Friday, 31 January 2014

Latest on Eddisbury Square Car Parking

FTC has been asking questions of the agents who manage Eddisbury Square.This is their illuminating response:

'I regret that XXXXX are not able to offer comment on parking arrangements for users of the Town Centre more generally – clearly control and administration of any car parking control within the Town Centre is vested with the Local Authority and it is appropriate that members of the public enquire accordingly.

As to Eddisbury Square, the signage displayed on site is clear and confirm the status of the car park does not change ( ie. private land ) irrespective of the time.
For the avoidance of doubt I do not give consent for my contact details to be released in response to queries you may receive.'

If ever you wanted to see a reply that says to a local community:

  • we don't care what you think;
  • we won't engage with you or anyone else;
  • we are a law unto ourselves; and
  • we will try and deflect criticism onto the local authorities 
this is it.

You would have thought the agents would have sussed out that it is a good idea to work with the local community and the local authorities.  You'd also have though they'd have sussed out that it isn't a good idea to wind up the local community and turn them away from parking in Eddisbury Square with the implied threats of CCTV/automatic number plate recognition camera monitoring.  Business sentiment is still fragile - so doing things that puts people off isn't very clever.  I wonder whether this commercial agency has thought about this?

Incidentally I wonder what Sainsbury think about all this - I imagine they aren't very pleased.

That said when Sainsbury's open will we all be happy that there is space to park?  Is that the longer game that is being played out now?  How about the other tenants in Eddisbury Square - how is their trade faring since these parking restrictions were brought in?

I imagine it will be the tenants of the square that will have the greatest sway with the agents.  If they don't like what is happening - they are likely to be able to influence them far more than the rest of us.  No agent wants to see empty premises and voids - or the value of the premises declining.

This one is going to run on.

Monday, 27 January 2014

First feedback from Saturday's consultation chat

We're still collating the feedback from Saturday's consultation chat with residents in and around the Medical Centre and Leisure Centre,  Everyone had a map of the area they could draw on.  This map is a summation of the comments that were raised.  I've asked the CWaC officers to look into each of the suggestions.

Eddisbury Square Car Parking - blame the managers of the Square

As you might expect my inbox has been full with comments and questions about the new car parking enforcement at Eddisbury Square.  I have been in contact with Fiona Edwards - the Head of Planning at Cheshire West and Chester Council - to see whether, and to what extent CWaC may have been involved in the new enforcement scheme.  This point was raised as car parking is an issue dealt with by a planning condition relating to the Sainsbury's development.

Fiona was very clear with me CWaC has had no involvement with the new enforcement arrangements.

Whilst the Sainsbury's scheme does have a planning condition relating to car parking - it is car parking behind the Square (in the service areas).  The developer has not yet submitted any scheme relating to that car parking for CWaC to consider.  CWaC are not involved in any way with what is presently going on.

Eddisbury Square, including the car parking area, is privately owned.

You do have to wonder how sensible such heavy handed and poorly advertised car parking enforcement is for those who are supposed to benefit.  Will the shops on the square see a loss of trade - or will the enforcement do the trick of freeing up short stay car parking spaces?

I'm underwhelmed by the lack of effective communication shown by the Square managers and their car parking managers.  They certainly know how to wind up a community.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Chatting over tea and biscuits

Lynn and I met with a group of residents drawn from Park Lane, Kingsway, Queensway, Princeway and Alvanley Terrace this morning at the Community Church.

First I have to say a couple of big thank yous.  First to Peter and Sarah - CWaC officers who gave up their Saturday morning to help with the meeting and to Tim Croal and his crew at the church for letting us meet there.

... and secondly to all the local residents who came to the meeting and joined in and to those who emailed Lynn or me with their thoughts.

We had lots of pens, papers, plans and blue tack and everyone was encouraged to have their say on a whole range of issues affecting either Frodsham generally or the area around the Leisure and Medical Centre in particular.  We decorated the walls with ideas on many things ranging from where the double yellow lines should go through to how the vacant land around the medical centre could be used.  I really loved the radical suggestion that we could have a 'duck pond' there!

Thanks also to everyone who volunteered for defibrillator training - we'll get that organised!

We're about to run a Frodsham wide consultation so everyone will get their chance to give us their thoughts in  a few weeks time.

Several people came up to Lynn and me at the end of the meeting thanking us for the meeting and for running it in a way that everyone could have their say.

