Answers to Questions: PPE, Walk-In Centre and Prestwich Regeneration

At the most recent full meeting of Bury Council, the Liberal Democrat team asked our maximum entitlement of questions as always. Here are some of the more interesting replies:

Councillor Michael Powell asked about PPE in schools:
Given new guidelines around the wearing of masks in Secondary schools, what is being done by the Council to ensure that schools have sufficient supples of PPE to provide for staff and students?

Answer: There is a reasonable expectation that pupils, being required to wear masks in shops and some other public spaces, will be in possession of masks that can then be used when in communal places in schools. It is however recognised that there will be instances where pupils do not have access to a mask and arrangements have been made through the Council’s Public Health Team, for all secondary schools o be provided with a supply of masks. 

Councillor Steve Wright asked about the Prestwich Walk-in Centre:
What level of use is currently being made of the site of the Prestwich Walk-In Centre and when will the Walk-In Centre reopen?

Answer:
The Prestwich Walk in Centre is currently the base for the Covid Management Service for the borough – an invaluable service during the pandemic in providing primary care services for COVID positive patients and making a contribution to reducing infection risk in other practices in the borough.

The COVID Management Service has been and continues to be a vital element of the Bury wide COVID strategy which includes the need to minimise open access points for patients in favour of a more managed triage and book service. The COVID management service has dealt with 2,504 referrals since the pandemic started. The service provides telephone triage and advice, face to face GP appointments and home visits where required.

Options on the continuation of the covid management service are currently in development and will take place in the context of the epidemiology of the pandemic.

While we are in the pandemic we are seeking to limit face to face contacts for healthcare services in favour of digitalised opportunities through, for example, Ask my GP, and in current circumstances of COVID 19 it is not intended the WIC will reopen soon.

Councillor Michael Powell asked about the regeneration of Prestwich Village:
Can the Leader provide an update on the progress made in recent months on the plans to regenerate Prestwich village centre?
Answer:

Over the last 6 months the Council has made significant progress with regard to bringing forward the pre-development phase of the regeneration of Prestwich Village. Progress includes engagement with the development market. We have developed a set of key values and principles we see as important in delivering the Prestwich scheme.

Over the next 6 months the Council are seeking to source a long-term partner who shares our views on the potential of the site and wants to work with the community to deliver a new centre which is attractive to all residents.

We will also be designing a hub building that meets the requirements of the public sector bodies in Prestwich. The hub building will incorporate the NHS Trust’s functions combining two GP practices, the library, adult learning centre, indoor community room (to replace the Longfield Suite that could house indoor market, leisure uses), new cycling hub and a Job Centre.

It is anticipated at the November Cabinet a Paper will be presented outlining the way forward for the regeneration of Prestwich.

GMSF – Wrong Plan at the Wrong Time

The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is the wrong plan, at the wrong time, say Liberal Democrats across Greater Manchester.

Liberal Democrats in Bury and across Greater Manchester are calling for a halt to the Greater Manchester Strategic Framework, due to be published on 5 October 2020.

In Bury, there will be a full meeting of the Council to discuss these on Wednesday 21 October.

Wrong Plan 
Bury’s Liberal Democrat Councillors recognise that we will need more homes in the Borough, and we want to build the high quality, affordable and energy efficient homes that people need, but not at the expense of losing our precious green spaces. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, residents have been using our great outdoors for exercise and solace.  This experience this year tells us, we need our open spaces more than ever.

Our precious Green Belt land must be protected with development restricted to existing sites and brownfield land. 

GMSF’s housing need numbers are based on 2014 data.  The numbers are now off.  We are now in the middle of a Covid-19 pandemic and soon we will face an uncertain future after Brexit; both will have a massive impact on our future economy and our housing need.  GMSF is out of date before it even written never mind published.

