My two allowed questions at tonight’s Council meeting – Princes Gate and Sexual Harassment and Inappropriate Behaviour

When will this Game – Changer; get Game – Changing?

Mr Mayor, my first question tonight concerns the latest developments or lack of them at Princes Gate.  When plans for this site at Oldham Mumps were first unveiled in November 2014, former Council Leader Jim McMahon described them as a “game-changer for the new Oldham”.

Now we are three years on and we have yet to hear the details of who will replace Marks and Spencer as the flagship retailer on this gateway site.  Embarrassingly there are still many graphics in the town centre and elsewhere on display showing Marks and Spencer at the heart of this development.

This saga seems to be lasting as long as Game of Thrones – but it is not so captivating, bloody or exciting.  Businesses in the area, local residents and many others want and need to know what is happening – the silence is deafening.

Earlier this year we were promised an announcement in the near future and that was five months ago.

Has a commercial deal has been struck?

Did Cabinet approve a deal for Princess Gate in June?

So why such a long delay in making an announcement?

Now five months on from the Cabinet meeting earlier this year and still no news.

I am sure lots of people in our Borough will be keen to hear what is going on and what the plan is?

It is long overdue some “game-changing” on this site started to happen would the Leader of the Council agree.

 Q2 – Sexual Harassment and inappropriate behaviour

Mr Mayor, for my second question tonight I would like to turn to another issue that is currently of great public interest and concern.

I am sure that colleagues in this chamber will have been as unsettled as I was to hear news of seemingly widespread instances of sexual harassment in Parliament.

Such reprehensible behaviour will bring Parliament further into disrepute; something we as Councillors should very much regret as this will also further undermine the electorate’s overall faith in the functioning of any aspect of British democracy – including that of local government.

Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that she will be instituting a new code of conduct in Parliament and we must hope that this will help address the issue.

But Mr Mayor, tonight I would like to ask the Leader for reassurance that here at Oldham Council we are one step ahead of the crowd in having robust and exemplar policies regarding sexual harassment in place.

Policies that enable and encourage those amongst our staff, or indeed our elected officials, who suffer this indignity to report such incidents.

That we have a support network in place for victims.

All such reports will be rigorously investigated.

Offenders will be swiftly disciplined.

But we also provide protection from malicious allegations.

Apparently in Parliament an idea is being explored that staff will be able to report concerns to an external, independent body.

I would suggest to the Leader that perhaps to make our own procedures even more robust this might be worthy of consideration?

But above all, Mr Mayor, I would like the Leader tonight to strongly affirm that we at Oldham Council have a policy of zero tolerance for such behaviour, whether it is by an employee, senior officer, contractor, partner or councillor.

Liberal Democrat Leader requests Update on Impact of Brexit for Oldham Borough

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has written to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jean Stretton, requesting an update be brought to the next Council (Wednesday 8 November) for the consideration of Councillors.

Councillor Sykes explained: “I first wrote to the Council Leader at the time of the referendum requesting an impact assessment and this was kindly circulated to elected members.  A further report then followed in December 2016, but this was almost twelve months ago and a lot of water has gone under the Brexit Bridge since then so an update is now in my view urgently needed.”

Councillor Sykes is particularly concerned to see what the impact of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without an agreed ‘deal’ might mean for the citizens and economy of Oldham.

He added: “Although this initially seemed an unlikely outcome, recent statements by senior Conservative Government ministers and the slow progress of talks have made me more fearful that not only may this happen, but that it is increasingly likely.”

Councillor Sykes has specifically asked the Council Leader for information about the likely impact of Brexit on:

  • Oldham’s social care workforce
  • The loss of the structural investment funding that was previously secured for the Borough from the European Union; this is estimated to be £8.4 billion per annum across the whole of the United Kingdom
  • The loss of a formal means of consulting local government which is currently made available by the EU through the Committee of the Regions

He explained: “A significant number of social care workers within the UK have come to our country from other European countries to carry out this necessary and demanding role.  The vast majority of these employees work diligently, patiently and sensitively to ensure that the needs of our elderly and disabled residents are met.”

“My worry is that such workers will perceive the UK as becoming a less inclusive and more hostile environment as Brexit approaches, with requirements for them to register with the authorities to continue to work and – I regret – reports of abuse and on occasion assaults being carried out on EU citizens in increasing numbers.”

“In such an environment, I, for one, would not blame them for wishing to return home but this would result in a situation where there may be insufficient British citizens to fill these vacancies. How then can we ensure that the needs of our most vulnerable people continue to be met?”