We'll be publishing the results of the conversations once we've collated the results.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Conversations with Peel - Windfarm and Incinerator updates ... and a note on Coal bed methane and Shale Gas

Yesterday was a very interesting day - I ended up having two conversations with different parts of the Peel empire - discussing both the Windfarm and the Ince Resource Recovery Park.

So what did I learn:

Windfarm update:

Peel and continuing to press ahead with implementing their planning permission for the windfarm.  If they are to benefit from the government subsidies then the windfarm has to be operational, I understand, by April 2017.

Peel have already started to tick off the various planning conditions for the scheme.
One of the things we are all likely to see happen later this year (around September) is the creation of a 'scrape' for the wading birds.  This will be a 0.5m deep scrape to encourage wetland type conditions fronted by grass.  This will be near what Peel call 'cell 3' -this is the active deposit ground for the dredgings from the Ship Canal just off Lordship Lane.   Peel are looking to involve those with interests in caring for and managing wildlife to get involved.  In addition to national organisations such as the RSPCA I am encouraging Peel to engage with local groups too.

Lynn and I are encouraging Peel, and they have agreed to engage local businesses to carry out this sort of work where possible.

We are told that the main civil engineering works are likely to start in April 2015.  This will involve 11km of access tracks and then the construction of the crane pads and turbine foundations.  Apparently the ground conditions vary across the marshes.  Bed rock can be found some 20-22m down at the Frodsham end of the scheme, whereas in front of Helsby bed rock may be 35m down.  Piling will be necessary - but the exact details aren't known yet.  Peel have promised to give us more detail as their scheme is developed.

Peel are in debate with the relevant authorities about how they will make their electrical connections to the electricity grid.  The two options are - a connection to the national distribution grid, or perhaps two connections, one at Ince/Helsby and the other at Frodsham to the local distribution grid.  The latter option would be cheaper for Peel, but would involve the construction of a substation near the Frodsham turbines.  (near turbine 19.)  If this happens Lynn and I have suggested that Peel look to integrate community facilities in the Frodsham substation - such as toilets, community space, perhaps a bird hide etc.

We had previously asked Peel to see if they could move the turbine closest to Frodsham - near the Marsh Lane park homes.  In Peel's schedule this is called T20 - turbine 20.  Peel have said they will consider moving the turbine - and will go through all the hassle of a further planning application to facilitate this - if they can find a place for the turbine to go.  They do have an alternative site in mind - but they don't own the land. Whether the turbine can be moved may be down to their negotiations with that land owner.

Back to the question of the 11km of access tracks - Lynn and I are encouraging Peel to have a dialogue with Sustrans to see if we can join together to make these tracks more usable by cyclists.

And finally Peel look set to submit a planning application to CWaC to vary the wording of the original planning permission granted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change ('DECC').  DECC's wording of the permission isn't the brightest with use of confusing expressions such as 'development' and 'main development' - a lawyer's charter if ever there was one.

Ince Resource Recovery Park - update:

With Covanta not winning the Merseyside waste disposal contract the main incinerator scheme has been put on hold.  Peel will therefore be submitting a planning application to CWaC to vary the phasing of their original scheme.   They intend to build out their environmental mitigation and then the biomass incinerator (probably powered by waste wood).

The biomass development will not require the rail-head or the ship canal berth to be build at this early stage - although they may still be built.

There will be no changes to the numbers of vehicles accessing the site from those granted planning permission quite some time ago.

Assuming planning permission is granted Peel aim to 'break ground' later this year with the plots (probably only 3 of them) being developed out in 2015.  More details willl be found in due course on the Ince Resource Recovery website if you are interested.

I raised with Peel the sense in using local contractors where they can.  They agreed to do this.

Coal Bed methane and Shale Gas

An unexpected part of the meeting with Peel was an update from a CWaC planner on the status of shale gas exploration in the Borough.  As we know it was announced last year that shale gas had been found at Ince during their exploration for coal bed methane.  Apparently there will be further exploration for both coal bed methane and shale gas in future in a wide area both within and without the CWaC Borough.  This will involve seismic studies and some drilling.  No fracking is intended and, in any event, no planning permission or environmental permit is being sought for that purpose either.  Those with the licences to explore and exploit any gas in the area are looking to build up a 3D picture of what lies beneath.

