Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Empty chairs at the Council table?

Labour Councillors at CWaC have gone AWOL. They've chosen to boycott council meetings for the rest of 2012. Bearing in mind the Christmas - New Year break this 'strike' will effectively last a week.

I feel sorry for those residents of CWaC who have 'striking' Labour Cllrs who aren't doing their bit for their residents. Speaking personally though, this has meant meetings are less heated, and in my view they are more productive.

So what is it that has brought about their 'strike.' Well it appears the hump has been taken following a very acrimonious council meeting last Thursday. There is talk of agreements being broken, bad faith being shown, unpardonable rudeness to newly created Aldermen and our new Freeman of the Borough. I'm not going to delve into these issues - I don't need to, and I don't know all the dealings - however I am clear that the last people who should go on 'strike' are elected members.

Speaking now directly to the Labour Cllrs - if you want to be principled do something that brings hardship to you and not the vulnerable. It is ironic that strikers lose pay when they don't work, CWaC's Labour Cllrs receive the same allowances when they withdraw their labour! I suggest, fellow members, you instruct CWaC not to pay you half a month's allowances coinciding with your avowed withdrawal from council meetings. Now if you do that maybe we'll see the principled action as opposed to a convenient early holiday on full allowances.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Hallelujah its the Messiah at St Laurence's church

My wife and I have just returned from the Frodsham Choral Society's bi-ennial rendition of the Messiah at St Laurence's church.  Simply it was stunning.

Howard Kane has to be commended and thanked by everyone in Frodsham.  He repeatedly brings together a wonderful concert and tonight was no exception.  The musicians of the Northern Freelance  Ensemble, the four soloists, Heather Heighway, Heather Ireson, Tim Kennedy and Terence Ayebare led the choral society in Handel's Messiah were first rate... and they were all able supported by the choral society.

Standing for the Hallelujah Chorus
It was wonderful to see the church packed with an attentive audience.

Frodsham Treasure Hunt

Frodsham Foundation have organised a treasure hunt in Frodsham today.

The idea was to encourage families to visit several of the local shops, hopefully encouraging them to browse, spend and to see what Frodsham has on offer as well as providing seasonal fun.  Several local businesses supported the venture and donated prizes.  Everyone who entered got a goodie bag - and one lucky person will win a Kindle Fire!

It was a good first attempt.  I'd like to see more innovation next time - perhaps with the businesses giving special offers to tempt more of us to visit the shops.  If we don't use them we risk losing them.  However we have to have the businesses being willing participants too.

I had the pleasure of playing Santa this morning - selling the treasure hunt maps outside the Bear's Paw!

One advantage being dressed as Santa is that you can keep warm even on a grey and rainy day.  One little lad came up to me and said - 'You can't be the real Santa - you are not fat enough!'  Fortunately there were witnesses to the comment - otherwise I'm sure my wife wouldn't believe me.

It was a great event - and something I hope our local businesses and the foundation will run again.  I'm happy to help again - but please, next time, not in the Santa costume.  Being Santa is great fun - but the false beard and whiskers don't half itch!

Now Santa did ask the Mayor of Frodsham Cllr Lynn Riley whether she had been good this year ... I couldn't possibly tell you what she said!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

A North Cheshire Parish Council?

CWaC is undertaking a governance review of all the town and parish councils in the Borough.  It will also be considering whether the non-parished areas should become parished.

So why should anyone care?

Well, actually town and parish councils are great.  Or more properly put - town and parish councils have the capacity to be great if they have ambition, drive and the ability to deliver.  You see parish councils have lots of powers - that is they can do lots of things - but they have next to no duties.  In other words the current legal arrangements mean that if parish councils choose to do nothing - then that's ok too.  Whether the community understands this, or would wish for greater ambition is a different issue.

You can see the differences in powers and responsibilities just by comparing the council tax taken.  In Frodsham the total Council Tax on a band D property is about £1500.00 in a year.  Of this only around £38 goes to Frodsham Town Council.  FTC's total annual revenue budget is of the order of £150,000 - this compares to the £750M turnover of CWaC.

