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.