Friday, 20 December 2013

The Emerging Local Plan - Labour Councillors 'all mouth and no trousers.'

Last night Cheshire West and Chester Council overwhelmingly voted to send the draft local plan to its next stage - an Examination in Public (otherwise known as a Public Inquiry) - so that the plan and its policies can be tested in front of a planning inspector.

The plan has taken 3 years to compile to its present position and is intended to regulate development in our Borough until 2030.  As many of us have observed it is perhaps the most important document CWaC has produced since it was created in 2009 as it will shape our community for the next generation.  We need this plan to make sure that we as a local community can take control of large scale development.  Without a secure 5 year supply of housing land allocations (where we are at the moment) developers have a freer hand to develop where they want, not where we want.  The sooner we get a robust plan the better.

Over the autumn the plan has been out to consultation - everyone has had the opportunity to comment on it - and in fact only those that have commented on the plan will be entitled to make representations at the Examination in Public. As readers of this blog will readily recognise I have been encouraging everyone to have their say.

I don't agree with everything in the emerging plan - I don't think everyone agrees with absolutely every page, plan and policy - but I do think it is in proper shape to be tested.  I do expected the proposed housing numbers to be tested - and there are many things about planning policy affecting Frodsham that I want to see tested too.  I have also asked that the inquiry hearings are webcast too.

At the council meeting last night the Labour councillors looked like they had agreed a plan of campaign.  Far be it from me to suggest that they had been whipped - but that is exactly what it looked like.  Their basic stance was 7 days notice of this council meeting to discuss the local plan isn't long enough.  Oh, and the short 5 page report didn't do the 'bible' of local plan documents sufficient service... When it came to the vote they all abstained.

Of course Labour's position doesn't stand scrutiny.

First all councillors have had the opportunity to participate in the local plan drafting process since 2009. There have been regular meetings of the LDF Panel - where this work was being done.  Every councillor has been given a 'hard' copy of the plan documents to work through.  I used mine to make personal representations and to assist Frodsham Town Council make their representations too.  Then, of course, we have all had the opportunity to participate in the 8 week long consultation process.

Yesterday afternoon I went on the CWaC website where you can find the consultation portal - consult.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk .  There is a helpful button 'Who Said What.'  I used the search facility to check out which Councillors had bothered to make representations.  I typed in each councillor's name and noted down what I found.

This quick 10 minutes research revealed that only around 24 of the 75 Councillors had made representations.  I have to state here that I cannot be absolutely sure that I have captured all the information - but what I report is what I discovered from my enquiries of the website.  Only 6 of the 24 Councillors who made representations were obviously Labour party councillors.  That is less than 19% of the Labour Councillors on CWaC.  18 Councillors were from the Conservative party - that is just shy of 43% - not great as I said in the Chamber last night - but a great deal better than 19%.  Our single Lib Dem didn't appear to have bothered either.

So here we have it ladies and gentlemen - we have a group of Labour Councillors who claim a lack of preparation time for a council meeting when they have been participating in the process for years, and when the vast majority of them hadn't even bothered to make representations themselves even though they have had had all the documentation and an 8 week window in which to make representations.

If ever there was a case of 'all mouth and no trousers' this is it.

When you are bored over the Christmas period do play the game I played - tap in your councillor's name in the 'Who Said What' part of the portal and click the 'Consultees' button.  The most important plan in CWaC's history, that will manage development for a generation - and only 6 Labour Councillors were seemingly bothered to make representations.





Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Transport News - Bridges Tolls and Railways.

The Department for Transport has just announced that it will provide £1.777M funding towards the ongoing repairs of the Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge under its £49M Local Pinch Point funding scheme.  Its great that the DfT has responded so positively to all the lobbying Lynn and I and our MP Graham Evans have done.  I also have to pay tribute to the hard work of CWaC and the Canals and River Trust officers too in securing this useful funding.  I think it is right that the government is picking up a significant element of the costs in refurbishing the bridge

The DfT has also just announced that Network Rail is to look into the electrification of the Warrington-Chester line - which, of course serves Frodsham and the Crewe-Chester line which is vital for the economic health of our Borough.  We'll find out in about a year whether these schemes are to go ahead.

