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?