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

Liberal idea to establish NHS 70 Years Ago

On the week of the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service, the Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, asks Oldhamers to recognise that it was first a Liberal idea before it was implemented by the post-war Labour Government.

Councillor Sykes said: “On 5 July 1948, we marked the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service, probably Britain’s best-loved public institution.  Many of us are rightly proud that Britain led the way in establishing a universal, free-at-the-point-of-need health service following the Second World War.  Most of us have had good reason to be grateful that excellent medical care from dedicated staff has been available to us at some point in our lives, maybe even at the very start of our life, paid for through general taxation.  Despite being under threat from Conservative Government austerity cuts, the NHS is still respected and admired the world over as a model of healthcare to aspire to.”

Councillor Sykes added: “Although many admirers may see Aneurin Bevan, Attlee’s Labour Minister of Health, as the architect of the NHS, it was in fact the brainchild of Liberal economist and reformer William Beveridge.  Beveridge was commissioned by Churchill’s war-time Coalition Government to write a report about how the nation should be rebuilt after the tribulations of the Second World War.  In his report, published in 1942, he recommended the establishment of a comprehensive welfare state, including the need to establish a ‘National Health Service’.”

Councillor Sykes concluded: “At the end of the Second World War in Europe, all three major political parties, Conservative, Labour and Liberal, had commitments in their 1945 Election Manifestos to establish an NHS; all three would have done so, it just happened to be Labour that was put into power to do it.  So let us celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS with pride whatever our political allegiance, but also remember that it was a Liberal who came up with the idea of the NHS in the first place, and a Liberal who gave the service a name.”

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.

‘Unfair Fares Increase’ faced by Shaw and Crompton Tram Passengers under Greater Manchester Mayor’s Zone Proposals

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has written directly to the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham opposing proposed fare increases for passengers taking the tram from Shaw and Crompton into Manchester.

Under the Mayor’s recent proposals to introduce zonal fares across Greater Manchester, commuters travelling into Manchester from Shaw and Crompton, and vice versa, will be hit with a 4.5% to 6% fare increase.

Councillor Sykes, who represents Oldham on the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, supports the introduction of zonal fares, contactless payment and daily fare capping, as these are all proposals that Liberal Democrat Councillors in Greater Manchester have been seeking for several years, but he has real concerns about the impact of the new zonal fares for local passengers travelling into Manchester.

Councillor Sykes explained: “The Mayor is proposing to establish four fare zones in Greater Manchester.  Shaw and Crompton is in the outer Zone 4.  All other Oldham stations are in Zone 3, Derker is on the boundary.  This will mean that passengers wishing to travel from Shaw and Crompton into Manchester city centre for work or leisure – or vice versa – will have to pay significant more than any passengers joining elsewhere in the Borough.”

“Shaw and Crompton passengers will see increases in their fares by 4.5 – 6%.  My question to the Greater Manchester Mayor is ‘Why?’  In my view this defies common sense, and it is also unfair.  Oldham is one Metropolitan Borough so surely Shaw and Crompton should be in the same zone as the rest of the Borough?”

Councillor Sykes is concerned that this will discourage commuters from taking the tram to work or indeed taking the tram to look further afield for work.  He added:

“If we want to promote a free labour market across Greater Manchester, with employees choosing to travel to expanding places of business by tram, this does not provide any encouragement.  In addition because of the proposed reduction in off-peak fares to Rochdale, Shaw and Crompton will be more likely to spend their leisure time there to the detriment of Oldham’s night-time economy.”

Councillor Sykes is also concerned that these proposals appear to mask the near-20% fare increase over three years being implemented by the Mayor and Labour Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

Commenting Councillor Sykes said: “This will be a huge fare increase which will be a extra financial burden for many local passengers.  And in my view any fare increase is neither necessary, nor justified.  The tram network is in massive profit; little action is being taken to collect revenue from fare evaders; passengers on the Rochdale – Oldham line have suffered from an increase in on-board and trackside anti-social and criminal behaviour, including several vicious attacks at tram stops; there is poor operational performance on the Rochdale – Oldham line; and we have still not got promised direct link to Piccadilly, the principal mainline station for Greater Manchester.”

