Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The battle of the pools

I imagine, in common with all Councillors on CWaC I am being extensively lobbied at the moment about swimming pools, leisure and entertainment facilities.

CWaC's Executive, on 1st May,  is set to take decisions about investing both in Northwich and Ellesmere Port in brand new facilities.  These are not trivial decisions, nor indeed is the amount of money involved trivial either.  It is perhaps worth noting at this point that CWaC is set to invest significant amounts of money in new leisure facilities at a time when other Councils (principally Labour ones it has to be said) are closing them.

The Ellesmere Sports Village will cost of the order of £15m, and the current forecast for Northwich is £13.7m.  In common with most councils an annual subsidy towards the running costs will be required.  However the projections show that these new facilities will be at least £0.33m to run, and could perhaps be cheaper still.  CWaC has earmarked the capital for most of this spending - although a small amount for the Northwich scheme will have to come from underspends elsewhere.

You would have thought that everyone would be celebrating the investments being made and the prospect of fantastic new facilities.  Most are, of course, however there are others that want more!
I'm all for ambition by the way.  So, what is on offer:

Replacement of the Memorial Hall and the Moss Farm pool with:

  • 25m x 6 lane swimming pool
  • Learner pool
  • Spa
  • Flume
  • 80 station gym
  • 450 seat entertainment venue
at the Memorial Hall site.  This will also be a significant investment in the town and a key part in its redevelopment.

Ellesmere Port
Replacement of EPIC with a new sports village at the former Stanney High School site with a regionally significant scheme including:
  • Sports hall - 8 badminton court size - with 1400 retractable seats for competition spectators
  • TV broadcast infrastructure
  • 25m x 8 lane competition swimming pool
  • 80 station gym
Future development (not part of phase 1) is for indoor athletics, upgrading of the all weather football pitch.

CWaC has consulted extensively on these proposals.  As you could envisage they are widely supported in their communities.   However some want more.

Northwich swimming club want the Northwich facility to have an 8 lane pool.
Ellesmere Port swimming and triathlon club want the Ellesmere Port pool to be 50m long.

As you could envisage neither of these extra proposals come free nor do they come without knock-on consequences if they were implemented.

Leaving aside the cash, for the moment, if the Ellesmere Port facility became a 50m pool this would almost certainly lead to the closure of the Neston Pool.  

Would Northwich be able to sustain a larger pool?  CWaC's modelling suggests that its core catchment is 40,000 people living within 10 minutes drive of the site.  Even if the core was 60,000 - if the drive time was extended to 20 minutes - that catchment would not sustain an 8 lane pool.

Then there is the question of cash and the increased subsidy that would be required.

So, what is my position on all of this - and for those of you who don't know Frodsham - please bear in mind that swimming pools are a vexed subject around here.

First - congratulations and thanks.  My CWaC Councillor and officer colleagues have done a fantastic job in times of public sector austerity to see such significant investments being made.

Secondly - whilst we could all want more - what is being offered by CWaC is affordable, sustainable and, crucially do-able.

Thirdly - if the cash could be found from sources outside CWaC and the long term future of these facilities was sustainable, if the running cost subsidies did not increase, and if there would be no knock-on effects on other facilities I would support the desired expansion - but not otherwise.

Fourthly - whilst creating regionally and nationally significant facilities is a worthy idea it should not, in my view, be at the cost or expense of local facilities.  Those of us living in and around Frodsham know that getting to Northwich can take close on 30 minutes.  Ellesmere Port and indeed Chester are closer - but it is still something of a 'schlep' to get there.  I well recall transporting each of my 3 children to Northgate Arena for swimming lessons every weekend for 6 or 7 years - that was more than a 20 minute drive even on a weekend afternoon.  I want to see more capital released into Leisure facilities -  I want to see investments made here in Frodsham!

Sport England suggest that a community of c13,000 people can sustain a small swimming pool.  Well given the combined populations of Frodsham & Helsby is over 14,000 - ever before you think of the surrounding villages I think we should be on the list for investment.  


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Responsible dog ownership day at Castle Park

A big thank you to everyone involved in the responsible dog-owner day at Castle Park.  It was a cold day - but great to see so many well behaved dogs with their well behaved dog owners.  There was free microchipping, free vet check-up and loads of goody-bags.

