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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Tree of light

Every day I get sent several press releases by the Cheshire East media relations department. In truth this is quite useful, because many of them provide juicy content about daft stories for the blog and give rise to many discussions in group meetings about quite why we need such an active spin operation.

However, I received one recently that I thought was a heartwarming good news story:
Hundreds of people have paid tribute to their loved ones as The ‘Tree of Light’ festivals returned to Crewe, Sandbach and Macclesfield this month.

It all started six years ago when Crewe Cemetery invited people to remember those they had lost by dedicating a silver star to them, which is then placed on a tree within the grounds. The designated tree is then lit up with thousands of lights during a special ceremony.

This year services were held at Crewe Cemetery (December 4), Sandbach Cemetery (December 10) and Macclesfield Cemetery (December 11).

The trees will remain lit until the twelfth night. The silver stars needed to make a dedication were free.

Sandbach Ladies Choir, St Johns Primary School Choir and The Lions Youth Brass Band were also at the Sandbach ceremony, providing appropriate, festive music to those who attended.

Mary Slinn, Bereavement Services Manager at Cheshire East Council said:

“The popularity of this festival never ceases to amaze me. We have had people asking for stars as far back as July. This festival has become an important event for many people, it is a very personal time but also one where people come together to be reunited in the act of remembering.”

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Videoing Council Meetings

I hope that everyone had a good Christmas and took the opportunity to enjoy time with family and friends.

The festivities are still ongoing for us as I'm sure they are for most of you, but I just wanted to draw your attention to one small thing that has been mentioned here previously.

There has been some discussion about videoing of Council meetings and how and why this could be done. Personally I think it's a fantastic idea.

It seems that this idea may continue to progress even though the initial question was dismissed at the meeting when asked. The corporate scruitiny will be discussing this on the 11th January.

The agenda can be viewed here:

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas Greetings

I've received a Christmas message from the officers of Cheshire East Council*

Just in case you are at risk of forgetting your responsibilities in the frivolity of the Christmas season, I would like to remind you of the following……

The Rocking Song
Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir;
We will lend a coat of fur,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you:

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons. Therefore faux fur, a nice cellular blanket or perhaps micro-fleece material should be considered a suitable alternative.

Please note, only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock baby Jesus. Persons must carry their CRB disclosure with them at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before rocking commences.

Jingle Bells
Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way

A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to travel on. The risk assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions. Please note, permission must be gained from landowners before entering their fields. To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, I would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.

While Shepherds Watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

The union of Shepherd's has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available. Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year that they should watch their flocks via cctv cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts.
Please note, the angel of the lord is reminded that before shining his / her glory all around she / he must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory.

Little Donkey
Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load

The RSPCA have issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load that a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry, also included in the guidelines is guidance regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period. Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles. The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labelled 'little' and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey. To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine rights.

We Three Kings
We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

Whilst the gift of gold is still considered acceptable - as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations as 'cash for gold' etc, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are not appropriate due to the potential risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions. A suggested gift alternative would be to make a donation to a worthy cause in the recipients name or perhaps give a gift voucher.
I would not advise that the traversing kings rely on navigation by stars in order to reach their destinations and suggest the use of RAC route finder or satellite navigation, which will provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption. Please note as per the guidelines from the RSPCA for Mr Donkey, the camels carrying the three kings of Orient will require regular food and rest breaks. Facemasks for the three kings are also advisable due to the likelihood of dust from the camels hooves.

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him,
you would even say it glows.

You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities for All policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence. A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions - including suspension on full pay - will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.

And on that note - I hope that you all have a lovely Christmas and 2010 brings you health, peace and happiness!!

And sometimes - you just need to smile.

* Quite obviously, not really. But if you were the person that sent it to me (you know who you are) and you'd like credit here then just let me know.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Cheshire East gritting update...

Received from the Council...


Roads across Cheshire East have been gritted since 6pm on Friday December 17.

All available resources have been fully operational. Principal routes have been treated seven times, covering 6,000 miles of highway, using over 1,000 tonnes of salt.

With the road surface temperatures likely to remain well below freezing for the remainder of this week, all resources will be focused on dealing with the effects of the severe weather conditions.

All available vehicles are in operation at the current time, gritting on a priority basis and in accordance with our winter policy as below.

