My two allowed questions at tonight’s Council meeting 11-12 July – a gateway unfit for a prince, an unwanted old mongrel, and school places or rather the lack of them

Q1 Leader Question – a gateway unfit for a prince and an unwanted old mongrel

Mr Mayor, the new Leader has talked about his plans to revise the Masterplan for the Oldham Town Centre.  I am sure everyone in this chamber, myself included, will look forward to seeing the revised proposals.

But first let me raise with the Leader tonight the issue of outstanding developments on two other town centre sites – that of Prince’s Gate and of Hotel Future.

The Council’s website still proclaims Prince’s Gate is “one of the most ambitious redevelopments for our town centre since the 1980’s”.  Former Leader Jim McMahon called it “a game-changer for the new Oldham.”

Version 1 of this Royally-named scheme was due to open in 2017, but it collapsed when the flagship retailer Marks and Spencers pulled out despite a £9million plus sweetener to fit out their new store and a promise of rent free occupancy for six months.

On then to Version 2, minus M&S or may be just an M&S Food Hall.  And now another Labour Council Leader, Councillor Jean Stretton, who was supposed to announce a new development partner for the site in the summer of 2017.  Some 12 months on, not a shout nor a sign – so perhaps we are onto Version 3, now we have yet another Labour Council Leader?

Mr Mayor, Prince’s Gate was supposed to deliver 700 jobs and £21 million a year to the local economy.  Instead it has so far cost the Council Tax payers of Oldham many millions in undisclosed abortive costs spent on marketing, planning and regeneration professionals as well as the costs of site assembly and clearance.

And what do we have to show for it – a very, very costly car park.  Truly then a gateway fit more for a Pauper than a Prince.

Let us next turn to another site – the ‘will it, won’t it go ahead’ hotel and conference centre on our doorstep, the development adjoining the Queen Elizabeth Hall, formerly known as Hotel Future.

Poor Hotel Future has become like an unwanted old mongrel when it was once a Crufts pedigree.

It was first a bespoke hotel training establishment offering courses in the hospitality industry, then it became a standard hotel from a standard hotel chain, then the plan was abandoned when the site, including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, was scheduled for demolition.

And now the new Leader is holding out the promise of refurbishing the QE Hall and perhaps putting the hotel back on site.

In any case, the joke has clearly been again at the expense of Oldham Council Tax payers.  It was revealed in a recent response to a Freedom of Information Act request that £418,670 has been spent on this project between 2011 and its abandonment in July 2017.

Here then is my final question.

Will the Leader please end the misery and tell us what development will be done, when it will be done and with whom it will be done on the Prince’s Gate and the Hotel Future sites?

Q2 – Council 11 July 2018 – Leader’s Question – School places or rather the lack of them

For my second question to the Leader tonight, Mr Mayor, I have to return to an issue I raised with his predecessor almost exactly one year ago today – namely the lack of availability of places for the children of our Borough in the schools of their choice.

I am sorry to have to tell you, Mr Mayor, colleagues, that one year on, the situation is now worse not better!

This year, in Oldham, 387 children missed out on a place at any of their preferred secondary schools.  Yes that is right ANY of their preferred schools.

That is one in nine Year 6 pupils or 10.9% to be exact.  Of those who got a place at one of their preferred secondary schools, only 73% got their first preference.  That compares badly with the national picture where 82% got a place at a first preference school.

Overall we were bottom of the class – the worst performing local authority in Greater Manchester – when it came to offering school places!

That’s almost 400 children (and their parents) failed by our system, not getting their first choice of secondary school, and not getting their second or third either.

And I regret that this is even worse than last year when I could report to Council that 8.9% of pupils did not secure a place to start at any of their preferred schools in September 2017.  That is 2% more than 12 months ago.

Mr Mayor, as I said last year, and I make no apology for saying it again, this situation is scandalous – we can do better, much better and we must do better, for the sake of our children and their educational future.

Because if we do not offer children a place at a secondary school that they want to go to how can we inspire them to strive to do their best in their final years of schooling.

I look forward to the Council meeting when I can ask the Leader a positive question about education in our Borough – I am sorry to say that with the current level of performance that I cannot see this as being at any point soon.

I am pleased that the replacement Royton and Crompton School is now beginning to be built in my part of the world, and that we also have a promised expansion at Crompton House School, albeit with the caveat that we in Shaw and Crompton are anxious to ensure that these places are first directed at local pupils.

However for colleagues in Saddleworth and the families they represent, the replacement school at the Diggle site still appears far off and uncertain, years behind schedule.

I would therefore like to ask the Leader what has been done to make more secondary school places available from this September; what is being done to get the Saddleworth School project back on track; and what can be done to ensure that the Crompton House expansion means first and foremost more places for local children?