You may have picked up that Halton Borough Council has voted to place tolls on the existing Runcorn-Widnes Bridge when the new bridge opens.  This will mean that both bridges are tolled - just like the two tunnels serving Liverpool from the Wirral.  Halton Council voted to set the toll at £2 in each direction - with Halton residents given 300 'free' crossings each year.  They believe it will match the Mersey Tunnel tolls when it comes into force.

I'm unhappy about tolls - I don't like paying them.  You don't mind on the odd one-off trip but this could be quite a burden if you are having to pay day in day out.  I notice that local buses will be exempt from the tolls and this may boost the use of public transport.  If only we had the Halton Curve back in use it would be easy to commute to Liverpool from Frodsham!  The lobbying on this continues!

Halton Council's decisions was, I'm afraid, all too predictable.  We all have known since the start of the second Mersey crossing project that tolling the existing bridge was almost certainly going to happen.  It would have been daft not to toll it given that the new second crossing bridge was to be tolled.  You only have to look at the choice that people make on the M6 and the M6 Toll Motorway.  As an occasional user of the M6 Toll motorway I love the fact that it is so lightly used - and you see the vast majority of motorists choosing to stay in the 'free' but congested M6.  If Halton Council was going to relieve the traffic on the existing bridge they were going to have to put a toll on it.  I don't like it, I wish neither bridge was tolled - but having the new bridge tolled was a key factor in having the new bridge built.

What Halton Council's decision does though is to discriminate between their residents and those living outside their Borough such as in Frodsham and Helsby.  It is somewhat ironic that a scheme to boost the economy of the Liverpool region and Cheshire is likely to have a dampening effect in areas close to the bridge, but outside Halton where people make decisions about employment and their businesses factoring in having to pay the toll.

That said I know many people already factor in whether they want to cross the bridge on a daily basis given the risk of traffic jams.  I know I did when I lived one side and worked the other - and my wife does now. She works in Halton - but make sure, so far as she can that her work keeps her on the Runcorn side. 

Whatever we think about tolls I do think it is absolutely fantastic that the government is investing so heavily in our local transport infrastructure - and with the prospect of more to come too.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Frodsham Christmas Festival - 30 November 2013

Wow - what a day and what a night.

Each year the Christmas Festival gets bigger and better and this year was the best yet - or perhaps the best so far!  A massive thank you to Kate at Frodsham Foundation for pulling the event together - and to the army of volunteers who with the police kept us safe.

It was wonderful to see so many people out enjoying themselves.  It was also wonderful to welcome people from miles around joining us in Frodsham to celebrate the Christmas Festival.  Everyone I spoke with was full of praise for the event - and the way in which it was run.   Our local businesses joined in - and they were joined by other stall holders.  The fair came to town too.  From what I've heard so far our local businesses were reporting booming business.

The Christmas lights were switched on by the Mayor of Frodsham Cllr Sara Wakefield ably assisted by our new Junior Mayors from Weaver Vale Primary School.

Lynn and I joined the volunteer stewards and walked with the procession from the Leisures Centre, down Park Lane, along Main Street, up Church Street, beyond Eddisbury Square and back to the Leisure Centre.  We had the Frodsham Silver Band on one float and hundreds of school children joining in with thousands watching on.  Santa and his reindeer also put an appearance in!

Generating power for the Xmas lights


Reindeer


Scouts climbing wall

The Silver Band preparing

Children with sparkly lights

Mayor and Junior Mayors of Frodsham
fireworks marked the switch-on


Frodsham was packed




the streets were 'thronged'

Happy Christmas


Monday, 25 November 2013

Watery Lane temporary closure 2 December for 5 days

CWaC highway engineers have published a Traffic Regulation Order closing Watery Lane for c5 days from 2 December to allow for drainage works to take place.

Howey Lane - temporary closure 3rd December (and possibly longer) - tree cutting

In all its legal glory here is the traffic regulation order looking to close Howey Lane on 3rd December 2013 (and maybe longer) to allow Scottish Power to trim some trees.

The signage plan follows the order.



Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council

Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984

Temporary Prohibition of Traffic

C708 Howey Lane in the Parish of Frodsham


Notice is hereby given pursuant to the provisions of Section 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, that the Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council intend to make an Order the effect of which will be to temporarily prohibit traffic on the following length of road known as Howey Lane in the Parish of Frodsham to enable Tree Cutting Works to be carried out by Scottish Power.

