Agenda item

Questions to Leader and Cabinet

(time limit 30 minutes)


Councillor Sykes, Leader of the Liberal Democratic Group:


Question 1 – Marking Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee


“My first question tonight relates to the concerns the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee next year.


First and foremost, I hope all Council will join me in wishing her majesty a full and speedy recovery from her recent spell of being under the weather.


Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will in 2022 have been our noble sovereign and Head of the Commonwealth for 70 years, and there are rightly calls from every quarter that this magnificent and unsurpassed achievement in public service be properly celebrated in every corner of our land.


In June, I wrote to Councillor Chadderton as Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, requesting that rose varieties named after Her Majesty the Queen and her late husband HRH Prince Phillip should be planted side-by-side in Oldham’s major public parks and gardens as a tribute to our Royal Family.


I also copied in Councillor Hulme as Council Tree Champion as I suggested that we get our borough’s residents involved in a tree planting programme to mark the Platinum Jubilee, with schools and community groups planting trees in our parks and gardens.


On 2 June 2022, the actual date of the anniversary, localities in the UK and across the Commonwealth are being invited to light beacons, to arrange for town criers to make proclamations, and at the setting of the sun local pipe bands will play a unique tune specially composed for the occasion.


We shall no doubt also receive many calls from our Borough’s residents for permission to hold street parties and other celebratory events.


So, can the Leader please tell me what is being done to prepare for this momentous event, and will she also consider appointing a senior member of her Administration as a Champion to co-ordinate the effort?”


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Economic and Social Reform, replied that there were discussion taking places and proposals being put forward, which would be shared when they were finalised. She agreed that the Jubilee should be celebrated in the dignified way it warranted.


Question 2 – Princes Gate turns Seven


“For my second question tonight, I want to return to a subject that has now become a fixture in the annual Council calendar.


No, I am not referring to the Oldham Big Bang which explodes once more tomorrow night.  Instead, it is that annual question that I as Opposition Leader ask about Prince’s Gate.


For once more this month we shall arrive at yet another anniversary of the announcement by a former Council Leader, now thrice removed, of the supposed ‘gamechanger’ that was to be Prince’s Gate.  And this year this farce turns seven.


I would have brought a birthday cake with candles to share, but we have yet to even see the birth.


For Princes’ Gate has had a gestation period over four times longer than an elephant. (That’s 18 to 22 months by the way).

On 19 November 2014, the BBC first reported Oldham Council’s announcement of the ‘game changer’ and the promise of a 150,000 square foot retail development, with 800 homes and 700 parking spaces.


This project has seen numerous false dawns.  It is now two years since the latest when in the Council’s Town Centre Vision this Administration promised work ‘due to start on site autumn 2019’.


The project has also been significantly scaled back.  The early withdrawal of “missing retail giant” Marks and Spencer meant we now have only the promise of a 28,500 square foot retail development – one fifth the size of the original proposal – and supporting acts Lidl and Travelodge, not original headliner M+S.


So, as we rapidly approach the seventh anniversary of inactivity, please can the Leader tell me if there is any possibility - whatsoever - of shovels in the ground any time soon?”


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Economic and Social Reform, replied that it was disappointing that Princes Gate had not progressed and the frustrations were shared. The detailed plans were available on the website for comment. As set out in her Annual Statement, a detailed planning application was expected for Spindles towards the end of this year, with the project commencing soon after for the wider town centre regeneration.


Councillor Sheldon, Leader of the Conservative Group:


Question 1 – Oldham Ramblers


Would the Leader join me in thanking the Oldham Ramblers for their sterling work over the past 12 months? The group did their last job for the year yesterday and will now take a break until spring. They are a voluntary group who turn out in all weathers to tidy up footpaths around our Borough. The group use their own equipment, tools and their own time to carry out this work. on occasion, they may need some financial support and we, as Councillors, can support this work through our individual budgets. I would also like to encourage residents to get out into the fresh air and discover the paths which have now been cleared. Walking is a sure way to enjoy the outdoors and is a benefit both for our mental health and social interaction. Once again, my sincere thanks to the Oldham Ramblers.


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Economic and Social Reform, replied that of course she would join him in thanking them, as she would with any voluntary group that was improving the Borough. She would be happy to meet with them to discuss how the Council could work with them as part of the “Don’t Trash Oldham” campaign, as those footpaths were vital to the Borough. It would be nice of she and the Mayor could meet them jointly to acknowledge and celebrate their achievements.


Question 2 – Fireworks


Please will the Leader condemn all illegal sales of fireworks and ask members of the public to respect their neighbours, particularly those with young children, when setting off fireworks? May I also highlight the distress fireworks can cause to pets and livestock, which all suffer from loud noises. I would ask everybody to enjoy fireworks but be responsible when lighting them.