It is CWaC that has the responsibility to provide roads, education, social services etc etc... the town and parish councils where the exist get consulted on things such as planning applications - but don't have to do anything.

Now this has been ok for many, many years.  But now we are getting localism.  The theory is that local communities will get a much greater say in what services are delivered in their locale.  Now personally I am all for Frodsham and Frodsham residents having a much greater say in what happens in the town.  I am really pleased to say that through many of the local initiatives that Lynn and I have been instrumental in creating - such as the Frodsham Foundation, local residents meetings to discuss proposed traffic regulation orders (eg along Marsh Lane etc), the Swing Bridge meetings etc Frodsham residents are being consulted far more frequently and in much greater depth than ever before.

But all this got me thinking.   Many of the issues that affect us in Frodsham also affect our neighbours too.  Most of the concerns we have in Frodsham such as:
  • wanting Frodsham to safe and sustainable;
  • wanting Frodsham to be a great place both to live and do business;
  • wanting Frodsham to have safe routes to all our schools - including to Helsby High School;
  • wanting much better and safer access along the Weaver Valley and into Delamere Forrest;
  • wanting to safeguard and protect our environment against inappropriate development
  • ... this list goes on by the way and includes things like localised winter gritting and public access defibrillators etc
also affect our neighbours.

So why don't we all work together?

If we all came together in one parished area - and I suggest the parish effectively be the catchment to Helsby High School (that is about 20,000 residents living in Frodsham, Helsby, Kingley, Sutton, Alvanley, Manley, Hapsford, Dunham-on-the Hill etc etc) we could have a really powerful voice and make things happen.

Now if Peel build their windfarm we will have a community benefit fund to administer - roughly co-inciding with this catchment area.  We are all concerned about the industrial development along the estuary ... and in the countryside.

Just think a parish council of this size (by the way it would still only be 2/3rds the size of Winsford Town Council and the same size as Northwich Town Council) could really start to shape things.  We'd have a strong voice for things like greatly improved leisure provision.  I'm sure we'd all unite behind things like greatly improved leisure provision at the High School which all the community and the primary schools could use.  A larger parish council could have a major stake in bringing these sorts of schemes about.  Crucially it would have the council tax base to be able to support this sort of change.  Just assuming for the moment that the parish council kept the council tax at the same rate paid in Frodsham (incidentally the cheapest council tax of all the parished towns in CWaC) the council would raise of the order of £300,000 in the year.  That is more than enough money to invest in larger projects such as - better leisure facilities at the High School and to leverage in support from CWaC, the Government, Sport England, National Lottery etc.  By the way Northwich Town Council raises around £500,000 a year and they don't appear to do half the things that we do in Frodsham at the moment.

We'd also benefit from cutting back office costs.  One public liability insurance policy covering the entire area etc etc...

I could see arrangements where we'd make sure that the really local stuff just affecting one village would be delegated to that community to deal with and with probably larger resources made available to that community than they see at the moment.

I think there is so much that unites us, so many issues of common concern, so many things that we would want to shape together that it makes sense to give our part of the world a really strong voice at the top table. After all - who better to know about local affairs and what we need than the locals themselves.  I think a strong parish council of this sort of size could prove to be a really strong catalyst and have a really strong voice.  I think we would all be better together.

... Oh and if you don't particularly like politicians or councillors - this would be one way of reducing the numbers!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Christmas in Frodsham

Frodsham was 'en fete' tonight with the Christmas Lights switch on and Santa's procession on Main Street.  I thought last year's festivities were brilliant.  This year surpassed last year's very high bar.  The chilly, sub-zero temperature and clear skies were the perfect backdrop for the festivities.  The craft and food stalls along Main Street added to the festive atmosphere.

Tonight was the grand unveiling of our new environmentally friendly - and hopefully long lasting - led Christmas lights.  Each bulb will use only 2w when compared with the 25w the old ones used.   They were deliberately designed to look like our old lights!  I thought the new lights in the trees along Church Street looked stunning.

