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.

Petrol filling station – for Asda Supermarket, Greenfield Lane, Shaw, – appeal again refusal

FULL DETAILS ARE IN THE LINK BELOW ALONG WITH HOW PEOPLE CAN SUBMIT THEIR VIEWS ON THIS MATTER AND WHERE AND WHEN THE APPEAL WILL BE HELD, WHICH IS A PUBLIC MEETING ANYBODY CAN ATTEND.

ASDA planning appeal details

Shaw and Crompton Liberal Democrat Councillors are disappointed that Asda have proceeded to appeal their plans for a petrol filling station.

This is despite the recommendation of Council Highways Officers that this development is unsafe, and the strong objections of local residents in relation to traffic congestion as well as the concerns of residents living directly opposite the proposed site who’s right to a peaceful life will undoubtedly be disrupted by a petrol station literally on the doorstep of the terraced houses.

Royal Bank of Scotland to shut in Shaw

Commenting Shaw Liberal Democrat Councillor Chris Gloster stated.

The closure of the Roya‎l Bank of Scotland is yet another blow to Shaw Town Centre.  When RBS announced the closure of the Oldham Branch late last year, I wrote to the Chief Executive of RBS asking him to consider extending the opening times of the Shaw Branch which is currently operating on  a three day week,  especially in view of the imminent closure of Barclay’s Bank in Shaw.  They declined this request.

As it stands Shaw and Crompton will now have no main stream banking services whatsoever other than the Post Office.

It is a sad fact of life that town centre banking services are quickly becoming extinct due to the rise in popularity of Internet banking, convenient for some but highly inconvenient for ‎others, particularly businesses and people without access to  the Internet, most commonly the elderly and vulnerable..

Some people simply prefer not to use Internet banking so they are not at risk of increasingly clever Internet fraud.

As an RBS customer myself I am disappointed that after the Yorkshire Bank closed, they canvassed myself and other residents of Shaw and Crompton to open an account at their branch only for ‎them to shortly after reduce hours and now close.  The bank is always busy when open so there clearly is demand.

I think RBS have missed a golden opportunity here, all banks want customers, where better to build your client base when you are the only bank in town?

I will again write to RBS outlining my concerns and seek assurances that at a minimum, the RBS cash machine outside Tesco Express on Market Street ‎will be retained, and ascertain what plans they have for the machine currently located outside the Branch.

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.”

Grass cutting

A number of residents have been in touch about grass cutting or the lack of it.

The Council suspended the majority of grass cutting due to the drought conditions but now we have hit wet and warm the grass is once again romping away. (Normal for September) The approximate cutting regime for most grass is based around a three weekly cycle.

Hopefully areas not touched for a month or so will be dealt with first and most this week.

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.”

Pencil Brook Culvert Repairs – construction starts Sept 18 for 12 weeks – update

Update of News Letter issued in July 2018

Since the issue of the newsletter last month and the Drop-in session on the 25th July, we have carried out another CCTV inspection of the culvert running through the Valley Rise wooded area and into Lower Fields Rise.  This has revealed that since the last CCTV inspection in 2015, the culvert has significantly deteriorated in two sections within the wooded area.

We had hoped that the culvert could be repaired using a cured in place lining technique.  This involves inserting a resin impregnated sock it the pipe and curing it with ultraviolet light.  Unfortunately two sections of the pipe of over 100 metres in length are in such poor condition now that they cannot be repaired in this manner.  Indeed the condition of the pipe in the worst area is so bad that collapse could be imminent.  It will be necessary to dig down and replace sections of the pipe. The pipe is 6 metres deep and this is a difficult task which will require much heavier plant and equipment.  It will also be necessary to stockpile arisings to backfill the trench.

Earlier this year we visited site with Nik Anderson, the Oldham Council, Senior Arboricultural and Countryside Officer, who has responsibility for managing the woods.  We reviewed the tree removal and pruning works that would be necessary to complete our works.  At this stage we had assumed that some excavation to replace pipes would be necessary.  The extent of the pipe replacement will now be greater than originally envisaged and the plant and equipment needed for the work will be bigger and heavier.  We will revisit site with Nik Anderson to review the clearance work that is required, and the reinstatement and replanting that will be needed.

Due to the nature of the heavy plant required and the increased scope of work, for safety reasons it will necessary to close the wooded area to pedestrian access for the duration of our work.  We would expect that this would be for up to 12 weeks in duration.

We apologise for the inconvenience this work will cause and would assure you that we will reopen the woods as quickly as possible. It is vital that this works takes place quickly as the consequence could be collapse of the pipe which would result in serious local flooding. For your information photographs of the pipe condition from the CCTV survey have been included on the rear of this newsletter.

 Timescales
•           Commence construction works early September 2018
•           Complete construction works in woods November 2018

 

Issues with tractors and trailers and other vehicles

I am regularly contacted about the above so have drawn together the following information below so residents can report matters direct to the appropriate agency.

It is only via such reports these matters get any priority attention.  I would encourage all with concerns to do so.

Parking

If vehicles are causing an obstruction, residents should report times and number plates to the Police.  This can be done online, through 101 number, online live chat or via Crimestoppers.

  • 101 Number
  • CrimeStoppers: crimestoppers-uk.org Tel: 0800 555111
  • GMP Live Chat: http://www.gmp.police.uk/content/triage.html?readform and select the live chat link at the bottom of the page.

Land fill, waste importation, state of the land

Environmental Agency: Concerns over land fill, waste importation, state of the land.  Residents to report as much information as possible.  Witness statements, photographs etc. Tel: 0800 807060

Tractor or trailer issues

DVSA: Tractor or trailer issues, operator’s license, vehicle registration numbers.  Tel: 0300 123 9000

DVSA, North West Region, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, Broadgate, Broadway, Chadderton, Oldham, OL9 9XA