Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Frodsham Air Quality Management Area Consultation

CWaC has finally published its Consultation Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) documentation for the Fluin Lane / A56 junction.  The consultation examines the extent of the traffic pollution problem and considers what could be done to improve the situation.

The entire consultation documentation can be found by clicking here.  

I have ensured that everyone living in the AQMA area has received paper copies of the full report. They will also be invited to consultation events arranged just for them.  There will also be community wide events organised.

The consultation will run until 28 July 2017.

First the good news.  The Air Monitoring Station at Manor House school shows that the quality of air in and around Frodsham is typically very good.   The problems we occasionally have are traffic related.  Cllr Riley and I have ensured that Frodsham has been covered with air monitoring devices over the last decade or so.  It is through that work that we discovered that the air quality at the Fluin Lane / A56 junction can fall beneath acceptable standards. This has led to CWaC declaring an AQMA at this junction. 

The AQMA area is shown by the red line on the map shown below.  There are 18 residential properties within the area that are exposed, at certain times, to poor air quality caused by traffic pollution.  The principal concerns are the various nitrogen oxides (typically referred to as NOx) largely associated with diesel engines.  As we all know there can be extensive queues of traffic along the A56 and on Fluin Lane.  The worst pollution is likely to arise when we have those queues coinciding at the same time as there being little air movement.  The 'canyon like' environment at the bottom of Fluin Lane doesn't help either.

Having identified we have a problem the AQMA consultation documentation then considers what potentially can be done about it.

A number of proposals - all aimed at reducing traffic pollution at the junction have been put forward. The engineers consider that each of these schemes could reduce air pollution.

Right turn lanes on the A56

The sketch below shows two right turn lanes on the A56 - aiding traffic moving into Fluin Lane and St Hilda's Drive whilst potentially maintaining traffic flow along the A56.


My initial view on seeing this suggestion is that whilst it may contribute in some small way to keeping traffic moving along the A56 - traffic behind the occasional vehicle looking to turn right would be able to continue along the A56 it will make the queuing along Fluin Lane worse.  A vehicle looking to turn right out of Fluin Lane (or St Hilda's Drive) could be blocked by a car waiting to turn right on the A56.

Traffic Lights


This proposal builds on the right turn lane suggestion and adds traffic lights.

My thoughts on this are that whilst this could assist at some times of the day - it is unlikely to reduce traffic pollution at peak periods.  If the problem is pollution from slow moving and queuing traffic actually compelling traffic stop at traffic lights and then accelerate away (causing more pollution) may actually make things worse.

Chicane

It took me quite a while to get my head around the idea of a chicane on Fluin Lane.  The idea is that traffic queuing to exit Fluin Lane would have to wait up hill of the chicane (which would be by the terraced properties) until there was no traffic coming up Fluin Lane and their exit to reach the give way junction was clear.  This suggestion would evidently reduce the number of cars that could queue in front of those houses.

My thoughts on this proposal is that I suspect it may be unworkable in practice and would increase the risks of accidents.  From my experience cars making the left hand turn into Fluin Lane typically come round that bend at 20 mph or more - and they can't be seen until they are negotiating the bend by anyone higher up Fluin Lane.  This suggests to me that there would be very little reaction time for anyone wishing to negotiate the chicane.

This scheme also worries me as it, in effect merely displaces the queuing traffic further up Fluin Lane.  It also strikes me that it would make exiting from Langdale Way onto Fluin Lane more problematic than it already can be.

Mini roundabout 


Of all the schemes suggested this is the one I prefer.  

Instinctively I believe the problem is queuing traffic.  A roundabout gives the greatest chance for cars to keep moving - providing cars do not queue on the roundabout itself.  I believe a significant contributor to traffic problems in Frodsham are the traffic lights at the Bear's Paw.  Certainly the traffic flows into and out of Frodsham ebb and flow with the sequencing of those lights.  Could we have a roundabout there too?  If we did though, how would we manage pedestrian safety?

Normal roundabout


As this drawing shows there isn't enough land available for this proposal.

My concluding thoughts on this AQMA consultation are that we need to have a community wide conversation.  Most of use this junction several times during the week, if not during the day.  We owe it to our friends and neighbours who live in the AQMA or are affected by it to do what we can reasonably to improve their and our air quality.  

