Gorse Hill Labour

A regular blog and updates from Mike Cordingley, Councillor for Gorse Hill Ward in Trafford – Gtr Manchester.

Putting Children back to first priority

I am really pleased that Andy Western – leader of Trafford Council has made the comments I’m sharing below.

It’s something I’ve been uncomfortable with since the outset of the first lockdown. I was never happy that schools were shut down. With hindsight, I can see we needed a pause to get on top of the virus. However, I was very supportive of Kate Green’s stance that children needed to be back at school at the earliest date. She took flack for that position.

It’s never been the loss of examinations that’s been my prime concern. With the right provision of lifelong learning, this can be addressed; and maybe even improved upon, as we’ve never been good at it. Now it’s imperative, perhaps at last we can dream of the universal provision we dreamt about when Labour created the ‘Open University’.

I agree with Andy that it’s the loss of socialisation skills and friendship forming that’s the real worry. We’re seeing an increased prevalence of mental health problems and worsening anti-social behaviour. I sense there’s a stronger element of pure anger contained within the motivations for that behaviour than I have seen before. I get that anger. I get angry at those who pontificate at parents for the reaction their children are demonstrating.

It’s something that we’re going to have to address and there’s an urgent need for the conversation to really get started. That conversation has primarily to be driven by the young people and we need to find new ways of getting the voice of those most at risk from problems we’ve created. The catchup plan needs to be owned by those children and it needs to continue to be owned by them as they move through their life. We owe it to them.

Happy New Year to you all

A few predictions for this time of year seems to be the tradition. I’m optimistic.

Covid

I think we’re going to have a difficult few weeks with covid but spring is going to look so much better for those who keep up their vaccination. It will never go away but we’ll find it far more manageable with minimal impact on daily lives. Just to reiterate though, January/February will be horrible.

Healthcare

As covid normalises, trade unions will take a hard look at the equality of health provision. In 2023 it will not be defensible for the lowest rates of vaccination to be amongst ethnic minorities and manual trades.

(Trade Unions generally will be playing a bigger direct role in 2023 – and we’ll all be better for it)


Big wish – That we see a new health facility in the Gorse Hill/Firswood Area

Stretford

I suspect the focus will shift to the Canalside area. We’ve only had one or two artist impressions of people relaxing on the side of the canal. We need to see how this area can be brought to life and importantly, how it relates to and complements the work on the Mall.

Manchester United

Man U will be putting some meat on the bones of their plans to modernise and enlarge the stadium. I really hope Trafford’s leadership is not bought off with promises of ‘jam tomorrow’. Residents around the stadium have seen it all before. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how Man U connects with its neighbours both here and greater Old Trafford; and Salford too. There’s a real opportunity to place residents to the front of negotiations before officers agree to the bulk of Man U’s demands.


Big wish: That Manchester United places itself hand in hand in collaboration with residents and local businesses to develop a masterplan that puts Man U as a catalyst for a neighbourhood enhanced by them rather than impaired.

Education

I’m biased, but I believe that it was a huge error removing Kate Green from Labour’s education portfolio. Strategic thinking on how we address the twin challenges of Brexit and Covid is vital; and far more important than parliamentary bluster. Personally, I think this is an area that Andy Burnham needs to seize. We vitally need a skilled up work force that can compete internationally. Covid has been hugely damaging to a generation and yet it’s the aspect of levelling up that gets the least attention. The impact on children in Lostock and Gorse Hill has been far greater than Hale and Timperley and it needs addressing.


Big Wish 1- that we start publicising 11+ pass rates of schools. We’ve always been too polite and discreet about this but it allows certain schools to push the boundary of coaching. You will only see progress if you expose how inherently unfair it is to certain schools and their pupils.

Big Wish 2 – that we make an irresistible demand for a huge investment in Further Education. It’s never been more important to make lifelong learning routinely available to all.

Transport

Active Travel is going to continue to be controversial but it’s also going to edge forwards. We can’t have Stretford’s motorway restored to how it was; and a bus lane doesn’t help Stretford, or buses particularly there. We’ve got to make crossing our roads much easier and less stressful.

Nevertheless we are expecting work to start this year on the Greatstone Road/Talbot Road junction. Much needed as it’s been far too grim for pedestrians trying to cross Greatstone Road without a phase for them to cross safely.

I have quite a few on my wish list in this area but it’s worth pointing out that they’re all predominately for pedestrians. We really should have prioritised walking before cycling and I say that as a cyclist. No one cycles before they can walk and we’ve made it so difficult to get around on foot, it’s no wonder we use cars for ridiculously short journeys.


