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

Culture: A force for entertainment, education and growth

coliseum-move-pr-shot-daily-issues

IT’S VITAL that the ongoing regeneration of Oldham town centre has a strong cultural element – our history demands it and so does our future.

As a town we’ve got an enviable tradition of producing and playing host to scores of fantastic actors, comedy, drama, dance, music and pantomime performances and we must ensure that can continue.

Arts, culture and heritage all matter and they must be at the heart of the revival of Oldham.

These activities give fantastic life opportunities to people of all backgrounds and levels of talent – whether that is by taking part, spectating or benefiting from some of the educational and learning spin-offs.

They are also important because modern town centres no longer simply work as a cluster of retail outlets. To be successful they need to be a destination: and one with a wide enough offer to appeal to all kinds of tastes and needs.

Lifestyles and shopping habits have changed beyond all recognition so you need a range of attractions that can attract footfall of all kinds and cater for the ‘leisure pound’.

That’s why we’ve delivered the ODEON cinema and restaurants at the Old Town Hall, where Gourmet Burger Kitchen opened this week. It’s also why we have worked so hard on our Independent Quarter and our Digital Enterprise Hub – and it’s why we are committed to a phased programme that will bring our new Cultural Quarter together.

The brilliant news this week that Arts Council England has confirmed a £7.1m grant towards a new Oldham Coliseum Theatre means those plans can now progress from paper to bricks and mortar.

The vision is to move the Coliseum into a new building located just yards from the Oldham Central Metrolink stop, and alongside the new Heritage and Arts Centre which will tell the story of our borough’s past through a series of displays, installations, archives and artefacts.

Both will also be next to Gallery Oldham, which hosts an excellent range of travelling exhibitions and events, and Oldham Library which boasts some of the highest visitor numbers across the region.

Together these assets will create a fantastic new cultural hub for Oldham, strengthening the facilities our residents can enjoy – and our visitor economy.

Getting to where we are today with the Coliseum Theatre project has required a great deal of co-operative working and shared vision on all sides.

I am proud of the work that has been done on the project and the backing of the Arts Council England shows that we must be doing something right. It is not every day that ACE invests such a significant sum in a theatre in the North of England; let alone one that is not in a city centre.

The Coliseum has long been a jewel in our borough’s crown, but it’s also been clear it was not viable to stay at its creaking Fairbottom Street home.

I know that some people will think that’s a shame and I understand that. Regular visitors will obviously have a natural affection for the current building that holds so many great memories for them.

Places are important to us all, of course, but they are nothing without the people that make the experience special. The quality of a night at the theatre, after all, depends upon both the players and the audience.

This new home will still boast that same warm and authentic welcome that people have come to expect, but it will instead be in state-of-the-art facilities – including a 550-seat main auditorium and a 170-seat studio theatre – and will offer a wider programme of activities with greater benefit to our communities and people.

The new plans that are due to be submitted next year shouldn’t be seen as a sad break with the past, but simply as the next chapter in the Coliseum’s long-running success story.

This is actually the second time in their history that the theatre has moved. They left their first home on Henshaw Street in 1887 to make way for Tommyfield Market..

They’ve been in this business since 1885 now and their timeline is littered with appearances by the likes of Eric Sykes, Charlie Chaplin, Bernard Cribbins, Dame Thora Hird, Anne Kirkbride, Kathy Staff, Claire Sweeney and Kenneth Alan Taylor.

We must preserve that legacy for future generations to build the next list of stellar names – and the beauty of the plans is that the Coliseum can continue to run with a full programme at Fairbottom Street right until they move in 2020.

There’s a lot of work to do before then but Union Street is going to be a fantastic new venue and the Cultural Quarter a unique asset for Oldham.

Next week, as I prepare for the final Full Council meeting of 2016, I will be blogging with an update on progress on our latest budget proposals and the plans at Prince’s Gate.

Jean

Old Town Hall: New Era

The opening of the Old Town Hall last Friday was every bit as exciting as I had hoped it would be and I was honoured to carry out the official opening, alongside former council Leader, MP for Oldham West and Royton, Jim McMahon.

Hundreds of people made the special journey to Oldham town centre to witness the free show ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ and were both entranced and delighted with the bravery of the aerial acrobats who helped to bring the story to life. The story epitomizes what we are about – a small girl who, when raised on the shoulders of a giant, finds that she can see much further – and that she can also see a brighter future for herself and her town. 

