Saturday, 2 July 2016

Windfarm liaison panel meeting

We had a meeting of the Frodsham wind farm liaison panel last night.  A number of issues were raised:

  1. Peel say the turbines will be completed by the end of July - but the electrical commissioning won't take place until the end of September.  At the moment all the Frodsham turbines have been erected.  Whilst they are currently rotating slowly in the wind they are not operational yet.  There are 11 turbines erected so far with 8 more to go.  All the remaining turbines will be in front of Helsby.  The only further development at the Frodsham end will be an 80m anemometer mast.  This will have weather sensors attached to it.  It will be a lattice construction which is expected to be 'lost' when looking towards Ineos.  There are another 24 abnormal loads to go!  
  2. The target is for all the remaining turbines to be completed by the end of July.  There have been weather delays - and Peel are looking for co-operation from CWaC and local residents to extend the working hours on site as a means of dodging bad weather.  This has been tried informally already without any complaints so we can expect working on into the evening when the weather is good.
  3. The work on the access tracks is now on hold until all the remaining construction and commissioning works are completed.  The roadway contractors will return later and restore the roadways.
  4. Peel have a habitat creation group led by their consultants Atmos looking to preserve and enhance the bird habitats.  The RSPB have requested an environmental improvement scheme to create small scrapes for wetland birds.  However they have not been formally engaged - but discussions are continuing.  Atmos have found that the birds have not been disturbed by the erection of the turbines and that birds are nesting - including the rare marsh harrier.   Peel's planning permission requires them to monitor the wildlife in the vicinity of the windfarm over the lifespan of the windfarm.  Peel will be looking for consultants to do this work shortly.
  5. Peel have found that the special protection area birds are declining - but this is believed to be a naturally occurring phenomenon.  The Eurasian Marsh Harrier (a protected species) is seemingly nesting quite happily in the midst of the windfarm and the construction activity.  The precise location of where the marsh harrier is nesting is not being publicised.
  6. Peel have asked that anyone engaging in birdwatching confine themselves to the permissive rights of way.  They have requested that people not stalk the birds wearing camouflage in the reeds where they potentially put themselves at risk in meeting cranes of the mechanical not feathered variety!
  7. We talked about the complaints procedures that Peel have.  There are specific complaint routes for issues such as noise, flicker, interference with tv reception and the like.  We will receive a particular briefing on these arrangements at a later meeting.  We heard about a complaint that has been received complaining about the brightness of the turbines.
  8. I raised national cycle route 5 and the desire for it to be upgraded.  Peel have met with CWaC officers over public rights of way on the marshes.  I raised the importance of safe routes to school and made suggestions how that could be done.  Peel have promised to engage about this issue. They have plans to upgrade some of the routes on the marshes. I emphasised that they could assist safe cycling to Helsby High School by facilitating other routes too.  We were all in agreement that creating a web of safe cycling routes to Helsby High School from Frodsham, Helsby and Elton would be a benefit to all the communities.
  9. I also raised the issue of the community benefit fund, it's management and, crucially its transparency.  We are to have a briefing at a later meeting.  I'm told that the management documentation is with lawyers at the moment.
  10. School liaison meetings- children will be given a chance to learn more at meetings at Forest Hills Hotel in Frodsham - where they will be able to see the array 'in full.'

If you want any further information do look at the Frodsham wind farm website.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Protos Community Forum - AGM and business meeting

Today we've had the latest Protos Community Forum AGM and a business meeting.  Protos - if you haven't noticed before - is the new name for Peel Environmental Ince Resource Recovery Park.  'Protos' is Greek for first.

Everyone in Frodsham should have had a letter drop from Protos.  If you haven't you can find out information online at .  You can also find some photographs and drone footage of the development site there too.

The latest news is that Peel have started the ground works including their associated road works, drainage and sewer works for their massive 126 acre (51 ha) development site.  The biomass development site is also under construction.  The 85m stack will be constructed in July.  Interestingly they are pondering whether to build the building and install the plant - or install the plant and then build the building around it.

Covanta have renewed their interest in an energy from waste scheme - albeit on a smaller scale than before.  You and I would describe both these developments as incinerators. 

The Air Quality monitoring equipment will be in place and operational in mid September this year - a year ahead of the likely commissioning date for the incinerator.

An application for planning permission for this Covanta scheme is likely to go before CWaC's planning committee in the autumn.

Peel will also be seeking amendments to their planning permission for plot 3 - their timber recycling plot soon.