Big wish 1: That Trafford takes a strategic decision to make all crossings provide improved priority to pedestrians. Too many force the pedestrian to stand at the kerb, getting sprayed by cars for too long.

Big wish 2: A Chester Road crossing close to Gorse Hill Park. It’s awful having to cross there without any infrastructure but parents and children have to do it daily. Long overdue.

Big wish 3: Pedestrian phase for Park Road / Derbyshire Lane – I think it’s now on the list but needs pressure from Trafford to maintain its place.

Big wish 4: Safe pedestrian crossing for Raglan Road to Davyhulme Road at Fiveways. Clearly, I live on Raglan Road so I haven’t prioritised this one. However, since I’m going and daily have to chance my life against traffic from all directions, I’m going to include it in this my last wish list as councillor.

Big wish 5: Humphrey Park Station Tunnel : Complicated ownership/responsibility but this is such a valuable and well used pedestrian route between Lostock and Humphrey Lane and yet it’s in disgraceful nick. It doesn’t have disabled access, it collects rain and muck and it’s poorly lit. It can’t be beyond the wit of Trafford and Northern Rail/Network Rail to come together and sort it.

Big wish 6: A Melville Crossing beg button that works when there’s moving traffic. Not much point in having a controlled crossing if it waits until there’s no traffic before working.

Big wish 7: And this one really irritates. I wish we could lock Highways Agency, Trafford Council and TfGM in a room with a PC operating Street View to check every route from Junction 7 on the M60 for road signage to enable HGVs to find a sensible route to Trafford Park. I am sick to the back teeth of 30 ton HGVs getting lost in residential streets because there’s no signs once they’re off main route from junction 9 Parkway. I wouldn’t let them out of the room until they’d sorted it.

Gorse Hill Park, Fiveways, Humphrey Park, Melville

Amey

I think I dealt with this in my previous blog post. I don’t think we’re going to get from the seven year review the community engagement that we really need and was promised at outset. I do think it’s the only meaningful way we’ll achieve the focused service we need. There has been some improvement on occasions. I like the way that Stretford Litter Pickers has been able to work with Amey. I think that’s largely because Stretford Litter Pickers are more determined than most and all credit to them.

Parks

Too many parks have lost their swings. It’s vital we get investment. I worry so much about what covid has done to a generation of kids. At least give them park equipment to play on. We’ve locked them up for too long.

Liar Johnson is leaving the building

He’s going isn’t he? No one can survive their reputation being shredded the way that his has been over parties, expenses and his own arbitrary rules that he doesn’t pretend to stand by. The local elections will see him off and Labour will be cock-a-hoop.

Labour needs to be careful though. Johnson is the main reason Labour’s polling has improved. I am not sure Starmer’s inner circle are taking the right messages from this improvement in polling. I’m not sure it’s helpful to know what type of car they think Starmer is.

Lastly (and I mean it)

It’s always useful to list priorities. You’ve always come back at me to add a few more. I’ve always enjoyed that.

The fact that some of these priorities would have been listed when I first became a councillor I think says more about the way Council operates in its own bubble. Unless you have access to officers, you’re rarely going to make headway and that access has never been more at a premium than it is now.

However, I’ve only got about 10 more weeks as a councillor. So these will be someone else to pick up or not and that’s right. Generally, I am optimistic.

One of the things I think has really improved is community strength and identity. In Gorse Hill we’ve had the lantern parade and it was great. Stretford has been doing its advent windows for a few years now. I saw this week that Wigan had an annual fancy dress on Boxing Day. These locally based quirks are great and are a real hope that we can have neighbourhoods that are different and flourishing.

Amey and Trafford’s relationship is up for Review

The Amey One Trafford Partnership has been a feature of life in Trafford for the last six and a half years and we’re coming up to the 7 year review.

So whether you’re itching to get Amey out of your life, or happy to move forward together, councillor scrutiny of the contract has commenced.

7 year Review

The agreement was signed 7th May 2015 and the partnership is due to end on the 30th June 2030 for everything but the street lighting contract, which gets an extra 5 years until 2035.

There is a provision for the council to ask for an 8 year extension to 2038 if it so chooses, but to all intents and purposes the bulk of the contract is a 15 year agreement and we’re coming up to that half way point.

What gets to be reviewed?

The terms of the review are specified under clause 12 of the agreement. The terms have their roots in the original aims of the ‘Reshaping Trafford’ project set out at the onset of the tender in March 2015:

  • To deliver a minimum of 20% savings against the net budget from contract commencement.
  • To deliver further, future efficiency savings through continuous improvement and innovation in service provision through the contract life.
  • To have flexibility, recognising the challenging financial climate facing local authorities at the moment.
  • Protect jobs and maintain service standards in so far as practicable.

