FIRSTLY this week, I must start by again congratulating Oldham Athletic – and their iconic FA Cup hero Matt Smith.
Last Saturday’s thrilling 2-2 draw at Boundary Park earned the Latics yet another lucrative televised replay at Goodison Park.
It was another proud evening for Oldham on a national stage – and also brings the financial prospects for a new stand potentially even closer for the club.
Ironically, the topic of having a ‘suitable home’ is what I want to focus on this week.
Any strong community needs balance and one area where this is particularly true is housing.
Oldham isn’t one uniform place. Its’ districts have developed in very different ways and the look and feel of each is different: from the urban ‘city’ life of Failsworth on the doorstep of Manchester City Centre to the rural idyll of Saddleworth, increasingly an affluent commuter belt for those wanting the convenience and opportunities of a major city region with a quality lifestyle.
Areas of significant architectural interest at Werneth and Coppice are once again becoming home now to a new generation of middle class families and the demand for larger quality homes is evident.
The housing offer has changed over time, particularly in Oldham itself where there are areas within areas. Decades of clearances and rebuilding have changed the landscape and it is fair to say that the quality of housing is far better and increasingly more attractive.
Work at St Marys and Primrose Bank, to name just two developments, show quality design and good environmental credentials that give a new offer.
Building work here is generally taking place at an impressive rate when the national housing market is taken into account. Developers are on-site building in every district across the Borough with a healthy mix of private, equity share and social housing, and everything in-between.
We also have an opportunity to create something very different on a number of sites freed up through our new schools programme. There is a temptation to follow the pack but – let’s be honest – the quality of newer estates can be limited and I believe one area of newer housing which needs exploring is not just for quality homes, but also areas which create quality environments and quality lifestyles.
So, could Oldham become home to a new generation of Garden Suburbs – in many ways co-operative communities in their own right? Having personally delivered leaflets throughout most areas in Oldham I must admit to always enjoying getting the Hollinwood round, which includes our very own Garden Suburb.
Housing isn’t all about new build and grand plans, though – it’s also about supporting families and just recognising what a property essentially is: a home for the occupant.
To that end we’re working hard to ensure the established housing market functions as well as it can.
Our Local Authority mortgage scheme will help 50 first-time buyers get a foot on
the housing ladder, for example, and we’re also assisting people who find themselves in financial difficulties on a daily basis. To date we’ve helped more than 450 families stay in their homes and have an officer based in the County Court to help people facing repossession.
Clearly though, not everyone facing financial woes is in a mortgaged property and our support programme for those in rented accommodation has kept around 1,300 families in their homes.
We’re also aware of the blight that empty homes causes to communities and have already brought over 75 such properties back into use through our strong partnerships with social landlords.
Working with tenants in larger homes we’ve also successfully supported over 250 households through our downsizing scheme. Not only does this give the individual or couple more suitable accommodation – and cuts their bills – it also frees up much-needed family homes for others.
We have yet to see the effects of Welfare ‘Reform’ kick in and we don’t yet know how the bedroom tax will affect families in real terms. What we do know, however, is that 2,600 households will be affected with a collective loss of £1.7 million a year to the Borough – and exactly how families will make good this loss of support remains to be seen.
Clearly we’re working closely with those affected and have funded extra welfare advisors to assist but – as April 1 gets closer when all the benefit changes start – many families will realise that, despite it being April Fool’s day, this government is deadly serious.
Finally, a time to reflect…
Andrew Partington has now been sentenced to ten years in jail for the manslaughter of two-year-old Jamie Heaton in the Shaw gas blast last June.
Reading through the events of the day in national media again this week – accompanied by a photo of Jamie eating his ice cream – was hard to do.
Life is cruel and to think that the actions of a selfish bully made all this happen does make you question society.
If you dwell on that too long it fills you with anger and, whatever sentence was imposed, nothing can ever make good what has happened to the Heatons.
My thoughts are with Michelle, Kenny and their family and friends as they try to make sense of a senseless loss and to begin rebuilding their lives: accepting it will never be the same.
Thanks for listening,