THE leader of Cheshire East Council has this week answered questions from Guardian readers.
Clr Michael Jones was quizzed at the council’s headquarters at Sandbach on Wednesday, November 21 on a range of topics affecting the area’s residents.
We appealed for readers to send in questions for the leader, and those on the same subject have been merged in some cases.
The leader spoke about the affordable homes scheme which was recently approved in Plumley, and said an opposition group would be heard when the planning meeting is held into the proposal to create a playground in Tatton Park.
In part one of the feature, Guardian chief reporter James Wilson was on hand to ask the questions on behalf of Guardian readers.
The second part will be online tomorrow morning.
Q. As you have berated the residents of Knutsford for not responding to the consultation on the Knutsford Town Plan, will you please tell me how many Local Government consultations you responded to before getting involved in local politics?
Sandra Douglas, Knutsford.
l MJ: I have never berated anybody, I’m proud to be the leader of Cheshire East and I would never berate anyone.
I don’t think its relevant how many consultations I’ve taken part in. I think it’s very clear and I’ve answered every one I’ve done but I don’t count.
What I will say is that it’s a facile question and we need to be cleverer than this.
The issue is really about democracy working and I take great offence that I am pushing people to comment on things that will affect their lives.
On one hand I’m being told I don’t listen, and now I’m being attacked for asking people to tell me what they think – you can’t have it both ways.
I will answer any consultation I am involved in but I don’t recall or measure the number I’m involved in. I’ve completed every census and certainly done lots of planning applications, but the fact is what is the real issue here?
Am I wrong to ask the residents what they want? I don’t think I am and I will keep on asking.
If people get upset because I’m asking then I’ll take upsetting those people. We work for them and we are here to get it right.
Q. Recent evidence shows that Cheshire East Council is the fourth-highest charging council in the country for services for older people.
Recent evidence also shows that retired people, who have worked all their lives and are not entitled to benefits, are among the most financially-disadvantaged group hit by the current recession. What proposals do Cheshire East Council have to redress this situation?
l MJ: This was a Labour Party policy press release and was total fantasy.
Stats can be put anyway you like, in actual fact we are a reasonable council that supports people.
We are quite aligned with our neighbours, and it’s important how we take this forward and it’s a really facile question again coming through, but there are issues with how we fund our elderly care.
I’m very clear about that, we don’t want people coming into CEC care homes who are funded then unfunded because if they become unfunded we can chase up debts it means our funding for people from CE is limited and that’s a worry for the future.
Secondly, everybody is assessed on their ability to pay and assessment is individual, and we don’t have any set costs and that would be naive to think we could.
Have to look at what the Labour Party tried to do and that was to embarrass the Chancellor, which was quite naughty, and these games are beneath us.
I’d rather talk about real issues and how we can go forward.
We will look at 97 per cent of the person’s disposable income when we are charging people and that’s pretty good (CWAC is 100 per cent).
We prefer people to live at home and as a consequence we are looking at making it more difficult for people to go into homes because it’s a very complex subject.
The message has to be very clear that we don’t let anybody down, but we have a budget that is forever being pressured by people coming into the system. People who have lived here and paid their taxes in CE should get preference.
Q. Sparrow Lane in Knutsford has become overgrown with nettles and saplings, inconveniencing pedestrians, schoolchildren, cyclists, dog walkers and horse riders.
I am informed by the council that unlike previous years, nothing will be done this year to cut and clean the lane because the budget, which was set in April, has already run out.
Clearly the budget-setters got it wrong, and they clearly got the pothole-repairing budget wrong as well.
What steps are being taken to ensure the budgets will be more realistic next year?
Since it became obvious that the council is not going to clear Sparrow Lane, I have recently cut down the most intrusive areas myself.
To whom do I send my bill?
A H Ellis, Lynton Close, Knutsford.
l MJ: That is factually not correct regarding the budget. Let me be very clear, CEC budget does not run out, we have 80 million of cash at the moment, so I think we are alright. What we’ve got to look at is the allocation of where we spend our money.
A lot of people when they don’t do their job at Cheshire East blame the budget – I’d rather they just did the job.
Most people at CEC work for long hours and low pay and deliver, and I’m fantastically proud of them.
The five per cent who go around and say the budget won’t let us should go and work for someone else. We’re here to serve the public and if this is an example that needs to be looked at then it’s the landowners whose job it is to cut their hedges back.
If it continues then we will go back and talk to them. I’m happy to meet with Mr Ellis and talk to him. He can send his bill but I’m not sure highways will pay it.
Q. I am writing to express my concern at the apparent lack of response to the situation at Spinks Lane, Pickmere, where for the past four years the site occupied illegally has not yet been cleared by Cheshire East.
I would be interested to know why this is taking so long, and when can we expect Cheshire East to uphold the law.
Angela Caudwell, Pickmere Lane AND I have an ongoing problem with the unlawful and illegal occupation of Green belt land in Spinks Lane Pickmere.
Mr Jones has gone public together with Mr George Osborne MP via an article in the Knutsford Guardian to the effect that the site will be cleared, but to date nothing seems to be happening.
We fully understand the need for the due process of law to take effect, but since this has been going on for four years it seems the wheels are turning very slowly if moving at all.
We would like the question put to Mr Jones that when can we expect any action to be take place and what happens to the damage already taken place by the current owners?
Mr and Mrs A B Fogerty, Park Lane, Pickmere.
l MJ: I’m having a briefing on this soon. Both CEC, CWAC and CCC have never got the pitches right.
I pulled the one in Crewe but I know they weren’t sustainable. I will deliver pitches for gipsies and travellers on sites which we think will be sustainable.
We want sustainable planned travellers’ sites not creeping development, not unplanned and not illegal.
I have already gone to court to get permissions on the Pickmere site, and am already looking at other ones. As soon as I became leader I went to court, and I’m meeting with the parish council again and if more decisive decisions need to be made I will make them.
If it’s a non-planned procedure then we will take action. We don’t enforce as much as we should.
It will cost more money to do that at a time when we have less money than ever.
Q. Why is Cheshire East considering a proposal for an AD waste and combined heat power plant at Twemlow with approximately 35 homes within 250 metres when other similar plants in the UK are at least 500 metres to three kilometres away?
MJ: This application is under serious consideration because it was formerly where there was a usage of the tanks which would arguably be of a less danger than before, and given the site was for storage of highly flammable and dangerous we are considering going forward.
I am very keen to support AD because it is green energy. But if planning thinks it is too close to the homes then they will reject it.
However, strategic planning needs to be strategic, and we need to look at the structure of the tanks that held significant dangerous material in the past which houses were built next too, that’s not clever.
Whether that argument holds out, strategic planning will say. I take the point on board but the tanks were there and are there. You’ve got 35 homes against it but you’ve got to think about the bigger picture for Cheshire East and the country.
I don’t know the people in the protest group, but we need to think about what is best for this country. Clearly houses were built next to a site which has these tanks in which had combustible elements for a long, long time, so you’ve got to question the logic and this is a change of use.
He’s not building anything there so it’s interesting, but everyone will have their day in planning, and let’s hope they are listened to.