Saturday, 18 October 2014

Budget setting at CWaC

Last Thursday we set the budget for 2015-16 at CWaC.

For those of you who know about public sector budget setting - you'll appreciate that normally council budgets are set in February or March and come into effect on 1st April.

This year CWaC was able to set its budget early because last year we set a 3 year budget.  This was year 2 of the 3 year budget, and everything remains on track.  We will formally set the council tax rate in February or March 2015 as expected, however on the basis of this budget it is already clear that the council tax does not have to increase.  We are on course for another year of 0% council tax rises.  The final decision on this will be taken in February 2015.

I know from the basis of checking this last year that this will mean that since CWaC came into existence in 2009 there has been a real terms reduction in the council tax charged in excess of 12%.  In other words, taking account of inflation, the council tax likely to be charged in 2015-16 will be more than 12% lower than it was in 2009-10.  I'll work out the figures in February 2015.

The Council meeting on Thursday night was one of the most political meetings we have had.  Whilst you'd never expect me as a Conservative Councillor to be particularly praiseworthy of Labour's efforts I have to say their performances were particularly poor.  And if you don't believe me - just watch the webcast.

What we did learn from Labour is that if they did, God-forbid, win any of the elections in May 2015 they will raise the Council Tax in CWaC.

I quoted, at the council meeting, a letter written by Hilary Benn MP Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.  He stated in his letter of 25 August 2014 that whilst in the first year of any Labour Government they would stick to the budget figures set by the present government they would move money around between councils to favour what they term the 'deprived councils.'  This, in my view, is code for saying they will take money away from CWaC and give it to inner city councils - which, even under this government, receive far more money per head than CWaC receives.  The only way a council loosing money in this way can make it up, is by increasing the council tax.

Labour's Cllr Powell indicated that Labour would do away with Special Expenses in CWaC.  That immediately means that Frodsham would be hit by this - as we benefit the most from the special expense regime.  We organise more through our parish council than virtually all of the other parish council in the Borough.  The special expense regime seeks to even out expenses over the Borough between parish councils and CWaC and seeks to ensure that local council tax payers are not charged twice for the same services.

Watch the webcast - you'll see Cllr Powell say this and me responding to the point, later on.

So with the elections looming into view the choices at a local level become clearer.

The Conservatives have taken £133m out of the cost of running CWaC since it was first created.  We have invested more than £40m additional monies in adult and children's social care, and the council tax looks set to have fallen more than 12% in real terms.  When the Care Act 2014 is implemented by April 2016 we will be putting around £6m of additional monies into adult social care.

The Conservatives have no plans to increase the council tax for 2015-16.
Labour on both a national and local level have already effectively said they will increase your council tax.   They've learnt nothing.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The opening of the Swing Bridge

Its been a grand day out!  Today the Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge was officially re-opened.  It will be re-opened to traffic in about a days time; there are a few last minute snags to finish off.

I have to say the 90 year old bridge was looking in fine fettle after its £4.5m restoration project.  It has had a whole new road deck - with the hardest wearing grade of road surface laid above it.  The pontoon on which it sits has been repaired - this involved men having to work 15 feet beneath the water level.  All the old electrics and hydraulics have been serviced, and, if course it has had a brand new paint job that should last at least 15 years before it needs a touch up.  The bridge weighs around 500 tons (yes the old imperial sort)

I discussed the new road layout with CWaC's highway engineers - they showed me the new arrangements on the Sutton Weaver side where, although the traffic lights are being restored the lane from Frodsham to the motorway will be governed by a give way sign - hopefully to allow freer traffic movements out of Frodsham.  The traffic islands have been altered to allow for easier movements by HGVs over the junction.  The engineers discussed possibly setting back the stop line for traffic coming down from Sutton Weaver and wishing to turn right to the motorway so as to give greater clearance for vehicles wishing to travel from Frodsham to Sutton Weaver.  If that is to happen, that tweak will be made in a few weeks time.

In celebration of the bridge re-opening we had a short procession of a modern and an old truck supported by Helsby and Longden's vintage bus, a three wheeler car and an old Ambulance.  The bridge was then swung and a flotilla of small craft rowed and tooted their way under the bridge and back.  I have to say it was marvellous watching the bridge swing.  It looked effortless - a tribute to the skilfulness of the original design and its refurbishment.

The bridge was officially re-opened by Graham Evans MP, and we had speeches from him, Cllr Lynn Riley, George Ballinger Head Engineer Canals and Rivers Trust and Richard Parry the Chief Executive of the Canals and Rivers Trust.  Each speaker remarked on the difficulties that had be-set the project to begin with and harked back to the meeting that Graham Evans had hosted in Parliament and where Lynn and I thrashed out some of the difficulties with George and looked to find solutions.

There was reference also to the public meeting I had chaired for the Frodsham businesses where we were able to persuade the Canals and Rivers Trust that they had to put in a temporary bridge if Frodsham wasn't to grind to a halt.  One only has to remember the nightmare visited on us last week with the United Utilities road works on the A56 to realise just how important it was to get that particular decision right too.

It was the partnership working that was established from the meting in Parliament that set the project on the right foot going forward.  To begin with CWaC had to fund c£3.5m of the £4.5m cost - although we were able to persuade the government to make a £1.777m contribution towards the scheme effectively meaning its repair costs were funded by three partners.

A big thank you to everyone involved and especially to Kier the contractor and their engineers who actually carried out the refurbishment.

Fingers crossed that all goes well when the traffic resumes this weekend.