Car Parking in Frodsham

Cllr Lynn Riley writes:

'There is nothing guaranteed to get the juices flowing in any town like the very mention of car parking. So its perhaps not surprising that the introduction of a new sign in Eddisbury Square has got Frodsham talking.

It’s a subject that pretty much everyone will have an opinion about, so this is probably our opportunity to have a conversation that everyone can join in with.

Every time this issue has ever come up in the past there has been huge controversy that has resulted in no changes to the status quo. Our town still enjoys free car parking and all the benefits that brings. But there is also a downside to this that is starting to have a real impact for us all. Yesterday Andrew and I started our day at 8am in Costa and by that time, 65 cars were already parked by the station, a good hour before many of the local businesses opened. The medical centre likewise had 108 cars parked by 9.30am.

When Solomon said there was a time and a place for everything he had not tried parking his car in Frodsham!

So perhaps now is time that we all grasp the nettle, recognise that we have a problem and come together as a community to build a solution that works for us all. There will be a whole variety of different issues that will arise and it will be good for us all to get a shared understanding of people’s needs and the options out there that we can consider.

There is a whole range of options that towns and cities up and down the UK are using to address their parking issues. Cheshire West and Chester has policies for residents parking schemes already in place and runs car parks throughout the borough some charged for and some free. There are some really clever technology options out there too.

But the starting point in all of this has to be that if this is our local problem in Frodsham, then the best place and the best people to find the solution will be here with us.

Our focus as your locally elected councillors is to bring as much resource into Frodsham as possible and to bring control and decision making with it. Cheshire West and Chester is working with community partners across the patch to transfer assets into local hands and is transferring funding like the new homes bonus to help support local plans. So why not car parks?

Parking is always going to be controversial. I’ve just 'googled' it and got 27.5million results so there’s going to be no shortage of opinion.

Let’s be clear before we start that there are NO plans, NO schemes, NO conspiracy and NO agenda, whatever others might have you believe. But we do have parking problems in town as we all know and this is a conversation that’s got to start somewhere.'

Cllr Andrew Dawson writes:

'I'll go further than Lynn.  My starting point is that I am opposed to car parking charges for Frodsham - if they are a resort at all, they are the very last resort and not something on my agenda at all at the moment.  I shudder at the costs of the equipment, the running and the enforcement costs ever before one thinks of the aggravation of finding the change etc!  If these are things we can avoid, then we should.  Also I don't like the idea of introducing car parking charges as inevitably there will be pressure to divert cars to be parked on nearby residential roads.  If we can find ways of sharing out our limited car parking resources better, then we should do it first.  

I very much agree with Lynn in that we should work within Frodsham to find the solutions through a sensible serious debate.  

So as an example - how about we encourage all those involved in businesses on Main Street to park their cars by the Will to Work at the Lesiure Centre?  Their cars would be no more than a 2 minute walk from their businesses and we would free up spaces on Main Street for short stay shoppers and visitors. I'm sure there are lots of similar things we could do without incurring significant costs to share our limited spaces better.

Those who own private land that is used for car parking - such as at Eddisbury Square and behind the Bear's Paw are free to devise whatever reasonable schemes they want to - although I would want to involve them in the dialogue.  If they get their arrangements right they will help our car parking problems - if they get it wrong they will exacerbate them.

I also think we have to put pressure on developers - especially those with schemes near the centre of town to make sure they are contributing to the car parking solution and not planning to make matters worse.  In fact a responsible developer with a scheme in and around the town centre should come to all of us explaining how they are contributing to the solution as one of the first things they should do.

Lynn and I are joining with Frodsham Town Council in preparing a consultation with everyone in Frodsham.  Everyone will have an opportunity to have their say on car parking and other things.  We are starting with a blank sheet of paper - inviting everyone to contribute.  I'll make sure all the responses are published in summary form so everyone can see what Frodsham as a whole has had to say on car parking and other issues.'

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Take a gritter for a walk!

Many thanks to the lads at Castle Park for their gritter-assembly skills - we now have 4 hand propelled gritters in Frodsham for community use as and when and if we get frosty and showy conditions this year.

The idea is that any member of the community can borrow one of these hand propelled gritters and take it for a walk spreading grit on the roads and pavements that wouldn't otherwise be gritted by CWaC.  Don't forget anyone who wants grit in Frodsham to spread on the local roads and pavements can simply as Frodsham Town Council - just phone the Town Clerk on 01928 735150 and ask to go on the list.

