Saturday, 28 January 2012

Chester Cathedral Square: Another QuackCWaC Council cock up?

The Cathedral Quarter Phase 1 Chester Cathedral, Chester Renaissance and Cheshire West and Chester Council - are working together on a visionary initiative to find new ways of ......Wasting taxpayer's money? [an alternative, more accurate statement of what they are actually doing]

A WATCHDOG recently slammed a council-funded project at Chester Cathedral which cost taxpayers more than £750,000.

Cheshire West and Chester Council's own public accounts scrutiny panel found the consultants who earned hundreds of thousands of pounds designing the scheme appeared to be the ones driving the project.

Here is an extract from a recent article by Chester Walls
In late 2009, we heard the first of a £7.5 million plan "to make Chester Cathedral more visitor-friendly". Why so? Was there, then, something about the place that made it visitor-unfriendly? Aside from those intimidating admission charges of course. The stated aim was "to attract another 130,000 visitors a year".
Behind the scheme is a partnership of the Cathedral authorities and the quango Chester Renaissance; well-funded and powerful, the latest in a tiresome succession of fiddlers with Chester's precious heritage hailing from somewhere far away. Project management is co-ordinated with Building Design Partnership's (BDP) Liverpool office, designers of ultra-modern office blocks and shopping centres, including the vast and vile Liverpool One. So perfect for Chester then.
Another fervent advocate of the proposals, CWAC spokesman for regeneration Councillor Herbert Manley, who represents Hartford, some miles from Chester, is continuously being quoted as claiming the 'improvements' "could result in another 130,000 more annual visitors visiting the cathedral". Could? Martians could land in Town Hall Square but the likelihood seems just as remote. 
As no shortage of concerned correspondents to the local press, suspecting that they are being taken for fools, have been asking recently, in direct challenge to Cllr Manley, "where on earth did these figures come from? Please furnish us with the evidence." One suspects they'll be waiting for some time. 
By November 2011, things seemed to have gone somewhat pear-shaped for architects and project managers, the mighty BDP who have already earned themselves hundreds of thousands of pounds from you and I, the Chester taxpayer. 
15th November 2011: Despite being, predictably, recommended for acceptance by planning officers, the Cathedral proposals were unanimously, and to the joy of many, thrown out by the Cheshire West & Chester Planning Board tonight! Some quotes from the councillors who took part:
Ellesmere Port Councillor Keith Butcher: "Spending £2.5 million at this time is criminal".
The Chester Civic Trust: "The proposals lacked a feel for the city and sensitivity to local character".
Chester City Councillor Samantha Dixon: "This is a facelift but what the patient really needs is a heart transplant".
Councillor Norman Wright: "It would be an absolute shame to remove the green space from the war memorial... it would be asking for trouble in the future".
Councillor David Armstrong: "unacceptable to the people of Chester".
Chairman Councillor Ralph Oultram: "there should have been more dialogue along the way".
The same issues of the local press also reported that the Cathedral's Chief Executive (who would have thought such creatures existed within God's House?) Annette Moore, had, purely coincidentally, left her post "to pursue other interests"... 
In early January 2012, painful facts about the scandal started to be made public. As many as twenty three officers from the three 'partners' worked on the proposals, headed by Council Regeneration Director Charlie Seward, Chief Executive of Chester Renaissance Rita Waters and Chief Executive of Chester Cathedral, the now-departed Annette Moore. Project managers BDP earned themselves- wait for it- £520, 545 for producing the pretty drawings. Cheshire West and Chester Council's own Public Accounts Scrutiny Panel have expressed the view, unfortunately embarrassingly too late, that "BDP appeared to be the ones driving the project". Make of that what you will, dear reader. Total costs are conservatively estimated to have been at least an eye-watering £750,000! That's three quarters of a million pounds of our money utterly squandered.
Asked about repercussions for individuals or organisations given this shocking waste of yours and mine hard-earned, the council made nary a mention of sackings or legal demands for restitution but, rather, responded, "The council is currently working with the Cathedral and Chester Renaissance (the three 'partners' directly responsible for the scandalous loss, remember) to review the project and consider next steps and any decisions arising will be taken in the new year."
So some hope then. Less than helpful, however, were the remarks of Chester Renaissance Chairman Broomhead. On the matter of the failed Cathedral Square proposals, his expert opinion? "There were too many trouble makers and people interfering".
My comment:  Good job there were a few trouble makers and people interfering otherwise we would have had an even bigger cock up costing the taxpayer many millions. As you should know Mr Broomhead, scrutinising what taxpayer's money is spent on is called democracy not troublemaking or interfering. 

