What does the GMSF mean for the future of Labour in Royton?
Greater Manchester’s housing master plan, Places for Everyone (formerly the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework) will be undergoing public examination starting in July. Whilst two Royton Green Belt sites—Thornham Old Road and Hanging Chadder—have been withdrawn from the plan by the Council, Peel have appealed to have the latter restored to it. With proposed development in Royton’s Green Belt still very much a political hot potato, Labour has now been defeated in Royton North in the local elections for the second-year in a row.
Whilst Oldham does need more new homes, most of the population growth is in the south of the borough. On top of that, to use planning parlance, Thornham in Royton North is not a sustainable location: it has no access to the Metrolink and the bus service is not fit for purpose; it does not even have a direct public transport route into the centre of Manchester. Allocating the Green Belt in Royton North for development was never about providing the homes we need, and where we need them; it was all about generating inflated council tax receipts from expensive properties to subsidise the inflated salaries at the civic centre and fiscal profligacy in Oldham Town itself.
The local election results
Whilst the Council cannot be wholly blamed for Peel appealing Hanging Chadder, once they allocated the site they opened the door for Peel to appeal its removal from the GMSF. If the Planning Inspector decides to hold a hearing on the fate of Hanging Chadder, it will leave the residents of Royton North potentially facing a huge legal bill to defend the site. Residents of Thornham are understandably angry, and Labour have borne the brunt of local malcontent at the polls for the second year running. The local elections saw the Conservatives repeat last year’s victory over Labour in Royton North, with Lewis Quigg triumphing over Hannah Roberts as councillor for the ward.
The Conservative victory in Royton North reflects a trend across the borough where Labour saw a net loss of five seats (following on from six last year). Labour came close to defeat in several other wards: in Royton South, Labour beat the Conservatives by just 72 votes; indeed, UKIP-er Anthony Prince is proving to be one of Labour’s most effective campaigners, splitting the vote by just enough for the second year running to allow Labour to cling on by its finger-tips. It was a similar story in St. James’ (another ward affected by development in the Green Belt), where the Tories lost by an agonising 59 votes, again largely due to an independent splitting the vote. Also, for the second year running, the council will be looking for a new leader, after Labour’s Arooj Shah lost to the Conservative’s Robert Barnes in Chadderton South.
Eroded trust in Labour
Labour’s borough-wide performance paints a bleak picture of widespread dissatisfaction and eroded trust. Besides the Green Belt, there is mounting anger about the proposed Clean Air Zone, and the oft-delayed CSE report hangs over Oldham like the grim reaper.
Some of the problems are so fundamental it is difficult to know where to begin. In Royton’s case, withdrawing the two Thornham allocations was a necessary first step. If the public examination of the GMSF proceeds to a hearing on Hanging Chadder then, for Labour to have any hope of re-election in Royton North in the near-future, it is essential that the Council vociferously defends Hanging Chadder. If Royton’s Green Belt is built on then there will be no way back from that for a generation, for Oldham Labour. On a deeper level, Labour needs to reflect on why so many communities across the borough have become disenfranchised from a party which, in theory at least, should embody their best interests.
An opportunity for the Conservatives
Labour’s misfortune at the polls also presents the Conservatives with an opportunity. Historically ignored by Oldham Conservatives at election time, in 2021 ex-army man Dave Arnott mounted a serious campaign in Royton North, and residents took a gamble, resulting in a Conservative victory for the first time in nearly 30 years. Over the last year Cllr Dave Arnott has proven himself to be a vocal and effective defender of the Green Belt, and for that we thank him. Save Royton’s Greenbelt also extends its congratulations to Lewis Quigg on his hard-won election victory. Hopefully, Lewis will follow his colleague’s lead in conveying the local sentiment; and should the GMSF progress to a hearing on Hanging Chadder, he will join with Cllr Arnott and the remaining Labour councillor, Clint Phythian, in placing demands on the Council to mount a robust defence of the site.
The fate of Hanging Chadder is in our hands
If Hanging Chadder does progress to a hearing, we cannot rely entirely on the Council to defend the site adequately, so Save Royton’s Greenbelt still needs to be present and represented at the hearing. We currently have two fund-raisers for our legal fund: the 200 club and our weekly lottery. Membership of the 200 club involves pledging £200 to our legal fund; this fund is exclusively for mounting a legal defence of the Green Belt sites in Thornham. If the money is not used to retain legal representation it will be returned in full, or if only part of the fund is used it will be returned on a pro rata basis (e.g. if only half is used, you get half back). Our lottery is operated by an independent vendor and offers a top weekly prize of £25,000, along with several smaller prizes; you can join this for as little as £1 per week.
If you have not yet joined one of our schemes, we ask that you consider joining either the 200 club or taking out a year-long subscription with our lottery. We appreciate times are tough and fully understand if you cannot afford to. That said, whilst we have done much of the work ourselves (staging demonstrations, petitioning councillors, filing FOI requests and even writing three appeals in total), we are not lawyers and don’t have the expertise to litigate our case. If we tried to do this ourselves, we would in all likelihood fail.
By standing together as a community and taking the fight to the Council we have come very close to achieving our objective of saving our green space. With your added support we can finish the job!