Wrong Time
Greater Manchester Councils are proposing to consult with the public over a seven-week period, which includes Christmas and is in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a democracy, people need to be able to meet, to discuss, and to campaign around the issues that affect them in their local areas.  Bury Liberal Democrats believe that this is the wrong time to conduct any consultation if it is to be meaningful and inclusive.  At a time when people are rightly focussed on Covid-19 and its massive impact on our lives, it is a disgrace to even call this a consultation.

GMSF is also already based on an outdated process.  The Government’s White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ sets out the new way that local plans will be drawn up and new ways that housing numbers will be calculated.

Councillor Michael Powell, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, said:  “I believe that this is the wrong plan presented at the wrong time.”  

“Building on Green Belt cannot be justified, especially when, with the economic downturn forecast on the coat tails of Covid-19 and Brexit, we will have more empty shops and offices and undeveloped sites in the town centre that could serve for housing.  The housing numbers are also off as later projections for housing need have been lower than those first published in 2014, and in any case less people will be able to afford to settle in a new home.” 

“Furthermore, people will just not be engaged with this final stage of consultation as they focus on keeping themselves and their families safe from disease and unemployment.  The Conservative Government’s Planning for the Future proposals will in any case make GMSF redundant as they require every Greater Manchester Council to produce an entirely new local plan within 30 months of the legislation being passed.  It is crazy to proceed with GMSF when the rules are so clearly about to change.”

Liberal Democrat Councillors will oppose the latest GMSF proposals when they are presented to the special meeting of Bury Council, to be held on Wednesday 21 October.

Reporting Back: Planning Committee

Earlier in the month was the monthly meeting of Bury’s Planning Control Committee. This is the meeting made up of the 11 Councillors who represent the various wards of the borough of Bury. The committee determines planning applications for certain major developments and others where objections have been received. Councillor Cristina Tegolo reports:

Bury Planning Control Committee met remotely and the meeting was live streamed. A social-distanced site visit took place in respect of planning application 65569/Full.

At the Planning Control Committee meeting none of the submitted applications were refused but I commented on the following application:

Land at George Street, Prestwich, Manchester, M25 9WS. Application Ref: 65327/Full

We discussed an application for the redevelopment of the site for a mixed use comprising the erection of a synagogue and offices with associated parking, access and landscaping. 

The site had a previous consent for a mixed-use development of a synagogue and independent offices, access, car parking and landscaping which was granted in February 2017 (planning reference 60182) but this consent had lapsed.

In terms of siting, the proposed development would have a similar layout, set back into the site with a car park for 18 cars located in front from a newly created access which would be formed off George Street.

I expressed my concern about the siting of the proposed car park, for 18 cars, and asked for some assurances that there would be enough space in front to the main entrance doors to enter and exit the building safely. I also commented on the back elevation and I asked that a landscaping scheme should be put forward to soften the blank walls, at the street level of the rear elevation. 

My comments were taken on board. The planning department will seek for reassurances about the sighting of the carpark and the landscaping proposal will also address the rear elevation.

More information and the full papers for the meeting are here.

Ed Davey is the new Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Sir Ed Davey MP has been chosen by Liberal Democrat Party members in an election where more than 67,000 people voted.

On his election, Ed said:
“Our country is going through one of the most extraordinary and difficult periods for generations. The challenge of Covid will affect our country and the world for decades to come. Millions of people are suffering.

As Leader of the Liberal Democrats, I want to reach out to help you and your community get through this. Whether your concerns are your families’ health, your children’s education or your livelihood.”

He has made clear the Party must listen hard to voters and show them we’re on their side. He’s launching a National Listening Programme to do that. Here are some of the key things he said in his acceptance speech.

  • I am launching a National Listening Program from today so that voters can tell us what matters most to them. I will be travelling around to meet people. I want to spend time with all sorts of people and figure out where they are in their lives.
  • I want to understand how we can deliver more of what small business owners, nurses, teachers, parents, carers and communities really need. I want to get beyond Westminster.
  • I want to rebuild our connection to people so that we can help get through this terrible time together. That’s what the Listening Program is about.
  • Our job as a party is to represent people. My job as our leader is to move us forward. That means being able to speak for more people in this country and being able to make their concerns our own.
  • Our party has a great history of being a powerful, modern, principled and distinctive voice in British politics. We have to find a way to get back to that again.

