Friday, 28 April 2017

Labour's hypocrisy, smears and fake news on fracking

On 26 April we were due to have a meeting of the CWaC Overview and Scrutiny Committee.  It had been convened as the Conservative Group had called-in for review the proposed Special Planning Document ('SPD') on unconventional oil and gas (the one that covers fracking).

We called the document in for review straight after the Labour Cabinet had wanted to adopt it on 15 March.  We would have been ready for the call-in meeting to take place any time.  It was the council that decided the meeting could wait until 26 April.  Our position is that the SPD contains errors that can be corrected and that more can be done to protect communities and the environment and give locals are more decisive say as to whether these developments should proceed.

In the meantime on 18 April the Prime Minister announced and Parliament later resolved that we are to have a general election.  This is important as there are strict rules on the use of public facilities for political purposes in the run up to an election.  The period where there are these restrictions is known as 'purdah.'  The purdah period for the general election started on 24 April.

The planned call-in meeting on the SPD could not go ahead because of the purdah rules.   The Conservative Group was there in force, ready for the meeting, and ready to say we support the SPD - but that it can be improved further, the errors in it corrected, as well as showing how the council can do so much more to take the views of local people fully into account when faced with  controversial development proposals that can affect communities for generations.

It was the council's lawyers, advising the Chairman of the meeting that called the meeting off because of the purdah rules.  If the council had arranged for this meeting to take place efficiently we could have had the meeting in March.  Subsequent releases from the Labour party have falsely claimed that we were running scared.   We were not and are not.  We wanted and want the meeting to take place.  As it couldn't take place as planned on 26 April we indicated we were quite happy for the meeting to be adjourned until after the general election.

As you could imagine in the hour or so before the meeting there were several conversations seeking to find a consensus about how we could deal with practical questions that would arise if the meeting was postponed.   Cllr Brian Clarke (Labour's cabinet member for this area) wanted the SPD to come into effect as soon as possible just in case a planning application came in, in the meantime.  It is a shame that he and his colleagues had waited more than month to convene the call-in meeting - however we recognised that there was a practical issue that we could help to resolve.

He gave me a commitment that the SPD document would be reviewed and the errors in it corrected if we agreed to withdraw the call-in.  I indicated we were prepared to do this providing we were given a proper opportunity to present our arguments and concerns as quickly as we could reasonably arrange after the general election.  I then received a personal undertaking from the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that we will be given an opportunity at a further scrutiny meeting in June.

I have subsequently been told the meeting will take place on 12 June.

Any meeting about fracking policy was bound to court political controversy.  This scrutiny meeting was to be webcast.  Any suggestion that the meeting didn't take place for any other reason is, in my view, disingenuous and no doubt aimed at hiding the hypocrisy at the heart of Labour's approach to fracking and fracking policy locally.  They said they were opposed to fracking, and stood for election in 2015 saying they would bring in a moratorium  to prevent fracking in the Borough - only to have the embarrassment of being told by the Borough Solicitor that it was unlawful for a council to have such a moratorium.  Any outright opposition to fracking would also prevent councillors from taking part in planning decisions through 'predetermination.'

I don't know whether CWaC Labour went into the last election deliberately trying to mislead the electorate, or whether they were just incompetent.  However you look at the situation their position was untenable as well as unlawful.

The SPD they have produced provides the detailed policy check list for anyone wishing to make a fracking application.  Labour are trying to hide this outrageous hypocrisy with 'fake news' and smears.  

It is CWaC Conservative policy that any planning policy on fracking must provide the greatest protection possible in law for communities, public health, wildlife and the wider environment.  This is why, as the SPD was being produced, it was Conservative amendments that increased and enhanced these protections.  

However, importantly, and it is the policy on which Lynn and  I were re-elected in May 2015 is that we will represent the views of our residents, and put the residents' interests first when dealing with any significant or controversial planning application such as one for fracking.  It is why we are committed to giving residents more of say such as through local referendums or polls and insisting that developers are open and transparent about their plans.  We've had far too many examples locally of residents wishes being ignored and I am determined to do what I can to redress that balance.

I have made formal complaints both about Labour's fake news statements and about the way in which the council handled the arrangements for the meeting and purdah.

It is going to take a very long time before I can ever trust the pronouncements of local Labour politicians ever again.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Elm Rise and Hillside Road proposed no waiting at any time

Following complaints CWaC is considering preventing any vehicle waiting at any time on the junction of Hillside Road and Elm Rise.   I've attached the plan and the formal notice below that show what is proposed.

Anyone objecting to the proposals has until 19 May 2017 to respond.

NOTICE OF PROPOSAL
CHESHIRE WEST AND CHESTER BOROUGH COUNCIL
 (ELM RISE/HILLSIDE ROAD, FRODSHAM)
(PROHIBITION OF WAITING) ORDER 2017

Notice is hereby given that the Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council propose to make an order under Section 1, 2 and 4 to the Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and of all other enabling powers.

