Friday, 11 December 2015

Bah humbug - CWaC Labour's false promises on fracking exposed

We had our last CWaC council meeting before Christmas last night.   It was a lengthy affair - and in fact we didn't finish all our business within the allotted 3 hours.

The agenda was stuffed full of 'motions' - each seeking a debate on one subject or another.

The first motion we debated was a technical change to the way in which planning applications relating to onshore gas and oil exploration and extraction would be handled - the effect of the motion, which was passed with all party support was to ensure that all such applications would be handled by the council's strategic planning committee and would not be capable of being determined by officers under delegated powers.

Now all of this was very far short of CWaC Labour's manifesto commitment on fracking on which it sought election in May 2015.  They asserted:

'We will seek to put a moratorium on the extraction of shale gas methane in the Cheshire West and Chester area until the legitimate environmental and safety concerns of our residents can be addressed.'

The Borough Solicitor took the unusual step of giving us all legal advice about imposing any form of moratorium ahead of the debate.  She informed us all publicly that:

'The Council has received clear legal advice that any motion which sought to introduce a moratorium on fracking/gas exploration or extraction in the borough or sought to introduce a negative presumption against such development would be unlawful as it would fetter the Council's discretion which it must apply when considering any future applications made to it as the Minerals Planning Authority.'

As several of us said in the debate - here was the Borough Solicitor pointing out that no council can impose a moratorium on any type of planning application.  Now this isn't new law - in fact this is very 'old law' and anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of local government law and procedure would know this.

And of course this begs some interesting points:

  • when CWaC Labour was drawing up its manifesto - did they realise they were putting forward an unworkable, unlawful policy?
If they did - then shame on them for deliberately seeking to mislead the electorate.
If they didn't - then shame on them for not knowing something so basic.

Many of us pushed the council last night to get on with developing a coherent policy on these matters because it is through strong policy that councils can best protect their residents.  We've got part 2 of the local plan to draft - and this can and should contain the council's policy on fracking.  Now with something so important you'd have thought that Labour would be getting on with this work.  No, not a bit of it.  The last LDF panel meeting was cancelled through an apparent 'lack of business!'  

I was looking forward to challenging the chairman of the panel over this last night - and had a question tabled with this very much in mind - but the allotted 3 hours of the meeting came and went and most councillors (in fact all of Labour bar 1) - refused to extend the meeting to finish our business so my question never got asked.  I did have a supplementary question planned for the Chairman of the LDF panel.  It was to be:
'Having cancelled the last meeting for an apparent lack of business when will you finally be getting round to considering detailed policy on fracking and other similar controversial planning applications - as without such a detailed policy you are weakening the protection for residents and making it easier for developers?'

Now a lack of detailed policy on these things does in fact make it easier for developers - as they don't have to navigate it.  So until Labour brings forward a comprehensive policy on fracking they are making it easier for developers.  

As I've said many times over many years - I want the locals to be given the decisive say on applications such as these and we only get to that position if safety is properly and fully guaranteed.  We need detailed, legal and fully reasoned policies in this area if we are to protect our communities as best we can.  Lynn and my full speeches on fracking policy can be viewed on Vimeo - Frodsham Conservatives channel.

We've been denied real local decision making on controversial matters over the years such as:
  • Labour's Ed Miliband granting exploration licences for shale gas in secret when he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change;
  • Labour Minister John Denham granting planning permission for the Ince Resource Recovery Park - and its two incinerators - which the majority of locals didn't want;
  • Lib-Dem Secretary of State Ed Davey granting permission for the Frodsham windfarm - which the majority of locals didn't want.
I don't want this to happen again.  Lynn and I will always put the Frodsham first.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Community Conversation

During the Christmas Festival yesterday Lynn and I carried out a community consultation exercise.