Government Inaction on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals ‘a Blow’

The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group has hit out at Government inaction over reducing the maximum possible stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2 per play.  Despite promises to introduce the changes as soon as possible, the government has now put back the changes to 2020.

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition, is proposing a motion tonight at week’s full Council meeting calling for more national and local action to tackle problem and underage gambling.

Responding to the disappointing news, Councillor Sykes said: “This is a real blow. Problem gambling is a blight on the lives of the individuals affected, and those of their loved ones.  For many, the problem starts with Fixed Odds Betting Terminals where players got hooked on repeatedly gambling, often large sums, without fully realising the financial trouble that they are stoking up for themselves.”

“Despite promises to tackle this by introducing a maximum £2 stake, this government has kowtowed to the gambling industry and put back the changes to 2020.  We need action on this now, not in two-year’s time!  As Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on the Local Government Association, I shall be adding my voice to those of colleagues in my own party and others that this change is urgently needed.”

Liberal Democrats seek Action to Tackle Problem Gambling

The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group is sponsoring a motion at this week’s full meeting of Oldham Council (11 July) seeking local action and more money from central Government to tackle problem and underage gambling.

The proposer of the motion is Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Group Leader and Leader of the Opposition on Oldham Council, who said: “Problem gambling is a blight on the lives of the individuals affected, and those of their loved ones.  For most, gambling is an occasional ‘flutter’ on the outcome of a sports match or at the races, or a small weekly outlay on the National Lottery; it is a recreational activity pursued for fun but in the hope of a big win.  But for a minority, gambling has become a real problem, an addiction that becomes obsessive and costly with victims losing hundreds or thousands of pounds every week.  It drains household finances, impacts on physical and mental health, and results in criminal activity, substance misuse, and family and marriage breakups; like loan sharks, problem gambling is a curse on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”

Councillor Sykes and his Liberal Democrat colleague, Councillor Chris Gloster, who is seconding the motion, are particularly concerned at the rise in online gambling as this is carried out away from licensed premises and so participants have no supervision when they play.  Increasingly this is leading to more vulnerable gamblers getting into more serious debt and in more young people taking up gambling, as internet access is improving, particularly on smart phones, this is likely to become an even bigger problem in future years.

Councillor Sykes added: “In our motion, we are calling upon the Gambling Commission, which is responsible for regulating the industry, to implement further measures to reduce problem gambling, discourage young people from becoming addicted to gambling, and to support gamblers with an addiction.  We also want the Council and its partners to work with the charity Gamble Aware to ensure that we are following the ‘best practice’ in this Borough, and to take the charity’s Gambling Toolkit into our schools and colleges to help inform our young people about the dangers of gambling.  Lastly we are calling on Government to provide Councils and local health authorities with more money to help us support individuals with a gambling addiction as these services are currently woefully inadequately funded.”

Motion – Tackling ‘Problem’ and Underage Gambling

 Council notes that:

  • The UK has the largest regulated online gambling market in the world, generating approximately £4.7 billion in gross gambling yield per annum.
  • The Gambling Commission is responsible for regulating this market.
  • There are an estimated 7 million on-line gambling accounts, with almost one in five gamblers now playing on-line.
  • This trend is moving upwards as more people possess smart phones and internet connectivity speeds continue to improve.
  • The Gambling Commission estimates that on-line gambling will generate 50% of all gross gambling yield by the end of the decade, up from 34%.
  • Most people who gamble do so for enjoyment and without developing a ‘problem’; however, according to GambleAware, there are an estimated 430,000 ‘problem’ gamblers. Typically ‘problem’ gamblers stake more money than they can afford and become addicted to the activity. Consequently they often suffer higher levels of physical and mental illness, debt problems, relationship and family breakdowns, substance misuse and criminality.
  • It is estimated that the cost to the public purse of supporting ‘problem’ gamblers could be up to £1.2 billion per annum, yet, according to GambleAware, only 2% are receiving treatment.
  • As on-line gambling is out of sight, carried out away from licensed premises where trained staff can intervene, it is anticipated that there will become more ‘problem’ gamblers and more young people gambling.
  • Despite their public health duties, Councils are not classed as ‘responsible authorities’ for addressing ‘problem’ gambling under the Gambling Act of 2005.

Council believes that:

  • With the rise of on-line gambling, further action needs to be taken by the Government, by the Gambling Commission and by the gambling industry to ensure that vulnerable persons, such as ‘problem’ gamblers and young people gambling, are provided with additional safeguards.
  • Local health authorities should be provided with adequate additional funding by central government to provide treatment to ‘problem’ gamblers
  • Local authorities should be regarded as ‘responsible authorities’ in supporting ‘problem’ gamblers and young people gambling, given their public health duties and adequate additional funding should be made available from central government for them to do so.
  • Schools, colleges and youth centres can also play a big part in educating young people about gambling.

