In 2019 Wyre Borough Council formally adopted its Local Plan(LP), in effect shaping and guiding significant development within the borough retrospectively from 2011, until 2031. Within the LP are the sites allocated for development, primarily for housing, but also for commercial uses.
Where sites have been allocated the principal for development is therefore established and are either at the stage of being built out, yet to be so, or could even have been completed but regardless of whichever heading they fall under, each (housing) site contributes a set amount or minimum of dwellings towards Wyre’s Objectively Assessed Need(OAN), a figure set for each borough to meet as a minimum during the lifetime of its LP.
It is not clear where the ‘objective’ part of the the assessed need comes into the equation, as invariably such figures are seen as being on the high to very high side, to the point of being unrealistic or even potentially damaging. It feels less objective, more a crucial foundational building block for what has led many to believe that the National Planning Policy Framework(NPPF), the top-down planning guidance that all local authorities must adhere to, is nothing more than a housebuilders’ charter.
Within Wyre the OAN has placed an onerous burden on the borough to find land for over 9,000 dwellings during the lifetime of its Local Plan. With already minimal Green Belt provision and few brownfield sites ripe for redevelopment it is difficult to see how the borough can in the future avoid coalescence with both neighbouring boroughs, Fylde and Blackpool. Does this mean that Wyre should row back on building the houses its residents’ need? No, but equally so it doesn’t by default give the green light for it to be concreted over in the name of saving face on behalf of central government, whose obsession with house-building and home-ownership is as short-sighted as it is specious.
When deliberates took place prior to its Local Plan being formally adopted, some of the allocated sites within Wyre were watered down which resulted in Pyrrhic victories for the likes of Inskip and Forton, two rural areas which are still being hammered by village-changing amounts of new housing. Where though some areas had the number of houses planned for them reduced, this did not impact the overall OAN. Therefore, somewhere else in the borough had to pick up the slack. A site within Poulton le Fylde, between its historic centre and an area known as Carleton, previously thought to be two separate entities rather than one being the satellite of the other, subsequently lost its green belt status after interpretations of the relationship between Carleton and Poulton le Fylde successfully argued that green belt cannot be located between two areas of the same town.
Downgraded to white land, which in planning terms means effectively nothing and affords little or no protection, the site in question could not even be classed as countryside, a designation that would have afforded it some protection, as it falls within Poulton le Fylde’s settlement boundary. This has sounded the starting gun for development of a site that in its entirety could theoretically accommodate approximately 1,000 homes.
Prior to this land losing its Green Belt status there was, and presumably still is, such a document called the Poulton le Fylde Highways Mitigation Strategy, to identify ways to overcome the obvious spike in traffic caused by the already significant developments, both in the number of dwellings and individual sites, which are either ongoing within Poulton le Fylde or slated to do so. The town is already blighted by excessive traffic movements that its road network was not designed to shoulder, but the highway mitigation strategy was ‘only’ formulated to take the following developments into account:
Garstang Road East – approximately 500 dwellings; land off Brockholes Crescent – approximately 100-130 dwellings; land off Carr Head Lane – approximately 100 dwellings; land off Holts Lane – approximately 100 dwellings; land off Moorland Road – approximately 50 dwellings, and land off Hardhorn Road – approximately 30 dwellings. This does not take include the significant developments at Lambs Lane in Thornton, Norcross, and Hambleton which traffic generated by will inevitably feed into the Poulton road network.
With the former green belt site between Carleton and Poulton now also allocated as a site for housing, this in its embryonic stage will add another 150-200 homes and attendant car journeys into the mix but my argument that the highway mitigation strategy, which was purely based upon the worst case scenarios of the building out of sites where the principal for development had been established and not also what I would loosely term as a ‘windfall allocation’ should be considered null and void fell on deaf ears. The fact that the land downgraded from green belt to white land abuts roads where some of the worst traffic congestion within Poulton is found seems to have been passed off as irrelevant.
