Liberal Democrat Leader says a good start but more needs to be done to promote free Bulky Bobs Collections for the infirm and others

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition on Oldham Council, has welcomed the news that there have been more free Bulky Bobs collections in the first ten months of 2018 than in the same period in 2017.

This improvement has been the result from Councillor Sykes raising his concerns with the former Council Leader Councillor that the fact that Bulky Bobs still offers one annual free collection to certain residents was not being promoted by the Council.

Bulky Bobs was reappointed contractor for the service at the start of this year and it was promised there would be more promotion of the free service as part of this.

Councillor Sykes said: “This important free service was not being publicised by Oldham Council to those that were eligible for it; it was one of the best free deals that no one could see.  I only came across it by chance.  Eligible residents include those who qualify for an assisted bin collection, or who have a physical disability, are infirm because of their age, or are pregnant.”

Numbers obtained by Councillor Sykes show that there were 84 free collections between January and October 2017, but 148 between January and October 2018, nearly doubling.

However the request for a free collection can only be booked by telephone, Councillor Sykes is disappointed that there seems to be no on-line service.

Councillor Sykes added: “I am glad that the promotion is starting to work.  We need to continue to get the message out to those who are eligible to take up the free service.  However, I cannot understand why in this day and age when increasingly people access all kinds of services on-line, including more and more council services, that there is no dedicated email address/web form to which a request a collection from Bulky Bobs.”

“This is hardly a major channel shift,” stated Councillor Sykes.  “I would urge Bulky Bobs and Oldham Council to get with the 21st Century and advertise at least a dedicated email address for booking, and for now I can only urge anyone who is eligible for a free collection of bulk items to please ring 0161 770 6644.”

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.

Chancellor promises end of austerity, but no end to Oldham Council funding cuts

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has welcomed the promise by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in today’s Budget that ‘austerity is coming to an end’ and his recognition that local authorities have ‘significantly contributed’ towards the UK Government in addressing austerity, albeit through being forced to accept swingeing general cuts to their funding.

Councillor Sykes has also welcomed the promised extra funding to tackle potholes across the country and for new services to help those in mental health crisis, contemplating suicide, or living with infirmity or disabilities; however the Chancellor was short on detail when it came to rolling back the massive funding cuts that local authorities have faced since 2010.

“Some of this so called funding will not happen for a couple of years so is very much a promise of jam tomorrow,” stated Councillor Sykes.  “Also all bets are off budget wise if Brexit negotiations do not go well.”

He added:  “It is easy to promise an end to austerity, but the ‘hard working British public’ that Mr Hammond spoke so warmly of rely on the council services that have been cut to the bone, and in some cases just stopped providing them under this Conservative Government.”

“Our green spaces, cemeteries, parks and alike will continue to look even more unloved.  Streets will be dirtier, basic maintenance stopped in places our libraries and community centres some time ago.”

“The Chancellor failed to pull out a ‘promised rabbit’ for local government and other public services like police and fire.  He talked a lot about councils gaining ‘greater control’ over finances by allowing them to retain business rates and by lifting the housing cap, but the rate support grant that councils rely upon is being phased out by 2020.  For us, austerity does not seem to be coming to an end anytime soon in fact it just took a turn for the worse in our Borough.”

Countryside Volunteer Rangers Crompton Moor 28 October 18

Another volunteering Sunday falls upon us, so I hope you can join me for some drainage maintenance on the access road, amongst other tasks, although this will be dependent upon materials and tools being available.

The weather forecast for Sunday is sunny intervals and a moderate breeze, likely high / low of 8º/2º and 12 mph winds so ensure you have your favourite hot & or cold liquids, warm clothing, appropriate footwear and a packed lunch if you are up for the day – it may feel colder than it really is.

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. REMEMBER the clocks go back, & I would not want you to be early [!], although for this particular Sunday only I will be up from ~ 0930 onwards.

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 hopefully ensure the correct material and or tools are available on the day.

I look forward to seeing you in the Crompton Moor Car Park from 10.30 onwards (or earlier if it suits you also) 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