Oldham Liberal Democrat Leader asks ‘Why can’t we use Lower Housing Figure to Save Greenbelt?’

The Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire MP, to ask him whether it would in fact be permissible for the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester to use the lower figures for expected household growth published in 2016 to decide on the number of homes to be built in the conurbation under the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

Thousands of these new homes would be built on Green Belt sites in Crompton, Shaw, Royton and Chadderton.

Figures published by Mr Brokenshire’s own department in 2012 indicated that households in Greater Manchester would increase by 213,380 by 2035, or 18.75%, yet by contrast the more recent figures issued by the Office for National Statistics in 2016 offered a projection that the rise would only be 164,006, or 14.55%.  Amongst the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester, only Rochdale has a revised higher figure.

Councillor Sykes added: “Despite a massive difference of almost 50,000 households not requiring properties, the Conservative Government has continued to insist that the original figure stands, regardless of the adverse impact on our irreplaceable green belt. I have asked the Minister to confirm whether he is still of this view.  If we could adopt the lower figure we could save much of the Green Belt.”

For Oldham, there is an expected increase of 14,955 households, or 16.55%, predicted in the figure published in 2012, but only 12,368, or 13.81%, in the 2016 projections.

Councillor Sykes concluded: “That’s a difference of 2,587 properties less to build. Interesting that corresponds to almost all of the houses that the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework proposes be built by 2035 within Oldham on the Kingsway South, Beal Valley, Broadbent Moss, Cowlishaw and Hanging Chadder sites.  And if we were to increase the housing density on allocated brownfield sites in the town centre I am confident that we could make up the difference and save the Thornham Old Road site, and some others in the Borough too.”

Councillor Sykes concluded: “The Liberal Democrats in Shaw, Crompton and Saddleworth remain completely opposed to any encroachment of housing on Greenbelt and OPOL sites whilst brownfield sites remain available, but the Conservative Government has previously insisted that Greater Manchester Councils build more homes under the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework than the latest household growth figures indicate are required.”

The letter to James Brokenshire: James Brokenshire MP GMSF 19.02.19

More Oldham Children being failed: Liberal Democrat Leader disappointed at news of yet another poor school performance

The Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has expressed his disappointment and dismay on hearing news that another school in Oldham – the Oasis Academy Oldham – has failed the OFSTED test when it comes to performance.

Councillor Sykes said:  “Oldham Council and its educational partners have had years to turn around Oldham’s academic performance, but yet again we see another negative report of an Oldham school rated ‘inadequate’ and in need of ‘improvement’ in several key areas, including the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.”

“When the Oldham Education and Skills Commission Chair Baroness Estelle Morris stated on the publication of its long-awaited report in January 2016, ‘we are on the edge of being able to achieve great things here in Oldham’, her words did not contain the note of caution ‘but not yet’.  Three years on and we are still ‘not yet’”.

“Oldham’s Labour leaders have promised time and again that the report’s recommendations, and the work of the Partnership that was established to deliver them, would bring about a transformation in our educational attainment, but we have yet to see any real change.”

Councillor Sykes added:  “In 2013 Oasis was reported to be the most improved school in Greater Manchester, but now sadly we have seen a significant slippage in performance.  What is most saddening is that pupils have ‘underachieved significantly’, especially the most able pupils.”

“I can only hope that the school’s headteacher and staff team really will succeed in leaving ‘no stone unturned’ in a renewed effort to get back on track.  For this is yet another example of more of our children being failed by Oldham’s Labour run education system and we really must do better to be sure that our children’s futures will not be jeopardised.”

Oldham Liberal Democrat Leader surprised at deficiencies in the collection of pothole data

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has been surprised to discover that Oldham Council officers do not record the number of potholes that are reported, nor the number of potholes that are repaired.

Councillor Sykes has written to Helen Lockwood, Deputy Chief Executive – People at Place at Oldham to ask why?

Commenting, Councillor Sykes said: “This information was disclosed in answer to a Freedom of Information request.  I am very surprised that we do not collect this data as surely we need it to determine how effective our road repair work is?”