A big thank you to everyone involved in putting on the show - the Festival Committee, the Stall Holders, Cllr Linda Brown who masterminded the Christmas Lights, all the support from the police and CWaC officers and Frodsham Foundation... absolutely brilliant ... many thanks.




Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A little internal struggling and frustration

One of my favourite authors is Douglas Adams.  I have to confess I am a great devotee of the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy and all its humour, wit and great knowledge.  I love the random improbability drive, pangalatic gargleblasters and of course, the ultimate answer being 42.

The great thing for me about Adams is his ability to burst pomposity and send up those who think they know best.  It is one way to keep yourself grounded and to try and avoid putting yourself in the position of someone being sent up!

One phrase that sounds like it ought to belong to Douglas Adams is 'the power of ignorance.'  

The power of ignorance is, so far as I am concerned, the power all of us witness everyday where those who know less than you or me do, say or  attempt things that we know are wrong, stupid or simply won't work.  You and me are, of course, terribly smart because you see the flaws in what is being attempted; we can see the errors and the fallacies.  Matters get frustrating when you attempt to explain the fundamental errors only to be met with the 'power of ignorance' in other words what can seem like a wilful failure to address what you know and have shown to be wrong.  This arises largely because the 'ignorant one' simply doesn't get it, or understand it whatever 'it' is.

For both the powerfully ignorant and the well-endowed-with-knowledge this can be an intensely frustrating experience.  There is no meeting of minds - often there is a clash of un-feasibly large egos.

I'm going through this problem at the moment.  For reasons of decency and decorum I won't go into details - however I know that my limits of tact and diplomacy will be tested probably beyond my normal sang froid and good humour - if I attempt to engage further.  It reminds me of one of the most startling comments I heard in my day job.  

I was advising a company being prosecuted for health and safety violations after a very serious accident.  A worker had his arm amputated from the shoulder after having become trapped in an in running nip - ie in between two cogged wheels each running in to each other.  The local health and safety rep for the company was also the trade union shop steward.  I asked him why, in spite of all the training he and his colleagues had had the worker in question had done something stupid which had led to his arm being amputated.  The reply was 'You can't educate wood.'  The comment shocked me then, especially coming from a trade union rep.

The phrase still shocks me today - although I cannot think of a better way of explaining the powerfully and persistently ignorant - in other words those who don't attempt to check whether they are being ignorant or stupid.

One good reason to keep quiet is I'm ugly enough to realise that whilst I may perceive myself as being on the 'knowing side' this time - I am sure there are many, many times I have displayed the powerful force of ignorance myself.  Good reason to remain quiet and humble.  I may even be wrong this time - but I doubt it!

And now back to Douglas Adams:

“One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphood was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn’t be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn’t understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid. He was renowned for being amazingly clever and quite clearly was so— but not all the time, which obviously worried him, hence, the act. He preferred people to be puzzled rather than contemptuous.”

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A big thank you to Cheshire police - oh and please be more vigilant

We're having a spate of break-ins in Frodsham at the moment.  The prime targets are sheds and garages but there have been the odd break-in of a house too.

Early on Friday morning - around 4am - my wife and I were woken by the police helicopter thrashing away above our house.  I have to confess at that hour in the morning I stayed in bed and thought little more about it knowing that Dianne and I had a trip to Edinburgh planned.  Friday was our 21st wedding anniversary! I thought no more about the helicopter.

However at lunchtime on Friday my 14 year old daughter phoned me to tell me that the police had called round.  They mentioned that there had been an attempted break-in next door - could they check our back garden to see if there was any evidence that the burglar had escaped this way?  She told me she had checked their warrant cards and let them into the back garden.

My daughter told me that everything was fine - but the police did want to talk to me on Saturday.

Dianne and I got home late on Friday.  I had a quick scout around the garden and saw immediately that someone had burst through our holly and hawthorn hedge (no doubt and some personal cost).  It immediately struck me that the police had not told my 14 year old about this.

On Saturday morning 2 members of CID called round.  They told me that the police were having extra patrols in Frodsham seeking to counter the break-ins and it was one of these extra patrols that at 4 in the morning had spotted a 'pair of legs' in the shadows of my neighbour's drive.  The patrol had called in the helicopter which arrived on station a few minutes later.

