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Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The end of an era....

The Macclesfield Express is on the newsagents shelves this morning as it is every Wednesday morning.

However, this weeks copy will be the last* to have been published by a group of journalists working in Macclesfield. At the end of this week, they all move to Deansgate in Manchester.

It is unclear how much of an impact this is going to have on the paper, and how much of an impact it's going to have on the town. But if we're all honest, it's not going to improve things.

(*Technically, next weeks will be 50% Macc, but lets not let that get in the way of our sentimentality)

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


I've had a few people contact me about yesterday's blog and I just wanted to clarify something.

I wasn't suggesting that Politicians should get paid more, or that the imbalance between Civil Servants and Politicians is wrong. (although it might be....I'm not trying to cover that here).

The only point that I was trying to make was that it's not right to compare salaries of the two as if they were the same.*

Apologies to anyone who was mislead.


* And more specifically, be negative about the individuals because of it. In my view democracy in this country doesn't function as well as it could. This could be because of the way the Parties operate, it could be because of the way first past the post operates. But one reason I am sure of is that it seems to be fine for people to be rude and abusive about Politicians and Council officers.

This constant knocking has the awful effect of removing a positive feedback loop for these people. They have no way of judging if their viewpoints or actions are being well received because any constructive criticism is drowned out by the noise. Invariably, the kind of people we would like to see as our elective representatives can't work in these conditions and we end up with a high proportion of people who would rather keep their heads down than fully engage with the electorate.

And is that what we set out to do?

Monday, 27 April 2009

Ivy Bank Primary School

As part of the Ward Walk last week, I took Erika Wenzel to meet with the headmaster of Ivy Bank Primary school to discuss plans to improve the school.

The Head would like to improve the amount that the school can be used for community use, which I think is an excellent idea. For those of us who live in what used to be "Ivy" ward - the nearest buildings which can be used for community spaces are the centre on Earlsway, and the Fermain youth centre. Neither of these are particularly close or easy to get to, especially if you live the other side of Valley Road.

Part of the suggested plans would allow a few rooms (including the hall) to be used by the Community. If need be, this could be during the school day as physcial segregation would ensure that child walfare was properly looked after.

It's a bit of a tricky one this because it's not going to add any pupil capacity to the school. This means that it might be a bit difficult for the governors to get funding for it. But the fact remains that although there is enough classroom space, the hall is much smaller than would be ideal, and the school lacks other facilities it could do with such as a Library.

That doesn't seem to put the Parents off - Ivy Bank is currently over subscribed.

Barlow: deliberately misleading?

If there's one thing that gets my goat it's when people deliberately twist facts and figures. Not because they don't understand them, but because they want to use them to prove a point that the figures don't actually prove.

In this weeks 'Express Vic Barlow asks if we can trust anyone anymore. In a typically amusing piece, he notes the bankers fall from grace. Good start so far.

But he later moves onto the salaries of those running the council and compares them to ministers. He knows that it's a ludicrous comparison, but he's safe in the knowledge that none of the cabinet or the execs will dare criticize it for fear of more talk of gravy trains.

I know Barlow knows the difference, but lets spell it out. At all levels of government was have Politicians and Civil Servants. One gets elected and gets paid not a huge amount for the skills they should have and the work that they should do*. The other is a paid employee with no political affiliation, is there to carry out the policies of those elected and is intended to get paid a fair market wage.

So if you'd like to compare our Chief Executive, Erika to someone - don't make it the Prime Minister. The correct comparison for the PM would be Wesley, the leader of the Council. (He's the politician, you see).

You should compare Erika to Gus O'Donnell. He's the Cabinet Secretary and essentially the head of the Civil Service for the National Government.

Vic will then immediately note that Gus gets paid roughly double what Erika does. Or another way, Erika gets paid half.

Does he work twice the amount of hours? Is he twice as clever? Does he produce twice the amount of work?

The Chief Executive of our Council has a tremendous responsibility to ensure that the services which we take for granted in our lives - such as education, rubbish collection and social services - all function correctly. If she's not doing that correctly then lets make a song and dance over it.

Still, it's nice to know we agree on Parking Charges:

* You may feel that's a controversial point - but we really do want the best of the best, don't we?