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Economic and Social Reform, responded that she agreed fireworks being set off could be distressful and harmful and the Council would do what it could to promote the use of safe fireworks. She joined the condemnation of the sale of illegal fireworks, which not only caused distress but also were unacceptable in being set off at all times of the day and night. Action was needed along with a strong lobbying perspective, and she would do what she could to promote the use of safe fireworks.


The Council agreed to waive Council Procedure Rule 2.1.3 (h) to allow Councillor Hindle to ask a question.


Councillor Hindle asked the following question:


In light of the news that the Council could find no development partner for the Spindles site and is planning to self-deliver, would a more sensible option be to cut the losses and sell the site on? With the Council’s track record on projects, Princes Gate, the flagship Queen Elizabeth hall conference centre, and the massive overspend on the cinema, to name a few, this has the makings of becoming another money pit. The previous Leader assured us that it was a bargain purchase, surely then someone will take this bargain off our hands. Our residents deserve better than having to pay for any more vanity projects.


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Economic and Social Reform, replied that it would absolutely not be sold. It was in the middle of the town centre and the Council could not afford for it to be owned by people who did not care about it. We had been there before and it had grim consequences. There were plans that would be live next year and it was the Council’s job to support the town centre and build its future. She was not going to apologise for being ambitious for the people of the town or the town centre.


1.    Councillor McLaren asked the following question:

With a number of new residential developments now underway in Chadderton Central Ward and also the fact that we have 2 high schools all situated on the west side of Broadway, could the Cabinet Member responsible for transport please explain what is being put in place to encourage people living, working and studying in this area to walk, cycle or use public transport?


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for

Economic and Social Reform, replied that there was a lot going on to make it easier for people to get around on foot, by bike or to use the bus.

The Mayor’s Bee Network cycling and walking plan included two schemes in the Chadderton area – one linking Broadway to the Metrolink stop at Freehold, and one linking Broadway to the Rochdale Canal. We were also working with local residents in Chadderton North and Westwood to design Oldham’s first Active Neighbourhood scheme to make it easier for them to get around on foot and by bike.

We were working with Transport for Greater Manchester to improve public transport, with the number of parking spaces at Mills Hill Rail Station set to double as part of a scheme to improve the Park and Ride there, and plans being developed to improve the main bus route between Oldham, Rochdale and Ashton. Greater Manchester was also changing the way buses were run, bringing them under local control, which would mean better services for all areas, including Chadderton Central.

We were asking TfGM to look at whether Metrolink could be extended from Oldham to Middleton as part of their long term plan.

This was all part of a much bigger plan for Greater Manchester to have a London-style active travel and public transport network that would make it easier for everyone to get around.


2.    Councillor Goodwin asked he following question:

Could the Cabinet member for Finance please explain to the council and to Oldham’s residents and businesses the impact of the Chancellor’s budget and spending review? What will be the impact over the next few years on personal budgets and on the council’s capacity to deliver quality services?


Councillor Jabbar, Cabinet Member for Finance and Low Carbon

replied that the Chancellor had placed the highest tax burden on the people in peacetime. 

There were a range of issues that impacted on personal finances including changes to universal credit, but the overall impact on individuals would be linked to personal circumstances. However, the previously announced increase in National Insurance Contributions to support health and social care spending would have a detrimental impact on household incomes.

The fundamental review of Business Rates had been deferred which would not only impact on businesses but also the financing of the Council. However, business rates reliefs were extended for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses into 2022/23.

There was clearly additional funding for Local Government - £4.8bn of new grant funding over the next 3 financial years, but the additional resources announced were at such a high level it was not possible to determine the actual benefit to the Council until the detail was provided in the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement, which was expected in December. The receipt of additional funding would support the Council in its budget setting and would support the financial sustainability of the Council for 20-22/23 and future years. Once the detail was known, the financial forecasts of the Council would be finalised.


3.    Councillor Garry asked the following question:

I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Sir David Amess MP at his surgery – taking part in a fundamental building block of our democracy:  the ability of our constituents to meet their representatives face to face, alone.

I watched the tributes – from all sides of the House – and was moved by the responses.  A cursory appraisal of what was written in most of the daily newspapers was also positive, calling for more respect of opposing views etc.

I was therefore, understandably surprised to read of the vile abuse and death threat that an Oldham MP has received from a troll on facebook, but pleased that the disgraceful troll has now received a suspended prison sentence and a fine for his actions.

However. I was outraged when a resident called ‘John’ wrote the following on the Oldham Times facebook page as a result of a report on Jim’s “Justice has left Town” article, and I will read the comment to you.