I'd like to see a wider review of traffic management in Frodsham.  It would be madness to improve a situation in one location only to exacerbate it elsewhere.  Solving Fluin Lane only to increase pollution on Church Street, as an example, wouldn't be clever. 

Technology can play its part.  There are an increasing number of electric cars on the road. More and more engines have stop/start technology.  When we come to change our cars we can swap away from diesel power.   All this can help - however I don't think those changes can come fast enough.  We have to do something now... but what?

Please get involved and share your thoughts.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Storyhouse Theatre grand opening

My wife and I went to the new Storehouse Theatre for its opening night on Thursday.  If you get the chance - go.  The new facilities are fantastic.  Within the old cinema building there is a theatre, a cinema, Chester's new library as well as bar and restaurant facilities.

This wonderful building was a CWaC Conservative project.  Lynn was very involved in the work that brought this wonderful facility to the Borough.  She's penned the following piece celebrating its formal first night:

'As Storyhouse raises its the new curtain on its first production, there's a considerable amount of 'happy talk' going on right now.  This iconic new venture is not just the talk of the town, it's being celebrated for its national significance with all media covering the 'story.' There is a marked absence of anything that looks or sounds remotely critical and to a person, everyone who has had the chance of a look around has emerged as an ambassador for Storyhouse and all that it can do for the city and the wider Borough.

Inevitably it hasn't always been this way and if a week is a long time in politics, then the 7 year journey that has led to Storyhouse's opening feels like a marathon. 


This marathon started when Chester City's then Labour Council shut the old Gateway Theatre in March 2007.  Since the day those doors closed, the City aspired to opening new ones. When Cheshire West and Chester Council arrived in 2009 we got this message loud and clear.  We set out to dream the dream and put a deliverable plan to the the music of 

'You've got to have a dream, 
if you don't have a dream, 

how you gonna have a dream come true.' 

The One City Plan created for the City, remains the blueprint for Chester.  One of the key chapters, written into that screenplay, is culture - in all its eclectic forms! 


The real achievement is the 7 year relay that brought together and involved so many passionate and committed individuals and groups.  They've all stayed the distance that has lit the beacon of our Storyhouse. 

It's been the opportunity to encourage the environment where those involved in the arts and theatre can play on, whilst we built them a stage. In so many ways, the absence of a theatre since 2007 fanned the cultural flames.  The annual calendar is now packed with innovative productions like the Mystery Plays, the Open Air Theatre, Theatre in the Quarter.  They've all used the City as their stage.

Indeed, for Storehouse  the Oscaresque thank-you speech would have run to hours.  This is largely down to the brave decision at the time to support and ultimately appoint Chester Performs, a local, grassroots theatre company to manage it.

It's been a hard path from the 2010 'vision' to the 2017 'voila,' dogged by vocal local critics along the way. This week I googled the 2013 criticism about the failed  application for Capital of Culture 2017. Today of all days, it feels like we got there in spite of the judges and the City's armchair critics.

As Conservatives, our politics is about getting things done and making a difference.  We are proud of our leading role in bringing about the theatre. This is truly our S Tory house!  


'Men [and women] are sometimes are masters of their fate.'  This quote comes from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - which is one of the opening round of productions.  

We seised the opportunity.  We had the vision and confidence to build something great.  Something that will be long lasting.  Not something you see in the current 'Labour's lost' administration.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Labour's hypocrisy, smears and fake news on fracking

On 26 April we were due to have a meeting of the CWaC Overview and Scrutiny Committee.  It had been convened as the Conservative Group had called-in for review the proposed Special Planning Document ('SPD') on unconventional oil and gas (the one that covers fracking).

We called the document in for review straight after the Labour Cabinet had wanted to adopt it on 15 March.  We would have been ready for the call-in meeting to take place any time.  It was the council that decided the meeting could wait until 26 April.  Our position is that the SPD contains errors that can be corrected and that more can be done to protect communities and the environment and give locals are more decisive say as to whether these developments should proceed.

In the meantime on 18 April the Prime Minister announced and Parliament later resolved that we are to have a general election.  This is important as there are strict rules on the use of public facilities for political purposes in the run up to an election.  The period where there are these restrictions is known as 'purdah.'  The purdah period for the general election started on 24 April.

The planned call-in meeting on the SPD could not go ahead because of the purdah rules.   The Conservative Group was there in force, ready for the meeting, and ready to say we support the SPD - but that it can be improved further, the errors in it corrected, as well as showing how the council can do so much more to take the views of local people fully into account when faced with  controversial development proposals that can affect communities for generations.