Well I see a brighter future for our town and truly believe that this development marks a new era for Oldham. 

I was heartened to see so many people at the event. So many of you gave up your Friday night to join us in celebrating this new start for Oldham town centre, so it just goes to show what a huge difference this development has already begun to make to our town.

As I said on the night, this is a game-changer for Oldham – and it really is just the start.

It was a fantastic weekend filled with live music, street performances and movie-themed entertainment. All I would ask now is that you continue to show your support and use this great new facility, take your family to visit the new Odeon cinema and use Parliament Square as a focal point for enjoying time with your friends and family – just make sure you tell everyone about it and encourage them to do the same. Take a look at what’s on at the cinema here www.odeon.co.uk/cinemas/oldham/222/

Work will continue over the next few weeks to progress the phased opening of the restaurants and I will continue to keep you updated on this as it happens. 

Finally, as promised a fortnight ago, I’m going to explain the final two priorities that lie ahead for this administration. 

Both are about health and wellbeing. 

We will work hard to manage our budget so we can continue to provide care for all who need it – and for Oldham to be a caring place to live. 

That’s not easy given the challenges we’re facing with our budget, falling income and rising demand, but it’s a commitment that remains: from our new Right Start service right up to helping people live independently in their homes or managed accommodation in later life.  

That agenda is increasingly about reforming public services, delivering things in a different way with partners, and empowering individuals to help themselves.  

The partnership model behind Warm Homes Oldham is a great example of that – as is the Early Help scheme which has redesigned and integrated services for people who need support with problems like drug and alcohol addictions, mental health issues, school attendance and behaviour, and housing.

A vital final priority for us is to support healthy lifestyles. 

We’re actively helping residents and staff to be ‘Fit for Oldham’ – mentally and physically – and there are many aspects to that.

I think of our brilliant catering team who offer the healthiest school meals in the North West to give our children a great start are a perfect example of that.

We’ve also got fantastic parks and open spaces like Alexandra and Dunwood Parks to enjoy and get active – and we’re continuing to invest in others, like the new MUGA pitch at Coalshaw Green Park.

With partners and volunteers we also offer a wide range of help and activities, like the fantastic local Parkruns, and we now have a modern estate of leisure centres. 

Through a host of other measures like growing hubs, fruit routes, allotments and schemes across the borough – like those at Lees,  Alexandra Park and community projects like those with the Firwood and District Residents’ Association and the Fatima Womens’ Association – we’re widening access to healthy food, knowledge and fitness. And we’re doing all that from juniors upwards to help these become habits for the next generation. 

The rationale is that this is ‘win win’ for everyone, if we get this right. It’s not just beneficial for those families taking part, it will also ultimately save the public sector money. 

But it also needs your participation and – as I said at the outset of this series of blogs – I pledge that people who do their bit and contribute to this vision and priorities will benefit from them…

We can only build a better borough together.

Jean

Oldham’s changing skyline: The need for a plan

SKYLINE1OLDHAM’S skyline and environment are changing fast – and the best is yet to come.

That transformation has been steadily accelerating since the opening of our town centre Metrolink line in 2014.

Walking around Oldham now you can’t fail to notice many new or improved buildings, plus new views and vistas, and the green shoots needed to improve our local economy.

You can see it clearly in areas like the Independent Quarter – where we are co-investing with people putting their life savings, daily graft and faith into breathing new life into the area – and it is steadily being replicated across the town centre.

The Old Town Hall is, of course, the flagship project and it’s already become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Every day you see people stopping to stand around the Cenotaph and the Greaves Arms sneaking a peek at the site and taking snapshots.

Although you cannot yet see inside the grand old building, I can confirm that work is well advanced and we now have a provisional handover date from our contractors.

OTHBlog

Following that there will then be a ‘fit out’ period when the new tenants’ own contractors move into the units to install their own fittings and train staff. I can’t yet confirm the opening date publicly but your new ODEON cinema and restaurants remain on track to open later this year.

And it was great this week – before we’ve even opened the doors – to see the Old Town Hall scheme nominated for a major award.

The GM Chamber of Commerce has shortlisted it for ‘Building of the Year 2016’ and that’s a promising early indication of the kind of impact we’re expecting from a new regional destination that will put us firmly on the map.

If you can’t wait to glimpse that future then I’d recommend a visit to the new ‘Revival’ exhibition which opened at Gallery Oldham this week.