The effect of the proposed order will be to prohibit waiting at all times on the lengths of road specified in the schedule.
Full details of the proposals are in the draft Order together with a plan showing the extent of the proposal; a statement of reasons for making the order and a copy of this notice may be examined during the usual office hours at the following offices:
·         Winsford Area Highways Office, Phoenix House, Clough Road, Winsford, CW7 4BD;
·         The One Stop Shop, Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council, Wyvern House, The Drumber, Winsford, Cheshire CW7 1AH;
·         Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council’s Information Centre at 1 The Arcade, Northwich CW9 5AS.
If you wish to object to the proposed Order or to any provisions contained in it, you may do so in writing specifying the grounds on which it is made, to the undersigned quoting reference TRO 1581 by 19th May 2017.
 SCHEDULE 1
(Prohibition of Waiting - at all times)

Elm Rise (Both sides) – From its junction with Hillside Road for a distance of 10m in a south westerly direction.

Hillside road (South side) – From a point 11m North West of the centre line of Elm Rise for a distance of 27m South East.

24th April 2017

Kieran Collins
Place Area Manager
Cheshire West and Chester Council
Winsford Area Highways Office
Phoenix House
Clough Road
Winsford
Cheshire

CW7 4BD

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Frodsham's Air Quality

All of us want clean air.   Whilst politicians at a national level are, at long last, giving the issue greater prominence here in Frodsham I've been working on the issue for 10 years.  And after this hard work we can expect an Air Quality Management Plan for Frodsham to emerge from CWaC in May.

My first blush with the issue came with the planning application for the Ince incinerators in 2007 - and my interest in our local health data and our anecdotal tales of poor respiratory health.   I discussed this, at the time with our local GPs.  This led me to ask questions about what data we had locally about air quality.  At the time the data we had was 'high level' type data - not data about air quality in particular parts of Frodsham.

My first concerns were to understand what risks industry posed to us and whether traffic pollution was an issue.  This inevitably led to me asking questions about the potential risks to was to health being posed to those living close to the Motorway.  One of my earliest decisions I took, when I first had member's grant monies to spend, was to have air quality monitors for the residents of the park homes off Marsh Lane.

Over the years Lynn and I spent more money on monitors at various locations in Frodsham - culminating in the comprehensive air monitoring equipment that is currently sitting in Manor House Primary School car park.  We made sure that equipment went live ahead of Ineos commissioning their massive waste incinerator.  Our work also led to an independent air quality expert - Professor Leyton - producing a report drawing from all available air quality data in and around the Mersey Estuary.

All this work is showing that industry is not adversely affecting our air quality.  Where we have an air quality issue it is traffic related - and the concerns are not about the M56 - but about the A56.

The evidence shows that the worst effects of traffic pollution are largely confined to the roads themselves.  The pollution 'falls out' over a short distance from the roads.  Necessarily this means that road users - especially pedestrians and cyclists are exposed to traffic pollution as they are walking and cycling along the road.   This exposure is likely to be for a limited time.   However there are a few residential properties that are so close to the road that are more affected.

Our air monitoring has revealed that the Fluin Lane junction with the A56 is one of those areas where residential homes could be affected - and the pollution detected is above the legal (EU) action levels. This has triggered the formal requirement for CWaC to produce an Air Quality Management Plan.

Now this Air Quality Management Plan has, in my view, taken far too long to produce.  It was late when we were promised it would be produced in November 2016.  It was then deferred to the end of February 2017.   CWaC didn't explain to me why the report was late - so I tabled questions and raised the issue in our Council meetings in December 2016 and March 2017.

And now, finally, after more badgering I have finally got to see a draft copy of the Management Plan. I have suggested that the report needs to be extensively revised - and the officers have agreed to do this.  The revisions will take at least a fortnight to produce - so we should expect the document to emerge in May.

The document will be a consultation document - and will suggest how we can reduce the number of homes affected by traffic pollution.  The proposed changes will focus in and around the bottom of Fluin Lane and the junction with the A56 and St Hilda's Drive.  I have pointed out to the officers just how significant that road junction is not just to Frodsham - but also to traffic seeking to get to mid and south Cheshire from the Junction 12 M56, Halton and Merseyside and how we need to make sure everyone's concerns are properly taken into account.

Lynn and I will hold local meetings so as to ensure that those living in the affected homes as well as the wider community get to understand and debate the issues and the potential solutions.

Of course, longer term, the solution to this issue may well lie in us all moving away from using the more polluting vehicles - but this isn't something we can do overnight.

UPDATE:

This is a map taken from the CWaC website showing the air monitoring stations.  The blue ones are diffusion tubes at the roadside.  The orange one denotes kerbside monitoring.  This map shows current and historic sites showing how we've taken a comprehensive look at air quality.

If you want current data you can follow this link to the latest air quality station that is providing live data in Helsby:
http://www.airqualityengland.co.uk/local-authority/?la_id=67




Wednesday, 19 April 2017

What is the Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner up to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Council of Europe - Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

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

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

The Council of Europe operates through:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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