Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Thanks to everyone who has been out gritting

Tonight is slightly warmer than it has been recently. The CWaC gritting crews can have a lie in - they won't be needed tonight! I'm sure on a personal level they will be delighted - as they have been out gritting all our main roads twice per day for most of the last week. I think they've been doing a superb job. 

Whilst in the village earlier this afternoon I was thanked for having had the shopping area pavements gritted. I pointed out that whilst I'd put the arrangements in place the thanks was due to our volunteers who are gritting the pavements and side streets for us.  A big thank you is due to the crew at the leisure centre who have been taking a gritter for a walk around the town centre.

If anyone wants to help grit Frodsham FTC will give you free grit.  We've hand propelled gritters anyone can use at Overton Stores, Churchfields, Top Shop on Langdale Way and at the Leisure Centre.  All of our Primary Schools have them too - so come term time all the approaches to the schools can be gritted if the school community organises it.

If you want grit to spread on your side road or pavements just call the Town Council on 01928 735150.

Incidentally I've asked CWaC to refill all our grit bins.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Eleven Rail improvement schemes we need in Cheshire before HS2

At our recent Council meeting at CWaC we debated the improvements we desired both in and around Cheshire in advance of HS2.  The wish list emerging from Cheshire and North Wales has eleven projects.

The schemes are both listed below as well as being shown on the map.  They are:

  1. Electrification of the Crewe-Holyhead line - this passes through southern Cheshire and Chester before running along the North Wales coast to Holyhead;
  2. Chester - Wrexham line - rail lines to be restored to double track;
  3. Bidston - Wrexham line - to be upgraded and electrified;
  4. Halton Curve (Frodsham to Runcorn main line station) upgraded to bi-directional use for passengers;
  5. Chester - Manchester (Mid-Cheshire Line) greater frequency of service;
  6. Manchester Airport link line to the Mid-Cheshire Line;
  7. Link line to Middlewich from Mid-Cheshire Line to be upgraded to passenger grade with a new station built at Middlewich;
  8. Chester - Liverpool service via Halton Curve;
  9. Hooton - via Ellesmere Port, Helsby, Frodsham etc to Liverpool and North
  10. Chester - Warrington - line upgrade and electrification; and
  11. Winsford - Hartford service enhancements. 

Now you don't need to tell anyone in Frodsham just how important we are, and just how much we want our rail services to be improved and enhanced.  However I am delighted that CWaC (and our partner authorities) are arguing for 11 rail improvement schemes - 4 of which directly involve Frodsham and the services from our station.

These improvements aren't solely about railway lines - they also involve the associated infrastructure such as car parking.  In the council debate I raised exactly that issue and the need to ensure that, for example, car parking at Frodsham station is sufficient to meet the likely significantly increased demand.

I am delighted that as a council and with our neighbouring authorities we are being this ambitious.  At the moment just under 80% of us in Frodsham who go to work, do so by car.  These rail schemes are not only vital as part of building a 'northern power-house' - they are also important to ensure we have sustainable transport that is kinder to the environment.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Please pass this on to anyone you think could benefit from getting on-line.  It is one of the excellent services offered through Frodsham Library.  Don't forget we have free wi-fi there too.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Vision for Localism & Decentralisation in England

Message from Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP

Dear Cllr Andrew Dawson
Localism & Decentralisation in England
Today, William Hague has presented to Parliament a Command Paper on the implications of devolution for England. As well as setting out the Conservative Party’s support for English Votes on English laws, it outlines this Government’s achievements on localism and the Conservative Party’s stance on further decentralisation in England.

The Conservative Party embraces the Union of the United Kingdom and the continuing role of our national Parliament in Westminster as our law-making body. We back England’s traditional boroughs, towns, cities and counties, as opposed to Labour’s artificial regions. We endorse the tried and tested electoral system of First Past the Post. We embrace lower taxes and less red tape. We rally behind supporting enterprise and growth across the country. And we champion local democracy and local accountability, and the devolution of power from Europe and from Whitehall down to councils, and down further to neighbourhoods, parishes and individual taxpayers.

The full text of the Conservative Party’s route-map on localism is reproduced below.

“The Conservative position on further devolution within England is based upon the view that England is a great nation, proudly forming a constituent part of the union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We believe that the Westminster Parliament is, and should remain, England's law-making body.

However, we also believe that, without a local voice, communities are made weaker because social responsibility and civic involvement are inhibited; local communities are strongest when everyone has a free and fair say in the decisions that affect them. This is why Conservatives in the coalition government have worked with their coalition partners to deliver significant decentralisation of power and finance within England. But we believe that there is more to do.

The Conservative Party takes the view that, in the years before 2010, central and regional government across England too often undermined local democracy and allowed people too little say over decisions that directly affected them. We argue that power should be decentralised down to the lowest appropriate level – down from Europe, down from Whitehall, to councils, to community groups and to individual taxpayers: giving power to the people.

Therefore in the next Parliament we wish to continue with the empowerment of neighbourhoods and parishes in England, not least through a huge further increase in neighbourhood planning. The aim is to extend community rights and thereby mobilise what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons”, strengthening social and civic responsibility and building social capital – fostering the Big Society.

Conservatives believe that greater localism should be accompanied by greater local accountability, with democratic checks and balances to ensure the responsible use of greater local power. We will continue to support the tried and tested method of first past the post elections for the Westminster Parliament and for all levels of local council in England. But we believe that there should be greater use of direct democracy, such as allowing local people to hold local referendums on local issues. Conservatives also aim to extend and strengthen the transparency and accountability which the current Government has championed, and help support the press and public in holding local politicians to account.