REVIVALThis looks at the Old Town Hall and the iconic old Library and Art Gallery building, which will become our new Heritage Centre, showcasing images and objects belonging to both as they are adapted for their new future uses.

Looking at that Old Town Hall site you can also see work is progressing well on Parliament Square, our new public space, and other much-needed improvements being made to the surroundings of the Yorkshire Street/Union Street area.

Important work has also just got started in the ‘Campus Oldham’ part of town along the King Street corridor linking Oldham College, the new Oldham Leisure Centre, and Oldham Sixth Form College

This will see better highways and pedestrian areas and an improved cycle infrastructure leading into the town centre.

That will make a significant difference to the appearance of that area, which will also be boosted by the new-build three-form academy primary school set to open at the former Grange School site in September.

Just down the road from there I had the honour of attending the official groundbreaking ceremony for Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre at Royal Oldham Hospital on Monday.

This will provide a fantastic place offering free practical and emotional support in an environment that will make a huge difference to the quality of care for local patients. The plans show it set in a sloping garden with trees growing up through the buildings – accessed over a bridge – with views down to a garden pool. It’s just the latest life-changing project to be funded by the generosity of the Stoller Charitable Trust.

But what goes up must also come down – and that’s another way in which regeneration is changing the skyline.

Earlier this year we pulled down the former Oldham Sports Centre on Lord Street which means residents on the new St Mary’s Estate (for now at least) can enjoy a more splendid view of Oldham Parish Church.

A couple of weeks ago I also pressed the button to demolish the seven-storey council-owned car park at Hobson Street which, let’s face it, has been an eyesore for many years and its demise clears that site again for a brighter future.

This was a cold, brutalist structure which, like the old St Peter’s Shopping Precinct (or ‘Windy City’ as many of us called it!) will surely not be missed by even the most nostalgic of residents.

In looking positively to the future like this, I’m also very conscious that we’re living in incredibly uncertain times.

The UK is in a difficult and challenging environment on so many levels at present and, as a mere Council Leader, I don’t for one moment pretend to have a crystal ball about what that lies ahead.

What I do know, however, is that having a long-term regeneration plan – both physical and social – is crucial to anchoring your confidence (and that of others) in your place and its ability to improve people’s prospects.

These latest signs of progress in Oldham’s skyline and environment show that we have that plan. Without it we would surely be exposing ourselves to even greater uncertainty.

This is my final blog now before the traditional Council recess break, but it will return on August 24.

Many of you will have holidays planned soon, so I hope you all enjoy fine family times and weather – and stay safe.

Jean

 

The challenges of uncertain times

TRITON2I’VE ALWAYS put a lot faith in the maxim that ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ – and that’s never more true than now.

We live in very uncertain times where the potential threats to our daily lives, institutions and basic things that we depend on come from all kinds of sources.

We have to be prepared for all manner of incidents and scenarios – some environmental and naturally occurring, others caused by accidental or deliberate human acts.

These include, amongst an almost endless and ever-growing list, incidents and emergencies related to terrorism, community tensions, flooding, gales and high winds, infectious disease, reservoirs, snow and extreme cold weather and even (I know!) heatwaves.

Only last week an important new Government report warned that the UK’s supply of food could be put at risk by climate change as droughts and storms start to devastate farmland here and abroad. It’s a chilling analysis.

As an American scientist commenting on that report put it, climate change is happening “so rapidly that people around the world are noticing the changes in global warming and extreme weather with their own eyes and skin”.

TRITON5That’s why emergency planning events like Exercise Triton II – which we played a key role in last week – are absolutely crucial to building resilience and improving our ability to cope with all kinds of incidents.

Triton was an emergency planning exercise without precedent across the Greater Manchester region and involved an incredible amount of organisation and preparation beforehand by the GM Resilience Forum and partners.

To give you an idea of how complex a task that was, we had players taking part at national level like the Government, military, the Met Office, the National Grid, HM Coastguard, Highways England, British Transport Police, the Environment Agency, NHS England, National Police Air Service, Government Digital Service and the British Red Cross.

And at a regional level all ten of the GM authorities took part alongside Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, GM Police, the North West Ambulance Service, Network Rail, Transport for Greater Manchester and Oldham Mountain Rescue – and many, many more.

Now imagine even just trying to co-ordinate everyone’s diaries for the very first meeting to agree what you are actually planning to do – and you can start to see the scale of what was eventually undertaken.

