Liberal Democrat Leader slams further delays at Beal Valley Tip

The Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Shaw Ward Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has expressed his disappointment; but not surprise; that agents acting for the Casey Group Limited are once more seeking a three year deferment (again) on the condition attached to a planning application first granted in 1994 that they create a golf course ‘to a playable standard’ on the Beal Valley tipping site.

Councillor Sykes said: “The Beal Valley is a long-standing broken promise by Labour to people living in Shaw, Crompton, Royton South, St James’ Wards and elsewhere in the Borough.”

“When planning permission was first granted to permit dumping of waste on the site, the then Labour Administration saw the pound signs over many years from the fees that this activity would bring the Council,” stated Councillor Sykes.  “Now almost a quarter century later the people of Oldham and the four wards around the site have seen their hopes that tipping would end and the site would made good dashed time and again.”

Councillor Sykes said: “This 24 year saga seems to have been beset by a series of unfortunate disappointments and setbacks, and I do hope that if this deferment is granted that Casey’s will finally be able to carry out the work as promised.  But I will not be holding my breath and will predict now there will be no so called golf course there in three years’ time!”

“We always said it was a tip when Labour claimed it was necessary ‘landscaping and re-shaping’ to provide a golf course, he added.  “Time has proved us right and we were also right that nobody wanted a golf course otherwise it would have opened years ago!”

Liberal Democrats propose investment for better roads, cleaner streets and safer communities

The Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council will propose that in this year’s budget more money is invested on improving highways, tackling fly tipping and litter, and addressing anti-social behaviour and crime to make the Borough’s streets better and cleaner and our communities safer by finding further savings in Civic Centre bureaucracy.

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

“Local government finance has been massively, and disproportionately, hit by this Conservative Government’s so called continued adherence to austerity.  Over many years, Oldham has really felt the pain.  This year has been no different.  The Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement announced in December contained no surprises, it was simply more of the same, no additional funding, do more with less and more cuts.”

“Unfortunately, a rise in Council Tax will be a further burden for struggling households to bear.  I am only glad that there is cross-party support to maintain the Council Tax Support Scheme at its current level to help those on the lowest incomes to reduce their bills.”

Whilst the Oldham Liberal Democrats recognise that cuts are necessary, in their Budget Amendment proposals they have identified further savings which cut money from the Council’s bureaucracy rather than taking money from services.  Some of the money released through these savings they propose to reinvest to make real improvements to the Borough’s roads and communities to make them better, cleaner and safer.

Councillor Sykes commented:  “The Liberal Democrats believe that we should be waging a ‘War on Waste’ by constantly identify savings in bureaucracy to free up money to support the services that are most valued by our ratepayers.  This year, we have identified over £420,000 in further savings from the so called back office that can be put back into front-line services.”

The Liberal Democrats have identified a further £423,000 in savings each year by improving disciplinary procedures, tackling absenteeism, reducing staff car allowances for low-mileage users, cutting spending on agency staff and consultants, significantly reducing expenditure on communications and marketing, and scrapping Borough Life.

The Liberal Democrats also propose investment on enforcement so fines can be applied against drivers who selfishly and illegally use bus lanes; whilst this will cost money in the short term, over time this will be revenue raising with no impact on the responsible drivers.  This cash will then be used to fix our crumbling roads.

Councillor Sykes said:  “We recognise that our savings represent only a relatively small amount compared to the many millions that this Council has been forced to save, but this modest amount would nonetheless be significant.”

“We are proposing to spend £400,000 this year to restore the cuts Labour propose to our youth services, so helping to address the anti-social behaviour that can result from young people having nothing to do, and to invest in tackling the fly-tipping that blights our communities and in the alley-gating and CCTV schemes that help keep people safe in their homes and streets.”

“Next year, we would spend £422,000 to fund an additional £5 million investment on much needed improvements to our roads and infrastructure, and to sustain our work in public safety.  This is a practical set of common sense proposals that takes money wasted on bureaucracy and invests it in the services that matter to people.”