I raised concerns regarding national cycle route 5 ('NCR 5') which passes through plot 4 on the site.  NCR 5 is to be diverted as part of the works.  I've asked for Peel to co-ordinate with their wind farm colleagues and look to enhance the quality of the cycle routes over the Frodsham and Ince marshes.

At the AGM we agreed that representatives from Thornton-Le-Moors can join the community forum.  Thornton has around 260 residents.  I raised the need to ensure that when it comes to discussing the community benefit fund arising from the Protos developments that we ensure that the larger communities such as Frodsham and Helsby don't lose out just because they have larger Town and Parish councils - and thus many fewer Councillors per head than small communities such as Ince and Thorton etc.  That will be on the agenda at the next meeting.

Peel were challenged as to their use of local contractors and their support of local apprentices both during the construction and operational phase of their sites.  This is an issue that will continue to be raised with Peel I'm sure.

The wind farm was mentioned - all the turbines are set to be erected by the end of July.  The Frodsham turbines are all erected.  Work on the Helsby turbines continues.  The recent poor weather has delayed their construction.   Each turbine will be individually commissioned later this year.

We learnt that there are proposals to build a standby electricity generation site alongside the fertiliser plant.  Apparently this will be a gas fired installation able to generate electricity on very short notice - no doubt balancing when the wind doesn't blow.

I raised fracking at the forum and asked Peel Energy directly what their position was.  Curiously seismic testing didn't take place on the Helsby part of the wind farm sites.  Peel Energy did, in contrast, allow their land to be tested - as did the Ship Canal company (another Peel entity).

Peel confirmed that they would permit it to take place on their land.  I enquired whether they would permit it even if the local community were opposed to it?  I've asked that Peel consider this question over the summer and return to the forum in September with a considered answer.

I also asked whether Peel would agree to open these community forum meetings up to the public either directly or via web casting.  This will be debated at our next meeting in September.

One of the interesting side benefits of meeting at the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum is watching the traffic on the ship canal.  

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Celebrating Cancer Research UK's 25 years in Frodsham

I was honoured and delighted to be invited by Angela Close Cancer Research UK's shop manager in celebrating the charity's close connection with Frodsham over 25 years and to meet some of their volunteers who have served in the shop for all of those 25 years!

Sarah Loughran, the Area Manager presented flowers, badges and letters of commendation.

The Eddisbury Square shop is one of the charity's most successful shops.  Over the 25 years it has raised a staggering £2.3 million pounds.  Each week they receive around 300 bags of donations as well as gifts of money.  They receive so much that the donations in Frodsham support the many of the charity's shops on Merseyside.

I had great fun talking to the staff and hearing them talk of the official opening, all those years ago, performed by Ken Dodd!  The ladies told me that, originally they cleaned and ironed the clothes themselves before putting them on sale.  It was fun hearing them reminisce - including their reminiscences of my mother-in-law who was a volunteer at the shop for many years.

CWaC's stakeholder car parking workshops

Well, Mott McDonald (CWaC's appointed car parking consultants) held two workshop sessions at Castle Park House on 21 June for those identified by CWaC as Frodsham stakeholders in car parking.

Lynn and I were invited to attend the second session.  The consultants had issued named and numbered invitations to around 30 people - however it appears that, over the two sessions, only 20 people attended.

As I've mentioned before Lynn and I were asked to nominate stakeholders to attend these meetings.  We were told that this was the approach that the ruling Labour group had wanted ... and after all Labour Leader Cllr Sam Dixon had no problem in nominating stakeholders in Chester.

We refused to nominate stakeholders - and made the point that everyone in Frodsham is a stakeholder and everyone in Frodsham should be invited to have their say.  I have no idea whether other's sought to 'pack' their meetings with people with known views - however that is not the way Lynn and I work.  We have more respect for the people of Frodsham than to do that.

Our stance on this issue has led to CWaC changing its plans which now do include public engagement and consultation - scheduled for the autumn.

The consultants sought to focus our views on the current problems and the likely issues.  I intervened on a couple of occasions during their presentations seeking to verify whether we were to view this exercise in the context of promoting Frodsham's wellbeing for the community and its businesses - as this point was not originally made.  I was assured that there was no 'hidden agenda' in terms of revenue raising for CWaC - although time alone will tell whether this is true.

We were asked to focus on the town centre - however we pointed out that car parking issues extended beyond these areas.

