Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Castle Park to have a community orchard - that is if the thieves stay away

Frodsham Transitions made a presentation to Castle Park Trust Executive today.  They want to plant a community orchard in Castle Park - adding to the orchards already planned elsewhere in Frodsham.  The idea is to provide sustainable food for the community.  Any surplus will be given to our schools.

The trust willingly granted permission in theory - but asked for the specific plans to be worked up once all interested groups had been consulted.  After all you wouldn't want an apple tree on the running track or on top of something really historic and significant.  (see the story about Frodsham's Castle published earlier today.)

Whilst we were discussing the plans for the orchard it emerged that tree planting in Castle Park is problematic and something of a war of attrition.  In the last couple of years 20 trees have been planted in the park - only 3 of which remain.  No its not 'Dutch Elm' disease or some other natural cause wreaking havoc.  The predators responsible for our trees disappearing are thieves with spades.

I asked our officers today whether they minded me giving publicity to these thefts - as it may serve to encourage the last 3 trees to disappear.  They reckoned it was worth the risk!

Just in case any 'thieves with spades' are reading this - we do have police patrols in the park from time to time and there is CCTV.  Many of our trees our planted by community groups or in memory of events or individuals.   You have to be quite a 'lowlife' to steal such things.

Where was Frodsham Castle?

'Where was Frodsham Castle?' was the question posed at the Castle Park Trust Executive meeting today by Professor Stewart Ainsworth and Rachel Swallow a PhD student from Chester University.  They approached the trust for permission to work in and around Castle Park trying to unpick the jigsaw pieces left to us by history - which we have gladly given by the way.

Was their a castle here?
Stewart (one of the country's leading landscape archeologists and a former 'Time Team star') and Rachel have already had a preliminary examination of the 'lumps and bumps' and believe there remains evidence of the castle landscape in the park and the surrounding areas such as in Overton, Netherton and in Frodsham's mediaeval centre.  Rachel hopes to learn so much more about Frodsham's Castle by studying historic documentation, examining the lumps and bumps in the landscape and through a 'geophys' examination.

Cllr Les Ford challenged Rachel and asked what the chances were of discovering more - did Frodsham really have a Castle?  

Rachel's answer was fascinating.  She reckons that the chance of establishing that Frodsham had a Castle in the high 90s%.  Certainly there was a Manor House here.  She went further to explain that Cheshire's Castles have been neglected by historians and that Frodsham Castle may well have been a Royal establishment.  Frodsham was one of only two boroughs created in the thirteenth century (the other being Macclesfield) and so the chances are good that there was something substantial here.  

She describes the Castle Park site as 'very important' and Frodsham as a 'strategic point' with an 'elite landscape!'  

Professor Ainsworth commented that he hopes the work will 'put Frodsham back on the map!'

I was delighted to hear all this and we have requested that when Rachel comes to carry out her studies in 2013 that we all work together to involve as many people as we can in our communities and especially the school children from Frodsham and the surrounding communities can learn more and participate.  I have also requested that all the information that is amassed, including the raw data be made available for everyone to study.

Wow - an 'elite landscape' - that is one of those phrases that will just trip off the tongue in CWaC Council meetings!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Superfast fast broadband is coming to Frodsham

Great news.  BT has announced today that superfast broadband is heading to Frodsham in 2013.

The full text of the BT press release follows below.

Many of us have been lobbying CWaC and BT for years to make sure that Frodsham wasn't overlooked in the super-fast broadband roll out.  I'm delighted that we've been listened to - and we can all look forward to blisteringly fast internet access.



DC12-274                               Embargoed until 00:01 hours Tuesday, September 25, 2012

THOUSANDS MORE CHESHIRE HOMES AND BUSINESSES IN LINE
FOR A SUPER-FAST BROADBAND BOOST
Frodsham and Helsby among the next communities to benefit;
Cheshire West and Chester Council welcomes development

BT today announced a further major investment in Cheshire pledging to roll-out its £2.5 billion high-speed fibre broadband network to more than 20,500 more homes and businesses across the county.

Frodsham and Helsby are among the latest communities to benefit, along with Culcheth and Runcorn. All are due to be upgraded in 2013.  The latest investment will take the total number of homes and businesses in Cheshire able to connect to the fibre network to more than 327,000. Around 241,000 already have access in upgraded areas, including Chester, and BT is keen to bring more communities within reach by working with the public sector.  