“Last November (2018), the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group brought a motion to the Council meeting seeking a commitment to the Council to repair potholes posing a hazard to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, including those of less than 40mm depth.  Although Labour watered this down to a more generic commitment, with no guarantee that these ‘surface erosion’ potholes would also be repaired, there was cross-party support that a pothole or eroded surface posing a public danger would be repaired as quickly as possible.”

“So how can we be sure that all hazardous potholes are promptly repaired when we record neither the number of potholes that are reported by the public, nor the number of potholes that are subsequently repaired? I am looking forward to receiving Ms. Lockwood’s reply.”

Liberal Democrats support Dogs Trust Clean-up Campaign on Valentine’s Day

The Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council is supporting a Dogs Trust campaign called ‘A Tail of True Love’.  The leading animal welfare charity launches this campaign every year on Valentine’s Day (14 February) to encourage dog owners who love their pets to clean up after them.

Since being elected in 2015, Liberal Democrat Councillor Chris Gloster has, like his Liberal Democrat colleagues in Shaw and Crompton, found dog fouling to be the bane of his life in elected office.

Commenting Councillor Gloster said: “Ward Councillors receive regular complaints about dog fouling.  It is both an eye-sore and a health hazard, and it has a real impact on the quality of life of many of my constituents.  Most dog owners are very responsible, and clean up after their pets, but unfortunately a few do not.”

With his Liberal Democrat ward colleagues, Councillor Gloster has been active in working to place more signs about dog fouling around Shaw to help enforcement.  He is therefore delighted to be to endorse this campaign:

“The aims of this campaign are quite simple, to encourage the many responsible dog owners to continue what they are doing and to make the irresponsible minority think again about their behaviour.  Not only is it anti-social but it is also criminal attracting a fine of up to £1,000.”

“All dog owners should take out bags to collect poop and they should dispose of it safely in a public litter bin or take it home. Otherwise the consequences could include a child being blinded by Toxocariasis after coming into contact with uncollected dog poo.”

Councillor Gloster was speaking at Dunwood Park, where local ward councillors and the Council’s District team have been working with parks department staff, the Friends of Dunwood Park and the local community to raise public awareness of the importance of owners cleaning up after their dog.  This has included children at local schools designing innovative posters to bring the message home.

At the forthcoming Council meeting in March to discuss the 2019/20 budget, the Liberal Democrats are proposing an amendment which includes a commitment to create a new Environment Task Force charged with tackling, amongst other things dog waste.

Councillor Gloster added: “I really hope that Councillors from all parties will back this proposal.  Such an Environment Task Force will have an extra £500,000 with which to tackle fly-tipping and dog fouling through enforcement, new innovative public education campaigns to change the behaviour of irresponsible individuals and the use of new technology, such as Poovers, which literally hoover up dog mess, and a real-time online tracking application to enable the public to report instances of fly tipping, dog fouling and offenders.  Similar applications exist elsewhere, for example the Poo Watch scheme operated in Worcester which my colleague, Councillor Howard Sykes, suggested Oldham Council look at many months ago.”

Liberal Democrats seek more affordable, accessible and environmentally friendly homes – But NOT on Greenbelt

The Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has responded to a consultation with Councillors on the proposed new Housing Strategy for the Borough by asking for more affordable, accessible and environmentally friendly homes to be built.

Councillor Sykes said: “More affordable homes are needed, including more homes for social-rent and for part-ownership, especially for first-time buyers and renters on a lower income who need a helping hand to get on the housing ladder.  With our growing population, we will also need more accessible properties catering for the needs of older people with disabilities, for families with one or more children with disabilities and for young adults with disabilities wishing to live independently.”

“Finally, we are all becoming increasingly aware of the need to reduce our carbon footprint to help save Mother Earth.  The Oldham Liberal Democrats would like to see more eco-homes with excellent thermal insulation and the means to produce electricity and heat from renewable sources, and, with the drive towards electric vehicles, with a charging point as standard.”