“The Labour Administration has recently announced a £6.2 million investment in road improvements, including £5 million this year.  Whilst this is a welcome announcement, it is disingenuous of them to claim that this was their idea as in each of our last two annual Budget Amendments we have proposed a £5 million investment; these were  investments that Labour failed to support.  If it is suddenly right to do this now, why was it not right to do it then?  How much better would our road already be if we have invested in them as we suggest two years ago?”

“The Liberal Democrats however want to go one better as, through the savings we have identified, we can fund an additional £5 million in highway and infrastructure improvements in 2019/20, sustaining the level of investment for one more year making more of our roads smoother and safer.”

Councillor Sykes also spoke about his Group’s continued commitment to funding youth services:

“The Liberal Democrats are concerned that the £100,000 in cuts that Labour are proposing to our youth services will lead to more instances of anti-social behaviour and increased pressure on our already over-burdened Children’s Social Care Services and on the Police.”

“We would restore the funding but on one condition – that a new Service Level Agreement be drawn up to ensure that funding is focused on providing youth services within each of the Districts, not simply at Mahdlo, which is a town centre venue that many young people are unable, or reluctant, to travel too.”

The Liberal Democrats are equally committed to crime prevention and public safety.

Councillor Sykes added:  “Our proposals include making £650,000 available over two years for tackling environmental crime, such as the cowboy van-and-man fly-tippers who take money from householders ostensibly to responsibly dispose of their bulky waste items and then criminally dump them by the side of our highways and in our beauty spots, and to consider applications for alley-gating schemes and for the installation of Closed Circuit Television cameras.  In wards, such as my own in Shaw, we have seen that such schemes reduce burglaries and street crime and help people feel safe in their homes and communities.”

Long-term, the Liberal Democrats have still more ambitious proposals to save money. In their Budget Amendment, they have once again called for a reduction in Councillors from 60 to 40, and for two elections every four years instead of three, to realise an estimated annual saving of £190,000. They also want to see the temporary reduction in the Council staff training budget of £150,000 made permanent, and have suggested Spend-to-Save measures, such as investing in replacing conventional street lamps with LED bulbs which use significantly less electricity, and generating money from highways advertising.

Full details of the proposals can be seen by following the link below:

https://committees.oldham.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=182&MId=6912&Ver=4

Don’t Persecute Honest Passengers, Prosecute Fare-dodgers, says Oldham Liberal Democrat Leader

The Oldham Liberal Democrats have been shocked by recent revelations from Labour-controlled Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) that an estimated one in eight Metrolink passengers are fare-dodgers.  Responding to a question from Bury Liberal Democrat Councillor Tim Pickstone TfGM bosses conceded that 12% of all journeys are not paid for.

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, who also serves as a representative of Oldham Council on the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, stated:

“The Oldham Liberal Democrats are flatly opposed to Labour plans (supported by the Conservatives) to put up fares for honest Metrolink passengers by an inflation-busting 19% by 2020 when one in eight passengers travel free.”

“Labour goes on constantly about austerity and workers having to tighten their belts when at the same time the Labour-controlled Transport for Greater Manchester is hitting these very workers in the pocket by increasing Metrolink fares by such an astronomical amount.  This will send out all of the wrong signals.  Commuters will be put off using the tram and if they do they may be more inclined not to get a ticket.”

“There are 40 million tram journeys a year so fare-dodging is estimated to cost Metrolink about £9 million in lost revenue a year.  Rather than hammering the honest passenger, transport bosses need to focus on tackling fare evasion.  12% non-payment is a disgrace.  Everyone should pay their ‘fare share’, so we say tackle the fare-dodgers.  We need more enforcement officers on the line at more times and we need to ruthlessly prosecute non-payers.”

Liberal Democrat Welcome Crackdown on ‘Van and Man’ Fly-tipping

The Leader of the Opposition and Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has welcomed a recent government announcement the new powers and guidance will be given to Councils to enable them to crack down further on fly-tipping.

As part of a consultation, the Government has announced plans to allow Councils to issue fixed penalty notices of up to £400 to householders who are found to have ‘failed to take all reasonable measures’ to ensure that anyone they employ to take away their household waste has a proper licence.  Local authorities will also be told not to charge householders who dispose of their DIY waste at municipal tips.