Locally, perhaps the most damning indictment of the planning system relates to another portion of the aforementioned land, situated on Blackpool Road close to Carleton Crematorium and a busy railway level-crossing. The land in question, a farm, is owned by Blackpool Borough Council and despite its relative proximity to the borough boundary, sits squarely within Wyre. Prior to the adoption of a Local Plan there is a process that calls for sites; in other words, sites that in theory are available for development which are brought forward so their credentials for suitability can be assessed, and sifted. The Blackpool Borough Council-site was not at any point during the LP preparation and deliberation process brought forward as a site available for development; considering it is for approximately 330 dwellings it can and should be regarded as highly significant, and not merely a windfall site that suddenly becomes available during the lifetime of a Local Plan.
Nevertheless, despite falling outside of the Local Plan as a non-allocated site, Blackpool Borough Council, backed by central government’s Land Release Fund – an amount of money that local authorities could bid for to unlock supposedly difficult land to develop – pursued an application to construct in excess of 300 dwellings on land that once again abuts the worst of Poulton’s traffic, made even heavier by the aforementioned level crossing. Picture the scenario: vehicles from 300+ houses entering and exiting a new estate from and to a road where tailbacks can go back many hundreds of yards at peak times once the level-crossing barriers drop down, which they frequently do.
Despite the prospect of the loss of more Wyre green space – even though it bares all the hallmarks of countryside the land cannot now even be classed as such – the site not being allocated, nor having been brought forward during the Call for Sites exercise, and crucially being a serious impediment to the highway network being able to operate, the application was recommended for approval by planning officers. Contrary to recommendation it was turned down at committee, with the stop-start to traffic flow dictated by the level-crossing being seen as an insurmountable obstacle to development. It was then thought, and hoped by many, that that would be that.
No doubt emboldened by a weak planning system that allows for an applicant to appeal against a refusal but with no comparable recourse to petition for permitted applications to be looked at again, Blackpool Borough Council through their well-known locally-based planning agent appealed Wyre’s refusal to the Planning Inspectorate, whose inspector inexplicably overturned the original decision. I guardedly say inexplicably, as despite a robust and sound reason for refusal at the committee stage it is not really a great surprise that a planning system obsessed with building so many houses – let’s face it the modern cookie-cutter dropped-from-the-sky designs are horrific and far too close together(we all know why) – went weak at the knees at the thought of green-lighting 330 dwellings it was not otherwise bargaining on. Let us also not forget: it would make a mockery of the Land Release Fund’s credentials if one of its flagship developments was refused, and refused again.
Despite acknowledging that the development will add to traffic congestion the planning inspector suggested that it wouldn’t make a great deal of difference to what is already occurring. Adding that off-site road improvements could/should be incorporated to mitigate the negative consequences on the local highway network is really an inadequate defence of the indefensible. It makes as much sense as drought-ridden England seeking water from the Aral Sea.
There is though a vital point to be made from this complete shambles and travesty. That the road networks are in places so bad, never more so that throughout Wyre, that a planning application such as this even though seen as being potentially negative on highways already clogged is tacitly saying ‘what difference will a few more cars make?’ – especially if the government’s skewed house-building ideology is upheld by approving such a development.
In the meantime a large portion of Wyre’s already small area of green belt is under threat from an application from Blackpool Football Club, remember, an entity based in another borough, to build a new training ground on land solely within Wyre – between Poulton and Blackpool. The fact that it wasn’t mentioned once in the Scoping Opinion for an Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) that the land in question is designated green belt tells you all you need to know where this is heading, as does the decision not to request an EIA despite the area affording sanctuary to endangered species such as dragonfly and lapwing, and there being within it a Biological Heritage Site.
In times of drought, war, and Brexit, where are we to grow our own food and cater for people’s wellbeing afforded by green land, agricultural or otherwise, if we instead continue to rush to concrete over our once green and pleasant land? By the time the proverbial hits the fan those ultimately responsible for a ruinous planning policy will have long since disappeared into the sunset, but will presumably not have any problems paying their winter heating bills.