Gorse Hill Labour

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

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.

Addressing the broken housing market

I chaired a good meeting last night looking at social housing within Trafford. It was a meeting I was quite keen to have. I think a lot of us had picked up on a perfect storm affecting people hoping to set up home in Trafford. Inflated house prices, a dysfunctional private rented sector and a social housing sector growing ever more distant from their tenants and the greater community of Trafford are creating real hardships. We’re all too aware of how difficult it is to get good quality accommodation with a landlord committed to ensuring their properties remain decent places to live. High rents mean it’s very difficult to save sufficient deposits. No-fault evictions mean tenants are forced to leave properties at the whim of their landlord in order to put up rents or to sell at inflated prices. The cost of moving at such short notice further erodes any chances to save. It is a broken housing market.

I wanted the meeting to look at the extent the Council can intervene. Frustratingly, the obvious solution of delivering old-fashioned council houses seems bedevilled with insurmountable obstacles. In order to provide council houses, the Council would have to borrow with the expectation of generating income from rent or sale. Right-to-buy automatic discounts of up to £85,000 make it impossible to recoup the investment. Trafford currently is such a high demand area, we’d never be able to build up sufficient stock to make it viable.

We know Thatcher aspired to a home-owning democracy. However, inflated house prices partly generated by the private rented sector those over-generous discounts have crushed that aspiration and we have got huge disparities between the ages. We have a problem with few tools at our disposal to alleviate the impact.

I think there’s a sense in Trafford that nationally, Labour can’t ignore this problem any longer. Labour is the only party that can hope to reset the housing market and it’s blindingly obvious that council housing has to be part of the mix. We need to shout about it more than we are doing. Economically it has a hugely detrimental effect on our cities.

Meanwhile, we need to call out Housing Associations. They need to deliver on those core values that provide their charitable status. Clearly, the Mayor’s focus to now has been on planning where development can take place. It’s now time to shift the focus onto tenure and tackling exploitative rents.

A good little meeting (40 mins) but with a real focus on tackling the inequities of housing. We haven’t got all the tools we need but at least we’ve brought it back to the fore of thinking.

Spring is the air – Councillor update

A focus on litter and having a natter

Days are getting longer and there’s a more upbeat feel to everything. We’ve had a couple of dry weekends and it’s great that so many are taking the opportunity to get outside. I’ve been out delivering party leaflets the last couple of Saturdays and I’ve made a resolution this year that I’ll only leaflet in company. We’ve led such solitary lives during lock-down, I’m just not prepared to waste the opportunity to chat to someone outside my bubble whilst I walk the streets. It may be less efficient but some things are more important and it’s a resolution I’m sticking to. It makes leafleting fun and I’ve found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Lots of litter picking going on in Stretford and other places in Trafford. Partington in particular has been especially noteworthy. But it’s Stretford that’s my focus, and isn’t it fabulous how the baton has been picked up by the Stretford Litter Pickers. Hannah and the team seem to have really caught the mood. If you’ve not yet joined their Facebook group, you really should.

This Saturday they’ll be working from Hawthorn Road on that strip of green-space below the Bridgewater Canal.

Casework Update

Continuing to work on the Gorse Street/Chester Road Alley. It’s regularly being fly-tipped by a takeway. Empty bulk containers of chicken are being put out in the alley with impunity. Pressing the council to take action. We’re on a promise for having restoration of lights which seem to have been switched off. The alley is very dark at night and it would improve things to have the council’s lights switched back on. We’ve also had some incidents of human defecation (the working assumption is late night delivery workers) and clearly lights would deter.

The good news is that the last of the abandoned commercial bins has gone and at the same time there’s greater engagement of residents on both sides of the alley.

Sadly, the bid for integrated community funding was unsuccessful. Disappointing as the work on the alley is a classic case of integration arising from common cause. An issue that brings people together is often a better vehicle for funding than existing groups looking for an issue.

HGVs getting lost in residential areas. Progress being made in reinforcing a message that HGVs should not use a route from M60 junction 7 (A56 Stretford/Sale). We really could do with some signage deterring this and I’m pursuing it.

Curzon Road parking issues. This revolves around the increased popularity of Lostock Park, particularly the skateboard section. Not making as much progress with this as I’d like. What we need is a proper audit/survey of parking rather than a catalogue listing of ‘H’ bar prices and dropped kerbs.

Meetings

School Governors Meetings – I’ve had so many this March – headteacher appraisal, governors update meetings on return to school, Core Group meeting, SEN teacher appointments, Headteacher appointment approval, School Financial Value Standard meetings.

