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Liberal Democrat concern at rise in Royton regeneration costs by 50 percent or £1 million

Liberal Democrats; following a recent Freedom of Information reply; are concerned that the costs to refurbish Royton Town Hall and Library have risen rapidly and could soon spiral out of control, without proper checks being put in place.

Commenting Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, said: “At the September meeting of the Cabinet, Labour Councillors agreed a near fifty percent increase in the budget for this project from £2 million to £2.976 million (in part 2 of the meeting – which is confidential and not in public).“

“I am worried that this will be just the first of many increases that the Cabinet will have to consider,” added Councillor Sykes.  “This is all too typical of Labour regeneration projects – they are often late, over budget or never happen, and sometimes we have a combination of all three.”

“Everyone will remember the £9 million plus being spent on the Princes Gate project, now years behind schedule and still no preferred development partner announced; the over £400,000 frittered away on the abandoned Hotel Futures project; and the Oldham Town Hall refurbishment, which whilst being welcome, was four times over budget.  Earlier this week we he have been told plans for a new Coliseum Theatre have been axed – we have yet to find out what this has cost council tax payers.”

Notes – text from email FOI reply 7 November:

Dear Councillor Sykes,

Thank you for your FOI request below. I can confirm that prior to the Cabinet meeting on 17th September, £2m had been earmarked from the capital programme for this project. Following the decision at the meeting of the Cabinet on 17 September, £2.976m is now earmarked for this project.


This was originally planned for the w/c 22 October.

The Oldham Borough Council hereby gives Notice that no person shall cause any vehicle to proceed in that part of Smallbrook Road, Shaw from its junction with Milnrow Road to its junction with St Joseph’s Close.

The restrictions are required to facilitate carriageway resurfacing and will be in force between the hours of 9.30 am and 3.30 pm for a period of 5 days from the date of this notice or until the works are completed, whichever is the lesser period

The alternative route for vehicles affected by the restriction shall be via Smallbrook Road, Duchess Street, Fraser Street, Rochdale Road, Crompton Way and Milnrow Road, in both directions.

Bus stop information see link: Bus stop info Smallbrook Road closurer

For further information please contact Matt McGreal on 0161 770 1955

Buckstones Road, Shaw – section of road closed near Hillside Avenue 8am – 5pm for up to five days from 19 November

The Oldham Borough Council hereby gives Notice that no person shall cause any vehicle to proceed in that part of Buckstones Road, Shaw from its junction with Hillside Avenue for a distance of 192 metres in a north westerly direction.

The restrictions are required to facilitate carriageway resurfacing and will be in force between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm for a period of 5 days from 19 November or until the works are completed, whichever is the lesser period.

See link for details of section of road to be closed: Buckstones Road Shaw – 19 November plan

The alternative route for vehicles affected by the restriction shall be via Buckstones Road, Milnrow Road, Crompton Way, Oldham Road, Heyside, Higginshaw Lane, Shaw Road, A62 Huddersfield Road and A672 Ripponden Road, in both directions.

My two allowed questions at tonight’s Oldham Council meeting – 7 November 2018 – Tommyfield Market and challenge to build some council houses

Q1 Leaders Question – Giving Certainty to Tommyfield Traders

Mr Mayor my first question tonight concerns people living with great uncertainty; they are nervous about their future; or indeed if they have a future; and a Leader who is promising a plan that will deliver a ‘New Jerusalem’…

But in this case I am not talking about the people of the United Kingdom, Theresa May and Brexit, but rather the traders of Tommyfield Market, our new Council Leader, and the revised (yet again) Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

We all know that the Leader tore up the old £350 million masterplan – not good enough said he; it ‘falls far short of what is required to give a compelling vision for Oldham.’

I am sure the traders at Tommyfield were at that time grateful that he described the market as ‘much-loved’ and ‘a significant feature of Oldham town centre…in need of investment.’

It must have filled them with hope for the future.

But since that time the same traders have been living with more uncertainty, made worse by the fact that the new revised, better-than-the-old-one masterplan is now not scheduled to be unveiled until at least March 2020.

Yes not March 2019, but March 2020 – in at least 18 months-time. 

Most citizens of this Borough will wonder why it will take so long and why urgency is not put into the process!

With our recent experience of town centre regeneration projects falling behind schedule or just failing to happen; think Hotel Futures and Princes Gate.

Traders are right to ask questions and they deserve some answers.

At present traders report that when their leases are up for renewal they are being offered new agreements in which they could be given as little as three months’ notice to quit.

Many of these traders have been in the market for decades, with a loyal customer base to match, and one – Levers – has its own blue plaque celebrating Oldham as being the historic home of fish and chips!

