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Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Just home from "The Loop" social where Tim Woodhouse performed live.

If you've not come across him, then sample the delights here:

He really was an excellent performer.

Better get to bed now....it feels a little like Christmas. In one hour Macclesfield Borough Council and Cheshire County Council cease to exist. It is worth waiting up for?

Slick programming...

If you decide to have a countdown, or any piece of dynamic text that follows a number, you need to make sure that you correctly pluralise it where appropriate. We usually do this with some kind of inline conditional statement, such as an "immediate if".

I used to be a computer programmer, so sadly I know all about it.

Obviously we couldn't be bothered with all of that at Cheshire East, which is why our website now reads:

"1 Days until Cheshire East provide all your services".

Nice. Professional. Slick.

Update: Thought I should upload a screenshot because tomorrow all the fun will be gone:

Cat and Fiddle

Motoring back from Buxton on Saturday in driving Snow (it's a bit of a theme for me recently on the Cat and Fiddle) - and I got a good chance to think about the cash Cheshire East will be getting to spend on safety on this road.

This road has a reputation. A bad one. A lot of people die here - and the majority are thrill seekers who know the risks that they're taking.

This doesn't make it right. It doesn't mean they should break the law or put others in danger because of their recklessness, but it does mean that we should have a sensible conversation about whether this is good use of money.

Because of the circumstances of the accidents (ie - people are already aware of the danger and choose to continue their behaviour anyway) it is going to be very tricky to do anything about it. We don't just need to make people aware of what could happen - we need to completely re-educate them. I don't think this is going to be an easy task.

Are there other roads where the same amount of money could be used to save more lives? I think there probably are.

Of course, this discussion is academic as I expect that this is ringfenced money which can only be used for that purpose. But it's nice to get it out in the open anyway.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Macclesfield Charter Trustees

The Macclesfield Charter Trustees met for the first time last week.

It immediately became apparent that the Council officers weren't really clear on the rules and procedures we must follow - so it was therefore no surprise that the Trustees themselves were a little confused.

Then I later discussed it with some friends - none of whom were aware of what and who the trustees were. So I came to the conclusion it might be best to say a bit more about it here.

A good start is Wikipedia:

In England, charter trustees are set up to maintain the continuity of a town charter or city charter after a district with the status of a borough or city has been abolished, until such time as a parish council is established. Duties are limited to ceremonial activities such as the election of a mayor, and various other functions depending upon local customs and laws.

The charter trustees are made up of local councillors in the district representing wards within the boundaries of the town/city. In the event that there are less than three district councillors for the former borough, qualified local electors may be co-opted to make the number up to three.

There are more than three of us - in fact I think there are 15. It's the Cheshire East members that represent Broken Cross, Prestbury and Tytherington, Macc Forest, Macc Town, and Macc West (my ward).

The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed a precept on your council tax bill of 27 pence. Which has raised approximately £5000 this year.

Essentially our only real purpose is to ensure continuity of a Mayor in Macclesfield - but this isn't so straight forward. A Mayor will incur costs to go about ceremonial duties and it's not clear at the moment if there's enough pennies in the kitty to support one. The Mayor was invited to hundreds of events last year, and although there's not likely to be as many this year we need to consider how we pay for all of these.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Dog (gers) walkers

There's an appeal in this weeks Macc Times asking for witness to come forward with any information surrounding the murder of Rodney Marsh at Alderley Edge.

FTA: "The area is popular with hikers, dog walkers, horse riders and cyclists".

(and that's not all...)

DI Keith McCausland asked people to come forward pleading "The reason why you may have been in the area on those dates is not important to us".


Friday, 27 March 2009

Councillors Allowances

With MP's expenses constant fodder in the press, perhaps I shouldn't stoke the fire that I'm about to....

But surely openess is the name of the game, and therefore many will be interested to know that the full Council is expected to approve the recommendations of the renumeration panel on Councillor's allowances next Thursday.

It's worth noting that this is set by an independent panel of 5, none of whom are Councillors. The allowances are intended to reflect the amount of work that Councillors put in and are calculated with reference to the national average wage.