“This quote said by Cher’s character to Daryl Van Horne in “The Witches of Eastwick” perfectly sums up JM and his phoney cronies at OMBC.

You are physically repulsive, intellectually retarded, you’re morally reprehensible, vulgar, insensitive, selfish, stupid, you have no taste, a lousy sense of humour and you smell. You’re not even interesting enough to make me sick.”

Obviously, I reported this to facebook and was told that it doesn’t go against any of our Community Standards. For this reason, we didn’t take the comment down.

I find John’s disgraceful comments sickening and wonder, will we never rise up above the pits that political discourse seems to have descended to as long as such disgraceful comments (against whichever Political Party) are allowed?


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for

Economic and Social Reform, responded that she agreed on this issue and more should be done to regulate online hate and abuse. Unfortunately the Community Standards that social media platforms claimed to uphold were, quite simply, a joke. She had reported several posts that were racist and abusive in nature, only to be told that they did not breach the standards. Facebook and other social media platforms were, at their heart, advertising platforms and should be held to similar standards as other advertising, as on television and in print. Those who ran such groups should moderate the content. On the Council’s social media channels, there was a zero-tolerance approach and posts were removed as soon as the Council became aware of them and it was hoped other local organisations would follow suit.


4.    Councillor Byrne asked the following question:

There are Definitive Footpaths in most wards which have not been given attention during the past 18 months.

Many have been deliberately blocked, signs turned in opposite directions and many just fallen into disrepair.

Enforcements on actions to rectify these have been almost non existent by the Council for a number of reasons throughout this Pandemic.

I know of a number of Footpath issues that have been raised in the Saddleworth Wards.

These are the ‘Rural’ Wards where these paths are now in greater use by residents not only from these wards but from the wider Oldham area.

Open air recreation has become very important to so many people and as a Council we have encouraged this.

We are now to have a new Footpaths Officer and can I ask that he has a suitable budget and time to recommence and enforce rules and Laws that have been suspended during the Time of COVID so that it does not just fall to willing volunteers and Councillors Allowances to put right.


Councillor Chadderton, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, replied that a new permanent full time Public Rights of Way (PROW) officer was appointed this summer 2021 and had been working to re-establish communications and relationships with many local walking groups and associations over the last few months. He had been already focussing on dealing with numerous unofficial “blockages” on the PROW network that were not dealt with during the early Covid lockdown period.  This backlog of very specific issues was being prioritised by the PROW officer.

In addition to the full time permanent post, there was overall funding of £35 000 per year for PROW small schemes / maintenance works – this comprised both revenue and capital monies. In order to fund larger capital scheme improvements, where possible funds were approved within the overall Highways Capital programme for individual schemes such as the very recent replacement of the large bridleway bridge across Church Road in Uppermill carrying the Pennine Bridleway. There were further funds approved within this programme for two more replacement footbridges totalling £165 000.

Where possible external grant funding was also applied for and, if necessary, the Council did match-fund.


5.    Councillor C Gloster asked he following question:

Any anticipated action on tackling HMO’s?

In the Oldham Liberal Democrats’ written submission to the Local Plan, the group called for tighter controls on premises being converted to Houses of Multiple Occupation, or HMO’s. This was picked up by the Oldham Times who asked the Cabinet Member for Housing for her comments where she accused the Liberal Democrats of ‘playing to the gallery’.

It is notable that Jim McMahon MP, who is the MP representing constituents in Cllr Robert’s Ward, has recently called for the very same thing stating that Oldham Council needs to act now to stop the constant stream of HMO applications, adding: ‘I would press for action to be prioritised to address this head on’ (Oldham Times 1/10/21).

Can the Cabinet Member for Housing tell us if we can now envisage action to be prioritised or is Jim McMahon MP simply playing to the gallery as well?


Councillor Roberts, Cabinet Member for Housing replied that the Council was already considering what measures are available enable stronger management of the conversion of properties to HMO’s. Any changes to Council planning policy on the conversion of properties to HMO’s would need to be made through the Local Plan review, as new planning policies could not be introduced without the due process of a Local Plan examination and the adoption of those new policies within a new Local Plan. Once adopted, those policies could then be material considerations in the planning application process.

Alongside this, the Council was exploring introducing Article 4 Directions and specifically included this issue in the issues and options consultation on the Local Plan, where there was evidence that would justify the removal of permitted development rights for the conversion of homes to HMO’s housing fewer than seven unrelated individuals. Currently, permitted development rights meant that no planning permission was needed for such a conversion. For all conversions of non-residential properties to HMO’s, and for conversion of residential properties to HMO’s of seven or more people, planning permission was already required.