So this time last year under clause 12, the council must have begun the process to assess Amey’s performance against:

  • Achieving value for money in its services on behalf of the council
  • Preparing Service Plans
  • Satisfying the users of services
  • Satisfying the council
  • Providing a competitive service

And the council will have engaged in a dialogue in order to determine whether it wished to exercise rights to request a Seven year options proposal very much focused within the agreement on cost reduction, so that those options will consider in order of precedence:

  • Efficiency improvement
  • Income generation
  • Reconfiguration of service delivery
  • Adjustment of targets and performance
  • Adjustment to scope

At the end of the review

As you can see the Tory contract always envisaged service degradation at this point in the agreement. It has to be said that the Tories also envisaged that Amey might not wish to comply, or they may wish to make counter proposals that the council the council would find unacceptable. Both these outcomes are provided for in the agreement along with a protocol designed to bring both parties together but with the possibility of agreement termination as the ultimate recourse.

Conclusion

This process must be coming to its latter stages now and the call has been made for a cross party group to come together to look at the review. I don’t have any insight into where we’re at but probably wouldn’t be able to tell you if I did have.

Politically, whatever changes are made will be Labour changes.

It’s worth pointing out then that I’m convinced the ‘Reshaping Trafford’ project, more than anything, led to the demise of the Conservatives in Trafford. A 20% reduction in funding for the only services that we all use was the most comprehensive suicide note that any council has written ever. Whatever happens at this seven year review, it’ll still be a Conservative project but increasingly we in Labour will be held to be responsible for its day to day running. It’s in our interest to make the partnership more accountable to its users and that’s something actually enshrined in the agreement.

Clause 12:13 talks about whether or not “the Service Provider has to a material extent failed to satisfy the users of the Services in relation to the Service Provider‘s performance under this Agreement.”

Facebook photo of OT revolting Protest 2017 (Year 2 of Contract)

I think it’s fairly clear that ‘Love Old Trafford’ had their patience stretched by Amey and the council. Once the 7 year review is over, I don’t believe the distinction between Amey and the council will wash. It’ll be council services and we’ll to a much greater extent have to satisfy the users of the services.

That said, there’s real chance for Amey and senior councillors be more joined up and responsive to the public and their representatives. The prospect of another seven years of staying together just because they have to is too depressing to contemplate. This isn’t a marriage. The seven year review provides a chance to bring partnership back to the fore. I hope it goes well.

Good Strategy, Implementation when? Ever?

We’ve had two very different reports this week in Trafford. Both the “Streets for All Strategy” from Andy Burnham’s team and the replacement of pop-up cycle lanes consultation got approval. Whilst the overall strategy seems clear, and there ought to be a greater focus on helping us use healthier travel options when appropriate, implementation appears elusive and the possibility of turning the clock back looks to be on the cards for Trafford.

Streets For All Strategy

Link to Decision

Link to Strategy

The 10 Greater Manchester Authorities are adopting this strategy. It’s been adopted by Trafford this week. The vision is:

We will ensure that our streets are welcoming, green, and safe spaces for all people, enabling more travel by walking, cycling and using public transport while creating thriving places that support local communities and businesses.

Streets for All Vision

Valuing our streets as community assets

Streets for All recognises the value of our local places, something which Covid-19 has shone a light on. We want streets that feel part of the community, not just a route for cars to travel along. In my view it’s belatedly recognising that towns so focused and dependent on car use are neither going to be attractive nor prosper. My goodness, it’s taken Stretford a long time to appreciate that.

Green Places

The strategy acknowledges that since road transport generates nearly a third of all carbon emissions, we are going to need to see significant changes in the ways people travel. This will require radical change in how people, goods and
services move into and around our city-region.

Expected Standards

Vitally, expected standards on the different road types are set out. The key is delivering these and it’s not all about huge infrastructure projects. So for instance, on our strategic and connector roads network such as the A56 and Park/Barton Roads, crossings should be provided where people need them that allow them to cross quickly and safely.

We aren’t delivering to the standard now. There’s work to be done: the Park Road/Derbyshire Lane junction is a nightmare for pedestrians and should be a priority, and equally, there still isn’t a crossing on the A56 to Gorse Hill Park main entrance where it is very much needed. Nevertheless, the strategy does at least set out priorities and expectations. And it’s down to us hold the decision makers to account as to whether they’re adhering to it.