It was the council's lawyers, advising the Chairman of the meeting that called the meeting off because of the purdah rules.  If the council had arranged for this meeting to take place efficiently we could have had the meeting in March.  Subsequent releases from the Labour party have falsely claimed that we were running scared.   We were not and are not.  We wanted and want the meeting to take place.  As it couldn't take place as planned on 26 April we indicated we were quite happy for the meeting to be adjourned until after the general election.

As you could imagine in the hour or so before the meeting there were several conversations seeking to find a consensus about how we could deal with practical questions that would arise if the meeting was postponed.   Cllr Brian Clarke (Labour's cabinet member for this area) wanted the SPD to come into effect as soon as possible just in case a planning application came in, in the meantime.  It is a shame that he and his colleagues had waited more than month to convene the call-in meeting - however we recognised that there was a practical issue that we could help to resolve.

He gave me a commitment that the SPD document would be reviewed and the errors in it corrected if we agreed to withdraw the call-in.  I indicated we were prepared to do this providing we were given a proper opportunity to present our arguments and concerns as quickly as we could reasonably arrange after the general election.  I then received a personal undertaking from the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that we will be given an opportunity at a further scrutiny meeting in June.

I have subsequently been told the meeting will take place on 12 June.

Any meeting about fracking policy was bound to court political controversy.  This scrutiny meeting was to be webcast.  Any suggestion that the meeting didn't take place for any other reason is, in my view, disingenuous and no doubt aimed at hiding the hypocrisy at the heart of Labour's approach to fracking and fracking policy locally.  They said they were opposed to fracking, and stood for election in 2015 saying they would bring in a moratorium  to prevent fracking in the Borough - only to have the embarrassment of being told by the Borough Solicitor that it was unlawful for a council to have such a moratorium.  Any outright opposition to fracking would also prevent councillors from taking part in planning decisions through 'predetermination.'

I don't know whether CWaC Labour went into the last election deliberately trying to mislead the electorate, or whether they were just incompetent.  However you look at the situation their position was untenable as well as unlawful.

The SPD they have produced provides the detailed policy check list for anyone wishing to make a fracking application.  Labour are trying to hide this outrageous hypocrisy with 'fake news' and smears.  

It is CWaC Conservative policy that any planning policy on fracking must provide the greatest protection possible in law for communities, public health, wildlife and the wider environment.  This is why, as the SPD was being produced, it was Conservative amendments that increased and enhanced these protections.  

However, importantly, and it is the policy on which Lynn and  I were re-elected in May 2015 is that we will represent the views of our residents, and put the residents' interests first when dealing with any significant or controversial planning application such as one for fracking.  It is why we are committed to giving residents more of say such as through local referendums or polls and insisting that developers are open and transparent about their plans.  We've had far too many examples locally of residents wishes being ignored and I am determined to do what I can to redress that balance.

I have made formal complaints both about Labour's fake news statements and about the way in which the council handled the arrangements for the meeting and purdah.

It is going to take a very long time before I can ever trust the pronouncements of local Labour politicians ever again.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Elm Rise and Hillside Road proposed no waiting at any time

Following complaints CWaC is considering preventing any vehicle waiting at any time on the junction of Hillside Road and Elm Rise.   I've attached the plan and the formal notice below that show what is proposed.

Anyone objecting to the proposals has until 19 May 2017 to respond.

NOTICE OF PROPOSAL
CHESHIRE WEST AND CHESTER BOROUGH COUNCIL
 (ELM RISE/HILLSIDE ROAD, FRODSHAM)
(PROHIBITION OF WAITING) ORDER 2017

Notice is hereby given that the Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council propose to make an order under Section 1, 2 and 4 to the Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and of all other enabling powers.

The effect of the proposed order will be to prohibit waiting at all times on the lengths of road specified in the schedule.
Full details of the proposals are in the draft Order together with a plan showing the extent of the proposal; a statement of reasons for making the order and a copy of this notice may be examined during the usual office hours at the following offices:
·         Winsford Area Highways Office, Phoenix House, Clough Road, Winsford, CW7 4BD;
·         The One Stop Shop, Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council, Wyvern House, The Drumber, Winsford, Cheshire CW7 1AH;
·         Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council’s Information Centre at 1 The Arcade, Northwich CW9 5AS.
If you wish to object to the proposed Order or to any provisions contained in it, you may do so in writing specifying the grounds on which it is made, to the undersigned quoting reference TRO 1581 by 19th May 2017.
 SCHEDULE 1
(Prohibition of Waiting - at all times)

Elm Rise (Both sides) – From its junction with Hillside Road for a distance of 10m in a south westerly direction.