Friday, 24 April 2009


There's a new sign popped up outside the college which says "No Dogs". There is a terrific temptation for me to make some inappropriate jokes about entry conditions, and the knowledge that my wife keeps an eye on this site is what's keeping me on the correct side of decency.

But there's more news about Doggies - and I wouldn't be surprised if we see Barlow moaning about this one next week.

Cheshire East has today announced a new policy for stray dogs.

£80 if your dog gets picked up, and you have to collect him from a Kennel. If he's chipped or has a tag and then you'll only pay £40 first time around and I think the warden will drop him back home to you.

I don't disagree with this. It costs money to have dog wardens, and there needs to be an incentive to not lose your dog. The first offence thing is a nice idea - especially as I know from personal experience that dogs have a habit of escaping from friends gardens when they're staying with them. (Remember that, Chris?)

Anyway...the killer here is that your dog will get taken to a Kennel.......(wait for it)......in Stoke.

As in on Trent. Stoke on Trent. In Staffordshire. Not Cheshire.

It's a two hour round trip for people in Macc, Poynton, Knutsford, Wilmslow. What on earth were we thinking?

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Speeding on Ivy Lane

Yesterday, I attempted to organise a community speedwatch event on Ivy Lane as a background activity whilst we* chatted to some of the residents about complaints of speeding on the road.

I'm not a fan of the whole speedwatch idea. I remember talking to someone from head office at the Party conference last year and telling them how rubbish it was. I don't know, therefore, quite how I found myself organising one. I suppose the reason is that it seemed an appropriate activity that would be enough of a pull to get everyone together in one place to have a chat.

Unfortunately the speedwatch didn't work out - someone had nabbed the coppers gun from the police station (an inside job?!), and the residents said in no uncertain terms that they wouldn't have done it anyway. After all, it's the job of the police they said.

The funny thing is that everytime someone from the ward gets nabbed speeding themselves, they ring me up to say that the police should be out catching murderers and thieves.

So we just can't win**.

Anyway - I was chuffed that so many of the residents turned out. I notified 30 houses and had 10 residents. It gave us an opportunity to discuss some wider issues and I hope the residents found it worthwhile speaking to us. I've picked up some action points and I hope we'll be able to fully investigate the Ivy Lane situation.

* we being: Erika Wenzel, Wesley Fitzgerald, John Nicholson, Cllr Sandy Bentley and myself.

** At this point I was on the cusp of dropping into "Why do I bother?" mode, which after two bouts of abuse on the Weston I think I'm still teetering on the edge of....

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Erika and Budget

I've been out with our Chief Exec, Erika Wenzel, all afternoon and so I've not had a chance to work out what's in the budget.

So I'll let our George from Rainow do it for me:


I'll be walking around parts of the ward this afternoon with Erika Wenzel - the new Chief Executive of our Council. If you see us, be sure to stop us and say hello!

I've been planning and looking forward to this visit for a while, and I was convinced that the weather was going to be fine. It was when I got up, but a strange Dickensian fog has just blow across Macclesfield. I hope it's not a sign of some sort?!

Monday, 20 April 2009

Neighbourhood Plan

If you're a resident of the Weston, then I need your help.

I've just come back from the second Weston Neighborhood plan meeting. We're trying to put a plan together which outlines what changes the residents would like to see on the estate: what projects they'd like working on, what are the hot topics? etc....

We can't do this without the help of the residents themselves. So if you've got an opinion on what's not quite right about the community then please get in touch and I'll ensure you get details of the upcoming meetings.

Thanks in advance.

Full of surprises

Perhaps this isn't news for those who have lived in Macc all their lives, but it's certainly news to me.

I was surprised when I found out that the portrait of Cllr Thelma Jackson in the town hall had been painted by Cllr Beard. I knew Chris, but I never new he was a fine artist. Still...I suppose it's not the kind of thing that usually comes up in conversation.

But it turns out that there's even more to Chris than meets the eye...he was one of the leading members of a band called "The Purple Gang" in the 60's that nearly made it big. They probably would have done if they hadn't been banned by the BBC.

More details at Wikipedia here.