“I have asked the Council Leader to advise me how many of the employees in Oldham’s social care workforce are from EU nations, so that we can begin to plan to meet any recruitment shortfalls.”

Councillor Sykes is also concerned about the loss of EU grants to a deprived Borough like Oldham.

He said: “Although, in the referendum, there was a lot of talk about how much EU membership was supposedly costing the United Kingdom taxpayer, there was little discussion about how much was returned to the UK by the European Union in grants. Approximately £8.4 billion per annum came back to this country as structural funding; much of it to the more economically and socially deprived areas, of which Oldham is unfortunately one.”

“I have asked the Leader to identify how much Oldham will lose in structural development funds after Brexit takes effect. We have a lot of regeneration projects going on in our Borough, and my concern is that some of these may not be able to be delivered without EU funding.”

The third area of concern that Councillor Sykes has is the loss of influence that local government will have in government decision making after Brexit.

“At present, local government is formally consulted by the European Union on its proposals via a formal mechanism, the Committee of the Regions. There currently appear to be no proposals by the UK government to replace these arrangements after Brexit. I have asked the Leader and Chief Executive if they were join me in lobbying UK government to agree to replace these consultation arrangements after Brexit takes place.  As Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on the Local Government Association I am also myself able to put pressure to bear on Ministers in the corridors of power.”

The text of the email from Councillor Sykes to Councillor Stretton

From: Howard Sykes
Sent: 26 October 2017 17:19
To: Cllr J Stretton
Cc: Carolyn Wilkins; Paul.Entwistle@oldham.gov.uk; (A) Kay Gibson (kay.gibson@oldham.gov.uk)
Subject: Re-evaluating the Impact of Brexit on Oldham Council and our Economy

Did mean to raise this at group leaders early this week.

Dear Jean,

Re-evaluating the Impact of Brexit on Oldham Council and our Economy

In advance of Council, I wanted to write to you to request an update in the next Green Book (or at the latest for the December meeting) on the likely impact of Brexit.

Our last update was in December last year, and I would particularly like to receive an update of the impact on our economy of the worst-case scenario – where the United Kingdom exits the European Union without an agreed deal.

Although this initially seemed an unlikely outcome, recent statements by senior Conservative Government ministers and the slow progress of talks have made me more fearful that not only may this happen, but that it is increasingly likely.

I am particularly concerned about the impact of Brexit on local government in three regards:

–      The impact on our social care workforce

–      The loss of £8.4 billion in structural investment funding

–      The loss of a formal means of consulting local government which is currently made available by the EU through the Committee of the Regions

So I would like to raise three specific questions with you that relate to these:

–      What percentage of the social care workforce in Oldham are EU citizens?

–      How much structural impact funding will be lost to Oldham and what will be the impact?

–      Assuming Brexit happens, will you and the Chief Executive join me in lobbying government to ensure that post-Brexit, the government will give local councils a formal consultative role?  I will of course also do my best through the Local Government Association to pursue this agenda.

Many thanks for your attention to these matters

Best wishes.

Howard

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Opposition.  Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Oldham Council.  Member for Shaw Ward.  Member for South Ward Shaw & Crompton Parish Council.  Office: Room 343, Level 3, Civic Centre, West Street, Oldham OL1 1UL.  T: 0161 770 4016  F: 0161 770 4026  E: howard.sykes@oldham.gov.uk  W: http://howardsykes.mycouncillor.org.uk Twitter: @Howard_Sykes  Facebook: /Councillor Howard Sykes  Home: 5 Ballard Way, Shaw, Oldham OL2 8DU

My two allowed questions at tonight’s (13 Sept) Oldham Council meeting – Payment of Invoices and Free Bulky Waste collections

Oldham Council 12 September 2017 – Leader’s Questions

Question 1 – Invoices

Mr Mayor, my first question relates to how this Council supports small businesses in this Borough.

I am sure the Leader is aware that in April of this year the Leader of her party announced that a Labour Government would ‘declare war on late payment’ to small businesses.

Speaking at an event organised by the Federation of Small Businesses, the Labour leader called it ‘a national scandal’ that big companies were withholding more than £26 billion from suppliers, forcing 50,000 of them out of business every year.

Local Labour MP Debbie Abrahams commented favourably on this.  She has been championing a similar local campaign ‘Be Fair – Pay on Time’.

She reported at the time that over 400 businesses in Oldham East and Saddleworth have said they are struggling to pay staff because of late payments and 66 went bust.

