Answers to Questions

Last week was the regular full meeting of Bury Council. As usual your local team of Liberal Democrat councillors asked the maximum number of questions allowed, here are some of the highlights:

Number 96 Bus (to Heywood Road and Simister)
Councillor Steve Wright asked a question following the very poor service seen in recent weeks and months on the above service (regularly running behind time and sometimes not even going to Simister).
Q. Could the Council’s spokesperson on the Greater Manchester Transport Committee comment on the very poor service in recent months on the 96 subsidised bus service to Simister? What can be done to improve on the reliability of this service, and in particular stop any ’turning back’ before Simister by the operator?
A. This has been an ongoing problem over recent months, the reasons behind the problems are as follows:

  • Residents/Pub goers are parking in the turning circle at the terminal point in Simister so services have not been able to turn there and have had to turn around at Parrenthorn School turning area
  • Timing issues have caused delays, especially in the Prestwich area, causing the service to continually run late.
  • Roadworks at present and recently on Heywood Road in Prestwich has further compounded the issues.
  • The route was changed in 2020 to service Prestwich and Simister but this has not worked out due to heavy traffic and one lane traffic (due to cycle lane in Prestwich village). The route was also extended last year and very little time added to help with punctuality.What has/is being put in place:
  • The temporary roadworks were due for completion on 3rd September.
  • Targeted traffic enforcement.
  • Service changes to make this a morereliable/punctual service.

Residents Parking Schemes
Councillor Michael Powell asked about the refusal of the Council to take forwards Residents Parking Scheme proposals. In two areas of Prestwich (Upper Wilton Street and Warwick Street) these have been triggered by residents, but the policy is not being implemented by the Council.
Q. Residents in the Warwick Street/Albion Mews and Upper Wilton Street areas of Prestwich have now been waiting for over a year for the Council to follow its own policy on the consideration of a residents only parking scheme, in both cases a policy triggered by resident requests. When will this process start in both areas?
A. Due to resourcing pressures in dealing with the ongoing pandemic, the Council will not be accepting any applications for new resident parking schemes until further notice. There are currently 12 resident parking schemes in effect across the borough containing over 6000 properties. We will review the position periodically, but there are no current plans to start on any new residents parking schemes.

Green Belt land lost in the the “Places for Everyone Plan”
Councillor Cristina Tegolo asked about the proportion of green belt land lost (or gained) in the Places for Everyone plan (the new name for GMSF).
Q. Could the Leader inform members of the net proportion of green belt land to be removed/added in each of the six townships of Bury, for the whole of Bury and for the whole of (the nine districts of) Greater Manchester under the Places for Everyone plan?
A. On a township basis, Places for Everyone is proposing net changes to the Green Belt as follows:

  • Ramsbottom, Tottington and North Manor would see a reduction of 0.8%;
  • Bury West would see an increase of 5.8%;
  • Bury East would see an increase of 1.6%;
  • Radcliffe would see a reduction of 10.6%;
  • Whitefield and Unsworth would see a reduction of around 28.6%; and
  • Prestwich would see a reduction of around 13.7%.

Consultation starts on ‘Places for Everyone’ Plan

Formal consultation on the Greater Manchester ‘Places for Everywhere’ plan is now open for residents to have their say.

Every household in the borough of Bury will shortly receive a letter about the Places for Everyone proposals, with details of what it means for their local neighbourhood and how they can view and comment on the plans. The consultation period lasts until 3 October. 

Places for Everyone is very similar to the GMSF (Greater Manchester Spatial Framework) that received a huge number of objections over recent years. Now Stockport is not part of the plan, it has the new name of Places for Everyone. 

The plan proposes land for 165,000 more houses across Greater Manchester in the next 15 years. In Bury the plan would mean the loss of 1,700 hectares of precious green belt land (countryside). 

In what must win the award for false advertising, Greater Manchester’s councils have used the by-line ‘Protecting our Green Spaces’ on the consultation. They mustn’t be talking about Prestwich, Whitefield or Radcliffe, where some of the largest losses of green belt land are taking place.

