(15 minutes for public questions and 25 minutes for Councillor questions)
The Mayor advised the meeting that the first item on the agenda was Public Question Time. The questions had been received from members of the public and would be taken in the order in which they had been received. Council was advised that if the questioner was not present, then the question would be read out by the Mayor.
The following questions had been submitted:
1. Question received from Judith Maughan via email:
“Why is it that council services are on line and encourage to do on line, I cannot Pay for a application for a blue badge by cash or debit card only by cheque please email me back with a reply. Thanking you.”
Councillor Chauhan, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care responded that the issue had been recognised and that residents would be able to pay for a Blue Badge online or by telephone soon. The Blue Badge service had moved to Access Oldham and the service would be available for five days instead of two days. Access Oldham was closer to the bus station and parking.
2. Question received from Syed Maruf Ali via Twitter:
“Oversubscription criteria is when a school receives more applications than there are places available (published admissions number, or PAN), the oversubscription criteria is used. Every school has an oversubscription criteria and it dictates the order in which places are allocated. Many existing faith schools have complex policies for allocating school places when oversubscribed, which critics say advantage more affluent parents over families from working-class backgrounds. A report from the social mobility charity Sutton Trust in March last year suggested faith schools were among the most ''Social selective'' of top state schools in the country. More than three times as selective as non-faith schools, and make up 33.4% of the list. Converter academies admit the lowest rate of disadvantaged pupils of the main school types, and comprise 63% of the top schools, compared to just 40% of all secondary's. We the residents of Coppice/Primrose Bank believe that many School in Oldham discriminate pupils from Town Centre Base using the oversubscription criterial especially the Faith School. I would like to know if the cabinet members have seen the oversubscription criteria for Cranmer Education Trust or have a copy of the over-subscription criteria? Has there been a discussion with Cranmer Education Trust about their over-subscription criteria and has this been shared with the Town centre base Cllrs? What criteria will Cranmer Trust use for example if they receive 300 pupils applying under faith base criteria and 300 pupils applying from 3 geographical zones?”
Councillor P. Jacques, Cabinet Member for Education and Culture responded that the over-subscription criteria for the proposed new secondary school had not yet been set as the school had yet to be approved. The over-subscription criteria would be addressed during the pre-opening phase should the school be approved. The over-subscription criteria would be subject to further consultation. School admissions proposals would be reviewed by the School Adjudicator as the Department for Education (DfE) would want assurances that the school was inclusive and addressed deprivation. It was the Council’s and the Trust’s clear expectation that the school would be multi-cultural and inclusive. Further details about the proposed school could be found on the trust’s website at https://cranmereducationtrust.com/new-school/
3. Question received from Mr. Stephen Kenyon via letter:
“At a recent Oldham Council meeting, Sean Fielding, the Leader of Oldham Council, stated that YouTube footage was only edited when the Mayor of Oldham adjourned the meeting. On the very same meeting, however, the camera was switched off and the sound was edited because I had questioned the integrity and honestly of Oldham Council and its Councillor’s. Are Oldham Council in breach of their code of practice for hiding and/or editing the truth? Transparency and Openness should be the fundamental principle of everything that Local Governments and Local Government Bodies do.”
Councillor Fielding, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Economy and Enterprise responded that what happened that evening was, that in accordance with the rules of Open Council, Mr. Kenyon had pre-submitted a written question about Subject Access Reports. In accordance with the rules Mr. Kenyon was invited to the microphone to read the question as submitted, which he did. Councillor Fielding responded. Immediately after that, and not for first time, Mr. Kenyon broke the rules of Open Council by attempting to ask follow-up questions and shout out points that had not been submitted as questions. Despite the Mayor’s objections and instructions, in his capacity as chair of the meeting, the Mayor asked Mr. Kenyon to come to order. Mr. Kenyon persisted in shouting from the dais, including allegations about a council member which could all be clearly heard on the video. This webstream is run by a third party for the Council. Mr. Kenyon said the sound was edited. It was not. It appeared that by appealing across the back of the stage to Mr. Kenyon with his microphone turned off – the words of the Mayor subsequently became very quiet on the clip. However, if the clip was played through a bigger speaker, such as a TV set, what happened could clearly be heard. Only the Mayor spoke at the time where the audio was quieter – which lasted about 20 seconds – and the Mayor simply stated that there was a time limit for questions and that all questioners, in accordance with the rules, should stick to the text of the question which had been originally submitted and that the Mayor needed to move on with the next public question. There was no editing of the audio – otherwise it would have been silent. Nor was the camera switched off as implied. At that point in time the camera operator simply moved to look towards the mace at the front of the stage. The picture coverage was clearly still live as councillors’ heads could be seen moving and looking towards where Mr. Kenyon stood and remonstrated from. The camera operator was not instructed to do this, but probably did so because they felt that an adjournment of the meeting might be imminent – something Mr. Kenyon’s behaviour had caused in the past. In short, there was no cover-up, no video or audio editing and no conspiracy. If the questioner stuck to the fair spirit of the rules of Open Council – asked the question that had been submitted – then there would not have been a problem. Open Council was a transparent and democratic forum, and that was based on respect – something which Mr. Kenyon was reminded of again.