We’re not allowed to give away details of the full scenario for obvious reasons, but those people responding as if events were real were tested to the hilt.

From Monday last week they all started to get information about adverse weather and warnings of a growing risk of regional flooding.

This gradually ramped up to the main ‘play’ day on Thursday when the public will have seen a lot of activity in the Oldham area.

TRITON4Dove Stone Reservoir is a beautiful place and it provided a stunning backdrop to the dramatic sight of the Chinook helicopter dropping High Volume Pumps onsite to help stem the flow of a mythical breach in the dam that morning.

Cynics sometimes dismiss exercises like this as ‘boys with toys’, but nothing could be further from the truth.

As events unfolded during the day the scenario worsened with the dam collapsing and our response teams having to immediately put plans around floods, evacuation and the setting up of rest centres etc. into action. Their task was made even harder by constant ‘injects’ of new complicating factors like stranded animals, loss of utilities like gas and electricity and frightened people stranded on public transport.

The drama then continued to spread across the region with worsening flooding and a series of incidents that will have given the staff dealing with them a major headache.

I’d like to thank everyone from Oldham Council and our partners who took part in the planning and the playing of the exercise – and especially all the volunteers who played such key roles in making it feel real.

We hope that a day like the one depicted in that exercise will never come, of course, but recent history shows us that it almost certainly can.

No one will ever forget the scenes at Boscastle in Cornwall when torrential rain led to a 7ft rise in river levels in one hour in August 2014. Those images of cars, caravans, homes and boats being smashed into each other and washed away as people clung to trees and the roofs of buildings and cars, are a chilling reminder of us all of the fragility of our environment.

TRITON3Much will have been learnt from Exercise Triton and the analysis of all the log books of what happened, who did what and when, will teach us valuable lessons for all kinds of incidents we could face in the future.

If all that preparation and work helps to prevent just one incident, give one community an extra ten minutes’ warning or save just one life, it will surely have been worth it.

Finally, today is the first time I have blogged since the terrible terrorist attack in Nice.

Last Friday I asked for our Union and Peace flags to be flown at half-mast and invited staff to join a one minute silence in respect of the victims.

I think many of us were left to reflect not just on the senselessness of the attack – but also how often we now seem to be marking events like these.

As I said before, we really do live in uncertain times – but we should never let that stop us going about our daily lives and enjoying the freedoms that we are so fortunate to have.

Jean

Three-weekly bins – Why, how and when

Grey bin with bags 2 flippedYOU’VE PROBABLY read by now about plans for a new waste collection system to be introduced across the borough in early October.

Put simply, it means a move from two-weekly to three-weekly collections of your grey, general waste bins – plus other measures to help people recycle.

I must stress that we haven’t done this lightly – and also that we did our research first.

I know kerbside collection is the one service that every single resident relies upon. That means making changes to it is a big deal and that we must get it right.

After weighing up all the options the decision boiled down to some inescapable facts.

At present, the cost to Oldham Council for disposing of grey bin waste comes to hundreds of pounds per tonne. Yet for every tonne we recycle, we actually get a small income.

That means our future simply has to be about less waste and more recycling – which are environmental and economic ‘wins’ for everyone.

The more money that we can save by doing this, the more funds we can then put back into protecting vital frontline services as Government continues to slash our funding.

We’re not unusual in making this change. Across Greater Manchester there is now only Wigan that still has fortnightly collections of the standard 240-litre grey wheelie bins.

Other authorities have all either introduced three-weekly collections – or moved to 140-litre versions of the general waste (grey) bins, which are 40 per cent smaller than the standard containers.

By not changing bin sizes we don’t have to spend money on replacing all your bins, which is a considerable cost. It’s been reported that Manchester’s switch to slimmer bins, for example, will cost them around £1.8m.

We’ve also looked closely at how three-weekly collections are working in other areas.

Bury were the first to introduce them and faced a storm of national headlines about fears of overflowing bins and infestations of rats and insects.

In the first year of the new scheme thousands of tonnes of general waste – a drop of 16 per cent – were no longer sent to landfill.  Bury’s recycling rate jumped by nine per cent and they saved hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In Oldham we estimate we can increase our recycling rate by 12 per cent through these changes which – over the next two years – would save us up to £3 million during a time when we need to find £37 million in savings.