Councillor Sykes said:  “Fly-tipping is the bane of the lives of my constituents and an issue that features highly in the letters and emails of complaint I receive as a Councillor.  The same is true for my Liberal Democrat colleagues.  In the UK there are now over one million instances of fly-tipping every year.  It is a blight on people’s lives and a blight on our environment, and it costs local authorities big money to clear it up; money that could be better spent on elderly care and fixing roads.”

“Many instances of fly-tipping occur because inconsiderate householders try to dispose of their bulky items on the cheap by employing shadowy ‘van and man’ operators without the proper bona fides to do the job properly for them, said Councillor Sykes.  “These reckless and selfish individuals have no hesitation in disposing of the items alongside the public highway or in our Borough’s beauty spots, rather than paying the required fees to dispose of them at a public tip.”

“Householders need to be aware that if waste is illegally dumped by the cowboy operators they employ that there will be consequences.  Our enforcement officers rigorously investigate any instance of fly-tipping and if a connection is made to a householder they – as well as the operator – will also be prosecuted for their irresponsibility,” he added.  “The government’s proposal gives Councils more power to fine householders who fail to make any reasonable checks that the person they are employing to remove their waste has the necessary authorisation.”

“My advice to householders is to ask to see their licence before employing them.  You can also check the Waste Carriers, Brokers and Dealers register held by the Environment Agency online at https://environment.data.gov.uk/public-register/view/index , advised Councillor Sykes.  “If you are in any doubt, please do yourself and everyone else a favour and just don’t do it.”

My two allowed questions at tonight’s (13 Dec) Oldham Council meeting – Oldham’s Town Centre Challenge Candidate and Big Change

Council 13 December 2017 Leader’s Question 1

Oldham’s Town Centre Challenge Candidate

Mr Mayor for my first question tonight I would like to refer the Leader to an initiative launched in connection with the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) by the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham on the 17th of last month.

Mayor Burnham announced that he wanted to move away from the “developer-led, green belt approach of the past”.

This is an announcement that both I and my ward colleagues in Shaw and Crompton, as well as thousands of our constituents, will welcome, as in the original GMSF proposals Shaw and Crompton stood to be swamped by almost 3,000 new homes, other tracts of land were designated for industrial development, and our green belt and green spaces would be decimated.

After his election, the Oldham Liberal Democrats wrote to Andy Burnham to ask for the (and I quote) “opportunity to work with you to establish a revised plan that is acceptable to local ward members and our constituents, which mirrors our aspirations for housing and economic development in Greater Manchester.”

It has always been our view that there is no justification for the construction of a large number of properties (or indeed any properties) on Green Belt or Other Protected Open Land (OPOL) before new homes are first built on Brownfield sites, on sites where planning permission for housing development has already been granted and upon the many derelict and the unloved sites in our town centres and districts.

We also believe that every empty mill and factory should be converted and used for housing and that the large number of empty homes across Greater Manchester should be brought back into use.

Mayor Burnham has now invited all ten Leaders of the Greater Manchester authorities to nominate a town for inclusion in his Town Centre Challenge.

The Mayor is proposing to work with each council to bring together housing providers, public and private landowners, developers, community groups and other key stakeholders in a concerted effort to unlock the potential in these town centres, particularly to deliver “viable housing markets and sustainable communities.”

At his launch event, Mayor Burnham promised to use new planning powers and Mayoral grants “to build a new future for those towns through higher density mixed and affordable housing, with local retail and leisure facilities and supported by transport and digital connectivity.”

This sounds like potentially heady stuff, for we are not ‘Luddites’, Mr Mayor, we recognise we need to release more land for more homes for more people.

What we do not believe in is concreting over the green bits!

His plan appears to hold that promise – with an emphasis seemingly placed upon Brownfield development in towns, rather than the ‘death of the Green Belt by concrete’ approach we saw previously.

Mayor Burnham has asked Oldham to bring forward a town centre of its choice to be his development partner so Mr Mayor I would like to ask the Leader tonight whether Oldham will be nominating a town or district for the Town Centre Challenge?

If we will do make a nomination how elected members and the public can become involved in the selection?

Will we have a say on the selection and when do we have to make our nomination by?