Mike Blackburn, BT’s regional director for the North West, said: “Fibre broadband opens up a whole new, high speed world. This latest major investment will help Cheshire to overcome the current economic challenges and take full advantage of the upturn when it comes. 

“Digital technology is fundamental to how we live and work – and in an increasingly connected world, high-speed communications will become even more essential in the years ahead. Research suggests fibre broadband could give a £143 million boost to a typical town’s economy and create 225 new jobs and 140 new businesses within 15 years. 

“The fibre broadband network we’re building today will underpin the local economy for many years to come – and we’re keen to go further, working with the public sector to take technology to places outside current commercial roll-out plans.  The arrival of fibre broadband in each of these new locations will revolutionise the way people use the internet for work, education and connecting with public services.”  

Councillor Herbert Manley, Cheshire West and Chester Council executive member for prosperity, said: “This is excellent news for Frodsham and Helsby. Super-fast broadband has the potential to transform internet use, businesses, education and public services.  Access to faster and more reliable broadband will bring these communities into the 21st century.  We particularly welcome the rollout of faster broadband in these towns which have hitherto suffered from a ‘digital divide’ compared with nearby, larger urban areas, restricting its economic and social potential.  The Connecting Cheshire Partnership is committed to working with providers such as BT to ensure the whole of Cheshire, Halton and Warrington can exploit the benefits of super-fast broadband.”

BT’s local network business Openreach is making fibre broadband available to around two-thirds of UK homes and businesses on a commercial basis by the end of 20142 using a mix of fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) and fibre to the premises (FTTP) technologies. More than 11 million premises can already access fibre broadband and that number is growing all the time.  

Both technologies offer speeds many times faster than the current UK average, reported by the regulator Ofcom to be 9Mbps. FTTC, where fibre is delivered to new street cabinets, offers download speeds of up to 80Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps3.  

FTTP, where fibre runs all the way to homes and businesses, offers a variety of download speeds with the current top speed being 330Mbps3. From Spring 2013 BT aims to make speeds of 330Mbps3 available on demand in any area where FTTC has been deployed4.  

Internet users with a fibre broadband connection can do much more online, all at the same time. A family can download a movie, watch a TV replay service, surf the net and play games online simultaneously. A whole album can be downloaded in less than 30 seconds and a feature length HD movie in less than 10 minutes, whilst high-resolution photos can be uploaded to Facebook in seconds.  

The upload speeds are the fastest widely available to consumers in the UK, with large video and data files being sent almost instantly and hi-resolution photos posted online in seconds. And high quality voice and video calls mean businesses can keep in touch with customers while they cut down on travel.  

For further information on Openreach’s fibre broadband programme visit: www.superfast-openreach.co.uk  

ENDS

Notes to editors
1 Research taken from 
Social Study 2012 – The Economic Impact of BT across the UK by Regeneris Consulting – see www.btsocialstudy.co.uk for more information.
2 BT’s deployment plans are subject to an acceptable environment for investment.
These are the top wholesale speeds available from Openreach to all service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary.
4 Openreach will levy an installation charge for FTTP on demand. It will be up to service providers to decide whether they pass that onto businesses or consumers wishing to take advantage of the product.

Due to the current network topography, and the economics of deployment, it is likely that some premises within the selected exchange areas will not initially be able to access fibre-based broadband. Alternative solutions for these locations are being investigated.

For further information please contact the BT Regional Press Office on 0800 085 0660. All our news releases can be found at www.btplc.com/news

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Tyre Slasher - Police make arrest

I'm delighted to report that the police have made an arrest in their investigations into who has been slashing tyres in northern Frodsham - however it appears that the arrest came after another 30 tyres were slashed this weekend.  For some people this is the second time they have been victims to this mindless and costly vandalism.

The police estimate that the damage has run into several thousands of pounds.

Detective Inspector Paul Beecham has advised that a local man is to be interviewed in connection with these incidents either later today or tomorrow.  The police will be providing an update at Frodsham Town Council's meeting tomorrow night (Monday 24 September) - 7:30pm at Castle Park Art's Centre.