The headline figures are a basic allowance for all Councillors of £11,200.

SRA's on top of basic allowance (I believe one only payable per person). Some examples:
Mayor (Margaret Simon): £14,000
Council leader (Wesley Fitzgerald): £28,000
Committee chair (Several): £7,280
Main opposition leader (I believe Ainsley Arnold): £7,280

I am not eligible for any SRA's.

This is a few percent increase on last year which I think was about £10,500 or something similar. However - it's worth noting that last year we voted to only accept 1/2 of the payment on the basis that we were only a shadow council and councillors were recieving payments from other authorities. (Although some of us weren't).

A few people fought against this at the time because it would be attacked by the paper this year as us "doubling" our pay. They thought it would be better to award the full amount but for members to elect not to draw it. A technical difference which wouldn't allow for bad headlines.

The question is this: will the papers fall into the elephant trap we laid them?

I'm looking forward to the comments on this one....

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Things are hotting up....

It's difficult to not to think about it now - next week Cheshire East council take control from MBC.

All the silly excuses I've been fed about not being able to give me information because I'm a shadow Councillor will be behind us (although I'm convinced there will be a new wheeze...)

It's been a busy few days for council activities. I visited Friends for Leisure yesterday who are a charity which operate from the community centre on Earlsway. I enjoyed this visit immensely - they summarise everything good about the 3rd sector and I look forward to working with them more in the future.

Had a chat to the 'Express in the afternoon who are looking to pull together lots of information for a special edition about the new council. I wonder if it will be as pro-labour as the election special? Will this be the last time we'll have quotes from Ken Edwards and Brendan Murphy? Times really are changing...

This morning we had our first informal meeting of the "Charter Trustees" of Macclesfield. Essentially this was to discuss the continuation of a mayor for Macclesfield - and it looks like there will need to be a bit more thinking yet.

Got upset with the Highways chaps who sent me an email at 4pm yesterday to say that they were digging up the road outside Kings School (which they started in the morning). In my view we could have thought about this a bit better - because it was taking people 20 minutes to get out of Sainsbury's at lunchtime due to the roundabout being snarled up.

Then there's the ongoing saga of the agreement for the town centre development. I seem to be making steady progress with this, although MBC don't seem to think so. Hopefully we'll get the Information Commissioner onto this and get to the bottom of what's going on.

And I've just finished my second walk of Ivy Lane to identify some troublesome manhole covers. Hopefully we'll be able to silence them....

Organising work around the two council meetings next week has been tricky, and now I need to put an agenda together for the Chief Exec's visit to our ward in a couple of weeks. Fun, fun, fun.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Dan Hannan

This blog is supposed to be about local issues.

On the odd occasion I let the political animal get the better of me, and today is one of those occasions.

Dan Hannan is a Conservative MEP for South East England. Most Conservative MEP's are currently part of the EPP grouping, of which Dan was kicked out a few years back for pointing out that the Europeans liked to change the rules to silence dissent from people like him.

I can tell that already you like him....he has a blog here.

Yesterday he gave this speech whilst Gordon Brown was visiting which is well worth a watch:

For these snippets alone:

(on £20k debt per child) "Servicing the interest on our debt will cost more than educating that child"

"We all are sailing together into the squalls....but other ships used the good years to caulk their hulls and clear their rigging"

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Trainspotting 2 - private space?

The other interesting question raised by the Macclesfield trainspotting saga is one of public vs private space.

In some respect I feel that Virgin should have the right to do what the wish as they own the station. If I want to stop visitors from taking photos in my home then there's nothing that anyone should be able to do to stop that.

Yet should the stations be private land? I'm not really one for nationalisation, but I get very nervous when land that was once owned by the people suddenly become in private ownership with new conditions enforced upon them.

For example - last summer I was happily walking my dog through Bristol Town Centre when I was accosted by a private security guard. It seems that the road I was walking down had been sold by the council to a private company who now ran part of the shopping centre. They ruled no dogs - and therefore Mutley and I were trespassing.