The new road surface is the highest grade - as you'd find on trunk roads, the left filter lane is slightly wider than before
George Ballinger Hd Engineer C&RT
Richard Parry Chief Exec C&RT

Cllr Lynn Riley 

Graham Evans MP
The grand re-opening: Graham Evans MP, Cllr Lynn Riley and Richard Parry C&RT Chief Executive

First we had old and new lorries, a bus, a three wheeler and an ambulance cross the bridge

Helsby & Longden's vintage bus

A three wheeler followed by a 1950s Austin Princess Ambulance
Then the first ceremonial swinging of the bridge - the new stop lights
The new barrier

The first official swing!
The flotilla of narrow boats, rowing boats etc

as the boats sailed by - we spotted the tins of paint - a few bits of touching-up are required over the next 24 hours

Old technologies are sometimes the best - the old megaphone 
The C&RT Engineering Team
Richard Parry in the control box
There are two commemorative plaques!

Celebrating a good job, well done!

left to right: Cllr Mike Pusey Chairman Sutton Parish Council, Cllr Allen Wales Mayor of Frodsham,
Cllr Andrew Dawson CWaC Cllr for Frodsham, Graham Evans MP, Cllr Mike Jones, Leader CWaC, George Ballinger Head Engineer, C&RT, Cllr Lynn Riley CWaC Cllr for Frodsham and Executive Member for Highways, Richard Parry Chief Executive Canals and Rivers Trust

Thursday, 2 October 2014

CWaC Town and Parish Council Governance Review

Over the last 3 1/2 years CWaC has been undertaking a Governance Review of the Town and Parish Councils in the Borough.  This review has been checking to see whether parish boundaries and the governance arrangements are and remain appropriate.  Around 2/3rds of the Borough is parished.  There are 166 civil parishes in the parishes part of the Borough and the governance arrangements for 161 of them have been reviewed.  As a consequence of the reviews 122 parishes will see some changes, ranging from abolition to amalgamation through to minor changes to boundaries or parish wards.

The process is set to continue after the May 2015 elections concentrating on the un-parished areas of CWaC.  The old Vale Royal area was fully parished, so the post May 2015 review will affect around half of the old Chester district and large areas of the old Ellesmere Port and Neston district.

CWaC's council meeting in October will see the final decisions made for the last batch of parishes.  The behind-the-scenes administrative work in terms of producing the revised mapping, updating the parish tax base will then start in earnest.

The reviews look set to lead to 58 boundary changes between the various towns and parishes.  The boundary changes will see around 800 properties moving from one parish to another.   Now one of the anomalies is that the CWaC wards have not been reviewed.  This isn't something that CWaC could do.

Many of the CWaC wards are based on parish boundaries.  The responsibility for reviewing CWaC's wards lies with the national Boundary Review Committee for England.  They will only look at the CWaC wards once the Orders reorganising the parishes have been made.  All this means is that we will go into the May 2015 elections with the parish boundaries having been refreshed, but with some CWaC wards no longer aligned to those parish boundaries.  It looks like there will be a small number of people living on or near the parish boundaries that have moved that are also CWaC ward boundaries who will find that they have to go to two different polling stations so as to be able to vote in all the elections being held in May 2015.  The answer for those few who may be affected is either to enjoy the walk between polling stations in May, or to get postal votes.

Incidentally the 5 parishes that have not been reviewed are:
Neston; Winsford; Northwich; Kingsmead and Chester Castle.  The towns of Neston, Winsford and Northwich were reviewed by the English Boundary Committee in 2009-10.  Kingsmead is the newest parish council, created in 2008.  Chester Castle parish is a wonderful historic anomaly - it has 0 residents!

A56 Road Works - the latest

There have been extensive discussions today between CWaC, UU and Amey over the A56 sewer pipe repair works.

The repair works are an emergency as sewer contents have been backing up into homes.  UU advise that the pipes are partially blocked with fat.  The sewer pipe works are 4m down - this depth brings its own difficulties and dangers.

UU and Amey are to extend the hours they work - and are aiming to have the work completed by Sunday evening if no further problems are found.  An additional crew is being brought on to the job.

The traffic lights are under manual control from 7am to 7pm - with the hope and expectation that human operation will maximise traffic flow and minimise delays - although delays must still be expected until Sunday.

CWaC Highway Inspectors will be in attendance on each day to check progress.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Update United Utilities Road Works on A56 by Gates Garage

Update: officers from CWaC, UU and Amey (contractors) set to attend road works tomorrow morning... My FTC Colleague Cllr Caroline Ashton has also been on the case!

This the text of an email I have written to CWaC's senior highway officials regarding the disruption on the A56:

Dear all

Those of you in the Frodsham area or affected by those driving from Frodsham will know that the UU works on the A56 by Gates Garage are causing mayhem.  Informally I have been told that these works will last 10 days.  The locals find this unacceptable - especially as the contractors are not working long days or 24/7. Delays of over an hour in getting into Frodsham from J12 are reported, as well as traffic diverting via J14 on the M56.  This is unreasonable and unacceptable.

First, could you please convey to UU the residents of Frodsham intense dissatisfaction with UU's management of these road works.  Second could you please encourage UU to carry out their works more swiftly and in a way to minimise disruption.  Thirdly could you please provide me with a report indicating what CWaC's involvement with these road works has been and what steps CWaC has taken to minimise what is and what is perceived to be unacceptable disruption to daily life.


I intend to take this further tomorrow.