Tuesday, 26 April 2016

New Gypsy and Traveller Sites under consideration - how not to do it

Last night at CWaC's Local Development Plan Working Group we had a presentation from the council's retained consultants - WYG - regarding the provision of new Gypsy and Traveller sites in the Borough.

The consultancy had started with an initial list of some 9,000 sites.  Through various processes - such as ensuring no sites were in the green belt this list was whittled down through a long list and then a short list process until the consultants reached a list of some 26 potential sites.  

The consultancy has rated these sites Red, Amber, Green according to what they judge the planning and physical constraints are that may hinder these sites ultimately being allocated for Gypsies and Travellers.

Those of us present at the meeting were given a very cursory high level overview of the work undertaken with no detail given of the sites under consideration.  We weren't even given addresses or ward details for the sites in question.  We simply were shown places on a Borough map which was its devoid of detail.

I was appalled just how cursory the presentation to us was.  However this was nothing compared to what I judge to have been the deliberate manipulation of panel - and the failure to publish the list of sites with the working group's papers 7 days in advance of the meeting.

When I challenged this in the meeting I was told by the council's most senior planning officer that this had been a deliberate decision - effectively to ensure that the working group's meeting passed off peacefully.  I protested that this was inappropriate - and that openness and transparency demanded that the list be published - and be open to full democratic scrutiny.  It is through my efforts that I am able to publish the list below now.

I also challenged the officers and the consultancy as to whether the landowners and occupiers of the sites identified had been informed.  I was told that this had not happened in many cases.

I reminded the officers of the near violence that erupted when a similar failed approach was taken a few years ago.  I know of one case where an unknowing landowner was accosted by his neighbours, threatened with violence and accused of doing deals behind the scenes - all because the council hadn't had the courtesy of telling him about the proposals they had initiated and were considering without his knowledge.

Now the publication of this list can be seen as the start of a lengthy consultation process - so everyone will have an opportunity to have their say in due course - however that does not get us over the fact that the list was suppressed before the meeting - and the detail provided to us in the meeting was insufficient to identify precise locations - no doubt part of the same strategy.  

I asked for the working group's consideration of this issue to be put back to the next meeting so as to ensure that detail of what was presented was open for full, expected democratic scrutiny.  That proposal was lost after a 3:3 vote on party lines and on the casting vote of the Labour Chairman.

Now I have no idea whether the Labour Chairman was party to what I see as an underhand approach in suppressing the publication of this list before and at the meeting or not.  If he was - then shame on him for the complete lack of openness, transparency and respect.  If he wasn't party to it - then shame on him for being asleep at the wheel and failing to uphold democratic accountability, openness, transparency and respect.  Either way it wasn't his or the officers finest hour.

Our next meeting will look at fracking.  I have asked for the meeting to be webcast.  Clearly there were no plans to do it before I asked.  Whether that will be done remains to be seen.

Ref No
WYG status
Land adjacent to Winnington Leisure Park
Winnington and Castle
Land at Stannage Lane, Farndon
Land east of Utkinton Road, Tarporley
Land south of A556, Rudheath
Davenham and Moulton
Land at former BICC, Chester Road, Helsby
Helsby / Gowy
Ince caravan site, Ellesmere Port
Winnington Business Park, Winnington Avenue, Northwich
Winnington and Castle
East of Shurlach Road / Chester Road, Lostock Gralam
Land at Chowley Oak Lane, Tattenhall
Land at Whitchurch Road, Tushingham cum Grindley
Land east of King Street, Northwich
Land south east of Gadbrook Park
Witton and Rudheath
Land at Gorsthills County Primary, Ledsham
Ledsham and Manor
Land at Crookes Lane, Northwich
Land at Arderne Golf Course, Tarporley
Rode Street works / depot, Tarporley
Adj to Hampton Heath Industrial Estate, Malpas
Land south of Chester F’ball Club, Bumpers Lane, Chester
19 / 21
Land at Marton Villa Farm, Marton (2 sites)
Winsford Over and Verdin
Land at Marton Villa Farm, Clay Lane, Marton
Winsford Over and Verdin
Land at Church Farm, Tarvin
Tarvin and Kelsall
Holding No.10, Tarporley Road, Tarvin
Land at Marton Villa Farm, Marton
Winsford Over and Verdin
Meadows Island, Bradford Road, Winsford
Winsford Wharton
East A533 Brick Lane, Middlewich
Davenham and Moulton

Friday, 22 April 2016

Halton Curve approval - press release from Liverpool combined authority

The following is a press release regarding the Halton Curve and other schemes.

Note the date for the Halton Curve works is now June 2017 with the aim of the works being completed by May 2018.

It is suggested that there will be hourly train services Chester to Liverpool via the curve.