Vaccine progress meeting – more on this in a separate post to follow

Planning meetings – too many applications for one meeting – had to adjourn to a continuation meeting

Children and Health Scrutiny – really recommend the latest Children’s meeting on school places. It’s available on youtube.

Labour Party AGM, Labour Group meeting – AGMs are always a bit turgid and it’s better when there’s contest. Slightly subdued this year.

Mayor’s Challenge Fund Tranche 2 preview meeting. One of the projects shown to us was the Talbot Road/Greatstone Road junction. I’m delighted to say that I’ve been shown a scheme that will withstand actually being implemented. Fingers crossed that this can be delivered without interference.

Still no joy on Humphrey Park subway

Reply from Network Rail

“The details you provided were passed to our maintenance supervisor who has advised that a team will be in the area within the next 5-7 weeks and at this time, they will assess the site to understand what work needs to take place.

Due to current circumstances, our main priority is keeping the railway running for key workers and freight which means smaller jobs such as graffiti and fly tipping aren’t being prioritised like they usually would.

This being said, once the team have established the level of graffiti, the clearance will be added to their work bank to take place when resource is available.

It may also be worth raising this issue with Trafford Council to see what they can do to assist with the problem. If they contact us directly, I’ll be able to forward this on to the necessary team so the 2 parties (as well as Northern) can look at what options are available.”

Next Steps

I think it is worth talking to Trafford officers. There’s no question the subway badly needs investment. I’d really like to see it on the Bee Network schedule for walking and cycling investment. It’s not really been taken up by the local cycling forum, presumably because it’s seen as primarily a walking route. Somehow we’ve got to squeeze it onto the programme. The obvious solution is replacing the steps with a much longer gradient on both sides. This would actually make the station wheel chair accessible too.

So I’m inclined to pursue once Christmas is out of the way.

Alleyway Blues

I was contacted in June in respect of an infestation of rats at a property on Gorse Street. This was an exceptionally large and bold infestation that were moving openly on a lean-to roof of the property’s outbuilding.

Whilst the infestation of rats was the trigger for the contact, there were a lot of separate issues in connection with the alleyway.

The Chester Road businesses are generally keeping their commercial waste bins in the alley. Most are unlocked, but increasingly we’re seeing commercial bins locked shut. This is welcome, but has implications for the flats above shops. Bags of household waste are routinely thrown into open commercial bins.

An issue as recently as June was the blocking of the alley drain due to congealed oils and fats. There have been long periods of the drain being blocked and a large milky white sludge collecting as a large puddle in the alley. Responsibility was disputed between the council and United Utilities, but I understand that that is now clarified with the council taking on responsibility.

However, residents understandably are keen the takeaways undertake their business responsibly and it has not always been the case.

April 2020

When a business ceases trading

At least one of the takeaway businesses ceased trading during the first lock-down and essentially shut-up shop, leaving their commercial waste uncollected and un-invoiced.

This was unresolved for months. The bin was left festering whilst accumulating even more black waste bags alongside it.

Eventually this bin was removed, presumably by the contractor; and the Council removed the bags (as fly-tipping) a week or so later.

As a minimum, I’m arguing that there needs to be clear indications as to which business a bin belongs to. If a business does ‘a runner’ and ceases trading it should be made relatively easy for a third party to contact the waste contractor. On this bin I couldn’t do that, all I could do was tell the waste contractor it was one of theirs and it was unlikely they’d get paid for removing it.

We should therefore expect it to be standard that all commercial bins in the alley should have an indication as to which business they are contracted to. We would hope that the council would make this a condition of keeping bins in the alley.

We would also expect that commercial bins in the alley should be locked so as to avoid accumulating fly-tipped waste and overflowing.

May 2020

Flats above the shops with no bins

We’ve inherited a situation where it’s commonplace that no bins are attached to the flats above the shops there. Even if they had bins, it’s not clear where they could be kept.

Quite sensibly in many ways, the residents use plastic bags to take out and dispose of the waste. However, it’s not efficient and encourages pests; and it’s never been part of the waste contract whether Amey or their predecessors to collect waste in bags. We do not want to change that.

But it’s completely unacceptable to have the situation we had with the commercial bin in the photograph. Most of that waste is domestic ‘fly-tipped’ waste put into a commercial bin that was abandoned.

We’ve got to get to a proper scheme of waste disposal for these flats. They’re council tax payers and they’re entitled to a proper scheme. I don’t know whether that will be bin stores in the alley or some form of communal bins, but the current situation is not tenable. We need to work with the residents to come up with a solution.

Although we made massive strides since June, we’ve still got a way to go. I want to get to a situation where rats go hungry and move on by, that there’s not a ready supply in the alley.

November 2020