So how can it be right that they can be out on their ear in only 12 weeks?  I ask you is this any way to treat traders who were recently described as ‘much loved’!

Giving them so little notice means they have no incentive to invest in their business or premises.  Some say that in any case a three month notice period makes their business now practically worthless.

It causes difficulties with recruiting and keeping staff and impacts on the well-being of the owners and their families let alone their pockets!

So I would like to ask the Leader tonight if he will rethink the Council’s offer to the traders.

Will he do the right thing and agree to requests that they be at least granted five-year automatically renewable leases as a way to guarantee them some future for their businesses and staff?

Will he promise traders that they will be consulted regularly as stakeholders as plans for the new market hall (or not) develop and be offered spaces in or around the new market hall which meet their needs and on terms that are affordable to them?

Q2 Leaders Questions – Can We Build It?  Yes We Can!

Mr Mayor, for my second question to the Leader tonight I would like to look at another important issue – the shortage of social and rented housing in our Borough.

In Oldham, we have a huge housing waiting list.  We have a particular shortage of larger houses, as these are the homes most frequently lost due to sales under the misguided policy of Right to Buy.

We are also desperately short of homes that are built to meet the needs of disabled people or future proofed for an ageing population.

I know that the Leader will join me in welcoming the announcement by the Prime Minister that, for once, represents good news for this Borough – the lifting of the borrowing cap which has prevented Councils from investing in much needed social and affordable housing.

Following pressure from many voices speaking common sense, including those of myself and my fellow group leaders in the cross-party Local Government Association, the cap on the Housing Revenue Account is finally being abolished.

In their hey-day, councils were building four in every 10 of the nation’s homes – we will now need to see a Council house building revival to build affordable and social housing if we are to meet the shortfall in new homes that we will need in the future.

Decent homes improve health and well-being, educational performance and many, many other factors other than just a decent roof over people’s head.

We need to get on with it now – with more haste than it took this Administration to recently adopt the idea of establishing an arms-length housing development company that the Liberal Democrat Group first suggested three years ago.

The children’s TV character, Bob the Builder, famously said: ‘Can we build it?  Yes we can!’

Mr Mayor, I would like to ask the Leader tonight if he is going to adopt Bob’s mantra by ensuring the Council works with our social housing partners and supportive housing developers to quickly rise to this challenge and build the affordable homes that we so desperately need as soon as possible.

In short, have we got a plan in place, have we got sites ready to build on and will we see diggers on the ground very soon?

Liberal Democrats seek renewed action on pot-hole danger roads

The Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council have tabled a motion for discussion at the next full meeting (7 November 18) of the Council calling for greater action in tackling damaged road surfaces that represent a danger to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.  This is part of an ongoing Liberal Democrat campaign to raise the dangers of poor road surfaces with the current Labour Administration and to call for a change in policy so damage can be repaired if it is dangerous.

The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Chris Gloster, is proposing the motion: “This issue is of great concern to Liberal Democrat Councillors on Oldham Council.  My Shaw colleague, Group Leader Councillor Howard Sykes, has written to the Council Deputy Leader about this and my Crompton colleague, Councillor Dave Murphy, raised it as a question at last Council.  We are just not satisfied by the lack of action so have decided to bring our proposals for proper debate at full Council.  Put simply, we want the Council to be able to repair any road surface that is dangerous, not just those roads where surface erosion is at least forty millimetres deep.  At the moment the Council just says no if the holes are less than 40mm.”

Government guidance issued to all local authorities in November 2016 states that Councils must ‘investigate’ instances where road surfaces have been eroded by at least 40mm, but there is no legal requirement placed upon Councils even then to repair them promptly.  In Oldham, the current Labour Administration policy is to only consider potholes deeper than 40mm to be eligible for repair.  By way of constant, the threshold for the repair of pavements is lower at 25mm.

Councillor Gloster explained why this is problematic: “One practical issue is that many roads in my own district of Shaw and Crompton do not even have a top surface that is 40mm thick; they can be worn away to the cobbles and present a real danger to cyclists and motorists, but as the ‘threshold’ can never be reached no action is taken.  This cannot be fair or right.”

The Liberal Democrats want the Council to ensure that any road surface that becomes hazardous can be repaired.  Councillor Gloster added:  “I fully appreciate roads will still have to be prioritised and not all will be able to be repaired with the resources the council has, but we should look to address the danger that any worn road surface represents to the public, and not simply operate to some arbitrary ‘threshold’.”

The motion is being seconded by Councillor Gloster’s colleague, Saddleworth Liberal Democrat Councillor Garth Harkness, who said: “Another issue addressed in our motion is the lack of real finance made available to local government from central government for road repairs.  This present government talks a lot about the additional resources given from time-to-time to local authorities to tackle the backlog, but this is never enough and it is always too late.”

