Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Whose money is it anyway - Is Peel seeking to divide and rule?

Peel Energy have started a round of consultation meetings in Frodsham, Helsby and Elton looking for views on how the community benefit fund associated with the Frodsham windfarm is to be managed and spent.

They've started on this engagement process without any negotiation on the amount of the fund, nor how the money will be managed and spent nor on the boundaries of the affected communities.
Whatever you may think of CWaC that council is the sole democratically elected body that covers the entire area.  Also the CWaC wards are arranged so that each councillor is elected by the same number of voters - unlike the vastly different parish and town councils.  Given this you would have perhaps imagined that Peel  have discussed these issues at some length before hand - and preferably reached a consensus.  That simply has not happened.  Peel have spoken to officers and councillors from CWaC from time to time - they've discussed the fund - but they have never 'closed' on an agreed approach.

Lynn and I would have liked to have been consulted about the size of the community benefit fund.  Our position is that Peel's first pronouncement on the size of the fund was the starting point for negotiations - not the final non-negotiable position.   We were as surprised as the community when Peel announced it would be £120,000 pa index linked for 25 years.  Inevitably this would be spent for the benefit of the yet to be determined affected communities.  Just for the record - Mr Whittaker - we don't think £120,000 pa is anywhere like enough.  You never asked for our view on the matter, nor was it discussed with us.  That's why we're telling you in words of one syllable in a public pronouncement that you are undervaluing us.

Just so we are all clear - all of the turbines are physically in Frodsham.  That is 19 out of 19 turbines are in Frodsham.  Thirteen turbines are in front of Helsby - but still all in Frodsham.  The nearest occupied house to any turbine is in Frodsham.  Frodsham has a population of around 9,200.  Helsby is around half our size.  The construction trafffic is comming through Ince and Elton - but they are more distant from the turbines than Frodsham and Helsby residents.

According to Wikipedia, Ince has a population of just over 200, Elton around 3,500.  Hapsford under 150, Dunham-on-the-Hill around 500.  All of these communities (and others) are making the case that they should benefit from community benefit fund.  Whatever the merits of their arguments - they all amount to taking money from the community benefit fund for more distant less impacted communities.  We think the fund should be focused on Frodsham and Helsby.

That said, our position with Peel has always been that the community benefit fund should be used to bring communities together rather than divide them.  We have always wanted to see a whole community approach where every single household in Frodsham and Helsby is directly invited to express their views on the fund and how the money should be spent.  For whatever reason Peel, have not, as yet, agreed to follow what we think is the fairest way of proceeding.

For us there are also two other important issues.  Securing a long lasting legacy is upper most in our minds as is ensuring that as little as is reasonable is spent on administering the funds.  Just imagine looking back in 25 years with nothing to show for upwards of £3m being spent under the shadow of 19 of the largest wind-turbines in Europe.  Or perhaps pondering that the opportunity to leverage more funds had not been taken.  Without these issues being explored it is hard to see what Peel hope to gain - other than a 'quick and dirty' consultation and an ability to claim they've discharged a moral responsibility.  But to our minds this isn't enough - we say we and they should explore how the funds can be maximised and used to greatest effect in the community.

We had asked Peel to frame the consultation exercise with community input but, for whatever reason, they have chosen not to do so.  They've gone their own way.  We have already told Peel that we will spend money from our members' grants, if necessary, to ensure that every Frodsham resident gets a say about the community benefit fund and how it should be spent.   We will also ensure that everyone is asked whether they would prefer to see a large project funded such as improved recreational facilities (which may include a swimming pool) from the fund.

Whilst Lynn and I are delighted to see so many people wanting a slice of the fund do bear in mind that each CWaC Councillor has a members grant fund of £10,000 a year and Frodsham Town Council provides around the same each year in grants.  This came as news to Peel when we told them!  And this is ever before we think of the fundraisers in our community who also distribute funds to local projects each year - and some of whom we know struggle to give their money away.

We want people to think long and hard about what we want and what we might need as a community over the next 25 years and beyond?  What would make a difference to all our lives?  Is it leisure, is it a swimming pool, is it better transport and cycling, infrastructure like car parking... What about education support...

For us the sad thing is it didn't have to be this way.  We wanted and asked Peel to work with us.  At first they suggested they would produce their consultation materials with us, however that didn't happen.   We've also asked Peel to establish a local 'account' manager for us.  After all they will be with us at least for a generation with Ince Resource Recovery Park, the wind farm, the ship canal and the planned solar farm at Hapsford.  Unfortunately these projects are run from different parts of the 'Peel Empire' but they don't appear to co-ordinate or co-operate with each other - and that makes it more difficult that it needs to be for the local community.  We simply want them to be good neighbours - and take a real interest in us and give us a single 'go-to' person.  Not too difficult you might have thought?

Lynn and I have long sought a meeting with Peel's owner Mr Whittaker - but unlike his windfarm and the resource recovery park he does not appear to be in any rush to come and see us.  We're happy to travel to Trafford Park or the Isle of Man to meet him as needs be.  We're going to keep the pressure up for a more open dialogue with the community - and we urge everyone to do the same.