Whilst Midas had the golden touch, CWaC Council - or at least the Executive, have clearly developed the cock up touch. Good job the Council they control is a taxpayer funded institution otherwise they would have been out of business long ago.

"The council’s own public accounts scrutiny panel found the consultants who earned hundreds of thousands of pounds designing the scheme appeared to be the ones driving the project." 

Let's all hope that our Council Executive will now stop doing what consultants and other third parties want and start doing what's best for Cheshire West and Chester.

Read the full story from the source Chester Walls

Links to additional information

The Cathedral Quarter Phase 1 Chester Cathedral, Chester Renaissance and Cheshire West and Chester Council - are working together on a visionary initiative to find new ways of ....[Wasting taxpayer's money?]

29th September 2011 Chester Cathedral square MKII is unveiled The project is a partnership between Chester Cathedral, Cheshire West and Chester Council and Chester Renaissance.

Failed Chester Cathedral scheme cost £750K A WATCHDOG has slammed a council-funded project at Chester Cathedral which cost taxpayers more than £750,000.

Friday, 27 January 2012

CWaC Council: Gold plated pensions for some councillors?

The Taxpayer's Alliance have just released the results of their research on council pensions.
Surprisingly many councillors have also jumped on the pension gold plated pension bandwagon.

"At a time when public sector pensions are under the spotlight, the TaxPayers’ Alliance can reveal the true cost to taxpayers of ‘employer contributions’ to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). The equivalent of £1 in every £5 of council tax raised in the UK is spent on council pensions. This report also details the explosion in the number of councillors claiming council pensions.1 Despite fulfilling a supposedly volunteer role, there are now 4,548 councillors on the LGPS, up by over 1,000 since 2007-08."

Read the full TPA report here.

The figures for CWaC Council are (Compare them with other councils by downloading the TPA report)

Total contribution 2010/2011 £21,473,000
Total number of residents 327,300
Cost of pension contribution per resident £65.61 (£262.44 for a family of 4)
Number of Councillor in the scheme 26
(The median average number of councillors on the LGPS is 4 and the mean is 11)

"Councillors’ Pensions

The purpose of a councillor is to represent the people of a local ward in their council. They are elected to bring their expertise and experience to address the specific needs of their local community. These duties are meant to be separate from their private and professional lives outside the council and their position is voluntary. Any payments they receive are not intended to represent earnings but instead to compensate them for incidental expenses incurred in fulfilling their duties in local government such as the use of their phones, transportation and office expenses. As these payments are described as reimbursements, the fact that many local authorities consider them to be pensionable pay calls into question the voluntary nature of participating in local government."

My comment: Whilst one can understand council staff being in the pension scheme, how an earth do councillors qualify? They are not employed by the council. 

UPDATE 30th January 2012: I submitted a Freedom of Information request to confirm the number of councillors in the pension scheme and the cost to the taxpayer.

Once I have that information I will ask for the councillor's names and add this additional cost to their allowances and expenses.  Pension contributions are available for senior staff so why not councillors?

Thursday, 26 January 2012

UPDATED: Proposed Phone Mast in Caldy Valley Nature park

Another CWaC Council cock up?

Campaign Press Release (Sent to me on the 26th January 2012) My update below 30th January 2012.

PROPOSED 18 METRE PHONE MAST
AT PUMPING STATION, CALDY VALLEY NATURE PARK

Did you know that the council is proposing to erect an 18 metre phone mast in the dip of Sandy Lane where the nature park brook flows towards the River Dee? It will be within the boundary of the nature park and close to your house.

Please consider:

The inherent dangers of living near a phone mast. Only in the UK are we allowed to have these monstrosities close to homes and schools. In New Zealand and other countries they must be 500 metres away. The risks are actually worse between 200-500 metres due to the nature of the radio waves. Do some research on the internet if you can, there is plenty of information there that the government do not want you to read because they are making billions of pounds from this e.g. http://www.mastaction.co.uk/news/Cancer-clusters-at-phone-masts/

The fact that Dee Banks School is within this radiation zone, yet have not been notified by the Council. Children are at the greatest risk.

