Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Car crash of a car parking policy

As many of you will have noticed we have been campaigning around Frodsham and elsewhere in the Borough to get Labour to revisit what we see as its potentially disastrous car parking policy.

Labour has decided to do away with 'free after three' in Chester and to introduce car parking charges in places like Frodsham - and all this without any form of economic risk assessment.

Ask yourself the question - how happy would you be to pay say 50p every time you wanted to park on Main Street - even for a short period of time, such as the time it takes to buy you fruit and veg, or one of Coward's pies?

Everyone I've spoken to about this in Frodsham supports the idea of some parking changes and perhaps charges for those parking 'long-stay' at the station.  Everyone wants to keep free short stay car parking to support the town and its businesses.  Labour have no plans to increase car parking capacity in Frodsham even though the Halton Curve's opening and through trains to Liverpool are only a year or so away.

They also appear to be lacking any plans to deal with car parking being displaced onto residential roads as those seeking to park in Frodsham try to avoid car parking charges.

How long would it be, do you think, before car parking charges, even for short stay car parking would decimate our local businesses.  I've seen this happen already and I know the dangers that even low level charges such as £2 per a day can bring.  Just go and look at Birkenhead.

My legal business's main office is in Birkenhead.  There used to be free, on street car parking in Birkenhead.  Wirral decided many years ago to introduce charges both for on-street car parking and for parking in the council's designated car parks.   The effect of the charges - and they are only small charges has been to create a desert.  The council's pay and display meters stand unused and forlorn.   Their army of parking attendants now have little to do in many areas.  Business users and shoppers have been driven away.

To demonstrate the wilderness that had been created in Birkenhead to CWaC I took a series of photographs as I walked about 4km.   The photographs were taken just as you'd expect a surge of employees to be arriving for work - i.e. after 8:30am.  They were centred on the business district where there are lots of office based businesses and quite a few metal bashing businesses too.   There are also many local shops that could benefit from close at hand free car parking.  I put the photographs together into a short video with some other observations, which, if you'd like to view, you can be clicking here.

Unfortunately Labour has, so far, dismissed our concerns.  Not for the first time their 'silo working' approach looks set to cause harm.  They are only looking at car parking as a 'revenue raiser' for the council - not as an integral part of a wider residential and business picture on which we all depend.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Unnecessary politics and division from disaster

Last week's council meeting at CWaC, for me was absolutely dreadful.

It was dreadful for me for many reasons.  It was very emotional, unnecessarily divisive and political, and ultimately a denial of democracy.

First and foremost it was dreadful because it touched several personal emotional raw nerves.  We debated the April 1989 Hillsborough disaster in the context of last years unlawful killing inquest verdicts, the decision to bring prosecutions and the Sun's newspaper coverage - both at the time of the disaster and subsequently.  The Labour motion put to the council recogised the extent of the disaster, the long fight for truth and justice and offered solidarity and support for the families and friends of the 96 who were killed.  However the motion then also challenged the entire notion of a free press.  Part of the motion that was put (and subsequently passed) was that the council had to:

'Ensure that elected members and staff do not advertise or give interviews to the S*n newspaper.'

We don't often discuss the wider ramifications of Hillsborough.  We rightly concentrate on the families and friends of the deceased.  For them the effects of the disaster were devastating.   Last night's debate forced me to re-live the day and its aftermath.  Like many, many thousands of people with connections to the area my family, the wider City area and region my family was touched.  My elder brother was at Hillsborough that day.  Fortuantely he had a seat.  He was sat overlooking the Lepping's Lane stand.  He was an eye witness to disaster.   These were the days before mobile phones and instant communication.  I well remember the family trauma of knowing that there had been a major disaster and that he was at the game.  For us the fear, the 'not knowing' only lasted the afternoon and evening - but that was bad enough.  He returned home near midnight.

In the days that followed the accounts of what happened to the people started to emerge.  A family friend was also at the game.  He was, and still is a medic.  He was involved in trying to save people on that day.

A fortnight after the disaster a memorial service was held at Liverpool Cathedral.  It was an emotionally raw affair.  I was (and still am) a member of Liverpool Cathedral Cross Guild.  The Cross Guild are all former Cathedral chorister who wear the processional robes and carry the crosses and maces in services.  I was one of three members of the Cross Guild asked to stand at the newly consecrated memorial stone as wreathes were laid.   April 1989 was hard, very very hard for many people.  It was hard for me.   It was far far harder for the families as were the months and years that followed.

