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?

Lib Dems call to address mental ill health in schools

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Saddleworth North Garth Harkness will be proposing a motion on Wednesday 11th July 2018 addressing issues around young people’s mental ill health. The motion will be seconded by Shadow cabinet member for education and Shaw Councillor, Hazel Gloster

Councillor Garth Harkness has been working with MIND to improve mental health understanding in Saddleworth along with financing mental health courses for residents in Saddleworth and young people of the Saddeworth youth committee to increase awareness, identify warning signs and promote self-resilience.

Councillor Garth Harkness said “I have been working on mental health in my own school around mental health strategy and policy. The problem is huge all staff need training, there needs to be mental health first aiders in schools with clear guidelines for staff and a designated mental health lead . Approximately 10% of 5-16 year-olds have a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder. A further 15% of 5-16 year-olds have problems that put them at risk of developing mental health problems.”

Shaw Councillor Hazel Gloster said “We need to ensure all schools promote resilience, mindfulness and positive mental health along with skills to manage social and emotional difficulties to be taught in the curriculum. The government have talked about mental health but they still don’t back it enough and kids don’t get enough help until it is way down the line. Early help is the key”

“Recent calls from government have called for more work to be done on supporting young people with mental health difficulties and also possibly include this in future inspection regimes.”

Councillor Garth Harkness added I welcome the work done by the Health and Wellbeing board and the employment of a mental health school advisor but I know waiting times for adults with mental health difficulties are bad enough but they are horrendous for children!  Schools need to be clear on where to signpost children to self-help and explore school councillors and in house help”

Wednesday 11th July 2018 – Notice of Opposition Business –

Motion  – Addressing Mental Ill-Health in Schools

This Council notes that:

In March 2016 the Department of Education produced advice for school staff titled ‘Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools’ this guidance identified that:

  1. Approximately 10% of 5-16 year-olds have a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder.
  2. A further 15% of 5-16 year-olds have problems that put them at risk of developing mental health problems.
  • Recent calls from government have called for more work to be done on supporting young people in schools with mental health difficulties and also possibly including this as an assessed component of future inspection regimes.

Council welcomes the:

  • Recent plan adopted by Oldham’s Health and Wellbeing Board to transform the borough’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) by employing additional staff to bring down waiting times to six weeks.
  • Employment of a specialist mental health school advisor.

Council believes that an aspiration to ensure positive mental health and well-being in the students and staff of all of our academies, colleges and schools should be a high priority, and that we should support them to each have:

  • an appropriate strategy in place
  • a designated Mental Health Lead to coordinate, and monitor, the delivery of that strategy
  • Mental health First Aiders in each academic year group to provide first-hand immediate support
  • Mental health Peer Mentors where appropriate
  • Access to mindfulness and similar programmes
  • Access to professional Counsellors in the secondary and tertiary sectors

The strategy of every educational establishment should focus on:

  • Promoting positive mental health in all students and staff
  • Training staff and peer mentors so they are aware of common mental health conditions; the signs of, and risk factors for, mental ill-health; how they might support students in crisis or otherwise in need; and the support services available to these students and their families
  • Promoting self-help strategies and online resources (such as those relating to personal resilience and mindfulness) to students and staff to enable them to better manage their own mental health

Council resolves to ask the Lead Cabinet Member(s) to work with the Health and Well-being Board to determine how these aspirations can be made a reality, and provide a report back to full Council on progress made within 12 months.

Proposed by.    Cllr Garth Harkness                          Seconded by .Cllr Hazel Gloster

Sykes slams social care report delay

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Opposition and the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, has slammed the Conservative Government for delaying further the publication of a promised Green Paper on the future funding of social care.

In the March 2017 Budget, the Conservative Government said that it would publish a Green Paper on social care in order to allow a public consultation to be held and promised to do so in the summer of 2017.  This was then put back to summer 2018 and recently Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP announced it will now be published in the autumn.

Commenting Councillor Sykes said: “This extra delay is yet another example of the prevarication shown by this uncaring Conservative Government in making policy about the future of our under-threat social care system.  Due to consistent underfunding the provision of quality care to our elderly is now in jeopardy, and an increasing burden is being placed on unpaid family carers.”

He added: “In 2015, the then-Coalition Government, with the Liberal Democrats as junior partners, agreed in principle to the proposals of the Dilnot Commission which recommended that there be a cap on lifetime social care charges and a more generous means-test.  In July 2015, almost immediately the Conservatives assumed office alone, the new Government postponed the introduction of these sensible measures, and decided on their course of prevarication.”

“I would welcome the opportunity to comment on the Government proposals, as I am sure would many others in local government and the caring professions, but these constant delays deny us that opportunity, and suggest increasingly that when it comes to social care this Government hasn’t a clue.  Our older citizens deserve quality, affordable care and we should all be sure as to how we will pay for it – this is not the time for further delay, we just need to get on with it!”

Potholes Chamber Road, Shaw

A number of people have been in touch about the above.

I have continued to pursue the matter with the Highways Department and have now received some further information from them which I would like to share with you.

From: Jane MacKenzie <Jane.MacKenzie@unitypartnership.com>

Sent: Thursday, 5 July 2018 12:02

To: Howard Sykes

Subject: FW: Pot holes on Chamber Road, Shaw – 3644

Dear Councillor Sykes

Thank you for your communication with the Highways Team with regards to Chamber Road, Shaw.