Using a bucket of marbles and a few jars we asked 4 questions:

The questions we asked were:

  1. Do you support car parking charges in Frodsham?
  2. Does Frodsham needs its household waste recycling centre?
  3. Did you know that Peel has already consulted on how the wind farm community benefit fund is to be run?
  4. Would you like a vote to decide how the wind farm community benefit fund it spent?

Now bearing in mind yesterday afternoon was very wet, windy and horrible ... and we had to pack up before the procession and lights switch on - I was delighted that just under 250 people took the time to speak to us and give us their views.

Some were happy just to pop their marbles in jars - others were keen to tell us their views in more detail.

So what were the results of the Frodsham Christmas Festival public...

Do you support car parking charges in Frodsham?
Yes  27
No 187
CWaC is currently consulting on bringing in car parking charges to Frodsham, Helsby, Nortwich, Winsford etc - all of the former Vale Royal area where we don't have car parking charges at the moment.

Some visitors to Frodsham made the point to us yesterday that if they had to pay for car parking they wouldn't come to Frodsham.

Does Frodsham needs its household waste recycling centre?
Yes 214
No    10

Our household waste recycling centre at the Station car park has only ever had temporary planning permission.  CWaC's waste contract will soon be up for renewal and so the future of our 'tip' is up for consideration in the next year or so.  We know it is really well used at the weekends - and as this consultation shows most of us want to keep it.

Did you know that Peel has already consulted on how the wind farm community benefit fund is to be run?

Yes  49
No 161

Peel have just published the results of their consultation.  They got 432 responses from a population of over 19,000.  Lynn and I told Peel that the only way to consult effectively was to put a leaflet through everyone's door.  They didn't or would't listen to us.

Our response rate from a single wet afternoon of talking to people has a higher response rate than what Peel achieved.  Peel should be shocked that 3/4 of the people we spoke to were unaware of their consultation.

Would you like a vote to decide how the wind farm community benefit fund it spent?

Yes 215
No      5

The community benefit fund is to be £3m over 25 years for Frodsham, Helsby and the other surrounding villages.

Overwhelming the locals we spoke to want a say in how that money is to be spent.

We agree - democratic accountability and democratic decision making should be at the heart of what happens to this money.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Frodsham Christmas Festival

A huge thank you to everyone involved in putting on our Fabulous Frodsham Christmas Fair today.  The wind and rain earlier today wasn't too helpful - however the weather cleared up in the late afternoon.  Frodsham rapidly filled with was young and old - all looking forward to seeing Santa and his reindeers and the switching on of our Christmas lights.

It was wonderful to see everyone enjoying themselves.  A big thank you also to the Police, Rotary,  Round Table, the CWaC officers and the army of volunteers who kept us safe.


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Remembrance Day Service

Fr Michael led the Remembrance Service
Here are some pictures from the Remembrance Day Service conducted by Fr Michael at our War Memorial at the top of the hill.

It was wonderful to see so many people there from veterans, to school children as well as Graham Evans MP.

Lynn and I laid a wreath as did Cllr Fran Sutton as Mayor of Frodsham and our Junior Mayors.

The threatened rain held off until after the service.  A big thank you to the Royal British Legion, Frodsham Branch for their organisation of the service and to Forrest Hills for the welcome cup of coffee afterwards.
Children from Frodsham (Overton) Primary School

After the service Graham Evans MP and Fr Michael

Sunday, 8 November 2015

We will remember them

It is always a humbling experience to be at St Laurence Church on Remembrance Sunday as we come together as a community to remember those who fought and died for the freedoms we hold so dearly.

'Fading away like the stars in the morning.
Losing their light in the glorious sun.
Thus shall we pass from the earth and its toiling
Only remembered for what we have done.
Only remembered, only remembered
for what we have done.'

Father Michael used these haunting words from War Horse to encourage us all to remember and work for peace.   

Our Mayor Cllr Fran Sutton was joined by former Mayors Allen Wales, Pammi Taylor and Christine Lloyd in reading out our all too long list of names of those from Frodsham who died in more than a century of conflict.