“The Local Government Association, which represents Councils of all political persuasions across the country, has estimated that there is a £9 billion backlog of repairs on Britain’s roads.  We want the government to give local authorities some of the Road Fuel Duty that is raised so we can get on with the job of making our roads fit-for-purpose.”

Notes motion reads: Oldham Council 7 November 2018 – Notice of Opposition Business – Motion 2 – Tackling Dangerous Potholes

This Council notes that:

  • Residents are greatly concerned by the unsatisfactory state of highways and the prevalence of dangerous potholes in our Borough
  • Elected members are aware of these are high-level public concerns because of the many complaints they receive from their constituents on these matters.
  • Poor road surfaces and footpaths also harm the reputation of Oldham Council and the Borough, and can lessen the appeal of coming into the borough by these routes.
  • The guidance issued to all local authorities by the Department of Transport in October 2016 required Councils to ‘investigate’ any potholes or instances of road surface erosion of at least 40mm depth, but did not necessarily require them to repair it.
  • The threshold fails to take account of circumstances in which the top surface of a road is less than 40mm in the first instance, which can lead to this surface becoming completely eroded and dangerous to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, yet ineligible for repair by a local authority under the Department of Transport guidance.
  • The threshold for the repair of public footpaths is much lower at 25mm.
  • The Local Government Association has estimated that there is a £9 billion national backlog of repairs to potholes and damaged road surfaces.

This Council reaffirms its commitment to:

  • Ensure that any pothole or eroded surface, whatever the level of damage, which poses a danger to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists is repaired as quickly as possible
  • Fight for greater resources from Government to tackle the road repair backlog.

Council therefore resolves to:

  • Repair any pothole or eroded road surface within the Borough that represents a danger to members of the public, regardless of whether the arbitrary threshold of 40mm is met
  • Ask the Chief Executive to write to the Secretary of State for Transport:
  • Supporting the call of the Local Government Association that a significant portion of the Road Fuel Duty raised by the UK Government be allocated to local authorities to enable them to tackle the estimated £9 billion backlog
  • Requesting the guidance issued to local authorities be revised to place an emphasis upon the prompt repair of any pothole or road surface representing a danger to the public.

Smallbrook Road, Shaw – reason for delay to works and mess up with signage

These are the responses I have had from Oldham Council.

Reason for the delay

“Initially a permit to work was requested for Monday 22nd October, however this permit was refused due to utility work in the area.  As a result the works were then permitted to start immediately following the utility works.  As such the works are starting on Monday 19th November.”

Reason for the mess up on signage on 22 October

“I have now received a response from the Councils parking enforcement provider, NSL, regarding the signing and coning issues relating to the above.  It would appear the error has occurred due to a plan of the affected area not being forwarded with the signing and coning request; the instructions stated Smallbrook Road, which NSL understood to be the full length.  Woodend was also treated as the mapping system used to identify the extent of Smallbrook Road showed Woodend as Smallbrook Road.  As soon as NSL were made aware of the date change for the re-surfacing work the signs and cones were removed.

Any further instructions for this type of work will be accompanied by a location plan to avoid any confusion and to ensure this problem does not arise in the future.

Apologies for any upset this error has caused to the residents.”

Councillor Howard Sykes is still waiting for details about how the bus services will work and be accessed on the 19 November and will post information when and if he gets it.

Conductors mean safer trams, say Liberal Democrats

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, is proposing a motion to the next full meeting of Oldham Council (Wednesday 7 November) calling on the Council to support the elected members of Shaw and Crompton who are campaigning for the introduction of conductors on the Rochdale – Oldham Metrolink line.  The motion is seconded by Councillor Sykes’ Shaw Ward colleague Hazel Gloster.

Councillor Sykes, who also serves as a member of the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee representing Oldham Council, is adamant that the introduction of conductors will not only make tram travel safer for passengers, but it will make a major contribution to reducing fare evasion on the line.

The Rochdale – Oldham line is the worst for violent and criminal incidents of any route in the Metrolink network and at least one-in-eight passengers is estimated to fail to pay for a ticket so Councillor Sykes was bitterly disappointed that the Leader of Oldham Council, Councillor Sean Fielding, failed to back his call at the September Council meeting and hopes that the motion will give Labour the chance to reconsider its position.