Priority 1 Routes
These are all ‘A’roads and designated routes to A & E Hospitals.
Priority 2 Routes
These are other major commuter roads or ‘B’ roads.
Other Carriageways
The aim is that these will only be treated to remove ice or snow after all the Priority 1 and 2 routes are treated, when snow or ice is likely to persist for a continuous period of 24 hours.
We currently have 7– 14 teams treating footways.
Cheshire East Council is expecting a delivery of a further 750 tonnes of salt over the next 48 hours.
A further 10 drivers were trained for gritting operations prior to the winter season.
The Cheshire East website is currently being updated to bring the winter services section to “In Focus” on the homepage www.cheshireeast.gov.uk.
In some areas, specialised recycling vehicles are having difficulty making collections due to compacted snow. We will continue to attempt to empty these bins over the next few days.

Extraordinary Meeting

There is to be an extraordinary meeting of the full council on 25th Jan in Congleton to pass the submission regarding the boundary review. This must be delivered to the boundary committee by 15th Feb.

I've now got the pack from the boundary committee and will post details if I can summon up the strength. It's all available from their website though, if you can't wait.

I'm generally disappointed that the press haven't picked up on any of this boundary stuff as it's probably more crucial than the election itself.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Let it snow, let it snow...

You may have noticed that it's a bit like winter outside.

Cue lots of questions about "Why isn't my road gritted", etc...

Some info on roads that will be gritted:

In previous years I've also seen the gritters pay visits to the estate roads when the major routes have been cleared.

Remember that road salt is only effective to certain temperatures (which is why they don't use it in the alps) and that falling snow washes the salt away meaning it needs to be re-spread.

Please drive carefully, unlike most of the people I have seen out today who didn't seem to have a clue about car control in slippy conditions.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Absentees from the public gallery

I posted yesterday about the council meeting and how it was quite well attended by the press for a change.

We also had a few members of the public, including some of the Congleton parking campaign who delivered a very well constructed speech and ex-councillor Ken Edwards who essentially wanted to speak about the next item of the agenda. He's obviously missing being a Councillor.

But the people who were noticeably absent in my view were the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPC's). In Macclesfield now we have PPC's from all parties, and yet none of them were there. I've always understood why standing Parliamentarians weren't there, because they have a job to do in London.

But for those people who want to do the job they should be there - especially if they're going to tell us how they're going to put Macclesfield First. Perhaps this proves what their priorities really are?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Full Council

It was another very odd full council meeting all round last night.

I was initially pleased that it was held in Macclesfield, especially as the weather looked like it might turn increasingly inclement and I didn't relish the idea of getting stuck in Crewe in the snow.

But the Town Hall assembly rooms are a funny place. First of all it was freezing cold. Well...perhaps not quite freezing, but it can't of been much about 15 degrees and my hands didn't take long to go numb. Many members weren't happy about the lack of space (although oddly I had plenty - must be my aftershave, etc...) and then there's the sodium lighting that gives everything an odd orange tint. Everything, that is, apart from stuff that's orange/red which seem to become white. For example, the copper-top hair of Rhiannon from the Macclesfield express looked positively blonde.

I hope that paints the picture. It's like spending the meeting wearing orange safety specs. It's a very surreal experience.

Speaking of the press table, it was quite well populated for a change. This was good news, although all of them yawned a lot. And I don't blame them, as some elements of the meeting were rather tedious.

One of the Councillors got lost in the agenda (again) and attempted to tell the Mayor we were debating the wrong item. Similar confusion was bestowed upon the same Councillor last time around so it's turning into a theme.

Then there were the endless questions. 16 were listed, although Cllr Hardy's had 6 points so I reckon it was 21 questions in all. Now I've got no problems with asking questions. I do it to officers and cabinet members on an almost hourly basis. That's what we're supposed to do.

But I think that questions at full council should be either:
a) Something of the upmost importance and needs to be bought to the attention of everyone
b) Be a question which has received no, or an inadequate response, from the normal channels.

That's not what they're being used for. They're being used by Councillors, who I suspect have done nothing useful since the last meeting, to make themselves look like they're diligent and hard working.

The culprit here really is Cllr Flude. She has abused the question facility in the most grotesque fashion. She submitted 9 to this meeting, many with several sections, and none as far as I could see were important or had been refused through other channels.

Let's take a look at how much of a waste of time some of these were:
"Will the Executive Member confirm that the budget for this department is 1.45 Million, with an extra 300k from transitional costs."
Blimey....it's in the budget book. Look it up. Don't waste the officers, the cabinet, and the council's time on something you can't be bothered to do.
"The recent LAA Performance Indicators for Cheshire East indicate that our Library service has a 76% public satisfaction level well above the nation avearge of 69%. Will this Council congratulate the staff in our libraries for their excellent performance?"
Excellent news, I agree. But the cabinet member isn't going to say no, are they?

