Saturday, 19 November 2016

Frodsham Windfarm - Construction Liaison Panel meeting

Last night was the latest Frodsham Windfarm Construction Liaison Panel meeting.   Whilst we've had 5 or 6 of these meetings already this was the first meeting that was video recorded.

I've been concerned for quite some time now that all Peel's Liaison Panel meetings take place behind 'closed doors.'  Instinctively I don't like that.  Whilst these meetings are not 'local government meetings' with all the law and bureaucracy that ensures the public can have access to them - I had asked at a previous meeting to be given permission to record the meeting and post it on the internet.

Well for those of you who want to watch an hour of round table discussions this is the link to the video feed.

If you watch the video you'll see the latest round of local politicians pointing out to Peel how their arrangements for the Community Benefit Fund are:

  • secretive; and
  • democratically unaccountable.
You'll also see complaints that Peel have not disclosed the Constitutional Documents for the Community Benefit Fund as they had previously agreed to do.

You'll also hear that the construction work as a whole is finished.  The wind turbines are going through the final stages of commissioning.  Peel are hopeful that the wind farm will be fully commissioned by the middle of December.  This is largely a 'weather dependent' issue as the wind turbines have to be seen generating at full power for an extended period before they can be 'signed off.'  The question is whether the wind will blow hard enough between now and then.

If you'd like to see real time data of the UK's energy generation you can click this link.  Obviously, subject to whether the wind is blowing and the demand for energy at any particular time, wind energy can typically generate between 15-20% of the electricity the UK needs.  Just this morning, wind generation is producing more power than coal fired generation in the UK.  Most of our electricity is presently derived from gas-fired power stations.  We have asked Peel to allow us to see the real-time generation data for the Frodsham Windfarm - watch this space.

Now with the construction work concluded the construction compound is to be closed.   This stone base of the compound is to be swept up and used to improve the roadways on the marshes.  The present thoughts are that Lordship Lane (which is in a dreadful condition) will receive much of this stone.  Peel are also considering improving Straight Length which leads from the model aircraft field to Godscroft and Hatley Lanes.

As you'll see if you watch the video feed of the meeting, whilst welcoming the improvements to the roadways on the marshes I asked for measures to ensure that unauthorised vehicular use of the roads is discouraged or prevented.  I raised in particular the concerns of residents along Godscroft and Hatley Lanes.  Peel were sympathetic and have committed to liaise with me over this.

The map shown below is what Peel handed out at the meeting.  The pink highlighted stretch is the length of Lordship Lane they are looking to improve (if they have enough stone).  Straight Length is not highlighted - but is the lane that connects Lordship Lane to Hatley and Godscroft Lanes.







Thursday, 10 November 2016

Halton Curve - the latest news

Merseytravel - the organisation taking the lead on the Halton Curve proposal has just published its latest update on the Halton Curve.

Network Rail has awarded contracts to Babcock Rail and S&C North Alliance to undertake what they describe as 'the detailed design and construction. of the scheme.'

They say that the aim remains that physical necessary works will take place during the Summer of 2017 - with a view to the infrastructure being completed by Spring 2018.  Passenger services are set to start in December 2018.

Merseytravel  is also looking for an operator to run the initial services around the curve which, initially run from Chester before being expanded into Wales in the fullness of time.

Lynn and I are continuing to press for Frodsham Station car park to be upgraded in due time - and following the request from a resident we will also be asking for dedicated drop off and pick up spaces.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

West Cheshire NHS Consultation - proposals to stop certain treatments

West Cheshire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group has just launched a consultation about which services, if any, it should cease to fund.
The consultation runs from today until Tuesday 17 January 2017.
West Cheshire CCG is consulting whether to cease funding or make available on a more restricted basis the following procedures:
  • Surgery for the correction of asymmetrical breasts
  • Surgery for breast reduction
  • Surgery for Gynaecomastia
  • Hair removal treatments
  • Surgery to remove benign skin lesions
  • Desensitising light therapy using UVB or PUVA for PMLE 
  • Ear wax removal including microsuction
  • In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) with or without Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) 
  • Surgical Sperm Recovery (Testicular Epididymal Sperm Aspiration (TESA)/Percutaneous  Sperm Aspiration (PESA) including storage where required
  • Donor Oocyte Cycle – depending on outcome of consultation relating to IVF
  • Donor Sperm Insemination
  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) unstimulated 
  • Sterilisation (male & female)
  • Arthroscopy – Shoulder (see document for more information) 
  • Dupuytren’s Contracture – surgical and nonsurgical interventions
  • Knee replacement 
  • Hip Injections (excluding bursitis)
  • Erectile Dysfunction 
  • Percutaneous posterior tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS) for urinary and faecal incontinence.

This is the text of the NHS press release:

In September we launched “Our Savings Plan” to start a frank conversation about the challenging financial position facing the local NHS and the savings we must make in 2016/17 to help ensure a sustainable, high-quality health and care system in West Cheshire – both now and in the future.

There are many reasons for the financial challenges we face, not least that we have a fast-growing, ageing population and more people than ever are being diagnosed with long-term conditions.

This means that demand for local health and care services is rising faster than our budget.We simply do not have enough money to continue to buy all the services we currently do in the same way as before. If we did, in 2016/17 alone we would spend £13m more than our budget.

As this challenge is similar in many areas, the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) for West Cheshire, Eastern Cheshire, South Cheshire, Vale Royal and Wirral, have come together in partnership to ask the public for their views on proposed changes to some services that we currently commission.

A consultation has been launched which is asking the public and other stakeholders for their views on the proposals, building on work already undertaken to engage with local people about the challenging financial position facing the local NHS and proposed changes to services.

Dr Andy McAlavey, Medical Director, NHS West Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group comments: "This is the first time that CCGs in this area have come together to seek the views of the public and stakeholders as we continue with our programme of changes. Our aim is to ensure that the services we provide are effective and sustainable whilst we continue to encourage people to lead healthier lives. It is important for us to make the best use of our resources and we are encouraging people to have their say."