I’ve heard it said this move will lead to a more flytipping here, and I understand that concern.

3WK1However, our experience with flytipping – as detailed in my blog two weeks ago – is that the majority of it isn’t down to selfish residents. It’s lazy trade waste discarded to avoid costs/responsibility, and bad landlords dumping items left by departed tenants.

The new collection regime will be a simpler one.

Grey bins for general rubbish will be collected one week. Blue bins for paper and card the week after, and then brown bins for glass, plastic and tins in the third week.

We’ll also continue collecting all garden and food waste on a weekly basis. That’s to stop the potential for bad smells and flies/insects, especially during the summer.

Households with extra waste they cannot recycle could be entitled to an extra grey bin and they should contact us to discuss the options. And we’re also offering – free – any extra blue, brown and green recycling bins you need, or upgrades to bigger recycling bins if you have the smaller ones.

Before the new system starts I’ve been very clear that we must contact every resident with information packs that explain your options and help with the changes.

Those will include new collection calendars, plus information about how to recycle more effectively. I’m sure the Stretton household isn’t alone in having had many debates about what can and can not be recycled, and exactly how(!).

You can read about the new arrangements on our website at www.oldham.gov.uk/waste or find out more by calling 0161 770 6644.

Rubbish HouseChange brings challenges and I can moan as much as the next person when asked to do something a different way after years of habit.

But we also know doing things differently is our best chance to help find the savings we need to provide good services here.

For now all I ask is that you give the new arrangements ‘a go’ as others have elsewhere.

Please do ‘your bit’ and get behind our mission to recycle as much as we possibly can.

‘Our bit’ is a pledge to monitor this scheme.

We will test how it is working on an ongoing basis and, if something is wrong, we will try to fix it.

Together we can make this work for Oldham.

Jean

3WK4

Brexit should unite – not divide – us

referndumvbenueI WONDER what Harold Wilson – the PM who coined the phrase “a week is a long time in politics” – would have thought about the last few days.

The EU Referendum last Thursday has sent the UK into a tailspin and its impact is being felt across every walk of life and community.

It’s been an unprecedented and extraordinary time – with things happening at such breakneck speed that you can barely dare to take your eyes off the news.

I reflected last Friday night how tumultuous the times are when the Prime Minister’s resignation is not even the lead story on the TV news.

The frenzy of resignations, shifts in stance, fluctuating financial graphs and political horse-trading has been dizzying – and it is far from over yet.

As this is an apolitical blog it’s not the appropriate place for me to address my feelings about the rights and wrongs of either the Remain or Leave cases in the referendum.

Nonetheless I do want to make some general observations about the campaign which apply to both sides because, at times, it was an unedifying spectacle.

The debate was often heated, misleading and negative. The language was often aggressive, barking and divisive.

I’ve heard many people on either side refer to “scaremongering” and that is something we should all be very worried about. That simply fosters distrust for politicians, important institutions and, worst of all, disrespect for other peoples’ views.

I still believe the public is capable of weighing up a rational argument with the facts laid out fairly before them, but that isn’t really what happened is it?

When people are saying days after the result that they now regret how they voted, that they were oblivious to certain consequences, or that they now feel like the final outcome will not be what they were promised, then we have surely failed to deliver a mature and informed debate.

This referendum was the most serious decision of our time yet it was conducted in an atmosphere that was consistently adversarial. It was yah-boo politics at its worst and that has continued since the result came in.

Exaggeration, hyperbole and speculation poisoned the atmosphere and that impacted negatively on voters too.

And I do think that the sensationalist tone used for several months by some elements in the media around the issues also helped to create that climate.

ReferendumThere are at least some plusses…

People got actively involved and interested in the debate, which is all too rare. You could not walk through a shop, café or street without hearing people talking about the issues – and that led to the biggest turnout in history last Thursday.

The challenge for politicians on all sides next is to try and maintain that level of interest and engagement – although that will not be easy given the mistrust that has been stimulated.

Following the result we have, regrettably, seen some instances of hate crime – although thankfully none have yet been reported in Oldham, and I hope that prevails.

This frenzied national climate has raised tensions and anxieties within and between communities.

I was shocked yesterday to see the footage of the vile racist abuse hurled by youths on a tram at Market Street in Manchester.

That kind of behaviour has no place in our society and we will not tolerate hate crime here. We didn’t tolerate it before the referendum and we won’t tolerate it now.

