Help me raise £500 for Withington Baths


pirates-day


As I write this blog post I am looking forward to this weekend with trepidation. On Sunday, I will be going to the Love Withington Baths campaign Pirate Fun Day. If the campaign manages to raise over £500 then I have agreed to walk the plank at 4 pm as part of the pirate theme of the day!


As Withington Councillor Simon Wheale has mentioned before on this blog, Manchester City Council announced that Withington Baths and Leisure Centre was going to be closed in March 2013.  Thankfully the local community said no and the campaign to ‘Save Withington Baths’ was successful and attracted more than 8000 people. After a lot of hard work and campaigning, the campaign successfully stopped the closure of Withington Baths.


‘Love Withington Baths’ is a campaign designed to make sure that the Baths’ future is secure beyond 2015. By raising the profile of the Baths and encouraging more people to pay them a visit, we hope to keep the Baths open for years to come.


The campaign provides an essential opportunity for leisure in the area and I believe that it is very important we support events such as the Pirate Fun Day in order to make sure that both children and adults in the area have access to the Baths in the future.


By attending the event, and helping to raise both funds and awareness, I hope that we can all help to secure the future of Withington Baths.  The fun starts at 12noon and runs till 4pm with lots of activities for all the family including face painting, fancy dress prizes and X marks the Spot!


For more information, go to lovewithingtonbaths.com.


If you want to see me walk the plank this Sunday then get in touch at info@lovewithingtonbaths.com to donate to the campaign and make my Sunday a wet event to remember!


The Pirates Day is part of this year's West Fest for more information about the Festival click here:


New Tameside 'booze levy'- the right solution?

I am always keen to read about new schemes intended to solve the problem of trouble on city centre streets at the end of nights. It is a problem which urgently needs addressing for a number of reasons. However, I do not believe that the new scheme which will impose a ‘booze levy’ on pubs and clubs in order to finance policing and other requirements during the night in city centres will be hugely effective. The scheme, being introduced by Tameside Council, seems to target pub and club owners and make their lives more difficult while doing nothing to target the problems which occur as a result of people drinking alcohol from supermarkets before they go out.

I do not believe that the pubs and clubs in city centres are uniquely responsible for the problems caused on the streets of city centres. The problems of late night drinking were made far worse by the introduction of 24 hour licensing by the last government. Rather than people drinking less because pubs and clubs were open for longer, the problems of binge drinking have continued because people simply choose to go out later, having already drunk cheap supermarket alcohol at home.

I believe that the cheap alcohol available at supermarkets is as much to blame for the alcohol-related incidents in city centres as pubs and clubs. Due to the new licensing laws, people are now choosing to drink more alcohol available at lower prices from supermarkets before going for a later night out. This to me seems to be the real cause of problems in city centres at night, rather than pubs and clubs staying open past midnight.

It does not seem that the money raised from the new ‘booze levy’ in Tameside will provide anything near enough to fund extra police officers and taxi marshalls so the scheme is flawed both in terms of the ideas it is based on and in terms of practicality.

We should keep looking for solutions to the problems of alcohol-related incidents and I will continue to support any scheme which has a good chance of improving the situation but I think that this scheme is simply targeting the problem in the wrong way.

Manchester Pride 2013

rainbowflag (2)I am really glad to be going along to Manchester Pride in the city centre this weekend. The theme of 'Acceptable in the 80s' seems particularly relevant this year. The 80s were a decade of real importance for HIV and LGBT activism and so it seems appropriate that 2013, as a year of  achievement for the LGBT community, should remember the 80s.

I am very glad that we are able to say that many things which were not 'acceptable in the 80s' are today celebrated and this weekend will give the people of Manchester the opportunity to do just that.

The progress we have made towards greater equality during 2013 has been considerable and will give us plenty to celebrate on Saturday at the parade and the events surrounding it. One of the things that has made me most proud as a Member of Parliament over the past twelve months has been the progress we have made in our campaign to get Alan Turing pardoned. There has been further cause for celebration with the introduction of equal marriage by Parliament this year.

These achievements will add further excitement to the event which already attracts thousands of people from across the world to Manchester annually. The parade, which begins on Deansgate and finishes on Whitworth Street, passing by a number of Manchester landmarks including John Rylands Library and Albert Square, begins at 1pm on Saturday afternoon. The city will be full of people keen to show Manchester off to the world and in doing so achieve Pride's aims of having fun, celebrating the LGBT community and raising awareness of the issues which continue to surround HIV.

I hope to see lots of people joining in with the celebrations in the city centre over the weekend!