Consultation
Cheshire and Wirral Clinical Commissioning Groups are undertaking a formal consultation on the proposals detailed in the consultation documents below to explore them in more detail and obtain feedback from patients and the public. The consultation will run from Tuesday, October 25, 2016 to midnight on Tuesday, January 17, 2017.

How to share your views
As part of the consultation we need your views on the proposals and to understand the impact they may have on you. To hear what you think about the proposals you have a variety of opportunities to give your feedback.You can fill in the questionnaire included in the consultation document below and submit by post to, SRP consultation, NHS West Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group, 1829 Building, Countess of Chester Health Park, Liverpool Road, Chester CH2 1HJ

By email – send your completed surveys to: enquiries.wcheshireccg@nhs.netIf people are hard of hearing, have sight impairment, English is not their first language or they require the information in an alternative format, please contact 0800 132996 or email: enquiries.wcheshireccg@nhs.net'

Copies of the consultation documentation and surveys can be obtained from West Cheshire CCG.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Congress of Local Authorities at the Council of Europe

I've been appointed as one of 18 UK local authority or regional assembly members to serve on the Congress of  Local Authorities at the Council of Europe for the next 4 years.

For those not in the know the Council of Europe was established by Winston Churchill after World War II to foster good relations between Europe's member states.  He first called for the creation of a body like the Council of Europe in 1943.   This led to the Council of Europe being established by the Treaty of London in 1949.  Initially there were 10 signatories to the treaty.  Now 47 countries are 'signed up to' the Council of Europe   The Council of Europe is both older and wider than the EU which only has 27 member states (if you don't count the UK).

Bust of Winston Churchill at the Council of Europe
For those of us old enough to remember the Cold War and the battles that were had with the Eastern Bloc over Human Rights - they were largely 'fought' in the context of the Council of Europe and wider international diplomacy.

Over the years the member states of the Council of Europe have signed over 220 treaties between them covering all manner of things from terrorism, to animal welfare.  However most fundamentally they are about embedding democracy, the rule of law and human rights within the 47 member states.  The Council of Europe works largely by consensus, by persuasion, and by pointing out or establishing 'facts.'

Within the scope of the Council of Europe are a number of institutions such as the:
Council of Ministers
Parliamentary Assembly
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
Court of Human Rights
I found attendance at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities both very humbling and very interesting.

The Council of Europe is one of the few places outside the UN where delegates from all Europe's countries can meet each other.  As we all know there are too many places in Europe where there are tensions.
Map of the 47 countries - note Belarus is not a member.
I witnessed several 'encounters' between the Russian and Ukrainian delegates and there were several in depth discussions about the situation in Turkey.

For many of the new and emerging democracies of Europe the Council of Europe and its standards are seen as the benchmark against which they need to develop their democracies.  It was also very interesting both to see how other 'good Europeans' embraced everything and how far behind the UK some countries are - and that includes some of the founder members of the EU such as with regard to gender equality at a political representation level.

The representatives to the Congress of Local Authorities are meant to reflect each countries diversity - with particular focus on political representation and no worse than a 70:30 split between the genders.  However looking around the Chamber I was very conscious that it looked like the UK was leading the way in terms of minority diversity.

As a citizen of the United Kingdom though, and someone committed to greater partnership working across Europe it dawned on me increasingly whilst I was there that we don't see and understand 'Europe' in the same way as our continental friends.   We think differently to them.  Our constitutional background, our approach to fundamentals such as democracy and human rights is different.   Most crucially of all - we have no written constitution.

Also, with some exceptions such as the European Convention on Human Rights few of the Treaties signed over the years by the UK can be used as the basis for court challenges in the UK.   For us Parliament is Sovereign.  We all look to Parliament for our laws and ultimately to safeguard our democratic values.  Other European States look to their written constitutions and the various international treaties and conventions for their norms and values.

However whilst we differ in our approach we do appear to be marching along a similar path - looking to deepen and broaden democratic values and principles.

Does it matter if our approach is different if we reach the same goal?  As a pragmatic Brit I would say 'no' - however the Council of Europe experts don't like what they see as the UK's 'exceptionalism.'  They have assessed the UK's compliance with the European Social Charter unfavourably and on a par, in parts, with Turkey and Ukraine.  I had an 'exchange of views' with a Spanish Law Professor on this assessment and pointed out that 3.6 million EU citizens had come to the UK to live and work because of our liberal labour market and not because of our weather!

A number of delegates from other countries came up to me afterwards and indicated their agreement with my approach.

I spoke in 3 other debates.  Two related to gender – first with regard to gender equality at all levels of politics and another on ‘gender budgeting.’

The Council of Europe wants all European countries to have at least 40% female representation at all political levels.  Many European countries are no where near that level.  Having heard an inspirational speech from Mayor from an Austrian town of around 12,000 people  - who happened to be a young woman - I was able to interject that in the UK some 31% of councillors are female.  At CWaC 37% of councillors are female and both the leaders and deputy leaders of the ruling and opposition groups are female as is the leader of Cheshire East.  In 2011 when I became Mayor of Frodsham we had, and that council still has, a gender balanced council.  I am not personally in favour of quotas – but I did suggest that those institutions that haven't achieved reasonable representational levels should account to their communities as to why that hadn’t happened.

We also had a debate on ‘gender budgeting.’ My first reaction to the title of the debate was one of incredulity – and this was not helped when one delegate suggested that spending on motorways was  masculine and spending on pavements was feminine.  However on reading the papers it became clear that ‘Gender Budgeting’ was Euro-speak for making sure that public sector budgets reached and assisted everyone.   I was therefore able to support the principle – and pointed out that any public sector budget and spending that did not deliver for all its citizens was inherently defective.  I went further in my remarks and pointed out that public sector budgeting had to consider not only gender but also had to consider all the disadvantaged and minorities.  The rapporteur agreed with me.

The other debate I spoke in was about Turkey and in particular the removal of elected Mayors by the national government.  This process had started before the coup and has continued after it.

I spoke in support of the Turkish people and made the fundamental points about the need for the respect for the rule of law and human rights.  I went on to say that when democracy is under threat the answer to that threat is more democracy and not less democracy.

When the UK leaves the EU the Council of Europe will be one of our main points of contact with other European countries.