Reporting Back: Bury Council Cabinet meeting

Bury Council’s Cabinet met at the end of July. Councillor Michael Powell reports back:


Covid-19 Recovery Planning
Planning work is now under way to support the recovery from Covid-19 in Bury, aimed at supporting Bury’s residents, the economy and businesses during this rapidly changing situation. It will also enable reforms to be made to the delivery of public services across the Borough, including with key health and care partners, and for the Council to make sustained changes to how it operates internally. The recovery work will also include the financial recovery required for the Council and Bury One Commissioning Organisation given the very significant impacts that the pandemic has had on the financial position of the Council, as with all other Local Authorities and NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups. The Cabinet approved the proposals for a 10 point plan for immediate recovery over the next six months as laid out here:

Bury Council’s Financial Position

The council’s budget overspent by £5.003m representing 3.60% of the annual budget. Included in the overspend is a higher than planned contribution to the pooled fund that was agreed in March 2020 and the application of £3.650m in reserves. The Council is forecasting an overspend of £7.524m. This was noted as not unexpected given the pressures faced by COVID-19 and reflects the monitoring that has been reported to MHCLG and Greater Manchester on the in-year position. A medium term strategy has been developed to steer the Council through the next five financial years.



Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Plan
A report has been produced to show the development of the GM Clean Air Plan, which sets out a proposal for public consultation in light of COVID-19 implications, and highlights that the implementation of a GM Clean Air Zone is delayed until 2022 by two years. The plan would mean that several types of vehicles such as buses, coaches, HGVs, taxis and private hire vehicles would need to adapt to ensure they meet with emission standards. The Council have called for vehicle replacement funds to be granted by the Government to enable vehicles to adapt to meet these standards, which including a bus retrofitting programme.

Highways Investment Strategy
The investment of £10 million for highway maintenance for the period 2020/21 to 2022/23 was approved by the Cabinet. The following roads in Prestwich were included in the maintenance scheme:
– Heywood Road (Hampden Road to Park View Road)
– Sandgate Road (Mount Road to M60 Bridge)
– Glebelands Road (Heywood Road to Langley Road)
– Hillcrest Road (Full Length)
– Harlech Avenue (Full Length)
– Park Road (Sheepfoot Lane to Castle Hill Road)

Reporting Back: Full Council

Three separate motions were put forward at the Summer meeting of Bury’s full Council. Councillor Michael Powell reports:

Liberal Democrat group motion- Supporting Private Renters and Selective Licencing
Our motion concerned securing a fair deal for private renters to ensure that they are protected from poor housing management and low standards from a minority of those operating in the sector. The motion suggested trialling the use of ‘selective licencing’ schemes, which require landlords in finite geographical areas to register with the Council enabling certain standards to be enforced. These schemes are already being used successfully in other Greater Manchester authorities, such as Manchester and Oldham. The motion was passed unanimously with support from all parties on the Council and the Liberal Democrat group will check in with the Council over the coming weeks to see what progress has been made on this motion.


Conservative motion- Creating a Bury Council Covid-19 Recovery Plan
The Conservative Council group put forward a motion calling for the creation of a detailed recovery plan as the borough begins to recover from the crisis. The plan included a focus on economic impact and ensuring financial resilience, health and social care recovery, ensuring Council services are delivered efficiently and supporting local businesses and residents. The Liberal Democrat group supported the motion as we recognised the importance of establishing a wide-reaching recovery plan to get the borough through the next stage as it rebuilds from the pandemic, although we also highlighted that such a plan needs to touch on other areas such as education and providing further support for vulnerable people. The motion was not passed as it did not achieve the support of Labour Councillors, who argued that there was not enough detail.