Council welcomes:

  • The Government’s recent decision to reduce the maximum stake per play at Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2 in response to public concerns and those raised by politicians from all parties.
  • The Gambling Commission Review of March 2018 which recommends further safeguards for vulnerable customers gambling on-line (namely the age verification of customers, identifying customer gambling behaviour that is ‘problematic’ and interacting with them to address this, and making the terms and conditions of gambling services more transparent) and identifies issues awaiting review (particularly whether gambling on credit should be prohibited).

Council resolves to:

Ask the Chief Executive to write to:

  • The Gambling Commission to urge it to work as quickly as possible to implement the policy recommendations identified in Section 1.18 of the March 2018 Review, and to progress the areas of further work identified in Section 1.19 of the Review, particularly that relating to gambling on credit.
  • The Secretary of State for Local Government requesting the Minister recognise that local authorities should be regarded as ‘responsible authorities’ in addressing ‘problem’ or under-age gambling in their areas and provided with adequate additional government funding to enable them to do so.
  • The Secretary of State for Health requesting the Minister provide adequate additional funding to local health authorities to provide treatment to ‘problem’ gamblers.
  • The Secretary of State for Education requesting that education on the dangers of gambling be included within the national curriculum and that adequate government funding be provided to state schools to enable this to take place.
  • Ask the Chief Executive to send copies of these letters to our three local Members of Parliament and the Mayor of Greater Manchester and to seek their support for the Council’s position.
  • Ensure that information is displayed on the Council’s website to ‘signpost’ residents with a gambling ‘problem’ to the providers of relevant services, such as GambleAware and the National Gambling Helpline, to support them with their addiction.
  • Ensure that all schools, colleges and youth centres in the Borough are made aware of the Gambling Toolkit produced by GambleAware, which is available at http://fastforward.org.uk/gamblingtoolkit/
  • Ask the Overview and Scrutiny Board and Licensing Committee to consult with GambleAware and other relevant parties to ensure that this Council and its partner agencies are following best practice is raising public awareness of, and effectively addressing, ‘problem’ and under-age gambling in this Borough.
  • Ensure that the Council’s Gambling Policy reflects any recommendations that results from this work by the time of its renewal in January 2019.

Barrier gate at Shore Edge leading to Brushes Clough and Crompton Moor

Apologies for any inconvenience, but the barrier gate at Shore Edge will be closing anytime between 6pm and 7:30pm every evening until further notice.

This is just a temporary measure to help keep Crompton Moor safe from fire.

A lot of people are still going up in the evenings and lighting barbecues, and we hope this act will act as a deterrent whilst the ground is so dry up on the moor.

Please help keep the moorland safe from fire; by not lighting barbecues, campfires, and by taking great care when disposing of cigarette ends.

If anyone sees fire or smoke up on the moor, or anywhere else for that matter, please call the Fire Brigade on 999.   The nearest postcode for reference is OL2 8LS.

Liberal Democrats vow to fight to save Oldham’s Greenbelt from house building threat

The Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council is gearing up for the next round in its fight to save Oldham’s Greenbelt from housing.

In just a few weeks’ time, Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham will be publishing his latest proposals for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (the GMSF) which will identify where he wants housebuilding to take place across Greater Manchester over the next twenty years.

Last year, public opposition, backed by support from Liberal Democrat Councillors across Greater Manchester, forced the new Mayor to withdraw the original proposals to build homes on greenbelt across the county, including many thousands in Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth, Chadderton and Royton.

The new proposals will be the subject of further public consultation.

Commenting Shaw Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, said: “Last time, the public and Liberal Democrat Councillors gave Labour a bloody nose for its cheek in attempting to concrete over our beautiful green fields and hillsides, creating an unwanted blot on the landscape.”

“The Liberal Democrats recognise that we shall need more homes, including affordable homes for first-time buyers and renters and homes for people living independently with disabilities, but our Greenbelt is irreplaceable so we will continue to oppose any plans to build there when there are unused brownfield sites that can be built on and empty mills which can be converted into residential accommodation.”

“And we also want to see big improvements to our roads, public transport and amenities to cope with the extra demands that more housing will bring.”

Councillor Sykes added: “In March of last year, the Oldham Liberal Democrats brought a motion to full Council demanding we withdraw from the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and establish our own fifteen year Local Plan identifying our own housing needs and housing sites.  In a typical example of Labour hypocrisy, their Councillors shed crocodile tears over building on the Greenbelt but then opposed our proposals to withdraw from the GMSF plan and draw up our own priorities in consultation with local people by using their majority to amend the motion by removing reference to these demands.”

The Oldham Liberal Democrats wanted to see a Local Plan for the Oldham Borough where new housing development takes place first:

  • on brownfield or derelict sites
  • on sites with existing planning permission for housing
  • by converting long-term empty mills, shops and offices into homes
  • by bringing existing long-term empty homes back into use

The Liberal Democrats also want to see firm commitments made to invest in those areas where new housing is to be built to provide better roads, improvements in public transport, more school places, and increased capacity in local doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries and health centres.