One of their performances here:

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Info Required - Criminal Damage on 15th/16th April

I've received this information from Cheshire Police. If you have any information about any of the incidents, please get in touch:
Overnight on Wed 15th April 09 into Thurs 16th April 09 damage was caused to a window at Win Wah's Take Away Restaurant at 47 Crossall Street, Macclesfield.

This turned out to be the tip of the iceberg as at least 32 motor vehicles were also damaged during the same period of time along Brookfield Avenue, Bedford Road, Brough St West, Peter St, West Bond St, Hatton St, South Park Rd and Newton Street.

In the vast majority of cases the letter 'A' or letters 'LS' have been scratched onto the bonnets of the damaged vehicles making this is a fairly unusual series of incidents.

3 males were arrested in the area at the time that the offences were being committed and are now on police bail having been interviewed at length by local officers. We are now working hard to forensically link these individuals to the offences that have been committed. We have increased our presence in the area and have been conducting door to door enquiries as we piece together the evidence against the arrested persons. We have also kept as many victims of crime updated as possible as our enquiries progress. That activity will continue.

Can I urge anyone who has suffered from similar damage during the same period of time to report the matter to our crime recording bureau via 0845 458 0000. In addition anyone who may have witnessed these offences taking place is urged to make contact with the local Neighbourhood Policing Team via 0845 458 6371, by e mail to macclesfield.npt@cheshire.pnn.police.uk or anonymously, if that is a preferred option, via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Macclesfield Town Centre Development...starting soon!

I meant to post this earlier in the week but for whatever reason I didn't press the right button.

I've received some interesting news regarding recent planning applications for Macclesfield Town Centre.

Permission has been granted for a new retail unit on Castle Street behind Barretts shoes. I'm really pleased about this because it proves the point that developments of shopping centres work better when they're organic rather than big bang. In addition, it also provides a route towards utilising the old tax office in any further "alternative" town centre development that may be coming in the future.

The new building which provides around 150sqm of retail space will fill the gap between the shoe shop and The Cheshire which is frankly a bit grotty at the moment (The gap that is, not the Cheshire).

In addition an application has been received to tidy up a some of Sunderland street which is also excellent news.

What I'm not so pleased about is that Tesco's, who have already had permission granted with conditions for Broken Cross, have applied to have the conditions removed which would prevent them from receiving deliveries late in the evening.

Personally I think later deliveries would be unfair for the residents of Gawsworth Road, Princes Way, and Heyes Farm Road. I hope the members of the Northern Planning Committee see it the same way.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Ghost Towns - Radio

I was interviewed today by "Focal Radio" - the DAB station covering Cheshire and Staffordshire.

The clip is available on YouTube here, or you can watch it below:

Key themes are pictures in shop windows (very topical it seems, previously reported in the Macc Express here), business rates and parking charges.

East and West

Received from the press officer:
"Cheshire East boundary signs are now in place at 11 locations on the border with the Cheshire West & Chester Council area. The replacement signs have been erected as an initial phase of a signage programme following the launch of the new councils. "
I hear that next week we're building a wall complete with checkpoints.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Macclesfield Parkour

Spotted on the Macclesfield Forum:

Some nice Town Hall action there...

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Cheshire East Website

As spotted by eagle-eyed Joe - Cheshire East council has been hijacked somewhat on the interweb.

Our site is there, it's fine, where it should be at www.cheshireeast.gov.uk.

However the sneaky fellas at macclesfieldforum have purchased the .co.uk domain, meaning that cheshireeast.co.uk will take you to the macc forum site.

I must admit that I'm quite pleased that they beat the crewe blog to it.


In the news yesterday was a small amount of discussion about potholes - which is a coincidence because I was with the chaps from Highways on Monday and got the chance to discuss this very subject.

As this jolly piece from the BBC points out, it's the weather that's mostly the cause of the potholes.

There is an interesting comment on the BBC site from a reader:
If the "compo culture" disappeared, would councils spend this extra £53m on fixing potholes? Why on earth do we allow people to sue councils and public services anyway?
OK. Whilst we don't want people suing the councils left right and centre the thought of not being able to take legal action against a negligent council is more terrifying, so I don't think there's any chance of making progress there.

Yet there is a point here - and it's about unintended consequences.