So ... you could have bags of grit at home - borrow the girtter, fill it up at home, take it for a walk   - and then take it back to where you borrowed it from.  To quote a well known advert 'simples!'

Cllr Lynn Riley and I have provided these gritters out of our 'Member's Grant' monies.

The 4 we have at the moment are at:

Overton Stores;
Top Shop on Langdale Way;
Churchfields with one of the local families; and
Leisure Centre

We had planned to put one of the gritters around Ship Street/ Ashton Drive - however we are still looking for a volunteer to house it!  So if you have an idea or want to volunteer please be in touch.

Over the last few years I have made sure that each of our primary schools has a gritter and even Helsby High School with its formally notorious frozen 'bus park' now has no excuse if the weather gets 'nippy.'

Not for the first time we are leading the charge and innovation in Frodsham.  As far as I know we are the only community that has grit delivered to houses (as opposed to great big snow bags being dumped).  We are the only community I know that has hand-propelled gritters available for community use too.

Anyone who wants to keep their side road free from ice and snow can now help themselves and their neighbours with support from both CWaC and FTC and a little bit of personal initiative.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

HS2 in Cheshire and beyond - do you have a view?

I was contacted earlier today by a lobbying group seeking to oppose HS2 in Cheshire.  I was asked whether I would agree to meet the lobbyists - you'll not be surprised to learn that I have already indicated that I am more than happy to meet them to learn more about their position.

Now the planned HS2 route isn't coming close to Frodsham.  The route, after reaching Crewe runs up mid and eastern Cheshire in the main before taking the line further east to Manchester.  I know Liverpool is lobbying to be connected to the HS2 route - if they were successful that could prove interesting for us, depending on how the HS line crossed the Mersey.

There are plans already announced, which I fully support, to consider electrification of the Crewe - Chester line, and more importantly for us here the Chester - Manchester line.  I am also lobbying to have the Halton Curve reopened - and ideally electrified to give us better services to Liverpool.

Now the lobbyists have also asked whether I know the views of my electorate.  I have to say HS2 is not an issue that fills my inbox (possibly tempting fate) - so if you do have views on the issue please let me know.

I do appreciate that those living on or along the HS2 route could well be suffering blight now.  There will inevitably be issues of CPO compensation and disturbance to consider and questions about how and whether businesses can relocate.  Are these issues that can be solved depending on the size of the compensation cheque?  Large infrastructure plans inevitably bring these issues.  So as a nation and a community in Cheshire how do we balance all these competing interests?  Do please let me know your views.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Viridor Energy from Waste incinerator at INEOS commissioning works

I've just been told that the Viridor Energy from Waste plant at INEOS has  started its lengthy commissioning process.

According to the Viridor new letter we should expect in January and February 2014:

The lining of the boiler will be 'cured' by heating it to a high temperature.  Steam may be visible from the main stack;

Steam blowing of the plant and equipment will also start this month (13 Jan) - blowing out particles from the soon-to-be-commissioned pipe work.  Each 'blow' is noisy - it can sound like a rumble - and lasts around 15 minutes;

The first short train has tested the rail tracks, yard and cranes.  Rail head training operations are underway now.  A full length train is scheduled to arrive on 21 January 2014.  The first Refuse Derived Fuel will arrive on site in February 2014 with the intention that operations be ramped up to full capacity over 8 weeks.

Viridor have a 24 hour support line on 0800 975 3029 for anyone with concerns.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Number crunching the Council Tax in Frodsham

All the precepting authorities in England are finalising their budgets so that the council tax can be set and bills sent out later in March.  As part of my preparation work for getting engaged in the various debates I've been looking back at my council tax bills since CWaC came into being in April 2009.

In our part of Cheshire their are 4 precepting authorities - in other words bodies that are entitled to raise funds through the council tax.  They are:

  • Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC)
  • Frodsham Town Council (FTC)
  • Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire
  • Cheshire Fire Authority.
Now I've concentrated on CWaC and FTC.
So what did my number crunching reveal:

Now council tax is typically quoted per Band D property.  As my house is a Band E I've had to do a 'back calculation' to reach the Band D figures - so apologies in advance if these figures are slightly out.  If you are interested the differences between the bands is all a question of ninths from the Band D figure.  So Band D is 9/9, Band A is 6/9, B 7/9, C8/9 ... E 11/9, F 13/9, G 15/9, H 18/9.   To get from Band E to Band D you divide by 1.22

In 2009-10 CWaC levied £1226.27 and FTC £31.98 - making a total for these two councils of £1,258.25.