The frack-free 'Community Survey'

Lynn and I have been invited to attend the count of the Frack Free Frodsham and Helsby survey on Saturday 22 October.  It is our intention to attend.  The event is likely to prove interesting - although I do wonder just how informative and useful it will ultimately prove to be.

I have been told in writing that a 'simple questionnaire' has been hand delivered to 1,500 residents in Frodsham and 1,200 in Helsby.  Quite how or why these figures have been chosen or what they represent remains to be seen.

For example in Frodsham we have a population around 9,500.  Helsby's population is about half of Frodsham's.  If the survey is to be representative of all of Frodsham and Helsby a further 900 residents should have been surveyed in Frodsham so as to maintain the relative proportions between the communities.

My household received one of the survey forms - a week after an anti-fracking leaflet was distributed.
Regardless of what you think vis a vis fracking - the credibility of any survey and crucially if it is to carry any weight and reflect the views of local residents with developers, planners, councils and perhaps ultimately the planning inspectorate and Government Ministers - then bias is a dangerous thing.  I don't think it was a good idea to distribute an anti-fracking leaflet house to house the week before the survey is handed round.

Now I make these remarks as someone who wants to ensure that the public is given the decisive say in any controversial planning applications such as for fracking.  This has been my position for several years and it was on this basis that Lynn and I were re-elected in 2015.  It is also the policy of the opposition Conservative Group on the Borough Council.

I know that in the planning process poorly conducted surveys will either be ignored or exposed for being flawed.  That's why Lynn and I are committed to calling a formal parish poll if a planning application for fracking is received.  A parish poll is a rarely used form of local referendum conducted for a parish by the Borough Council.  Those wishing to take part in the parish poll will have to attend a polling station to register their views.

I've attached below a copy of the survey forms I received.  Incidentally the came through my letter box crumpled!





I have to say the question 'Do you think it would be a good thing or a bad thing is Shale Gas 'Fracking' takes place in Frodsham and Helsby' is too simplistic.

The issues about shale gas exploration and extraction can't really be summed up that way as anyone who attended the local debates organised by Frodsham Transition Initiative and our MP Graham Evans MP will no doubt agree.

I expect no one would support anything that would cause pollution - and everyone I envisage would support the UK having energy security and access to  essential chemical feedstocks.  However the issues are much more nuanced than just being a 'good idea' or a 'bad idea' in my view.

I'm also concerned that the survey only allows one family member to represent the views of other family members.  Every elector in a parish poll has to cast their vote themselves.

You may also notice that my survey form has the letters FH36 on the top right hand corner and that the postcode had to be added to the response form too.

This is clearly not an anonymous survey.  Someone will be able to trace FH36 and the answers that were provided - in this instance by my wife.  I wonder how she characterised my views and whether she wrote anything in for the views of our children all of whom are away at University?  She did tell me that two people called at the house on separate occasions and that they were most insistent that she provided answers.

Of course these issues necessarily raise questions of what the resultant information is going to be used for.  There are a whole host of Data Protection issues that necessarily arise too.  What is going to happen to survey form FH36 after this exercise?  How many were distributed to my postcode?

Now fracking policy is very much on the local political agenda at the moment.

Labour controlled CWaC, notwithstanding its unlawful election manifesto policy of banning fracking in the Borough (please see earlier blog posts explaining how the Borough Solicitor had to advise Labour about its unlawful policy) is now devising policy that will permit fracking to take place here.

I have table several amendments to their proposed policies - on each occasion seeking to tighten them and to provide greater protection for the environment and human health as well as by seeking to ensure a decisive say in such applications for the local community.  Whilst some of my amendments have been accepted not all of them have been.

Labour controlled CWaC consulted on these planning policies over the summer.  If you look at the council's local plan website today (18 October) you'll see that not one single Labour Councillor commented on any planning policy proposals.  I know that at least 18 Conservative councillors did so.

A Special Planning Document providing further planning guidance for those seeking planning permission for fracking has also just been published by Labour controlled CWaC.  In my view, again this does not go far enough in terms of providing protection for the environment and the local community etc.  I tabled amendments to this too - and again some were accepted - but not as many as should have been.

We live in interesting times - at the moment.  Not everything is what it seems to be.

You may wonder why I've raised party politics about this survey?  Well it is a known Labour activist that is one of the key promoters of the survey - seemingly at odds with what his party is doing on the Borough Council.


Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Police and Crime Commissioner's poor performance - and on so many levels

Every quarter the Police and Crime Commissioner is expected to appear before the Cheshire Police and Crime Panel for a scrutiny session in public.  

Our last meeting was on 23 September.  As the meetings are webcast you can view the meeting by following this link http://cheshirewestandchester.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/218012

The panel meetings start at 10am and the Police and Crime Commissioner's scrutiny session typically lasts an hour and is expected to start at 11am.  However on 23 September the Police and Crime Commissioner was late.  In fact he was so late that, as a panel, we began discussing postponing the meeting.  

When he and his entourage finally arrived he complained that he had had problems parking and getting into the building.  Given that there is a public car park at Wyvern House, a long drive where he could have got out of his car and, of course the building is a public building where both CWaC and Winsford Town Council provide services to the public I struggle to understand how he was nearly 15 minutes late - and especially as he and his entourage only had to make the short journey from Police HQ in Winsford to Wyvern House which is also in Winsford.

I was brought up that if you arrive 'on-time' you are late... specifically so you can deal with the minor delays that happen to all of us.

Now our scrutiny sessions are an opportunity to ask questions and on occasion challenge the police and crime commissioner about how he is performing his duties.  They are a blend of questions that are asked on notice, and those that arise on the day.  Personally I'm not a great fan of questions on notice as you tend to get officer drafted responses - however I accept that if you don't give notice it can be perfectly reasonable, depending on the topic, for the commissioner to respond that he needs to undertake further research.

On Monday 19 September I tabled 6 questions for the Commissioner.  They were all focused on Police and Crime Support Officers.  There are over 200 PCSOs in the Cheshire Police area.  Many of these PCSOs are solely funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner out of the police precept  - however others are part-funded by the Borough Councils, Town and Parish Councils and other organisations such as Housing Partners such as Social Landlords.