Why should this bother you?

I believe that Macclesfield Borough Council signed an agreement with Wilson Boden which means that a large amount of publicly owned land will soon be owned by WB. The chances are that they will be free to impose any rules they wish on people using this land with no control by the council.

And the punchline to this story? When I, a Councillor representing 10,000 people in Macclesfield, asked to know what was contained in this agreement I was told that I didn't need to know unless I could prove otherwise. Personally, I think it's pretty self evident.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Macclesfield Express Cuts

Just a quickie....if you're on facebook then join the group against the Macc Express cuts now:


Transpotting 1.5...

I've just noticed that the banner on the CE website has a rather nice photo montage which includes a pic taken from the platform of Crewe station.

I do hope we got permission from Virgin before taking it.


I was going to write something this morning about trainspotting, but I then came across Kate Day's blog which I think sums the situation up perfectly.
The problem with restricting civil liberties in the name of terrorist prevention is that there is always more you could do. If nobody left home, road deaths would stop overnight but all our lives would be immeasurably poorer.
It's all about balancing the efficacy of any particular "anti-terror" measure with the impact it has on our lives. To use Kate's latter analogy, the impact of having to wear a seat belt in the car is minimal - perhaps a few seconds every journey and a couple of hundred pounds extra for a brand new car. Yet the benefits in terms of lives (and as any A&E nurse will know, faces) saved is immeasurable. No brainer (although it didn't stop the US car industry from fighting the cause).

So what about this case? Is the impact on our lives that huge? You don't get a huge amount of trainspotters at Macc - it's not a very nice station and there's not a great deal of traffic. Yet this "ban" extends to anyone who might whip out a camera or phone to take a photo of their friends on a night out, or a loved one as they depart for home after a weekend's stay.

And for what?

If I wanted photos of Macclesfield station to plan a terrorist attack or theft it would be easy to take them in a clandestine manner with a camera phone. I could write down a plan or map. It's not a huge station - I could probably remember all the details I needed to know.

There is no way in the world that this measure could reduce the threat from theft or terrorism.

"Security" is the new Health and Safety. It's what the jobsworth says when he wants to get his own way about something and can't come up with a decent reason for doing it. The sooner we stop using terrorism as an excuse to implement rules and regulations the better - and that also means that we need to stop using terrorist legislation to clamp down on protestors too.


From Sir Nick's diary this week:

Wednesday 25th March - To attend a National Union of Journalists meeting on the future of local journalism.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Home Start

There is an organisation called Home Start Congleton Borough and Macclesfield Outreach (pithy, isn't it?)

They're a charity which offers support, friendship and practical help to parents with young children in local communities throughout the UK and with British forces in Germany and Cyprus.

They work by recruiting and training volunteers to visit families at home with at least one child under 5, offering informal, friendly and confidential support.

The volunteers go through a preparation course and are provided with all the information that they need to do their job. Obviously this is an excellent way to help good parents become great parents.

To cut to the chase, they're looking (as many organisations are) for volunteers to assist them in delivering this service. If you feel you can help out, then contact Maggie or Jenny on 01260 290290.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

People Dryers

So....until last Friday I was the Chairman of the local Conservative party. With over 600 members in Macclesfield it's quite a busy job, as most of them have something to say to you about local or national affairs.

I've now handed this job over to someone else, which has freed up a bit of time to catch up with everything in my in tray.

At the bottom of this tray was a cutting from one of the MBC newsletters which I received last year.

It's about "People Dryers" which have been installed at Macc Leisure Centre. Now I'm sure plenty of people will have experienced these by now - personally I've not been to the Leisure centre since I finished my Dive training - but the score is that for a £1 you get dried by a combination of UV lamps and a big fan.

The reason for this? Apparently the CO2 output is a fraction of that of normal towel usage.


My towel doesn't run on Petrol, Diesel, or Jet A1. The only CO2 cost associated with it is the manufacturer of it (which is small) and then washing it (which you don't do every time you use it).

