Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Whose money is it anyway - Is Peel seeking to divide and rule?

Peel Energy have started a round of consultation meetings in Frodsham, Helsby and Elton looking for views on how the community benefit fund associated with the Frodsham windfarm is to be managed and spent.

They've started on this engagement process without any negotiation on the amount of the fund, nor how the money will be managed and spent nor on the boundaries of the affected communities.
Whatever you may think of CWaC that council is the sole democratically elected body that covers the entire area.  Also the CWaC wards are arranged so that each councillor is elected by the same number of voters - unlike the vastly different parish and town councils.  Given this you would have perhaps imagined that Peel  have discussed these issues at some length before hand - and preferably reached a consensus.  That simply has not happened.  Peel have spoken to officers and councillors from CWaC from time to time - they've discussed the fund - but they have never 'closed' on an agreed approach.

Lynn and I would have liked to have been consulted about the size of the community benefit fund.  Our position is that Peel's first pronouncement on the size of the fund was the starting point for negotiations - not the final non-negotiable position.   We were as surprised as the community when Peel announced it would be £120,000 pa index linked for 25 years.  Inevitably this would be spent for the benefit of the yet to be determined affected communities.  Just for the record - Mr Whittaker - we don't think £120,000 pa is anywhere like enough.  You never asked for our view on the matter, nor was it discussed with us.  That's why we're telling you in words of one syllable in a public pronouncement that you are undervaluing us.

Just so we are all clear - all of the turbines are physically in Frodsham.  That is 19 out of 19 turbines are in Frodsham.  Thirteen turbines are in front of Helsby - but still all in Frodsham.  The nearest occupied house to any turbine is in Frodsham.  Frodsham has a population of around 9,200.  Helsby is around half our size.  The construction trafffic is comming through Ince and Elton - but they are more distant from the turbines than Frodsham and Helsby residents.

According to Wikipedia, Ince has a population of just over 200, Elton around 3,500.  Hapsford under 150, Dunham-on-the-Hill around 500.  All of these communities (and others) are making the case that they should benefit from community benefit fund.  Whatever the merits of their arguments - they all amount to taking money from the community benefit fund for more distant less impacted communities.  We think the fund should be focused on Frodsham and Helsby.

That said, our position with Peel has always been that the community benefit fund should be used to bring communities together rather than divide them.  We have always wanted to see a whole community approach where every single household in Frodsham and Helsby is directly invited to express their views on the fund and how the money should be spent.  For whatever reason Peel, have not, as yet, agreed to follow what we think is the fairest way of proceeding.

For us there are also two other important issues.  Securing a long lasting legacy is upper most in our minds as is ensuring that as little as is reasonable is spent on administering the funds.  Just imagine looking back in 25 years with nothing to show for upwards of £3m being spent under the shadow of 19 of the largest wind-turbines in Europe.  Or perhaps pondering that the opportunity to leverage more funds had not been taken.  Without these issues being explored it is hard to see what Peel hope to gain - other than a 'quick and dirty' consultation and an ability to claim they've discharged a moral responsibility.  But to our minds this isn't enough - we say we and they should explore how the funds can be maximised and used to greatest effect in the community.

We had asked Peel to frame the consultation exercise with community input but, for whatever reason, they have chosen not to do so.  They've gone their own way.  We have already told Peel that we will spend money from our members' grants, if necessary, to ensure that every Frodsham resident gets a say about the community benefit fund and how it should be spent.   We will also ensure that everyone is asked whether they would prefer to see a large project funded such as improved recreational facilities (which may include a swimming pool) from the fund.

Whilst Lynn and I are delighted to see so many people wanting a slice of the fund do bear in mind that each CWaC Councillor has a members grant fund of £10,000 a year and Frodsham Town Council provides around the same each year in grants.  This came as news to Peel when we told them!  And this is ever before we think of the fundraisers in our community who also distribute funds to local projects each year - and some of whom we know struggle to give their money away.

We want people to think long and hard about what we want and what we might need as a community over the next 25 years and beyond?  What would make a difference to all our lives?  Is it leisure, is it a swimming pool, is it better transport and cycling, infrastructure like car parking... What about education support...

For us the sad thing is it didn't have to be this way.  We wanted and asked Peel to work with us.  At first they suggested they would produce their consultation materials with us, however that didn't happen.   We've also asked Peel to establish a local 'account' manager for us.  After all they will be with us at least for a generation with Ince Resource Recovery Park, the wind farm, the ship canal and the planned solar farm at Hapsford.  Unfortunately these projects are run from different parts of the 'Peel Empire' but they don't appear to co-ordinate or co-operate with each other - and that makes it more difficult that it needs to be for the local community.  We simply want them to be good neighbours - and take a real interest in us and give us a single 'go-to' person.  Not too difficult you might have thought?

Lynn and I have long sought a meeting with Peel's owner Mr Whittaker - but unlike his windfarm and the resource recovery park he does not appear to be in any rush to come and see us.  We're happy to travel to Trafford Park or the Isle of Man to meet him as needs be.  We're going to keep the pressure up for a more open dialogue with the community - and we urge everyone to do the same.

We're going to ask them once more to fund and to ensure that every household in Frodsham and Helsby is written to inviting everyone to take part in an informed dialogue about the community benefit fund.  Let's see what emerges.