As could be envisaged we talked about things such as:

  • Improving the management and use of the existing spaces;
  • Better designation of spaces such as on Main Street;
  • Whether some form of short stay limitation should be brought in for Main Street - and how to manage Market day and residents' car parking there;
  • What is 'short stay' - 3 hours was the suggestion from the floor - how long ladies hairdressing can take;
  • The poor quality of much of our car parking - e.g. Station Car Park 'extension';
  • Halton Curve,  commuting, and the current and future plans for the Station Car Park;
  • The need for short stay car parking on Main Street;
  • Protecting residential areas from displaced car parking elsewhere;
  • School drop off and pick up issues;
  • Local shops - e.g. Overton Stores, Top Shop on Langdale Way, Post Office on St Hilda's Drive; 
  • Enforcement - the Eddisbury Square case study in how not to do it;
  • Land where new car parking could be laid out; and
  • Signage ... and perhaps modern matrix signs that could be used not just to give car parking information - but other information such as motorway / congestion related information or events information.
The consultants gave us some interesting information pointing out how little of the car parking in Frodsham was owned or controlled by CWaC - and the challenges this obviously brings about for changing and improving things.

We learnt that constructing a multi-storey car park in the station would be expensive with an indicative costing of around £12k per space provided.

I've been promised a copy of the presentation that was given to us - when I get it I'll publish it for all to see.  

The consultants were careful not to tell us what they are currently thinking and what their recommendations may be.... so watch this space!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

CWaC's fracking, minerals and waste policies

We had a public - but it felt like a secret meeting of the Local Development Plan Working Group last week.  We were hidden away in a back room at Wyvern House, Winsford in a room rarely used for public meetings to discuss the direction of planning policy for the Borough for the next generation about:
  • minerals
  • waste
  • renewable energy and
  • fracking
I'd asked for the meeting to be webcast - so that the maximum publicity could be provided for what I knew would be a controversial meeting.  The response in tucking us away in a back room without web-casting was, in my view, shockingly disrespectful not just to me, but also to everyone in the Borough.  It may even have been a deliberate ploy with Labour trying to hide their bad news - and their complete U turn on fracking.  Curiously none of the usual vocal anti-fracking protesters were present.  This is all the more curious when last night's meeting was perhaps the most critical of all we've had a CWaC regarding fracking policy.

However this is, in my view entirely typical of a Labour Group who to my mind are afraid, and afraid of debating anything controversial in public.  We saw similar shocking tactics deployed at the previous meeting of this working group where proposals for up to 26 Gypsy and Traveller sites were sneaked out.  I protested about that then, and I continued my protest about this last night too.

Now lets not forget that CWaC Labour were elected on a manifesto last May that indicated they would bring in a moratorium on fracking.  That policy was declared unlawful by CWaC's monitoring officer last year - and I'm still waiting for CWaC Labour's explanation about that.  I also think that even suggesting such a policy shows us so much.  They should have known that policy was unlawful for a council.  If they didn't know that - then it shows they are not up to the task.  If they did know that - but cynically continued with that policy - then it shows they are not fit to run the council.

Their hypocrisy on this issue was extraordinary at the meeting.  Cllr Brian Clarke - CWaC Labour's Cabinet Members report on fracking policy was presented.  This is his suggested policy direction for fracking:

POLICY – Unconventional shale oil and gas development 
Proposals for the production of hydrocarbons will only be supported where it has been demonstrated that the further works and the surface facilities required to manage the output from the well(s), including facilities for the utilisation of energy, where relevant, accord with the plan policies.  

Proposals for hydraulic fracturing will only be permitted below 1200 metres in specified groundwater areas (source protection zones 1). 
Proposals for unconventional shale oil and gas development (all phases) will only be supported if they comply with a set of criteria relating to the following factors 
  • Above ground activity directed to the least environmentally-sensitive location. 
  • Dust and particle emissions. 
  • Levels of vibration from drilling. 
  • Illumination levels and siting and design of lighting.
  • Use of environmentally preferable alternatives to road travel where possible. 
  • Appropriate screening to prevent unacceptable impacts on visual amenity. 
  • Prevention of damage or interruption to statutory utilities or pipelines.
  • Design and location of well pads and associated plant, buildings and other structures. 
  • Availability of sufficient water resources and prevention of a detrimental impact on flow, quantity or quality of surface or groundwater. 
  • Subsidence. 
  • Cumulative impact. 
Where proposals for hydrocarbon development coincide with areas containing other underground mineral resources, evidence must be provided to demonstrate that their potential for future exploitation will not be unreasonably affected.  
Decommissioning and restoration – linked to Policy ‘Restoration of minerals sites’. 
Criteria relating to the following factors may also be included within the policy, or will be covered by the general development management policy, other Local Plan (Part Two) policies or may be sufficiently covered by existing Local Plan (Part One) policies: 
  • Landscape. 
  • Nature conservation. 
  • Biodiversity and protected sites. 
  • Historic environment. 
  • Human health. 
  • Residential amenity. 
  • Visual amenity. 
  • Soil structure and permeability. 
  • Highway safety and traffic levels. 
  • Impact on high quality agricultural land. 
  • Noise levels.
  • Public Rights of Way.
  • Retention and protection of trees. 
  • Flood risk. 
  • Surface water and groundwater. 
  • Air quality. 
I consider this, as a policy direction, to be inadequate.  