Most, if not all of these part-funding organisations have a Service Level Agreement that sets out what the Partner organisations can expect if they pay - what is generally reckoned to be - about a third of the costs of the PCSO.  The annual contribution is around £12,800 per co-funded PCSO.  Those SLA agreements deal with 'tasking' of the partner funded PCSO amongst other things.  Interestingly the agreements also seek to pass any potential employment related costs - such as TUPE redundancy cost onto the partner organisations and not the police!  The offer to the partner organisations is that they can influence how 'their' PCSO is tasked locally - why otherwise part fund a PCSO?

So my questions were:
  1. whether the commissioner is to continue his predecessor's policy of one PCSO per ward; 
  2. whether he welcomes funding from partners - such as from the unitary authorities, Town and Parish Councils, social landlords and the like; 
  3. what steps he is taking to secure funding from partners if any; 
  4. what steps he is taking to ensure fair funding of PCSOs - and in particular the potential triple if not quadruple taxation of a social housing tenant in a parished area who is paying for a PCSO via the Police and Crime Commissioners precept, the Borough Council's precept, the Town/Parish Council's precept, and via the rent paid to the social landlord;
  5. what incentive do Town and Parish Councils have to continue funding PCSOs if one is to be provided by the Chief Constable; is he ready for an increase in Town and Parish Council's ceasing to fund 'their' PCSO in this budget round; and finally 
  6. How many PCSOs are habitually available in Frodsham.
Now I expected that with the Commissioner having been given a week's notice he would have provided me with word-perfect, pre-prepared answers.

He didn't.

As you can see from the webcast he waffled, dodged, evaded - and gave me the very clear impression that he simply did not understand the issues.  And it wasn't just me, one of my colleagues on the panel, and not a member of the Conservative party said to me afterwards: 'Can he ever answer a question?  He just waffled.'

His first answer that surprised me by how poorly informed he was came when he indicated that his predecessor did not have a policy of one PCSO (and indeed one Special Constable) per ward.  This was the policy of his predecessor and was regularly discussed at the Police and Crime Panel.  I even have correspondence from the former commissioner confirming this policy and if he challenges me over it - I will publish it - as well as referring him to earlier webcast meetings of the Police and Crime Panel where this policy was clearly set out.

This is a significant point - as, why should partner organisations part-fund PCSOs if they are going to be provided for them anyway?  Parish Councils in both CWaC and Cheshire East have already ceased their funding on this basis.  

Also this raises questions of double, triple or even quadruple taxation.  Just how many times and in how many ways should you pay towards a single PCSOs?

We all pay council tax.  The council tax in Frodsham is made up of contributions to:
  1. CWaC
  2. Police and Crime Commissioner
  3. Fire and Rescue Service
  4. Frodsham Town Council
In local government speak these are 'precepting organisations.'

Elsewhere in the Borough there can be a fifth element to the council tax.  It is called 'special expenses.'  Special expenses is CWaC's way of charging a defined community for the costs of services CWaC provides to that defined community which elsewhere in Borough are provided by Town or Parish councils.  In Frodsham the special expenses figure is zero simply because it is the town council that provides these very local services such as 'our' PCSO.

Three of the four precepting organisations either provide or part-fund PCSOs - the only one that doesn't is the Fire and Rescue Service.  However even though Frodsham Council Tax payers pay three organisations that fund or part fund PCSOs we only have one PCSO and that's the one part paid for by the Town Council.

The situation is even worse if you are a social housing tenant and your landlord part funds PCSOs.  You'll be paying a contribution through your rent for those PCSOs too.

Now within CWaC we used to have at least 12 parish or town councils that funded PCSOs.  Great Boughton Parish Council has already ceased funding a PCSO,  Tarporley Parish Council looks set to cease funding a PCSO.  This takes us down to 10.  This is in addition to Weaver Vale Housing Trust that ceasing funding 'their' PCSOs last year.   You'd have thought the Police and Crime Commissioner would have been across this issue as it threatens not only the funding of PCSOs but also the partnership working which part funded PCSOs embody.  He wasn't.  

The withdrawal of partnership funding in my view should be a matter of significant concern for him.

Parish and Town Councils typically work out their budgets in November - as they formally set them in January.  So Town and Parish councils will be deciding now whether to continue co-funding their PCSOs.  I pointed this out to the Commissioner and sought to encourage him to work with Town and Parish Councils now.  He declined to do so saying he would have a review - but that it wouldn't be completed in the timeframe that would assist town and parish councils setting their budgets now.

You'd have thought the Commissioner was interested in preserving the maximum number of PCSOs in Cheshire - seemingly not though given his answers.

Now, so far as I am concerned it is too early to determine whether this Commissioner is simply badly briefed, badly informed, or whether he is simply not up to the job.  I suspect it is the latter - especially as he was on notice of the questions I was going to ask and the preparation required to answer my questions shouldn't have taken anyone that long.  Also we have to remember that our current Commissioner remains a Warrington Borough Councillor and a Parish Councillor so you'd have expected him to be familiar with Cheshire Police's partnership working with councils.

However, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.  But lets see if he is actually able to answer questions next time.

If I was to mark him on his present performance though he is firmly in the 'must do better' category.  He has to grasp that he is there to be accountable and part of his duties includes answering questions.  And if he is to do that effectively he has to do his homework first.




Thursday, 6 October 2016

How many PCSOs do we have in Frodsham?

So how many PCSOs do we have in Frodsham?  A simple question you may think.

I believe the answer is 1.

Now I've understood that we have had 1 PCSO in Frodsham for as long as there have been PCSOs. So given this I was somewhat shocked to discover that CWaC had data suggesting that Frodsham shared another PCSO with other rural communities - and, worse they wanted to charge Frodsham council tax payers extra council tax to pay for this seemingly additional resource.

I was not happy.

I started to ask questions.  I spoke with our local police and our PCSO.   They confirmed that whilst, understandably, there was some mutual support with colleagues looking after other communities there is one PCSO for Frodsham.

