My two allowed questions at tonight’s Oldham Council meeting -12 September – Green Belt (GMSF) and Trams

Q1 Leader Question – Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – decision for Oldham Borough should be taken by all Councillors

 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.

Green waste collections in Shaw & Crompton Friday 7 Sept – leave your bins/caddies out and they will be collected tomorrow – 8th Sept

I have been informed the Council have some small pockets of Garden/kitchen waste collections outstanding in the following areas:

  • The Rises
  • George Street Area

Residents are requested to leave the bins/caddies out and they will be collected first thing tomorrow morning ( Saturday).

Liberal Democrat Leader Seeks Council Action to Reduce Male Suicide

In advance of World Suicide Prevention Day, Monday September 10, the Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has written to the Council’s Chief Executive, Dr Carolyn Wilkins OBE, urging the Council to advertise local and national services that help prevent those contemplating suicide from taking their own lives on its own website and in public buildings.

Councillor Sykes has previously raised his concerns about this issue, particularly on preventing instances of male suicide, at meetings of the full Council.  He said:  “Every suicide is shocking, but the scale of male suicide is especially shocking.  Every two hours a man in the UK takes his own life – it is the single biggest cause of death of men under 45.  One of the tragedies of this situation is that there are many agencies out there, both local and national, that can help prevent this happening – just recently in Oldham, a branch of the charity Andy’s Man’s Club opened in the Oldham Leisure Centre for just this purpose.  I have asked the Chief Executive to publicise these services in Council buildings and on our website, because this is a practical action that we can take that may well save someone’s life.”

The letter to Dr Wilkins reads:

Dear Dr Wilkins,

Monday September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day.

The statistics of male suicide are particularly shocking.  Every two hours a man in the UK takes his own life – 84 men every week.  It is the single biggest cause of death amongst men under 45 years of age.  Every single suicide impacts on 135 other people – and the relatives of anyone who commits suicide are themselves statistically more likely to take their own lives.

Male suicide is an occurrence that is not talked about enough – and we must talk about it more often.  Men frequently commit suicide because they are unable to express their feelings, anger and frustration.  Yet there are agencies out in our community that can offer a listening ear and support to these desperate individuals, including those at the point of ending their own lives.

Many are the helplines operated by local and national organisations, but recently a local branch of Andy’s Mans’ Club opened at the Oldham Leisure Centre and men can self-refer to this service which meets on Monday’s at 7pm.

In my view, as a local authority with a public health duty, we should be publicising these agencies as much as possible to those who need them.  Yet, regrettably, there is NO mention of or links to any of these agencies that I can find on the Council’s website.

I would therefore like to request that as a matter of urgency this information is made available on the Council’s website and on public notice-boards in our key public buildings as soon as possible.

This is one positive practical act that we can do that might help save someone’s life!

I shall look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes.

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE

Leader of the Opposition.

Help for suicidal thoughts

These agencies are open to those who need help.

Andy’s Man Club meets at Oldham Leisure Centre on Mondays at 7pm.

The Club can be contacted via http://andysmanclub.co.uk/contact

You can also emailed me at info@andysmanclub.co.uk

Unless it says otherwise, they’re open 24 hours a day, every day.

Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123 – this is free to call
Email jo@samaritans.org

The Oldham and Rochdale Branch is located at 5, Caton Street, Rochdale OL16 1QJ. It is possible to go to the Branch for help, but phone first. Opening times for face to face visits are:

Monday 15.00-20.00
Tuesday 18.00-22.00
Wednesday Closed
Thursday 18.00-22.00
Friday 18.00-22.00
Saturday 09.00-12.00
Sunday Closed

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day
Visit the webchat page

Papyrus – for children and young adults under 35 or anyone concerned about the well-being of a young person
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm
Text 07786 209697
Email pat@papyrus-uk.org

Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number won’t show up on your phone bill

The Silver Line – for older people
Call 0800 4 70 80 90

Backroom deal by Labour on 20-Year homes plan threatens Green Belt

Oldham Liberal Democrats have discovered that the Labour Council leaders of the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester have made ‘a backroom deal’ with Labour Mayor Andy Burnham that only they will need to sign off on plans to build new homes and factories across the city region as proposed as part of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF).  Each of the 10 authorities need to agree to the plans but previously it was the councils (and all their councillors) that agreed such matters, this has now all changed.

Commenting the Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, said:

“Local Councillors and local residents deserve a say in how many homes are built, and where and when.  The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, when it is finally approved, will be the plan to build homes across Greater Manchester for the next twenty years.   This is one of the most important decisions that will affect the lives of everyone living in Oldham Borough for the next two decades.  If we get it wrong, it will represent a disaster for our communities and for our Green Belt and green spaces.  Yet the ten Labour Council leaders are saying ‘leave it to us, we know what is best for you’.”

