Liberal Democrat Leader slams further delays at Beal Valley Tip

The Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Shaw Ward Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has expressed his disappointment; but not surprise; that agents acting for the Casey Group Limited are once more seeking a three year deferment (again) on the condition attached to a planning application first granted in 1994 that they create a golf course ‘to a playable standard’ on the Beal Valley tipping site.

Councillor Sykes said: “The Beal Valley is a long-standing broken promise by Labour to people living in Shaw, Crompton, Royton South, St James’ Wards and elsewhere in the Borough.”

“When planning permission was first granted to permit dumping of waste on the site, the then Labour Administration saw the pound signs over many years from the fees that this activity would bring the Council,” stated Councillor Sykes.  “Now almost a quarter century later the people of Oldham and the four wards around the site have seen their hopes that tipping would end and the site would made good dashed time and again.”

Councillor Sykes said: “This 24 year saga seems to have been beset by a series of unfortunate disappointments and setbacks, and I do hope that if this deferment is granted that Casey’s will finally be able to carry out the work as promised.  But I will not be holding my breath and will predict now there will be no so called golf course there in three years’ time!”

“We always said it was a tip when Labour claimed it was necessary ‘landscaping and re-shaping’ to provide a golf course, he added.  “Time has proved us right and we were also right that nobody wanted a golf course otherwise it would have opened years ago!”

Liberal Democrats propose investment for better roads, cleaner streets and safer communities

The Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council will propose that in this year’s budget more money is invested on improving highways, tackling fly tipping and litter, and addressing anti-social behaviour and crime to make the Borough’s streets better and cleaner and our communities safer by finding further savings in Civic Centre bureaucracy.

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

“Local government finance has been massively, and disproportionately, hit by this Conservative Government’s so called continued adherence to austerity.  Over many years, Oldham has really felt the pain.  This year has been no different.  The Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement announced in December contained no surprises, it was simply more of the same, no additional funding, do more with less and more cuts.”

“Unfortunately, a rise in Council Tax will be a further burden for struggling households to bear.  I am only glad that there is cross-party support to maintain the Council Tax Support Scheme at its current level to help those on the lowest incomes to reduce their bills.”

Whilst the Oldham Liberal Democrats recognise that cuts are necessary, in their Budget Amendment proposals they have identified further savings which cut money from the Council’s bureaucracy rather than taking money from services.  Some of the money released through these savings they propose to reinvest to make real improvements to the Borough’s roads and communities to make them better, cleaner and safer.

Councillor Sykes commented:  “The Liberal Democrats believe that we should be waging a ‘War on Waste’ by constantly identify savings in bureaucracy to free up money to support the services that are most valued by our ratepayers.  This year, we have identified over £420,000 in further savings from the so called back office that can be put back into front-line services.”

The Liberal Democrats have identified a further £423,000 in savings each year by improving disciplinary procedures, tackling absenteeism, reducing staff car allowances for low-mileage users, cutting spending on agency staff and consultants, significantly reducing expenditure on communications and marketing, and scrapping Borough Life.

The Liberal Democrats also propose investment on enforcement so fines can be applied against drivers who selfishly and illegally use bus lanes; whilst this will cost money in the short term, over time this will be revenue raising with no impact on the responsible drivers.  This cash will then be used to fix our crumbling roads.

Councillor Sykes said:  “We recognise that our savings represent only a relatively small amount compared to the many millions that this Council has been forced to save, but this modest amount would nonetheless be significant.”

“We are proposing to spend £400,000 this year to restore the cuts Labour propose to our youth services, so helping to address the anti-social behaviour that can result from young people having nothing to do, and to invest in tackling the fly-tipping that blights our communities and in the alley-gating and CCTV schemes that help keep people safe in their homes and streets.”

“Next year, we would spend £422,000 to fund an additional £5 million investment on much needed improvements to our roads and infrastructure, and to sustain our work in public safety.  This is a practical set of common sense proposals that takes money wasted on bureaucracy and invests it in the services that matter to people.”