The dryer on the other hand, has significantly more manufacturing required - then there's transport of the device, running costs, servicing, etc..all of these have a large CO2 output. IR heaters may be more efficient than a resistance based heater, but it's still energy use that's not required.

I'm sure that quote came out of the sales pitch when they were comparing it to towels at a health club which are washed at 90 deg after every single use...but even then I struggle to believe that it's true.

Get out those flags.

The Mercian Regiment are marching through Macc today. Expect some traffic Chaos.

They're due at 11am but unfortunately I'm in a meeting till 1ampm so I'll miss out.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Silk Cut

This one has been sitting around in my drafts since the beginning of the month, and would have remained there if it wasn't for Sir Nick jogging my memory on Friday night.

News coverage here: http://radiotoday.co.uk/news.php?extend.4477.2 of Sir Nick speaking out about the loss of Journalists from Silk FM in Macclesfield. This news was before that of the Macc Express cutting it's local staff and got a bit left behind by the later story.

Interestingly, Silk FM are also owned by the same company as the Macclesfield Express. Bit of a cartel going on here....

Update & apologies: I incorrectly took my info from the news article which incorrectly reports Nick incorrectly reporting that MEN also own Silk FM. I'd noticed the "sic" in the piece but though it was a matter of terminology (MEN Media) rather than of fact. Sorry chaps.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Happy St. Patricks day....

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Monday, 16 March 2009

For information...

I've just received notice of street closure from the highways department:


Please be advised that Chapel Street, Macclesfield will be closed to all traffic between St Georges Street and Mill Lane whilst filming is carried out within the street. The closure will come into force on Wednesday 18th March 2009 and it is anticipated that the closure will last for two days between 7am and 7pm only. The alternative route will be as signed/directed on site and access for emergency vehicles will be maintained throughout.

** Update:

Another one just through, this one less fun and a lot more annoying:

Gawsworth Road in Macclesfield will be closed between Princes way and the Broken Cross roundabout in the Southbound direction for gas works. Therefore, you will not be able to leave the Broken Cross roundabout at this exit.

This will be a significant pain for all residents on the Weston, as it is likely to result in traffic using Earlsway to access Pexhill Road, etc.

This will come into force on Monday 6th April and will last approximately six weeks. Best of luck, chaps.

You guessed it....it's drink again.

More talk this weekend about fixing the price of alcohol.

As I've said in the past, I hate the concept of tariffs on principle. In addition, increasing the cost will not have the effect that we desire - namely people getting drunk less.

This is because it's not that fact that people get drunk which is the problem, it's the way they act when they're drunk. I must admit that I've had a drink or eight before and I've never once got into a fight or vomited in the street.

The code of the Beckfords says that a real man should be never be visibly drunk.

So whilst it's not all about drinking less, I do admit that a change in attitude will result in less drinking. However it's worth remembering that should we be successful in this we will have an enormous impact on the nighttime economy, resulting in businesses closing and staff losing their jobs.

Therefore, a tariff on booze may be the only way in the short term to soften the blow for this section of the economy whilst the change in culture occurs.

Unfortunately the argument isn't this mature yet. Most of the press, and many MP's, still see this as a way to lead the change - rather than to mitigate the economic effects of it.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Don't miss out....yet another new feature!

Just below the map on the right hand side of this site you will now find a box where you can subscribe to have my blog posts sent to you by email.

This is a great way to make sure you don't miss out on any vital gossip - and it saves you the effort of having to visit the site every day to keep up to date.

You will be sent an email to confirm your subscription and you will be able to unsubscribe at any time.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Office Space

I was asked the other day if there would be space available at the Town Hall after April 1st. The thinking was that space created by the Cheshire East transition may be available for other uses.

In fact, the opposite is true. Because, in rough theory, we have to take on half the staff from County hall - we don't have sufficient space in the buildings we currently have available.

Therefore we will be dealing with this in three phases, as detailed to me by our leader:

1) Phase 1 to focus on Crewe and include the refurbishment of available space in Delamere House and the acquisition of a suitable new building on a short term lease.

