Elizabeth’s Appeal to Labour Councillors

Posted on: Wed Sep 23 by Tom Barlow

 Letter sent by email to each Labour member of Blackpool Council

With the exception of Cllr Marin Mitchell, whose vote with the opposition at committee level led to this matter being “called in” for discussion by full council on September 30.  

A slightly different letter was sent to Conservative and Independent Councillors who support the plan.

This matter is too important for Party politics to dictate what happens.

I am writing to ask you, please, to take time to reflect on and to rethink the proposal to appropriate for development, the land adjacent to the Woodlands Gardens, that has been a part of Stanley Park Golf Course since it was created in 1929.

I accept the council’s reasoning that it may no longer be viable to run the course as an 18 hole golf course, but would like the council to seize this as an opportunity to retain that open space and to turn it into something that would give the whole of the Blackpool community a chance to use it – something they have not had before.

It would seem that the members putting this proposal forward thought in terms of either it’s a golf course or it’s an adrenaline world and holiday lodges. Other options, as far as I can find out, were not on the table or were not considered.

There is very little green space in the town, it has the lowest area of tree canopy in the country, and yet the council is prepared to sacrifice this land for development of what will essentially be a pay-to-use tourist attraction and holiday lodges. The holiday lodges will be for use by out-of-towners and the cost of using an adrenaline world, high-octane activity, out of reach of many local families and of no interest to large sectors of the community.

With innovative thinking, this land could be a huge investment in the wellbeing of a town in which a high proportion of the residents suffers from poor physical or mental health.

Obesity and overweight is documented as a problem here. The most recent published data for Blackpool (2012-14) indicates that 31% of adults were obese with 44% of adults being overweight  (Blackpool Joint Strategic Needs Assessment).

In children, weight is also deemed as being an issue of major concern here:  (Blackpool JSNA) For Reception age children, proportions overweight or obese have increased from 23.6% in 2006/07 to 27.1% in 2017/18. There is clearly an upward trend in levels of obesity in Year 6 children in Blackpool where the proportion of pupils who are obese has increased from 16.2% in 2006/07 to 22.6% in 2017/18.

The Government is prioritising losing weight as one of the most important ways of helping individuals most at risk from the fatal or life-changing effects of the Covid19 pandemic. It is promoting cycling and making money available to make it safer and more accessible to a larger proportion of the population.

This land could become a first stop for safe cycling, with specially created cycle area for children and beginners, plus cycleways linking to those already existing cycleways for the more confident. 

There could be footpaths for those who prefer walking and trim trails for those who want to exercise but who do not want, or cannot afford, to go to formal classes or run alongside roads.  

All this in the open air, in beautiful countryside.

The potential is huge.  

The number of trees already on the land could be increased, thus increasing Blackpool’s tree canopy, with areas of woodland; plus tranches for re-wilding to enhance the ecology and biodiversity of the land and its wealth of flora and fauna. 

An area could, perhaps, be set aside for a community gardens or allotments where young people and those living in deprived areas could have the chance to grow vegetables, fruit and flowers giving them a healthier lifestyle, skill and an interest that could remain with tem for life.

To have this large area of beautiful countryside within a stone’s throw of the town centre was an absolute gift to the town from our visionary forefathers. 

During lockdown people who have previously not had the chance to walk the land, because of golf in play, discovered its beauty and the freedom of enjoying an open space – so vastly different from the more formal area of Stanley Park – within walking distance of the town centre

It concerns me that the council members supporting this proposal are in conflict with the council’s own Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy which shows such commitment to enhancing the town’s health and supporting green spaces.

The reasons for developing the strategy are precisely the reasons that this land should be retained and enhanced for use as open green space by the local community.

To remind you, the reasons for developing the strategy were:

Lowest tree canopy cover in England

Intensely urban, with one of the highest densities of housing outside London Limited

Limited usable open space 

18 500 Blackpool people use the outdoor environment each week. This is 5,000 people less than the national average.

One of the lowest life expectancies in England 

“Why are We Developing the Strategy – the benefits of green The evidence says that green and blue infrastructure:- 

Reduces surface water and flooding and therefore seawater quality Reduces the energy we need to spend on managing that water through drains 

Reduces urban heat island effect – green air conditioning

Removes air pollutants

Encourages people to play, walk and cycle 

Improves the mental health of adults and children

Increased employee productivity including reducing sickness absence 

Increases property values Attracts inward investment and motivated staff”

I would argue that the benefit to the local community in health and wellbeing terms of retaining and enhancing this area of green space in the long term far outweighs the financial gains of leasing it, long term, to a company for a speculative tourist development and attraction at a time when the country’s economy is facing crisis because of the effects of the worldwide pandemic.  

Back in the 1920s a council of foresight invested in the town’s health and wellbeing with the creation of Stanley Park. 

Do you have the right, now, to take 39 acres of that land out of use?  

As a resident of this town for more than 30 years, and someone who care passionately about it, my view is that you do not. 

Curiously, in 1986, when a conservation order was made this was the only area of the park not included. Could you explain why the council then, or since, has not demanded the whole area be protected?