At the recent Bury Council meeting, Liberal Democrat Councillors voted against these plans, but we were sadly outnumbered by the ruling Labour Group.

Now it is your chance to have your say. The plan is at its ‘publication stage’ and is the version of the plan that the nine participating local authorities intend to submit to the Government. People are being asked whether they think the plan has been prepared in accordance with legal and procedural requirements and meets the four ‘tests of soundness’ (as set out here: paragraph 35 of the National Planning Policy Framework).

The Places for Everyone plan, plus supporting documents and background evidence, is on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority website at www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/placesforeveryone.

The plan is at its ‘publication stage’ and is the version of the plan that the nine participating local authorities intend to submit to the Government. People are being asked whether they think the plan has been prepared in accordance with legal and procedural requirements and meets the four ‘tests of soundness’ (as set out here: paragraph 35 of the National Planning Policy Framework).

Comments can be made via the online response form at www.gmconsult.org. Alternatively, you can download the response form available on the GMCA website and email it to placesforeveryone@greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk

You can also submit your comments by:

Once the period for making representations ends on 3 October, it is intended to submit the Publication version of Places for Everyone to the Government alongside all supporting evidence and comments made. Please note that it will only be comments that are made on this version of the plan that will be submitted to the Government.

The Government will then appoint a Planning Inspector to undertake an Examination of the plan. Their job is to examine whether the submitted plan meets the ‘tests of soundness’ and all the relevant legislative requirements.

Council Approves Places for Everyone Plan

Sadly, Bury’s Councillors agreed by a narrow margin to proceed with the ‘Places for Everywhere’ planning proposals. Liberal Democrat councillors voted against the proposals, but 26 Labour councillors voted in favour which was enough to win this time.

Places for Everyone is very similar to the GMSF (Greater Manchester Spatial Framework) that received a huge number of objections over recent years. Now Stockport is not part of the plan, it has the new name of Places for Everyone.

The plan proposes land for 165,000 more houses across Greater Manchester in the next 15 years. (To put that in context the whole of Bury added together currently has 77,000 houses.)

In Bury the plan would mean the loss of 1,700 hectares of precious green belt land (countryside).

The four big ‘sites’ for Bury are: 
– Prestwich/Simister/Bowlee – space for 1,550 new houses on what is now ‘green belt’ (it is farmland) to the north of Heaton Park (between Simister and Middleton). Plans include a new primary school. It is important to note that these proposals are slightly away from the existing Simister village (a small improvement on previous plans), but right up to existing homes on the Bowlee and Rhodes side.
– a major area of employment/industrial development to the north of the M62 between Prestwich/Whitefield and Middleton/Heywood. Essentially this is a large area on the north side of the M62 from Simister island to the Heywood/Middleton junction on the M62. Half is in Bury, half in Rochdale. This will provide space for 1.2million square metres of industrial and warehousing build, and 1,000 houses on the Rochdale side. 
– 3,500 new houses near Radcliffe on existing green belt land (large area of countryside around around Elton Reservoir)
– 1,400 new houses near Walshaw on existing green belt land. 

(The plan as it affects the Prestwich area – part of the massive employment/industrial area to the north of the M62, and 1550 homes to the north of Heaton Park. All of this is currently Green Belt land (countryside).

Liberal Democrat Councillors voted AGAINST the plan
We DO want more homes and more jobs, but NOT at the expense of destroying our countryside.
New building should be on existing brownfield sites and in town centres only.

Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Michael Powell said:
“Places for Everyone is simply the wrong plan. The proposals will see 1,700 hectares of Bury’s precious green belt taken away and built on. Our green spaces are vitally important in so many ways, as we have particularly seen recently during the lockdown periods. We still don’t need to do this. There is enough brownfield land, or sites that can be developed by bringing life back into our town centres to provide for housing need. We do need more homes – especially the affordable homes that people need. We do need more jobs – but we need these to be the high quality jobs that people deserve. We also need our countryside, and the good health and life the this provides”.