An 18 metre mast located here will significantly damage the view for all residents and park users. It is a valley with a stream which leads toward the Dee and an area of natural beauty. The erection of the mast will have a negative impact upon this, not only for us but for people using the meadows.

We have a healthy wildlife population including woodpeckers, jays, kingfishers and bats. It is well known that mobile phone mast emissions affect the sonar of bats and therefore carry a very real threat to them. All species of bats are endangered and therefore are protected under British and International Law. Many birds and bees are likely to leave the park, “The Birds, the Bees and Electromagnetic Pollution”, A Goldsworthy (2009).

On top of all this your property will almost certainly be devalued. Please see over for an artist’s impression of what we will soon see if you do nothing. [Added below]

Please take 5 minutes to join us in objecting to this. You can do this online at www.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/planningapplications Reference 12/00110/TEL or type in “pumping” or write to Planning Service, CWAC, Wyvern House, Winsford, CW7 1AH. You must comment before 8th February.

You can also write to your local councillor through http://www.huntington-chester.co.uk or http://www.chesterconservatives.org/contact-us/ or email Pamela Hall pamela.hall@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk

Please don’t let this monstrosity go ahead for the sake of five minutes help from you. Justa couple of lines from every person in your household (even your children can object) will make all the difference.

PLEASE ALSO ATTEND THE PARISH COUNCIL MEETING 20th Feb 7.30pm VILLAGE HALL.

My comment: I am currently investigating various issues and will update this post as soon as possible. However, I didn't want to delay publishing details of the above campaign.

UPDATE 30th January 2012: Anger over Chester park phone mast plan

ANGRY residents have vowed to fight proposals to construct a phone mast near a popular Chester park.

Mobile phone giants Vodafone and O2 are behind plans for the 18-metre high structure on a site just off Chester Road, near Caldy Valley Nature Park.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) spokesman Ian Callister confirmed they had received an application for prior approval from the two telecoms companies.

He said: “We have received an application on behalf of Vodafone and O2 for prior approval. It is an 18-metre high mast including antennae.

“It’s at the water pumping station in Chester Road, Huntington.” He added consultations would be held.

Read the full story from the source Cheshire First

My comment: Many people were confused by the initial planning application notification and thought the water pumping station was situated at the water works. It isn't, it is much closer to houses and the schools than they initially thought. [See map below] 



The original application also gives a different address to that quoted by the CWaC Council press officer in the article above. Why didn't CWaC Council give residents the full and proper address in all correspondence?




As far as schools are concerned I have been informed that Dee Banks, Bishop’s High and Noah’s Ark nursery are all within a few hundred metres of the mast, yet none were informed. Obviously not close enough as far as CWaC Council were concerned.


In addition CWaC Council should have had an LPA register but didn't. Most Councils do, or at least the good ones. After all it is a requirement under the Code of Good Practice“Up-to-date mast registers should be held by all LPAs, to facilitate discussion between LPAs and operators. These should also be made available on the LPA’s website.”





As far as consultations are concerned why weren't the right councillors consulted? 


No wonder they didn't receive any responses!

My investigation continues and further information will be added when I have the time but so far, like most things that CWaC Council do, it's turning into a right Charlie Foxtrot.

UPDATE 15th February 2012: Looks like the mast was rejected because it's above the 15mtr permitted development height.

Question is why didn't #QuackCWaC Council spot this earlier.

In addition, why no mast register? Most good councils keep them.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Why real scrutiny is essential

POLICE are getting ready to submit a report over claims made against three Swansea councillors. [As I understand it regarding potential corruption & conspiracy charges against those involved.]

Leader Chris Holley, deputy leader John Hague and acting Conservative group leader Paxton Hood-Williams were reported to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales for allegedly breaching the code of conduct.

It is claimed, the Evening Post understands, spending in certain Tory wards was offered in exchange for support of the administration. The ombudsman investigation was put on hold while police officers decided whether a criminal investigation should be brought against the three members.

However, a spokesman for South Wales Police said: "A file is being prepared for submission to the Crown Prosecution Service and a decision will be forthcoming in due course.