Councillor Sykes said: “In Shaw and Crompton, we already have primary schools which are bursting at the seams and an overburdened and run down health centre; without more investment in our transport infrastructure and better, new public facilities we simply cannot cope with any more people.”

“The Liberal Democrats will be making its position crystal clear in response to the consultation – No building on our Greenbelt – and I would urge those residents who share our concerns to also respond with their comments before the deadline to the consultation. More information about the GMSF can be found at the website https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/GMSF and residents can also register to receive updates by email.  Let’s work together to save our precious Greenbelt.”

Crompton Moor Sunday 27 May 10:30am fencing repair with the volunteer rangers

Our planned task if you can spare your valuable time for this Sunday, 27 May 2018, is to repair fencing at the mast, or thereabouts, to prevent motor cycles entering the moor.

The current weather forecast is surprisingly good, being ‘sunny intervals and breezy’, likely high / low of 21º/11º and breezy at 11mph so bring the sun cream and ensure you have your favourite hot & or cold liquids, the appropriate clothing, footwear and a packed lunch if you are up for the day; however, you know being in the open at the mast the weather can change without any warning.

Meantime, if you have any issues that you may wish to discuss prior to Sunday, please do not hesitate to email (on either address) or text / phone me on 07961107860. Given the logistics of this task, and the tools / materials required,  please could you let me know if you intend to join us on the day.

I look forward to seeing you in the Crompton Moor Car Park ~ 10.30 on Sunday. Thank you.  Kindest Regards

Edward John Fulton (aka Ed / Eddie), Countryside Volunteer Ranger, (Mob) 07961 107860 [Calls may be recorded], (Text) 07961 107860, (Fax)  01706 661813, (E)  edward@edwardjohnfulton.uk, (E) edward.fulton@btinternet.uk

Liberal Democrats welcome Extra Cash for Community Safety

The Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council has welcomed recent news that an extra £100,000 will be awarded to Oldham Council for community safety from the Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Commenting, the Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, said:

“We welcome this extra cash from the Deputy Mayor, but £100,000 will not go very far, so it is a real shame that this Council’s Labour Administration chose to reject our budget amendment in March this year that would have made six times as much money available over two years, £650,000, to tackle environmental crime and pay for Closed Circuit TV and alley gating schemes.  This commitment reflected the importance that we as Liberal Democrats place on making our communities safer.”

“Perhaps Labour will use the £100,000 to restore the cuts they have made in youth service funding so that districts like Shaw and Crompton can have their local services restored to provide young people with positive activities to help prevent the boredom that leads a minority to resort to anti-social behaviour and crime in our communities?” He added.  “This was a cut that the Liberal Democrats also wanted to overturn in our March 2018 alternate budget.”

Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet and team announced for 2018/19

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has today announced the appointment of his Shadow Cabinet Team and membership of outside bodies and committees for 2018/19.

Councillor Howard Sykes said:  “I am looking forward to once more leading the opposition team on Oldham Council. The Council will have a new Labour Leader and a reshuffled administration.”

“Voters can rest assured that the Oldham Liberal Democrats will remain constant in opposing waste and inefficiency and in always speaking up for fair treatment for our citizens and for value-for-money and common sense,” he added.  “As ever, the Liberal Democrats remain the only party holding Labour to account on Oldham Council, and we shall continue to take that responsibility seriously.”

Shadow Cabinet Members: 

Name of Councillor Portfolio
Howard Sykes MBE Economy and Enterprise (Opposition Leader)
Hazel Gloster Education and Culture
Julia Turner Children’s Services
Garth Harkness Employment and Skills
Derek Heffernan Health and Social Care
Dave Murphy Neighbourhood Services
Diane Williamson Policing and Community Safety
Diane Williamson Housing
Chris Gloster Finance and Corporate Resources (Opposition Deputy Leader)

 Official Spokespersons / Lead Members on Boards and Committees: 

Name of Councillor Board / Committee
Howard Sykes MBE Transport for Greater Manchester Committee
Chris Gloster Audit Committee
Diane Williamson Overview and Scrutiny Board
Garth Harkness Performance and Value for Money Committee
Hazel Gloster Planning Committee
Chris Gloster Licensing Committee
Diane Williamson Standards Committee
Howard Sykes MBE Health and Well-being Board
Dave Murphy Petitions and Traffic Regulation Orders
Howard Sykes MBE Commons Registration
Howard Sykes MBE Selection
Hazel Gloster GM Scrutiny Pool

District Executives: 

Name of Councillor District Executive
Diane Williamson Chair, Shaw and Crompton
Garth Harkness Official Spokesperson, Saddleworth and Lees