I have passed on my thanks to Inspector Keith Curbishley and his colleagues at Ship Street Police Station for their hard work.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Swing Bridge Update

Well as promised here are the Swing Bridge FAQs.  I posed most of the questions - let me know if you have any other questions to pose that need answers!

Questions and answers

Who has the responsibility to look after the bridge?
The bridge is owned and operated by the Canal and River Trust (formerly British Waterways). Cheshire West and Chester Council, as the Highway Authority, is responsible for maintaining the road surface and for the ability of the structure to carry the heaviest traffic loads. Effectively this means that responsibility is shared with the Canal and River Trust taking the lead.
What condition is the bridge in at the moment?
The bridge is deteriorating and requires work to restore it to its former condition. The two principal issues are the corrosion to the supporting steel work beneath the road deck and the condition of the paint work. The operating mechanism is in reasonably good condition.
What work is planned for the bridge?
The bridge requires extensive refurbishment so that it can continue to carry the heaviest lorries permitted on the road. Work is required to re-deck the bridge, replace some structural steelwork, improve walkways and cycleways and to fully repaint in order to restore its appearance and to protect the bridge fabric from further deterioration.
How much of the works will go to local businesses?
The Canal and River Trust’s framework contractor, May Gurney, is always encouraged to seek prices from local sub-contractors. The works packages which will be undertaken by sub-contractors include:

  • temporary works/scaffold/encapsulation
  • fabrication/structural steelwork repairs/installation
  • superstructure preparation and painting.

This is a competitive process with the selection of sub-contractors dependent on prices submitted.
How long will it take and when will it start?
The exact details of the scheme have not been finalised. We are working on a project that is programmed to last around 10 to 12 months starting in June 2013.
So how will the works be carried out, and how will the traffic flow be maintained?
The bridge will not be closed to traffic and will not swing during the works. As a minimum, one lane of traffic will be retained at all times across the bridge, controlled by temporary traffic signals, whilst the refurbishment work is carried out. At peak hours throughout the project, the signals will be manually controlled to manage the traffic flows more effectively.
Both the Council and the Canal and River Trust recognise the disruption that this will cause. Keeping one lane of traffic over the bridge also makes it more difficult for the contractor and increases the length of time to complete the works. Given this, active consideration is being given to putting in a temporary bridge alongside the existing bridge for the duration of the works. The temporary bridge would carry the traffic with the contractor having full access to the existing bridge.
Are you serious about putting in a temporary bridge?
Yes. The detailed feasibility work is being carried out. But we can not guarantee that this will go ahead. We should know by mid-November 2012 whether this is feasible and practical in terms of cost.
Closing the bridge to road traffic will reduce the time required to carry out the refurbishment by about 10 weeks and initial estimates suggest this will result in a saving of £700,000. The cost of putting in and maintaining a temporary two-lane, full highway specification bridge is being investigated. The Canal and River Trust has given a commitment to publicise the costs when they have been finalised.
What is involved in the feasibility work for a temporary bridge?
This covers many things from sourcing and determining the cost of hiring a temporary bridge through to working out how you would put in the foundations for the temporary bridge - the Clifton Road side of the Navigation is quite tight for space. We also need to find out whether any existing utility services require diverting or protecting. If they do, this clearly would have cost implications.
Are the Emergency Services being consulted about the potential traffic disruption of the bridge works?
Yes. All the blue light services are involved in the planning work which includes making sure that their response times can be met even if there is likely to be traffic disruption during the repair works. This may include stationing emergency services in Frodsham or the surrounding area. These details have not yet been finalised and may depend on whether a temporary bridge is able to be built.
How much will the work cost and who will pay for it?
The final cost of the work is unknown as the exact details of what is required are currently being prepared. The Council and the Canal and River Trust will pay for the works and have budgeted around £4.5m for the work, with around £3.5m of that from Cheshire West and Chester Council.
Why is Cheshire West and Chester Council responsible for paying so much if the responsibilities are shared?
In previous years major schemes of this nature would have benefited from significant grant contributions from the Government. Government funding is no longer allocated in the same way. It is Cheshire West and Chester Council’s responsibility to maintain the bridge so that it can carry the heaviest lorries permitted on the road.
The Canal and River Trust only has an obligation to maintain the bridge to take 24 tonne vehicles. The bridge is strong enough to take 24 tonne vehicles at the moment. Cheshire West and Chester Council has committed to pay a maximum of £3.5m. Any cost overruns on the scheme will fall to the Canal and River Trust to meet.