Guest Blog: Matt Gallagher: Southern Cemetery Crime



Manchester’s Southern Cemetery is the largest municipal cemetery in the UK, and the 2nd largest in Europe. Established in 1879, the cemetery is split into two sections, and has over 250,000 individual plots. To meet public requirements, the cemetery is open from dawn to dusk every day of the year.

Southern Cemetery has an established staff and an active friends group, that I am privileged to Chair. For the last two years the cemetery has been awarded the prestigious Green Flag in recognition of the improvements made within the facility, and the enthusiasm and commitment of all those involved in making the cemetery the best it can be. This includes the police, who play an active part in supporting the cemetery staff and friends group, and are proactive in tackling the tiny minority, and it is a tiny minority, who cause heartache and distress through their thoughtless and selfish actions.

It is a sad fact of life that there have been grave robbers for as long as there have been graves and memorials. Even the pharaoh’s of ancient Egypt couldn’t stop them, with their seemingly impregnable pyramids, curses and death traps. That does not mean that we should give in to this most pernicious of human activities, but it does mean we have to be smarter, and more determined.

Southern Cemetery staff and management, friends group members and local police meet regularly to address issues of crime and anti-social behavior that may impact on the smooth running of the cemetery and its environs.

When it was thought that dense undergrowth on the Nell Lane side of the cemetery might encourage anti-social elements and littering, the staff and friends got together to remove it. Local police, councillors, even local MP John Leech joined in to cut back the undergrowth and remove skiploads of litter.

When there was a spate of thefts from cars parked on Nell Lane, signs were erected to warn people not to leave valuables on show, and when there was a complaint about people using the cemetery to exercise their dogs the Council Dog Warden service was briefed to identify and tackle the offenders.

When a local resident, who had been the victim of theft from a loved ones grave, asked if CCTV had been considered, the Friends group asked the police for a report on the viability of CCTV as a crime reduction measure. The report from the police made sobering reading.

The sheer size of the Southern Cemetery site would require dozens of cameras to be effective. Indeed, the large number of trees on the older section of the cemetery would render CCTV largely ineffective.

Because of the number of cameras required, a sizeable staff would be necessary to monitor them, at a huge cost. There was also the problem of telling the difference between someone tidying up a grave and someone stealing items from it. How would that be done? Many thefts from graves are not discovered for days, or weeks afterwards. The cost in time and money of employing someone to view possibly weeks of CCTV footage in the hope of seeing someone steal an item from a grave could never be justified.

For CCTV cameras to be useful, the cemetery would have to be floodlit, as CCTV is ineffective during the hours of darkness. This would be unacceptable to local residents and the Council, and prohibitively expensive.

 

Finally, there are a significant number of people who would object to being filmed while grieving in the cemetery, and their right to privacy has to be respected.

For these reasons it was decided that CCTV was not a viable option to reduce thefts from graves in Southern Cemetery.

This does not mean that we have given up. Other strategies are being pursued. For instance, the Friends group is working with local schools to involve children in activities connected to the cemetery. For the last two years, local primary school children have taken part in Remembrance Day ceremonies at the War Memorial. It is hoped that teaching children to respect the cemetery will engender a reverence among young people for its purpose and facilities.

Thought has also been given to improving the security of the cemetery fencing. One proposal is to plant rose bushes at vulnerable sections of the perimeter to deter people from unauthorized entry, particularly at night. Rose bushes would also benefit the local wildlife and bees, and be much more attractive (and less expensive) than unsightly metal railings.

The Council has promised support from its Response Service, although it has to be noted that they are under-staffed and badly stretched, and the cemetery staff are particularly vigilant and willing to challenge unacceptable behavior.

However, in the final analysis, the best deterrent to anti-social behavior is the vigilance of the public. A willingness by people to report bad behavior to the police or cemetery authorities, and to get involved in the Friends of Southern Cemetery group will help to tackle the problem of those who steal or cause damage.

Meetings of the Friends of Southern Cemetery are advertised in lecterns at the main entrance to each section of the cemetery. Anyone can attend, and have their say. It costs nothing but a little of your time. Your views and suggestions are welcome, and may contribute to making Southern Cemetery a safe and attractive facility we can all be proud of.

Matt Gallagher is the current Chair of Friends of Southern Cemetery. 

He served as a frontline GMP Police Officer for over thirty years and was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Greater Manchester's Police and Crime Commissioner. 

http://mattgallagher.mycouncillor.org.uk/

 

Guest blog: Councillor Simon Wheale's article in the MEN 'Licence landlords to protect communities'



Recently, a concerned Withington couple showed me pieces of crumbling masonry, from chimney stacks on the house next door, that had fallen dangerously onto their driveway damaging a car.