But as is often said - time is a healer... or is it.

In the years that passed I remained interested in what had happened - but relieved not to be intimately involved.  Part of my legal career required me to give advice on the safety of sports grounds and the associated health and safety implications.  I also advise and undertake advocacy at Inquests.

And then, as an Evertonian I was at Goodison a couple of years ago when Everton commemorated the disaster.  Now I've been at Goodison and Anfield for the derby games.  I know just how 'tribal', just how challenging the atmosphere can be when both sets of fans are at 'full cry.'  That day at Goodison the crowd remembered the disaster in silence.  You could hear a 'pin drop.'  And then a young girl in Everton colours wearing '9' and younger lad in Liverpool colours wearing '6' walked onto the pitch.

I cried.

I have never cried in public before - and ideally I don't want to do it again.  I can't write these words without welling up.

I can't write these words without intense feelings regarding the stupidity and the gross negligence of the people involved in managing the game at Hillsborough.  It was a monumental failure.  But those feelings become intense anger when I contemplate the lies and the cover-up that followed.  All of us and especially the families were entitled to expect so much more, so much more compentence, capability and especially honesty and integrity.

Had the council given me a motion that would allow me to express all of these things and crucially absolute and unequivocal support and respect for the families of the 96 I would readily supported it. However unnecessary politics was brought into play.

Framing a motion that would require the council to ensure that councillors should not talk to a newspaper and effectively a motion that would require the council to police councillors over this was not just wrong - it was outrageous in my view.  It would inevitably blur everyone's solidarity with the families and friends of the 96 with questions of democracy and a free press.

There could have been unanimity in the Chamber had a motion been put to us expressing solidarity and support - however the political motion put to the council denied that opportunity.

I fully support everyone's individual right to choose what newspaper they buy if any.  I fully support private individuals lobbying others not to buy any particular newspaper.  However I do not believe it is the place of public bodies to have a view on these things when the newspaper in question is lawfully on sale.

The Sun published seriously damaging, false information after the disaster.  It took them 15 years to offer an apology that wasn't remotely good enough... They then allowed their former editor Kelvin McKenzie to return to the paper as a comment writer - and then he wrote an unnecessarily offensive piece.  I don't read the Sun.  Its unlikely I ever will.  I don't encourage anyone to read it either... but I respect everyone's right to choose.

The motion put to council was framed deliberately, in my view, to expose differences.  I deplore that.  However the debate did lead to some of the finest speeches I have ever heard in the council chamber.  If you are interested in watching them - they are available here.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Warringtonisation of the Police and Crime Commissioner

I've learnt a new word - 'Warringtonisation.'

The term was coined at the latest Cheshire Police and Crime Panel held on 12 July.

The panel held a confirmation hearing for the PCC's new Chief of Staff Mr Peter Astley.

Mr Astley was a former Warrington BC employee - and someone who had worked closely with Cllr Keane before too.  Now those who have been following the PCC's actions may have realised that this sounds very similar to what happened when a Deputy PCC was appointed too.  The resonance with the PCC's move to Stockton Heath may also be in mind.

If you'd like to see an extract from the confirmation hearing click here.

The panel - made up of Conservative, Labour and independent members unanimously resolved not to recommend Mr Astley's appointment.

The letter written to the PCC is here:

The PCC did not accepted the advice from the panel.  His response was:

The turn of events was sufficiently unusual for the BBC to report on what happened.  If you click here you can link directly to the BBC news item.

Local Plan Working Group - Gypsies and Travellers, Housing and Employment land

CWaC's Local Plan Working Group had to manage a mammoth 560 page agenda at its meeting last night.  Notwithstanding the abundance of paperwork (handily all read on iPads) there were only two substantive items on the agenda.

First we considered the approach to the creation of new Gypsy and Traveller sites in the Borough.  Then we considered housing and employment land allocations.

If you want to watch an informal video of the meeting (it lasts 1:44hrs so it won't be for everyone) click on this link .  If you want to read the lengthy agenda - then click on this link.

The Local Plan Working Group can't take decisions - it can only make recommendations to the Council's cabinet.  That might suggest that the working group has little influence - however I suspect in this case the recommendations will be profound.

The Working Group and a smaller task group that had been set up had been wrestling with finding suitable sites for Gypsy and Travellers to meet the need that had previously been identified.   The council had previously invested in new purpose built sites for the Gypsy and Travellers to use - however those public sites were not to their liking.  Smaller privately owned sites are preferred by the Gypsy and Traveller community in our Borough.