You can watch Michael’s speech opposing the plans here:
https://fb.watch/73NCvbd_mY/

What happens now
Although this vote was very disappointing, the fight to save our green belt can still go on.

A further consultation on these final plans will commence across Greater Manchester (minus Stockport), apparently from early August. We will give you more information on how you can have your say as soon as we have the details.

Longfield Suite to Close forever

Bury Council’s Cabinet met this week and agreed to close the Longfield Suite forever.

The eight Labour councillors who make up Bury Council’s Cabinet have voted to close Prestwich’s community facility, but keep open the other two facilities in Bury and Ramsbottom. There is a vague promise that community facilities will be a feature of a redeveloped village centre, whenever that happens.

The Longfield Suite was opened by the former Prestwich Borough Council in 1971, and is the largest of Bury’s civic venues with a capacity of 560. The other two civic venues in Bury (Ramsbottom Civic Hall and the Elizabethan Suite at the Town Hall) will be kept open.

A public consultation found that most people wanted to keep the civic venues open, however the Council sites that lose money and essential maintenance work needs to be undertaken. The sprung dance floor at the Longfield will, apparently, be retained for future use in a building (but no ideas when or where).

Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Michael Powell said: “This is really disappointing. Everyone understands that the Longfield has been closed during Covid, but now we need community spaces more than ever. There is nothing similar that people can use in Prestwich or nearby.

We all agree that the village centre needs redevelopment, but we would have kept the Longfield Suite open while we’re waiting for that to happen (and we’ve been waiting 20 years!).

Once again Labour councillors have ignored public opinion and let Prestwich down while keeping facilities open in other parts of Bury”.

Reporting Back: Bury Council Cabinet

Councillor Michael Powell reports back from the Cabinet meeting of Bury Council on 26 May 2021:

East Lancashire Paper Mill site- Plans were approved to bring forward building on the former site of the East Lancashire Paper Mill in Radcliffe. A collaboration agreement will be entered into by the Council with Homes England to begin development of the site for housing.

Acquisition of the Longfield Shopping Centre- The Council are continuing with it’s proposed process of purchasing the Longfield Centre in Prestwich Village and that a property centre manager will be appointed to oversee the purchase. The Council has also confirmed that it is looking at enter a joint venture agreement with developer Muse for the regeneration project and that they expect it to take six months to finalise these arrangements. The paper outlining these plans in more detail can be read here.


‘Levelling Up’ Bids confirmed- Two bids will be submitted by the Council to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund, one for Radcliffe and another for promoting for development of Bury Town Centre through the establishment of a Bury ‘flexi-hall’.

Banking Services Procurement Process- The decision was approved for Bury Council to become the Lead Authority for the procurement of a banking services framework on behalf of Greater Manchester.

Public Consultation on the draft climate strategy and climate action plan- The Council has produced a draft Climate Action Strategy and Climate Action Plan for Bury to set out what needs to be done to achieve it’s target of becoming carbon neutral by 2038 and it carried out a consultation with residents and other stakeholders on the draft documents. The draft climate strategy breaks down the project into 11 key action areas, including the Green Economy, Environmental Justice and Carbon Offsetting. The full Climate Strategy can be viewed here.

Draft Housing Strategy- The Council commissioned Campbell Tickell to develop a housing strategy for the Borough, which meets the needs of different sections of the population at different stages of their lives. The draft Strategy was subject to extensive stakeholder and public consultation for twelve weeks commencing 30 November 2020 to the 22 February 2021. The paper on the Housing Strategy can be viewed here, along with the findings and responses from the public consultation.

Update on Covid-19 in Bury and the Local Response- A report was presented updating the borough’s position related to Covid-19 and the response locally. The report noted that at the time of writing, England and Bury’s case rate have been falling since mid-March 2021 and Bury until recently had the lowest rate in Greater Manchester and a similar rate to the England average. However, it highlighted growing concerns about rising numbers of cases in the UK particularly in the North West and Bolton specifically of the B617.2 (Indian/Delta) variant. The report also noted that over 100,000 adults in Bury have received their first vaccination and around two thirds of those have already received their second vaccination. Additionally it stated that overall uptake rates in Bury remains amongst the highest in Greater Manchester across all cohorts. The full update can be read here.

