Thursday, 11 January 2018

CCTV for Frodsham?

Last night Lynn and I discussed CCTV proposals for Frodsham that CWaC officers have been working on since the council received our petition with over 1000 signatures in 2016.

Now Lynn and I have been round this particular track more times than I care to recall over the last 10 years or so.

Consistently and repeatedly we have asked for CCTV to be installed only to be met with objections such as - the scheme would be too expensive, there would be no one to monitor any live feed, the crime figures in Frodsham don’t justify it etc. etc.

All this has been very frustrating - especially because we know the cost of the technology is falling rapidly, virtually everyone of us carries around a smart phone equipped to record high definition video and the cost of ‘cloud storage’ of any video feed is also either free or very affordable.

The scheme the officers have drawn up is for a centrally mounted camera able to pan, tilt and zoom to be located around the Bear’s Paw junction so that the camera can look up and down the A56 and Church Street.  There is the possibility of adding an additional camera along Church Street.  This scheme would allow the police to monitor Frodsham from their control room.

All this can be done for an indicative figure of between £80-£100k!  However CWaC do not have any budget for this at the moment.  I well recall a scheme set to cost around £30k being turned down by CWaC as being too expensive 7-8 years ago.

Whilst Lynn and I are pleased that finally both the police and CWaC are taking this issue seriously we don’t think what is proposed fits our needs.

My first thought is with HD cameras now being very cheap we should be more ambitious and  make sure that all of the town centre is fully covered.  I see this being done by having several simple HD ‘dumb’ cameras located on both sides of Main Street and Church Street looking up and down - and recording what is being seen (and heard) to cloud storage that would get overwritten every month.  This ‘simple’ footage could supplement anything coming from a pole mounted camera - and would give a different perspective not hampered by the trees.  These simpler cameras could also give reassurance to people in residential parts of the town to discourage anti-social behaviour too.

I’d also want to see any CCTV scheme be extended to cover Castle Park.

Lynn and I also mentioned to officers that any CCTV scheme for Frodsham should be considered alongside the need for traffic control cameras and matrix traffic control signage.  Ironically I can envisage a situation where the first matrix sign being introduced to Frodsham will come courtesy of Castle Park Trust - looking to advertise activities within the park.  Such a sign could well provide up to date traffic and air quality information...

Frodsham’s Air Quality Management Plan - where are we?

Last night Lynn and I met with CWaC officers to discuss where the evolving plans to deal with poor air quality along the A56 and in particular at the Fluin Lane / St Hilda’s Drive Junction.

As you may remember CWaC consulted on options last year and is now working towards producing an action plan.

The officers want more evidence of traffic movements and so will be undertaking a video survey of traffic movements to understand better what actually happens.

Lynn and I have impressed on the officers that we are looking for a solution that keeps traffic flowing and that doesn’t displace the problem to another location.  There is little point in solving say the Fluin Lane problem if it raises traffic pollution on Church Street.

We’ve also impressed on the officers the importance of reviewing the Bear’s Paw traffic lights and whether changes there could promote wider benefits elsewhere.

One of the solutions I’ve asked officers to look at very closely is to create an extended box junction.  The aim of this would be to prevent traffic queuing along the A56 over the Fluin Lane / St Hilda’s Drive junction - and to prevent any standing traffic queuing in between the pelican crossing and the pedestrian over bridge.   This would also mean that traffic turning right out of either Fluin Lane or St Hilda’s Drive would have a chance to do so - in all likelihood reducing the length of queues there too.

We may have to use traffic cameras as a means of ensuring compliance with the box junction rules - such as you must not enter the junction unless your exit is clear as the officers tell me that motorist typically do not follow the box junction rules.  Personally I believe people need reminding what those rules actually are!  You can find the rules here:

The council will be publishing a paper in due course outlining the various options.  The box junction suggestion is simply one suggestion.  I have asked for and keep asking for roundabouts to be considered both for this junction and for the Bear’s Paw traffic lights!

Let’s see what emerges in due course.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Remembrance in Frodsham

Remembrance Sunday is always a poignant time in Frodsham.