This question was also a good example of the other side of the problem - the lengthy answers that cabinet members feel they have to give when prodded on a given subject. We got a ten minute diatribe on the improvements still to come, which are also good news. But in my view the question should have been dispatched in an appropriate fashion, which would have meant a simple "Yes".

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Mayor's Christmas Message

To All Cheshire East Residents,

Greetings to you all.

It’s that time of year again when the frost descends upon us, dark nights set in, and we begin to get into the festive spirit.

For me, the real magic of this time of year is found in spending time with friends and family members, and reaching out further to the wider community to extend the hand of friendship and companionship to more vulnerable members of our society.

At Christmas, I relish the time I spend with the many excellent voluntary organisations and schools across Cheshire East – seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of schoolchildren in our area in particular, never fails to remind me of what a special time of year this is.

It has without doubt been a fast-moving and eventful year, during which we have seen the introduction of our new Unitary Authority. We have seen the impact of the recession across the country, with recession task groups here in Cheshire East doing their utmost to minimise this impact, and many wonderful achievements for our Authority.

We were delighted to be awarded an ‘excellent’ rating for the care of adults with learning difficulties at the Wilmslow Supported Living Network, and to have our recycling efforts recognised in DEFRA’s figures for this year, with Congleton coming out top in the rankings for the North West.

We’ve seen the first of many British citizenship ceremonies take place at Crewe Hall, and the accreditation of our community wardens to give them greater powers to tackle crime and anti social behaviour.

I’m delighted to welcome on board at Cheshire East one of my former Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council colleagues, newly-elected Councillor Stan Davies. Councillor Davies will now represent the Cholmondeley Ward, following the sad death of the long-serving and much-admired Councillor Allan Richardson.

I also reflect now on the many events which took place across Cheshire East to mark Remembrance Day. It was a great honour to stand alongside our war veterans and local dignitaries, with the British Legion, to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I’d take a moment now to remember our local troops in particular – of the Mercian Regiment – who are currently out in Afghanistan. Our thoughts are with them and their families at this time.

I take a great deal of pride in the work of Cheshire East Council throughout our first year, and I hope you agree, we are serving the diverse communities of our area well.

I look forward to continuing my work throughout Cheshire East, and meeting you in our schools, community centres, workplaces and charities, into the New Year and beyond.

I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to my Mayoral team, fellow Councillors, Cheshire East Council staff, the many community groups and organisations I have worked with throughout 2009 and, most of all, to you, the Cheshire East public for your continuing support.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and a happy and prosperous 2010.

Best Wishes,

Councillor Margaret Simon
Mayor of Cheshire East

Macclesfield Future...part 3

I posted yesterday about "Macclesfield Future" - a scheme by the council to develop a strategic plan for what we want out of Macclesfield's Town Centre and the Lyme Green area.

One important element of the Macclesfield Future scheme that is due to be considered by cabinet is the cost.

At present they're asking for a budget of £150,000. This is just for the strategic planning and association legal and administration costs that go alongside it.

Initially I found this terrifying. You wouldn't believe the amount of voluntary organisations that I speak to who do excellent work on very tight budgets. Just think what the sector could achieve with a pot like this?

But then I consider that we really need to make something happen with the town centre, and this seems to be the only route that we can use to come up with something that pleases everyone. In addition, any development in Lyme Green area where the council owns some of the land would have to be carried out in line with EU procurement laws, and I understand that some of the £150k budget is to cover the required advertising costs in line with these laws.

That said, we cant get away from the fact that a good deal of the money will be spent on consultants who are going to carry the main piece of work. This will upset many, who think that we should do this work "in house". But then of course that isn't free - I hope not anyway, as I hope that we don't have people sitting around twiddling their thumbs. We'd therefore have to recruit a full time person to do the work, but I doubt if they would have the required experience and that's the crux of this.

We need consultants with experience of town centres of our type (far more than our size). We don't want someone who is all into big, commerical developments. We need someone that understands the cultural and tourism offering that Macclesfield should have.

I'm prepared to pay a premium to ensure that's what we get. And if we don't get the right person, then this project is likely to go the same way as the previous two.

Not welcome here

Much as it pains me to link to the daily mail....


I hope that doesn't mean he's planning on coming home. As far as I'm concerned, he's not welcome here.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Macclesfield Future...part 2.

This morning I attended a meeting hosted by Cllr Macrae about the future for Macclesfield. Fortunately, the location had been moved to Macc Town Hall from Sandbach, which debunked the myth that Congleton and Crewe are actually the future of Macclesfield.