Hillside road (South side) – From a point 11m North West of the centre line of Elm Rise for a distance of 27m South East.

24th April 2017

Kieran Collins
Place Area Manager
Cheshire West and Chester Council
Winsford Area Highways Office
Phoenix House
Clough Road
Winsford
Cheshire

CW7 4BD

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Frodsham's Air Quality

All of us want clean air.   Whilst politicians at a national level are, at long last, giving the issue greater prominence here in Frodsham I've been working on the issue for 10 years.  And after this hard work we can expect an Air Quality Management Plan for Frodsham to emerge from CWaC in May.

My first blush with the issue came with the planning application for the Ince incinerators in 2007 - and my interest in our local health data and our anecdotal tales of poor respiratory health.   I discussed this, at the time with our local GPs.  This led me to ask questions about what data we had locally about air quality.  At the time the data we had was 'high level' type data - not data about air quality in particular parts of Frodsham.

My first concerns were to understand what risks industry posed to us and whether traffic pollution was an issue.  This inevitably led to me asking questions about the potential risks to was to health being posed to those living close to the Motorway.  One of my earliest decisions I took, when I first had member's grant monies to spend, was to have air quality monitors for the residents of the park homes off Marsh Lane.

Over the years Lynn and I spent more money on monitors at various locations in Frodsham - culminating in the comprehensive air monitoring equipment that is currently sitting in Manor House Primary School car park.  We made sure that equipment went live ahead of Ineos commissioning their massive waste incinerator.  Our work also led to an independent air quality expert - Professor Leyton - producing a report drawing from all available air quality data in and around the Mersey Estuary.

All this work is showing that industry is not adversely affecting our air quality.  Where we have an air quality issue it is traffic related - and the concerns are not about the M56 - but about the A56.

The evidence shows that the worst effects of traffic pollution are largely confined to the roads themselves.  The pollution 'falls out' over a short distance from the roads.  Necessarily this means that road users - especially pedestrians and cyclists are exposed to traffic pollution as they are walking and cycling along the road.   This exposure is likely to be for a limited time.   However there are a few residential properties that are so close to the road that are more affected.

Our air monitoring has revealed that the Fluin Lane junction with the A56 is one of those areas where residential homes could be affected - and the pollution detected is above the legal (EU) action levels. This has triggered the formal requirement for CWaC to produce an Air Quality Management Plan.

Now this Air Quality Management Plan has, in my view, taken far too long to produce.  It was late when we were promised it would be produced in November 2016.  It was then deferred to the end of February 2017.   CWaC didn't explain to me why the report was late - so I tabled questions and raised the issue in our Council meetings in December 2016 and March 2017.

And now, finally, after more badgering I have finally got to see a draft copy of the Management Plan. I have suggested that the report needs to be extensively revised - and the officers have agreed to do this.  The revisions will take at least a fortnight to produce - so we should expect the document to emerge in May.

The document will be a consultation document - and will suggest how we can reduce the number of homes affected by traffic pollution.  The proposed changes will focus in and around the bottom of Fluin Lane and the junction with the A56 and St Hilda's Drive.  I have pointed out to the officers just how significant that road junction is not just to Frodsham - but also to traffic seeking to get to mid and south Cheshire from the Junction 12 M56, Halton and Merseyside and how we need to make sure everyone's concerns are properly taken into account.

Lynn and I will hold local meetings so as to ensure that those living in the affected homes as well as the wider community get to understand and debate the issues and the potential solutions.

Of course, longer term, the solution to this issue may well lie in us all moving away from using the more polluting vehicles - but this isn't something we can do overnight.

UPDATE:

This is a map taken from the CWaC website showing the air monitoring stations.  The blue ones are diffusion tubes at the roadside.  The orange one denotes kerbside monitoring.  This map shows current and historic sites showing how we've taken a comprehensive look at air quality.

If you want current data you can follow this link to the latest air quality station that is providing live data in Helsby:
http://www.airqualityengland.co.uk/local-authority/?la_id=67