(1)       C708 Howey Lane, Frodsham  (from junction of Howey Rise to junction Hillfield)

Nothing in the Order shall prevent driving upon the said lengths of road of any vehicle which is being used for the conveyance of persons, goods or merchandise to or from any premises situate on or adjacent to the lengths of road or in connection with agriculture, building construction, works of repair and the like or use in an emergency of vehicles for fire brigade, ambulance or police purposes.  A through route will not always be available and any vehicles not requiring access to properties on the length of road should use the alternative routes.

The Order will come into force on 3rd December 2013 and will continue in force for a period not exceeding eighteen months or until the works which it is proposed to carry out have been completed, whichever is the earlier.  It is anticipated that the works will take approximately one day to complete.

Alternative routes for through traffic

Traffic should proceed via: C708 Howey Lane, C708 Church Road, B5152 Red Lane, B5152 Church Street, A56 Main Street, A56 Chester Road.

Richard Flood (Ref TRO 754)
Localities Directorate
Winsford Area Highways Office
Phoenix House
Clough Road
Winsford
Cheshire CW7 4BD
Tel: 0300 123 7036
Email: engvr@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk


25th November 2013


Thursday, 21 November 2013

An evening with Frodsham Model Car Club

I was honoured and delighted to be invited by Frodsham Model Car Club to one of their regular meetings at the Community Centre.  Last February Lynn and I awarded the club a £250 grant for the club to buy a 'club car' and for them to encourage more people, and especially youngsters to take part without having to spend serious money.

I was really pleased to see a full pit lane with several teenagers - all were keen to tell me how good the club car is and just how much use it has had!

The club members run cars of 1/10th and 1/12th scale.  The cars run really fast - I was told up to 40mph can be typical - and this is before you scale the speed up!   If you are a newbie - you are better going for a robust 1/10th scale car - they cost less and allow you to race competitively without breaking the bank.

I had a really enjoyable evening - and would encourage anyone who fancies a go to turn up on a Thursday evening at the Community Centre for a go.

The British Model Racing Car Association were also present tonight along with TV cameras... and then they asked me to take part in a race... on camera!  Guess what I came last.
BMRCA cars under charge

Phil Spark FMRCC's timekeeper being interviewed on camera

Club colours 
Pit lane action
Incidentally I did take pictures of the cars racing - but they all came out blurred - even with the flash on the camera - that's how fast they go!


Monday, 11 November 2013

Superfast broadband - it is nearly here in Frodsham

I don't normally quote CWaC press releases in full - but this one is worth reading ...
... especially when you notice that the roll out of superfast broadband in Frodsham is already well underway.  Have you noticed the shiny new green BT telephone cabinets popping up in the last few weeks?

On a related issue I do enjoy pointing out to CWaC colleagues that Frodsham is already on the 4G mobile network...

If you look closely at the attached map you'll see that most of Frodsham is already 'green' - in other words either already upgraded or being upgraded.  Other parts are 'pink' indicating that they will be upgraded to superfast broadband between Spring 2014 and Summer 2015. 

Brace yourself for up to 80Mbps broadband speeds and to think I still remember the chirp of 'dial-up!'


Date: 11 November 2013
Reference Number: 705/13

Connecting Cheshire maps out fibre broadband expansion plans Connecting Cheshire has revealed a fibre broadband rollout map just seven months after the signing of a £28.5m deal between BT and four Cheshire councils to bring fibre broadband to 96 per cent of Cheshire.






The map shows where communities throughout the county can expect the high-speed technology to arrive by the end of summer 2015.

 Both residents and businesses can check the map by visiting www.connectingcheshire.org.uk/check-availability to find out more.

The map shows the many areas already able to access fibre broadband through the private sector’s commercial roll-out, largely in urban areas, and those planned to be connected under the Connecting Cheshire programme, which will extend the network to over 80,000 premises in mainly outlying and rural communities, plus those areas still under evaluation.

The Connecting Cheshire broadband programme will be delivered by Openreach - BT’s local network business - building on BT’s commercial investment in the county already committed as part of its £2.5 billion overall commercial investment in UK fibre broadband.


