THIS WILL be my final blog before the election period officially begins and council publicity is restricted.
It’s been an interesting week for several reasons but what’s been particularly striking on my visits around the borough is how increasingly clear it is to many people that Oldham is now finally setting out its own future and – in a short space of time – things are really coming together.
The scaffolding is up on the Old Town Hall to create the new Odeon cinema and restaurants, for example.
Cranes now hover above Boundary Park piecing together the steelwork for a new football stand (pictured) and the steel frame is also up on the FCHO office development on Union Street.
The new college building already has its ‘skin’ on and rising fast from the ground behind it is the new University Technical College.
The Metrolink tram system is now connecting Oldham town centre with Rochdale and Manchester – and our first batch of traders are setting up on Yorkshire Street as part of the new Independent Quarter to breathe life back into the high street.
New homes are also being handed over to families through a huge building programme of more than 1,200 homes with even more to come. New garden suburbs are also being planned and our very first community building scheme has been approved to benefit around 30 families.
Our roads are also improving. More than £12 million has already been invested and a further £2 million is going in for 2014/5 to address years of underfunding and to deliver a unique 24-hour repair promise for main routes.
With new leisure centres, new primary and secondary schools also coming through there is a real sense of optimism growing. Especially when you put it all alongside other campaigns like Get Oldham Working or our Enterprise Trust fund that is helping new business ventures get off the ground.
Investing in the future is vital to make Oldham a place we can all be proud of – but so too are basic services and community need.
One area which will be getting more attention this year is the Private Rented housing sector.
In Oldham this accounts for more than 12,000 homes, a figure that has increased by a third in the past decade. The system generally works fine, but we see examples of clusters of poorly managed and maintained properties with landlords who are careless about the standard and quality of tenancy selection.
I’m clear that we won’t stand for poor housing – regardless of the income levels of the tenant – and we won’t accept it for certain areas when it would be unacceptable in others.
Every person should uphold their own responsibilities in this relationship. That means landlords should step up too, which is why we’re now starting a consultation about introducing a new Selective Licensing scheme.
This will focus on areas where this problem is concentrated and more intervention is needed. The principle is simple: if landlords can’t be trusted to manage themselves then it gives power and funding to the council to take firm action.
We’ve been busy on a range of other measures to improve this sector and good progress is being made.
Since April 2013, for example, we’ve dealt with 1,023 service requests about private rented properties, assisting tenants in getting repairs and improving their quality of life.
We’ve also put in an extra £140k to fund more enforcement officers – massively increasing our ability to take enforcement action. This will help us tackle rogue landlords better and environmental issues at a neighbourhood level. These officers will also work with neighbourhood enforcement teams to target areas of poor housing and environmental quality, as well as giving positive support to those people and groups trying to make things better.
Our Changing Behaviours Programme is a long-term approach to stop fly tipping and dumping in Oldham and it has now tackled more than 5,500 households over eight areas – including Coldhurst, Greenacres, Clarksfield, Coppice and Hathershaw – since last August.
The approach is based on recognition of the need to educate people about their responsibilities with their rubbish and ensure they have all the right bins and facilities to do so responsibly. It’s backed by strong enforcement on anyone who continues to fly tip and dump.
Initial impacts have shown a 30 per cent increase in recycling participation, month on month increases in the amount of recycling collected compared to last year and early improvement in local environmental quality. The key now is to encourage shifting social norms in these communities and support them in taking ownership of the issues themselves.
We’ve worked hard to improve access to the Private Rented sector for people too – launching ‘Let’s Help You’, for example: an award-winning free self-service website to support households to do this.
We also launched ‘Homes For All’, our social lettings agency, which manages private properties for landlords and operates a ‘lease and repair’ scheme which will bring empty homes back into use and give the owner a guaranteed income.
And we’re continuing to work with developers and private investors to build new homes for private rent – already having supported two bids to a ‘Build to Rent’ scheme, which could mean 106 new high quality homes built for private rent in Chadderton and Hollinwood.
There’s still a lot to be done to improve the Private Rented sector and – as a co-operative borough – we need everyone to ‘do their bit’.
If some people aren’t contributing but continue to take from the community or system then that isn’t fair to those who are paying the price financially or in terms of their own neighbourhoods being let down.
If landlords are willing to play their part in our Selective Licensing scheme then they will have our full support.
But if they want to take and put nothing back then they’d better watch out – we’re coming for you!
Thanks for listening,