June 2017
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Great Things Happen in Eaton

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I am so excited about another new project getting started in the tiny village of Eaton in my Tarporley Ward. The Parish Council was able to buy a derelict and unused former picnic site from Cheshire West and Chester Council. Not only did this relieve Cheshire West and Chester (CWaC) of an expense but it has given residents of the village an opportunity to revitalise and renovate the site. Work has begun to plant a wildflower meadow and 150 saplings have been received so that birdlife and wild bees can thrive.There will be a nature walk and picnic tables and a community orchard.

The local primary school are enthusiastic supporters

I can hardly wait!

Parking Charges coming to Tarporley?

Parking Strategy Consultation
For years parking has been a hot topic in Tarporley. A number of adjustments have been made to increase the number of spaces and it looks like we will soon have time limited parking on the High Street. We need more parking and we need time to test the new time limits but Cheshire West and Chester Council are currently consulting on a borough wide strategy.
I am concerned that there is a subtext to the consultation and that this will lead towards parking charges for the village. Apart from the fact that this would be premature in view of the impending time limits it could be a disaster for our presently thriving High Street.
Paragraph 2 of the consultation intro reads, “Council needs to address the current disparity between those areas in the borough where parking charges apply and those where they do not”! This is a large hint that charges are on the way.
In Tarporley we have insufficient parking and a distinct lack of a Park and Ride, a train service, a public swimming pool or a theatre. It may seem a little fairer for those places that get huge public investment to pay for parking than for Tarporley residents and businesses to be penalised in this way!
I urge you to go to the website and have your say. You will find the survey via the Cheshire West and Chester website

News coming soon

This evening I will be, as usual, attending Tarporley Parish Council. Last night I attended Utkinton and Cotebrook Parish Council. I will post at greater length very soon

Why I voted to leave the EU

I hope that I do not come at this question as a “Little Englander” as I am the Zimbabwean born daughter of Canadian parents of British descent. I have lived here for more than 30 years and I am still constantly amazed by the way this country and its people have shown enterprise, resilience and a world view that is unsurpassed for our size. We are one of the top five largest economies with historical, cultural, family and economic links with other lands and peoples that have survived many upheavals. I am confident that, whatever the outcome of the referendum, we will continue to thrive.

What does surprise me is the way we seem to be prepared to be merely one of 28 EU states while the EU as a trading block diminishes in size and influence every year in quite an alarming way. I would prefer to see us being more outward looking, fostering stronger links with the Americas and the Commonwealth nations as just two examples.

People worry about the risks of leaving the EU but the European Union is not a static entity. It is set on a trajectory that I do not feel is always in our best interests. It is a Union whose southern Mediteranean members are beset by economic failure, debt and unemployment that seem almost endless. It is a Union that is contemplating admitting Turkey to its ranks and I know that it has been said that it will not join for many years but the EU Commission’s own website says otherwise. The Turkish people are not the problem but the porous nature of its huge land boundaries with troubled parts of the world are a very serious risk as is the poverty of so much of its undeveloped hinterland.

There are therefore, undoubtedly, very large risks in continued membership in a bloc that has massive and rising debts plus structural economic problems.

I believe that outside the EU we would maintain economic and friendship links with European nations and develop better stronger ones with the developing nations; exercising influence with friends who often share our language, our culture, our legal and parliamentary systems. I see the ‘Leave’ option as one of optimism and opportunity for ourselves and our children

Conservative Budget Proposals for Cheshire West and Chester explained

Budget Planning Feb 2016

 

It is noted that c 90% of the council plan and budget is in line with the previous Conservative administration policies.

 

The Conservative run administration had public sector reform as a critical factor in delivering new prevention and early intervention services to reduce demand for public sector services. Working with complex families, those subject to domestic abuse, supporting the homeless back into permanent accommodation are key policies that are reducing inequality in our communities. This also includes significant support to schools to achieve 90% as good and outstanding, ensuring young people have the confidence to embark their working life with a job, developing the Work Zone philosophy to work with long term unemployed to help them in to work and support them to stay in work. This has had a remarkable effect in reducing inequality and dependence on benefits – noting the indicator of Council Tax Benefit payments and the significant reduction in claims for the benefit.