Now I used this as the base figure - and then, courtesy of the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the Consumer Price Index Inflation (CPI) figures for March of each year  I worked out what the effect of inflation has been.

The CPI inflation figures are as follows:

March 10 +3.4%
March 11 +4.0%
March 12 +3.5%
March 13 +2.8%

When you do the maths you can find out that over the 4 years inflation has risen 14.42%.

So if CWaC and FTC had increased the council tax by inflation what would the combined Band D figure be?  The answer is £1,439.69.

What is the current combined council tax? The answer is £1,307.84 - a real terms decrease in the council tax of £131.85 or -9.2%.

Now FTC offers everyone over 70 a £5 voucher - so a household with an older person or with an older couple benefits even more.

FTC's Council Tax in 2009-10 was £31.98 - so an over 70s couple is paying less now in cash terms to FTC then they did 5 years ago (£38.54-£10 = £28.54) ever before you think of the effect of inflation.  The average Band D council tax for a parish council in England is £55!

In 2012-13 CWaC reduced its council tax by more than £8 per Band D property in Frodsham when they introduced the Special Expenses arrangements which levies charges on local communities for services provided to specific communities by CWaC.  The figure for Frodsham is £0.

I will do what I can to resist any increase in the council tax by any authority this year.  I have already proposed to FTC and FTC agreed that when setting the council tax for the 14-15 year it should not increase the current figure.  So the real terms savings look set to continue.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Kyle Rushton McGregor resigns from FTC

Kyle Rushton McGregor has resigned from Frodsham Town Council.

Kyle has written to all of us on the Town Council telling us of his resignation. I carry Kyle's comments in full in this blog entry as well as my personal reply to him.

Dear Kyle

I am sorry to see you go.

Given you've made much mention of CWaC and Borough Councillors etc in your resignation email I'm sure you will appreciate why I need to point out where I disagree with what you've said.

From my personal point of view the only thing that matters to me is improving the life of the Frodsham community and the town as a whole.  Frodsham comes first.
Ever since I was first elected in 2007 my driving force has been to make FTC more relevant and to give it a far greater say in local affairs.  For me this is a philosophical thing - power should be devolved to the lowest level - people and communities should have as much say in the things that matter to them as is possible.  So where decisions that CWaC could take can be delegated to FTC or involve FTC then that should happen.  This means that I readily share decisions that Lynn or I could take as CWaC Cllrs to FTC and/or the wider community.  This is why, for example, when the member's grants budgets first came into being I lead the charge at CWaC to delegate some of the funding choices to the community at large rather than me keeping the decisions to me.  This is also my philosophy behind things such as the Over 70s vouchers, the community gritting scheme and the acquisition of defibrilators (we are about to get our 9th by the way.)   

You talk of cuts - yes public sector austerity is out there.  However during the time of the 'cuts' Frodsham has seen more resources brought to the town than ever before - and all this done whist the council tax has fallen in real terms.  We've got a new medical centre, a new larger, better equipped, open longer library, we are getting the swing bridge restored - and done in a way that inconveniences as few people as possible.  And, of course we all remember the extensive road resurfacing we have had in Frodsham.   There is no direct correlation between money spent and the quality of services.  You can do things better, and in fact much better for less.  However Lynn and I have brought more resources to Frodsham than it has ever seen before, built greater community resilience,  and this done during a time of public sector austerity.

We've also greatly increased the resources of FTC without hitting local pockets.  Just look at our last budget and remember what the position was in 2011 and compare it to now.

In 2011 FTC's Council Tax was £30.22 for a Band D Property.  The Town Council raised £114,704 in its precept.  The council tax we are about to set looks like it will be around £38.47 per Band D Property.  Don't forget this £8.25 difference is very close to the reduction in council tax that every resident in Frodsham has had courtesy of CWaC.  In other words the council tax payer in Frodsham hasn't seen any real increase with this switch in resources - and the effect of inflation means that the council tax has fallen by around 10% in real terms.  

