numbers are about to be announced. We understand that members were briefed last Monday and we can expect to see the DRAFT numbers published very soon for consultation purposes. This will be the most important decision Fylde will make for the next 15 years or so.

The (now discredited) Regional Strategy said Fylde had to build at a rate of 306 dwellings a year. We hear Fylde's own figure is likely to come out at around 280, with the expectation that it will be reduced after consultation and debate to something in the order of 220 -230 a year.

The number is important because will decide how many new protest groups spring up as their locality is threatened with development they consider inappropriate. It will affect house prices locally. It also affects the culture and character of the area.

We understand the figures are likely to show that because Fylde has a particular demographic profile featuring a much higher proportion of older people, we also have a much higher death rate than elsewhere (that's only logic really). As a result, the two more or less cancel each other out.

Put a better way, the older people vacating property as they die, almost exactly matches the birth rate. So there is almost no net demand for more houses.

The demand that *does* exist, comes from two main sources - firstly, would-be incomers from, for example, East Lancs. and Manchester, looking for a better quality of life (or better weather), and secondly, from families that are fragmenting - typically though divorce or separation.

The big question is what balance should be struck between the loss of green land (which is the cheapest to develop) and allowing for the additional houses needed when families break up and to accommodate would-be migrants to Fylde.

We're likely to look at these topics in more detail when the figures are available.

Dated:   10 October 2011


 

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