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?