Labour motion- Calling for an independent enquiry into the handling of coronavirus
The motion from the Labour group called for the Council to support an independent enquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic. The Liberal Democrat group supported this motion on the basis that there are a number of important questions related to the Government’s response which remain unanswered and need clarification. The motion was passed with the support of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Radcliffe First Councillors.

Mental health and education gap of homeschooling must be addressed

Responding to Office of National Statistics published last week on the impact of homeschooling during the coronavirus pandemic, Liberal Democrats are calling for urgent action to tackle the health and education impact of lockdown on children.

Education Spokesperson Layla Moran MP said: “Coronavirus has clearly impacted every aspect of life, including the wellbeing of parents and children, and the quality of education the majority of children receive. We must ensure no one is left behind.

“If it wasn’t for years of cuts to our schools and government failing to consult adequately with teachers and school leaders, it wouldn’t be this way. Ministers must now increase the necessary provision of laptops and introduce a Summer Learning Fund that supports the most disadvantaged children.

“Moreover, the Government must address the mental health impact of the pandemic by signposting the appropriate support services to every household, and properly funding the charities that provide those services.”

Coronavirus and homeschooling in Great Britain: April to June 2020 can be found here.
 
Between 7 May and 7 June 2020, 87% of parents said a child in their household had been homeschooled because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with the percentage decreasing as the age of the only or eldest child increased.
 
Over half (52%) of parents with school-aged children said a child in their household was struggling to continue their education while at home, with just over three in four of these parents (77%) giving lack of motivation as one of the reasons.
 
While under 1 in 10 (9%) parents with a child who was struggling gave a lack of devices as a reason for struggling, this was significantly higher for households with one adult (21%) than households with two or more adults (7%).
 
Between 3 April and 10 May 2020, of parents who were homeschooling, one in three women (34%) agreed that it was negatively affecting their well-being compared with one in five men (20%), while 43% of homeschooling parents agreed that it was negatively affecting the well-being of their children.
 
See below for full details of the Liberal Democrats’ five-point plan for reopening schools to more pupils in England.  

  • Increase capacity for physical learning, by combining local spare space registers, so that local councils and school leaders can find suitable empty buildings in the community to use as learning spaces.
  • Recruit an army of extra teachers to cope with demand. The Government should launch a Teach for Britain recruitment campaign to bring out-of-work supply teachers and recently-retired teachers into schools so more pupils can return. This builds on the success of the Social Work Together campaign, developed with the Local Government Association. Ministers should work with unions to get more teachers into learning spaces in any one school day.
  • End the online learning void for thousands of children. Ministers should develop a bold strategy to leave no child behind by partnering with the private sector to get laptops and internet access to any disadvantaged child currently unable to learn online. The Government’s current target to provide 230,000 laptops has left out too many children. Councils are neither receiving the equipment they have asked for, nor seeing high uptake rates for the kit they’re given. The Government should launch a major advertising campaign to encourage families and children to ask for equipment, backed up by working with schools to get more physical resources including textbooks to children lacking internet or computer access.
  • Design a flexible, phased reopening that follows the science and has the trust of parents and the profession by being developed with them, following the lead of Kirsty Williams in Wales. Schools should aim to begin the next academic year on time in September, but double the autumn half-term break to two weeks. We must recognise that many schools are doing a fantastic job at phased reopening, and ensure local authorities, academy trusts and government are learning from their successes.
  • Halt the widening of the disadvantage gap. The Government should combine the summer provision of free school meals with an emergency uplift in child benefit of £150 per child per month, with £100 for every subsequent child, during this crisis. The catch-up premium should be worth at least £700 for every disadvantaged child eligible for the pupil premium, to enable schools and charities to give them a much-needed boost in the next academic year. Ministers should create a Summer Learning Fund so that councils can run summer learning camps for children, focused on local authorities in the most deprived areas. This will prepare children for September and give many children a positive environment in which to learn and re-acclimatise to an educational environment. The Government should fund places on these courses for children on free school meals.

Reporting Back: Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Three separate reports were presented to the Summer meeting of the Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee. Councillor Michael Powell Reports.