 

The Conservative budget seeks to continue these themes as follows;

 

 

  2016-17 £m 2017-18 £m 2018-19 £m 2019-20 £m Total
£m
Gross Funding Gap as per budget report 13.8 19.0 13.6 10.9 57.3
Savings Proposals in Budget Report -7.3 -9.3 -7.8 -5.3 -29.7
Greater Manchester Business Rates Pool -0.6 -0.2 -0.3 -0.1 -1.2
Alternative Assumptions:          
Council Taxbase Growth of 1,100 homes (=917 Band D) (compared to 700 in Admin budget) n/a -0.3 -0.3 -0.3 -0.9
Business Rates physical growth of 1.5% p.a. (compared to 1% in Admin budget from 2017-18) n/a -0.3 -0.4 -0.4 -1.1
2% Social Care Precept p.a. -2.9 -3 -3.1 -3.2 -12.2
Just including National Living Wage -0.4 -0.1 -0.5
Retaining the New Homes Bonus Community Fund 1.5 -0.1 0.2 0.2 1.8
Retain Members Budgets 0.375       0.375
Mitigate any unacceptable consequences of parking review   0.5     0.5
Fees and charges increase by inflation negligible       0
Revised residual shortfall at 1 Feb 2016 4.475 6.3 1.9 1.7 14.375
Senior management restructure -0.15 -0.15     -0.3
Reduction to general contingency -0.5       -0.5
Trade Union posts funded by Trade Unions -0.068       -0.068
Reduced cost of CTRS scheme   -0.25     -0.25
Utilising net receipt from HQ sale (£20m) to reduce costs or generate income   -2.4     -2.4
Permanent Residual Shortfall 3.76 3.50 1.90 1.70 10.86
Not using reserve for Inequality Gap -1     1 0
Release funding earmarked for Refocusing the Council reserve -1.36 1.36     0
Transfer remainder of money earmarked for Refocusing the Council reserve into Invest to Save reserve to accelerate savings (£1.64m)         0
Temporary Transition Grant -1.4   1.4   0
Temporary Residual Shortfall 0.00 4.86 3.3 2.7 10.86

 

 

You should note that the figures for the benefits of selling HQ building are deliberately on the conservative side

 

Council Tax Growth

 

Under Conservative leadership 2008-2015, CWaC followed growth policies of Town Centre regeneration and making CWaC a great place to live. This has been attracting businesses and has enabled house builders to respond and build, ensuring businesses can house their employees. The result is a clear uplift in house build rates with the Local Plan figure being exceeded in 2014/15 and is expected to do so in the future. Therefore a more realistic assumption of house building is used in the budget projections. This improves the position by £0.9m over the 4 years and it is expected 2015/16 will be an increase on the 2014/15 and therefore further improvements are expected in future years.

 

Business Growth

 

Cheshire has a level of prosperity that is c6% higher than the National average. It is therefore expected that Cheshire, including CWaC will see a growth rate at least in line with the National average of 2-2.5%. Therefore, even taking into account appeals, it is reasonable to increase the business rate growth by a further 0.5% from the proposed Labour position of 1% to 1.5%. This improves the 4 year position by £2.1m and this may be further increased in future years as the tail end of appeals are completed by the VOA

 

Living Wage

 

Labour are, in order to repay the Trades Unions for the funding of their local election campaigns, attempting to bring forward the introduction of an inflated local living wage, above and beyond the Chancellor’s promised living wage. This is fundamentally unfair for the Council Tax payers, undermines the LGA’s negotiations with Government and undermines the competitiveness of the wholly owned council businesses against national providers of services, for example for services to school and the elderly. This proposal removes this policy and awaits the announcements from Government about the details of the introduction of the living wage and the outcome of negotiations by the LGA in how Government should support councils in its implementation.

 

Social Care Precept

 

Councils have argued, through the LGA, for increased resources to support the most vulnerable in our communities especially the growth in the number of elderly people requiring care due to the demographics. We therefore support the Governments approach of allowing a 2% increase in council tax to provide resources specifically and ONLY for adult social care

 

New Homes Bonus (NHB)

 

CWaC have been at the forefront in the Country in making localism a reality. This has been in the form of supporting community groups to produce neighbourhood plans, devolving money through the members budgets to solve issues raised with members quickly and without bureaucracy and finally by the devolving of 20% of the NHB to communities, Parish and Town Councils, to enable local communities to control what actions they take to support the delivery of new housing in their communities. Conservative therefore will retain this pass through of funds and seek to demonstrate our support in helping communities to thrive, become stronger and enable local decision making, as we believe they know what is best for their communities.

 

There has been very strong public support for this right across the borough. It is funding that has been available to all community groups that have a plan for its use.

 

Trade Union Officials

 

CWaC currently pay for 2 full time trade union officers at the expense of the Council Tax Payers. It is proposed that these are paid for by their respective Trade Unions. This saves c£70,000 a year on the council budget.

 

Management Restructure

 

With the continuing reduction in staff levels across the council, further opportunities exist to reduce the senior management team, enabling a prudent saving of £0.3m over the period 2016/18, possibly up to £0.5m may be available.