Consultation for Temporary Pop-up Cycle Lanes

Link to Decision

Link to Report

In an entirely different report Trafford’s Executive Member for Environmental and Regulatory Services (Cllr Stephen Adshead) approved a proposal to consult with the public on the three options for the future of the popup cycle lanes along the A56:

  • to replace it with a shared bus/cycle lane;
  • to replace it with a protected cycle only lane; or
  • to remove it entirely and revert to pre-COVID-19 status.

Shared Bus/Cycle Lane

There’s no getting away from it that this is something of a confused and contradictory report. Whilst a bus/cycle lane is presented as an option (perhaps even a preferred option), there seems to have been very little evaluation, no mention of working with the bus companies or identification of services. There are in fact no bus services on the A56 Bridgewater Way, so either they are prepared to mix and match (something the report explicitly rules out) or they could end up with a bus lane with no buses on a significant portion of the route.

I’m not entirely comfortable with the premise that cycle lanes and bus lanes are interchangeable and have similar characteristics. How a bus lane deals with left turns is usually to simply end and allow all vehicles into the lane. That’s really hazardous for people riding bicycles. Nevertheless there are good reasons to have bus lanes and they could make a difference in places where installing a continuous cycle lane proved difficult, for instance in Gorse Hill and Sale. However, these places seem outside the scope of the report. It’s a missed opportunity.

Bus Lanes need enforcement as there’s no physical separation. Fines are the normal enforcement means. This doesn’t get a mention but will be a controversial element of any bus lane implementation.

It would have been sensible to have included consultation drafts with the report. So far bus lanes have not been mentioned in the council’s press releases with regard to the consultation. Nevertheless they form a major option in the report so, I guess we will have to wait to see the consultation material to be able to judge whether this is serious or just cover for getting rid of the pop-up lanes.

Replace with a protected cycle only lane

Again we’ll have to see. The bike lanes have not been a problem everywhere and in Stretford town centre perhaps the greatest benefit has been moving the traffic back a lane allowing bars to flourish and pedestrians to breathe.

The Bridgewater Way section has no pavement and whilst a shared-use path seems the obvious solution, the options available seem to rule it out. This would be a huge missed opportunity, the cones have made it so much safer for fans travelling to the stadium.

Remove A56 pop-up cycle lanes entirely and revert to pre-COVID-19 status

Cycle lanes have proved problematic in places particularly on Edge Lane and at Stretford Tip. In other places I would argue that they’ve regulated traffic flow; the A56 varies along its length, in places three lanes and sometimes one lane. Sometimes the lanes are generous widths other times (at Stretford Sports Centre for instance) very narrow. I’m sure some drivers would welcome the entire removal whether or not it improved their travel times but I think most accept that the main thing is to keep the traffic flowing.

I suspect overall total removal will be the popular option. Whilst the report goes out of its way to say the consultation is not a referendum, the current hostility to the cones suggests we’re unlikely to get a nuanced response.

I don’t know where it leaves the A56/Talbot Road junction improvement project as initial plans put protected cycling at the core of the new junction. There’s an argument that Trafford will be excluded from further funding as a consequence of abandoning improvements that had previously been granted so the project might be dead in the water if we take out the cycle lanes now.

Edge Lane

Treated differently, in fact the decision now taken allows modifications to take place prior to a road safety audit.

We’ll have to see the extent to which it is included in the consultation. I would hope that they can make modifications almost straightaway as it’s causing misery to so many people and it’s regrettable it’s not been addressed more quickly. Personally, I think it’s sensible and urgent to do it in any event.

Conclusion

We’ll have to see where this leaves us. If we are going down the bus lanes option, it seems clear to me that we’re going to have to bring in the right skills. It’s not just a continuous white line, we ought to be thinking about bus-stops and junctions. I still don’t see sufficient adherence to the Streets for All Strategy, in fact we’re setting one set of road users against others when we don’t need to and it still delivers nothing to pedestrians who supposedly are at the top of the hierarchy.

Embracing our shops

I’ve been looking at and talking to others about our local shopping parades. I don’t think Gorse Hill is particularly exceptional in this regard but we’ve got a lot of them both serving us from within the ward and from just outside.

  • Lostock Circle
  • Winchester Road
  • Lostock (Barton Road)
  • Derbyshire Lane West (Sevenways)
  • Park Road (Fiveways)
  • Third Ave (Trafford Park)
  • Moss Road
  • Davyhulme Road East
  • Gorse Hill Chester Road
  • Red Chippy Village / Bishop Blaize

Whilst there’s a lot of takeaways there’s also supermarkets, chemists, doctor’s surgeries, restaurants and independent specialist stores. Given we’ve also got Tescos and Lidl, not to mention that a lot us consider the Trafford Centre as within walking distance, it’s amazing that our local parades are still such a thriving sector here.