The house that they were showing me is a privately rented House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and the couple told me that 'we just can't get hold of the landlord to get something done about the problem'.

As a councillor representing Withington, Ladybarn and South East Fallowfield, this is a complaint that I hear regularly from residents.

Far too often, landlords of HMOs are nowhere to be seen when problems arise at properties they own and that they are making good money from renting out.

That is why Manchester now needs to follow the example of Oxford council, which has set up a landlord licencing scheme for all HMO landlords.

The need for such a scheme is highlighted by a recent problem in Fallowfield where the driveway of a HMO was strewn with waste, including food from split bin bags and overflowing bins.

When the landlords were tracked down, they would not come out that day to deal with what was clearly a real and immediate health hazard, despite being based only a mile away in south Manchester. Instead they cheekily thanked residents for being their 'eyes and ears' in the community even though it was they, the landlords, who are being paid to manage the property.

Unfortunately, whether related to this problem or not, a local resident ended up in hospital having been bitten by a rat in their garden.

This is the sort of situation with absentee, inactive and irresponsible landlords of HMO, experienced on a daily basis, that makes local residents' blood boil.

It is also too often the case that tenants of HMOs are left in the lurch by landlords and find it too difficult to get vital repairs done.

That is why the latest edition of the Withington Civic Society's newsletter has an article entitled 'Some very angry residents' and why hardworking residents' groups like the South East Fallowfield Residents' Group and Community Guardians want the council to use its powers to set up a landlord licencing scheme for all HMOs.

The HMO landlord licencing scheme set up by Oxford council has many positive messages for Manchester about encouraging active and responsible landlords who are improving standards in the private rented sector.

Oxford has processed 3000 landlord licencing applications in just over a year. It has established a register of HMO licences that is available to members of the public.

The licence fee income has allowed Oxford council to employ enforcement officers who ensure all HMO properties are inspected and that conditions are applied where necessary, for proper waste management and other arrangements, before a landlord licence is issued.

The evidence is that the Oxford scheme is working.

Complaints from neighbours in Oxford about litter, dumping, waste and noise problems at HMOs have halved since the landlord licencing scheme was introduced.

Manchester now needs a landlord licencing scheme for all HMO landlords to ensure they contribute to, rather than neglect, the communities where they let properties.

Premier League Champions of Football Travel?

The Premier League football season starts this weekend with a report warning that fans face being priced out of the game before they even reach the turnstiles. And Manchester City’s opponents on Monday Newcastle United may have endured a troubled season last year mired in a relegation battle, but they have managed to top a table of transport options for football fans transport needs, according to the report of a survey carried out by the Campaign for Better Transport and the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF). So if, like me, you’re planning on travelling to a match this weekend you might be interested to see how your club fared in the transport league table below.

league-table

The report praised Newcastle United for demonstrating the many and varied ways football clubs, local authorities and transport providers can work together to improve match-day travel for fans, local people and the city as a whole.

But what makes for worse reading is the lowly placings of the two Manchester clubs –Manchester City 13th and Manchester United languishing in 18th –meaning that this proud footballing city is subject to some of the poorest and most limited options of all the Premier League’s fans.

This clearly has an impact not just on the travelling football supporters –more than 650,000 each week in the Premier League alone according to the report –but also on the local communities for whom Matchday can be a massive inconvenience.

Newcastle United have demonstrated how we can get football supporters out of their car and onto public transport through innovative schemes such as their “Altoonative Travel” website and the £10 per season “Magpie Mover” matchday travel ticket. Both of which help fans to make use of Tyne and Wear’s public transport network, which can surely be made better use of here in Manchester. To their credit  Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) did identify the need to enhance the Metrolink facilities and have recently invested substantially in an extension of the metrolink line to the Etihad Stadium where there is a new dedicated stop to allow passengers easier access to the football ground. TfGM have also launched a new matchday season ticket initiative with Manchester City encouraging fans to use public transport.

But the the question remains, what can we do to improve the situation in Manchester and at grounds all over the country? Here the report first targets the clubs, recommending them to outline a travel strategy including plans for new facilities to improve access by walking and cycling (surely a priority in Manchester with its new status as a Cycling Super City) as well as clear information about getting to the ground without a car. Second, the report targets local authorities, recommending that they actively work to link the clubs, the wider community and transport providers together to bring about better and cheaper links. And finally, the report calls upon the transport operators themselves to provide better and more flexible services. One concrete suggestion was for the introduction of a national Football Supporters’ Railcard with more flexible conditions for advance fares.