Commenting Councillor Sykes said:  “Safety and fare evasion on the tram are issues that both concern and annoy a great many of my constituents and those of my colleagues in Crompton.  Shaw and Crompton is the busiest stop on the Rochdale – Oldham line and many people, especially those who are elderly or vulnerable, are now fearful of travelling on the tram, even though this is the most frequent, reliable and convenient form of public transport into Oldham, Rochdale or Manchester. Passengers have the right to expect to be able to wait or travel safely on the tram, without being subjected to criminal or loutish behaviour.  In addition, law-abiding passengers who pay for a ticket expect to see regular ticket inspections take place to ensure that others who should do so, do so.”

“Following several recent violent incidents on the line, an operation was mounted involving Metrolink staff, Police Officers and our Council’s Youth Engagement Officers in tackling this blight, and thirteen offenders have been arrested during the first two weeks of this operation.  Unfortunately although that operation was called Infinity, its duration and the resources devoted to it are not.”

Councillor Sykes is well aware that other tram services in the UK have on-board staff on every service, such as the Sheffield Super Tram and on the Wolverhampton – Birmingham tram line, and he sees no reason why Metrolink cannot introduce them on the Rochdale – Oldham tram line.

Councillor Sykes added:  “Not only does a conductor provide passengers with reassurance that there is always someone at hand should they need assistance in an emergency, but that person can also give passengers advice about services, stops and fares, and help them to board and alight.”

“In addition, a conductor would reduce fare evasion as he or she can issue tickets on the tram, and this would also mean there would be less cash left in the machines at tram stops – and some of these have been targeted by thieves – and it would also mean that those who are rushing to work need not worry about queuing up at a busy ticket machine before they board.”

The motion is asking for conductors to be introduced for an initial 12-month period to evaluate their effectiveness with a view to making them permanent on-tram staff.

The motion reads

Oldham Council 7 November 2018 – Notice of Opposition Business – Motion 1 – Conductors on Trams

 This Council notes that the Rochdale – Oldham Metrolink tram line has the highest number of acts of crime and anti-social behaviour and the highest level of fare evasion across the network. Most worryingly, several of these criminal acts have in recent months been of an extremely violent nature. As a result, passengers have become fearful of travelling on the line and resentful of fare evaders.

Council welcomes the recent crackdown on such activities during Operation Infinity when Metrolink staff, Police officers and the Council’s Youth Engagement Team worked together to apprehend offenders and deter undesirable behaviour. However  the resources devoted to this operation were finite and the operation was time-limited, and there is public and elected member concern that, without ongoing enforcement, the progress made on making tram travel safer will be reversed.

Council recognises that other tram networks in the UK, such as those in Nottingham and in Wolverhampton-Birmingham, operate with on-board conductors, and that the merits of having these staff include:

  • Increased Revenue Collection as conductors are able to check tickets and passes, and collect outstanding fares from passengers on-board the tram
  • Improved Passenger Safety as the conductor represents a visible on-board presence to deter criminal and anti-social behaviour and can ensure that passengers are able to board or alight safely
  • Better Customer Service as the conductor can respond in person to passenger queries and to requests for assistance, such as aiding passengers with disabilities or push-chairs

Council notes that these are the same reasons that the RMT trades union cites in seeking the retention of guards on trains in its ongoing dispute with Northern Rail.

Given the reasons outlined above, and in light of the estimate that £9 million in revenue is lost across the Metrolink network in fare evasion, Council believes that there is merit in introducing conductors on the Rochdale – Oldham Metrolink tram line as a pilot project, and for an evaluation to be conducted after a trial period of 12 months of its impact, with a view to making conductors permanent should the results prove favourable.

Council therefore resolves to ask the Chief Executive to write to the Chief Executives of Transport for Greater Manchester and Metrolink outlining its position and requesting the introduction of conductors on the Rochdale – Oldham line as a pilot.

Liberal Democrat Leader says Northern Rail links are short-changed whilst Government finds even more cash for London Cross-rail

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition on Oldham Council, has condemned the Government’s recent decision to give a further £350 million bail out to the London Crossrail project whilst continuing to deny money to complete much-needed rail infrastructure projects in the North of England.

Councillor Sykes, who also serves as Oldham’s representative on Transport for Greater Manchester, said: “The cost of the Crossrail project in central London has gone up yet again to £15.4 billion and it is way behind schedule, yet this Government continues to find more and more money to bail it out.”

“When it comes to rail services there is a distinct North-South divide,” he added.  “Northern Rail services are a farce – our passengers have to travel packed like sardines in old carriages pulled by inefficient, polluting diesel trains, whilst paying a fortune in fares and there is no guarantee that their expected train will even turn up.”

Councillor Sykes stated: “There is no doubt in my mind that the North continues to be short-changed by a Government that spends five times as much money on rail projects in London as it does in the whole of the North of England.  This money would be much better invested on electrifying the railway line between Manchester and Leeds and buying some modern rolling stock.”