A massive 875 miles of fibre-optic cable will be laid – more than the distance between Lands end and John O’ Groats. This will be a significant engineering challenge testing BT’s engineers to the full as they work to upgrade the county’s infrastructure, both underground and up telegraph poles, in all weather and often at night, to minimise traffic disruption.
 

As a result of the programme, broadband speeds will increase significantly. Ninety six per cent of Cheshire premises will have access to speeds of up to 80Mbps, whereas Cheshire’s current average downstream speed is 16Mbps (Ofcom UK Broadband Speeds Report; June 2013). The final 4% of premises are under evaluation and the project is seeking additional funding or technological solutions to upgrade them to high speed broadband as soon as practicable. In any event these areas will see faster speeds as the project aims to deliver 2Mbps or more to all homes and businesses by the end of 2016 via enhancements to the existing copper network. This will be a significant speed boost for the most remote homes and businesses as 12% currently receive less than 2Mbps. BT’s network will be open to all internet service providers on an equal wholesale basis and so Cheshire households and businesses will benefit from a highly-competitive market, in turn bringing greater choice and lower prices.


There are a range of factors which impact on the viability of the upgrades to fibre within the Connecting Cheshire programme; these include the number and density of premises, the deployment cost, the proximity to existing fibre infrastructure and whether eligible small or medium sized businesses would be served – which is a condition of the project’s European funding. Connecting Cheshire expects to announce in early December which specific areas will be included in the first stage of its roll-out, with further phased announcements thereafter.
 

Homes and businesses in at least 20 telephone exchange areas will see upgrades as part of the first phase and be able to contact their internet service provider to order a switch to fibre broadband from the end of March 2014 onwards.


Councillor Herbert Manley, Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Executive Member for Growth and Innovation, said: “The delivery of Superfast Broadband is a huge step forward for Cheshire West and Chester businesses and communities and the Connecting Cheshire team has worked tirelessly to deliver this project. It is an excellent example of partnership working.”
 

Bill Murphy, managing director of BT Next Generation Access, said: “We’ve made great progress planning our network for Cheshire but, with a programme of this size, it’s not possible to upgrade every area at the same time and, sadly, not all exchange areas will become live on the same date. So please bear with us – we are going to be working as fast as we can to bring more fibre to more people over the next two years.”
 To view the Connecting Cheshire broadband rollout and coverage map visit www.connectingcheshire.org.uk and click the Check Availability tab.

Note to Editors Superfast Britain is a Government investment of £1.08bn in broadband and communication infrastructure across the UK. Run by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, this investment helps businesses to grow, creates jobs and will make Britain more competitive in the global race. The portfolio comprises three linked programmes:

● £780m to extend superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017;
● £150m to provide high speed broadband to businesses in 22 cities;
● £150m to improve quality and coverage of mobile phone and data network services.

Administered on behalf of Government by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), Superfast Britain is transforming Britain by promoting growth, enabling skills and learning, and improving quality of life.

For further information: https://www.gov.uk/broadband-delivery-uk About Connecting CheshireThe Connecting Cheshire project was launched in April 2013, following the signing of the contract between four Cheshire councils (Cheshire East Council, Cheshire West and Chester Council, Halton Borough Council and Warrington Borough Council) and BT, which will see a total fibre broadband investment in the county of around £28.5m.
The project will reach those areas outside of any commercial broadband roll-out using a partnership approach to ensure all communities have access to the fastest possible broadband speeds.


About ERDF The project is part financed by the North West Competitiveness Programme, European Regional Development Fund Programme 2007 to 2013. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the managing authority for the European Regional Development Fund Programme, which is one of the funds established by the European Commission to help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support local businesses and create jobs. For more information visit www.gov.uk/erdf-programmes-progress-and-achievements

Sunday, 10 November 2013

We will remember them

St Laurence Church War Memorial 10 November 2013
St Laurence church was packed for our annual commemoration service and ceremony on Remembrance Sunday.

Wreaths were laid for:

Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire
Graham Evans MP
Cheshire West and Chester Council
Frodsham Town Council
Royal British Legion
Cheshire Police
Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service
Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service Cadets
Frodsham & Helsby Rotary Club
Frodsham & Helsby Inner Wheel
Frodsham Women's Institute
Frodsham Mothers' Union
Army Cadet Force
Frodsham Scout Association
Frodsham Guide Association
Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes
Manor House School
Weaver Vale School
Frodsham CofE Primary School

Apologies to anyone I've missed off the list!