 

Use of Reserves/Contingency

 

It is noted that the council will have made savings of over £153m over the recent 7 years and once again there has been a £2m underspend against the Conservative budget during 2015/16, due to the proactive approach of the previous Conservative administration. This has added to reserves and Conservatives believe these reserves can be utilised to smooth future income reductions.

 

It is also noted the Labour budget utilises £1m for resolving inequality, this is clearly an ideological gesture as significant money is already being invested to deal with the root causes of inequality as set out in the Council plan and the joint working across the public sector through the ‘All Together’ project tackling complex families, reducing long term unemployment and investing in prevention and early intervention services, reducing demand for council and public sector services. We therefore cancel the £1m proposed, noting no plans exist for how this money will be used effectively, against the background of significant council investment already being made in to addressing inequality.

 

The council has exercised very tight control on costs and as a result has regularly under used the contingency set aside for unexpected items. Therefore it is proposed to prudently reduce this by £0.5m

 

We therefore are prudently utilising c£2.5m of reserves of which £2m was the 2015/16 underspend.

 

HQ

 

HQ was purchased in 2010 for three reasons, firstly to reduce costs (which it achieved), secondly to facilitate a significant change in culture of the organisation and thirdly, as an investment, purchased at a market low in commercial property prices. It is proposed to sell the building for a figure of at least £20m not only creating a significant benefit for the council tax payers of CWaC but providing an opportunity to reduce the council’s debt and thereby reducing debt repayment and interest by a net figure of at least £3m/year after paying rent. It is proposed the building is sold with a 12 year lease with the ability to reduce the staff levels between years 7-12 enabling the new owners to let floors on a progressive basis over 5 years and ensure the letting does not compete with the letting of property at City Place, one of the councils key regeneration projects. It also allows for the more efficient use of property combined with the lower overall council staff levels, of the remaining offices, including the new multi-public sector building in Ellesmere Port as part of the Town Centre regeneration.

 

NEW RESERVES

 

A new Reserve fund would be set up to mitigate any unacceptable measures proposed under the Labour administration’s review of car parking strategy. Such measures would include the introduction of car park charges in Northwich and Winsford, increases in charges in Ellesmere Port or the removal of ‘free after three’ in Chester. These protections are considered very important in the continued regeneration of these centres.

 

There would be an increase in reserves allocated to ‘invest to save’ projects so that schemes to reduce cost and improve services would be sufficiently funded. Better, more streamlined IT projects would be one example.

Council’s Ultra-modern Offices to be sold?

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Cheshire West and Chester’s Conservative group is making a bold proposal to sell the Council HQ building in Nicholas Street, Chester in order to use the proceeds for the benefit of council tax payers.

We bought the building a number of years ago at the depths of the property slump. It was bought on the basis that this was an investment which as was stated clearly at the time, we would be prepared to dispose of when the time was right. It now seems sound policy to do so We believe the sale proceeds could be in excess of £20 million and the resultant proceeds could be prudently employed in reducing the council’s debt, thereby saving both interest charges and capital repayments.

We have a purpose built Council building in Winsford, in the form of Wyvern House, which, as a result of a reduction in staffing levels, is significantly under-utilised and is currently a cost burden on residents of the borough. We also have substantial Council premises in Ellesmere Port. Transferring the administrative functions of the Council to those two towns would see the creation of well needed jobs as well as providing a clear opportunity to establish new businesses to support the Council in those areas. There is an undeniable logic to this proposal as the headquarters of such major associated services as fire and police are located in Winsford and not in Chester.

The ultra-modern, attractive building in Nicholas Street would be an extremely desirable and sought after location for inward investment into Chester. The building could be sold with the Council as the primary tenant; subsequently, over as short a period as is deemed sensible, the Council’s gradual vacation of the property should take place with a progressive hand over to new tenants, the building remaining in use throughout and with its new occupants continuing to support the city.

There is absolutely no question of us proposing abandoning the City of Chester. All major ceremonial functions would continue to be carried out in Chester and the Town Hall would, if anything, be more frequently used. A number of Council staff already commute in from Ellesmere Port and Winsford and those who would need to revise their commuting arrangements to the new locations would be appropriately compensated. What is of paramount importance is that we look continue to look at more efficient methods of running the Council as the previous Conservative administration did over a number of years, thus ensuring that residents continue to see that their Council Tax provides value for money

Interested in building your own home?