At this morning's commemoration at St Laurence church we listened to the names of those who died in the two World Wars and later conflicts who are recorded on Frodsham's war memorials or who have graves in St Laurence churchyard.  There are now over 140 names read out.

That's over 140 grieving families, that's over 140 individuals who did not go on to have or to see their own families grow up.  Those losses and missing people echo down the generations.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Alan Wales and his colleagues in tracing the names of those whose names were not recorded on our war memorials and who are now being remembered as they should be.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.

Frodsham war memorial after all the wreaths were laid.
The soldier's boot and poppies are a particular poignant memorial laid for our Mayor Cllr Alan Oulton
Cllr Oulton laid a wreath on behalf of all of us

Junior Mayors
Cllrs Andrew Dawson & Lynn Riley

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Remembrance in Yerevan

I’m writing this blog piece at 03:27 in the morning at Yerevan Airport, Armenia on 11 November 2017.

I’ve been in Armenia with the Council of Europe for 2 days contributing to a conference celebrating their local government reforms and encouraging them to go further in their push for devolution and decentralisation.  They wanted to hear how devolution was going in England - that's why I was there.

Armenian War Memorial, Yerevan
Now when the Council of Europe asked me to go to Armenia for the conference I was insistent that I got back to Frodsham to take part in the Remembrance Sunday commemorations.  That’s why I’m at the airport at an ‘oh-my-goodness’ hour in the morning and facing 9 hours of travel, a 28 hour day (Armenia is 4 hours ahead of their UK) and hopping home via Vienna and Frankfurt.  Unfortunately I am not able to get back to Frodsham for 11am on 11 November.  If all goes well I’ll be in Manchester just before lunchtime.

From my earliest days I’ve attended remembrance commemorations. I make it my business, where ever I am to attend local commemorations.

Knowing that I would be in Yerevan I contacted the UK ambassador to Armenia and enquired where it would be appropriate for me to lay poppies.  The ambassador suggested that I lay them at Armenia’s eternal flame - what she didn’t tell me, but what I found out, was that the eternal flame was in front of a huge war memorial, flanked by Soviet tanks and planes.  That huge memorial also contains Armenia’s war museum.  I walked to the memorial with Udo - a German journalist who was also at the conference.   

Placing poppies at the eternal flame, Yerevan, Armenia
We took the opportunity to go into the war museum.  It was organised on two levels.  The top level remembered Armenians who had died in the all too recent conflicts with Azerbaijan.  

I’m used to walking around war museums and being grateful that I am looking at historic artefacts.   This was something different - I was looking at the belongings of people who had died - and these were people younger than me.  The brutality of the recent conflict was really brought home.

T34 Tank - Soviet Union WWII era tank
The Armenian curators encouraged us then to go downstairs to look at the exhibits from World War I , the Armenian Genocide and World War II.   

Soviet commemoration

Amongst those exhibits which understandably were largely about Soviet battles in World War II in Armenia there was a wall commemorating Armenian pilots who fought and died with the RAF in the Battle of Britain.   I didn’t expect to see RAF medals and squadron memorabilia in Yerevan - but there they were.

Commemorating Armenians who fought
and died fighting in the Battle of Britain
The squadron shield and badge comes from No XVII Squadron RAF.   This Squadron can trace its origins back to World War I.  In June 1939 the Squadron was equipped with Hurricanes and saw action first over France and the Low Countries before being one of the last units evacuated from France in May 1940.  No XVII Squadron was then heavily engaged over the south of England during the Battle of Britain.

Just imagine fighting in a war.  Imagine fighting in a war so far from your own home.   Imagine making the ultimate sacrifice.  Imagine the grief and the pain of your family friends and community.

We will remember them.

We must remember all who suffered in war and those who fought for the freedoms we enjoy.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Let the people decide?

Today is a momentous day in Cheshire West.  Lynn and I have a motion before the council seeking to pursuade the council to hold a local referendum in areas affected by controversial planning applications - and in particular planning applications which will have long lasting consequences and ramifications.   The law already exists to do this - s116 Local Government Act 2003 - and it was drafted with precisely these circumstances in mind.

