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




Wednesday, 19 April 2017

What is the Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner up to?

Cllr David Keane, Cheshire's Police and Crime Commissioner, Warrington Borough Councillor (Penketh and Cuerdley ward) and Penketh Parish Councillor (East Ward) is worrying me greatly at the moment.

First we've had his decision to appoint a Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner.  He chose to appoint the daughter of Cllrs Allin and Linda Dirir who happen to be, along with Cllr Keane Warrington Borough Councillors for the Penketh and Cuerdley ward and also Penketh Parish Councillors - also serving for that parish's East Ward also along with Cllr Keane and Cllr Keane's wife.

The Commissioner earns £75,000 pa.  His deputy was recruited on a salary of £50,000.  Cllr Keane also receives his £7,947pa allowance from Warrington Borough Council.   At the time of her appointment the then Cllr S Dirir from Salford City Council was also drawing an allowance of £10,404.84 from Salford City Council.   At the time of the recruitment the Commissioner and his Deputy were drawing over £143,000 combined from the public purse.  Even after Cllr S Dirir's subsequent resignation from Salford City Council they are drawing nearly £133,000 between them.

I serve on the Police and Crime Panel - the scrutiny body that has the opportunity to ask the Commissioner questions every three months or so.  We also get the opportunity to make recommendations about the Commissioner's decision to appoint senior personnel such as a Deputy Commissioner.  We cannot veto or block his suggested appointments for his deputy - we can only make recommendations and provide advice.  The letter of advice we subsequently provided indicated, amongst other things, that the panel had identified that Ms Dirir had no real experience of Criminal Justice and had simply met the minimum standards recommended.

If you have 50 minutes or so to spare you might like to watch Ms Dirir's confirmation hearing.  At the time of that hearing (22 February 2017) she was still a Salford Councillor (she has since resigned from that post.   This is the link to that webcast:   https://cheshirewestandchester.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/272335 .

As the video was produced live by CWaC you can search through the video to see the questions asked by particular people.  I suggest the interactions between Cllr Findlow and Ms Dirir and her answers to my series of questions may prove quite illuminating.

As you'll see if you watch the video neither the Commissioner, nor Ms Dirir told us in advance of the meeting that they had known each other for 20 years, nor was it disclosed to us in advance that Ms Dirir was the daughter of Cllr Keane's co-Councillors for Penketh.

You can find the committee papers, agenda etc at this link:
http://moderngov.cheshireeast.gov.uk/ecminutes/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=864&MId=6769&Ver=4

Cllr Keane's first appearance before the Police and Crime Panel after his appointment of Ms Dirir to be his deputy came on 24 March.  This meeting was also webcast.   Here is the link to the webcast: https://cheshirewestandchester.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/280070 - however as this webcast was not broadcast live - it lacks the links to the individual speakers.

This was the panel's first opportunity to question him following the appointment of his Deputy - and his announcement made just before the 24 March meeting - that the Commissioner was to move his base of operations from Police headquarters in Winsford - to Stockton Heath, Warrington - a mere 4 miles away from Penketh.   Cllr Keane had not provided the Police and Crime Panel with his business case for relocating his office to Stockton Heath - he was asked by a number of members about it.

This link will take you to my first exchange I had with the Commissioner after he had not agreed to provide his business case to other colleagues. https://vimeo.com/213825907. This is all about the Nolan principles and him being open to scrutiny.

Later in the meeting I had an opportunity to ask Cllr Keane about the appointment of his Deputy.  Here is a link to those exchanges.  https://vimeo.com/213825927  This exchange was all about his Oath of Office and the Code of Ethics he had sworn to uphold.

The Commissioner Code of Ethics can be found at this link.  https://www.cheshire-pcc.gov.uk/media/81162/ethical-framework-and-code-of-conduct_pcc-dpcc-code-of-conduct.pdf

My final exchange with the Commissioner at the 24 March meeting can be seen here.
https://vimeo.com/213825964

Notwithstanding his promises I have not received any documentation from him subsequently.