Frodsham Foundation open day at the Goods Shed

It was an early start today - down to Frodsham Railway Station to set up the Goods Shed for the Frodsham Foundation open day.  I found myself with the Foundation crew of Rod, Mary and Kate sweeping the floor and erecting tables, A boards etc.

Mike Pusey as a Bee!
A special mention has to be made of Mike Pusey who turned up as a bumble bee to encourage the locals to come a view the inside of the goods shed and let us have their views on Frodsham and how we should see it develop and in particular what use could be made of the Goods Shed.

Inside the Goods Shed
There must have been over 300 people who came to discuss Frodsham, the Goods Shed and a host of other issues from School Buses, the Local Plan, the Swing Bridge, Leisure facilities, cycling, swimming pools and many many other things.  Certainly I didn't notice time passing - the first time I looked at my watch it was 12 noon!  It was great to listen to so many ideas.


I have to give a special thank you to the CWaC officers who spent time with us this morning.  You helped make this a successful event for us.

Setting up

I had a fascinating chat with Jenny Evans Frodsham's Librarian.  She has got fantastic plans for making more use of our Library facilities.  She talked animatedly to me about her hopes that CWaC will be able to relocate the Library to the Leisure Centre.  She is aiming to expand its opening hours and the use of the facilities.  We are very lucky to have such a passionate visionary Librarian! 
debating the issues

Friday, 21 September 2012

On the buses to HHS

This blog has been written by Cllr Lynn Riley:

Both Andrew and I have spoken to several parents about the current situation with buses to and from Frodsham from Helsby High School.

Both Andrew and I are parents of school aged youngsters who go to Helsby High School. We both understand how anxious and understandably angry some parents and students are that things haven’t run smoothly from day one.

I’m not a great blogger and would always prefer the chance to talk face-to-face whenever people need solutions to problems. Facebook and the press are great ways of stating the ‘obvious’, but all we’re really interested in is sorting things out.

I’ve discussed with Mr Capstick this week that probably the easiest and quickest way to fix things is to get everyone together who is still having problems and get to the heart of the matter. He agrees and is happy to use school for a meeting.

All those involved in working through what I hope will be the ‘fix’ believe that this unfortunate devil, is well-and-truely in the detail. The facts of the matter are that the ‘policy’ remains unchanged, the numbers at HHS aren’t that different this year than last year and there are actually more bus places available now than there were under the arrangements last year.

The school has been trying to work through the problems by letting the year 7 children out first so they can get on a bus; the older children should all have a transport option if they get on the bus allocated to their journey.

The main pressure point is how our children travel into Frodsham and continue beyond the Bear’s Paw towards the Lakes, Gates Garage and Sutton Weaver. It’s making sure that these children get priority on the 429 bus and those who live on the side of town before the Paw use the other buses available.

There are a number of options that can be tried if things aren’t sorted out by the measures that are already in place and both the school and the council’s transport services are keen to help. We can do this on a individual basis if you want to call the Council, but it would be better for us to get together as parents and make sure that we end up with the balanced equation of the right number of bums on seats!

We just need a time and a day for the meeting.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A request for the police for help

Damage to Vehicles Ship Street, Frodsham

Sometime between the hours of 23:00 hrs Sunday 16th September and 7:00 hrs Monday 17th September numerous vehicles have been targeted outside the home addresses of their owners by an offender who has ‘slashed’ the vehicles tyres.

This mindless act of vandalism is a very unusual case for Frodsham and has caused significant distress, inconvenience and financial loss for those affected.

I am very keen to identify the offender and bring them to justice and have deployed additional Police Officers and Police Community Support Officers to the area to pursue every possible line of enquiry to gather evidence and provide reassurance to victims and other local residents.

If any residents have private CCTV which may assist in our enquiries or have seen something suspicious or that didn’t look quite right between the material times I would be grateful if they could make contact by calling 101 and quoting incident number 81 of 17/09/12.