4. Question received from Warren Bates via email:
“Members of the public in Failsworth are very concerned and have continually requested a “Detailed Itemised Public Spend” on the following.
(1) Cllr Elaine Gary £750 “entertainment at mayors Irish night”?
(2) “Failsworth Festive Feast“ Wednesday Dec 13th 2017.?
Furthermore in order to avoid this Public Question to-night.
I wrote to Cllr Barbara Brownridge regarding this “Detailed Itemised Spend” request of this public money “cabinet member for cooperatives and neighbourhoods”. Possibly seen by her but received no response whatsoever. Because of the continued lack of detailed information regarding the “ itemised public spend”. I wrote to the borough solicitor about the concerns by the public of Failsworth and I have been promised an “internal review”. As leader of the council in the interest of transparency will you publically confirm this please.”
Councillor Fielding, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Economy and Enterprise highlighted the link to the meetings and agendas page on the Council’s website, and the link to the Failsworth and Hollinwood District Executive budget report at the meeting held on 15th March 2018 which provided itemised spend. The meeting was held in public and the report could be accessed at any time. Councillor Garry did donate money to the Mayor’s Appeal Irish Night and former Councillor Bates had contributed to the Failsworth Feast. The total donated by Councillor Garry was £670 and the event held on 16 March 2018 raised £875 for the Mayor’s Appeal Fund 2018/19. The Failsworth Festive Feast was a concept devised by a former Councillor for vulnerable people to celebrate Christmas. This was a ticketed event bought in advance. Funding was secured by the former Councillor Miss Brock and from former Councillor for Failsworth West – Mr. Bates. Miss Brock advised the District Team what materials were required to make the event a success. Former Councillor Bates had been briefed on how the funding was being used as he was a frequent visitor to the office, had several conversations with Miss Brock and attended the event which he had supported. The Failsworth and Hollinwood budget report on 15th March 2018 stated that former Councillor Bates had allocated £500 to the Failsworth Festive Feast – contribution towards equipment and decorations. At no point had former Councillor Bates contacted the District Team since funding was secured in November 2017 asking for further details.
5. Question received from Louise McCallum via email:
“Please can the following question be put forward to highways or whoever is responsible for traffic management? Ashton road Oldham from Crofton street to the centre of Oldham is completely congested all the time, impassable at rush hour. The bus lane from Copsterhill Road to Oldham needs suspending to allow the traffic to flow properly. I have sat in traffic from Crofton street to king street roundabout for forty minutes for the past two evenings, it should be a 5 minute journey, maximum. The bus lane is a complete waste of time as this is what is causing the congestion and the buses are stuck in it until they can get past Copsterhill Road and into the bus lane. This needs urgent reviewing as it is causing unnecessary congestion and delays.”
Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services responded that the traffic congestion currently experienced by road users, particularly during morning and afternoon peak periods, was mostly as result of the essential roadworks taking place on adjacent routes towards and around the Town Centre, in particular, King’s Road which had been closed since 5th December and was due to open on Friday, 14th a few days ahead of schedule following the completion of urgent carriageway repairs, Oldham Way which had lane restrictions and slip road closures had been in place along this route since Spring earlier this year to be able to carry out vital repairs to the bridge structure. This work had now been completed and the associated traffic management diversion measures had been removed earlier this week. Once the traffic patterns had settled down back to normal levels in the coming days, the congestion issues along the route would be reviewed by Highway Engineers.
At this point in the meeting, the Mayor advised that the time limit for this item had expired. During the proceedings, the Mayor was constantly interrupted by a member of the public and a disturbance occurred. The Mayor as Chair of the meeting gave repeated warnings. The meeting was adjourned at 18.25 and reconvened at 18.50.
The Mayor reminded Members that the Council had previously agreed that questions would be taken in an order which reflected the political balance of the Council. The following questions were submitted by Councillors on Ward or District matters:
1. Councillor Harrison asked the following question:
“Some time ago, there was a public consultation on Alt Estate about a proposed new housing development on the vacant land on Cherry Avenue. Can the Cabinet Member for Housing tell me the outcome of the consultation and if there are any plans to start building on this site?”