Paper from the meeting are here. Any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

Reporting Back: Annual Council and Mayor Making

This Wednesday was Bury’s Annual Council meeting and Mayor Making ceremony. These are the important annual meetings which determine the leadership of the Council for the ‘municipal year’.

The Annual Council meeting was this year held in the sports hall of Castle Leisure Centre, to allow for social distancing between councillors.

Labour, as the majority group, remain in charge of the Council.

Leadership of the Liberal Democrat group remains unchanged, with Councillor Michael Powell as Group Leader and Councillor Cristina Tegolo as Deputy Group Leader.

Councillor Steve Wright has been appointed Chair of the new Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee.

A State of the Borough debate takes place at Annual Council. You can watch the whole meeting online here. Councillor Powell’s statement on behalf of the Liberal Democrat group in State of the Borough Debate is 57 minutes in. The papers for the meeting are here.

Following Annual Council the Mayor Making ceremony took place with reduced numbers at Bury Town Hall.

Holyrood Ward councillor Tim Pickstone was re-appointed as Mayor, the first person to be appointed for a second successive year since 1951.

Bury Samaritans remain as the Mayor’s charity for 2021-21, alongside Greater Manchester HIV Charity George House Trust. The Mayor’s Chaplain remains Reverend Jez Hackett from Prestwich and Heaton Park Metrhodist Churches.

You can watch the Mayor Making ceremony online here.

Reporting Back: Answers to Questions

Last month was the regular full meeting of Bury Council. As always your local team of Liberal Democrat councillors asked our full quota of questions on local issues. Here are some of the more interesting issues raised:

Longfield War Memorial
Councillor Steve Wright asked about the Prestwich war memorials, which are currently out of public view because of the closure of the Longfield Suite:
Q – Now that it has been confirmed that there are no plans to reopen the Longfield Suite in Prestwich, can the Leader confirm what the plans are for rehousing the war memorial located in the Suite?
A –

A full and final decision has not yet been made, and residents are still able to contribute to the consultation survey and put forward their views. The consultation will continue to run until 17 March 2021, via the One Community website: – https://www.onecommunitybury.co.uk/burycouncil- civicvenuesfeedback

Following public consultation, all consultation feedback will be thoroughly analysed and considered. A report will be scheduled at Cabinet in early Summer in order for a final decision to be reached.

If a decision is reached at Cabinet to permanently close the Longfield Suite, alternative options will be explored to relocate the war memorial.

Potholes
Councillor Michael Powell asked about reports of Potholes:
Q: Could the Leader inform members on the number of reports made of potholes, in each of the last five years?
A:

The number of potholes reported in each of the last five financial years is as follows:
2015/16 – 2942
2016/17 – 2798
2017/18 – 4587
2018/19 – 2170
2019/20 – 2400
2020/21 – 1397 to date (09/03/2021).

The number of reported potholes has deceased by over 50% since 2017/18, which clearly demonstrates that our investment in highway maintenance through the Highway Investment Strategy is improving our road network.

Compensation
Following on from this, Councillor Cristina Tegolo asked about compensation from road users:
Q: Could the Leader inform members on the amount paid out by the authority, and the amount spent on legal costs, for compensation claims as a result of poor road and pavement surfaces, for the last five financial years?

A:

Metrolink Ticketing Options
Councillor Steve Wright asked about different ticketing options to suit people who are being asked to work more flexibly than before:
Q: Could the authority’s spokesperson on the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee inform members what steps TfGM is taking to facilitate more flexible working practices through ticketing options?
A:

TfGM currently control ticketing options for the Metrolink network only, with fares and ticketing on the bus and rail network controlled by their respective operators.
Operators and transport bodies including TfGM have been examining the case for more flexible ticketing options over the last few years, as changes to working patterns have become more evident. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated changes to working patterns, as employers and employees adapt to home working and alternative working patterns.