I asked CWaC to show me why they thought we had an additional share of a PCSO.  I went so far as to ask our Police and Crime Commissioner.  Now I'm going to blog separately about my interchanges with the Police and Crime Commissioner as they are a whole new story in themselves.  Interestingly he was unable to tell me how many PCSOs we have in Frodsham.

Any way the good news is - at  a meeting with CWaC yesterday I was pleased to see that CWaC now accept that Frodsham has one PCSO only - and he is part funded by the Town Council and as such they will not be seeking to levy an additional charge on Frodsham council tax payers.


Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Big Friendly Read - Frodsham Library 13 & 15 September 2016




Lynn and I have sponsored the summer reading challenges for several years now.  We were both thrilled and delighted to be able to attend some of the award ceremonies this last week for the children who completed the reading challenge.  It is one of our favourite events of the year!


It was wonderful to hear that, literally hundreds of the children who attended Frodsham Library, had completed the challenge.  In fact so successful was the challenge this summer that the Borough's Library Service were worried that they may run out of medals - and they had ordered 10% more medals this year than last!

Lynn and I have to say a huge thank you to the Library staff at Frodsham who make Frodsham Library such a wonderful and engaging place for our children - and encourage them in to a life long love books and literature.


Commemorating the Battle of Jutland and the Battle of the Somme

Last Sunday was one of those occasions when Lynn and I needed and wanted to be in two places at once.

At Chester Cathedral there was a service commemorating the Battle of Jutland and the Battle of the Somme, whilst in Frodsham we celebrated Heritage Weekend at St Laurence's with afternoon tea and a music concert.

The Service at Chester Cathedral was poignant and very moving.  The service paper included accounts of the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Jutland - as well as commemorating the service and sacrifice of 16 year old Jack Cornwell VC who served on HMS Chester.













Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A new Junction 11a for the M56?

Yesterday Highways England unveiled their proposals for a new junction 11a on the M56.  There are two proposals being considered at the moment.  Both proposals are on top of the hill to the east of Junction 12.  The aim is to allow traffic to move from the M56 on to the central expressway - on or near the Brookvale roundabout - and then over the new Mersey Gateway Bridge.  

We can expect the details to be published on the Highways England website shortly.  In the meantime here are a few photographs from Highways England's presentation showing the proposed layouts.

The eastern option is apparently preferred by Highways England.  

From a Frodsham perspective if we are to have this junction - my preference is for the eastern option too - as it is further away from both Frodsham and Sutton Weaver.




Thursday, 25 August 2016

Apprenticeship Opportunities - Castle Park 14 September 2016

CWaC is organising a number of apprenticeship fairs over the next couple of weeks - one of which will be at Castle Park on 14 September between 4 and 6pm.

If you are a youngster looking to do something new and exciting this could be the opportunity you've been waiting for.

If you are an employer looking for apprentices you could use these events to attract new talented people.

If you want more information contact Zoe at:

zoe.bateman@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk



A new Junction 11a on the M56?

Highways England are to hold a consultation event on  6 September between 10am and 8pm at Runcorn Linnets Football Club about proposals for a new junction 11a on the M56.  The proposed junction would be near the top of the hill where the West Coast Main Line crosses the motorway.


Seemingly there are at least two proposals under consideration for siting the junction - one roughly where the marker is on the map below and the other further south (closer to Frodsham). 


The aim of the junction is to make traffic flows easier onto the new Mersey Gateway bridge.

My initial thoughts on seeing these proposals are that this junction seems to be very close to Junction 12 - and on a stretch of motorway that is prone to lorries backing up as they climb the hill when heading east.  Also, as we know, this stretch of the motorway is vulnerable to blinding sunlight in the morning in the autumn and spring.  Too many junctions in close proximity can impede rather than assist traffic flowing.  However having traffic flowing freely onto the Mersey Gateway bridge does make a lot of sense.

Given that we are missing a junction 13 would this be an opportunity to renumber the junctions - so we don't have to use an 'a' - or are we all too superstitious for that?

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

M56 Jn12-14 closures planned to repair Weaver Viaduct

Highways England are planning to make repairs to the joints in the Weaver Viaduct and carry out resurfacing of that part of the Motorway.  This will mean the motorway will be closed whilst the works are carried out - however the aim at the moment is for the works to be carried out at night between 20:00 and 06:00.

 The dates for closures are currently

·         Friday 30th September
·         Monday 3rd October
·         Tuesday 4th October
·         Wednesday 5th October
·         

Note - all closures will be in operation from 20:00 to 06:00
  
There may be a requirement to close the M56 on a further 2 occasions toward the end of August / early September but are waiting for further information from Highways England on these dates.

Two separate diversion routes will be signposted one will be for high sided vehicles.  


Friday, 29 July 2016

CWaC Labour's flip flop on fracking

You couldn't make it up.

The CWaC Labour manifesto on which they were elected in May 2015 said they would introduce a moratorium on fracking if they were elected.

Having made that promise to the Borough's electorate and having narrowly won power the ruling Labour Group had the embarrassment of the Borough Council's Monitoring Officer telling them that it would be unlawful for such a policy to be adopted by the council.

If that wasn't bad enough the council's cabinet has just approved for public consultation Part II of the draft local plan.  It is this part of the plan that contains the policies that will regulate exploration and extraction of novel hydrocarbons (including by fracking).

When the policies were debated in draft at the Local Plan Working Group I argued strongly that the policies proposed were not strong enough.  I wanted to see explicit protection of the environment written into the policies - and crucially a policy that explicitly sought out and gave the local community the decisive say when it came to deciding whether such developments should go ahead.

Well, whilst the officers did take on board some of my concerns - and they did amend the draft policies and strengthen them somewhat, but they did not, in my view go far enough.

When the draft policies were considered by the Cabinet on 20 July I pointed out Labour's fracking moratorium embarrassment, how their original draft policies had been partially strengthened by my amendments - but that they had not gone far enough.  I suggested to them that they should have courage - and reject that aspect of the draft plan.

So did they rise to the occasion?  Did they reject this aspect of the draft plan?
No.

They decided to go out for 6 weeks public consultation - almost certainly over the summer when many of us will be going away and when many town and parish councils don't have meetings.