Saturday, 2 November 2013

Frodsham Fireworks

A big thank you to Roundtable, Rotary, the Community Centre and everyone else involved in the firework display tonight.  A large crowd witnessed the annual display braving the chilly wind and rain.   It was meant to be 9°C - it felt much colder.

Just as well we had the magnificent display to enjoy.  Here are some photos of the bonfire and the display:






Frodsham Library

I was invited to see the new Frodsham Library yesterday.  I had a sneak peak as the last of the commissioning work was going on.  It is somewhat unexpected to describe a library as 'exciting' or that the excitement was 'palpable' - however both descriptions were correct.

It is wonderful that we now have a bigger library than before and one that is able to offer more services than before.  Regular users of the library will appreciate, I am sure, the better lighting and the air conditioning.

Frodsham library has a great future and I'm sure we will be adding more and more services to it as time goes by.

The library will be open to the public on Monday 4th November and we are likely to have the formal opening later this month.




Monday, 21 October 2013

Bench-marking FTC and its council tax.

Comparing town and parish councils can be something of an interesting if not a thankless task - you see there are so many of them and they differ so much in size, character, ambition and approach event though their legal powers are effectively the same.

Records show that there are around 9,000 parish councils in England.  Some 600 of these are town councils - such as Frodsham.

The Daily Telegraph reported this morning that the Government was considering capping the ability of these town and parish councils to raise their element of the council tax - as last year, on average town and parish councils raised their precepts by c5%.

Now before everyone splutters in outrage we lowered our precept in Frodsham!

When considering your council tax bill you also have to take into account that in our part of CWaC is made up of 5 elements which are:

  • CWaC's precept;
  • Police & Crime Commissioner's precept - to pay towards the costs of Cheshire police;
  • Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service;
  • CWaC's special expenses - in other words those services CWaC provides locally in some areas, but not others - which some parish council's provide - eg the cost of a PCSO, Christmas lights etc; and
  • FTC's precept.
Leaving aside the special expenses FTC's element is by far the smallest and in Frodsham the special expenses figure is zero in any event.  You see typically more than 85% of your council tax goes to CWaC, around 10% to the Police and Crime Commissioner, and around 5% to the Fire Service.  If you want more detail you can find it here courtesy of CWaC.

A householder of a typical band D property in Frodsham will have to pay a total of £1,526.42 in council tax of which only £37.20 goes to FTC - less than 2.5% of the total precept.  

So what does this tell us about Frodsham.

Last year - unlike the 5% average increase reported for all parish and town councils - Frodsham Town Council's council tax take went down - albeit by a few pence.

The average Band D council tax levied by a parish council in England last year was £50.19.  Frodsham Town Council's precept is 25% cheaper than this average!  Frodsham residents pay less council tax than any other parished town in CWaC (ie it is the cheapest parished town in the Borough.  Cheaper than Northwich, Winsford & Neston.  Ellesmere Port and Chester are, at present un-parished).  

The council tax paid by Frodsham's residents is lower than other non-towned parishes too - such as Helsby, Tarporley, Saughall & District, Sproston, Marston, Little Stanney, Kingsmead, Darnhall, Moulton, Clotton Hoofield, Oakmere... and I dare say that none of these communities do all the things that FTC provides such as:
  • our own dedicated PCSO;
  • allotments;
  • cemetery;
  • bus stops;
  • volunteer winter gritting scheme;
  • over 70s vouchers
  • community defibrilators (with CWaC member contributions)
  • Christmas lights
  • community orchards etc
  • support with CWaC others in extending cycling and cycle stands in Frodsham
  • support with CWaC and others in Christmas and other festivals and events in Frodsham
  • support with CWaC and others in our own community social enterprise Frodsham Foundation; and
  • play areas...
This is not a complete list by the way!

I welcome the suggestion made in the Telegraph article that if a parish or town council wishes to raise its parish precept by more than 2% should only be supported by a local referendum.  The only problem is that the costs of running a referendum are quite prohibitive if you are looking for a relatively small rise which could engender local support.  