The Self Build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 came into force in March – it requires the Council to keep a register of eligible individuals and groups who wish to self-build. The detail of who is classed as an “eligible individual” has been delayed, but is anticipated in regulations issued early 2016. Local planning authorities are obliged to identify suitable serviced plots with planning permission within the borough to meet this demand from April 2016. In preparation for this, a questionnaire has been developed to enable demand for self and custom building to be determined which will then be reflected in the Strategic Housing Delivery Plan and used as evidence to inform Local Plan (Part Two) policies. Once demand has been ascertained, an assessment of suitable sites will be made to ensure both individual plots are available as well as encouraging volume house builders to include self-build and custom-build projects to contribute towards their affordable housing obligations. While there are many variations on self-build, essentially there are three main viable options in Cheshire West and Chester:-

 Community self-build schemes to provide low cost market or affordable housing for local households, particularly in rural areas for small developments. A Community Land Trust (CLT) would purchase the land, obtain planning permission and manage the project. Projects are currently under consideration at Tattenhall, Malpas and Ashton Heyes.

 Serviced Plots will provide the main delivery tool to meet the Self Build and Custom House Building Act; sites will be identified according to the demand identified through the self-build register.

 Self-finish affordable housing schemes or “sweat equity schemes” where occupants are offered a discounted shared ownership or reduced rent according to the level of finishing off they undertake. The questionnaire has been designed to ensure that applicants who are merely interested in self-build can be filtered out, ensuring only those who are dedicated are used to determine demand. As with the Council’s social housing register, the self-build register will be managed by the Strategic Housing service to ensure that data is regularly reviewed to remove out of date information. A press notice will be released to encourage those thinking of undertaking a custom build project to sign up on line, with links to the questionnaire from both the Planning and Housing web pages. The Act does allow for the Council to set a levy for registration, so it doesn’t add a further burden on resources.

Cheshire West and Chester Budget Consultation

Preliminary findings from the Let’s Talk Consultation

 Strong support for protecting vulnerable residents: There was agreement that the outcomes which support the most vulnerable residents should be the Council’s highest priority. This was also reflected in the budget simulator with the services that received the smallest budget reductions being protecting vulnerable children, supporting our schools, and assessing need in adult social care and health.

 Car parking: The consultation contained a proposal to introduce a new car parking strategy. Whilst there was little opposition to implementing a new strategy, there were strong views expressed in opposition to introducing charges in areas that are currently free. Communities such as Northwich, Malpas and Tarporley were particularly concerned due to the impact that it could have on town and village centres.

 Changes to Councillors’ Local Budgets and the Number of Councillors: There was general support for the proposition to reduce the number of Councillors, yet a small number of respondents raised concerns over levels of democratic representation.

However, there was some concern regarding the proposal to reduce Councillor’s local budgets, as many respondents had seen the benefits that they have brought in supporting communities and neighbourhoods.

Council Tax: Through the online budget simulator participants could set their own budgets, making reductions to services and generating income whilst being informed of the potential consequences. Through this process there has been an average annual increase of Council Tax by 2.4% when accounting for all submitted budgets. However, a number of comments were submitted both in favour and opposition to any potential increase. This consultation was launched prior to national announcements regarding the potential additional 2% precept as contained in the Spending Review

So it looks like the public share the Conservative priority and would accept a Council Tax rise of up to 2.4%. We’re planning to please you.

Please note that the consultation about cutting the New Homes Bonus that goes to local communities that are adapting to including new housing is still going on!

 

 

 

I don’t tell you everything…

You may have checked this site to see if you can find out EVERYTHING about me and my work for the people of Tarporley Ward. I’m sorry to disappoint you but there is stuff I don’t tell and not just because you might find it very boring…even if I find it fascinating, challenging and captivating! That is one reason though

From time to time I also meet constituents to discuss housing, planning, welfare, or highways concerns. I respect their privacy and will respect yours too.

Sometimes people ask me to make discreet enquiries on their behalf about a matter or even report someone who they suspect is, for example, fraudulently claiming council tax discount. Understandably this can be a delicate matter and I respect that.

Just because I blog about my work it doesn’t mean that I am a publicity junkie.

I can, however, tell you that I will do my very best to tell you what I am doing for local communities especially if I think you might find it informative or entertaining

Back to Work, keeping things working

Slippery, mossy pavements in Woodlands Way area

20160105_121614_resized

Happy New Year!

I was out and about delivering a few newsletters when I took the opportunity to report a number of problems and potential problems. There was a partially blocked grid on Forest Road and a lot of leaf litter.

There were also potholes and  footpath problems I reported in the Woodlands Way area.

I also reported a faulty streetlight, blocked gutters and some dog fouling

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Disclaimer
The views expressed on this website are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Conservative Councillors' Association or the Conservative Party.