Unfortunately they weren't able to catch the prowler - although in the cold light of day the route of escape through the back gardens was pretty clear.  There is also a chance that my holly hedge has captured crucial DNA evidence!

I thanked the officers for their work and for looking to protect us with the additional patrols.  I also thanked them for not telling my 14 year old about the escape through our garden.

Interestingly the police also told me that in their extra patrols they are testing local security and local responses.  They are triggering security lights in the early hours - and are somewhat surprised that no-one has bothered to call the police to say there are prowlers - they want us to report in what we are seeing - even if it is to discover it is a plain clothed policeman.

Now on a personal level I do have a pretty secure rear garden.  It is surrounded by very tall, thick and thorny holly and hawthorn hedging - and is supplemented with wire mesh.   All designed to keep in 3 children and a labrador!  If anyone wants to attempt to burst through I do hope they end up having to pay a significant personal price assuming they are able to make it!

I'll also be putting up a video camera.  I hope all I end up spotting are foxes, badgers, squirrels and birds - however anything larger may end up being reported!

On reflection I have to say I am really impressed with our police.  They are responding to an increased threat.  They detected the prowler before he had broken in next door, they called in the helicopter.  They're analysing the evidence - and when speaking with my 14 year old they didn't scare her.  They came round and saw me swiftly - and they are trying to get the people of Frodsham to be more responsible.

Could you ask for any more?  A quality response.

Why I can't trust Labour and their campaigning methods

If you haven't noticed there is something of a campaign going on at the moment.  We have elections for the Police and Crime Commissioner on 15 November and for the last 7 weeks or so I have been out delivering leaflets for the John Dwyer our Conservative candidate.

John Dwyer's campaign is a positive campaign stating what he would intend to do to make sure policing is focused on the priorities of the people of Cheshire.

I've not been the only one out delivering though.  I have had some of the Labour literature handed to me.  Now I'm used to the rough tough world of political campaigning - but I have to say the Labour leaflet is the poorest and shabbiest piece of campaigning I have seen in many a year and I will be suggesting that a complaint is made about it.

First its tone is almost entirely negative and I find its content grossly misleading and inaccurate.  Others may be more charitable about it - but I'm not because they should know better.

The campaign material states that '250 police jobs to be axed across Cheshire.'  Now you might be mistaken into thinking this was a reference to falling police numbers but it isn't.  Read it carefully.
It doesn't refer to warranted to police officers - and for good reason as the number of officers are likely to rise this year.

Second the leaflet shows just why Labour can't be trusted either with economics or with our public services.  Labour are fixated with 'cuts.'  Their implication is that spending less money will in someway mean a poorer service.  This is simply rubbish.

Did you know that it is only recently that all police force helicopters have been brought together under one co-ordinated 'command.'  This means as a country and a county we now have a more efficient cost effective service than ever before?  We now have all north west police forces co-operating on policing our motorways - this saves money and provides a better service.  And the north west police forces are now looking at centralising fingerprinting services.  Yes, you've guessed it - this will mean a better service, provided more efficiently.  For Cheshire in particular this will bring an enhanced service, for a lesser price.  Frankly I find it astonishing that this sort of sensible rationalisation wasn't done years ago.

I've been chairing a policy development board at CWaC and we've been hearing how with all the public services working together on domestic abuse the public purse can save £6.5m over 5 years AND provide greatly enhanced and improved services to those suffering from this dreadful abuse or facing the risk of it.

Surely we all want greater innovation and co-ordination in our public services?  We want services to be improved and delivered more efficiently.  We are seeing that there is no automatic correlation between the money spent and the services being delivered.  In fact we are seeing that the drive to prevent unnecessary duplication and encouraging greater collaboration and cross support improves services and saves money.  Frankly I think it is criminal that in the 13 years that Labour was in government they did nothing to stop the silo working in the public sector that as we are seeing was and is so wasteful and inefficient.

Since CWaC was created on 1 April 2009 we have saved just short of £100m (ie £99.6m) on the cost of delivering services compared to what was being done before.  This has been done whist improving services and investing more in children's services and adult social care and investing more money in them.