Essentially the plan is to carry out some work to properly understand what Macclesfield wants and needs economically from a larger strategic viewpoint. This work can then be used to inform the 247th revision of the town centre plans, and also to drive forward work for the South Macclesfield Development Area, by which they mean Lyme Green/Danes Moss.

Prior to the meeting I was given an embargoed copy of the cabinet report, although I note that it's publicly available here anyway:

Sounds a bit like management mumbo jumbo and further council promises to get on with something? Well that's because it is to a certain extent. But do not underestimate this to any extent. It is without a doubt one of the most crucial decision to be made for Macclesfield in the last 20 years.

Essentially the intention is to push forward two projects, the names of which will send a shiver down the spine of most self-respecting sensible denziens of Macclesfield: Danegate and the Wilson Boden development.

It's only when you start to consider these projects that you realise how much they have in common. They were both deeply unpopular. There was inadequate consultation, and attempts by the authorities to drive ahead with them regardless (more so in the case of Danegate). But most importantly, they are both desperately needed. In the right form, of course.

That's why this is so important. The approach that the council is now looking to take will overcome everything that was wrong with the initial iterations of these two projects in the first place.

As long as the businesses and the public are given the ability to scope what they do and don't want, then there will be minimal objection to the proposals which come out of the other end. Jamie has promised me that this will be the case, and I believe him. I hope he doesn't let us down.

Monday, 14 December 2009

How much?!

The cost of putting Cheshire East stickers on our vehicles? £50,000.

An odd thing keeps happening to me - people keep attacking me on the issue of scrapping the two tier council system and expect me to defend the formation of Cheshire East.

In fact, I find it rather odd generally the amount of people who expect me to defend the council's actions in many areas. I'm a representative of the people who talks to the council, not a representative of the council who talks to the people. Therefore I don't expect to be able to explain to you why certain positions are taken.

The use of shopper parking in Macclesfield as a fundraising exercise is one good example. I didn't do it, I don't agree with it, don't expect me to defend it when you talk to me about it.

Anyway...back to the Cheshire East thing. Whilst undoubtedly we have been successful in many areas of the new council, essentially we could have done this by improving the system we already had. It's just that the formation of the new council gave us the impetus to carry out the work to reform services.

But not everything is hunky-dory. I had a meeting with some members of the voluntary sector this week and it seems that they're more in the dark than they've ever been about how they should interface with the council and what commissioning opportunities are available to them. 12 months ago I understood that we were taking steps to improve this, but from the feedback I received this week it seems that nothing has improved at all.

In fact, many of these organisations get less cash from the council than they used to as well. When you consider that we've spent £50,000 putting new stickers on cars and vans, you start to wonder how much better that cash could have been spent by some of these 3rd sector organisations.

If we would have kept the two tier system

Friday, 11 December 2009

Residents Parking

After the two rounds of consultation, the wheels are now in motion to start residents parking schemes in Coare Street and Prestbury Road in Macclesfield.

This will be welcome news to people who live in these streets as the response was overwhelmingly in favour of residents parking schemes. However I worry this may be short lived as they will have to pay for a permit - and I doubt it'll be long until the Macclesfield Express is full of stories about "stealth" taxes and all the rest of it.

The decision to proceed was taken officially on the 10th December. I don't know how long it'll take to implement.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Macclesfield Future

With the Frankenstein Town Centre development thankfully "on hold", I've been having several discussions with people about how we effect a new plan that's far more sensible and delivers what Macclesfield requires.

One of these conversations was with Cllr Macrae, who told me that there was to be a strategic piece carried out to think about the wider commercial issues for Macclesfield, including what happens in the Lyme Green area.

Excellent news, and I was very excited when I received an invite to a briefing called "Macclesfield Futures".

The location of this briefing?


Is that the future for Macclesfield?

(The meeting has now thankfully been moved to Macclesfield Town Hall.)

Who noticed the irony?

I've had a few emails and comments asking where I've been - but I'm dreadfully disappointed that I've had no abuse for the fact that one of my last posts was about Politicians being useless at using the Internet. And then immediately proved this myself by going AWOL.

You lot are a disappointment.

Lots going on at the moment. Work is a little tricky at present and there are a lot of ward issues that need resolving. Everything's in the mix, from broken paving slabs and planning applications, to speeding motorists and school governors. Unfortunately a lot of these things are very difficult to make progress with and they don't make for particularly pithy blog posts.

Some things are moving forward though, we've got pictures in shop windows for example. Yet others still prove elusive, such as the fact that I was reminded in a meeting this morning that the situation with the voluntary sector is still woefully inadequate.

I can't promise regular updates in the future - but I'll see what I can do.