Council 13 December 2017 Leader’s Question 2

Big Change

 Mr Mayor, I would now like to return to another very important issue that has again been raised in recent motions proposed by both sides in this chamber recently – the desperate plight of the homeless.

It is an issue that is particularly topical and poignant at this time of the year with the onset of winter.

Mr Mayor, I would like to make a practical suggestion that I feel could make big difference in this Borough.

I am referring to the Big Change scheme, a charitable programme that operates in Rochdale, Manchester, Bradford and Leeds where donors are asked to make donations to a central fund which is used to help all homeless people rather than putting money in a hat or cup on the street.

Evidence suggests that unfortunately some on-the-street donations to people who are begging helps fund drug and alcohol dependency, and can discourage them from accessing services that can help them turn their lives around.

The Big Change scheme recognises that people who are homeless often face practical barriers which need to be overcome for them to become active, independent members of their community and avoid sleeping rough.

It provides homeless people with practical items which support a long term change.  This might include paying for a deposit for a home, a training course to help improve job prospects and clothes for a job interview.

Or it could involve furnishing a new flat, including purchasing crockery, pots, pans and bed linen, as well as funding travel costs to their new home.

In the scheme run by our neighbours in Rochdale, the fund is administered by Just Giving and Forever Manchester, and applications for grants are considered by a panel which includes a former rough sleeper and representatives from charities working with the homeless.

I would therefore like to ask the Leader tonight if she will ask the Homelessness Forum to look into the practicalities of bringing Big Change to Oldham?

Oldham Liberal Democrats want LEDs to Light Way to a Green Future

At tonight’s full Oldham Council (13 December 2017), the Oldham Liberal Democrats are proposing that the Council looks to adopt LED lamps to light the Borough’s streets and council buildings.

Councillor Diane Williamson is proposing the motion: “LED lighting is the way of the future. Although there will be an initial cost in replacing existing lamps with LEDs, they cost much less to run, leading to long term savings which will free up money for essential services, and they are much better for the environment, meaning our Borough will be greener.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor John McCann, who is seconding the motion and is the party’s spokesperson on finance, proposed in the party’s 2017 alternate budget that LED lighting be adopted; a proposal endorsed by the Performance and Value for Money (PVFM) Sub Committee.

Councillor Williamson added: “This is a common sense choice for our long-term finances and the right choice for a green future. However we recognise that in Oldham we have the added complication that our street-lighting service is delivered through a Private Finance Initiative arrangement, in conjunction with our neighbours at Rochdale Council.”

“Our motion therefore asks the PVFM Sub Committee to take a further look at how the replacement of our existing lighting with LEDs can be done in an affordable and phased way over five years, and how we might look to become a signatory to the Lighten Up Campaign, run by the environmental group 10:10, as a Council fully committed to cutting our carbon footprint.”

Council 13 December 2017 – Motion – Lighten Up Pledge

 This Council notes:

  • There are an estimated 7.5 million street lights in the UK
  • In 2014, the Green Investment Bank reported that only 10% of these are LED
  • It is estimated that switching all street lights to LED would:
  • save Councils over £200 million per year, paying for half a million children to have free school meals each year or for an extra 12 million hours of social care
  • prevent over 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere every year, the equivalent of taking 400,000 cars off the road
  • take 0.5 GW off peak electricity demand, the equivalent of a coal fired power station
  • reduce light pollution as they are more directional and can employ sensors which determine when they are most needed and when they are not
  • Further cost reductions can be provided through the use of LED lighting within Council buildings
  • Affordable financing is available to Councils to make the change to LED street lights through the Public Works Loan Board, the Salix Energy Efficiency Loans Scheme and the Green Investment Group amongst others
  • That the change is possible even in a situation where the street lighting service is provided via a Private Finance Initiative model
  • That the 10:10 climate change climate group is asking Council to sign up to the Lighten Up pledge and make a commitment to going fully LED within 5 years

As a local authority committed to reducing its carbon footprint and providing residents with value-for-money services, Council recognises that a change to LED has merit, is worth investigating, and that a proposal to so was approved by the Performance and Value for Money sub-committee when it was presented as part of the alternate budget proposed by the Liberal Democrat Group in 2017.