Following an inspection a number of defects were noted in the carriageway and works orders have been issued for the repairs.  Due to the location of some of the defects it may be necessary to close the road whilst repairs are carried out so in order to minimise disruption the Highways Operations Team will program the works to take place during the school summer holidays.

If you wish for further information with regards to these issues please contact the highways email address highways@oldham.gov.uk

Please rest assured,  I will continue to pursue this matter with the Highways Department.

Flag flying at Oldham Civic Centre, England in the World Cup and others

 

I have had a number of enquiries regarding Flag Flying at the Civic Centre recently in terms of England and the World Cup.

There are two flagpoles at the Civic Centre and the protocol is for the Union Flag to be flown at all times on the left hand side pole as you look at the Civic Centre from Rochdale Road.

The other flagpole is used to raise other National flags that the Borough has links and also many organisations including Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, and Armed Forces.

It is also used to fly St George’s flag, St David’s, St Andrew’s and St Patrick’s for cultural and religious celebrations with the UK.

The full Fag Flying policy is available on the Council’s website, see link below:

https://www.oldham.gov.uk/downloads/file/2348/flag_flying_policy

It appears that there is some misinterpretation circulating on social media and elsewhere about the St George’s Flag which is flown here on the days that England play games in the European Championships and FIFA World Cup.

It was raised last Monday for the game versus Panama, and will again on Sunday against Tunisia and again this Thursday for the game against Belgium.

If England go through after the Group Stages, then we will continue to fly St George’s flag for each game that they play until they are either knocked out, or dare we hope that they may get all the way to the final and win.

We don’t fly it for the whole duration of the tournaments as it clashes with many other important dates in our Civic calendar such as Armed Forces Day and Council Meeting where our own Borough Flag is flown.

Hope this helps clear up any misunderstandings.

Liberal Democrats vow to fight to save Oldham’s Greenbelt from house building threat

The Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council is gearing up for the next round in its fight to save Oldham’s Greenbelt from housing.

In just a few weeks’ time, Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham will be publishing his latest proposals for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (the GMSF) which will identify where he wants housebuilding to take place across Greater Manchester over the next twenty years.

Last year, public opposition, backed by support from Liberal Democrat Councillors across Greater Manchester, forced the new Mayor to withdraw the original proposals to build homes on greenbelt across the county, including many thousands in Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth, Chadderton and Royton.

The new proposals will be the subject of further public consultation.

Commenting Shaw Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, said: “Last time, the public and Liberal Democrat Councillors gave Labour a bloody nose for its cheek in attempting to concrete over our beautiful green fields and hillsides, creating an unwanted blot on the landscape.”

“The Liberal Democrats recognise that we shall need more homes, including affordable homes for first-time buyers and renters and homes for people living independently with disabilities, but our Greenbelt is irreplaceable so we will continue to oppose any plans to build there when there are unused brownfield sites that can be built on and empty mills which can be converted into residential accommodation.”

“And we also want to see big improvements to our roads, public transport and amenities to cope with the extra demands that more housing will bring.”

Councillor Sykes added: “In March of last year, the Oldham Liberal Democrats brought a motion to full Council demanding we withdraw from the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and establish our own fifteen year Local Plan identifying our own housing needs and housing sites.  In a typical example of Labour hypocrisy, their Councillors shed crocodile tears over building on the Greenbelt but then opposed our proposals to withdraw from the GMSF plan and draw up our own priorities in consultation with local people by using their majority to amend the motion by removing reference to these demands.”

The Oldham Liberal Democrats wanted to see a Local Plan for the Oldham Borough where new housing development takes place first:

  • on brownfield or derelict sites
  • on sites with existing planning permission for housing
  • by converting long-term empty mills, shops and offices into homes
  • by bringing existing long-term empty homes back into use

The Liberal Democrats also want to see firm commitments made to invest in those areas where new housing is to be built to provide better roads, improvements in public transport, more school places, and increased capacity in local doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries and health centres.

Councillor Sykes said: “In Shaw and Crompton, we already have primary schools which are bursting at the seams and an overburdened and run down health centre; without more investment in our transport infrastructure and better, new public facilities we simply cannot cope with any more people.”

“The Liberal Democrats will be making its position crystal clear in response to the consultation – No building on our Greenbelt – and I would urge those residents who share our concerns to also respond with their comments before the deadline to the consultation. More information about the GMSF can be found at the website https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/GMSF and residents can also register to receive updates by email.  Let’s work together to save our precious Greenbelt.”

Electrical works Buckstones Road, Milnrow Road, Smallbrook Road, Cowie Street, Duchess Street, Oswald Street and Linney Lane

This is a brief update following a site meeting earlier today to discuss progress of the ongoing electrical supply in the Shaw area.

There are now a number of  joint holes excavations in Buckstones Rd, Milnrow Rd, Smallbrook Rd, Cowie St, Duchess St, Oswald St, and Linney Ln.

These excavation are for them to joint and commission the previous cables we laid earlier this year.

On Milnrow Rd they are waiting for BT to move one of their boxes they have installed on top of the cable.  Apart from Milnrow Rd all jointing and commissioning should be completed over the next 3 weeks.

Reinstatements will follow as they complete each section of jointing starting Monday 11th June.