In addition, we want to go further and deeper with the localist reforms that have taken place in England during this Parliament. This will include delivering more bespoke Growth Deals with local councils, including metropolitan mayors where locally supported, and working with Local Enterprise Partnerships and councils to promote jobs and growth. To save taxpayers’ money and improve front-line services, we propose to continue the drive to help local authorities join up different public services, taking forward projects such as Community Budgets, the Better Care Fund, joint working between the emergency services, and the Troubled Families programme.

Our view is that patterns of local government should reflect England’s local identities and traditions. We will champion England’s long-standing towns, boroughs, cities and counties, and will continue to oppose the imposition of artificial regional structures. We take the view that enabling locals to determine local structures locally will encourage civic and national pride across class, colour and creed – in our municipalities and neighbourhoods, in the nation of England and in the United Kingdom.

We strongly believe that localism must not be a way of imposing new taxes: the English taxpayer already pays too much tax. Instead, we wish to strengthen the fiscal incentives that councils have to support enterprise and growth – for example, by further extending the local retention of business rates. Following the course already set by the coalition government, in the next Parliament we will further reduce ring-fencing and ensure that councils are more self-sufficient – building on the fact that 70 per cent of council income is now raised locally.

Conservatives want all parts of England to enjoy prosperity and growth – north and south, shire and municipal, rural and urban. Rather than playing one part of England or Britain against another, we want to let local people in all parts of England keep the proceeds of local growth – thereby providing strong incentives for all local governments to work with local business to support jobs and improve quality of life locally.”

As we approach the general election and the final stage of this Parliament, I hope this presents a vision that the broad church of our Conservative & Unionist Party will welcome.

Yours truly,

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Monday, 8 December 2014

Air Quality in Frodsham... and the BBC

Sunday afternoon was meant to be a quiet affair - attending to my wife's ever increasing list of jobs for me.  Grouting the bathroom was high on the list ... and then out of the blue the BBC phoned.   Radios 5 & 4 wanted to do a story linking the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report on concerns regarding air quality around schools, care homes and hospitals with the air quality monitoring we have in place in Frodsham and in particular the environmental monitoring we have put in place at Manor House Primary School courtesy of Lynn and my members grants and FTC.

Not for the first time we have Frodsham leading the way and of national interest.

It's worth taking a step back.  Lynn and I pressed for enhanced environmental monitoring in Frodsham on the back of Peel's proposals to build their two incinerators at Ince and the commissioning of the incinerator at Ineos's plant which is now burning waste from Greater Manchester.

We were able to persuade Peel to contribute money allowing us and a group of residents to commission an independent expert Prof Laxon to give us advice on the then current air quality in and around Frodsham ... and to give us a benchmark against which to judge future developments.

Lynn and I were able to join this project up with CWaC's ongoing monitoring of traffic pollution.  It is a good few years now since I was able to have monitoring equipment installed near the Marsh Lane park homes.  To this CWaC added a number of additional monitoring stations primarily along the A56 in Frodsham.  We were also able to bring a comprehensive environmental monitoring station to Manor House School.  The scientists advised that Manor House was an ideal location to monitor background levels of air-borne pollutants as it was not directly on a main road.

That environmental monitoring station has been in place now for a few months.  In the meantime work elsewhere in Frodsham has backed up Prof. Laxon's initial report.  Air quality from industry doesn't appear to be an issue.  The issue, where we have one in Frodsham is traffic.

The location of the air monitoring diffusion tubes on the A56
The modelled NOx pollution levels - the worst being at the Fluin Lane / A56 junction

The data collected shows we have NOx (various nitrogen oxides) above the 40 microgram average action level in and around the Fluin Lane / A56 junction.

So what are we to do about this?  Well CWaC Environmental team and the highway engineers are looking into what can be done.  There are few options though given our constrained geography and narrow transport corridor.   The House of Commons Committee is suggesting low emission zones be run out over the country, rather than just in London.  They are also suggesting air filtration equipment for affected schools etc.  However I'm not sure these measures are the answer.  I don't think anyone would welcome a reduction in traffic on the A56 if it meant that each of our own freedom to drive would be curtailed.  Electric cars seem only a few years away... but can we wait that long?

One thing that struck me very keenly this morning whilst watching the school run develop was how Langdale Way had gone from a quiet inoffensive residential road into a road temporarily choked with cars with  a strong smell of car fumes.  Ironically the fumes will no doubt dissipate by 9am but they will be at their worst when our youngsters are walking to and from the school gate!

Now Manor House is a great school; all my children went there.  There is nothing particular about the Manor or its parents (other than they are great).  I'm sure all of our schools in Frodsham will see the same effects with the school run.  I do want to see, if I can, monitoring equipment at Weaver Vale School - bearing in mind how close it is to the M56.  However as the second of the maps shows traffic pollution tends to be perceived within a few metres of a heavily trafficked road and not further afield.

We all hear the message about our children walking to school - I can just imagine the domestic revolt of my daughter had to walk to Helsby High School - but so few of us can work walking to school into the daily routine. Would things be any different if we had a sign outside our schools showing us the live air pollution data and how it was being worsened by our own cars?  I certainly think it would make many of us stop and think... and alter our behaviours.   This strikes me as one of those issues where we ourselves and our busy car bound lifestyles are the problem.  Nearly 80% of us in Frodsham who go to work do so by car according to 2011 census.

... so having had the pleasure of being on (albeit via Reporter Nick Garnet and an inmarsat link) with Radio 5s Nicky and Rachel and Radio 4s A team of John Humphries and Jim Naughtie I don't have all the answers, although I'm working on them!  If you have any thoughts ... do be in touch.

... by the way I've been getting tweets, emails and comments from listeners who both heard me and know me... an interesting insight into those who prefer Radio 5 over Radio 4!  Radio Merseyside now have the story ... as do North West tonight.  Is this where I fall-back on 'my face for radio?'