“The Labour Administration has recently announced a £6.2 million investment in road improvements, including £5 million this year.  Whilst this is a welcome announcement, it is disingenuous of them to claim that this was their idea as in each of our last two annual Budget Amendments we have proposed a £5 million investment; these were  investments that Labour failed to support.  If it is suddenly right to do this now, why was it not right to do it then?  How much better would our road already be if we have invested in them as we suggest two years ago?”

“The Liberal Democrats however want to go one better as, through the savings we have identified, we can fund an additional £5 million in highway and infrastructure improvements in 2019/20, sustaining the level of investment for one more year making more of our roads smoother and safer.”

Councillor Sykes also spoke about his Group’s continued commitment to funding youth services:

“The Liberal Democrats are concerned that the £100,000 in cuts that Labour are proposing to our youth services will lead to more instances of anti-social behaviour and increased pressure on our already over-burdened Children’s Social Care Services and on the Police.”

“We would restore the funding but on one condition – that a new Service Level Agreement be drawn up to ensure that funding is focused on providing youth services within each of the Districts, not simply at Mahdlo, which is a town centre venue that many young people are unable, or reluctant, to travel too.”

The Liberal Democrats are equally committed to crime prevention and public safety.

Councillor Sykes added:  “Our proposals include making £650,000 available over two years for tackling environmental crime, such as the cowboy van-and-man fly-tippers who take money from householders ostensibly to responsibly dispose of their bulky waste items and then criminally dump them by the side of our highways and in our beauty spots, and to consider applications for alley-gating schemes and for the installation of Closed Circuit Television cameras.  In wards, such as my own in Shaw, we have seen that such schemes reduce burglaries and street crime and help people feel safe in their homes and communities.”

Long-term, the Liberal Democrats have still more ambitious proposals to save money. In their Budget Amendment, they have once again called for a reduction in Councillors from 60 to 40, and for two elections every four years instead of three, to realise an estimated annual saving of £190,000. They also want to see the temporary reduction in the Council staff training budget of £150,000 made permanent, and have suggested Spend-to-Save measures, such as investing in replacing conventional street lamps with LED bulbs which use significantly less electricity, and generating money from highways advertising.

Full details of the proposals can be seen by following the link below:

https://committees.oldham.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=182&MId=6912&Ver=4

My two allowed questions at tonight’s (13 Dec) Oldham Council meeting – Oldham’s Town Centre Challenge Candidate and Big Change

Council 13 December 2017 Leader’s Question 1

Oldham’s Town Centre Challenge Candidate

Mr Mayor for my first question tonight I would like to refer the Leader to an initiative launched in connection with the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) by the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham on the 17th of last month.

Mayor Burnham announced that he wanted to move away from the “developer-led, green belt approach of the past”.

This is an announcement that both I and my ward colleagues in Shaw and Crompton, as well as thousands of our constituents, will welcome, as in the original GMSF proposals Shaw and Crompton stood to be swamped by almost 3,000 new homes, other tracts of land were designated for industrial development, and our green belt and green spaces would be decimated.

After his election, the Oldham Liberal Democrats wrote to Andy Burnham to ask for the (and I quote) “opportunity to work with you to establish a revised plan that is acceptable to local ward members and our constituents, which mirrors our aspirations for housing and economic development in Greater Manchester.”

It has always been our view that there is no justification for the construction of a large number of properties (or indeed any properties) on Green Belt or Other Protected Open Land (OPOL) before new homes are first 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.

We also believe that every empty mill and factory should be converted and used for housing and that the large number of empty homes across Greater Manchester should be brought back into use.

Mayor Burnham has now invited all ten Leaders of the Greater Manchester authorities to nominate a town for inclusion in his Town Centre Challenge.

The Mayor is proposing to work with each council to bring together housing providers, public and private landowners, developers, community groups and other key stakeholders in a concerted effort to unlock the potential in these town centres, particularly to deliver “viable housing markets and sustainable communities.”