Keith Curbishley
Inspector
Western Rural NPU

Friday, 14 September 2012

Swing Bridge Meeting

The Conference Suite at Forest Hills Hotel was full last night.  I chaired a meeting of representatives of local businesses with the senior technical officers from the Canals and Rivers Trust (ex British Waterways) and Cheshire West and Chester Council.  A representative from Cheshire Police was also present.

The meeting discussed the plans that are being drawn up for the repair and refurbishment of the swing bridge.

The meeting heard from George Ballinger - the senior engineer from the Canals and Rivers Trust (who own the bridge and will let the contract for its refurbishment) about the plans so far.   The work is planned to start in May or June 2013 and is expected to last some 9-10 months.

The anxieties of the business community were heard loud and clear.  There was a strong consensus in the room that however the road works were to be managed maintaining 2-way traffic over the Navigation was essential.  No one wanted to contemplate the disruption we all fear if the traffic flow is reduced to single lane controlled by traffic lights.

George Ballinger stated that work was proceeding on whether a second temporary bridge could span the Navigation next to the existing structure.  The thought was this second structure would cost around £600-£700k - but there would be cost savings on the main bridge refurbishment - as it could proceed more quickly (perhaps 11 weeks knocked off the project) and, of course the contractors could work on the structure unimpeded by traffic.   There would also be other benefits in this approach such as strengthening the sides of the Navigation on the Clifton Road side.

He indicated that the work to determine whether this was possible would be finalised in around 2 months time.  On being pressed whether such a scheme would be likely he replied that he thought there was a 70% chance that this could proceed.  Everyone in the room, me included will be having their fingers crossed for the next 2 months.

CWaC officers suggested that the delays to traffic associated with single lane operations could be of the order of 20 minutes.  I have to say that no-one in the room with the experience of a Friday afternoon when, under normal traffic conditions we can have grid lock from the Bear's Paw traffic lights to the M56 thought that was credible.  I have asked the officers to go back and look again at the data.

So we are to meet again in 2 months time when I hope we will learn whether a temporary bridge can be constructed.

This was a very interesting meeting - and one where many local businesses showed flair and a willingness to innovate.  

We also had other officers who could advise on what support for businesses could be available.

I will work with officers and my colleague Cllr Lynn Riley on working on publishing a series of FAQs on the bridge project.  If anyone has a question they'd like adding to that list please email me on andrew.dawson@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk and I'll do my best to have it included, whilst reserving the right to edit what is published!

Thanks again to Keiran at Forrest Hills for hosting the event for us.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Planning for Disruption Swing Bridge repairs - Meeting for Frodsham Businesses - Forest Hills 6:30pm 13 September

Hopefully as many businesses in Frodsham as possible will by now be aware that I have convened a meeting at Forest Hills Hotel on 13 September 2012 at 6:30pm to consider and discuss the planned repair and refurbishment of the Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge and the anticipated 9 months of delays and disruption we can envisage to traffic along the A56.  The present proposal is to ensure at least one lane of traffic can continue to use the bridge during the works so access along the A56 can be maintained albeit at a reduced flow.  Inevitably a single lane of traffic will have to be controlled by traffic lights.  These works won't start until Spring 2013 at the earliest.

I see the meeting as having 3 distinct elements to it.

First we will be given a description of the proposed works, what they will entail and the anticipated time scales and phasing.  There will be an opportunity to ask questions of the relevant officers involved about the details and explore what the various options are.  The final details of the scheme have not yet been 'set in stone' so there is a real opportunity to influence how the works proceed.  I've also asked the officers to come prepared to answer questions about things such as 'bailey bridges', diversion or alternative routes and what sort of delays and disruption could be anticipated and planned for.

Second we can move on to consider the impact of the works on traffic flows and in particular how they may affect businesses either directly - such as getting staff/goods/customers into Frodsham.  This then will lead onto what to the third phase which will be what can be done to minimise the impact of the disruption on businesses during the works.

I'm sure we all want to encourage our businesses to built their resilience and plan for the potential impacts of the disruption.  However I'm sure we can go much further than this by exploring what we can do together to work around the anticipated issues.  There will be opportunities to explore a number of joint initiatives such as joint marketing and what can be done by way of business support.  However what I can also anticipate is that we will hear a number of great ideas from the businesses themselves.  No one has all the answers!