2) Phase 2 to comprise the refurbishment and reconfiguration of existing office buildings, principally in Sandbach, Crewe, Macclesfield and Wilmslow so as to increase their capacity and allow all staff to be accommodated in Council owned property in the most suitable location for service delivery.

3) Phase 3 to comprise the final relocation of all staff to their appropriate service locations, the vacation of the temporary leased property and any other surplus buildings

You see, vesting day is just the beginning....

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Macclesfield Express office to close

I've posted previously about how the 'Express shut their office on Chestergate - but at the time all concerned thought that a new office would be opening somewhere else in the town.

However news has been released today by the Guardian media group that the Macc Express will now be published from Manchester, and that some of the journalists will be losing their jobs.

This is terrible news for them and this is terrible news for us.

Macclesfield, whilst not strictly being in the middle of nowhere, isn't exactly part of the urban area of Manchester. We need local reporting in our local paper, and I fear that this will suffer with the news announced today.

Sadly, this is the part of a slow death for local news. Resources are being cut because the ignorant and hypocritical champagne socialist fat cats (oxymoron?) who run the guardian media group want to make a bit more cash (the chief execs package of £827,000 obviously isn't quite enough). The result is that this will turn the readers off. News will have less of a local feel. The express used to send a reporter to some of our local community meetings - this will now stop. Readership will drop, advertising revenue will plummet and that will be the reason for more redundancies in two years or possibly closing the paper altogether.

Coming from a left-wing media group who thought they championed the art of corporate social responsibility, this news makes me sick to the stomach. I knew that Toynbee didn't practice what she preached - but I didn't know that they were all at it in London.

As for the staff of the 'express who are lead by an excellent editor and who have all proved to be excellent over the last year, I wish them all well.

Red tape and complications

Why does everything have to be so complicated?

At least yesterday got off to a good start. I met with the Town Centre manager from Macclesfield to discuss some of the ideas for immediate improvements for our shopping centre. We made good progress and whilst there's plenty of logistical items to overcome there is a definite desire to improve things.

But in other news we've got delays on the Children's play area on Earlsway due to complications regarding Section 106 agreements. This is a major disappointment, as every week that goes past is another day closer to a spring where the kiddies won't have their roundabout.

To cap it all off I went to see the legal department regarding a request I made to see a copy of the agreement between Wilson Boden and MBC. This was very interesting...I was subjected to a 10 minute monologue about FOI, issuing information to councillors and "need to know". Humphrey from Yes Minister couldn't have done a better job if he'd tried.

Basically they don't want to give it to me and are looking for an reason why they don't have to.

This all smells a bit funny. What's in the agreement that makes it so secret? What is it about a council handing over all their land to a private developer that is considered not something that a Councillor would need to know about?

One thing is for sure...the more trouble it is to get hold of, the more I'm interested in what's in it.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Bit late now...

I know it's a bit late now - but we did wake up to snow one day this week so perhaps it's still topical.

I wrote to the county when we had the snow at the beginning of February to enquire how many schools were closed due to the weather. The response I received was:

SchoolReasonTime closedDate closedDate reopened
Macclesfield High SchoolPupils & staff having difficulties in travelling home, especially to Buxton area1.15pm2.2.09Reopened 3.2.09
Tytherington High SchoolAdverse weather1.00pm2.2.09Reopened 3.2.09
Pott Shrigley PrimaryAdverse weather?2.2.09Reopened 3.2.09
All Hallows HighAdverse weather2.00pm2.2.09Reopened 3.2.09
Fallibroome HighAdverse weather?2.2.09Reopened 3.2.09
Poynton HighAdverse weather1.30pm2.2.09Reopened 3.2.09
Wincle PrimaryAdverse weather?2.2.09Reopened 3.2.09
Wincle PrimaryAdverse weatherDid not open5.2.09Reopened 6.2.09
St John's CE Primary, MacclesfieldAdverse weatherDid not open5.2.09Reopened 6.2.09

Certainly not as much of an over reaction as was seen in other counties. I can see why Wincle may have problems, but I was a bit surprised to see St John's on Ivy Road shut...it's in an urban area and most of the families live within walking distance.