So this year FTC is set to get a greater share of the locally raised council tax and will raise over £140,000.  Then in addition we have the £38,554 of New Homes Bonus passported by CWaC directly to FTC, and a further £12,275 in CTR Scheme Grant which takes FTC's available funds to spend this year to close to £200,000.  This didn't have to happen.  CWaC is a rare council in passing on these funds to the parishes for them to spend.  That is close to £200,000 worth of local decision making for FTC and the local community - almost double the position from 2011.  This means that FTC can have a greater say and influence on what goes on in Frodsham than it has ever had before.  This means power and influence being exercised by more people, not fewer.  And, don't forget the average council tax for a parish council in England is £55 per Band D property.  FTC's council tax last year was the lowest council tax of any parished town in CWaC, and was around 8% lower than Helsby's.  Every Frodsham household with an over 70's resident has seen a fall in their council tax, and a couple both over 70, effectively pays less council tax to FTC than they paid in 2011 ever before we think of inflation.  FTC has also seen the share of its administration costs fall markedly as a percentage of what it can spend.  

This means we do have, for the first time, the ability to consider doing more, without hurting people's pockets.  We can think about greater influence over the marshes, a greater role with Castle Park, putting in improved road crossing facilities to suit us - not whether they fulfill CWaC criteria.  We've already shown we can do things such as the wholesale replacement of the Christmas lights.  Then there is Frodsham Foundation.  FTC's wise decision to invest £20,000 so far has been to gain influence over a revenue of c£53,000 in partnership with CWaC and others.  This has meant influence in community events and activities, boosting local enterprise - and even the advertisement of more local jobs than Job Centre Plus.   FTC is having a role in things that it has never done before.  And even when we've done these things we still have resources to do other things too - such as improving play areas, acquiring additional land for Hob Hey Wood etc - again without hurting the local council tax payer.

We can do more than 'just hanging baskets.'  Inevitably going into new areas brings challenges and opportunities - not everyone is comfortable with this enhanced role - and I, like you I suspect, wish it were otherwise.

Whether someone is in opposition is, in my view, a state of their mind not anyone else's.  What I see is that you were supported by everyone in being Chairman of P&P, the second most powerful position on FTC, not something that would have happened if others saw you as 'the opposition.'  I stated very openly last year that I would support you and indeed would propose you to be Mayor of Frodsham from May this year.

I am sorry that you have resigned.  I wish you and your family the very best for the future.


Dear all,

As some of you may already know, I resigned from the council this afternoon. This was not a decision I took lightly and indeed I have been thinking about this for over half a year. Although the amateurish manner with which we conducted ourselves on mondays budget meeting certainly didn't halt my thinking.

The reasons behind this decision are many, unfortunately, and some I feel are the exact reasons why this council will meander around in the mire for some time.

This council contains too many councillors with hidden agendas, who detract from our sole purpose of improving Frodsham and aiding those who live within our boundaries. We have borough councillors who wear different hats at council meetings with different aims and objectives. Quite frankly , their pursuit of the localism agenda is for the sole purpose of furthering cwac ideology rather than improving Frodsham.

It was made very clear to me, either in blogs, in person, or in emails that I was not welcome, merely viewed as the opposition. The irony of this is that the past two years or so, my chairmanship of p&p has been mopping up the mess created by my so called opposition. In these moments, I could have made political gains, but consciously decided against it.

The town council has no vision, is weak in its decision making and contains councillors who turn up now and again, spout rhetorical verbage and then disappear.

We adopt policies and approaches with little scrutiny and then scratch our heads when we have repercussions. Our shoot first, ask questions later approach to policy has ensured we spend more than we need to, we disengage people and we waste precious staff time in repairing these mistakes. Part of me wonders if certain policies are brought up in the last minute to prevent scrutiny and the realisation that we are being dealt a bad deal because of our borough councillors inability or unwillingness to push back against cuts and ideology.

I can't say I have enjoyed my time as a councillor, that would be a lie, but I have learnt some vital lessons that I hope to utilise as I strive to serve the people in other ways.

Many thanks,


Note - Incidentally I don't recognise Kyle's comments to blogs as being a reference to this blog as in the many blog posts I have made since 2007 I have rarely, if at all, mentioned him.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Frodsham Town Council - building the budget

It is in the first two months of the calendar year that local authorities determine their budgets for the next financial year so that council tax bills can be sent out by the end of March.  Traditionally Frodsham Town Council (FTC) holds two meetings in January - the first one looking solely at budgets - and the second one (the normal meeting) where the budget is finalised and the council tax rate set.