Cheshire East council has a pothole policy which says that any hole larger than 2cm in depth on the road (1cm on the pavement) will be fixed within 24 hours of being reported. As well as relying on reports from the public* (I make it my business to report every pothole I find) the council also sends engineers out on major routes to locate surface defects. This policy is to protect individuals (cyclists and pedestrians are especially vulunrable) and to reduce the amount of claims we receive about damaged cars.**

This all seems good so far, and I'm sure that there's not many people who disagree with this (unless your some crackpot that wants a 10 minute pothole rapid response team).

This policy was intended to make roads safer - but it actually has the opposite effect.

Repairing potholes piecemeal is not cost effective. They are likely to reappear in the same place in the near future. This is because repairs are never as good anyway, and sometimes have to be made in non-ideal weather conditions. The best thing to do is resurface the whole road and create a clean, water tight seal over the carriageway.

But this can't be done in 24 hours, so we do an expensive quick fix.

This means that there is less money available for resurfacing. So more potholes appear, which have to be fixed, which means there is less money for resurfacing, which means more potholes....

You get the gist. We're firefighting. A policy that was intended to improve the quality of our roads has actually made them worse.

There must be a better way to do this. Can we have a longer turnaround and fix the holes better? How do we deal with the safety issues? Can we make it cheaper?


* Use the reporting tool on the CE website. It's really rather good.
** Most of which I understand are successfully defended because we have a good policy towards defects which is rigorously implemented. We don't have to ensure the road surface is 100% perfect because that's obviously not possible. 24 hours is a very respectable turnaround.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Beer Tax vs. VAT

Noted at Mark Wadsworth and tipped off by SumoKing, some rather common sense about leveling the playing field for Supermarkets vs Pubs by looking at how we currently impose beer tax (on both) and VAT (on pubs only):
So if a pint of beer in a supermarket costs 80 pence, and a pint in a pub costs £2.40 (i.e. three times as much), the total tax on the pint from the supermarket is 50p but the total tax on the pint in the pub is 70p. Ask yourself...

1) What would happen if they went the whole hog and scrapped the beer tax entirely in some vague attempt to help pubs, and both supermarkets and pubs passed on the full saving to the consumer* - then the pint in the supermarket would fall to 40p and the pint in the pub would fall to £2. All of a sudden, a pint in the pub would cost five times as much as a pint from the supermarket that you drink at home. Would this help pubs? Methinks not.

2) What would happen if they went the on the other tack and scrapped VAT but increased beer tax to 55p per pint (in the interests of some sort of fiscal neutrality), and both supermarkets and pubs passed on the full tax changes to the consumer* - then the pint in the supermarket would increase to 95p and the pint in the pub would fall to £2.25. All of a sudden, a pint in the pub would only cost two-and-a-third times as much as in the supermarket. Would this help pubs? Methinks it would.

Ergo, if 'they' really want to help pubs via the tax system (rather than just scrapping the smoking ban), it's not the beer tax they should be looking at, it's the bloody VAT, The Worst Tax of All.


Found out a lot more about the Town Centre redevelopment and made some progress with the improvements I want to see with the town, found out about the average speed cameras planned for the cat and fiddle (possibly costing over £1 million?! You'll be hearing a lot more about this one...) and had a hall full of guide leaders sing happy birthday to me.

What a day.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Good News

I have just had an email from the most excellent Beth @ Groundwork Cheshire confirming that the grant for the play area has been received and the contractors have been instructed:
Good news - I have in my hand the grant agreement for £50k for the Weston Toddler Area from WREN!

I have spoken to the contractor and they will be able to start on site on the 20th April. The latest the play area should be finished (barring any major problems) is 29th May.
Now just to be clear - this is Macclesfield in spring time, so it seems likely that Hail, Snow and Torrential rain will probably prevent the works being completed on time, but at least it's all underway.

A new dawn indeed

I have just received a phone call from an officer of the new council with regards to the information I mentioned in my blog post yesterday morning. (Which was written, if I'm honest, at a point where I was feeling pretty low about things).

As well as helping me along the current route I am pursuing, he has also suggested another couple of avenues that I could investigate.

Whilst I haven't got what I'm after yet (Rome wasn't built in a day), it's a refreshing change and an excellent start to Cheshire East.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


An update and reminder on the gas works due to take place.

