Thursday, 29 January 2015

Windfarm update

For the last year or so Peel have been going through the list of pre-build planning conditions related to the Windfarm and doing what is required of them.  This is important for Peel as they want to start work on the ground in April this year.

The first work they need to carry out is the upgrading of Kemira Road at the Ince end of the marshes - as this will be the main access to the site for the construction traffic.  Once that is done the works will proceed first to establish the infrastructure needed to build the turbines (such as access roads and crane pads), and then later the foundations for and then ultimately turbines themselves.  The development will proceed from west to east - so the last turbines to be constructed will be those at the Frodsham end.  Peel aim to have the works completed by 2017.  They will have to have the turbines commissioned by April 2017 if they are to secure the government subsidies.

Of course it is important with a project of this size and impact that Peel communicates effectively with all of us.  They are also required to do so by the terms of their planning permission - which, lets not forget was issued by Lib-Dem Secretary State Ed Davey in the teeth of sustained local opposition. However we are where we are.

Conditions 56 & 57 of the permission says:
(56) Prior to the commencement of the Development the company shall establish a local liaison committee made up of representatives of the company and representatives of the main contractor for the Development.  The company shall also invite the LPA (ie CWaC) and representatives from the local communities to join the local liaison committee.  The Company shall provide a full secretariat service, determine when to hold meetings and provide a suitable venue.

(57) The local liaison committee referred to in Condition (56) shall provide a forum in which consultation and the dissemination of information can take place to consider aspects of the Development both during construction and operation on the locality.  The local liaison committee shall meet on a regular basis and at least once every quarter unless otherwise agreed by the local liaison committee.

It was with this background that Peel invited representatives from the Town and Parishes of Frodsham, Helsby, Kingsley, Sutton, Elton, Ince, Thorton-le-Moor, Alvanley, Dunham-on-the-Hill & Hapsford, together with the local CWaC Cllrs for these areas to a meeting to discuss the establishment of this local liaison panel.

I have to say for a meeting of this importance it was rather sparsely attended - only Frodsham, Helsby and Elton sent parish representatives.

This local liaison committee is designed to be a discussion forum where information and concerns about the construction of the windfarm and its works can be discussed.  One of the main purposes of the committee is to ensure that information about what is to be done is widely shared in the community - so if, for example, there are going to have to be temporary road closures that people get plenty of advance notice.

With this in mind we were asked to discuss the committee's constitution.  I made the point that every single councillor around the table was up for re-election in May - and as such we should not settle the terms now - but leave them to whoever is elected in May to finalise.

Peel's working document suggested that each of the town and parish council representatives should have one vote on the committee.  I argued strongly against this.  With Frodsham having more than half of the local population and Helsby having 2/3rds of the turbines in front of their village I pointed out that 'one council one vote' would not be fair or reasonable.  I also argued that as the interests of Frodsham and Helsby were most affected that the committee should not be quorate without representatives from those communities being present.  I suggested also that Helsby such have the Chairmanship of the committee.  With the construction access being primarily through Ince & Elton - they too needed to have a greater say than some of the small peripheral parishes.  These principles were largely agreed at the meeting - but as ever in these things the details will have to be worked out.

I also argued that Peel should organise a letter drop to every household in the area explaining what they are doing and flagging up where people can get information.  Peel accepted that they need to get their publicity out - but have not agreed at this stage to a letter drop.  I also asked for a budget for the local liaison committee to be able to organise publicity independently of Peel should the need arise.  Peel will report back at our next meeting (early March) on this.

This meeting wasn't about the community benefit fund - that won't come on stream until 2017 in any event.  However we did briefly discuss this.  There will have to be a consultation with everyone in the locality which will have to work out how any community benefit fund should be run and administered.  I made the point that in any consultation the locals should be asked whether they would want the fund to go into a large project - such as a community swimming pool - or made available for smaller projects.  Clearly the administration that will be required for one large project is very different from administering a fund to be paid out as grants for lots of projects.

This local liaison committee can run the consultation in my view.  Again those at the meeting largely agreed with this principle.