However it was endorsed by all Labour Members present at the meeting.  Even Labour Cllr Matt Bryan - who was elected on an anti-fracking platform in Upton - endorsed this pro-fracking policy and he was only there as a visiting member.  Cllr Bryan suggested he is drafting a Supplementary Planning Document on the subject.  
Yes that's correct Labour's leading anti-fracker is seemingly writing policy that will enable it to happen.  

Incidentally this 'SPD' was something Labour Chairman Cllr Rob Bisset suggested he did not know anything about.

I tabled wholesale amendments to Cllr Clarke's policy - and indeed to the very similar policies on minerals extraction, renewable energy and hazardous installations that were also under consideration.

The amendments - which are now to be considered in detail were the basis on which Lynn and I were elected in 2015 and are also CWaC Conservative policy:

We want the planning policy on fracking, minerals extraction, renewable energy etc to be amended so as to include in addition to what CWaC Labour are suggesting:

1    Openness and transparency throughout by the developer:
·         eg publication of data derived as a condition for permission to explore,
·         what it takes to mobilise and operate a site;
·         key data, biodiversity and environmental safety data, before, during and after the development
2    Good neighbour policy and arrangements required of the developer:
·         Commitment to work with communities, to be open and transparent with them
·         Public forums for concerns to be raised and responded to readily – at all stages 
·         Provision of funding so communities can obtain independent advice
·         Provision of funding so that communities can secure independent monitoring 
3     Full safety case and detailed plans
·         for all stages of the proposed development, exploration, exploitation and aftercare
4      Emergency plans, preparedness and resources
·         what one would expect under CoMAH regulations
5      Insurance and compensation arrangements
·         Demonstration how communities and the environment could be restored if something untoward happened
6      Community benefits
·         Honest up front publication of what is proposed and the arrangements for discussions, negotiations, management of funds, recipients etc
7      Consultation and local democracy
·         Commitment to holding a local poll (or referendum) or support for a parish poll or some other equally effective method of demonstrating local support for the proposed arrangements

To my mind these arrangements can be put in place through a combination of council powers,  planning policy, planning conditions, s106 Agreements, unilateral undertakings and/or the developer actually committing to these things and following through with them.

I also asked that our areas of outstanding county value be protected the same way in whcih the government is seeking to protect areas of outstanding natural beauty.  This would see much of the land to the south of Frodsham protected.

We got further evidence of Labour's fears regarding the proposal to have local referendums.  There are at least two ways to organise this formally - both of which I set out to the panel last week.  I quoted from a very recent House of Commons Library paper (2016) which included the following:

'The Government believes that councils should see and use referendums as an important tool to give local people a bigger say. The Government will therefore introduce legislation to confirm the power of councils to hold referendums. However, they would be neither obligatory nor binding except in the particular circumstances described in the previous chapter. Councils might wish to use referendums to consult their local people on such issues as major local developments or matters of particular local controversy.'

This quote came from a 1998 Labour Government white paper.  The policy became law in Local Government Act 2003 s116 - which permits councils to hold local polls.

Curiously Labour Cllr Reggie Jones described local referenda as 'a gimmick.'  They may be a gimmick to him - but for me they are an opportunity for local people to have a real say.  

In Frodsham we've seen far too much of others telling us what's good for us:
  • Labour Secretary of State imposing the Ince Resource Recovery Park with its two incinerators on us without local support;
  • Lib-Dem Secretary of State imposing the Frodsham wind farm on us - with a planning inspector claiming substantial local support for the proposal - not something I saw in Frodsham or when going door to door;
  • Adjacent Labour Council in Halton granting permission for Ineos to burn Greater Manchester's waste on our doorstep seemingly without taking our views into account.
I see local referenda as a very useful tool to encourage everyone to be open and engaging with a community.  It is also a very useful way in showing what a community really thinks. That is no gimmick.  We've shown in Frodsham with around 1/3rd of our households responding to the town-wide consultation a couple of years ago that we have a real appetite for this type of real, local engagement.