Go away winter…

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RESILIENCE helps us all to get through a typical Oldham winter – and this year we’ve needed it even more than usual.

Winter has been a particularly cruel season this time round with unusually prolonged spells of frost and frequent snowfall all culminating in last week’s big freeze. Let’s hope that is the worst of it out of the way!

The visits of Storm Emma and the Beast From The East brought together an extreme cocktail of freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall and high winds that made hibernation look an appealing option by last Thursday morning.

It feels like it has been winter forever now and, to put it in to some context, I wanted to share with you the efforts our gritting and highways team have been putting in to battle what the elements have been throwing at the borough.

IMG_0606By last Saturday morning our gritter drivers had clocked up 77,287 road miles – or 124,381 kilometres – since October.

They’d also put in around 15,000 tractor miles, done 148 separate treatment shifts on local roads and spread 6,280 tonnes of salt.

The response last week from all our staff, partners and residents was fantastic and inspiring yet again.

Gritting shifts continued round the clock from last Sunday onwards. Roads were ploughed, snow blowers deployed and fallen trees removed as the disruption deepened.

Council staff and employees of MioCare, which is responsible for delivering social care in Oldham, literally waded their way through snow drifts to visit elderly and vulnerable people in some of the remotest locations we have – not missing one single appointment. Others rang thousands of residents checking on their wellbeing, food and medicine stocks and heating.

Partners also came to the fore. Oldham Mountain Rescue Team, for example, helped us ensure that a 94-year-old lady was safe and warm in her isolated Strinesdale home surrounded by snow drifts.

Oldham Fire Station opened their facilities as a rest centre for motorists stranded around the local road network after the M62 became impassable. And local tractor drivers and residents came out in their droves to offer help and food to people trapped in and around the Saddleworth villages.

IMG_0610 (002)The clean-up operation is now underway – and there is plenty to do.

Our facility at Access Oldham suffered wind damage but it is now back and fully operational.  Unfortunately, Gallery Oldham suffered from flooding and remains closed for now. To get the latest updates on any of our services or buildings please go to www.oldham.gov.uk/winter

We also have a backlog of bin collections to catch up on, grit bins to refill and – of course – we know the latest freeze inevitably means dozens more potholes will be appearing on our roads.

Just last month we announced a £6.2 million investment to bring many of our highways back up to scratch. I want to stress again that that work is ongoing and it is in addition to our regular pothole repairs, where we need your help.

We’ve repaired more than 4,441 potholes in the last twelve months but with 856 kilometres of roads to look after we simply don’t have the resource to spot them all. That’s why I am again asking people to please do #yourbit and report any potholes that you see using our online form here

If the pothole poses an immediate and serious threat to safety, then please call 0161 770 4325.

I want to say thank you once again to everyone who helped make the latest Oldham response to extreme weather so effective.

Thank you to local residents and business for your patience too, and the many kind comments and words of appreciation that our staff received.

The spirit that was shown and the snow heroes who came to the fore are a true credit to the borough.

I, for one, am now desperately hoping that was winter’s last hurrah for 2017/8 and am counting down the days until British Summer Time officially begins (Sunday, March 25) and brings a glorious extra hour of daylight to warm our spirits.

Jean

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Reflections on a turbulent time

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277THE LAST few weeks have been a turbulent time.

The calling of a snap General Election meant that I had to stop publishing my blog almost immediately due to publicity rules and – since then – things have been a whirlwind with a frantic schedule of door-knocking and supporting local candidates.
 
I’ve also been busy on Oldham Council business and you’ll see some of that work coming to fruition with positive announcements about plans for Oldham town centre and the Prince’s Gate scheme due in July. 
 
It’s undeniable, however, that we’re facing uncertainty at a national level.
 
The General Election has left us with a minority Conservative-led government and – even with the Democratic Unionist Party now alongside her in the voting lobbies – Theresa May will find things difficult.
 
Any controversial measures are unlikely to get through a Commons vote and the situation also means that any Conservative MPs wanting to ‘rock the boat’ could easily put themselves in a powerful position to obstruct government business.
 
What that all means for Oldham Council and local government remains uncertain.
 
Some commentators and politicians have predicted the election result means the age of austerity and funding cuts is now at an end, but only time will tell.
 
Last week’s watered-down Queen’s Speech also made no specific reference to many key issues facing local authorities.
 
Clarification about the future of council funding – or the original intention to have 100 per cent retention of business rates by 2020 – was glaring by its absence. And there are other questions, like what the government’s long-term and sustainable solution to the social care funding gap will be.
 
None of these will be helped by now having a minority government where solutions are likely to be a compromise, and the result of a painfully-paced bargaining process.
 
THILLTWOSince my last blog there’s also been significant domestic news – most notably the series of appalling terrorist attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire.
 
The attacks at Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park have raised all kinds of issues about our security, foreign policy and policing.
 
I can’t ever recall so many shocking events in such a short period, but it has also been met with a magnificent public response.
 
Locally, it was heart-breaking to learn that two of the innocent victims of the Manchester attack – Alison Howe and Lisa Lees – were mums from Royton who had gone to pick their daughters up from that Ariana Grande concert.
 
This was an horrific attack on innocent people going about their everyday business –on our way of life – and the community response has been inspiring.
 
Royton town centre became home to huge floral tributes, lengthy queues to sign books of condolence and a very moving public vigil at Tandle Hill Park: all showing the very best in local community spirit.
 
POETFour weeks on, the support from people wanting to show they stand together with the families was apparent again at last Friday’s funerals and at the Picnic in the Park at Tandle Hill, which was a wonderful idea by the families.
 
Hundreds of local residents showed their respects and were entertained by stage performances from Tony Walsh (the Manchester Poet, pictured right), Clint Boon and local bands.

I want to thank all those people, firms, partners and council staff who worked so hard to make that event happen. Offers of help came in all shapes and forms ranging from the donation of 1,000 pies, pastries and pasties by Greggs, to volunteers spending hours to clear the park of litter afterwards. 
 
For those two families the hard work is only just beginning, but that display of support will hopefully at least have given them comfort that they are not alone.
 

Once again, I find myself in admiration of the human warmth, decency and kindness of our residents – and the courage of our amazing ‘blue light’ services.

Jean