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!