Councillor Roberts, Cabinet Member for Housing, responded that First Choice Homes Oldham had held a consultation event at the Alt community café to gauge local resident’s opinion on the re-development sites at Cherry Avenue. Plans were presented that included a range of houses and bungalows intended for affordable rent. Residents who had attended and submitted postal responses were very supportive. At the moment, the development proposals for the Cherry Avenue site were being reviewed alongside wider strategic aims for the area and to consider feedback, particularly on property types gathered at the consultation event. First Choice would provide a further update to residents in due course.
2. Councillor Stretton asked the following question:
“I am concerned about the effect that noise from the United Utilities works at the Hathershaw School Playing field site is having on residents in the Garden Suburb area of my ward. Please may I be advised as to the agreed hours of working during the works and also the expected end date for these works.”
Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services confirmed that the contractors working for United Utilities on this essential piece of infrastructure had notified the Environmental Health Team of their intentions. It was agreed with the contractors that their hours of operation would be limited to the following: Monday to Friday – 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.; Saturday - 9.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. only for works needed outside of a normal working week; and not work on a Sunday or Bank Holidays. Environmental Health had only received one complaint since the works had started in June 2018. The expected date for completion of the works was late December 2019.
3. Councillor Goodwin asked the following question:
“It's welcome to see the transformation of the alleyway to the rear of properties in my ward on Turf Lane, Long Lane and Chestnut Street by the residents of those properties who were able to gain funding to commence this project. Could the relevant cabinet member advise how it is possible for other groups of residents to apply for funding for similar projects?”
Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services responded that the work undertaken by the residents of Turf Lane, Long Lane and Chestnut Street was an excellent example of a co-operative borough. Action Together provided practical support services to voluntary sector organisations and community groups within Oldham and could identify and signpost to funding opportunities. Action Together could be contacted on 0161 633 6222. The service was open Monday to Friday, between 9.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. Residents could also contact their District Team who might be able to provide details of any additional funding opportunities which become available. Contract details for each District Team could be found on the Council’s website.
4. Councillor C. Gloster asked the following question:
“Shaw town centre businesses are currently experiencing a crime wave in that numerous premises have either been broken into or suffered an attempt, some on repeat occasions. Shaw and Crompton Councillors have called police to a meeting of the Community Forum to be told CCTV would be helpful. Traders who are also victims of crime have fed back to us that although the Greater Manchester Police are aware of their crime, they have CCTV evidence available, it is not being collected and the crimes are not being further investigated due to the lack of threat, harm or risk. Does this mean that theft and burglary is no longer a priority for the Police across Shaw and Crompton?”
Councillor Ur-Rehman, Cabinet Member for Policing and Community Safety responded that Greater Manchester Police had led in the preparation of a plan for reducing burglaries in Shaw. As part of this plan, two weeks ago the police had established a dedicated team to investigate repeat offences of serious acquisitive crime (including burglaries and robberies). A briefing session would be arranged for ward councillors by the Neighbourhood Policing Team.
5. Councillor Garry asked the following question:
“Failsworth Councillors were recently joined by a huge number of local volunteers to take part in the fourth “Big Failsworth Clean Up” event. Over the four events we collected dozens of bags of rubbish that may otherwise have still been on our streets around Ash Street, Old Road, Minor Street, Wesley Street and Oldham Road. It’s disappointing that people drop litter but fantastic that there are local people who genuinely care about our town and want to get involved and be a part in making it a better place. Does the cabinet member agree that community activity like this complements the £600,000 recently invested in street cleaning by the Council and will the cabinet member offer their thanks to the local volunteers on behalf of the Council?”
Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services agreed that communities working to improve their areas was fundamental to any long-term improvement. People coming out to clean an area helped to dispel the myth that all cleaning was the Council’s responsibility and, supported by active enforcement, shamed many residents into not throwing waste into public areas, hoping that someone else would clear up after them. The work of a number of active community groups was really starting to show what a difference could be made when people took pride in their areas. The Cabinet Member was proud of the various community groups who led by example and was a good example of a co-operative borough.
6. Councillor Dean asked the following question:
“The Clarksfield community are delighted at the Council’s decision to invest over £4 million in remodelling Clarksfield Primary School and welcome the new management arrangements lead by Oasis Academy. The parents and pupils are determined to work with staff at the school to bring improvements and upgrade the school rating to outstanding. The addition of an extra intake of pupils will give more local children an opportunity to attend their local school. Could the Cabinet member give me a timeline for the building works, the date the school management changes will happen, and when the addition intake of pupils will take place.”