Friday, 6 March 2009

I love Macc? Do you?

I've had all sorts of meetings now with all sorts of people regarding the Town Centre development. Some are shoppers, some are shop owners, some want the town to be a social hub. All of them have different reasons/priorities/agendas for wanting a good future for Macclesfield Town Centre. And yet whilst their motivations are different, all of them come up with the same arguments for why this town centre development is wrong, and why we need something that's sympathetic to our heritage, good for commerce, and immediate.

My last meeting, with the architects of the alternative development, gave me a real call to action. It turns out that many of these things we can do with or without a town centre masterplan. Some of them we can start now. And best of all, a lot of them won't cost a huge amout of money.

So I suggest that we all start moving forward with ideas. You, me, the council, our Sir Nick, our newspapers and radio stations. We all have a part to play and we can all do something to make Macclesfield a better place. We don't need central control. In fact without it we'll have a more organic and democratic approach.

My intention is to focus on the following four items over the next couple of months:
1) Get a better parking deal for shoppers. Free for an hour, on Saturday, or after three; I don't know. But this is a great tool we have at our disposal.
2) Market Traders back in the town square. A mean....we're a market town. Let us make the town square the centre of attention, although we'll need to work to get a better layout and accessability for the traders.
3) Clean the place up a bit - Litter is never good.
4) Get rid of closed shops. Easy said than done....although through a tip off from Eric, and some conversations with a council in Gloustershire, I'm going to try and get art displayed in the windows of otherwise closed up shops. At least it'll brighten the place up.

Meet your councillors...

This photo was taken at our very first council meeting in Crewe - I don't know why it's taken until now to surface.

Somehow Sandy looks like she's been photoshopped in...I've no idea why, she was definitely there!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Road Safety

The paper carries a story this week regarding reduced funding for the Cheshire Safer Roads Partnership.

Lovely as this title sounds, what it means is that the people who run the mobile speed cameras have had their funding cut a bit, so they've been sounding off in the paper. Which is cheeky but lets not worry about that.

However in other news:
"The new Cheshire East Council is also focusing on motorcyclists and will get almost 600,000 pounds to lead a project aiming to reduce casualties among bikers on the A537"
So basically we'll have less cash to put a speed camera van up by the cat and fiddle pub, and more cash to look into better ways to improve road safety.

Hopefully this will be by signage, education and punishment for poor driving and riding, rather than a pure focus on speed. All positive stuff.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Tariff Concern

I received a comment on an old post yesterday which turned out to be highly topical.

The link was initially to the Adam Smith Institute which lead me through to the Fake Charities website....and specifically the page about Alcohol Concern.

Topical, because Scotland are talking about Beer Tariffs in order to ensure that only the rich can binge drink and the poor have to binge once a month. This is, obviously, a much better solution than looking at ways to allow adults to enjoy themselves how they want as long as it's not bothering anyone else.

It turns out that the body that legitimises many of the Governments arguments in this area was formed and is funded by the Government itself. According to the site:
According to its 2007/08 accounts, out of a total income of £903,246, Alcohol Concern received £515,000 (57%) from the Department of Health (£400,000 unrestricted and £115,000 in restricted funds). It received just £4,991 in public donations.
Really quite astonishing.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Busy busy busy....

...but at least it keeps me out of trouble.

I met with the architects featured in the 'express yesterday who have ideas for a better, immediate, way to transform our town centre. Some really good ideas came out of this meeting and I'm going to see how we can take them forward.

Then I had to shoot over to Crewe for the people panel. This was a very interesting meeting, more in due course. I'm a little concerned that no-one seems to know if this panel system will continue past vesting day.

Finally I had an association meeting in the evening - the problem with this time of year is that it's AGM's all round. Straight to bed after that as I had to be up for work at 5.30 today.

Unfortunately it's been a busy work day today, but I'm hoping that I'll get a chance later on tonight to update you on the town centre progress.