It was wonderful to see so many youngsters take prominent roles this morning.   I think it is so important that our youngsters grow up appreciating how fortunate they are to live in a wonderful caring place like Frodsham. 

Lynn and I laid a wreath with these words from From the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon written in 1914:
They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them no the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
we will remember them.  We will remember them.

assembling before the wreath laying ceremony

Lynn and I laid a wreath

Cllr Fran Sutton Mayor of Frodsham

Our PCSO Neil Flanaghan



Saturday, 7 November 2015

Frodsham Community Activities

Its been a busy day in Frodsham.

Lynn and I were invited to assist the Townfield Lane allotmenteers plant whips along their field boundary.  In the fullness of time should grow into a hedge.  We braved the rain.  We must have looked like a chain gang!

the planting team

Will Moran led the planting effort.  Lynn and I looking windswept with him

Later this evening we had Round Table's firework display at the community centre.  To me it looked like the largest ever crowd.  A huge thank you to everyone involved in putting on such a great event.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Map of seismic study area

Here is the map of the area subject to the recent seismic testing.  I've reproduced it in 2 parts so you can expand it more easily.   The red dots show where the testing was planned to take place.

It is interesting that they didn't plan to carry out any testing where the wind farm is being built.

Lynn and I are pressing IGas and Tesla to publish the results of the study in due course.

SCHIT Labour. Who is pulling their strings.. and the most farcical council meeting ever?

We had a bizarre council meeting at CWaC last Thursday.  Of all the Borough Council meetings I have participated in since I was first elected in 2007 this was the most farcical and pointless.

Now its worth recalling that Labour have control of the Borough Council - they have 38 seats, the Conservatives 36 and there is 1 Independent.  To strengthen their position, and in defiance of the usual conventions Labour have made the Chairmanship of the council political.  Instead of the Chairmanship passing to Conservative Councillor Hugo Deynam as was expected - and for him to be an a-political Chairman (he is the Lord Mayor Chester) - Cllr Bob Rudd, last year's Chairman (and immediate past Lord Mayor of Chester) remains in the chair of the council.

Last Thursday we achieved many firsts.  This was the first meeting I have ever attended where two important pieces of business were withdrawn at the last moment.  This was the first meeting I have ever attended where the Leader of the Council who was present in the Chamber didn't speak.  The Deputy Leader didn't speak either and she too was present in the Chamber.  This was also a meeting where the Chairman came close to 'losing it' twice.  And there was little of substance on the agenda in any event.

The first piece of business withdrawn was a highly party political motion put forward by Labour offering support to their Trade Union paymasters.  The intention was for the council to pass a motion supporting the notion of 'facility time' for union representatives, deploring the removal of the right for trade union subs to be deducted from council wages and roundly criticising the Government's proposed Trade Union Bill which seeks to defend essential public services from  strike action when the strike ballot is not well supported by the union members.

Now the form of the motion put forward was largely a 'pro-forma' motion suggested by the Unite Union on its website.  In other words the Labour Group was seeking to do Unite's bidding.   However what the Labour Group had failed to consider was the Council's own Constitution and the CWaC Code of Conduct.

Where a councillor has a disclosable pecuniary interest he or she:
  • must make a verbal declaration of that interest;
  • must NOT participate in any discussion of the matter;
  • must NOT vote on the matter; and
  • must LEAVE the room where the meeting is being held during the discussion.
Sponsorship of a councillor by a trade union, including the payment of his or her election expenses is defined as a disclosable pecuniary interest.

Now we know from analysing their declarations of members' interests that the great majority of Labour councillors are trade union members and that some are directly sponsored too.  

Before the council meeting started the rectitude of the Trade Union Labour members participating in the debate on this motion was challenged.  In turn this led to legal advice being given to the Chairman which I believe led directly to the motion being withdrawn.  I am sure this was because the maths meant that the motion would have been defeated if many Labour members would have had to withdraw from the meeting.