Whatever individual decisions people took we have to respect that and not jump to misguided conclusions about their motivations.  We have to respect the vote and the decision.

And we should also bear in mind the uncertainty this has created for many people, like EU nationals who currently live here.

To read interviews in the MEN on Monday where local Polish people said their community is now ‘terrified” was chilling.  Some have said they are staying at home because they have been subjected to taunts of ‘go home’

FLAGSIt’s bad enough for people having to cope with the uncertainty that all this brings – imagine your own family having to cope with that – but to be facing such ignorance in the places where you live and work is completely unacceptable.

I would urge anyone who experiences or witnesses hate crime like this to report it immediately to the police by dialling 101 – or contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

We all now await the triggering of Article 50, the ‘sandtimer’ that starts exit negotiations with the EU, and then there is at least two years of those talks to endure.

Ultimately it will be for the Government negotiators to agree those deals and clarify the long term impact on people. However, the impacts of Brexit are likely to be felt for a very long time by us all – whatever happens next.

This period of uncertainty will mean further challenges to the national economy and that obviously raises the prospect of more cuts to public services that are already decimated – plus questions about where this all leaves the so-called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ project and others.

I don’t have a crystal ball and I have no idea how all these pieces will fall at present.

My focus, as always, will be to continue standing up for the people, communities and interests of Oldham to ensure we are not big losers from the fallout.

Following last week’s result there was much talk about the links between deprivation, cuts to public services and the alienation of communities.

None of us should forget that.

National Government now – and in the future – must not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Jean

Flytipping: The fight goes on

flytipNEWFLYTIPPING IS the scourge of our communities – it’s bad for people and places.

The photographs you can see on this page are of the thoroughly-depressing scene that I visited last week.

Although I am Council Leader, I remain a ward member and am still always there to look after Hollinwood matters alongside my colleagues, Councillors Steve Williams and Brian Ames.

A local resident came to see me and told me about this carnage, just behind the cemetery off Limeside Road, last Friday afternoon.

When I got there I was shocked at the scale of the mess. A picture says a thousand words and, honestly, how do people look at themselves in the mirror after doing something like this?

I’m told it seems to have happened between 9.30am and 3.30pm last Wednesday – so it was in broad daylight and utterly shameless.

I rolled my sleeves up and started to sift through the mess on the site.

There was what looks like removed render and other builders’ rubble and lots of bags – including some which contained what appeared to be stripped wallpaper.

NEW4The way it was all strewn along the floor in a trail (pictured) suggests it was on the back of a flatbed truck. They probably just dropped the guard at the back and then drove off at speed to dump it.

The contents this time appear to be trade waste but we also often find flytipping to be the result of another eviction by a rogue landlord. Either way, there’s simply no excuse.

In and amongst the filth and debris I finally located what I was hoping to find: tell-tale signs of where the rubbish might have originated from.

There was a letter and a slip containing two separate addresses of people with the same surname. Coincidence? Time – and our investigation – will tell.

I photographed these and reported everything to council officers who then swung into action and got on investigating the matter.

Our environmental services and enforcement staff do a great job in cleaning up scenes like this on a regular basis but it’s a thankless and disheartening task.

They also work very hard to find the people responsible by looking for evidence of the original owner of the dumped items.

In May this year all local authorities were given greater powers to tackle flytipping crime by now being able to issue penalty notices of between £150 and £400 to those caught in the act of dumping anything from old fridges or sofas to garden waste or rubble.

The maximum fine for dumping waste has also been bumped up to £3m for companies and up to £95,000 for individuals.

Even low-level offenders could face a bill of up to £10,000 and three years in jail.

Crime like this – and that’s exactly what it is – costs our economy and you, the Council Taxpayer, millions of pounds each year.

It also undermines legitimate business, and poses serious risks to the environment because it doesn’t just blight the area, it attracts vermin and is a health hazard.

For me, actions speak louder than words.

If you flytip it speaks volumes about you: about your outlook and attitude to society.

Dumping your waste by the road, whether that’s in an alleyway, the countryside or a random industrial estate, is about as selfish as you can get.

NEW2That’s why Oldham Council will have absolutely no qualms about using those new powers to punish anyone caught doing this.

These ‘on the spot’ fixed penalty notices could also save us time and money in punishing offenders as they are a much quicker alternative to prosecuting through the courts.