Last night was the first budget meeting where we scrutinised the various budget proposals.  The typical revenue budget for FTC is around £150,000 per year with around £138,000 of income coming from the FTC council tax payer.  Other income comes from grants and investments.

I am sure most people will be interested in knowing what the intention is with regard to FTC's portion of the council tax.  I proposed, and the council unanimously accepted, that when setting our budgets that last years council tax rate of £38.47 per Band D property must not be exceeded.  Given the effect of inflation this will mean a real terms decrease for everyone.  The final decision will be made at the end of the month.

Don't forget if you are over 70 you are entitled to a £5 voucher from FTC.  For a household with one person over 70 the effective FTC council tax is £33.47 per year or £28.47 if there are two people over 70. 

Much of the things that FTC does continue from year to year.  This includes things such as providing and maintaining the Tarvin Road Cemetery, maintaining the Parish Clock at the traffic lights at the Bear's Paw etc, the over 70s vouchers, salt for winter gritting etc.  We have made some changes this year which include budgeting for FTC:

  • to make a contribution towards a shared post for someone to manage Castle Park alongside the Art's Centre Trust (CPACT) and Castle Park Trust (CPT) - the budget figure is £10,000 - whether this is spent will depend on a business case being made and FTC signing up to a Memorandum of Understanding shortly to be agreed between CPT and CPACT.  I would like to see FTC getting a seat at the Castle Park table - but this will almost certainly require some capital contribution to Castle Park Trust;
  • to make a larger contribution towards the costs of the Christmas Festival;
  • to make a contribution alongside our neighbours in Helsby Parish Council and hopefully those in Ince and Elton, to building up a fund to assist in monitoring the flood defences on the marshes.  The Environment Agency will cease to maintain the existing pumps and infrastructure in April 2015. Agreements between the various businesses and land owners on the marshes with CWaC means that the local land owners and the Highways Agency will take the lead in maintaining the pumps and infrastructure going forward.  We think that it is important for the local community to have a real stake in the marshes - and have the ability, as needs be, to commission small works or reports from independent drainage experts.  All of us in Frodsham have a real interest in ensuring that the motorway and the A56 stay open - and that our lower lying residents and businesses are protected from the risk of flooding as best we can.  The suggested cost is £1 per Band D property per year from 2015.  I suggested, and the council accepted, that we should raise 50p per Band D property this year so as to start to build the fund.  We have 3583 council tax paying properties in Frodsham - so this amounts to £1,791.50 in the year to come.  In round terms there are about 6,000 council tax paying properties surrounding the marshes in Frodsham, Helsby, Elton and Ince.  If we built up a combined fund between us of c£6,000 pa we would, I'm sure, be able to commission small scale works and/or an engineers report every 4-5 years or so.  I see such a modest contribution as giving FTC and the surrounding parishes a seat at the table when it comes to discussing and managing the marshes going forward;
  • to be able to web-cast at least some, if not all of its council meetings.  FTC does not want to pay the entire costs suggested by CWaC for the service - and therefore we are looking for partners and innovative ways of undertaking the recording etc - I am hoping that we will be able to involve students from Helsby High School too.  To date there has been a staggering 707 viewings of FTC's trial webcast council meeting from December 2013.
FTC is also looking to part fund highway improvements with CWaC.  Top of my list, and I'm sure top of other's lists too are some sort of crossing point near the Netherton and improved crossing arrangements on Ship Street near Weaver Vale Primary School as well as improvements to play areas.

FTC is looking to do more - but crucially - without increasing the council tax.

When comparing FTC's performance do please bear in mind - based on 2013 figures for Band D properties that:
  • The effect of CWaC's special expenses regime (this seeks to make sure that local council tax payers pay for things specific to their location) is that Frodsham residents pay the least council tax to CWaC (along with 2 other parishes) - our special expenses figure is £0. 
  • Frodsham council tax payers pay less than any other parished Town in the Borough - Northwich residents pay in excess of £70 per year;
  • Frodsham council tax payers pay less than those in Helsby - and I gather Helsby are set to increase their council tax again this year;
  • The average parish council tax rate for a Band D property in England is £55 per year.
  • The difference between what a non-parished area and a parished area of CWaC pays is decreasing. Last year a Frodsham resident paid only £20 more than a Chester (un-parished) resident. Chester residents don't have: local winter gritting scheme, over 70s vouchers benefiting both our senior citizens and our local economy ... and other things besides...