Northern Powerhouse: Not the end of the line…

Diggle Village looking from Clough ReservoirGOOD public transport is vital in ensuring that everyone can fulfil their potential in life.

As the lead member for Inclusive Growth at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) I know how important this is to peoples’ prospects and opportunities.

Public transport has an absolutely key role in promoting social inclusion by enabling people from the widest possible range of groups – including jobseekers, low income families, young people, disabled people and older people – to work, learn and be economically active.

So, if we’re truly committed to sharing the benefits of prosperity more widely – not just within Greater Manchester, but across the country as a whole – good public transport is essential to tackling issues for people who feel ‘left behind’.

Sorting that out requires investment, of course. And above all, it requires fair investment.

That’s why last week’s announcement that the Government has ditched its pledge to electrify the Manchester to Leeds rail line was so disappointing.

In 2015, the Department for Transport had said electrification of the whole link going through Manchester, Leeds and York would be complete by 2022. This, we were assured, demonstrated the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse and it was also in their election manifesto published less than a couple of months ago.

Yet today we now find ourselves once again stranded at the platform…

This is the second time the pledge has been backtracked upon – a pause for ‘review’ was undone last time – and Greater Manchester isn’t the only place to suffer from these announcements by Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary.  He’s also scrapped electrification of the routes between Cardiff and Swansea, Windermere and Oxenholme in the Lake District, and between Kettering, Nottingham and Sheffield.

On Monday this was then followed by news that the Government will be spending billions more on Crossrail 2 – running as far north as Broxbourne in Hertfordshire and as far south as Epsom in Surrey, passing through central London.

That pledge was not in the Government’s election manifesto and is a massive slap in the face to the North and other regions.

In principle I’ve got no issue with South East commuters getting investment in their rail services; far from it.  But it’s also very clear that different parts of the country are not being treated equally or fairly in this.

Data from Statista, using HM Treasury figures, shows that spending per head of population on transport infrastructure is £2,595.68 in London. That is 26 times more than the £99.19 spent per person in the North West.

That wouldn’t be so bad if our rail connections were already good but, frankly, we all know they are ‘state of the ark’.

Many residents will be very familiar with the substandard state of trans Pennine services with overcrowded carriages, vintage rolling stock and regular delays or cancellations. Journey times haven’t improved for decades – although fares have risen substantially – and don’t even dare to dream that you might be able to enjoy Wi-Fi access…

Making these announcements after Parliament went into summer recess all feels, shall we say, at least a tad convenient for Mr Grayling. But if he really thinks this will all be forgotten when they return to business after the party conference season, he is very much mistaken.

Andy Burnham has made clear the universal disgust at this decision across GM – and, rest assured, we’re all prepared to fight long and hard to get this decision overturned once again. This is not the end of the line on this story.

JEANHOLLINWOOD

On a more positive note this week, I wanted to mention great news for Hollinwood.

On Monday I went to meet Neal Biddle, development director of Langtree, at Hollinwood Junction where we have signed a development agreement that could create up to 760 new jobs with leisure, retail, employment and housing.

This is a significant milestone and it hasn’t been easy to get here.

It started when I wrote to the National Grid asking them to talk to us about the redundant gas holder that has become such a blight on the area and blocking development.

They were planning to leave it there until 2023 at the earliest but we’ve reached agreement and can now get on with demolition to start regenerating this key gateway site.

Interest from potential occupiers is high and Langtree expect to be able to announce a first deal before the end of summer, so watch this space.

This is my last blog before the Oldham Council recess period, but it will return on August 23.

Until then, please get out and enjoy the summer weather with your family and friends and have a great time.

Jean

Hooray for Hollinwood

HollinwoodGREAT NEWS for Oldham’s regeneration programme this week as we took a vital step towards unlocking the development and employment opportunities at Hollinwood Junction.

This site at junction 22 of the M60 has long had great development potential, but with one major stumbling block.

Following Cabinet approval on Monday we will now buy the redundant gas holder from National Grid Property Holdings – who weren’t scheduled to remove the structure until 2023 at the earliest – and get on with demolition to spark regeneration and create new jobs.

We’d signed a Strategic Partnering Agreement with developers Langtree Group PLC some time ago, and are now working with them – and the Hollinwood Partnership – to regenerate the area.

Hollinwood Junction has significant parcels of public and private sector-owned land all boasting great transport links which could make it a regionally important employment zone at a major gateway, boosting the local economy and improving the environment.

After a lengthy process this is a real boost for our plans and we’re ready to get on with the job. We’ve already got planning permission to demolish and can start on-site this summer to remove the gas holder by early 2018.

DFESTIVALAnother development much closer to fruition is our Digital Enterprise Hub which opens this summer on Yorkshire Street.

This will support grassroots entrepreneurs and bring together the talent, inspiration and investment needed to create a launch pad where digital creatives can collaborate in the heart of our Independent Quarter.

Hack Oldham will be offering low-cost and flexible workspaces there and fellow tenants Open Future North will be leading the regional arm of Wayra UK’s work to grow entrepreneurial ‘ecosystems’ and energise local economies.

As we now look to promote our growing offer in this sector for residents and businesses, Oldham Library will be hosting our first-ever Digital Festival this Saturday.

This free event has all kinds of opportunities for people to improve their digital skills through advice, workshops and tips to get on in work and life with new technology.

The line-up includes explorations and experiments with some of the best professional digital artists around, plus chances to start your micro:bit adventure with BBC Make it digital, draw in virtual reality with Google Tilt Brush, make your own video game characters or learn how to repair digital equipment.

Hack Oldham will be on hand offering advice on coding, making, tech, gaming and devices, and you can also join in some retro games or just find out more about online banking and Smartphone apps first-hand from the experts.

There will also be workshops for writers, a University Campus Oldham stall with advice on digital careers, and a demonstration of free and interactive business resources.

People of all ages and experience are welcome and you can find out more about the Digital Festival at www.oldham.gov.uk/oldham_library

CTAX
And finally this week – as I prepare for this evening’s Full Council – some Council Tax news…

First, we’re giving all residents a chance to win a share of £1,000 as part of our drive to encourage more people to use direct debit and online services.

All you have to do is sign-up to pay your Council Tax via Direct Debit by Friday, April 28 and you’ll be entered into a free draw to win one of five cash prizes. To register, just have your bank details and Council Tax account reference ready and log onto www.oldham.gov.uk/ctcomp or call 0161 770 6622.

Last but not least, we’re proposing to increase our support for young people leaving care by making them exempt from Council Tax for a three-year period.

Under the proposals, which go to Cabinet next month, all care leavers aged 18, 19 and 20 would benefit from a move backed by the Children’s Society which found that this is a particularly vulnerable group for Council Tax debt.

This measure is just one way we can do ‘our bit’ and ensure we continue helping young people trying to adapt to living on their own, managing their finances and finding work for the first time.

Jean