TfGM are working with bus and rail operators to support flexible ticketing initiatives where they can and in July last year launched Clipper, a carnet-style ticketing option for Metrolink. Customers benefit from a discount for travelling multiple days but can choose the days of travel across a number of weeks, providing greater flexibility for those who may have previously bought a traditional season ticket, but now travel less often.

Contactless payment on Metrolink also provides customers with the flexibility of only paying for the journeys they have already made, with fares calculated for them up to a daily cap.

Rail operator Northern also introduced a new flexible ticketing option in July 2020, providing ten unlimited travel days for the price of nine, to be used any time during a six-month period. The option was introduced after the first national lockdown, ahead of predicted changed to passenger travel patterns.

Waiting times for 101
Councillor Michael Powell asked about waiting times for people calling the Police non emergency number 101:
Q: Could the authority’s spokesperson on the Police and Crime Panel inform members on what the average wait time is for 101 calls to be answered in Greater Manchester, how does this compare to previous years and what proportion of calls hang up before being answered?
A:

The average waiting time for 101 calls over the last 12 months is 2 minutes and 53 seconds, which has seen a marginal improvement from the previous year.

The abandonment rates are slightly higher than the previous year at 27%. Whilst GMP are always striving for improvement when these results are considered in the context of Covid, it is a more understandable outcome.

Members will no doubt be aware that all public services have suffered from impacts to staffing through the Pandemic and the 101 service has been no different. With a need to prioritise calls to the 999 service there have been capacity issues over the last 12 months. However GMP report that the situation is now improving with recruitment of new staff a priority.

There continues to be a drive towards online facilities such as

Livechat facility, an online tool which is answered in about 16 seconds. This option continues to be used more and more by the public, which is positive.

Greater Manchester Police are also promoting their call-back service at peak times, where call-handlers will return calls for those assessed as low-risk to avoid people queuing – about half of the calls received and resolved at Switchboard relate to requests for updates on previously reported crimes.

The Police & Crime Panel will continue to scrutinise the work of the Call centre and I will provide further updates to Council in the future.

Full answers to all questions can be found here and here. Any questions please ask!

Highways England chooses flyover for Simister Island

Highways England have chosen the so-called “Northern Loop” option for improving Simister Island, which connects the M60, M62 and M66.

This means they propose to build a flyover and loop to create continuous lanes on the clockwise M60. The M60 between Prestwich and Whitefield will be widened to 10 lanes (plus more at the junctions), by converting the hard shoulder.

The scheme application will be made to the Planning Inspectorate, who will examine the application in public hearings and then make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport, who will decide whether or not the project will go ahead (target date for decision summer 2023).

Our view remains that this is not the right plan for our area and we will continue to oppose the plans through the planning hearings . The solution to congestion cannot always be to build bigger and wider roads:

  • Highways England admit in their own consultation that this scheme will not reduce air pollution.
  • The scheme will cost £340 million. Imagine how much that could achieve if it was spent on improving public transport and the local area.
  • Ten lane running between Prestwich and Whitefield is too much for this tightly packed residential area with houses (and four schools) so close to the motorway.

More information from Highways England here.

Last chance to have our say on Bus regulation

Greater Manchester is consulting on the future of the bus system.

Currently, the bus companies decide the routes, frequencies, fares and standards. There is no coordination and limited oversight.  Where bus companies decide not to run services and where necessary, the public sector pays to fill in the gaps. 

Franchising means bus services would be brought under local control. Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) would coordinate and invest in the bus network, while the bus operators would be contracted to run the services.  

Between October 2019 and January 2020, GMCA held a consultation on a proposed franchising scheme for the city-region’s buses. Over 8,500 of you gave us your views, with eight out of ten respondents who answered the relevant question supporting the proposed franchising scheme.

CONSULTATION DOCUMENT  (PDF VERSION)

In June, GMCA received the results of the consultation and decided, before a final decision could be made that the impact of Covid-19 on the bus market and proposed franchising scheme should be considered.

Covid-19 has caused a lot of uncertainty over how people will travel in future. So, TFGM has used four scenarios in a report which looks at potential future travel demand in Greater Manchester and what it could mean for GMCA’s proposals to change how buses are run. 

Under all scenarios, franchising is still the best option to achieve Greater Manchester’s long-term ambition for a fully integrated public transport system and GMCA still has funding available to pay for the transition to franchising. 

Under franchising, GMCA would be responsible for the bus network and that means it would have more of the financial responsibility and the risks. Depending on the impacts of Covid-19, GMCA might have to make difficult choices about the bus network in the future to manage these financial risks – such as providing further funding or making reductions to the network. 

But even under the other options available – such as entering into a partnership with bus operators or making no change to the bus market – there would still be difficult choices as GMCA would need to pay to fill more of the gaps in the commercial bus network. But GMCA would have to do this with no overall coordination and none of the other benefits of franchising.

Despite the additional financial risks, the net benefits of franchising for Greater Manchester are still likely to be higher and more deliverable than other options, such as a partnership with bus operators and so will provide value for money.

GMCA is consulting on the proposed franchising scheme in the light of the findings of the Covid-19 Impact Report.

Why proceed now?

The impact and effect of Covid-19 remains uncertain. Delaying a decision on franchising reduces the uncertainty about the impacts of Covid-19 and what partnerships operators may offer as time goes by.

But there are reasons why a decision about how buses should be run should be made sooner rather than later, as the challenges facing the bus market have not disappeared. Even before Covid-19, bus use was falling and the public sector was providing significant subsidy to operators through payments for subsidised services and concessionary fares. During the pandemic, operators have also received emergency funding from government.

If bus usage remains low in the future and central government stops or reduces its emergency funding, bus operators may reduce services or increase ticket prices. This may mean the public sector having to provide additional funding to keep essential services running, especially for key workers and the poor and vulnerable who depend on the bus network. Fewer bus routes or more expensive tickets could also mean more people driving, increasing congestion and pollution.

Take part in the consultation

Anyone can take part in the consultation. You do not have to live in Greater Manchester or be a regular bus user to have your say. You can answer as a member of the public or in an official capacity (e.g. as an elected representative, statutory consultee, business or other organisation). 

Please be aware that if you are answering in an official capacity, your response may be published. Decision-makers will have access to all responses during and following the close of the consultation period. References or quotes from responses from a member of the public will be done on an anonymised basis. 

Fill out the questionnaire.

Email your feedback to gmbusconsultation@ipsos-mori.com

Give your feedback by phone on 0161 244 1100 (you will be forwarded through to our independent research organisation Ipsos MORI to submit your response) 

Write/send a completed questionnaire to Freepost GM BUS CONSULTATION

GMSF becomes GMSF of the 9

Greater Manchester’s Council Leaders have voted to carry on with a version of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework for just 9 boroughs, after Councillors in Stockport rejected the proposals.

The GMSF which proposed provision for 180,000 extra homes over the next 15 years was opposed by many people because of involved the destruction of so much green belt land, including large amounts of green belt across Bury. In Stockport, where Labour councillors do not have a majority, the plans were blocked by the towns 26 Liberal Democrat councillors alongside other opposition members.

The remaining nine Greater Manchester Council Leaders have agreed to draw up a Greater Manchester Spatial Framework for the nine boroughs only. The authorities will work on a revised version that removes proposed land allocations in Stockport and redistributes targets for building homes and creating jobs across nine boroughs instead of 10.

Public consultation is planned for June 2021. (You will note just after the local elections and the election of the Greater Manchester Mayor.)

Bury’s Liberal Democrat Council Group Leader Michael Powell said:
“As we have always said, GMSF was simply the wrong plan. It was wrong because it would have meant the wholesale destruction of so much of our precious green belt land.”

We clearly do to plan for new homes, especially the affordable homes that people so desperately need. We want to see a new approach which not only sees our future housing need built on our existing brownfield land and revitalising our town centres, but also sees the homes that people need and want in our communities, not the houses that developers want to build.

Greater Manchester needs a radical new plan. Our fear is that the GMSF9 will just be just more of the same.”