Image reproduced from wikipedia.  Credit for the image to beast66606 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21009997.

Green light for travel plans 

The Liverpool City Combined Authority has approved projects that will help further improve travel across the Liverpool City Region and beyond.

The Combined Authority has:
  • Given the green light to the Halton Curve rail scheme which will open up leisure and work opportunities by offering new connections between Liverpool, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Runcorn, Frodsham, Helsby, Chester and, in  future, North Wales. Work is due to start on site in June 2017 and be completed by May 2018.
  • Given consent to the signing of a trailblazing ‘Bus Alliance’ agreement between Merseytravel and the two biggest bus operators in the Liverpool City Region - Arriva and Stagecoach - which will drive significant improvements for bus users. The Alliance will aim to make bus a ‘mode of choice’ and increase the numbers of fare-paying passengers by 10% (see notes to editors) by the end of March 2017, stimulating further investment.
  • Agreed to the development of proposals that would see the Liverpool City Region take greater control of stations on the Merseyrail network– currently owned and strategically managed by Network Rail – to best reflect the needs of customers and the communities they serve.

The Halton Curve is a key project within the Liverpool City Region’s Long Term Rail Strategy and is endorsed by the Welsh Government and Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Approval of the full business case to bring the line back into full use will see, initially, an hourly direct service between Liverpool and Chester, with the extension of services into Wales taken forward in collaboration with the Welsh Government. The intention is to include the services in the revised specification for the forthcoming Wales and Borders franchise.

It is expected that the new services would offer more than 200,000 new rail journeys between Liverpool and Chester alone.

Approval of the business case unlocks the £10.4m allocated to the scheme through the Government’s Local Growth Fund (LGF).  At today’s meeting, the Combined Authority also approved an additional £5.67m for the scheme to come from the City Region’s LGF pot.  This is in recognition that the initial bid to Government in 2014 was based on a high level estimate at an early stage of scheme development and represents what additional funding would be required to meet the highest estimated cost for the scheme – £18.75m.

Even at its highest estimated cost, the Halton Curve scheme represents positive value for money, with every pound spent generating almost two in return for the Liverpool City Region.

Merseytravel will be working with Network Rail to keep costs to a minimum.

The scheme is part of the £340m infrastructure investment by Network Rail and the Liverpool City Region over the next three years.

The Combined Authority’s approval for the signing of the Bus Alliance agreement follows a recommendation for such by the Merseytravel Committee last week (7 April).

The details of the Voluntary Partnership agreement will now be finalised before the agreement is formally entered into.

The Alliance, initially made up of Merseytravel, Arriva and Stagecoach (who together operate 90% of the commercial bus market in the City Region), is focussed on offering bus users seamless, hassle free and value for money travel right from planning their journeys through to getting off at their destination. It aims to build on the high customer satisfaction levels for bus services in the Liverpool City Region, as well as encouraging people who don’t currently use the bus to realise the benefits.

The first 12 months of the Alliance will see a number of initiatives including an initial £19m investment in greener buses with free WiFi and USB charging points; the introduction of one point of contact for customer service; new customer service training for drivers; improved links to John Lennon Airport and the rail network; the development of a trial 24-hour bus route and the start of a strategic review to create a simpler, clearer bus network.

The Alliance recognises that as 80% of public transport journeys in the City Region are made by bus, there is potential for it to play a much more significant role in growing our economy, better linking people with jobs and education and leisure opportunities.

With regards to station devolution, options on the models that would best allow decisions to be made in the long term interests of stations on the Merseyrail network and the communities they serve will be developed by Merseytravel and a range of partners by late summer for the Combined Authority and the Government to consider.

Proposals will consider  how greater control of stations locally will help target investment, improve the experience for passengers –  ultimately getting more people using the network –  and how allowing for  better use of station facilities and land as part of the wider planning and regeneration plans for areas can support economic development.

Frank Rogers, Chief Executive of Merseytravel, said “Transport is key to unlocking economic growth and these three projects alone will deliver real benefits. The Halton Curve may only be one and a half miles long but is the key to unlocking so many more opportunities for people in the Liverpool City Region, North Wales and Cheshire. It, in turn, feeds and also benefits from ambitious plans for improved connectivity east to west right across the north in a bid to drive economic growth.

“Outside of London we already have the best ticketing offer for young people and the most active smart ticketing scheme and the alliance with Arriva and Stagecoach will help us build on this success, working in an ambitious way to make bus a natural choice for people.

“Station devolution was a key ‘ask’ in our devolution deal and now it’s about getting the detail right.  The ability to make decisions locally will enable latent potential to be unlocked for the benefit of users and the wider communities.”

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Happy Birthday Your Majesty

Happy Birthday Ma'am.