The letter is below:

Mr Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, GMCA, Churchgate House, 56 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6EU.

Dear Mayor Burnham,

Consultation on Metrolink Zonal Fares

I have chosen to write to you directly on this matter as the online consultation provides little latitude for me to effectively express my views on this matter as a Shaw Councillor representing my constituents who use the busiest Metrolink stop on the Rochdale – Oldham line and as a representative for Oldham on the Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) Committee.

Whilst the concepts of zonal fares, contactless payment and daily fare capping are in principle to be welcomed – indeed these are proposals that Liberal Democrat Councillors in Greater Manchester have championed for several years to help bring our Metrolink service in line with practices on the London Underground and into the 21st Century – I have real concerns about the current zonal proposals because of their impact on my constituents and it is disappointing that the TfGM Committee was not consulted prior to the proposals being made public.

Under your current proposals, the Greater Manchester tram network will be split into four zones, with passengers charged one fare for travel within a single zone and a different fare for travelling across one or more zones.  It is proposed that Shaw and Crompton will be in Zone 4, whilst all of the remaining stations in the Borough will be in Zone 3. Derker is on the boundary.

In my view this defies common sense. Oldham is one Metropolitan Borough so surely Shaw and Crompton should be in the same zone as the rest of the Borough?

Passengers taking the service from Shaw and Crompton will pay significantly more than those in the rest of Oldham Borough to travel into Manchester for leisure or to work as fares will increase by an inflation busting 4.5 – 6%. This will include an increase in the price of an Annual Commuter Ticket to £1,100, a significant sum.

And let us not forget that these increases will also hurt the many hundreds of people who use Metrolink to travel to work in Shaw!

If we want to promote a free labour market across Greater Manchester, with employees choosing to travel to expanding places of business by tram, this does not provide any encouragement.

In addition because of the proposed reduction in off-peak fares to Rochdale, Shaw and Crompton will be more likely to spend their leisure time there to the detriment of Oldham’s night-time economy.

In addition, these proposals, whilst being presented as some temporary largesse to the cash-strapped travelling public, mask the massive 19% fare increase proposed by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority on Metrolink over the next years – a huge fare increase by a fifth which will be a tremendous extra financial burden for many local passengers.

I cannot see how any fare increases can be justified when:

  • the tram network is in massive profit
  • insufficient action is being taken to collect revenue from fare evaders
  • passengers on the Rochdale – Oldham line have suffered from an increase in on-board and trackside anti-social and criminal behaviour, including several vicious attacks at tram stops
  • there is poor operational performance on the Rochdale – Oldham line
  • we have still not got promised direct link to Piccadilly, the principal mainline station for Greater Manchester.

I do hope that my comments can be taken on board as part of the consultation and I should welcome your response to the comments made.

Yours sincerely.

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.”

I urge Shaw and Crompton residents to respond to this by the 17 June – public asked to share their thoughts on Metrolink fare zones

I would urge people to ask that Shaw and Crompton is put in Zone 3 like the rest of Oldham Borough’s tram stops.

TfGM statement below:

Public asked to share their thoughts on Metrolink fare zones

A public engagement exercise has launched today, Friday 1 June, giving the public the chance to give their feedback on proposals to introduce a zonal fares system across the Metrolink network.

A special webpage has been developed that sets out the proposals in detail, including proposed zones and fares.

The proposal would replace the existing system with an easy to understand four-zone system, offering simpler, more flexible and better value fares.

Fares would be calculated based on the number of zones you travel in, with each zone only counted once.

Return fares (peak and off-peak) would be replaced by daily travel cards allowing unlimited travel within the selected zones.

Clearer, fairer and more flexible, the change would cut the current 8,500 stop-to-stop fare combinations to just ten.

Significantly, it would also help to pave the way for a fully-integrated ticketing system for Greater Manchester.

If approved by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority in July fare zones would be introduced in early 2019.

The public are being asked to share their feedback on the proposed changes via an online survey. The closing date for replies is midnight on Sunday 17 June.

More information about the changes can be found at www.tfgm.com/zonal

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.