We've got a new Labrador puppy - Millie - and it was only her second day out after her vaccinations.

Cllr Lynn Riley, Mayor of Frodsham with Cllr Andrew Dawson and Dianne Dawson with Millie -
or perhaps Millie meets the Mayor

Training at Castle Park


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Remembering Margaret Thatcher

It appears that as in life Margaret Thatcher in death is dividing and polarising people.

However as a child of the 60s who even now remembers:

  • Callaghan's devaluation of the pound in Nov 1967 
  • the disastrous 1970s with all its industrial strife, pay and incomes policies, statutory price controls, the 3 day week, the oil price shock, inflation, the two elections in 1974,  beer and sandwiches at number 10, the doubts about Wilson and Marcia - let alone whether he was a KGB spy,  going 'cap-in-hand' to the IMF, the Lib-Lab pact, the winter of discontent etc
I am truly grateful that she put the 'Great' back into Britain.

She took a declining country, a country that was the laughing stock of the civilised world, the 'sick-man of Europe' and gave us back our pride and our standing.  She gave us optimism, no-nonsense economics and emphasised the importance of free markets and self-reliance.  She wanted us all to be property owners - thereby instilling pride and self-belief.

It wasn't a pain free transition.  I vividly remember the business closures, the unemployment and strife of the early 1980s and wondering what nation I was growing up in.  I remember being profoundly shocked that we went to war in 1982 - and fearing the casualties that the nightly news would bring.

As someone growing up in Liverpool I saw the tensions first hand both with the riots and with militant.  Neil Kinnock's great speech about militant and the scandal of a Labour council scurrying round serving redundancy notices to its own staff applied to my family.  My father was a head teacher and my mother was a teacher.  My father told me quite recently about the scandalous conduct of council officers who called the head teachers to a meeting - and then kept them waiting doing nothing whilst the taxis delivered the redundancy notices.

Margaret Thatcher never hid from controversy.  Many remain bitter that she referred to some as 'the enemy within.'  However when I reflect on my early career as a lawyer in local government I do believe she had a point.  In the late 1980s local government was hit with a barrage of legislation all seeking to make it more open and transparent - open to competitive tender - moving it towards the enabling role we see for it today.  As a young lawyer who believed in the rule of law I remember being scandalised by the attitude shown by council officers who sought every opportunity to subvert the government's will and work around the legislation rather than honouring it.  It did teach me to be a good 'statute lawyer' though!

Throughout this period there was the underlying tension and stress of the cold war.  After Labour's unilateral disarmament manifesto - 'the longest suicide note in history' I certainly felt that it was only the Conservatives that could be trusted with the defence of the nation at that time.  I find it interesting listening to her obituaries that she was more comfortable with the nuclear deterrent than President Gorbachev!  I am relieved on both counts.

Listening to her voice now - it puts a smile on my face.  History has proved her right in so many ways.  At the time I thought her medicine was too strong.  In her terms I would have been either 'wet' or 'semi-detached' but through the prism of history I reflect that she was more right than wrong.  She had a certainty of vision that most of us could only dream about.

Of course this had down sides.  Her increasingly imperial vocabulary 'Rejoice,' 'We are a Grand-mother' unnecessarily increased the animosity towards her.  This approach led her into error with the 'Poll Tax' - where her instinctive political sense let her down - although who could complain about making sure that those who benefited from local services also paid for them as a theory.

I gather she claimed in recent years that her greatest legacy was 'Tony Blair.'  If by that she meant moving the centre ground of British politics to the right then I would agree.  I think history will be less kind to Tony Blair than it is will be to Margaret Thatcher however. We pretty much have a national consensus that Thatcherite economics is the way to go - both here and abroad.  Labour only became electable when it moved to the right.

And when you reflect on the mess of the Euro and the debt burdens the obvious simplicity of her 'sound money' policy makes sense - if only those that followed had stuck to her path.

It is a remarkable feeling as someone still in his 40s to think that with Margaret Thatcher's passing I have almost certainly lived to see the death of Britain's greatest peace time Prime Minister.