An online petition opposing the proposal for an adrenaline world and holiday lodges was signed by 8000 people and yet the council still forged ahead with it. More than 300 people have taken the time to write their objections to the appropriation bid.

Surely they deserve to be listened to.

At full council, members will have the opportunity to vote on this – something they have previously been denied – I praise the courage of the Labour member whose vote (supporting an opposition motion) led to the matter being “called in.”   

As a Labour party member I am grateful to him for showing that this matter goes beyond party politics, that he listens to what local people say and believes that should have a wider hearing.

I would urge you, please, to think again and to read through each and every objection, as I have done, to appropriation and development that appear on the planning portal on the council’s website and to consider the options other than development for this important and historic area of open green space.

Please look to the future of our town, as those visionaries of the 1920s did, and think what effects your actions now will have on future generations of residents of this town.

The preservation of the environment and ecology of this planet, so damaged across the world by actions of humankind, is our most important legacy to those who come after us. Please, think ahead 90 years,  and act with your conscience to keep this area of land available as publicly owned green space for the people of this town to use.

Open green space is a finite resource. Please don’t vote it out of our reach and into the hands of out-of-town speculators.

I look forward to your reply.

Kind regards,

Elizabeth Gomm.

Of elected Labour members the only reply I received was from Cllr Mark Smith, Cabinet Member for Business, Enterprise and Job Creation .

Dear Elizabeth Gomm

Thank you for your detailed note about the part of Stanley Park Golf Course that is east of East Park Drive.

You will receive a separate response from the Council but the process of appropriation and planning means that this will not answer all of the issues that you have raised.

There is as you say a long history to this site and we can agree to differ on the many versions of history that exist. I believe that the Park was conceived with a golf course but only one that was contained within the existing boundary of Stanley Park. It was the course designer who asked for land to be added to enable a full size 18 hole course to be created.

I am pleased that you have acknowledged the viability of the course to be an issue and implicitly you accept that this land has not been available for public access since 1929 when the Golf Course was created. The circumstances surrounding its availability for dog walking etc during the COVID lockdown were to say the least somewhat unusual.

Any option to deliver an alternative use for the site (ie not a Golf Course) was open for consideration as part of the tender process. Other solutions did not come forward. The only alternative offered was its continued use as a golf course. We would be delighted if the current financial position of the Council and, indeed the country, was one that would allow us to simply decide how we want to use a piece of land and then go ahead with that option. You omit one key thing in your attention to possible alternative uses and that is funding. The golf course loses money and any of the options you have put forward would require significant funds to deliver, that we simply do not have.

Whilst I accept the loss of open space is not to be taken lightly I am afraid many people are not taking a balanced view of the possible development opportunity. You have assumed that the development will do a number of things:-

Reduce public access

Reduce or at least not increase the number of trees in the area

Result in a degradation of open space

Be detrimental to the health of the local population

Not allow improved and expanded open space where it is desperately needed

All of these are claims have been made by objectors to the proposals and are simply not true and ones that we would certainly not permit to happen. We cannot consider the actual development as part of the process of appropriation which, simply allows us to consider all options for the site rather than ones that do not include any development. We have yet to formally consider the actual proposals and they will have to deliver against a series of Council policies including the Green and Blue strategy.

The system of appropriation is a technical matter that neither permits nor rejects any actual proposed development. That stage has yet to come.

All this does is allow the Council to consider the development of some or part of the site if it contributes to social and economic well-being of the borough. Without this process we would not be able to consider all potential uses for the land.

Turning to the proposed development. As far as we aware at this stage (and nobody has yet seen the detailed planning application) the proposals will increase the tree canopy, create more wetlands, improve the available open space in the vicinity including Stanley Park and provide sports and recreational facilities that all can use albeit for a fee. I hope you can agree that this is an improvement from a facility which is available only to a few people for a single sports use. In addition to this the fairly significant financial receipt for this deal, if it goes ahead, will be used substantially to improve local recreational facilities and to create open space in the inner areas of Blackpool that have no open space at all. Whilst I would not claim that any part of Blackpool is overprovided with open space I am sure you will agree that the area to the east of Stanley Park is far better off than the wards of Bloomfield, Talbot, Brunswick and others in inner Blackpool. I do feel that the benefits of open space should be available to all Blackpool residents if at all possible and this project will help us to deliver that clear ambition of the Council’s strategy.

I would urge you have an open mind and be involved in the planning process when we can consider what the best way forward is for this important piece of land and ensure that any development improves things for all of the people of Blackpool.

Many thanks,

Councillor Mark Smith

Councillor for Talbot Ward

Cabinet Member for Business, Enterprise and Job Creation.

MY REPLY TO COUNCILLOR SMITH

Dear Councillor Smith,

Thank your for replying to my email and for putting forward your case for the appropriation and development of land now forming the east side of Stanley Park Golf Course.

I have carefully considered your points.

You say that following the tender process the only alternative offered to the HIP Ltd proposal was for as its continued use as a golf course.

I don’t have full information about the tender process or how it was presented to potential bidders.