The Commissioner is now looking to recruit a chief of staff.




Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Council of Europe - Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

At the end of March I was at the Council of Europe - Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. I'm one of 18 UK delegates to the Congress.  We are drawn from all parts of the UK.   Our delegation is 'gender balanced' and also draws its representation from all mainstream political parties.

The Council of Europe was established by the 1949 Treaty of London.  This was largely through the initiative of Winston Churchill who had the aim of fostering democracy, the rule of law and human rights throughout Europe.  Every country in Europe can be a member.  At the moment there are 47 member states.  In fact every country in Europe is a member with the exception of the Vatican and Belarus.  Even when the UK leaves the EU it will remain a member of the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe operates through:

  • Secretary General;
  • Committee of Ministers - the Foreign Ministers from each of the Member States;
  • Parliamentary Assembly - a representative number of MPs from each Member State;
  • Congress of Regional and Local Authorities - a representative number of councillors from each Member State;
  • The European Court of Human Rights;
  • The Commissioner for Human Rights; and
  • Conference of NGOs  

The Council of Europe looks to pass resolutions and through a combination of persuasion, good practice and its various treaties and charters it encourages its member states to protect and enhance democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

I participated in several debates.  Here is a link to the official Congress website relating to a debate we had on the situation in Turkey:

http://www.coe.int/t/congress/newssearch/Default_en.asp?p=nwz&id=8119&lmLangue=1

This debate was important as it gave the Congress an opportunity to comment on the situation.

You can find a link to the webcast of the entire debate at the above link.  If you want to see my contribution (I was the only UK delegate to speak) you can link to it here:
https://vimeo.com/213683519  assuming you don't want to watch all 2 hours of the wider debate.

We also had a debate about the pressure of digital democracy and the pressures that, that can bring.  I took the view that the real issue isn't so much receiving information from all the digital platforms - rather the challenge for all levels of government is showing that it is listening and taking into account the views of its citizens.

This is a link to my contribution to the debate...
https://vimeo.com/213683741

and if you listen to what I said in that debate -  I really had just raised a blocked culvert issue in Frodsham with CWaC officers just before I spoke!

And finally - just before the session finished I raised diversity as an issue for the Congress to consider.   Whilst we have rules about diversity of gender - each delegation can have no fewer than 40% of delegates from one gender - our rules don't cover other aspects of diversity that we recognise in the UK - such as orientation, origin, race etc.  I think it is time they did.





Thursday, 9 March 2017

Cllr Lynn Riley's letter to the Chronicle on school funding

Lynn wrote to the Editor of the Chronicle regarding the funding of schools in Cheshire.  The Chronicle didn't publish the letter so I am!

Sir:

Cheshire schools have historically had the lowest levels of pupil funding in England. For decades, councillors of all parties have lobbied to change this and Cheshire West has joined with others in the F40 group (www.f40.org.uk) to make our case to successive Governments.  The F40 along with tens of thousand of people signed Fair Schools Funding petitions wanting an end to the a system where children in Cheshire get on average £4,498 per pupil compared to £6,297 in the 10 highest funded areas where council tax is considerably lower.  Finally, we have a Government that is both listening and acting to change this. The principle of fair funding is uncontroversial and was welcomed by most headteachers in 2016. There were certainly no objections or reports in the press when £9.4m was added to the budget in 2015-16 as the Government provided extra funding to the F40 schools.

The National Funding Formula to make funding fairer for schools and children is currently out to consultation asking for views on the detailed design of the formula. Clearly this doesn’t work for Cheshire schools, West and East and Conservatives on the ground are not afraid to say so. We are however backing it up with action and direct representation to the Minister Nick Gibb and his team at DfE. Both Antoinette Sandbach and Graham Evans our Conservative MPs, have had several direct meetings, both accompanied by a Headteacher from a CWAC secondary and primary school to paint the all important picture of the reality in the classroom. 