All very commendable – I am sure we all want to see a thriving small business sector in our country and especially in our Borough – and cash flow difficulties caused by late payment kills businesses.

So why is it that Debbie doesn’t seem to have publically taken Oldham Council to task?

For the average length of time this Labour Council takes to pay an invoice was 24 days in 2015 / 2016, when it was only 15 when the Liberal Democrats ran the Council, I was Leader.

Mr Corbyn also said that a Labour government would require any company bidding for a public sector contract to pay its own suppliers within 30 days and would look at introducing fines for persistent late payers.

This Council will have to be careful that the promised legislation doesn’t extend to penalising Councils who follow the same practice – for it is likely that Oldham would have to pay a hefty fine.

For in 2015/16, the number of invoices this Council paid after 30 days was 15,247, when it was only 8,051 under the Liberal Democrats.  And the current system does not even allow us to identify which invoices are delayed because of disputes and which because of inefficiency.

This Administration makes a great play of its deal with Oxygen Finance whereby suppliers can be paid in five days instead of 30 in return for paying an ‘Early Repayment Fee’, but why should businesses pay us money to receive the money that they are owed by us more quickly?

In my day, the Liberal Democrat Administration simply placed more emphasis on paying our suppliers, especially our local suppliers promptly.

So can I ask the Leader tonight what she will now do to ensure that this Council will ‘Be Fair to our small businesses and Pay on Time’?

Question 2 – Free Bulky Bobs Collection

Mr Mayor, for my second question I would like to turn to the issue of bulky waste collections.

I was glad to see that the Council is looking to re-tender for the bulky waste collection service.

I would like to reveal what appears to be a closely kept secret – that under the current contract delivered by Bulky Bobs some residents are still able to access a free bulky waste collection services.

I say closely kept secret – because even I did not know it until recently and I am sure that many members in this Chamber will not know of it either.

For a little known fact is that when charging was first introduced by the new Labour Administration in 2012 there was, in part due to the pressure and concerns the Liberal Democrats had, an acknowledgement that certain low income groups must still be able to access a limited free bulky waste collection service.

This was to ensure that they were not “disproportionately disadvantaged” by the charge for this service, as defined by the 2010 Equalities Act.

So any customers who are – I quote – “Any customers physically disabled, infirm due to old age, or pregnant are entitled to one free collection a year.”

Interestingly this proviso is not mentioned on the Council’s website or in any public papers for the recent Cabinet meeting at which it was agreed to re-tender the contract.

Nor can the information be found on the website of Bulky Bob or on Bulky Bob’s Facebook page.

So if you were one of these eligible “disadvantaged” customers, or a carer for them, you would not know the concession existed nor how to access it.

So, Mr Mayor, my second question to the Leader tonight is.

Can she confirm that this concession exists under the current contract and that it will be maintained under the new contract?

And can she also say how this concession will be publicised to eligible customers in future?

Works at Holy Trinity Church, Shaw

The works are still ongoing due to a problem that the contractor encountered with the condition of the iron railings, which basically fell apart in places when they were detached from the stone pillars; requiring careful restoration off site by specialists before being signed off for reinstatement/ fitting.

The problem with the railings has been resolved and they will be reinstated by the end of September 2017.  Other works are progress as planned.

Asking your views

As Liberal Democrats, we listen to your views and concerns on local and national issues.  Your views matter to us.  We are here to represent you and to achieve the best deal for Shaw and Crompton, so it is important that we understand what issues matter to you and what things can be done to keep our area a great place to live.

Please take a few minutes out of your day to fill in this survey, to let us know what matters most to you.

You can access the survey at www.shaw.residentssurvey.co.uk

As always, let us know if there are any issues that need resolving in the local area and we will do our best to help with these.

Local Plan consultation – Liberal Democrat response – make sure you make your voice heard

The consultation started on 10 July and ends of 21 August.

Details of the local plan can be found at https://www.oldham.gov.uk/info/200585/local_plan

Responses can be submitted online at http://oldham-consult.limehouse.co.uk/portal/oc/planning/spi or emailed to spi@oldham.gov.uk or returned by post to: Strategic Planning and Information, Economy, Skills and Neighbourhoods, Room 310, Level 3, Civic Centre, West Street, Oldham OL1 1UH.

Below is the letter the Liberal Democrats have submitted.

Strategic Planning & Information, Economy, Skills and Neighbourhoods, Room 310 Level 3, Civic Centre, West Street, Oldham OL1 1UH

15 August 2017

Re: OLDHAM COUNCIL LIBERAL DEMOCRAT GROUP – RESPONSE TO CONSULTATION ON THE OLDHAM LOCAL PLAN

The Oldham Council Liberal Democrat Group; the official opposition, comprising of nine elected members of the Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council wish to make this collective submission in response to the consultation on the Oldham Local Plan.