Manley Road - Closure for 1 day 26 May 2016

Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council
Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984
Temporary Road Closure
Manley Road in the Parish of Frodsham

Notice is hereby given pursuant to the provisions of Section 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 the effect of which will be to prohibit traffic on the following lengths of roads in Frodsham to enable tree cutting works to be carried out by Mancoed Ltd.
Manley Road Frodsham

Nothing in the Order shall prevent driving upon the said lengths of road of any vehicle which is being used for the conveyance of persons goods or merchandise to or from any premises situate on or adjacent to the lengths of road or in connection with agriculture building construction works of repair and the like or use in an emergency of vehicles for fire brigade ambulance or police purposes. A through route will not always be available and any vehicles not requiring access to properties on the length of road should use alternative routes.

The closure will come into force on 26th May 2016 and will be in force for a maximum of five days. It is anticipated that the work will last for approximately 1 day.

For diversion route, please see attached plan

Commonside, B5393 Tarvin Road, A56 Chester Road, Main Street, B5152 Church Street, Red Lane, Vicarage Lane,
Manley Road and vice versa
Kieran Collins (Ref TRO 1264)

Place Operations
Highways Office
Phoenix House
Clough Road
Cheshire CW7 4BD

tel: 0300 123 7036
Email: engvr@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk
21st April 2016

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Asleep at the wheel or just incompetent?

Last night we had a meeting of CWaC's Overview and Scrutiny Call-in Sub-Committee.  This not-so-snappily titled committee is where decisions that are being challenged can be examined in more detail.  It is one of those few places where councillors from all parties can engage in meaningful dialogue and debate ... although if last night is anything to go by that is theory but not the practice.

Labour Councillor and Cabinet Member Brian Clarke was present at the committee to debate two decisions:

  1. The Cabinet's approval at his recommendation of the Business Plan for Avenue Services; and
  2. The Special Planning Document ('SPD') relating to student accommodation in the Borough.
He was supported by Cllr Armstrong - Labour CWaC's finance portfolio holder.

The meeting started at 5:30pm and didn't finish until 9:45pm.  

Avenue Services is a joint venture between CWaC and Sanctury Housing (the Social Landlord covering Chester) to take over and manage public open space and grass cutting in Blacon.  

The business plan for Avenue Service - or at least the version approved by the Cabinet and debated last night proposed more than £2m worth of council land be transferred to Avenue Services.  In addition both Sanctury and CWaC would provide Avenue Services with more than £1m of income each, each year in return for Avenue Services carrying out things like grounds maintenance.

Nothwithstanding this considerable 'sweetheart deal' the surplus Avenue Services is expected to make - and which can be reinvested in other support services in Blacon is set to be an unambitious £75,000.  I'm struggling to think of any business that would accept making a profit of £75k per year on a turn over of around £2.2m.  That is around a 3% return.  As I pointed out last night - you'd get a better return investing that money in solar panels - or perhaps worth taking a chance on premium bonds.

Now this isn't a case of 'profiteering' at Blacon's expense - this is a question of everyone wanting Avenue Services to be a rip roaring success so that it can produce a significant surplus to provide further support for that community.  Being unambitious is not what Blacon needs or wants in my view.

It was interesting to see that neither Cllrs Clarke or Armstrong were on top of their brief.  Neither had a grasp of the numbers, nor did they see how unambitious the business plan was or how lacking in detail.   No one could tell me what benchmark had been set for Avenue Service's performance.

Incidentally Sanctuary Group made a surplus (profit) of 14% on their group wide turnover.  If that's what they expect from their general activities - a 14% surplus on £2,2m would see around £300k being made to be invested in Blacon.

The call-in sub-committee agreed agreed and has recommended that this decision be reviewed.  I hope we end up with a more effective and ambitious business plan.

The second item for consideration was the SPD on student accommodation.  Everyone in the room appeared to agree that actually we needed more planning policy not less when it comes to managing the studentification of Chester.  However notwithstanding previous work done and a broad consensus that the SPD should contain a needs assessment - in other words requiring those seeking to build student accommodation having to demonstrate a need for it - the Labour Group had voted for the needs test to be removed.  I take the view, as do many others that this weakens the SPD and sends the wrong message to the Planning Inspector who will in the fullness of time consider detailed planning policies on this issue.

What became very clear last night was that CWaC's officers were taking a very limited, restricted approach and Cllr Clarke and many of his Labour colleagues were not prepared to insist on stronger policies being applied.

The number of times in the meeting that Labour Cabinet members had to refer to officers was staggering.  It reminded me of the late Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech where he referred to people being 'in office, but not in power.'  This was what we were seeing.

You could also describe it as incompetence - or being asleep at the wheel.  Either way the people of the Borough deserve far better than this.