We have Tony Blair to thank!  He and his government forsaw that local referendums could be particularly useful when dealing with controversial planning applications - and said as much in their 1998 policy announcement which led to the 2003 law.

'The Government believes that council should see and use referendums as an important tool to give local people a bigger say... Councils might want to use referendums to consult their local people on such issues as major local developments or matters of particular local controversy.'  (Modern Local Government: in touch with the people 1998 white paper)

Now our motion to council has arisen  in the context of the two applications seeking consent for unconventional gas extractions locally - however the principle applies equally to other proposed developments such as incinerators or large housing schemes.

We have far too much evidence in and around Frodsham and the Mersey Esturay of the planning system not listening to us and the 'great and the good' imposing developments on us that the vast majority of us do not want.  The planning system does not encourage developers to take proper account of the needs of the neighbouring communities - and I see the use of such local referendums as a means of redressing the balance.

We all recall the windfarm planning application - and the gamesmanship of the developer that submitted a larger scheme for permission knowing that it had to be determined nationally - only then to revise the scheme - taking it below that national determination threshold when permission was already granted.  We had the outrage of a planning inspector claiming that he had found 'substantial support' for the windfarm scheme - when we knew from speaking to people in Frodsham that the local population was overwhelmingly against it.  We all know that Peel effectively ignored the local community and did not engage with us in any meaningful sense.  Had they had to test local opinion in a local referendum then I suspect they would have behaved towards us with much greater respect and made much more tangible contributions to the wellbeing of the area.

Then there was the further outrage of neighbouring Halton Council granting permission for the huge incinerator at Ineos - burning all of Greater Manchester's waste - without properly taking account of our needs.  Both Halton Council and the developer refused our request to have air quality monitoring in Frodsham - so Lynn and I had to arrange for it via our member's grants.  I see that approach by both a council and a developer as absolutely outrageous and totally unacceptable.  Would they have dared to do so - had they been required to enagage properly with the local community?

And then we have the Protos scheme at Ince.  We have the old planning policy of Ellesmere Port and Neston Council to thank for laying the ground work to permit two incinerators and now an application for unconventional gas extraction.  When the Secretary of State granted permission for the Protos scheme there was no requirement for a community benefit scheme - one has only come about because of Lynn and my work.  All of us will be working for many years to come on ensuring that this scheme is operated with the community rather than inspite of it.

By having a local referendum for such controversial schemes we will be tipping the scales back towards the communities.  I see there being many, many benefits including:

  1. making the developer properly engage with the community - setting out fully what is involved and how it will protect, benefit and enhance the community - it will encourage them to be good neighbours;
  2. promoting honest debate where all sides of the argument can be put forward democratically and without fear or favour;
  3. enabling residents who feel disenfranchised by the current system - how many people write in about planning applications or appeals - to express their wishes in a simple vote;
  4. protecting residents who feel pressured by campaigners to express their personal opinion in the privacy of the polling station;
  5. making the ultimate decision makers properly take account of the democratically expressed wishes - preventing the 'invention of support' - or assuming the silent majority are in favour of a scheme when they may not be.  Just think how powerful a significant vote in one direction would be especially when backed up by large turnout.  It would be unlikely to be ignored.
Now like the Brexit referendum these local referendums are 'advisory.'  However when the advice is 'loud and clear' woe bedtides anyone who ignores it.  

The cost of holding a local referendum is modest.  All the democratic infrastructure already exists.  However democracy does come at a cost.   But then just think how much money has been spent by Frodsham Town Council on by-elections for Town Councillors over the years - and then judge whether you think spending money on a local referendum about a planning scheme that will last for generations is worth it.  I know which side of the argument I am on.

 If I'd had my way at the Local Plan Working Group I'd have had the developer pay such costs as part of its application process and I'd have had calling such local referendums written into the planning policy guidance.

Incidentally when I raised calling a local referendum with senior council officials - the initial response which came after the idea had been reviewed was 'this is one of the most exciting things I have seen for engaging local communities for ages.'   We should all bear in mind that councils have a duty to promote democracy.

At my request CWaC is looking into local polls and referendums.  Lynn and I have deliberately set out to garner cross party support for this motion tonight.