At his launch event, Mayor Burnham promised to use new planning powers and Mayoral grants “to build a new future for those towns through higher density mixed and affordable housing, with local retail and leisure facilities and supported by transport and digital connectivity.”

This sounds like potentially heady stuff, for we are not ‘Luddites’, Mr Mayor, we recognise we need to release more land for more homes for more people.

What we do not believe in is concreting over the green bits!

His plan appears to hold that promise – with an emphasis seemingly placed upon Brownfield development in towns, rather than the ‘death of the Green Belt by concrete’ approach we saw previously.

Mayor Burnham has asked Oldham to bring forward a town centre of its choice to be his development partner so Mr Mayor I would like to ask the Leader tonight whether Oldham will be nominating a town or district for the Town Centre Challenge?

If we will do make a nomination how elected members and the public can become involved in the selection?

Will we have a say on the selection and when do we have to make our nomination by?

Council 13 December 2017 Leader’s Question 2

Big Change

 Mr Mayor, I would now like to return to another very important issue that has again been raised in recent motions proposed by both sides in this chamber recently – the desperate plight of the homeless.

It is an issue that is particularly topical and poignant at this time of the year with the onset of winter.

Mr Mayor, I would like to make a practical suggestion that I feel could make big difference in this Borough.

I am referring to the Big Change scheme, a charitable programme that operates in Rochdale, Manchester, Bradford and Leeds where donors are asked to make donations to a central fund which is used to help all homeless people rather than putting money in a hat or cup on the street.

Evidence suggests that unfortunately some on-the-street donations to people who are begging helps fund drug and alcohol dependency, and can discourage them from accessing services that can help them turn their lives around.

The Big Change scheme recognises that people who are homeless often face practical barriers which need to be overcome for them to become active, independent members of their community and avoid sleeping rough.

It provides homeless people with practical items which support a long term change.  This might include paying for a deposit for a home, a training course to help improve job prospects and clothes for a job interview.

Or it could involve furnishing a new flat, including purchasing crockery, pots, pans and bed linen, as well as funding travel costs to their new home.

In the scheme run by our neighbours in Rochdale, the fund is administered by Just Giving and Forever Manchester, and applications for grants are considered by a panel which includes a former rough sleeper and representatives from charities working with the homeless.

I would therefore like to ask the Leader tonight if she will ask the Homelessness Forum to look into the practicalities of bringing Big Change to Oldham?

Liberal Democrats call for Better Council Practice in Planning

 

The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group ‎has proposed a motion to the next meeting of Oldham Council (this Wednesday 13 December) that planning officers routinely notify Ward Councillors when developers have, or have not, complied with planning conditions and that they also provide Councillors with opportunities to meet with local constituents to discuss planning matters.

Deputy Group Leader Councillor John McCann is proposing the motion. He explained: “Local Councillors are often not informed by planning officers about public consultation events or whether, or when, developers comply with the conditions that are attached to planning consents. This is simply wrong – as local leaders we have the right to know and the right to be involved.”

Councillor McCann is backed by the Liberal Democrat Group Leader and Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE.

Councillor Sykes added:  “It is very frustrating that Ward Members are kept ‘out of the loop’.  Planning matters are often very contentious and our constituents have strong feelings on these issues.  As best practice, planning officers should routinely inform and involve members when they will be consulting the public on planning matters and they should tell us when developers have met the conditions that are attached to planning approvals.”

Councillor John McCann cited one example of a planning application where the outcome has been unsatisfactory, both for Ward Members and local residents. ‎”A classic case is that of Well I Hole Farm and Camping Site where even the conditions that a Planning Inspector imposed on an applicant have not been implemented or enforced some three years later.”

“If Ward Members are notified of circumstances such as these, we can add our weight to that of planning officers and residents to pressurise the developer into compliance.”