In addition to the works on Gawsworth Road, we will also have:

Ivy Road - from junction of Bransdale Way moving towards Chester Road - two-way 24 hour traffic signals starting on Saturday 4th April -these works will not proceed beyond Earlsway until the works scheduled to start on Gawsworth Road next week have been completed.

A reminder about Gawsworth Road:

The effect of these restrictions will be to prohibit the driving of vehicles in that length of Gawsworth Road, Macclesfield between its junctions with Chelford Road/Broken Cross and Pexhill Road other than in a south-westerly direction (from Broken Cross towards Pexhill Road) whilst major gas main replacement works are carried out by Enterprise Ltd on behalf of National Grid Gas.

These restrictions will come into force on Monday 6th April 2009 and it is anticipated that these works will take approximately six weeks to complete.
The alternative route will be on a signed diversion route via Gawsworth Road, Earlsway, Ivy Road and Chester Road.

A new dawn, a new day....a new culture?

Today is the first day of the new Cheshire East Council - and I hope that you will indulge my longer than usual rant on a rather important subject.

When I started as a Cheshire East Councillor nearly a year ago, one of the things that struck me was how much a certain select group of existing Councillors bleated on about culture, secrecy, too many Councillors cosying up to officers, etc.

It didn't really strike a chord with me. I didn't believe that this could be the case. These were strong, political people who should easily be able to overcome obstacles such as these.

What's become clear over the last couple of months, as I've really started to stretch my limbs, is that it is the case. And more specifically, some Councillors would like it to stay that way. It's not that they have bad intentions - no Councillor I have met does - it's just that I think they find it reassuring and comfortable. I don't believe they realise how much it damages the model of democracy and the reputation of Councillors all over the land.

If you're one of my fellow Councillors and you're reading this, then consider how you feel about that paragraph. If it gets your blood up then you might be one of those I'm talking about - and is that who you set out to be?

This isn't to say that as Councillors we need to rebel and fight viciously against the ever engorging, collectivist machine that any public sector body is. It just means that we have to question and query in an open, honest, fair and most importantly friendly way. Officers might not like that, but they shouldn't take offense. It's what 1,457 people elected me to do and they would feel very let down if I didn't do it.

I've been trying to get hold of a copy of the agreement between WB and MBC. Whilst I have been offered this privately and off the record by several people, I would like to be released under the Freedom of Information act* (or the nearly equivalent EIR), but this has been strongly blocked by MBC. I have taken independent legal advice from a professional and the Information Commissioners office and have been told that the response from MBC is incorrect. I have fed back this information to the Council with another request for the document to be released.

That was a week ago. I have yet to receive a response.

The principle is this. The FOI/EIR is designed to give the public information about anything they want, unless there is a really good reason not to (usually privacy or security concerns of some sort). It is not designed to give the council power to release only what it feels like. The intention is not that the Officers of a Council should be able to decide what they think the Councillors and the public need to see.

Now that I've started to challenge the current consensus with the WB/MBC example, I've been contacted by several Councillors telling me that "I've gone too far this time" and I shouldn't "Rock the boat".

What have I done that's so wrong? I used the legislation for the purpose that it was intended, to get an agreement that constituents have asked me to see. I've done it in a polite and friendly way. Who is it, hidden away it the creaking machine at Town Hall, that has decided that local rules and Macclesfield culture is more important than legislation passed to ensure everything was fair?

Lets get to the point. I hope this will change in Cheshire East. We have new officers, we have new councillors, we have new aspirations. In fact, in an email received this morning from our Chief Executive, Erika, I read:
"We’ve got a fresh, clean page in front of us on which we can map out our future - new ways of working, new ways of involving local people in their own destinies and innovative ideas for meeting the economic and other challenges of these shifting times."
I hope that's sincere.

I'm delighted to be serving as your "proper" Councillor from today. All I can promise is that I'll do my best.


p.s. Couldn't help myself after that headline:

* Once it's released under the FOI I'm free to discuss it here and follow up on queries that I have.

*** Crewe Council Offices Vandalised - "No 2 Cheshire East" ***

According to the The Crewe Blog, the Council Offices in Crewe were vandalised overnight with the slogan "No 2 Cheshire East" painted on the wall.

Bit late now, really.