Council therefore resolves to ask the Performance and Value for Money sub-committee to examine:

  • The practicality and affordability of replacing street lights and lighting in Council buildings with LEDs in whole or in part
  • The possibility of the Council making a commitment to replace all street lights with LEDs within five years and to making the Pledge as a signatory to the Lighten Up campaign.

OLDHAM LIBERAL DEMOCRATS CALL ON GOVERNMENT TO MAKE UK “A WORLD LEADER IN ANIMAL WELFARE”

Following the Government’s recent refusal to incorporate European law on ‘animal sentience’ into UK law, the Oldham Liberal Democrats are proposing a motion to this week’s meeting of Oldham Council (Wednesday 13 December) calling on the Government to ‘put the necessary legislation where its mouth is’ to make the UK a world leader in animal welfare.

Councillor Julia Turner, who is proposing the motion, explained: “When Parliament debated the EU Withdrawal Bill, the Government voted to reject an amendment proposed by Caroline Lucas MP that would have transferred a European Union Protocol that recognises that animals are sentient, that is they are capable of feeling such emotions as pain and contentment, into UK law. Why does this matter? Because there is a real worry that this may lead to a slide in animal welfare standards and more animals being abused and mistreated.”

Similar concerns have been expressed by the British Veterinary Association, the professional body for practicing veterinarians in the UK.

Councillor Turner also previously brought a motion on the issue of puppy farming to Council which received cross-party support. “People are rightly appalled by the misery, neglect and cruelty inflicted by puppy farmers on the animals they exploit in this abhorrent practice. Council agreed that we needed to take action on this the issue of puppy farming and that the Government needed to also, and we urged members of the public to only buy puppies from reputable dealers. The fear is that such animals may now be further abused if the Government fails to recognise ‘animal sentience’.

“We want the Government to honour its stated commitment for the UK to become a world leader in animal welfare by bringing forward the necessary legislation to make it so. I would particularly like to see new laws to increase the sentence applied to those convicted of abusing animals from the current paltry six months to five years.”

Councillor Chris Gloster is seconding the motion.

The motion reads:

Motion – The Sentience of Animals

This Council notes that:

  • An amendment (New Clause 30) to the EU Withdrawal Bill, proposed by Caroline Lucas MP, was recently defeated by the Government in Parliament. This amendment sought to transfer the EU Protocol on animal sentience set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty into UK law, so that animals continue to be recognised as sentient beings under domestic law.
  • Widespread concern has been expressed by animal welfare groups, members of parliament and the public that the defeat of this clause will lead to a weakening of the laws protecting animals.
  • Gudrun Ravetz, Senior Vice-President of British Veterinary Association, the professional body for practicing veterinarians in the UK, stated: “Enshrining animal sentience in UK law would have acknowledged that we consider animals as being capable of feelings such as pain and contentment and, so, deserving of consideration and respect. It is a founding principle of animal welfare science, and for the way that we should treat all animals. There is now an urgent need for clarity from Government on how the provisions in Article 13 will be enshrined in UK law to ensure we do not fall short of the high standards we expect as a nation of animal lovers.”
  • In recognition of this concern, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in a ministerial statement that: “This Government is committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. As the Prime Minister has set out, we will make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals.” In his statement, the Minister promises to increase the jail sentence for humans who abuse animals to five years, improve CCTV monitoring in slaughterhouses, and strengthen the ban on the ivory trade and ban micro-beads in products.

This Council:

  • Recognises that animals are sentient beings and deserving of the highest standards of legal protection.
  • Shares the widespread public concern that the defeat of New Clause 30 may represent a threat to the legal protection of animals.
  • Wishes to see this Government live up to its promise to “make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals” by enacting the measures promised by the Environment Secretary as quickly as possible.

Council resolves to ask the Chief Executive to write to:

  • The Environment Secretary to express our concern at the defeat of New Clause 30 and to seek reassurance and clarification from the Minister as to when and how the Government intends to honour its promise to be a “world leader” in this field by enacting the alternative and enhancing animal welfare legislation outlined in his Ministerial Statement.
  • Our three local Members of Parliament to seek their support for the Council’s position