Councillor P. Jacques, Cabinet Member for Education and Culture responded that on condition that the school converted to academy status in January 2019, it was anticipated that the 1 form entry (FE) expansion would be completed in time for additional places in September 2019. The school was on track to convert in January 2019. Oasis had held a meeting on 27 November 2018 with an invitation that was open to all interested parties who wanted to know more about the Trust and its plan for the school. The Cabinet Member commented on bringing the community together for the school to be much improved.
7. Councillor Brownridge asked the following question:
“Chadderton Wellbeing Centre is a PFI building accommodating leisure facilities, Chadderton Library and The Chadderton District Team. The library also contains a café facility which has stood empty for some 2 years. Many residents have expressed concern that the only refreshments available are from vending machines which, given the focus on the council’s ambition to promote physical and mental health and wellbeing, are not a healthy option. It would be much appreciated if the Leader and Cabinet Member responsible could arrange a meeting with Community First (who own the café) with a view to discussing how the café might be brought back in to use. This would help to promote other council initiatives, for example, extending social inclusion, promoting cohesion and reducing isolation. Community First should recognise that they have a responsibility to the wider community and can help by introducing some element of social value into their daily operations instead of simply viewing the Wellbeing Centre as a means of increasing their profits (and shareholders dividends). Any support from the Leader and the Cabinet Member would be very welcome.”
Councillor Fielding, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Economy and Enterprise responded that the wellbeing centre was an excellent centre and as a user it was a shame to pass what had been an excellent café in the past. The café was not owned by the Council but by Community First. Representations had been made and the Council were aware of an interest. The Council would keep in contact with regular dialogue in the case the situation changed.
8. Councillor Harkness asked the following question:
“Following suggestions from this Administration to “come and talk to us” and “give us your suggestions” I wrote to the Deputy Leader on 2nd October about speeding and put forward some practical steps the Council could take to which I am awaiting a response. Many councillors have raised issues about speeding in their wards and residents in my ward are concerned about speeding. In Saddleworth, Derek Heffernan and myself have arranged for a number of surveys across some of the Saddleworth villages and it is clear in a number of places there is a problem. My suggestions are:
1. We purchase and deploy mobile speed cameras to catch offenders. Such a measure will, I believe, pay for myself very quickly and will help change driver behaviour and improve road safety
2. That we look to work with community and residents’ group to establish Community Speed Watch schemes in the Borough
3. Other local authorities are introducing ‘bus gates’ outside schools to limit vehicular through traffic to cycles and local buses at the start and end of the school day, with a fixed penalty for transgressors. This would reduce the likelihood of other traffic speeding past schools when pupils are entering or exiting schools.
4. Increase Community Concern speed enforcement sites
I would appreciate comment from the cabinet member about how this Administration might work with local elected members to take these suggestions forward in Saddleworth and in other areas of Oldham affected by speeding?”
Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services responded that under the current national policing regulations, Drivesafe (who are the region’s Safety Camera Partnership) was the only enforcing body in Greater Manchester that could issue Fixed Penalty Notices to speeding motorists. Any monies that were generated by the subsequent fines went directly to the Government’s consolidated Treasury Fund. The Mayor of Greater Manchester was keen to develop such initiatives in Greater Manchester in association with Drivesafe. For any potential location, the Police must lead, organise and manage any approved site, staffed by appropriately trained operatives. Highways Engineers would be pleased to assist in this process with Drivesafe. In Oldham, road safety was taken very seriously, particularly around schools where an evidence based, data led strategy was used to best direct limited budgets which allowed the introduction of bespoke safety measures that achieved the greatest benefits which such problems existed. Currently a range of innovative walking and cycling solutions were being considered as part of the Manchester Mayor’s Fund. Highways Engineers would be pleased to work with the elected member to identify the most appropriate solution where some form of road safety intervention had been identified. The Mayor of Greater Manchester was keen to increase Community Concern speed enforcement sites across the region. Unity Partnership would be pleased to assist in this process with Drivesafe.
9. Councillor Harrison asked the following question:
“Boston House in Hathershaw is a former respite care home and later a New Bridge School Annex. Since New Bridge moved out, it has remained empty and has fallen into unsightly dereliction and has become a magnet for many types of anti-social behaviour. Can the appropriate cabinet member tell me if there are any plans for this building and can steps be taken to tidy up the exterior and grounds?”