Perhaps we should ask the government to be more sophisticated in its approach - such as requiring a referendum if seeking an increase by 2% when you are above the national average - with perhaps a slightly higher threshold - such as 4 or 5% if you are below that average figure.  Alternatively some less expensive means of testing local opinion than a full blown referendum could be an alternative.  (I estimate for Frodsham that a referendum would cost us around £15-20,000k - perhaps more than 10% of our entire revenue in any year.  The costs of the referendum alone would prevent you ever seeking authority to increase the precept beyond the capping figure in all likelihood.

Incidentally I have no plans to raise FTC's precept - I am simply explaining the realities of what a 2% 'referendum cap' would mean.

What the Telegraph article also highlights for me is the fact that Government needs to review how much it pays to CWaC in grants.  The figures also suggest we are not getting as much as perhaps we should.  I signed a petition a month ago requesting that the government settlement figures for CWaC should be reconsidered.  As a Borough we are much more self sufficient than other areas.  If only the rest of the country was as efficient as CWaC and FTC we'd all be paying a lot less in Council Tax!  

Thursday, 17 October 2013

CWaC Full Council - Badgers and Retail

We had a meeting of CWaC's full council tonight.  It was one of those meetings where most of the time we could agree on most things.

That said there were two debates tonight - one ended in complete unanimity - and the other was decided on a casting vote - the first time that has happened at CWaC.

We had a debate regarding bovine TB.  Should the council ban culling badgers on Council land and support vaccination of wild badgers?  I'm paraphrasing here - the actual motion put to the council by Cllr Mearden was much more lengthy than this - but it amounted to the same thing.  All of us on CWaC had been extensively lobbied - by those for and against a badger cull and we had several public speakers who spoke eloquently on the issue too.  We heard from a diary farmer as well as representatives such as from Cheshire Wildlife.

I felt the motion was premature in the sense that the issue of bovine TB has been taxing greater minds than mine and indeed CWaC's for many years and we are still searching for a solution.  My sentiments are humane - I lean towards vaccination and I certainly don't support killing anything unless it really has to be done.  I do want CWaC to consider this in detail, to call for evidence before we take a decision whether to support the motion or not.  Importantly we must consult all stakeholders - including CWaC's own tenant farmers and listen to the experts.

From a personal point of view I know how devastating TB can be.

My family all come from the Isle of Man.  I have studied my family history.  My father's family bred like rabbits in the middle of the nineteenth century.  At the end of that century and the start of the next my family was devastated - largely by TB.  My grandmother was one of 8.  She was the only one to have children.  Her father lost a wife and 4 children before having a second family - one of whom was my grandmother.  Through a combination of TB, WW1 and Spanish flu - it was just her who had a family.  My grandfather lost his sister to TB too.  I have no cousins, or second cousins and TB all those years ago is a contributing factor.

I know this dreadful disease will not respect land boundaries - and I want to make sure we play our part - and the best part we can in halting the spread of bovine TB in our wildlife and in our cattle.

If you have a view on what CWaC's policy should be in this area do make sure you have your say.  We need to get this policy right.

The Chairman's casting vote sent this matter to Scrutiny with the council dividing largely on political lines.

We were unanimous about wishing to support all our retail centres and more work will be done on this!  I gently pointed out some grammatical and drafting errors in the motion put to Council ... and was called a pedant by the Chairman for my desire to be accurate!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Planning Update

October has been an interesting month for planning applications in CWaC and we are only 10 days in!

So what's been going on...

Delamere Forest
Tonight the Strategic Planning Committee voted to approve plans put forward by the Forestry Commission for Delamere Forest and recommended for approval by council officers to:

  1. reorganise the visitor centre arrangements - with a new visitor facility to be built, the existing centre to become the Commission's offices and the old offices to be demolished with enhanced car parking arrangements;
  2. the erection of 70 cabins for forest holidays.
The part of this application relating to the 70 cabins has been seen by some, but not all, as controversial. As an example 3 of the 4 parish councils whose areas cover the forest and its surroundings opposed the application - although the other one raised no objections to the proposals.

The cabins are set to be built in the northern part of the forest (Kingswood) which the planning application describes as the least used. 