A good time to bury bad news perhaps?

If you'd like to see what happened at the Cabinet on 20 July you can find the video on the council's website following this link 

Just scroll down to item 9 and watch.  Item 9 is about more than fracking by the way!

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Windfarm liaison panel meeting

We had a meeting of the Frodsham wind farm liaison panel last night.  A number of issues were raised:


  1. Peel say the turbines will be completed by the end of July - but the electrical commissioning won't take place until the end of September.  At the moment all the Frodsham turbines have been erected.  Whilst they are currently rotating slowly in the wind they are not operational yet.  There are 11 turbines erected so far with 8 more to go.  All the remaining turbines will be in front of Helsby.  The only further development at the Frodsham end will be an 80m anemometer mast.  This will have weather sensors attached to it.  It will be a lattice construction which is expected to be 'lost' when looking towards Ineos.  There are another 24 abnormal loads to go!  
  2. The target is for all the remaining turbines to be completed by the end of July.  There have been weather delays - and Peel are looking for co-operation from CWaC and local residents to extend the working hours on site as a means of dodging bad weather.  This has been tried informally already without any complaints so we can expect working on into the evening when the weather is good.
  3. The work on the access tracks is now on hold until all the remaining construction and commissioning works are completed.  The roadway contractors will return later and restore the roadways.
  4. Peel have a habitat creation group led by their consultants Atmos looking to preserve and enhance the bird habitats.  The RSPB have requested an environmental improvement scheme to create small scrapes for wetland birds.  However they have not been formally engaged - but discussions are continuing.  Atmos have found that the birds have not been disturbed by the erection of the turbines and that birds are nesting - including the rare marsh harrier.   Peel's planning permission requires them to monitor the wildlife in the vicinity of the windfarm over the lifespan of the windfarm.  Peel will be looking for consultants to do this work shortly.
  5. Peel have found that the special protection area birds are declining - but this is believed to be a naturally occurring phenomenon.  The Eurasian Marsh Harrier (a protected species) is seemingly nesting quite happily in the midst of the windfarm and the construction activity.  The precise location of where the marsh harrier is nesting is not being publicised.
  6. Peel have asked that anyone engaging in birdwatching confine themselves to the permissive rights of way.  They have requested that people not stalk the birds wearing camouflage in the reeds where they potentially put themselves at risk in meeting cranes of the mechanical not feathered variety!
  7. We talked about the complaints procedures that Peel have.  There are specific complaint routes for issues such as noise, flicker, interference with tv reception and the like.  We will receive a particular briefing on these arrangements at a later meeting.  We heard about a complaint that has been received complaining about the brightness of the turbines.
  8. I raised national cycle route 5 and the desire for it to be upgraded.  Peel have met with CWaC officers over public rights of way on the marshes.  I raised the importance of safe routes to school and made suggestions how that could be done.  Peel have promised to engage about this issue. They have plans to upgrade some of the routes on the marshes. I emphasised that they could assist safe cycling to Helsby High School by facilitating other routes too.  We were all in agreement that creating a web of safe cycling routes to Helsby High School from Frodsham, Helsby and Elton would be a benefit to all the communities.
  9. I also raised the issue of the community benefit fund, it's management and, crucially its transparency.  We are to have a briefing at a later meeting.  I'm told that the management documentation is with lawyers at the moment.
  10. School liaison meetings- children will be given a chance to learn more at meetings at Forest Hills Hotel in Frodsham - where they will be able to see the array 'in full.'

If you want any further information do look at the Frodsham wind farm website.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Protos Community Forum - AGM and business meeting

Today we've had the latest Protos Community Forum AGM and a business meeting.  Protos - if you haven't noticed before - is the new name for Peel Environmental Ince Resource Recovery Park.  'Protos' is Greek for first.

Everyone in Frodsham should have had a letter drop from Protos.  If you haven't you can find out information online at thisisprotos.com .  You can also find some photographs and drone footage of the development site there too.

The latest news is that Peel have started the ground works including their associated road works, drainage and sewer works for their massive 126 acre (51 ha) development site.  The biomass development site is also under construction.  The 85m stack will be constructed in July.  Interestingly they are pondering whether to build the building and install the plant - or install the plant and then build the building around it.

Covanta have renewed their interest in an energy from waste scheme - albeit on a smaller scale than before.  You and I would describe both these developments as incinerators. 

The Air Quality monitoring equipment will be in place and operational in mid September this year - a year ahead of the likely commissioning date for the incinerator.

An application for planning permission for this Covanta scheme is likely to go before CWaC's planning committee in the autumn.

Peel will also be seeking amendments to their planning permission for plot 3 - their timber recycling plot soon.

I raised concerns regarding national cycle route 5 ('NCR 5') which passes through plot 4 on the site.  NCR 5 is to be diverted as part of the works.  I've asked for Peel to co-ordinate with their wind farm colleagues and look to enhance the quality of the cycle routes over the Frodsham and Ince marshes.

At the AGM we agreed that representatives from Thornton-Le-Moors can join the community forum.  Thornton has around 260 residents.  I raised the need to ensure that when it comes to discussing the community benefit fund arising from the Protos developments that we ensure that the larger communities such as Frodsham and Helsby don't lose out just because they have larger Town and Parish councils - and thus many fewer Councillors per head than small communities such as Ince and Thorton etc.  That will be on the agenda at the next meeting.

Peel were challenged as to their use of local contractors and their support of local apprentices both during the construction and operational phase of their sites.  This is an issue that will continue to be raised with Peel I'm sure.

The wind farm was mentioned - all the turbines are set to be erected by the end of July.  The Frodsham turbines are all erected.  Work on the Helsby turbines continues.  The recent poor weather has delayed their construction.   Each turbine will be individually commissioned later this year.

We learnt that there are proposals to build a standby electricity generation site alongside the fertiliser plant.  Apparently this will be a gas fired installation able to generate electricity on very short notice - no doubt balancing when the wind doesn't blow.

I raised fracking at the forum and asked Peel Energy directly what their position was.  Curiously seismic testing didn't take place on the Helsby part of the wind farm sites.  Peel Energy did, in contrast, allow their land to be tested - as did the Ship Canal company (another Peel entity).