Cheshire police are delivering an excellent service, cutting crime and delivering their services more efficiently.  For example they have entered into an innovative collaboration with Northamptonshire police to share back office personnel functions.  More forces look set to join this collaboration - and the net effect will mean more savings to the public purse and improved back office functions. 

The wretched Labour leaflet suggests that Cheshire police have been targeted for cuts and there is no plan to cut crime.  This is absolute nonsense - first Cheshire police has a fantastic record on cutting crime - crime has been falling consistently for the last decade and there is a current policing plan that does place emphasis on cutting crime.  Crime fell 6% last year alone.  The language used may give the impression that in someway Cheshire has been singled out for cuts.  It hasn't - it is bearing its share as with other police areas - however unlike many force areas Cheshire police receives an extra 'dampening' grant from the Home Office to lessen the effects of the cuts here.  Cheshire receives the 4th highest dampening grant in the country.  But Labour can't tell you that.

So if you are unlucky enough to receive one of these leaflets - read it, feel the impressions that the leaflet creates in you - and then test the facts against those impressions.  If like me you form the impression that it is misleading - reject them.

When you become mistrustful of the language used, when you realise Labour can only talk of 'cuts' and not the improvements to service delivery that are being made by Cheshire police whilst also cutting crime you will realise why I have the view that Labour can't be trusted to deliver effective public services efficiently let alone campaign in what I see to be an honourable or fair way.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Frodsham Windfarm granted permission

So, the Lib Dem Secretary of State Ed Davey has ignored the overwhelming sentiments of those of us living in Frodsham and Helsby and foisted on us a 19 x 125m high windfarm complex on Frodsham Marshes.   The scheme is for the turbines to be in two parts - the larger grouping in front of Helsby, with the others on the western end of Frodsham extending down to the Ship Canal.  They will be given permission to operate for 25 years - and then they must be taken down.

At 125m high the tip of the blades will be higher than 'Frodsham Hill.'

I am told we will have the dubious honour of having the largest windfarm complex close to a centre of population in Europe and the largest complex close to a motorway.

I have asked Steve Robinson the Chief Exec of CWaC to have the council's lawyers crawl all over the decision with a view to seeing if a legal challenge is feasible.  I have also asked him to second a senior officer to the local communities to assist us in discussions with Peel Energy - who have, so far at least, failed to engage meaningfully, in my view, with the local community.

I feared this decision was coming as Ed Davey has been talking up on-shore wind developments in recent weeks.  My cynical nature also highlighted the fact that this part of Cheshire has been a 'Lib-Dem' dead zone for years, not just from the last local elections in 2011 which saw only 1 Lib-Dem elected to CWaC's 75 man council.  So it is not as if his party will suffer at the polls locally in any event.

Ed Davey does talk of the need for windfarm developers to provide community benefits for the communities most affected by their developments.  Secretary of State please understand that most residents in this part of the world don't want to be bribed - and even if they were to accept it - the price we would demand would be much higher than is presently on offer. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Ince Park Air Quality Forum meets at Castle Park

It was March 2012 when the Ince Park Air Quality forum last met.  This forum came about through, amongst other routes, pressure that Cllrs Lynn Riley, Les Ford and I applied to Peel Holdings earlier this year.  Peel's Ince facility will process various types of waste - some of which will be by incineration.  We took the view that the northern part of Cheshire had many sources of potential pollution and the time had come for the community to seek reassurance that the local environment could stand yet more emissions to atmosphere.

In March 2012 the forum met and agreed that CWaC officers should make enquiries and with the consent of the forum should appoint an independent expert to advise the forum and in particular to devise an appropriate air monitoring regime for the our part of the world.

It has taken some 6 months for the officers to get to the stage where Professor Duncan Laxen of Air Quality Consultants Limited has been appointed to advise the forum.

Tonight was our first meeting with him - where he laid out his impressive credentials - which included advising the EU and the UK government on air quality and asked us to tell him what we wanted to see emerge.