Given that the Oldham Local Plan “will form an integral part of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF)” our response mirrors that made to the consultation on the GMSF.

In the GMSF, the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester have drawn up plans to meet the projected future need for 4,000,000 m2 of industrial and warehousing premises and 227,000 new homes in the county by 2035.  The vision projects a population growth of 294,800 and 199,700 additional jobs across Greater Manchester.

In our view, the GMSF consultation document provided insufficient analysis of how these deductions for population and economic growth were made and was therefore devoid of justification for the additional land demands.

The GMSF plan requires 690,000 m2 industrial and warehousing space and 13,700 homes in Oldham Borough.

Housing

Referring first to housing, the monitoring report identifies that there has been a shortfall in recent years in the completion of new dwellings against expected targets and that there is a need to complete an additional 3,560 dwellings by 31 March 2021 to meet the original projections.

Our worry is that the situation may present the danger of unwanted housing development on Oldham’s Green Belt and OPOL (other protected open land).

Under the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework proposals of the 13,700 new homes proposed for Oldham approximately 3,000 will be located on sites in Shaw and Crompton and other tracts of land are designated for industrial development.

To the Liberal Democrat Group, and too many of our constituents, these plans represent a massive and inequitable land grab in Shaw and Crompton with the devastation of our local Green Belt and OPOL (other protected open land).

Under GMSF, it is proposed that new properties will be built at Cowlishaw, in the Beal Valley, Rushcroft, the Whitfield Farm area over to Newhey and around Gravel Hole and Low Crompton.

Adjacent sites at Broadbent Moss (Oldham), Hanging Chadder (Oldham) and land East and West of the A627M (Rochdale and Oldham) if developed would also see a significant erosion of the Green Belt land in the so called “Northern Gateway”.

The Oldham Local Plan monitoring report has a target that 80% of new residential development will take place on previously developed land, yet in 2015/16, 96% of new or converted dwellings were located on this land.

It is the view of the Liberal Democrat Group that there is no justification for reducing our aspiration and effort to build on previously developed land.

We do not believe that there is any need for the construction of a large number of properties (or indeed any properties) on Green Belt or OPOL land.  New homes should first be built on Brownfield sites, on sites where planning permission for housing development has already been granted and upon the many derelict and the unloved sites in our town centres and districts.

Furthermore it is our view that conversions should take place so every empty mill and factory, where viable, is utilised for housing and that the large number of empty homes should be brought back into use.

It is our view that the Oldham Local Plan should make plain that these will be tenets upon which housing development will take place in this borough. We should work on the belief that our Green Belt and OPOL sites remain protected.

It is also unfortunate that the GMSF consultation document does not identify the many such sites that are available across the Borough other than those that currently sit outside Oldham’s Local Development Framework (formerly the Unitary Development Plan).

It is our view that the Oldham Local Plan should ultimately list these sites and that team of officers working on the Oldham Local Plan should work with Ward Members and the public to identify appropriate sites with potential for development for inclusion.

Within the Local Plan, housing development should also be apportioned across the whole borough rather than disproportionately in Royton, Shaw and Crompton as the GMSF does at present.

It is our view that the Oldham Local Plan should include a commitment to proportionality so that any one or two districts in the borough are not overwhelmed with new housing, and in order that new householders may have a greater choice of the area in which they wish to live.

Transport

It is important too that the Oldham Local Plan addressed the need for very significant investment in transport infrastructure.  Improved transport is a critical obstacle to be overcome to ensure the success of the expansion desired in the GMSF.  Many of the strategic allocations are sited near our motorway corridors, ostensibly to take advantage of existing networks.

However, our existing motorways are frequently constrained by high levels of congestion resulting in unacceptable journey times and additional traffic jams on feeder and local roads. The projected growth of industrial warehousing, office space and new homes will require monumental investment in transport infrastructure.  It is of paramount importance to ensure that the transport infrastructure is in place before other building takes place.

All the sites identified, especially those in Shaw and Crompton are devoid of good vehicular access and there is no obvious way to make the necessary improvements.

Cowlishaw has no acceptable roads leading into the proposed site.  The topography around the Whitfield farm area makes it difficult to envisage an elegant solution to site access.  Similarly the Beal Valley site is currently served only by a narrow road and the desire to facilitate access to this site by enhancing links to Shaw and Crompton Metrolink Station seem incredulous; the only current access, via Beal Lane, is saturated with existing traffic and HGV movements to and from existing businesses which are large distribution centres.