Councillor Sykes believes he knows why the agreement has been reached:

“When Labour’s initial plans to build thousands of new homes on Green Belt land in Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth, Royton and Chadderton were first unveiled, they were bitterly opposed by local Liberal Democrat Councillors in these areas and by many thousands of local residents.”

“Elsewhere in Greater Manchester, Liberal Democrat Councillors and residents’ groups have led the charge against these proposals.  Such was the strength of local feeling that there was a demonstration in Tandle Hill Country Park and residents from our Borough joined others from across Greater Manchester to protest in Albert Square outside Manchester Town Hall.”

“Public sentiment is the same across Greater Manchester – NO to building new homes on our green belt and YES to local Councillors and people playing their part in deciding where the new homes are built.  This agreement represents a backroom deal to make it easier for Labour to push through their plans and prevent opponents from being able to block unsuitable developments or safeguard the green belt.”

Councillor Sykes will be demanding answers: “I will be asking the Leader of Oldham Council to explain this decision and to find out whether he has any plans at all to allow local councillors to have a say on the proposed sites for development and I will let you know how he responds.  It is simply not right that such an important decision can be agreed by leaders and the Mayor rather than the 10 councils themselves.”

Labour is still letting down our school leavers

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition on Oldham Council, has praised the efforts of our Borough’s young people in achieving their GCSE’s this year, but he has also expressed his disappointment that once more they continue to be let down, and let down by the failings of the Labour Council, which is the Local Education Authority (LEA).

Councillor Sykes said:  “Congratulations to those students who have passed their GCSEs this year, and achieved or exceeded their academic goals.  This achievement is down to your hard work and dedication.  Let us hope that you go on to greater success in higher education and the world of work.  But I am disappointed that the local results show that Oldham Council continues to let down our young people by failing to deliver on the promises made by the Oldham Education Commission.  Two and a half years on and we still have a very long way to go if Oldham is truly to lead on education.”

In 2017, for the first time students received GCSE grades of 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest, instead of the more traditional A* to G.  The Government regards a Grade 4 as a Standard Pass.

Since 2016, pupils who fail to obtain at least a Grade 4 (a Grade C equivalent) in both English and Mathematics are obliged to retake the tests.  In 2017, 59.2% of pupils in Oldham achieved Grades 9-4 in both subjects; in 2018 this went down to 58.1%.  A drop of more than one percent.

Councillor Sykes added: “Although the new Cabinet Member for Education has talked up the results as good, the headline figure went down by one percent, hardly the right direction of travel.  This is far from the improvement we want and need.”

“In January 2016, at the launch of the long-delayed report of the Oldham Education Commission, then Labour Council Leader said: ‘A high-performing education system underpins all our ambitions for Oldham to regenerate and become a more vibrant place to live and work’.”

“The Oldham Liberal Democrats could not agree more.  The academic achievement of our young people at school will determine their future lives, careers, life chances and even their health and how long they will live.  It will also determine the success, or not, of Oldham as a place; so why is it that Labour continues to fail our young people, year on year?”

Street Cleaning Investment ‘Welcome but Long Overdue’ says Sykes

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has given a cautious welcome to the announcement that Oldham Council will employ more street cleaners and enforcement officers.

He questions why it was not done sooner, while in recent years this service and staff numbers have been reduced and also now whether we will now see cleaner streets everywhere across the Borough.

Commenting, Councillor Sykes said:  “This decision and U – turn by Labour to invest more in street cleaners and enforcement officers is very welcome, but long overdue.  For many years now, the Liberal Democrats have been calling for more investment in street cleaning and enforcement action in the amendments that we have proposed every year in Council to the annual budget.  Labour has consistently rejected our calls for this investment.  In the 2016 budget, it was the Liberal Democrats who called for a reversal of a specific Labour proposal to cut the enforcement team by three officers, but Labour refused.  Now we are going to recruit such officers – hiring and then firing staff is very expensive for council tax payers and bad news for staff and their families.”

“If we don’t have clean streets and tidy neighbourhoods, our Borough looks unattractive and neglected, and some residents will be more likely to engage in fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour.  Poor street cleanliness also hampers regeneration, for who is going to invest in a Borough that looks dirty.  It is a major reason for the very poor image of Oldham which we are still working to dispel.”

“During my Administration, I was proud when Oldham Council was the recipient of an award from the Tidy Britain Group for having the cleanest streets in Greater Manchester.  We need to get back to that, by getting back to basics, and one of the basics that we need to get right is cleaner streets.”