Peel confirmed that they would permit it to take place on their land.  I enquired whether they would permit it even if the local community were opposed to it?  I've asked that Peel consider this question over the summer and return to the forum in September with a considered answer.

I also asked whether Peel would agree to open these community forum meetings up to the public either directly or via web casting.  This will be debated at our next meeting in September.

One of the interesting side benefits of meeting at the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum is watching the traffic on the ship canal.  



Thursday, 23 June 2016

Celebrating Cancer Research UK's 25 years in Frodsham

I was honoured and delighted to be invited by Angela Close Cancer Research UK's shop manager in celebrating the charity's close connection with Frodsham over 25 years and to meet some of their volunteers who have served in the shop for all of those 25 years!

Sarah Loughran, the Area Manager presented flowers, badges and letters of commendation.

The Eddisbury Square shop is one of the charity's most successful shops.  Over the 25 years it has raised a staggering £2.3 million pounds.  Each week they receive around 300 bags of donations as well as gifts of money.  They receive so much that the donations in Frodsham support the many of the charity's shops on Merseyside.

I had great fun talking to the staff and hearing them talk of the official opening, all those years ago, performed by Ken Dodd!  The ladies told me that, originally they cleaned and ironed the clothes themselves before putting them on sale.  It was fun hearing them reminisce - including their reminiscences of my mother-in-law who was a volunteer at the shop for many years.



CWaC's stakeholder car parking workshops

Well, Mott McDonald (CWaC's appointed car parking consultants) held two workshop sessions at Castle Park House on 21 June for those identified by CWaC as Frodsham stakeholders in car parking.

Lynn and I were invited to attend the second session.  The consultants had issued named and numbered invitations to around 30 people - however it appears that, over the two sessions, only 20 people attended.

As I've mentioned before Lynn and I were asked to nominate stakeholders to attend these meetings.  We were told that this was the approach that the ruling Labour group had wanted ... and after all Labour Leader Cllr Sam Dixon had no problem in nominating stakeholders in Chester.

We refused to nominate stakeholders - and made the point that everyone in Frodsham is a stakeholder and everyone in Frodsham should be invited to have their say.  I have no idea whether other's sought to 'pack' their meetings with people with known views - however that is not the way Lynn and I work.  We have more respect for the people of Frodsham than to do that.

Our stance on this issue has led to CWaC changing its plans which now do include public engagement and consultation - scheduled for the autumn.

The consultants sought to focus our views on the current problems and the likely issues.  I intervened on a couple of occasions during their presentations seeking to verify whether we were to view this exercise in the context of promoting Frodsham's wellbeing for the community and its businesses - as this point was not originally made.  I was assured that there was no 'hidden agenda' in terms of revenue raising for CWaC - although time alone will tell whether this is true.

We were asked to focus on the town centre - however we pointed out that car parking issues extended beyond these areas.

As could be envisaged we talked about things such as:

  • Improving the management and use of the existing spaces;
  • Better designation of spaces such as on Main Street;
  • Whether some form of short stay limitation should be brought in for Main Street - and how to manage Market day and residents' car parking there;
  • What is 'short stay' - 3 hours was the suggestion from the floor - how long ladies hairdressing can take;
  • The poor quality of much of our car parking - e.g. Station Car Park 'extension';
  • Halton Curve,  commuting, and the current and future plans for the Station Car Park;
  • The need for short stay car parking on Main Street;
  • Protecting residential areas from displaced car parking elsewhere;
  • School drop off and pick up issues;
  • Local shops - e.g. Overton Stores, Top Shop on Langdale Way, Post Office on St Hilda's Drive; 
  • Enforcement - the Eddisbury Square case study in how not to do it;
  • Land where new car parking could be laid out; and
  • Signage ... and perhaps modern matrix signs that could be used not just to give car parking information - but other information such as motorway / congestion related information or events information.
The consultants gave us some interesting information pointing out how little of the car parking in Frodsham was owned or controlled by CWaC - and the challenges this obviously brings about for changing and improving things.

We learnt that constructing a multi-storey car park in the station would be expensive with an indicative costing of around £12k per space provided.

I've been promised a copy of the presentation that was given to us - when I get it I'll publish it for all to see.  

The consultants were careful not to tell us what they are currently thinking and what their recommendations may be.... so watch this space!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

CWaC's fracking, minerals and waste policies

We had a public - but it felt like a secret meeting of the Local Development Plan Working Group last week.  We were hidden away in a back room at Wyvern House, Winsford in a room rarely used for public meetings to discuss the direction of planning policy for the Borough for the next generation about:
  • minerals
  • waste
  • renewable energy and
  • fracking
I'd asked for the meeting to be webcast - so that the maximum publicity could be provided for what I knew would be a controversial meeting.  The response in tucking us away in a back room without web-casting was, in my view, shockingly disrespectful not just to me, but also to everyone in the Borough.  It may even have been a deliberate ploy with Labour trying to hide their bad news - and their complete U turn on fracking.  Curiously none of the usual vocal anti-fracking protesters were present.  This is all the more curious when last night's meeting was perhaps the most critical of all we've had a CWaC regarding fracking policy.

However this is, in my view entirely typical of a Labour Group who to my mind are afraid, and afraid of debating anything controversial in public.  We saw similar shocking tactics deployed at the previous meeting of this working group where proposals for up to 26 Gypsy and Traveller sites were sneaked out.  I protested about that then, and I continued my protest about this last night too.

Now lets not forget that CWaC Labour were elected on a manifesto last May that indicated they would bring in a moratorium on fracking.  That policy was declared unlawful by CWaC's monitoring officer last year - and I'm still waiting for CWaC Labour's explanation about that.  I also think that even suggesting such a policy shows us so much.  They should have known that policy was unlawful for a council.  If they didn't know that - then it shows they are not up to the task.  If they did know that - but cynically continued with that policy - then it shows they are not fit to run the council.