For the Liberal Democrats, a given is that housing development should not be on the greenbelt.  Councillor Sykes added: “We are totally opposed to any house building on our precious green belt when there are existing brownfield sites that can be built upon first, including cleared sites with planning permission and derelict mills and empty shops in our town centres that can be converted.  These locations are often eyesores and local people would often welcome them being brought back into productive use.  The greenbelt is irreplaceable and once lost will be lost forever – that is why so many residents in this borough are up in arms about Labour’s proposals in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.”

Copy letter below:

Tim English, PFI Principal Project Manager, Housing Strategy, Oldham Council

Dear Mr English,

The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group would like to make the following suggestions for consideration as part of the next housing strategy.

There should

  1. Be a focus on affordable housing:

A high priority should be placed upon ensuring that our affordable housing strategy is, in light of the recent comments, robust and ‘fit for purpose’

We should explore new ways of providing homes in partnership with local providers, including by investigating:

  • The option of setting up a Housing Development Company
  • Making use of reforms in the use of the Housing Revenue Account and prudential borrowing powers to finance house building by the new company
  • Accessing finance via the new LG Develop scheme recently established by the Local Government Association
  • Identifying, with partners (such as housing associations, the NHS, local developers and landowners), local land sites that have potential for housing development through the new company
  1. Be a focus on accessible housing.

For many people living with disabilities and of working age there are few housing options available to them.

Homes in the private sector frequently lack the amenities and equipment necessary for occupation and utility by someone who is disabled, and there is currently no requirement for such housing providers to market properties so equipped to suitable applicants.

The Accessible Housing Project, managed by the Oldham Housing Investment Partnership, in 2011 – 12 catalogued approximately 4,000 homes in the social rented sector (around 20% of the stock) that were ‘accessible’, providing ground-floor and / or specially adapted accommodation. However for working age tenants as many of these were located within age restricted or grouped schemes, it is seldom attractive to younger disabled applicants who wish to access employment, value their independence and who desire to live amongst their peers.

Reports on the national situation (such as the 2012 Trailblazers report ‘Locked Out’ produced by a group of young disabled adults) identified the problems that disabled people of working age encounter in finding suitable ‘accessible’ accommodation in the private rented and for-sale sectors, frustrating their aspirations for independent living, social mobility, to make a career or start a family.

In addition, the Accessible Housing Project identified a continued need for

  • Larger houses (particularly 4-bedrooms) for families with a child or children with complex disability needs.
  • Short-term respite accommodation to enable hospital discharges and rehabilitation, whilst the individual’s current home is adapted in readiness for resettlement or re-housing.
  • Bespoke accommodation for clients with complex needs currently living in supported accommodation and seeking independent living, but still requiring significant 24-hour care and support.

Indications at the time were that there would be an increasing disconnect between need and supply if corrective action were not taken to build such specialist homes in Oldham.

I know some good work has come about in recent years, and we need to revisit this to ensure we are following (and establishing) current best practice.

  1. Be a focus on sustainable housing

Built in harmony with the environment with (wherever practical and affordable) a minimal carbon footprint, highly insulated and with self-generating renewable energy sources.

The Liberal Democrats strongly believe that new housing should be built on existing brown field sites, those sites that already have planning permission, or created through the conversion of mills, shops, industrial premises and offices where these are no longer required for their original purpose.

We also believe that housing should be co-located with places of employment, health care, education, worship, recreation and shopping to create holistic communities that provide for the needs of their residents, and that they should be well-served by public transport. This will reduce the need for car journeys and so reduce the carbon footprint.

In addition, as there will in future be a drive towards electric cars replacing petrol-driven vehicles it is our belief that planning consents should in future require developers to provide an electric vehicle charging point for each house or where these comprise flatted or grouped schemes a number of shared charging points. Furthermore consideration needs to be given, in circumstances where the development is aimed at disabled residents, for the safe storage and charging of electric wheelchairs and scooters.

I thank you for your consideration of these points and I would welcome a response from you on them in due course to relay to members of my group.

Yours sincerely, Howard Sykes

CC Councillor Hannah Roberts, Cabinet Member for Housing