Our local shops have been crucial during covid and it’s incredible that they’ve kept open and stocked throughout. They’ve been on the frontline in terms of facing people, often unmasked and of unknown health risk. Let’s be honest, they’ve been heroes during the crisis and deserving of our thanks.

So it’s a good time to be looking at the general economic vitality of our parades and to begin a process of looking at what the council can do to support. We’ve seen their impact in a crisis but working together, can we get more positive value from these parades?

I think the conversation starts with the parades themselves and I’ve been talking to a small stretch of shops in Gorse Hill. Whilst I have managed to get the council to release a small sum of of £5000 to match fund improvement, it’s more to start the conversation than anything.

At this point, it’s really about understand the individual needs of shops and try to identify some common themes.

  • Quicker turnaround needed in processing changing terms of opening times, license etc.
  • Car access to forecourts, a lot of issues on this not necessarily a consensus but current situation of bollards at one end of row (outside doctors) and open at the other end near pub is not working. Three point turns are churning the forecourt surface creating trip hazards. Parking density (particularly matchday) is deterring customers on foot and reducing trade at peak.
  • Lighting and general amenity
  • Policing particularly with regard to drugs/alcohol abuse

It’s a conversation to continue and I would love to see the council / public health getting involved. These parades often define the neighbourhood, yet in terms of local authority involvement, it’s often a policing role, for example, not letting takeaways open at times they’d interact with school children. Perhaps approaching issues in a more collaborative mode would achieve more positive change.

I still want to talk to more of the businesses but I hope this has given a flavour of what I’ve been doing

Covid-19 Vaccination Progress

This has been a big issue for me. To be honest, I’ve ruffled a few feathers and got a ticking off at this month’s Labour group meeting, but hey-ho.

In the wealthy belt across the south of the borough the GPs seem to have worked through the cohorts at breakneck speed, way ahead of the Government’s schedule. It’s paying off. The rates of infection are now too low to measure across that area which hitherto has consistently had amongst the highest rates in Trafford. Trafford’s vaccination rate is very, very good in general except for the Stretford/Old Trafford area.

Seven–day rolling rate of new cases by specimen date ending on 17 Mar 2021

Vaccine rates in the north of the borough (the wards of Clifford, Longford, Gorse Hill and Stretford) continue to lag. We didn’t get off to a good start – the Delamere Centre is not a convenient location to serve the whole of the area and it took too long for Limelight to be brought alongside in Old Trafford to provide a second centre.

Nevertheless, we are where we are with centre locations. We still have a problem with vaccine take-up. Vaccine hesitancy in poorer areas, particularly amongst the BAME population is an issue across the country and it’s something we need to take seriously.

The Government is not paying it very much attention yet, but I think we should in Trafford. I logged on to a Local Government webinar last week on this issue; and it was clear the Government’s take was just to concentrate on the numbers, get through the willing as quickly as you can. I get that. The numbers matter. However, leaving less protected populations will matter too.

We see that covid is not affecting people equally. My concern with the vaccine is that the very people that have a right to be concerned about safety for historical; and to be honest, contemporary systemic reasons are the same group of people at greater risk of exposure and death from the disease. So, it is really worrying and highlights the importance of having these conversations; and going beyond just saying ‘trust us, it’s safe’ to really engaging and listening to people; and understanding where people come from and taking the time to address those concerns. Because otherwise, you have a further widening of the inequality you want to avoid, where the vaccine coverage also ends up being unequal with lower coverage in areas of black and minority ethnic groups which would be such a tragedy.

Dr Tollulah Oni – urban epidemiologist at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge

The quote is from a video interview with Dr Oni published by the Voice newspaper and is well worth watching in full. https://youtu.be/2oE3IGOMXc4

There’s not enough acknowledgement that there are genuine issues. The video quoted above was released in December so it’s not as though we weren’t warned. We really need to listen to people, to be patient, to go the extra mile. It’s not simply a case of going through the Imams. I think there’s more we can do. I want to learn from places like Birmingham who have nearly 600 community covid champions – volunteers from within the community. We need to break through that lack of trust and it’s not going to be easy. The ‘hesitancy’ rate in the north of Trafford is at least double of any of the other areas.

However, I think we can do it and when you see the improved covid rates for Hale, you have to say we have every incentive to make this work.