Their hypocrisy on this issue was extraordinary at the meeting.  Cllr Brian Clarke - CWaC Labour's Cabinet Members report on fracking policy was presented.  This is his suggested policy direction for fracking:

POLICY – Unconventional shale oil and gas development 
Proposals for the production of hydrocarbons will only be supported where it has been demonstrated that the further works and the surface facilities required to manage the output from the well(s), including facilities for the utilisation of energy, where relevant, accord with the plan policies.  

Proposals for hydraulic fracturing will only be permitted below 1200 metres in specified groundwater areas (source protection zones 1). 
Proposals for unconventional shale oil and gas development (all phases) will only be supported if they comply with a set of criteria relating to the following factors 
  • Above ground activity directed to the least environmentally-sensitive location. 
  • Dust and particle emissions. 
  • Levels of vibration from drilling. 
  • Illumination levels and siting and design of lighting.
  • Use of environmentally preferable alternatives to road travel where possible. 
  • Appropriate screening to prevent unacceptable impacts on visual amenity. 
  • Prevention of damage or interruption to statutory utilities or pipelines.
  • Design and location of well pads and associated plant, buildings and other structures. 
  • Availability of sufficient water resources and prevention of a detrimental impact on flow, quantity or quality of surface or groundwater. 
  • Subsidence. 
  • Cumulative impact. 
Where proposals for hydrocarbon development coincide with areas containing other underground mineral resources, evidence must be provided to demonstrate that their potential for future exploitation will not be unreasonably affected.  
Decommissioning and restoration – linked to Policy ‘Restoration of minerals sites’. 
Criteria relating to the following factors may also be included within the policy, or will be covered by the general development management policy, other Local Plan (Part Two) policies or may be sufficiently covered by existing Local Plan (Part One) policies: 
  • Landscape. 
  • Nature conservation. 
  • Biodiversity and protected sites. 
  • Historic environment. 
  • Human health. 
  • Residential amenity. 
  • Visual amenity. 
  • Soil structure and permeability. 
  • Highway safety and traffic levels. 
  • Impact on high quality agricultural land. 
  • Noise levels.
  • Public Rights of Way.
  • Retention and protection of trees. 
  • Flood risk. 
  • Surface water and groundwater. 
  • Air quality. 
I consider this, as a policy direction, to be inadequate.  

However it was endorsed by all Labour Members present at the meeting.  Even Labour Cllr Matt Bryan - who was elected on an anti-fracking platform in Upton - endorsed this pro-fracking policy and he was only there as a visiting member.  Cllr Bryan suggested he is drafting a Supplementary Planning Document on the subject.  
Yes that's correct Labour's leading anti-fracker is seemingly writing policy that will enable it to happen.  

Incidentally this 'SPD' was something Labour Chairman Cllr Rob Bisset suggested he did not know anything about.

I tabled wholesale amendments to Cllr Clarke's policy - and indeed to the very similar policies on minerals extraction, renewable energy and hazardous installations that were also under consideration.

The amendments - which are now to be considered in detail were the basis on which Lynn and I were elected in 2015 and are also CWaC Conservative policy:

We want the planning policy on fracking, minerals extraction, renewable energy etc to be amended so as to include in addition to what CWaC Labour are suggesting:

1    Openness and transparency throughout by the developer:
·         eg publication of data derived as a condition for permission to explore,
·         what it takes to mobilise and operate a site;
·         key data, biodiversity and environmental safety data, before, during and after the development
2    Good neighbour policy and arrangements required of the developer:
·         Commitment to work with communities, to be open and transparent with them
·         Public forums for concerns to be raised and responded to readily – at all stages 
·         Provision of funding so communities can obtain independent advice
·         Provision of funding so that communities can secure independent monitoring 
3     Full safety case and detailed plans
·         for all stages of the proposed development, exploration, exploitation and aftercare
4      Emergency plans, preparedness and resources
·         what one would expect under CoMAH regulations
5      Insurance and compensation arrangements
·         Demonstration how communities and the environment could be restored if something untoward happened
6      Community benefits
·         Honest up front publication of what is proposed and the arrangements for discussions, negotiations, management of funds, recipients etc
7      Consultation and local democracy
·         Commitment to holding a local poll (or referendum) or support for a parish poll or some other equally effective method of demonstrating local support for the proposed arrangements

To my mind these arrangements can be put in place through a combination of council powers,  planning policy, planning conditions, s106 Agreements, unilateral undertakings and/or the developer actually committing to these things and following through with them.

I also asked that our areas of outstanding county value be protected the same way in whcih the government is seeking to protect areas of outstanding natural beauty.  This would see much of the land to the south of Frodsham protected.

We got further evidence of Labour's fears regarding the proposal to have local referendums.  There are at least two ways to organise this formally - both of which I set out to the panel last week.  I quoted from a very recent House of Commons Library paper (2016) which included the following:

'The Government believes that councils should see and use referendums as an important tool to give local people a bigger say. The Government will therefore introduce legislation to confirm the power of councils to hold referendums. However, they would be neither obligatory nor binding except in the particular circumstances described in the previous chapter. Councils might wish to use referendums to consult their local people on such issues as major local developments or matters of particular local controversy.'

This quote came from a 1998 Labour Government white paper.  The policy became law in Local Government Act 2003 s116 - which permits councils to hold local polls.

Curiously Labour Cllr Reggie Jones described local referenda as 'a gimmick.'  They may be a gimmick to him - but for me they are an opportunity for local people to have a real say.  

In Frodsham we've seen far too much of others telling us what's good for us:
  • Labour Secretary of State imposing the Ince Resource Recovery Park with its two incinerators on us without local support;
  • Lib-Dem Secretary of State imposing the Frodsham wind farm on us - with a planning inspector claiming substantial local support for the proposal - not something I saw in Frodsham or when going door to door;
  • Adjacent Labour Council in Halton granting permission for Ineos to burn Greater Manchester's waste on our doorstep seemingly without taking our views into account.
I see local referenda as a very useful tool to encourage everyone to be open and engaging with a community.  It is also a very useful way in showing what a community really thinks. That is no gimmick.  We've shown in Frodsham with around 1/3rd of our households responding to the town-wide consultation a couple of years ago that we have a real appetite for this type of real, local engagement.