My comment: I have always been concerned about the potential to misuse councillor's budgets. I would argue that councillors could, should they wish, quite easily bias their budget spend towards groups who are more likely to vote for them come election.

Now it would appear that a cabal within a council is doing something similar but on a much grander scale. They are buying the support of other councillors by offering to spend more taxpayer's money in their wards. 

Which rather suggests that councillors scrutinising councillors  is not the correct approach. For example, what if bribed councillors were also on the scrutiny panel which was scrutinising the decisions of corrupt councillor/s? ie. those who bribed them.

Read the full story from the source This is South Wales

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

CWaC Council's latest cock up, a dodgy website

My comment: Earlier today I was sent an alert informing me of this particular news item, however, when I tried to access the article in a Crewe on line newspaper the article wasn't available (Page not found). 

It has since appeared in other local on line newspaper so instead of just tweeting about it, as I did earlier, I decided to write this blog post.

Councillors call for delay on traveller site after problems accessing information 

WINSFORD councillors are calling for a delay in a decision on a proposed gipsy and traveller site because of difficulties with viewing the planning documents.

Clr Mike Kennedy said: “I am getting a bit cheesed off at trying to download things from its website and not being able to access information that should be made available.

“The reason why we are here now is to comment on documents that we have not been able to read.

“We are suppose to be a front runner for a new up and coming online planning system but there is many days I’ve looked for planning applications and have had to try about five or six times, or some days they are not there at all.”

Clr Steve Smith agreed and said it was a problem he has discussed with residents in his ward.

My comment: Another CWaC council cock up? In addition, it must be bad when other councillors are criticising them. Neither is this the first time Winsford Councillors have criticised CWaC Council.

Read the full story from the source Winsford Guardian

Here are the two alerts I tweeted about earlier.



UPDATE 17th January 2012:

Even after being down at the weekend for maintenance the website is still causing problems with various pages returning different errors. Two below as an example. Screen shots taken at 10.48am 17th January 2012.





This screen shot was taken at 2.05pm on the 17th January 2012 so problems persist.


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Is there a democratic deficit in Cheshire West and Chester Council?

It is now easier to find democracy in your local town council, parish council or local voluntary groups than it is in Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Decisions appear to be taken within CWaC Council with no real consultation, debate, discussion or scrutiny.

Even the Cabinet appears to be no more than a front to hide the fact the the majority of decisions are taken by just a few people. One that could best described as an inner circle or cabal. Here is an example of how a cabal can use taxpayer's money to persuade other councillors to play ball.

CWaC Council as a whole is a now complete irrelevance because they are allowed  to make so few decisions. The reason for this appears twofold
1) Such decisions would normally be made in public and allow any member/s opposed to a decision to apply some accountability, scrutiny and democracy. Something the inner circle (controlling body) within CWaC Council appear to like.
2) If the full council was not allowed to make any decisions then CWaC Council's inner circle would not have a thin veneer of democracy to hide behind.
Look at some of the evidence from last year alone.

Sham consultations

Winsford Town Council says it is being left out of major decisions affecting the town

What’s going on with Lion Salt Works? [Northwich]

Democracy in action CWaC Council style

A council that cannot come to terms with freedom of information 

Putting pressure on our local press to bury bad news

Using defamation claims in an attempt to silence critics

Using gagging clauses to stop ex staff speaking out

From the above, together with many other events from last year, CWaC Council's inner circle appears to prefer to operate behind closed doors without any real accountability, full council scrutiny, involvement and without proper public consultation. One that also appears willing to try and bully critics into silence.

Council Leader Mike Jones "So I made it very clear to all the staff I come into contact with, including senior management conferences with question and answer sessions which I did in July 2008, that we were to create a new council which would have its own identity and we would build a new culture which would be our own way of doing things."

It would now appear that this new culture is not one based on a democratic model but one more akin to an Autocratic model.
Democracy in its purest or most ideal form would be a society in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.
Autocracy is a system of government in which supreme political power to direct all activities is concentrated in the hands of a one person or in this case a very small group of people.
As a result I would strongly argue that at the moment we have a serious democratic deficit in Chester and Cheshire West.

Especially when you take into account the auditors report regarding the sale of County Hall. "Cheshire West did not make their Counsel aware of a second valuation of the building and that both councils could have done more to involve local people in the decision to sell the building."