Bury Market Covid-19 Recovery Plan:
– The reopening of Bury Market for non-essential retail took place on 15th June, apart from businesses for which restrictions were extended to 4th July such as cafes, hairdressers, nail bars, beauty salons and barbers.
– The Market has remained partially open (approximately 12 stalls) throughout the lockdown to support food Traders providing a service to our vulnerable residents, including home deliveries. Social media support has also been provided.
– A plan has been published to guide the recovery of the market after the Covid-10 crisis. The main challenge in the long term is to attract footfall to ensure the markets viability whilst simultaneously ensuring the safety of visitors to the market.
– Amendments are proposed to the Markets Rules and Regulations, including a review of current opening and closing times.
– A Capital Programme is underway with £1.38 million going to be invested in making further improvements to the Market, phased over the next four years. The work could include the replacement of Market Hall glazing panels, addressing open Market roofing issues, Market Hall toilet refurbishment and an upgrade of Market’s parade area.

Bury and Radcliffe Town Regeneration Schemes:
– The Council have begun work on a new masterplan for Bury town centre to ensure Bury is fully prepared for the economic consequences that will arise from coronavirus and to establish a clear and deliverable plan to support economic recovery.
– The masterplan is very much in the early stages but will seek to address the town’s role as a retail and leisure destination, commercial development, improved town centre living, develop the tourism and cultural sectors and improve linkages between the town centre and surrounding assets and neighbourhoods.
– The Council recently unveiled a Strategic Regeneration Framework for Radcliffe aiming to shape the future of the town over the next 10 to 15 years. The public consultation on the SRF began on 22nd June and will run until 3rd August.
– The key elements recommended in the draft SRF include the creation of a central hub in the town centre, the creation of new leisure facilities, a focused retail strategy, improved public open spaces and a new Secondary school.

Resetting the education service in Bury:
– The report provided a further update on the progress being made by the Local Education Authority during the Covid-19 pandemic to reset the education service.
– Individual risk assessments have been carried out by all education settings across the borough to ensure social social distances and enable social bubbles to be created to avoid mixing different cohorts unnecessarily. 
– The aggregate total of pupils attending Bury schools on Tues 23 June 2020 is 3584; this marks a further growth in the returns.
– A medium term recovery work plan has been established for at least the next academic year, which will include providing support to children in three vulnerable groups- those who are transitioning from one education establishment to another, children with SEND and the newly vulnerable and those children who have fallen further behind in their learning than their peers.
–  A substantial programme of work will be required according to the Council’s education authority if they are to secure the lost learning for many of the borough’s vulnerable children. In this recovery the Council say they have some additional resource and support; from HMI, the RSC, from central government, and within local partnerships.

The papers for the meeting are here.

Reporting Back: Greater Manchester CA Scrutiny

Report back on High Rise building fire risks and financial impact of Covid-19.

Earlier this week was the regular meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Corporate Issues and Resource Scrutiny Committee. This brings together 15 councillors from across Greater Manchester. Bury is represented by Prestwich councillor Tim Pickstone, who also chairs the committee this year.

High Rise Building Fire Risk Residents Survey
Following the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force was established to ensure that the area was prepared to respond to a major incident and that all high rise building are safe from fire, and that residents feel safe.

As part of assessing how safe residents feel, a survey of residents was undertaken in the latter part of 2019.

65% of residents said they are concerned about having a fire in their home.
77% of residents who lived in a building where cladding was identified as a risks were concerned.
97% of respondents said that they would trust GMFRS to provide advice.

One of the most significant concerns was the financial impact on apartment owners. Some residents had experienced a 400% increase in service charges and others reported that they had been presented with significant bills (e.g. to remove cladding).

I asked about the financial impact on apartment owners, as I understand mortgage lenders are refusing to lend for properties where there are cladding issues, and in particular whether this was also affecting the ‘non high rise’ apartment blocks which are not covered by the current guidelines.

The full report on the residents survey is here.