It was pleasing to see that all of us around the table were in broad agreement.  We want to see monitoring starting as soon as possible so that baseline data can be obtained before both the incinerator at Weston is commissioned and Peel's facilities at Ince are built and become operational.  Where and how the monitoring is done and the determinands that will be tested for we will leave to the expert to advise us.  I raised the issue that I wanted the monitoring to go further and to consider all aspects of the environment - in other words encompassing land and water as well as air - after all, I argued, pollutants in the air have to fall out somewhere.  I also requested that we should ask our local GPs for input into the forum too.

Peel have agreed to fund the work of the forum the monitoring and the analysis reasonably.  It is too early to say what this will cost and what the commitments will be.  Enquiries seem to confirm that we will be the first community in the country to demand this comprehensive level of environmental monitoring.  It is interesting to learn that we are being more demanding of Peel and what they propose for Ince than our near neighbours in Halton have been with regard to the Weston incinerator.

The Ince forum is made up of local councillors and residents joined by representatives from Peel, the Health Protection Agency, CWaC's Environmental Health Department and the Environment Agency. We all accept we don't have the monopoly on wisdom and will therefore welcome anyone's ideas and suggestions when it comes to deciding what, how, why and when, when it comes to the monitoring and reporting to the community.  The whole point of this forum is to ensure open and transparent reporting of environmental information to the community independently, truthfully and faithfully and free from spin whether from operators or regulators.

By the way - we are very fortunate with some of our councillors and residents on the forum.  We have a Professor, several scientists, a regulator and an environmental and regulatory lawyer!  Anyway - if you want us to take account of anything you think we may have missed - let me know!

Monday, 8 October 2012

FTC Commemorates Greater Manchester Police officers with local grant

I proposed a motion tonight at FTC for our local council to give a grant to our local police, in memory of Greater Manchester police officers PC Fiona Bone and PC Nicola Hughes.

The council resolved by a large majority to donate £300 to our local police inspector for him to spend in Frodsham in improving relations between the police and the community. This followed an earlier proposal to donate FTC money to the memorial fund in Greater Manchester. The majority of the council considered it appropriate to spend the public money raised in Frodsham, in Frodsham and to encourage individuals to make personal donations to the memorial fund.

Friday, 5 October 2012

An inspirational evening with Forum Housing

I've been out in Bebington tonight - for the founding of a new Rotaract Club.  For those not in the know Rotoract Clubs are for adults between 18-30.  They are part of the Rotary family of clubs who blend friendship and fellowship with community service.  We all try to live up to the 'service before self' motto.

Anyway this evening was special not just because a new Rotoract Club was being created - although that is pretty special - it was special because this club was being established by Forum Housing with Birkenhead Rotary Club.  The youngsters forming the club have all had a hard start in life and have received help, housing and mentoring by Forum Housing to become model young citizens with confidence, aspiration and hope.  These are youngsters who have gone from receiving help and assistance themselves to now being part the outreach to those in need of help.

It was fantastic to see these new members of Rotoract present their business plan to promote their club and their community work to us.  They also performed flawlessly and with great panache and talent in an evening that blended music with speeches and much well wishing.

All in all very humbling and a tremendous advert for the work that Forum Housing do in helping turning lives around.

I've invited some of the Forum Housing team to Frodsham.  I'd love to see them doing outreach work in Frodsham, building the confidence and life skills of our youngsters and helping them become model citizens.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where was Frodsham Castle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Superfast fast broadband is coming to Frodsham

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

The full text of the BT press release follows below.

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

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

Frodsham and Helsby among the next communities to benefit;
Cheshire West and Chester Council welcomes development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Tyre Slasher - Police make arrest

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Swing Bridge Update

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

Questions and answers

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

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

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

Frodsham Foundation open day at the Goods Shed

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

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

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

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

Setting up

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

Friday, 21 September 2012

On the buses to HHS

This blog has been written by Cllr Lynn Riley:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A request for the police for help

Damage to Vehicles Ship Street, Frodsham

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

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

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

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

Keith Curbishley
Western Rural NPU

Friday, 14 September 2012

Swing Bridge Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 September 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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