Councillor Sykes concluded: “Quite simply we want Oldham Council to become an exemplar local authority on planning consultation and enforcement, and we are confident that if our motion receives cross-party support at the full Council on Wednesday ‎we will move a long way in this right direction.”

The Motion reads:

Notification of Discharge of Planning Conditions to Ward Members

 Council notes that planning officers do not notify Ward Members when the conditions attached to planning approvals are satisfactorily discharged by the applicant

In order to establish greater transparency in the planning process and to keep Ward Members better informed and engaged, Council resolves that best practice be created by requiring planning officers to give such notification and that opportunities be provided for Ward Members to engage with members of the public on planning matters in the spirit of co-operation.

Council resolves to ask the Chief Executive as Head of Paid Service to liaise with the Head of Planning and Infrastructure to ensure that planning officers are made aware of these requirements and ensure that they happen.

Discredited Shaw and Crompton parish councillors expelled by Liberal Democrats

I reproduce in full a recent statement issued by Lynne Thompson, Chair of Oldham Liberal Democrats.

Discredited parish councillors expelled by Liberal Democrats

Oldham Liberal Democrats have revoked the membership of two Shaw and Crompton parish councillors, Shaun Duffy and Denise Tindall.  The pair remain members of the parish council as independents, but have been disowned by their former party.

“As councillors and as people, they fell far short of the standards of behaviour the Liberal Democrats expect from their elected representatives”, said Local Party Chair, Lynne Thompson.

Shaun Duffy defrauded the Mayor of Oldham’s Charity.  Not only did he fail to pass on sponsorship money he collected, he actually cost local charities money by booking tickets to an outside event and refusing to pay.

He also published on Facebook information provided to him in confidence as a councillor.  He later tried to present himself as a whistleblower, but not before trying to hide what he had done.

Denise Tindall used foul language and threatened members of the public on Facebook and in a public place.

“These are far from all, or even the most serious, of the allegations reported to us by members of the public”, said Chair, Lynne Thompson.  “We thank the people who alerted us but it was not practical to investigate everything and we especially wanted to avoid exposing anyone to any possible backlash.”

The pair were also found guilty of dishonestly manipulating the affairs of their Lib Dem branch.

Duffy and Tindall were suspended as Liberal Democrat councillors and party members on 1st August after initial investigations.

Under the party’s disciplinary process they have had every chance to defend themselves: by responding to the charges and evidence, by presenting their case to a hearing of the Executive Committee, and by submitting an appeal to higher levels in the party.  They presented no evidence, ignored the hearing and have made no appeal.   With the expiry of the appeals time limit, the party’s duty of confidentiality is at an end.

“One thing we wish to make very clear”, says Lynne Thompson.  “They are desperately trying to misrepresent themselves as having left the party voluntarily.  This is the last of many lies; they have been booted out in disgrace.”

Liberal Democrat Leader says Budget is not smoke and mirrors just big gaping holes

“After most Budgets, people warn you to look out for ‘smoke and mirrors’ trickery,” stated Councillor Howard Sykes MBC Liberal Democrat and Opposition Group Leader on Oldham Council.  “But this budget was more about massive gaping holes.”

“Take the high profile issue of housing – with figures showing a massive downturn in affordable rented accommodation being built, this was a golden opportunity to act,” he added.  “There will be some movement on the housing borrowing cap – but only in “high demand” areas.  There is no council in the country that does not have people on housing waiting lists and homelessness.  All areas should be regarded as ‘high demand’!”

“Adult social care faces a deficit of £2.8 billion by the end of the decade, with children’s services facing a £2 billion gap over the next two years.  The Chancellor did not address this at all and has betrayed adults and children who depend on care services,” said Councillor Sykes.  “The Liberal Democrat plan to raise £6bn a year for our health and social care services through a penny on the pound in income tax is an idea whose time has come.”

“The budget had some interesting points such as the charge on single use plastic items, and the ability to increase council tax on empty homes – but it was such a wasted opportunity as key services will continue to be starved of cash and resources and citizens will suffer,” he claimed.