My point is that the council itself could have taken the lead on this by putting forward its own alternative and looking for innovative ways of using this land in green and sustainable way to enhance the lives of the Blackpool community as a whole and to have sought out funding, from external sources, to make this possible.

Instead you chose, and it was a choice, to invite out-of-town developers, a young and inexperienced company with little track record of achieving anything, to take over and develop the space. on a very-long lease.

I truly believe that with the right focus, energy, determination creative thinking this could land could become a wonderful open space of trees, flora and fauna that would continue to help Blackpool breathe whilst also being a legacy for future generations and something that Blackpool Council, now and in long-term future, could be proud of having achieved.

You also say that I and others are making an assumption about the way the development by HIP Ltd will progress and that: As far as we aware at this stage (and nobody has yet seen the detailed planning application) the proposals will increase the tree canopy, create more wetlands, improve the available open space in the vicinity including Stanley Park and provide sports and recreational facilities that all can use albeit for a fee.”

No-one, as you say, has seen a detailed planning application so none of us, including members of the council, actually knows what it entails.

This is the reason I believe there should be far-reaching consultations with the local community before any bid or lease is approved. I understand that a lease, of some kind, is already in place with HIP Ltd running the existing golf course.

I agree that for the inner areas of town would benefit from additional green space, but cannot agree that making green space in those areas legitimises taking it a way from another. That doesn’t make a sound ecological, environmental or sustainable argument.

There are a lot of areas of inner-Blackpool could have had green space which, instead, the council has chosen to develop, often with car parks. Choking the atmosphere in the process.

You acknowledge that this is an important piece of land and it is, historically, socially and environmentally. That is why what is proposed makes local people feel so impassioned about it. It is as important as an open space as the Woodland Gardens, the zoo area and Marton Mere. It has always been thought of as a part of the entirety of Stanley Park and now, we learn, that it isn’t.

Appropriation of this land by the council will open the way for a development as an Adrenaline World and holiday lodges, or for a development of some other kind. It effectively changes the potential uses of the amazing space.

That is why I am speaking out now, while I can, and while it is possible for the appropriation to be overturned and why I, and others, are grateful to Coun Mitchell for ensuring that this matter will get the full debate at council requested by the opposition.

I am sad though, as a Labour party member, that it is the Labour leadership that wants to see an Adrenaline World and holiday lodges on this site and all that involves in terms of infrastructure and the amount of energy and traffic, human and motorised, that it could require to use and the impact this will have on the environment as a whole.

This could still be the council’s chance to do something extraordinary with an existing 39 acres of beautiful, natural, green space and that would benefit the wellbeing of entire community of Blackpool now and in the future.

Please don’t overlook this opportunity and sacrifice this land for an attraction that, in terms of history, will be a mere flash in the pan.

Regards,

Elizabeth Gomm

I also received a reply from Regeneration Enquiries at Blackpool Council .

I have not replied

Dear Elizabeth

RE: Stanley Park Golf Course

Ref: SP/2020
T: (01253) 476060

E: regeneration@blackpool.gov.uk

I refer to your enquiry in connection with Stanley Park Golf course.

The Council conducted a procurement exercise in respect of the future of the Stanley Park Golf Course site as a result of both the public and private sectors’ inability over a number of years to operate the course in a financially sustainable manner. The Council invited proposals from bidders for the future direction, management and funding of the site following an open and transparent process. Following the evaluation of submitted bids, Holmes Investment Properties Plc (‘HIP’) were selected as the preferred bidder on the basis of evaluation criteria set out in documents made publicly available.

As the site consists of open space land, in order to progress proposals for the development and disposal of the site, the Council is required to advertise on two consecutive weeks its proposals to appropriate and dispose of the site and to consider any representations received before a decision is taken in respect of those proposals. This is a separate process to the procurement and planning process. The public notices were advertised in the Blackpool Gazette on Thursday 27 February 2020 and Thursday 5 March 2020 and interested persons were invited to make any representations to the Council before 5pm on Thursday 19 March 2020.

The Executive of the Council met on 13 July to consider the representations received by the Council to the advertised proposals to appropriate and dispose of the site and to decide, having considered the representations, whether or not to authorise the proposed appropriation and disposal of the site. The Executive decision to authorise the proposed appropriation and disposal was reviewed by the Tourism, Economy and Communities Scrutiny Committee on 23 July and the Committee decision was to refer the matter for consideration by full Council. It is anticipated that this matter will be considered by the full Council at its meeting on 30 September.

Whilst I note that you have concerns relating to the proposed scheme for the site, no planning application has been submitted to the Council and until such time as an application is submitted, any comments or information that may be circulating in respect of the detailed scheme proposals are speculative.

HIP are currently developing the scheme and it is envisaged that the planning application will be submitted by HIP to the Council later this year. The planning process is a completely separate statutory process to the procurement process and the process for the appropriation and disposal of open space land. At such time as a planning application is submitted, interested parties will be given the opportunity to view and make representations on the proposals and I would encourage you to do so.

Yours sincerely

T Yakub


Growth and Prosperity Blackpool Council

By email only