I'm also sure this will be one of many meetings to help and encourage us all to be creative and to help businesses thrive.  

This meeting is intended to be exclusively for Frodsham businesses - there will be other meetings and events for other groups such as Frodsham residents in due course (stay posted!) - but at this stage I do think that talking and listening to the business community is the most important thing we can all do.

The meeting was originally scheduled to be in the 'Tin Church' - but we have moved the location to Forest Hills Hotel as we anticipate we may need more space if we have a significant turnout.  I have to say a big thank you to Forest Hills for letting us have their conference room for free to hold this meeting - especially after they were going to charge us for the room hire when we enquired previously.

Interestingly I was told by officers at CWaC 2 days ago that this is the first time they can recall CWaC being asked to meet with a local business community about planned disruption well in advance of it.  It is also, apparently, the first time that the business support part of CWaC and the highways teams have been asked to come together.  I know this isn't the first time that Frodsham has innovated and I'm sure it won't be the last.  I raised the importance of this sort of co-ordination at CWaC's Executive last night - and have asked the Leader of CWaC to ensure that it won't just be Frodsham that has the benefit of what we are putting in place.  

Whilst I'm thanking people I do have to thank the officers at CWaC who are helping bringing this meeting together.  As a community advocate I can ask the questions - but it is the officers who hopefully will have the answers or be able to point to where the answers can be found.  I'm also very grateful to Kate Dodgson our CEO of the Frodsham Foundation for all the hard work she is putting in both in the preparation for the meeting - but also regarding what support could be available.

And finally thanks to Nicky at Les Harris Jewellers for suggesting to me that we really ought to convene a meeting to discuss the bridge.  It was her original idea that arose in conversation as I was buying a replacement watch strap in early August that led to this meeting being planned publicised and promoted.

Operation Gram - Cheshire Police

Earlier this week I received a fascinating invite - would I like to accompany Cheshire Police on one of its operations?  Having said Yes - but what does it involve - I was told it would mean an early morning start and I was to wear warm clothes.  Now suitably intrigued I said yes and was told to get myself to Police Headquarters in Winsford for 4:45am.  This meant a 3:50am alarm call for me.

The briefing in the early hours at Police HQ,Winsford

I'm the tired looking one with the orange lanyard!

Anyway in the early hours of this morning around 300 officers from Cheshire Police met at police HQ.  I witnessed the briefing and was privileged in being allowed to accompany them when executing warrants in Runcorn aimed at disrupting the illegal drugs trade in the town.

I was impressed with everything I saw.  The planning was meticulous, the officers were thoroughly professional - but with a suitably laconic sense of humour.  

A lengthy convoy of vehicles left Winsford - it must have been quite a sight to see en route to Runcorn where the convoy broke into teams to do their work.

I witnessed 3 warrants being executed and saw doors being broken in and properties and suspects secured - all from the safety of the public highway!  Not only was it fascinating to watch I learned a lot just by listening to the officers interact with each other - and use mutually encouraging and respectful banter to reinforce their planning and make sure each one knew what their role was. 

Clearly the officers were keyed up - but they remained professional throughout even through the unexpected and shocked responses of those who were being arrested and those who witnessed their loved ones being arrested.  Having to react to the unexpected is inevitably part of the job.

It was after the second warrant had been executed and the officers were waiting for authorisation to move to their third set of premises when I saw them relax and reflect on what they were doing.  It was humbling to hear the officers comment about how innocent family members - such as young children - could be affected by witnessing heavily protected officers bursting into a house.

With the more serious suspects now arrested we moved to the final set of premises for this particular team.  This suspect was more vocal than any of the others - they'd taken their arrests quietly - or at least the parts I saw or heard. This guy protested his innocence in very colourful language repeatedly.  Again the professionalism shone through - he was quietly, but firmly placed in the 'secure accommodation' of the rear portion of the van.  

Then it was off to Runcorn police station to see the paperwork being generated and recorded - and finally a trip back to HQ.  I had my 'full English' in the HQ Canteen not long after 8am.  A fascinating morning.

As it happened I was able to convey my thanks and appreciation directly to the chief constable in a meeting later on that morning.  I also commented on what I had seen at CWaC's Executive Meeting later on in the evening.