Friday, 20 December 2013

The Emerging Local Plan - Labour Councillors 'all mouth and no trousers.'

Last night Cheshire West and Chester Council overwhelmingly voted to send the draft local plan to its next stage - an Examination in Public (otherwise known as a Public Inquiry) - so that the plan and its policies can be tested in front of a planning inspector.

The plan has taken 3 years to compile to its present position and is intended to regulate development in our Borough until 2030.  As many of us have observed it is perhaps the most important document CWaC has produced since it was created in 2009 as it will shape our community for the next generation.  We need this plan to make sure that we as a local community can take control of large scale development.  Without a secure 5 year supply of housing land allocations (where we are at the moment) developers have a freer hand to develop where they want, not where we want.  The sooner we get a robust plan the better.

Over the autumn the plan has been out to consultation - everyone has had the opportunity to comment on it - and in fact only those that have commented on the plan will be entitled to make representations at the Examination in Public. As readers of this blog will readily recognise I have been encouraging everyone to have their say.

I don't agree with everything in the emerging plan - I don't think everyone agrees with absolutely every page, plan and policy - but I do think it is in proper shape to be tested.  I do expected the proposed housing numbers to be tested - and there are many things about planning policy affecting Frodsham that I want to see tested too.  I have also asked that the inquiry hearings are webcast too.

At the council meeting last night the Labour councillors looked like they had agreed a plan of campaign.  Far be it from me to suggest that they had been whipped - but that is exactly what it looked like.  Their basic stance was 7 days notice of this council meeting to discuss the local plan isn't long enough.  Oh, and the short 5 page report didn't do the 'bible' of local plan documents sufficient service... When it came to the vote they all abstained.

Of course Labour's position doesn't stand scrutiny.

First all councillors have had the opportunity to participate in the local plan drafting process since 2009. There have been regular meetings of the LDF Panel - where this work was being done.  Every councillor has been given a 'hard' copy of the plan documents to work through.  I used mine to make personal representations and to assist Frodsham Town Council make their representations too.  Then, of course, we have all had the opportunity to participate in the 8 week long consultation process.

Yesterday afternoon I went on the CWaC website where you can find the consultation portal - .  There is a helpful button 'Who Said What.'  I used the search facility to check out which Councillors had bothered to make representations.  I typed in each councillor's name and noted down what I found.

This quick 10 minutes research revealed that only around 24 of the 75 Councillors had made representations.  I have to state here that I cannot be absolutely sure that I have captured all the information - but what I report is what I discovered from my enquiries of the website.  Only 6 of the 24 Councillors who made representations were obviously Labour party councillors.  That is less than 19% of the Labour Councillors on CWaC.  18 Councillors were from the Conservative party - that is just shy of 43% - not great as I said in the Chamber last night - but a great deal better than 19%.  Our single Lib Dem didn't appear to have bothered either.

So here we have it ladies and gentlemen - we have a group of Labour Councillors who claim a lack of preparation time for a council meeting when they have been participating in the process for years, and when the vast majority of them hadn't even bothered to make representations themselves even though they have had had all the documentation and an 8 week window in which to make representations.

If ever there was a case of 'all mouth and no trousers' this is it.

When you are bored over the Christmas period do play the game I played - tap in your councillor's name in the 'Who Said What' part of the portal and click the 'Consultees' button.  The most important plan in CWaC's history, that will manage development for a generation - and only 6 Labour Councillors were seemingly bothered to make representations.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Transport News - Bridges Tolls and Railways.

The Department for Transport has just announced that it will provide £1.777M funding towards the ongoing repairs of the Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge under its £49M Local Pinch Point funding scheme.  Its great that the DfT has responded so positively to all the lobbying Lynn and I and our MP Graham Evans have done.  I also have to pay tribute to the hard work of CWaC and the Canals and River Trust officers too in securing this useful funding.  I think it is right that the government is picking up a significant element of the costs in refurbishing the bridge

The DfT has also just announced that Network Rail is to look into the electrification of the Warrington-Chester line - which, of course serves Frodsham and the Crewe-Chester line which is vital for the economic health of our Borough.  We'll find out in about a year whether these schemes are to go ahead.

You may have picked up that Halton Borough Council has voted to place tolls on the existing Runcorn-Widnes Bridge when the new bridge opens.  This will mean that both bridges are tolled - just like the two tunnels serving Liverpool from the Wirral.  Halton Council voted to set the toll at £2 in each direction - with Halton residents given 300 'free' crossings each year.  They believe it will match the Mersey Tunnel tolls when it comes into force.

I'm unhappy about tolls - I don't like paying them.  You don't mind on the odd one-off trip but this could be quite a burden if you are having to pay day in day out.  I notice that local buses will be exempt from the tolls and this may boost the use of public transport.  If only we had the Halton Curve back in use it would be easy to commute to Liverpool from Frodsham!  The lobbying on this continues!

Halton Council's decisions was, I'm afraid, all too predictable.  We all have known since the start of the second Mersey crossing project that tolling the existing bridge was almost certainly going to happen.  It would have been daft not to toll it given that the new second crossing bridge was to be tolled.  You only have to look at the choice that people make on the M6 and the M6 Toll Motorway.  As an occasional user of the M6 Toll motorway I love the fact that it is so lightly used - and you see the vast majority of motorists choosing to stay in the 'free' but congested M6.  If Halton Council was going to relieve the traffic on the existing bridge they were going to have to put a toll on it.  I don't like it, I wish neither bridge was tolled - but having the new bridge tolled was a key factor in having the new bridge built.

What Halton Council's decision does though is to discriminate between their residents and those living outside their Borough such as in Frodsham and Helsby.  It is somewhat ironic that a scheme to boost the economy of the Liverpool region and Cheshire is likely to have a dampening effect in areas close to the bridge, but outside Halton where people make decisions about employment and their businesses factoring in having to pay the toll.

That said I know many people already factor in whether they want to cross the bridge on a daily basis given the risk of traffic jams.  I know I did when I lived one side and worked the other - and my wife does now. She works in Halton - but make sure, so far as she can that her work keeps her on the Runcorn side. 

Whatever we think about tolls I do think it is absolutely fantastic that the government is investing so heavily in our local transport infrastructure - and with the prospect of more to come too.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Frodsham Christmas Festival - 30 November 2013

Wow - what a day and what a night.

Each year the Christmas Festival gets bigger and better and this year was the best yet - or perhaps the best so far!  A massive thank you to Kate at Frodsham Foundation for pulling the event together - and to the army of volunteers who with the police kept us safe.

It was wonderful to see so many people out enjoying themselves.  It was also wonderful to welcome people from miles around joining us in Frodsham to celebrate the Christmas Festival.  Everyone I spoke with was full of praise for the event - and the way in which it was run.   Our local businesses joined in - and they were joined by other stall holders.  The fair came to town too.  From what I've heard so far our local businesses were reporting booming business.

The Christmas lights were switched on by the Mayor of Frodsham Cllr Sara Wakefield ably assisted by our new Junior Mayors from Weaver Vale Primary School.

Lynn and I joined the volunteer stewards and walked with the procession from the Leisures Centre, down Park Lane, along Main Street, up Church Street, beyond Eddisbury Square and back to the Leisure Centre.  We had the Frodsham Silver Band on one float and hundreds of school children joining in with thousands watching on.  Santa and his reindeer also put an appearance in!

Generating power for the Xmas lights


Scouts climbing wall

The Silver Band preparing

Children with sparkly lights

Mayor and Junior Mayors of Frodsham
fireworks marked the switch-on

Frodsham was packed

the streets were 'thronged'

Happy Christmas