It might seem to West Lancashire residents that planning probity would be a given, Probity in planning is about ensuring that decisions on plan making and planning applications are undertaken, on behalf of communities, in a fair, impartial and transparent way. Not to mention legality!
In 2014 John Harrison, the then Assistant Director Planning West Lancashire Borough Council wrote “Enforcement Plan” that “West Lancashire Borough Council has a duty to investigate alleged breaches of planning control and has powers to remedy proven breaches subject to available resources. The Council views breaches of planning control very seriously. It is the Council’s policy to exercise powers appropriately and rigorously so that development takes place in accordance with the appropriate legislation, or with the planning conditions and limitations imposed on any planning permission through the development management process”.
But late in June West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper had to secure a commitment from West Lancashire Borough Council that they would investigate reports of planning breaches at Burscough Football Club’s Victoria Park.
Following concerns raised by a number of residents and Burscough Independent Supporters Association about alleged planning breaches at the ground, Rosie raised the issues with agencies including West Lancashire Borough Council.
Rosie raised concerns with Lancashire County Council and Burscough Priory about the traffic management and with Sport England and Natural England also who provided the council with advice on planning conditions related to the ground.
“Burscough FC’s Victoria Park has planning permission approved for housing development subject to an outstanding Section 106 agreement, but no work should start until the successful completion of the new football ground next to the current site. But supporters and local residents have been sceptical throughout about owner Martin Gilchrist’s motives and whether the club will end up with a ground at all.
“It is high time that the Council took a day to day interest and undertook a full investigation into the actions of Mr Gilchrist and Chequer and the work they have undertaken at Victoria Park. Local residents are watching in disgust as their local ground is wrecked while the Council appear not to take decisive action to ensure that no breaches have occurred or are occurring.
“I welcome the latest assurance from the Council that they will be investigating four potential breaches of conditions in the construction of the new ground. I have responded to them urging them to take the strongest action possible as quickly as possible. Most people will expect Mr Gilchrist to have no regard for the rules whilst anticipating the council will follow the rules to the letter while he will do as he wishes. It is time for the council to show they will not be pushed around and bullied by those who think they can make a profit whilst those who follow the rules are left miles behind.
“The conditions being investigated are 10, 17, 19 and 20 of planning application 2015/0904/FUL which relate to a travel plan, surface water and pollution prevention, works close to the bank of a ditch, and the construction environment management plan which includes measures to mitigate impacts on biodiversity”.
Today the Champion runs the story. But there is more to it, as local residents found to their horror. WLBC was told about sand and topsoil being washed into their watercourses causing further concern and threatening the safety of their homes because of flooding.
“There is very good evidence to show that the freshly dug ground is being allowed to wash directly into the watercourse at Crabtree Lane, further threatening our homes with immediate flood, but also creating additional silt and sand to clog the watercourses and drains.
Please pay particular attention to the photos, which clearly show the sand/silt removal will be measured in tons. This is now in our watercourses. Could you please let me know how this will be addressed”?
Response from WLBC “I have reviewed the planning permission and presented the evidence to our principal planning officer who states that the filling of a watercourse would ordinarily be classed as development requiring planning permission. As the matter relates to a watercourse the Lead Flood Authority at Lancashire County Council are best placed to consider enforcement procedures. In this matter the planning impact is in relation to potential flood risk rather than other planning matters.
“It may well have been the case that the watercourse at some stage during this development had inadvertently been filled to some extent however this would appear to have been corrected.
“Ordinarily in these cases if evidence is apparent of a breach of planning control the site owner/manager will be presented with an opportunity to regularise this breach of planning control which in this instance would have been to remove whatever had filled the water course. If action is taken to remove the breach of planning, no further action is taken. If no action is taken and the breach of planning control still exists then the council would consider formal action.
“To summarise, it has been decided that there is no breach of planning control in this case at present. I have raised this matter with the Lead Flood Authority for a further assessment to be completed”.
The reality? “On Sunday morning 9th February, I was again alerted by my flood alarm. The water rose very quickly again and I had to deploy my pumps for the 3rd time in just over 6 Months. It is only a matter of time before either the pumps fail or I fail. This will lead to 6 homes here being flooded. This is an enormous responsibility to bear. My next door neighbours are very elderly and have nursing care several times a day. When their home was flooded on Boxing Day 2015, they had to leave their home and could not return for over 12 Months”.
Where will all this end? A Judicial Review? As John Harrison wrote in 2014 “The Council must operate its enforcement activities within Government guidelines and in accordance with Council policy. This means that the Council must decide whether the breach of control unacceptably affects the quality of life”. When will it do so?