My two allowed questions at tonight’s Oldham Council meeting -12 September – Green Belt (GMSF) and Trams

Q1 Leader Question – Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – decision for Oldham Borough should be taken by all Councillors

 Mr Mayor, my first question tonight relates to a future decision which will be one of the most momentous in its impact on many of our Borough’s residents over the next two plus decades.

Namely the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) – the adoption of a 20-year housing and industrial land use development plan for Greater Manchester.

The revised proposals have been some time coming, but I understand that they will now be available for so called public consultation in October.

I also understand that a decision has recently been made by the ten Labour Council leaders and the Mayor of Greater Manchester who have decided that the ultimate decision to adopt, or not to adopt the final plans, will rest solely with them.

There will be NO requirement to bring the plan to a full meeting of each of the ten Councils for debate and a full vote on formal adoption by all councillors.

This is a complete reversal of democracy.

Members will recall that many of our residents were outraged when the initial plans to build thousands of new homes on Green Belt land in Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth, Royton and Chadderton were first unveiled.

Liberal Democrat colleagues, I and members from the seats opposite, joined them in opposing the proposals when responding to the consultation or attending demonstrations in Tandle Hill Country Park and in Albert Square.

Mr Mayor, public sentiment is still the same across Greater Manchester – NO to building new homes on our Green Belt and YES to local Councillors as the people’s representatives ultimately making the decision where new homes are built.

Ward members are elected to lead, but also to represent the constituents and the communities we serve.  How can we do this if we are denied the final vote on the plan?

If we get this wrong, it will represent a disaster for our communities and for our Green Belt.  Yet the ten Labour Council Leaders and GM Mayor are saying ‘leave it to us, we know what is best for you’.

It is simply not right that such an important decision can be taken by so few people.

It is certainly not what I and many others envisaged but perhaps it is a sign of things to come with so called devolution to Greater Manchester.

Mr Mayor, I would like to ask the Leader tonight, whether despite this backroom deal, he will still be doing the honourable thing by bringing the final plan back to a meeting of the full Council for debate and adoption.

Q2 Leader Question – Call for Conductors on Metrolink Trams

 Mr Mayor, my second question raises another issue that concerns a great many residents in our Borough, their safety when they use Metrolink.

Regrettably we have seen many disturbing instances of crime and anti-social behaviour on the Rochdale – Oldham line, several very violent over recent months and unfortunately the line has the highest number of incidents across the Network.

I welcome the recent actions of Metrolink staff, Police and our Council’s Youth Engagement Officers in tackling this blight, and the news that thirteen offenders have been arrested during the first two weeks of this operation is good news.

The operation may be called Infinity, but the resources are not and it will at some point come to an end.

Some time ago Oldham Liberal Democrats revealed shocking figures that one in eight Metrolink passengers are fare-dodgers, or to put it another way 12% of all journeys are not paid for.

There are 40 million tram journeys a year so fare-dodging is estimated to cost Metrolink about £9 million in lost revenue.

Oldham Liberal Democrats have also flatly opposed 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.

Rather than hammering the honest passenger, transport bosses need to focus on tackling fare evasion.  12% non-payment is a disgrace.

Conductors on trams would help tackle this issue and should pay for its self, whilst making the honest traveling public feel safe.  It would also drive the fair dodgers and those causing anti-social behaviour off the trams.

Other tram services in the UK have on-board staff on every service, such as the Sheffield Super Tram and on the Wolverhampton – Birmingham line.

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.

So for my second question tonight, Mr Mayor, I would like to ask the Leader if he would be willing to join me in calling upon Metrolink operators to introduce conductors on a trial basis on the Rochdale – Oldham line?

We can improve safety, tackle fare evasion and increase revenue for Metrolink – a triple win – and I do not know why we are not doing it already.

Countryside Volunteer Rangers Crompton Moor 16 September 18

As there was no event on the last Sunday of last month, I thought you would be raring to go for an additional event this coming Sunday, the 16th which I hope you can attend, carrying out fence repairs on the moor.

The current weather forecast is a light rain showers and a moderate breeze, likely high / low of 16º/11º and 13 mph winds so ensure you have your favourite hot & or cold liquids, the appropriate clothing, footwear and a packed lunch if you are up for the day.

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.

For those of you that have not already done so, please could you let me know if you intend to join us on the day, so that I can make the appropriate plan of work, and to ensure the correct material and or tools are available 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

Street Cleaning Investment ‘Welcome but Long Overdue’ says Sykes

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has given a cautious welcome to the announcement that Oldham Council will employ more street cleaners and enforcement officers.

He questions why it was not done sooner, while in recent years this service and staff numbers have been reduced and also now whether we will now see cleaner streets everywhere across the Borough.

Commenting, Councillor Sykes said:  “This decision and U – turn by Labour to invest more in street cleaners and enforcement officers is very welcome, but long overdue.  For many years now, the Liberal Democrats have been calling for more investment in street cleaning and enforcement action in the amendments that we have proposed every year in Council to the annual budget.  Labour has consistently rejected our calls for this investment.  In the 2016 budget, it was the Liberal Democrats who called for a reversal of a specific Labour proposal to cut the enforcement team by three officers, but Labour refused.  Now we are going to recruit such officers – hiring and then firing staff is very expensive for council tax payers and bad news for staff and their families.”

“If we don’t have clean streets and tidy neighbourhoods, our Borough looks unattractive and neglected, and some residents will be more likely to engage in fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour.  Poor street cleanliness also hampers regeneration, for who is going to invest in a Borough that looks dirty.  It is a major reason for the very poor image of Oldham which we are still working to dispel.”

“During my Administration, I was proud when Oldham Council was the recipient of an award from the Tidy Britain Group for having the cleanest streets in Greater Manchester.  We need to get back to that, by getting back to basics, and one of the basics that we need to get right is cleaner streets.”

Councillor Sykes added one note of caution to his comments:  “In the proposals adopted by the Cabinet last week, the emphasis is about investing in cleaner streets in East and West Oldham.  Whilst I would not deny that there is a need for urgent action in Coppice, Glodwick and Hathershaw, ratepayers have the right to expect cleaner streets wherever they live, so I will be seeking assurances that the streets and neighbourhoods of my own constituents in Shaw & Crompton and in other districts like Royton, Lees and Chadderton, will not been neglected.”

Issues with tractors and trailers and other vehicles

I am regularly contacted about the above so have drawn together the following information below so residents can report matters direct to the appropriate agency.

It is only via such reports these matters get any priority attention.  I would encourage all with concerns to do so.

Parking

If vehicles are causing an obstruction, residents should report times and number plates to the Police.  This can be done online, through 101 number, online live chat or via Crimestoppers.

  • 101 Number
  • CrimeStoppers: crimestoppers-uk.org Tel: 0800 555111
  • GMP Live Chat: http://www.gmp.police.uk/content/triage.html?readform and select the live chat link at the bottom of the page.

Land fill, waste importation, state of the land

Environmental Agency: Concerns over land fill, waste importation, state of the land.  Residents to report as much information as possible.  Witness statements, photographs etc. Tel: 0800 807060

Tractor or trailer issues

DVSA: Tractor or trailer issues, operator’s license, vehicle registration numbers.  Tel: 0300 123 9000

DVSA, North West Region, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, Broadgate, Broadway, Chadderton, Oldham, OL9 9XA

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.