The other motion that was withdrawn was the motion relating to the Council's Code of Conduct and the requirement for all councillors to be subject to CRB checks (they are now know as DBS checks).   The lawfulness of blanket checks being made on all Councillors regardless of what they do and with whom they come into contact is being questioned.  Some argue that such blanket checks are, in fact, unlawful.  I take that view.  I also take the view that such checks are disproportionate and an unjustifiable waste of money.  Councillors do not, as a matter of routine, come into contact with children or vulnerable adults when they are not in company or otherwise supervised by others.  

I have always argued for the need for a proper protocol - part of the Code of Conduct itself which reinforces good practice and ensures that neither councillors or indeed children or vulnerable adults are ever put in a position where they are alone with each other.  It is such a protocol - properly implemented and followed - that offers protection for all.  You don't achieve protection by blanket CRB checks.

It would appear that these arguments are, at last, gaining proper traction - and accordingly the motion was withdrawn for further consideration.

One of the few items of business we agreed upon unanimously was a motion encouraging the council to do what it could, reasonably, to encourage residents to register to vote.  However Labour's ineptitude was writ large even in this motion.  They wanted the council to 'take every possible step' to ensure as many as possible were registered to vote.  The problem with daft wording such as 'every possible step' is that it means, if properly followed, that the council should cease doing everything other than electoral registration.    A number of us argued, and it was accepted, that the motion had to be amended to require the council to take 'every reasonable step' to maximise voter registration.

Interestingly Labour nationally is raising individual electoral registration as an issue.  Perhaps it was the national party that suggested this poorly worded motion and the local Labour party couldn't or didn't change it.  Or was it the local party poorly implementing what they had been told to do by their national party?  I suspect we will never know.

Respect for the office of the Chairman of the Council means that I won't comment directly on where the Chairman came close to 'losing it' ... twice.  If you are interested in what happened though do view the webcast - it is only about 2 hours long!

And if this was not bad enough, last week the Labour Cabinet genuinely and seriously considered a proposal to establish a street cleaning team with the snappy name - Street Care High Impact Team.  It was to be known as SCHIT.  You can see all that on the web cast of the last Cabinet meeting.   The self-evident stupidity of this name has found its way into the national media too!

All of this farcical behaviour demonstrates to me that the ruling Labour Group aren't doing the job properly.  Is it that they are not reading their papers, that they don't understand English, or are they not thinking through the various proposals put forward by others?   It could be that they are just being led by the nose?   Either way it is a farce and a not very funny joke.

Perhaps they are simply not up to the job of running CWaC?
You couldn't make this up - could you!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Upgrading footpath FP59 along the railway line and behind the Leisure Centre

Lynn and I have been out this morning delivering letters advising residents who live closest to the footpath that runs along the railway line and behind the Leisure Centre that CWaC is looking to make improvements to it.

The plans are to widen the path to make is Frodsham's first combined cycle path and footpath.  The widening will be done by removing the hedge behind the Leisure Centre.  This will make the path wider.  It will also make the route easier to maintain in future.

There are no plans to change the status of the footpath along Alvanley Terrace.  It is and will remain simply a footpath.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Cheshire Ploughing Competition - Lynn waxes lyrical!

The sun and the crowds came out to welcome the Cheshire Ploughing match to the Wharburton’s Hatley Farm in Frodsham. There was an interesting array of talent on display as farmers young and old, competed in ploughing and hedge laying. Above all it was a wonderful opportunity for people to meet old friends and new, set against the glorious backdrop of Frodsham and Helsby hill.





My lasting impression of the day is how much and how little has really changed in agriculture. It all comes down to an amazing group of people who choose a job that is 24/7 and really a way of life. The skill set that farmers need to draw on is as broad as it is long and they need to be experts in biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, accountancy, regulations, numeracy, veterinary medicine and animal husbandry and be a black-belt in bureaucracy and red tape. Thank you Cheshire farmers who add so much to our local economy, feed a nation  and are the effective custodians of our rural landscapes.