The Forestry Commission sought permission to make these changes to earn more money from their assets so as to make their operations more self sustaining and less dependent on government subsidies.  They are estimating that each lodge will earn around £3,000 income for the forest each year.  At the moment the forest has a shortfall of some £140,000 per year and has let go around 30% of its staff.

The application also suggests that the wider local economy will receive some £2.7m pounds of stimulus through their proposals and that some 88.5 FTE jobs will be created.

I can see this application from both sides.  I recognise the disappointment that the forest will be, in part commercialised - however the public sector austerity does mean that the forest has to generate more income and be self sustaining.  I welcome improved visitor and events access and car parking.  The plans do show that the Kingswood area would have been cleared by the Forestry Commission over the next 10 years or so in any event and how the new development will given them the resources to enhance the forest cover.  I do welcome the jobs and the beneficial effects of more spending locally.

Chester Student Village
Earlier this month I had a rare opportunity to vote on a planning application personally.  I willingly address planning committees and seek to influence their decisions but I do not sit on either of CWaC's planning committees.

The Student Village application caused great controversy in Chester - so much so that the council voted as a whole for the whole council to determine the application rather than the Strategic Planning Committee.  So, in common with most of the rest of the council I went through the compulsory training so I could be considered fit enough to weigh up the various aspects of the application.

The law in relation to planning applications is quite interesting.  Each decision maker must act in a quasi-judicial fashion and weigh up all the various material planning considerations.  Fortunately we all have the benefit of the professional officer reports who do their best to identify what is, or is not material - and then make a recommendation.  It is then up to the decision makers to decide what weight should be applied to the various competing considerations.

So the student village - outline plans for c2,500 units of accommodation for the University students in the green belt between Blacon and the Mollington Banastre hotel.

The University was neutral - the plans were not their plans.  The application was in outline only - with only the access arrangements in detail.  As a outline application we were being asked to consider the principles - not the design issues.  This meant that, if granted in outline, the applicant would have permitted the developer to come back and seek to build say ordinary houses - and in all likelihood it would have been passed.

The officers weighed up the pros and cons - and came to the strong recommendation that the application should be refused.

We had a named vote - not that one was really needed.  51 one of us supported the officers' recommendation to reject the application, 1 councillor was for it and 4 abstained.  The other 19 councillors were absent for a range of reasons including illness and the fact they had prejudicial interests.

  

Monday, 30 September 2013

Networking for Frodsham

For me one of the most important roles of a Councillor is to 'network' for your community.  You never know who you'll meet, or where you'll meet them - but there can often be opportunities to 'spread the word.'  The trick is, of course, to spot them and use them.

Yesterday was quite a day where I made loads of links - and I hope the community will be able to benefit from the networking and the opportunities that arise.

A-star sports - is a new business based in the Chester/North Wales area that brings good quality sport coaching to youngsters aged 2-10 in a whole range of indoor based sports.  Some Frodsham parents already take their children to their training and parties outside Frodsham.  A-star sports are looking for more venues in Frodsham.  (They've already used the Church Hall.)  I've already suggested the Guide Association Hall and the Youth Association Hall as possibilities and put A-star in touch with them. If anyone has any more ideas where they could put on events in and around Frodsham let me know - or email Gary Bassett (gary.basset@a-starsports.co.uk).

Thrive - harnessing the power of gardening
Thrive is a charity that seeks to help disabled people build their skills and self-esteem through gardening.  I was very impressed talking to Alice Walters (alice.walters@thrive.org.uk) and seeing how gardening together can have real tangible benefits for individuals.  I hope to be able to encourage Thrive to bring their work to Frodsham - and perhaps work with Weaver Vale Housing Trust and possibly Transitions and Frodsham Foundation to make this a reality.

Country-side alliance - mobile phone coverage
We all know just how frustrating poor mobile phone coverage can be.  Well the Countryside Alliance want us all to do something about this.  It suggests we all download their app - go to here to find out more.  I searched for Frodsham on their data base and saw a dearth of data at the moment.  It is the Countryside Alliance's hope that their real data will encourage all mobile providers to up their game generally and especially in rural areas.

Frodsham Foundation
I chatted at length to organisers from Social Action about Frodsham Foundation.  They were really impressed with what we have done so far - and I was invited to add their name to the 'Social Action wall.'  I was really pleased and proud to be able to do this.  They were really impressed with the entrepreneurial and social enterprise approach being taken.