Financial Impact of Covid-19 on Greater Manchester Local Authorities
The Combined Authority Finance Director gave members an update on the financial impact of Covid-19 on local government in the area.

The first part of the report concerned the impact on the individual Districts (e.g. Bury). All local councils have experienced extra costs, as a result of Covid-19, the bulk of which have been around social care costs, but also significant costs around highways, transport public health and housing.

Local councils have also had significant loss of income. Around 60% of this has been a loss of ‘commercial income’ – anything from rented property to fees and charges. Roughly 40% is lost taxation income – either lost business rates or lost council tax receipts.

There has been Government grant to help with some of this, but largely this hasn’t covered the lost income.

The second area of the report was on the financial impact on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. By far the most significant issues are with:

  • Retained Business Rate losses – Greater Manchester is part of a pilot scheme for local areas to ‘keep’ (some of the) increases in Business Rates that they generate. For Greater Manchester as a whole this has been successful, as new commercial buildings have opened in recent years. However this is very unlikely to be the case this year and perhaps in future years, so this will have an impact on what the CA can spend.
  • Metrolink – obviously use of Metrolink was severely impacted during Metrolink, and remains significantly lower than ‘normal’. The Government has given GM £25 million to help cover this, which covers the bulk of this loss. At the moment Government grant only goes to 3 August 2020, so there is a major issue about lost Metrolink income going forwards.

I asked about the long term impact of the loss of ticket income. Most of the money for the new lines was from borrowing, and the ticket income is paying for that borrowing. I also asked about potential Government funding for new lines, and whether there were any ‘ready to go’ applications being considered.

The financial impact paper is here.

Reporting Back: Planning Committee June 2020

On the 23rd June was the monthly meeting of Bury Planning Control Committee. This is the meeting made up of the 11 Councillors who represent the various wards of the borough of Bury. The committee determines planning applications for certain major developments and others where objections have been received. Councillor Cristina Tegolo reports:

Bury Planning Control Committee met remotely and the meeting was live streamed. 

In response to the emergency Government instructions on Covid-19. Due to the Government’s social-distancing guidelines no site visit took place.

At the Planning Control Committee meeting none of the submitted applications were refused but I commented on the following applications:

38 Deyne Avenue, Prestwich, Manchester, M25 1EJ.
Application Ref: 65261/Full 

We discussed an application for a two-storey terraced house in Prestwich, near the Metrolink. The application site relates to the side garden and garage of the end-of-terrace house. The plot is located at the most north eastern end of Deyne Avenue with the front of these houses accessed by a pedestrian walkway only, the road itself is stopping 35m away. There is an unmade cobbled access at the rear (Back Deyne Avenue), which is a single car width and is used by residents to access their garages, back yards and bins stores.

I raised concerns about access and facilities for the Fire Service. I was reassured that there is access for a pump appliance to within 45 m of the property as recommended by Building Regulation requirement B5.

I was also concerned about construction vehicles blocking the access road at the rear of the property, the Officer assured me that the Construction Traffic Management Plan (CTMP) will have to be submitted in advance of any work taking place.

45 Bury Old Road, Prestwich, Manchester, M25 0EY. 
Application Ref: 65456/Full 
We discussed an application for a semi-detached residential plot on the corner of Bury Old Road and Kings Road. This semi-detached house had recently received planning permission for an extension. However, the house had been demolished and the new application was seeking permission to construct a new building along the lines of the approved scheme.

I understood that to resolve this matter quickly and to put the next-door neighbours out of their misery this application needed to be granted and the property needed to be rebuilt in line with the previous approval as soon as possible. 

However, I expressed straightforwardly maximum outrage on how the applicant, who had just talked in support of the application, had justified the fact that the property had been unlawfully demolished as a “misunderstanding” and that this was just a “hiccup”.

I supported this application but I clearly said that I found shocking that someone could describe this matter as a simple misunderstanding and I added that I was sorry for the family living next door, I also doubted that for them this issue had been a small hiccup.

More information and the full papers for the meeting are here.