Councillor Fielding, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Economy and Enterprise responded that the Council had sold this premises on 10th October 2017 to Mr. Amjad Hussain and therefore was not in control of the premises. The Council’s Planning Department had visited the premises and found that the building itself was in a reasonable condition with all doors and windows boarded up and gates padlocked. The hedges needed trimming, but the building had not deteriorated to such a condition that a S.215 notice would have been sought and justified in this case. Nevertheless, the owner had been sent a letter pointing out that some complaints had been received about the state of the property and asked for the owner’s comments and actions. To date, no response had been received. This would be followed up.
10. Councillor S. Bashforth asked the following question:
“We are seeing many of our pubs close down and become empty or lost to other uses. There are many reasons for pubs to close and we fully appreciate this but when what is a successful and well used establishment is looking to change its use the community can apply that establishment to be listed as an Asset of Community Value. In Heyside residents and the local ward members wish to apply for such an order, will the cabinet member responsible arrange of officer support so the order can be quickly and successfully applied for?”
Councillor Fielding, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Economy and Enterprise responded that the value pubs could add to a community could be undervalued. Consumption of 2 or 3 pints with friends was preferable as it allowed for social interaction instead of buying it at a local store. The Localism Act 2011 allowed local groups within a community the right to nominate a building or an area of land as an ‘Asset of Community Value’. The Council, as it has done previously, would work with any local groups who were interested in submitting a nomination as an Asset of Community Value. Any nomination would then be considered for approval in line with the requirements and criteria outlined in the Localism Act 2011. The Council was also required to keep a register of the successful nominations for assets of community value as well as keeping a list of any unsuccessful nominations the Council had received. The information, along with further guidance, was available online on the Council’s website. The Leader gave a personal commitment to provide the support needed to progress the matter.
11. Councillor Akhtar asked the following question:
“In June, I asked a question about repairing potholes on Werneth Hall Rd and Napier St East/West and was reassured that the necessary work will be carried out with a month. However, several months on, partial work has been carried out and there are still numerous potholes on Werneth Hall Road and Napier St, East, the depth of the remaining potholes is similar to those that have been repaired. Could the Cabinet member responsible please inform the Council when the remaining potholes will be repaired?”
Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services responded that inspections had been carried out on Werneth Hall Road and Napier Street East and West which had resulted in actionable potholes being appropriately identified in all locations. There were still some outstanding repairs from previous inspections pending which were to be completed at both Werneth Hall Road and Napier Street East. These were currently being programmed in the system and would be actioned shortly. Further inspections were due to take place at Werneth Hall Road, Napier Street West and Napier Street East on 18 December 2018.
12. Councillor Sheldon asked a question related to the Royal George crossroads and Manchester Road. There were different views as to how to tackle the notorious junction which included the installation of a mini-roundabout and reducing the speed limit from 40 mph to 30 mph. Councillor Sheldon asked if there were any plans to improve the safety of the junction?
Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services responded that she would look into the issue concerned and meet with officers.
13. Councillor Briggs asked the following question:
“Would the Cabinet member responsible for transport join me in supporting residents to overturn the decision to withdraw the 74 bus service in the evenings and weekends to and from Woodhouses. This leaves the old and most vulnerable, cut off from friends and family, or having to walk almost a mile to the nearest bus stop. We talk about social isolation but appear to have little control over bus companies who make arbitrary decisions without acknowledging their actions severely reduce opportunities to socialise with others or make essential trips to hospitals and other necessary appointments.”
Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services responded that TfGM had been contacted about the changes to the 74 service and had explained that the changes had been made as a result of changes that Stagecoach were making to the 76 service from last October by way of additional evening and Sunday journeys which catered for the majority of passengers on the 76 route. When TfGM reviewed the sections of the 76 route that would not be served by these new journeys, very low passenger usage was found on the Woodhouses section – 0.53 passengers per trip and TfGM were unable to justify maintaining provision at that time. TfGM would be asked to review the decision. In the meantime, TfGM were exploring options on behalf of GMCA that would allow for greater control of routes, frequencies, timetables, fares and quality standards for all buses across the Greater Manchester network. This had come about as a result of the Bus Services Act 2017, which gave Mayoral authorities like Greater Manchester powers to improve bus services by reforming the current bus market. If the GM Mayor did decide to take up bus franchising powers, it would be some time before any changes were seen on the ground, so in the meantime, TfGM was looking at how bus services could operate more effectively under existing operator arrangements. Discussions were taken place with TfGM on how members could get involved in this piece of work.
At this point in the meeting, the Mayor advised that the time limit for this item had expired.
RESOLVED that the questions and responses provided be noted.
NOTE: Councillor Byrne left the meeting during this item.