Councillor Sykes added one note of caution to his comments:  “In the proposals adopted by the Cabinet last week, the emphasis is about investing in cleaner streets in East and West Oldham.  Whilst I would not deny that there is a need for urgent action in Coppice, Glodwick and Hathershaw, ratepayers have the right to expect cleaner streets wherever they live, so I will be seeking assurances that the streets and neighbourhoods of my own constituents in Shaw & Crompton and in other districts like Royton, Lees and Chadderton, will not been neglected.”

Liberal Democrat Leader seeks renewed action on danger roads

The Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has recently written to the Deputy Leader of Oldham Council, with responsibility for highways, Councillor Arooj Shah, asking for a review of the circumstances in which highways are repaired when they become damaged and potentially hazardous.

Councillor Sykes explained why he feels a review, and more prompt action on repairing worn road surfaces is needed:

“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 policy is at least to consider potholes deeper than 40mm to be eligible for repair, but one 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.”

By way of constant, the threshold for the repair of pavements is lower at 25mm.

Councillor Sykes has asked for a Council review of the road erosion threshold to ensure that any road surface that becomes hazardous is repaired.  He 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’.”

Councillor Sykes’s letter to Councillor Shah reads (no reply or acknowledgement as of today):

From: Howard Sykes
Sent: 14 August 2018 14:58
To: Cllr A Shah <Arooj.Shah@oldham.gov.uk>
Cc: Howard Sykes <howard.sykes@oldham.gov.uk>
Subject: Road surface repairs

Dear Councillor Shah,

I am writing to you to request that you review the current threshold applicable to the repair of road and footway surfaces in the Borough.

At present, the road surface has to be eroded by at least 40mm to become eligible for repair.

In my district of Shaw and Crompton, this has meant that many roads have remained unrepaired, presenting a constant hazard to drivers and cyclists, as erosion has not reached the threshold but the road surface has become pot-holed and dangerous.  By way of constant, the threshold for the repair of pavements is lower at 25mm.

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.  Many roads have a top course that is less than 40mm so it can be totally warn away and down to the cobbles in some cases.  This cannot be fair or right.

I would like you to undertake a review of the road erosion threshold in this Borough to ensure that action is promptly triggered whenever any road surface becomes hazardous.

I look forward to your response with interest.

Best wishes.

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE

Oldham Rubbish at Recycling, say Oldham Liberal Democrats

The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group has hit out at recent figures which show that Oldham has the second lowest rates of recycling in Greater Manchester, after the city itself which has always been the lowest.  Annual figures published by WasteDataFlow show recycling rates at only 39.7% of waste in 2016/17, which compares unfavourably with high performer Trafford at 61.3%.

Commenting on the disappointing news, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition, said:  “The Labour Administration introduced three weekly bin collections supposedly to encourage recycling, but the evidence before our eyes in the wards that we as Councillors represent is that there is more and more fly-tipped waste and that it is both a health hazard and a public eyesore.”

“This Council needs to ‘up its game’ in getting more of our residents to recycle a greater proportion of their waste more often.  Landfill charges for the Council to dispose of general rubbish responsibly are very high and the cost of cleaning up after fly-tippers is phenomenal.  This is Council Tax payers’ money that could be better used to look after our aging population or improve the life chances of our young people.  We need better information and to encourage and work in partnership the public to co-operate to improve our rates.  We also need enforcement when they do not.  That is what people tell me who do their bit for the environment and recycling.”

Councillor Sykes added:  “The new Leader of the Council has spoken about the need to invest more in our street cleaning teams and in our enforcement officers, and I welcome this commitment so it is a real shame that Labour has repeatedly voted against Liberal Democrat proposals in past budgets to make these same investments through making savings in Civic Centre bureaucracy and waste.  The Liberal Democrats will happily work with the new Leader to make our Borough cleaner and more attractive, and I do hope that he will now revisit our sensible proposals to help make that happen.”

Cafe Mandels to close, hopefully new operator will be found soon

Last year Councillors were consulted about a reduction in opening hours to assist the business at Cafe Mandels, this was agreed.  Subsequently we have been asked for our views on a request from the tenant of Cafe Mandels to close down between the 31st August and Easter, a period of eight months.

All the Shaw and Crompton Councillors were of a view that this was unacceptable, however we understand that the tenant decided to terminate her lease prior to this decision being communicated to her.

Cafe Mandels is a well-used community facility in Dunwood Park and when the building was renovated and subsequently let out it was the intention that this community facility was not a seasonal one but available throughout the year.

‎Shaw and Crompton Councillors have supported this facility from its inception and will continue to do so.  We will now make sure that it is re tendered quickly and continue to support a new operator.

It is regrettable that the current tenant has decided to pull out of Cafe Mandels but her desire to close for eight months out of twelve is unacceptable to both councillors and users if the park alike.