Aircraft noise and emissions
I had a long chat about Frodsham and Liverpool airport and learnt a lot about how industry is trying to make aircraft quieter and greener.  Sometimes being green makes aircraft less quiet than they could be.  This is a very interesting trade off - which industry is grappling with.  Operators are looking for greater fuel efficiency as the first priority.  I took the opportunity to spread the word about Halton Council dragging its feet over changes at Hale which, when implemented, would improve Liverpool Airport's safety rating and efficiencies in operation.

So where did all this interesting activity take place... at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Planning Update - Hovercraft on the Marshes?

I encourage everyone in Frodsham to log on to CWaC's planning portal - (click here)  or go to Frodsham Library or FTC at Footman's Cottage and ask to see the plans and documentation for planning application

13/03657/COU: Frodsham Marshes – land off Brook Furlong

Change of Use: Agricultural to Leisure Use

application site shown edged in red - on the north side of the M56 opposite Frodsham
Lynn and I have called this planning application into CWaC's Planning Committee as we recognise it is an important application and should be given a wide airing and discussion.

It may not be clear from the plan - but the application site is on the north side of the M56.  It is an 18 acre field lying opposite Frodsham.  The applicant proposes a wide range of outdoor leisure activities - potentially including archery.  Of note they also propose using buggies and 2 small hovercraft.

The applicant suggests that the noise from the hovercraft is the equivalent of 2 small vans.

The proposed access to the site is down Marsh Lane, over the M56 and then into Brook Furlong.
It is suggested that the site would be open 09:00-15:00 in the winter, to 17:00 in the summer with the exception of Thursdays when they propose to remain open to 20:00.

I have spoken with Liza Woodray - the planning officer evaluating the application and she has confirmed that in principle leisure uses on the marshes are acceptable.  This is in accordance with the long standing Vale Royal local plan.  However this is not the end of the consideration as questions such as vehicle access/vehicle parking/temporary structures as well as noise etc still have to be evaluated.

We all know how congested Marsh Lane is - Lynn and I have only just 'paid' for the double yellow lines to be extended out of 'our' Members' Grants!  Thursday in Frodsham is Market Day and Marsh Lane becomes even more congested...  all these things must be considered and evaluated too.  It has also been suggested that the end of Marsh Lane nearest the M56 is not a public highway - and that there are no rights for private vehicles to access the marshes.  If this is correct - those who control the private rights are in a very strong position to influence what happens.

I am sure many people in Frodsham have views on these things and the application as a whole - so please make sure you have your say.

Incidentally I have suggested that before any decisions are taken that the applicant should bring a hovercraft to the site and let us hear just how noisy it is.

So having encouraged you all to have your say - what's my initial position.  Incidentally I won't make up my mind finally until I see all the officer reports and consider all the other representations made.  I do intend speaking at the Planning Committee and I will readily reflect the diversity of opinion of the local residents - and I will be particularly interested in and will present what those living near the site and its access have to say.  I will reflect their comments to the Planning Committee.

So back to what my initial views are:

First I very much support the concept of increased leisure activity on the marshes - all too few of us enjoy the marshes at the moment and I would like to see more people walking, cycling, bird watching, model aircraft flying etc etc etc.

Second - if the application site had been in the Ship Canal lagoons or perhaps alongside the model aircraft field all other things being equal the application would be very much easier to support.  We do not get noise complaints about the model aircraft.

Third - any application - and this one included - really ought to be right application, right place and I'm not sure this is.  If you have a potentially noisy use why place it immediately opposite Frodsham and the motorway width from the Park Homes?  We need to get to the bottom of just how noisy this proposal could be - hence the suggestion that we have a demonstration.

Fourth - vehicle access - why down Marsh Lane?  I don't know where the public rights end and private rights for vehicle access begin - but wouldn't it be preferable if access for vehicles was down Godscroft Lane?  Does this point to another reason why another site would be preferrable?

Fifthly - we must be clear that the arrangements for car parking and for any temporary structures are suitable and appropriate.

If I've missed out anything you think I should have included please let me know.  I will publicise the date when the application will be considered by CWaC's planning committee.