6.    Councillor Shuttleworth asked the following question:

The land at the former failed Collective Spirit Free School site within Chadderton South Ward was returned to Council control some years ago now and one individual, from outside Chadderton South, continues to question the future use of the site. Part of the site has already been returned to Whitegate End Primary School to benefit the children who have missed out on the use of the playing field in recent years.


While this site appears on the Strategic Housing Land Availability schedule, may I ask the appropriate Cabinet member to confirm:

·         if this land would only be suitable for housing?

·         has there been any interest in the purchase of the land from any developer?

·         is there, or has there been, any application under consideration for housing development or any other development?


Councillor Roberts, Cabinet Member for Housing, responded that a site of this site and nature could have a number of potential uses, however given the well-publicised shortage of quality new homes (and in particular of affordable homes) within the borough, and the need to meet the Government’s Housing targets while minimising the impact on the greenbelt, housing was considered to represent the most appropriate use of the land in these circumstances.

There had been no recent direct enquiries from developers for this specific site.

The Council had not taken forward any planning applications in relation to the site to date.


7.    Councillor Mushtaq asked the following question:

Following the highly successful clean-up campaign in Alexandra Ward this September the ward councillors have received numerous comments expressing gratitude and praising the staff for their great work. They have also asked that this great work be complemented by stronger enforcement and prosecutions to help reduce the number of people fly-tipping can the relevant cabinet member please update us on these issues.


Councillor Chadderton, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, thanked him for the question and the appreciation of the team involved in the ‘Don’t Trash Oldham’ work that happened in Alexandra ward in September. It was good to hear such positive comments from residents and businesses in this and other wards. She would like to reassure the Councillor that the Council’s Environmental Enforcement team were constantly responding to new reports of flytipping and where evidence was found will progress the case and either serve a fixed penalty notice or look to instigate legal proceedings against the offenders. As a comparator, across Greater Manchester, Oldham Council has a good reputation for flytipping enforcement actions with the latest benchmarking statistics showing that we are 3rd out of the 10 local authorities in Gm.    

This enforcement work is regularly reported on a ward by ward basis and would shortly be complimented by five new Environment Marshals. Each cluster would have one Environment Marshal and their role would be to patrol the areas in that cluster and report any issues needing enforcement action.


8.    Councillor Taylor asked the following question:

Could the Leader of the Council update us on the roll out of the Big Conversation and the response so far both in talking to residents about the Town centre proposals and the neighbourhood meetings in Hollinwood and Saddleworth West and Lees.


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for

Economic and Social Reform, responded that the Big Oldham Conversation was our new approach to engagement with people throughout Oldham, and she was pleased to say that it had been very successful so far.

We were talking to residents and businesses across the borough to find out what they thought about subjects such as littering, public transport, anti-social behaviour and our plans for the new-look town centre – no topic of conversation was out of bounds.

The first Meet the Leader session took place in October in Hollinwood, where residents asked about issues including fly-tipping, street cleaning and potholes, as well as talking about other issues important to their communities.

The following day she would be in Saddleworth West and Leeds for the second Meet the Leader event; on Saturday, in Spindles talking to people about the town centre regeneration plans, and the following Tuesday the third Meet the Leader event was being held at Oldham Library, for people living and working in Coldhurst and St Mary’s.

Sessions would be hosted in wards across the borough, with every ward being included before the end of March 2022, and she was really keen that as many residents, businesses and members as possible attended, to ensure everyone has their say.


9.    Councillor Arnott asked the following question:

2021 marks the centenary anniversary of the Royal British Legion, the foremost and most recognisable of any of the many charities that support our service men and women and very importantly our veterans.   The work of the legion over its 100 years has benefited literally hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, and the organisation is rightly held in the highest esteem and regarded as part of the very fabric of our proud nation.

As we approach the 11 November, and the annual Remembrance Day commemorations, services and parades, could I, as a veteran myself, ask the Council Leader to provide an update on how the Council has engaged with, recognised and supported the Royal British Legion and the outstanding work that it does, in this, its 100th year.


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for

Economic and Social Reform, replied that Oldham Council have graciously agreed for the Greater Manchester County Conference to be held in the Council Chamber on 22 January 2022. This would have taken place in 2021, however Covid had stopped this. This will mean that all branches will be invited to attend.

An Officer of the Council, who is the Chadderton Branch Secretary, RBL Branch Community Support Officer and a Member of the Greater Manchester County Committee approached the RBL to hold the meeting in Oldham and this was voted on and agreed, and we are looking forward to hosting this meeting in the North of Manchester for the first time in a lot of years. 

We have several branches across Oldham, in Chadderton, Lees, Oldham, Royton, Saddleworth and Shaw and Crompton, which Madam Mayor will formally reopen on 11.11.2021 at the Central Hall in Newtown Street, Shaw.


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.