The council has now allocated the pitches at the public sites - and we still need to find further sites and ideally we should allocate them in our Local Plan Part II.

However the process has proved fraught.  Suitable sites have not been identified.  Personally I think the council has wasted the money it spent on Consultants specifically tasked to find the sites.  I also think the Council made terrible errors at the start of this process by trying to 'sneak' the initial report without the appropriate publication or advance notice.

The working group considered the issues long and hard again.  The consensus that we reached was that the council needed to do more work - and that, as matters stood we couldn't recommend policies for the emerging Part II of the Local Plan.  The council will look to produce a separate policy document covering Gypsy and Traveller sites in due course - probably in 2019.  The hope is that the Planning Inspector who will need to examine the draft Part II Plan will accept that the council has exhausted what it could achieve now - and that it will work towards new 'G&T' policies in 2019.

In the meantime there is a risk that as the council may not be meeting the demand for new pitches that planning applications seeking permission for new sites in open countryside may have permission granted - either by the council or on appeal.  The council will still look to resist any new sites in inappropriate locations such as greenbelt.  Frodsham is surrounded by greenbelt.

The second part of our meeting looked at housing and employment land allocations.  Frodsham already has all its houses either built or with planning permission granted to achieve the planned increase in numbers between now and 2030!   The implications of this on Frodsham will be profound I'm sure.  Just think of the demographics and who can or cannot afford to live here.

One of the sites we specifically discussed was land to the east of the Protos waste/incinerator site at Ince.  In the old Ellemere Port days this land was earmarked for potential expansion of any of the oil and gas industries in the location.  No development is expected on this land before the end of the plan period in 2030.  I enquired of the officers which option would give the council more control over the land in planning terms.  Were we better leaving the land unallocated, or having it 'washed over' by open countryside policies.  I'm pleased to say I was able to persuade my collegues that the old allocation by Ellesmere Port and Neston Council be done away with - and thus our recommendation was that the draft policy should show this land as open countryside.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Halton Curve - the work begins

Today is a momentous day.  Work on the Halton Curve has begun!  The physical works are likely to be completed by the end of May 2018 with new rail services introduced in December 2018.  The services currently planned are an hourly service (in each direction) running from Chester to Helsby, Frodsham, Runcorn, Liverpool South Parkway and Liverpool Lime Street with strong hints being made that additional services are planned from places further away.

Frodsham Station
Those of us involved in lobbying for the Halton Curve were invited to the formal commencement event at Frodsham Junction and the nearby Holiday Inn.  This £10m scheme affecting 1.5 miles of single track will be truly transformative not only for Frodsham, but also for Liverpool, Chester, Helsby, North Wales and Liverpool Airport.

Just think of all the rail journeys that will be able to be made not only from Liverpool to North Wales and all places in between - but crucially also the connections that can be made whether at Runcorn or elsewhere.  Just think, as Frodsham residents, we will be able to walk from our homes to Frodsham station and be able to go to London or further afield.

Current projections suggest a boost to our economy of more than £100m each year.  Equally impressive is that the new rail service is likely to carry around 250,000 people a year and get rid of around 170,000 car journey a year too.

Network Rail will be installing cross of junctions at both the Frodsham and Runcorn ends of the curve - enabling for the first time in over 50 years for trains to run southbound as well as northbound.  The signalling arrangements will be completed updated.  The line and the surrounding existing control areas will be upgraded to the latest signalling.  The old semaphore signals and signal levers will be replaced.  I've asked Network Rail for the old semaphore signal from the Frodsham Junction along with some of the old signal levers to be donated to us as a community so we can preserve them - perhaps at Castle Park or at the restored Frodsham Railway station building.

As you'd expect there were one or two speeches this morning.  The most impressive speeches were made by Ced Green Chairman of the North Cheshire Rail Users Group and Karla Telford Network Rail's project engineer who will be masterminding the project.   Many of the speakers congratulated Ced for his tireless work of lobbying for the restoration of the Halton Curve.  In his turn Ced thanked Lynn, me and Alan McKie (Helsby Councillor) for our support and efforts too.

Lynn, Alan and I took every opportunity to press for improvements to the Frodsham and Helsby station car parks.  I pointed out to Network Rail that they could help Frodsham in particular as they own land at the top of our station car park.

It was also great to see so many women at the event taking leading roles.  We were so impressed by Karla that we've invited her to speak to Helsby High School students about engineering!
Chelsea Green and Karla Telford from Network Rail