Other Infrastructure

The increase in population will necessitate provision of additional services.  It is vital that the Oldham Local Plan addresses these needs and the GMSF fails to do so.

In Shaw and Crompton, the necessary infrastructure to support even our existing population is lacking.  We have primary schools that are already overcrowded and full; a secondary school that is falling apart; a dilapidated Health Centre that is near cardiac arrest; no swimming facilities or dry leisure provision; precious few youth facilities and no municipal tip.

Under the proposals, 3,000 homes will be built in Shaw and Crompton for growing families.

These new residents will need more primary and secondary school places; more GPs and dentists; leisure and shopping facilities; and new highways and more buses and trams to get them there.

And Oldham Council’s decision to close and not replace the Crompton Pool and Gym now looks a little short-sighted given the number of new young residents that will need to learn to swim and the number of adults that will want to keep fit.

The Environment

It is vital that the Oldham Local Plan contains a strong commitment to retaining and enhancing our local beauty spots and sites of biological and scientific importance.

An important vision of the GMSF is that Greater Manchester becomes as well known for the quality of its environment as for its economic success.

Green Belt plays a role in this but there are important green spaces, parks, rivers and canals in the heart of our urban communities which are equally valuable. The protection and enhancement of our blue and green infrastructure should be a central theme of our local strategy.

In view of the above aspiration, it was frustrating and difficult to understand why the specific green sites in Shaw and Crompton were proposed with the GMSF.  There was been a lack of balance in the review and failure to give necessary weight to environmental and quality of life issues.

The vast majority of sites are notably attractive open spaces that provide pleasure, relaxation, and health benefits to local residents as well as our wider community.  The sites include public footpaths enjoyed by many dog-walkers, ramblers and walking groups.  Many of the Public Rights of Way are important to the historic Shaw and Crompton Beating of the Bounds walk and Crompton Circuit walks.  These locations also provide one of the few opportunities for people to undertake horse riding in safety which is particularly of concern for young and inexperienced riders.

These sites are further enhanced by a diverse range of flora and fauna and importantly provide those ‘green lung’ areas which minimise urban sprawl between built up conurbations.

Two of the sites include small but nevertheless important rivers within their boundaries; the Rivers Irk and Beal (Cowlishaw and Beal Valley respectively) help to prevent flooding and are attractive features of the two sites.

Additionally the Cowlishaw site is renowned for upwell of numerous local springs and given to serious flooding. The area has deep unstable subsoil that will require significant pilings leading to excessive construction costs.

Cowlishaw and Beal Valley also contain Sites of Biological Importance and these must be retained.

In regards to Saddleworth there is only one Strategic Site in the Greater Manchester Spatial Plan, which is Robert Fletcher’s in the Greenfield valley, which has long been seen as needing a strategic view and plan to avoid piecemeal development.  Indeed the Parish Council presented an outline plan for the valley some years ago and has done so again in response to the spatial proposals.

The plan proposes some 120 houses and 100 ‘lodges’ which one assumes, given past happenings, would become houses for some 220 residences.

These houses given the lack of public transport or facilities and the preference for high value housing would do nothing to lessen the need for affordable housing in the area.

The topography and lack of transport links and the high value of local scenery makes other large sites hard to find in Saddleworth especially given the presence of the Peak National Park there.

Saddleworth is, however, very vulnerable to the number of other smaller sites, some of them astoundingly unsuitable, offered for development in addition to those in this strategic framework.

The Green Belt and open spaces within Oldham are areas of pleasant natural beauty that make us unique in Greater Manchester.

Conclusion

The key point in our submission is that the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group firmly believes that in the Oldham Local Plan our precious Green Spaces should be protected.

We strongly advocate that no building on Green Belt or OPOL be undertaken until developments are first undertaken on Brownfield sites, on sites where planning permission for housing development has already been granted, and upon the many derelict and the unloved sites in our town centres and districts; and also after the conversion of every mill and factory into housing use and after every empty home has been brought back into use.

Only when all of these things have been done should we then, and only then, consider developing any part of our precious Green Belt.

This must be the central tenet and heavily emphasised as Council policy in the finalised Oldham Local Plan.

If this runs contrary to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework then, in our view, so be it. It is important that our Oldham Local Plan emphasises what is right for Oldham, its environment and its people, not what other parties across Greater Manchester might think is right in development terms for our Borough.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE