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.”

Our Fight to Raise Carer’s Allowance

Unpaid carers are doing a remarkable and important job in very difficult circumstances. They deserve our support. But many carers are facing extreme financial hardship.

900,000 full-time unpaid carers rely on Carer’s Allowance – but at just £67.25 a week, it’s just not nearly enough.

Carer’s Allowance is just £67 a week. It’s just not nearly enough.

It is the lowest benefit of its kind – another example of how carers are too often an afterthought for many politicians.

Many unpaid carers have been struggling for months, often relying on foodbanks to feed themselves and the people they care for.

We’ve got to do better
Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to immediately raise Carer’s Allowance by £1,000 a year, the same as the uplift in Universal Credit.

Carers face big challenges every single day; challenges that have been made even harder by coronavirus. A recent survey by Carers UK found that most are having to spend more time looking after loved ones during this pandemic.

Most haven’t been able to take a single break since it started. Most are simply exhausted.

And now they are worried.

Liberal Democrats will stand up for carers

Worried about their own mental health, worried about what will happen if they themselves fall ill – because there’s no one to take over – and worried about whether they can cope in a new lockdown.

We must do far more to support our wonderful carers.

The Liberal Democrats will stand up for carers and lead the way to a more caring society as we emerge from this pandemic.

Join our Campaign for an increased Carers Allowance

Reporting Back: Bury Full Council

Last week was the regular ‘Full Council’ meeting for Bury Councillors, this was meant to the important meeting where the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework was to have been agreed, but this was withdrawn from the agenda. Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Michael Powell reports:

Bury Council only meets in full seven times a year, but this November meeting was to have been particularly special, as it was where Bury was to agree, or not agree, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF). This plan, for another 180,000 houses across Greater Manchester in the next 17 years has to be agreed by all ten Councils before it can go out for consultation.

Bury Council’s Cabinet, which consists of just Labour councillors, agreed the plan unanimously earlier in the month but this had to be approved by full Council. In Stockport, where no party has an overall majority, things didn’t go ‘according to plan’ and their meeting was adjourned.

Bury has decided to delay considering the plans until the position in Stockport is clear. We find out if Stockport has managed to reach an agreement on Thursday, but it could also be adjourned again. At the moment there is no date for the proposals to come back to Bury Council.

Public Question Time
GMSF was the main topic of consideration for public question time. Residents in the Simister and Bowlee area did a particularly good job of getting questions in with a whole host of excellent questions on Heywood Old Road, Simister Lane traffic, air pollution and the ‘Northern Gateway’ industrial site.

The answers to questions have not yet been published, but we’ll share these as soon as we have them.

Business Items
Four important business items came to full Council and were agreed:
– a revised Council Constitution
– agreement that the ward boundaries review (there will be new ward boundaries for the 2022 local elections) will stick with 17 wards / 51 Councillors.
– a revised Corporate Plan
– a revised licensing policy.

Questions to the Leader
The only remaining item of business was questions. The Liberal Democrat Group, as always, asked the maximum number we are entitled to. We’ll report back on some of the detail in the future but the most interesting answers included:

Councillor Steve Wright asked about the A56 cycle lane (abandoned half finished):
Can the cabinet member for transport and infrastructure clarify why the decision was made to not complete the planned ‘pop-up’ cycle lane on the A56 and how much of the Government funding to enable active travel remains unspent? 

Answer:
There was an accumulation of factors that lead to the decision not to install the pop-up cycle lane element of this emergency active travel scheme. The Council considered the impacts on traffic as witnessed on site after some lining went down, had received concerns from bus operators about the stop designs in the cycle lane, had heard reports of similar measures being removed and under-utilised in other districts and recognised that there were challenges with Salford’s delivery/continuation of the pop-up cycle lane in the City centre – essentially leaving the pop-up as a cycle lane to nowhere. The public, however, will still benefit from a new length of unsegregated cycle lane near St Mary’s Park as well as two controlled toucan crossings.

The EATF Tranche 1 was a Greater Manchester allocation and, as such, money spent on measures is claimed back rather than given up-front. However, the Council is also seeking to introduce a Low Traffic Neighbourhood in the Brandlesholme area in line with the governments express expectations for “…local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians.” to lead to a more pleasant environment that encourages people to walk and cycle.

Councillor Wright went on to ask if the dangerous section of cycle lane at the end of St Ann’s Road could be looked into (cars are being forced into the cycle lane because of right-turning traffic. There was no commitment to look at this.

Councillor Powell asked about school closures during Covid:
How many schools and school bubbles have had to close due to Covid-19 cases since schools reopened in September and how does this compare to the other authorities in Greater Manchester? 

Answer:
Just under 50% of all primary and secondary schools have reported one or more confirmed cases within their setting, involving either members of staff or pupils. Many of these schools have gone on to experience a number of confirmed cases, largely as a result of the prevalence of Covid-19 in the wider community.

In the majority of instances, this has required other staff members and/or pupils to self- isolate as a consequence of being a close contact of a confirmed case.

At its highest point in late September/early October there were approximately 2,000 pupils absent representing 7% of the school age population. Through measures to more accurately identify close contacts, this number has reduced, but remains in the order of 1,000 pupils absent from school each week.

Since September, four schools have had to close to all pupils for a period of time, through a combination of confirmed cases and close contacts amongst staff, reducing staffing levels below sustainable levels.

The levels of absence are broadly in line with other GM authorities although the situation remains dynamic and subject to constant change.

You can read the papers for the meeting here.
You can watch the whole meeting here.

Time to End Child Hunger

We’re campaigning to increase access to free school meals and give children from low-income families access to food vouchers when schools are closed too. 

Liberal Democrats are campaigning to increase access to free school meals and give children from low-income families access to food vouchers when schools are closed too.

What are we calling for?
We want the Government to commit to three steps which will make a world of difference to struggling families and help end child hunger:

  1. Extend eligibility for free school meals to every pupil in primary and secondary school, whose parents or guardians are in receipt of Universal Credit
  2. Food vouchers for every one of those pupils in every school holiday
  3. Food vouchers for every one of those pupils during any period of lockdown

Why is this needed?
The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on the issue of child hunger. But this is not a new problem, and it will not go away when we finally beat this virus. We need the Government to commit to practical and long-term measures, to stop any child going hungry, on any day of the year.

All too often, families with children simply do not have enough to eat

Each year as the school holidays approach, many parents dread the fact they will have to find an extra £30-40 per week to buy meals for their children which are usually provided at school. With further local and national lockdowns rumoured, parents now also have to worry about how their child will access a free school meal if their school has to close.

There have been widespread reports that foodbank usage has soared during the pandemic and that all too often, families with children simply do not have enough to eat. But even before the pandemic, many parents would skip meals so they could afford to feed their children during the school holidays.

Who gets free school meals currently?
In England, every child in reception, year 1 (age 5-6) and year 2 (age 6-7) is entitled to a free school meal. However from year 3 onwards (age 7-8), eligibility is based on whether the child’s parents or guardians are in receipt of certain benefits.

With regard to Universal Credit, a child may only be eligible for a free school meal if their household income is less than £7,400 a year after tax (and excluding any benefits). We believe that threshold has been set too low and means that many children who are living in poverty are missing out on a free school meal altogether.

The Children’s Society estimated that more than a million children living in poverty in England are missing out on a free school meal – and in over half of these cases it is because they are not eligible for them.

What is the Government doing about this?
Following a fantastic campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford, the Government performed a u-turn and agreed to provide a ‘COVID Summer Food Fund’ – food vouchers during the school summer holiday, for children who are usually entitled to benefits related free school meals.

More than a million children living in poverty in England are missing out on a free school meal

While this was a welcome relief for many struggling families, it didn’t go nearly far enough. Many families who needed the vouchers missed out under the scheme, and the Government have made no commitment to extend this in future school holidays or if schools have to be closed during periods of lockdown.

What are the Liberal Democrats doing about this?
We are calling for a plan to tackle child hunger – both during the pandemic and afterwards.

We will be writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, calling for him to make funding available in the Spending Review this autumn, to extend Free School Meals to every child whose parents are in receipt of Universal Credit, and to provide vouchers to every child who usually gets a FSM during school holidays and lockdown.

We will be reaching out to charities and campaign groups to work with us on this and calling on MPs from other Party’s to support us too.

You can support our campaign and find out more here.