We’ll also continue to prosecute whenever we have sufficient evidence – and continue working closely with neighbouring authorities to jointly pursue cases that are happening across our borders.

The money we spend on clearing up mess like this could be saved and spent on other vital services that people rely on. In the current financial climate this simply cannot continue.

We rely on the public’s help in reporting flytipping and helping us to identify the people responsible.

Please do your bit and let us know whenever you spot flytipping – or have information about it – by calling us on 0161 770 2244 or reporting it online here.

To end on a much happier note this week, I just want to say congratulations to Carolyn Wilkins.

CWOBEOur Chief Executive was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours List last weekend and it was fully deserved.

It’s an accolade that highlights her brilliant work and long-standing service to Local Government and Public Service Reform.

It’s also yet another positive reflection on the way that people are starting to recognise the great progress that is being made here in Oldham.

I’m very proud to work alongside Carolyn and also to be able to consider her as a valued friend.

I’m sure all who know her across and beyond our borough will join me in congratulating her on this news.

Jean

Here comes the sun: don’t waste it

SALEXBESTYOU CAN’T have missed the glorious sight of a rather unfamiliar yellow dot in the sky in recent days.

Summer, it seems, is here at last and with it comes a dizzying array of events and opportunities all across the borough.

There’s already so much summer-related activity going on that it’s hard to keep track of it all – and there’s no excuse for staying at home.

In the coming days alone I’m aware of street parties planned for the Queen’s 90th birthday, Failsworth Carnival, the East Oldham Games at Stoneleigh Park, the visit of the Tour De Manc through Saddleworth, Dr Kershaw’s Summer Fair and events joining the national The Big Lunch on Sunday. And we’re not even into the school holiday periods yet…

lastthree3This summer our major focus is on health and wellbeing and encouraging people to get active.

We’re blessed to have some fantastic natural assets here in Oldham and are working with our partners to encourage people to get out and about and enjoy them.

Exercise is an extremely important part of our lives. It keeps our hearts healthy, reduces our risk of serious illness and strengthens muscles and bones.

But visiting places and meeting new people is equally beneficial for your wellbeing – strengthening your social networks and confidence – and we’ve got 32 local parks and green spaces to help everyone do that.

You can have a wander around my personal favourite, for example,  the ‘jewel in the crown’ that is Alexandra Park, where you can cool down in the paddling pool or challenge the family to a game of tennis.

ALEXPARK3

Foxdenton Park is perfect for a kickabout with its two football pitches, and the kids can also burn off energy in the play area or enjoy a walk in the woodland and sensory garden.

Dove Stone reservoir is also a favourite family option where you can get close to nature on a stroll, or you could take your bikes along the paths of Leesbrook Nature Park in the heart of the Medlock Valley.

lastthree2To find out more about our great outdoor spaces visit our Parks webpage here. And if you are looking for further inspiration for fun-filled games and activities for your little ones then it’s well worth looking at the Change4Life programme here.

Floral displays are, of course, an important part of our summer campaign which we know our residents love to see.

But the impact of our annual Bloom and Grow campaign is not just visual – it’s about much more than flowers, beautiful though they are.

It’s about taking and enjoying a co-operative approach to improving our environment: with the whole community working together to improve towns and districts.

Our environmental services team do a fantastic job but Bloom and Grow’s real strength lies in your participation as a resident, school, business or community group.

It’s great for civic pride and it also plays a vital role in educating people how to play their own small part to help keep our borough looking beautiful, clean and attractive to all who live and work here.

If you’ve visited Oldham town centre in recent days you’ve probably noticed that preparations are getting underway on our latest showcase ‘WOW’ bed display in High Street.

lastthree1That display will be the centrepiece of this year’s campaign in which we’re bidding for double ‘gold’.

Firstly, we’re taking part in North West in Bloom again and aiming to repeat last year’s success when we won ‘Best City’ (we are in this category based on population size) for the sixth year in a row.

But we are also the regional representatives in that category in this year’s Britain in Bloom – which we won in 2012 and 2014.

For a town like Oldham to be beating off competition from places like Chester and Westminster in that field speaks volumes about the success of our collective efforts, and our aspirations as a place.

I’m not able to give any secrets away while our team continue preparing their latest horticultural masterpiece, but it’s safe to say it will again be worth the wait when we reveal all.

There are also six local competitions that we’re encouraging all our green-fingered residents and businesses to get involved in.