We're going to ask them once more to fund and to ensure that every household in Frodsham and Helsby is written to inviting everyone to take part in an informed dialogue about the community benefit fund.  Let's see what emerges.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The St Luke's School Run and its impact on local residents

We had a packed meeting at the community centre tonight discussing the impact of the St Luke's school run and the school traffic more generally on the residential roads on both sides of the school.  We had residents from Withy Close, Whitehall Place, London Road and the Willows joining the headteacher, parents and governors from the school along with Neil, our PCSO and CWaC officers looking for solutions.

I was really anxious to ensure that the meeting was conducted in a good spirit with mutual respect - and I have to say I think that was achieved.  People did express their views, and sometimes they were expressed in strong terms, however they always stayed the right side of the line.

There was a strong mutual commitment to look for solutions - and I was really pleased that there was a consensus for CWaC's officers, the school and the police to be able to spend the summer looking for  solutions to present back to a public meeting in September.

After the public meeting Lynn and I had a separate discussion with the Community Centre's management.  The Community Centre itself may be part of a solution - if we can secure agreement from the school, the parents, FTC, CWaC, the police and importantly the community centre itself for some of the St Luke's parents to use the Community Centre car park and the footpath to the school that crosses the fields as their route to school.

Fingers crossed that the spirit of co-operation, mutual respect and collaboration allows us to find a mutually acceptable solution after the summer holidays.
Tonight's packed meeting at the Community Centre

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Downhill Run & Festival in the Park

Its been a full-on day in Frodsham - we've had the Downhill run, Rotary's festival in the park and the Liverpool - Chester cycle ride pounding through the town.  The weather gave us a full performance too -  glorious sunshine, thunder and lightening and torrential rain!

As a community we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the volunteers who spend weeks and months planning and putting on these events.  It is their hard work that allows us a community to come together and have fun!

I know there are some people who take the downhill run very seriously but most of us do it for fun.  I think it is really wonderful to see so many families running together.  Secretly I'm pleased so many youngsters do run - as it gives me more of chance to finish higher up the field than I really deserve.  This year I was 113th!

The 250 or so of us doing the downhill run were very fortunate with the weather today - we had the sunshine!  We even had the weather celebrating the 10th anniversary of the event in its present format.

I have to say a huge thank you to the Community Centre, Forest Hills, Roundtable, Scouts Rotary and the army of volunteers who made today possible.  I also have to say a personal thank-you to my daughter Sarah who stood at St Laurence church and took 260 or so photographs of the runners.   She's captured most people- so if anyone wants an action shot of the race drop me an email to andrew.dawson@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk and I'll share access to the photographs with you.


The leader at the Ringers

accelerating round the bend!
It is a wonderful family event



Dilys has run in every downhill run... a legend





Saturday, 4 July 2015

Halton Curve - Parliamentary Train

We had the annual 'trip around the bend' this morning - around the Halton Curve from Frodsham to Liverpool South Parkway Station.

The train wasn't as packed as it has been in previous years largely because, I'm sure, we have had the Government announcement that funding for upgrading the curve to two-way operation has been secured - with a view to the curve being open to through trains - both ways - from summer 2017.

Graham Evans MP, Lynn and I had a discussions with NCRUG's Cedric Green and Janet Briggs focussing on the recent Government announcement over the 'pausing' of certain rail projects and car parking.

The same day that Sec of State Patrick McLoughlin made the announcement that certain rail projects were being paused Graham Evans MP was in the Transport Department asking whether the Halton Curve had been affected.  All the news we have had so far indicates that the Halton Curve project is unaffected.

All of us locally are committed to seeing car parking facilities improved from Chester through to Frodsham.  I was interested hearing from Cedric just how much car parking is available at Ellesmere Port that is currently under used.  He is anxious to see rail services improved from Ellesmere Port though Ince and Elton to Helsby - not only to improve rail services - but also to see this large car park brought into use.



Cllr Lynn Riley with NCRUG's Janet Briggs waiting for the train


ticket to ride

At 8:07am the Parliamentary train arrived at Frodsham Station - it didn't exist on the timetable or station announcements

NCRUG's Cedric Green talking to Graham Evans MP


Crossing the Weaver Navigation

Crossing the M56
Graham Evans MP 'riding the curve'

Arriving at Liverpool South Parkway

Can you spot where the trains to Frodsham and stations beyond would go ?



Friday, 3 July 2015

Marsh Lane parking - an update on the ideas

Following on from our meeting last Wednesday - here is a schematic summarising people's thoughts.

Everyone is welcome to make more suggestions.

The next stage is for CWaC highway officers to review these suggestions and we'll see what emerges.

Just a comment on what is readily achievable and what would be a harder ask ... whilst we wait for the advice of the highway officers:

  • 'painting lines' and signage is something which CWaC can produce.  In terms of finding the money - that could be done and Lynn and I have promised to fund a Traffic Regulation Order if that is what is required (i.e. the legal process of changing the rules of the road - such as is required to add double yellow lines);
  • more costly aspects such as suggested traffic calming measures or road works on highway land may not be so readily do-able in the sense that scarce public money would have to be found;
  • and then works on private land - such as improving visibility splays - would require the land owner's consent and almost certainly his money too.
I'll publish the highway officer's advice when I get it!