Rachel Bailey as Leader of Cheshire East met the Minister after Christmas and as Leader of the Conservative Group I went to London last week for the same reason. I paid for my own tickets as I was told that this was not a Council sanctioned event- I went anyway.  A team from the DfE will be coming to Cheshire before the end of the consultation to work with officers in both Councils to examine the reasons why the proposed formula is indicating reductions for local schools.

The arguments are well evidenced and have been well made, but quietly behind the scenes because we want a solution for our students not a sound bite and an excuse to bash the Government that is attempting to fix an age old issue. At CWAC, Labour claim to be  great believers in consultation and reserve the right to change things according to the response. I’m curious that this principle doesn’t extend to others, particularly the Government. The local mantra is “Let’s Talk” but no-one from Labour seems to be in a hurry to want to talk with Whitehall.

Regards

Lynn Riley

Leader of the Conservative Group, Cheshire West and Chester Council


... and yet more evidence of a CWaC Labour Group more anxious over soundbites than sound management and governance.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The price of Labour's inaction and failure

Labour controlled CWaC voted by a narrow majority of 3 to pass a budget last week that imposes a near 4% rise in council tax - having rejected a Conservative amendment that would have frozen the general council tax yet boost the social care precept by 3%.  We see providing additional funds for social care as a priority.

The Conservatives wanted to see more money in Adult Social care but freezing the general council tax but this was rejected by Labour.  This was even after it was pointed out that CWaC had underspent its budgets last year to such an extent that last years CWaC council tax rise was unnecessary.

In the more than 300 pages of agenda papers 'Frodsham' was mentioned 20 times - but largely in the context of paying the council tax or answering questions that Cllr Riley and I had tabled previously.

There are no budget plans for a Frodsham or Helsby Leisure Centre.  

There are no budget plans for increased station car park capacity in Frodsham or Helsby ahead of the Halton Curve opening in 2018.  I described such failures as both 'shocking' and 'shameful.'

The budget papers claim that the council is looking for growth - yet of the 22,000 additional houses planned for the Borough between 2010-30 there are only 1600 to find - the rest have either been built or have planning permission.  The opportunity to go for growth is there but isn't being taken.

Since Labour took control 2 years ago Frodsham's total council tax has risen by 9% - and decisions by CWaC Labour are largely responsible. 

Frodsham residents' council tax is made up of charges levied by:

  • Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner
  • Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service
  • Cheshire West and Chester Council
  • Cheshire West and Chester Council - Special Expenses 
  • Frodsham Town Council
The total bill paid by a Band D council tax payer in Frodsham will amount to £1,670.67 - a rise of £59.04 over the previous year.  

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service increased their element of the council tax by 1.99%.
This means a £1.43 a year rise on a Band D property from £71.86 to £73.29.

Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner increased his element of the council tax also by 1.99%
This means a £3.21 a year rise on a Band D property from £161.23 to £164.44.

Cheshire West and Chester Council's precept is made up of three elements.  First there is the general council tax.  That was increased by 1.99%.  Then there is the social care precept.  This was increased 2%.  This could have been raised by 3% as a maximum - providing over the course of the following years it does not increase by more than 6%.  (In other words councils can choose to increase by 2% for each of 3 years - or increase by 3% in perhaps two years and then nothing in the third year.).  The third element is special expenses - which for the Frodsham area remains at zero.  The CWaC element of the council tax for the 3,636 Band D equivalent homes is £1374.80.

Finally Frodsham Town Council.  FTC's council tax for the year 17-18 will be £58.14 which is effectively the same as last year (not forgetting it was increased by just short of £20 per year last year or by more than 50%).

If you want to work out your council tax - if you don't live in a Band D property - then all it takes is a bit of maths!

All council tax is worked out on Band D properties.  The charges levied on other bands is a proportion of the Band D charge - worked out on the basis of 9ths.

Band A is 6/9ths of the Band D charge
Band B is 7/9ths of the Band D charge
Band C is 8/9ths of the Band D charge
Band D is 9/9ths of the Band D charge
Band E is 11/9ths of the Band D charge
Band F is 13/9ths of the Band D charge
Band G is 15/9ths of the Band D charge
Band H is 18/9ths of the Band D charge