Proxmaxbda2012AwardsWe’re asking budding photographers to get snapping with your phones and capture the best the borough has to offer. There have already been some brilliant snaps sent in – and in the first month alone we’ve had more than 450 entries.

You don’t need to be an expert and the winner will get £200, plus the chance for your work to be admired by every local resident in a future edition of Borough Life.

By way of inspiration for you, we’ve just finished our Young Photographers’ competition which was won by a wonderful picture of a ‘Tawny Owlet’ taken by Ellia Rhodes, aged 11, from Grasscroft (pictured below).

Young photo winner

There are also competitions still open for the ‘Best Blooming’ businesses, pubs, restaurants and private gardens. You can find out more here

Finally, I couldn’t blog this week without mentioning National Carers Week.

As I know from personal experience there are few more worthy causes than this to highlight.

Carers need and deserve our support and they can access a range of assistance and information.

carers-week-2016Oldham Carer’s Services are there for unpaid carers looking after a partner, family member or friend who could not manage without their help. They can provide information about health issues, entitlements, mobility, equipment, volunteering opportunities, individual budgets, rights and employment issues. You can find out more and contact the service here.

We have many fantastic people here who are essentially an unpaid army of carers for some of our most vulnerable elderly and disabled people.

We should take pride in their efforts and be grateful for the fantastic contribution they are making to their families and local communities.

I am personally determined that we continue to work hard to make Oldham a caring town – one that recognises those who need help most, and highlights the amazing people who help deliver it for them.

Jean

Love Your Local Market

LYLM FB Banner 2 (3)THIS WEEK is national Love Your Local Market week – and it’s a campaign I am always delighted to back.

Like many residents I am fond of our markets and they are a passion that dates right back to my childhood.

My first-ever part-time job, when I was still at Hathershaw Comprehensive, was folding jumpers and sorting out stock on Peter Haq’s outdoor market stall in Oldham. Typical of the tradition that goes with these things, his family still runs a stall on the inside market to this very day.

One of my saddest ever memories came later when I was working as a ‘Saturday Girl’ at Littlewoods, in what is now the Primark building, in 1974.

I will never forget standing in the canteen at the back of the building with other staff overlooking the site of the old market hall, which had burned down overnight.

It had clearly been a huge blaze, the market was destroyed and the tears came freely to us all.

We all have our market memories and anecdotes – much happier than that one, I hope! – and the Love Your Local Market campaign is a great way of celebrating the importance of markets to local communities.

TFIELD2Buildings may come and go – and shopping habits have also changed drastically over the years – but markets still have a unique appeal.

They offer great services at a price that doesn’t break the bank. You can choose from a great range of good quality local produce and traditional foodstuffs – and above all markets are about the people.

You can meet some really incredible characters on the stalls and make great new friends in a way that other forms of shopping simply don’t tend to offer.

‘Click and collect’ or ‘home delivery’ services don’t give you conversation, the chance to ask questions about what you are buying or the choice to pick exactly what you want.

And out of town retail parks – although undoubtedly serving a purpose and having a clear audience – don’t have bustling aisles full of people browsing and socialising, and eager shoppers bartering with traders and swapping titbits.

A visit to market has always been about the experience and we’re trying to help encourage new vendors to give it a go.

We’ve just recently launched a new scheme to tempt budding traders through a £5 Friday Market for the outdoor market at Tommyfield.

This is absolutely ideal for people just starting out with a new small business – or who just want to have a go at trading and see how it goes.

Free public liability insurance is on offer for this, but places are limited so traders need to express an interest soon. Other offers include four weeks’ free rent for stalls who introduce a new trader to us – plus the chance for the newbie to pay three weeks’ rent up front and then get the next three for absolutely no charge.

The first £5 Friday Market will be held soon and you can find out more information here.

SHOPLOCALTo learn more about Oldham’s markets, why not follow them and show your support on social media? You can even ask questions and the markets team will get you an answer either via the Facebook page here or the Twitter account @oldhammarkets

You can also find details there about the Love Your Local Market events taking place this week which include funfairs, jazz musicians, bingo, and even magic tricks.

Aside from Tommyfield, Oldham does – of course, also have some other brilliant local markets at Shaw, Royton, Saddleworth and others.

Information and details about all these can be found on our Markets webpage at: http://www.oldham.gov.uk/markets

Please pay your local market a visit, try shopping local and grab yourself a bargain soon.

Jean