If the Premier League needs any inspiration they should be looking to Germany.

Last year I travelled to Dortmund v City paying 25 euro for my matchday ticket.  German match day tickets allow fans to travel free on regional and local public transport.  Flying into Dusseldorf I travelled FREE to Dortmund train station and again FREE to the stadium on the local train.  This is amazing value considering my match ticket cost 25 euros!

I’ve written to TfGM urging them to take steps like this to make it easier and cheaper for fans to travel to the game without a car.

With 23% of fans spending more on travel to games than tickets for the match this is clearly erecting a barrier to wider participation and enjoyment of the beautiful game. By making just some of these changes we can make travel to football matches both cheaper and quicker. By getting people out of their cars and onto public transport we can also alleviate concerns and pressures over parking and make the whole process a lot more environmentally friendly. The solutions seem to me to be both common sense and win-win. Here’s hoping we can get both Manchester teams back to the top of both the Premier League and the Travel League, with perhaps City pipping United to the post again.

SMR Column: Business Focus will help create jobs for future



 

My job is to ensure Manchester’s businesses both big and small have a direct line to Government ministers to help create local jobs and growth.

 

Last week I did just that, hosted a business event in the city with Nick Clegg and the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to see what more the Government could do to support the creation of new jobs and apprenticeships in south Manchester.

 

The Chamber recognised that, with the City Deal, Government has given local decision makers the power to create local growth and jobs. This deal will create 6000 new apprenticeships and boost the local economy by £2bn in the next three years, and, along with the announcement of £12 million to help Manchester become a “super-connected” City, was called a “Game-Changer” by Manchester Chief Executive Sir Howard Bernstein.

 

The Chamber were also happy that large infrastructure projects like High Speed Rail and the Northern Hub rail projects had been agreed.

 

Between these two schemes, it is estimated that some £32bn of investment could create up to 80,000 new jobs in the north, including many thousands of construction jobs and at least 10,000 local jobs in and around the two new stations at Manchester Airport and Piccadilly.

 

The £1.4billion Didsbury Metrolink expansion, twice cancelled under Labour, has been delivered earlier than planned by this Government, with a further station opening planned at Mauldeth Road West in 2016.

 

As well as talking to the Chamber, I also work with smaller local businesses to see how I can help their business. Last month, I visited Tiger Properties in Didsbury and in March hosted a drop in event in Chorlton as part of the National Apprentice week. I even nominated a local business, Turkish Delight, who won a national  ”Kebab shop of the year” award.

 

Some of this work is starting to bear fruit. There were 10,600 new business start-ups in Manchester last year, cutting local unemployment by 6%. Even more encouraging, the number of apprenticeships in Manchester has doubled since 2010, and local youth unemployment has dropped 18% in the past year.

 

There is still much to do on jobs. However, Unemployment in south Manchester is now about 5% lower than when Labour left office in 2010.

 

 

 

 

Guest Blog: Julian Jarrett: Why Russia's anti-gay laws matter

 



My name is Julian Jarrett, I am reading Law with Politics at Manchester Uni. I am currently on a work experience at John Leech MP’s office. As part of this placement I am blogging about a topic i feel strongly about.

John recently won a "Lib Dem MP of the year award for his equality work, and has been campaigning for a pardon for Alan Turing. Next week he will be taking part in the Manchester Pride parade. He supported legislation to introduce same-sex marriage.

I have chosen to talk about the recent anti-gay legislation which has been enacted in Russia. Whilst we are taking the vital steps towards an equal future, gay people abroad still suffer the same injustices of our past.

The Russian law requires that there may be no under-18 exposed to ‘non-traditional relationships’. The effect this will have is to cover up and criminalise any depiction of homosexuality in public, whether it be in the media or schools or anywhere else, failure to do so resulting in large fines.

This has become such a big human rights issue because Russia are staging the winter Olympics in 2014. Gay campaigner and national treasure Stephen Fry mentioned the possibility of a boycott in protest. I strongly agree with Fry that there must be action in the face of such discrimination but I'm not sure that a boycott is the most effective course of action.

Firstly, we must think of the athletes, to take away their chance to compete in Winter Olympics  after years of training would be unfair. Their interests cannot be tossed aside as collateral damage.

Secondly, this is an opportunity to have a debate which clearly has not been properly concluded in Russia. The vast media coverage across the USA and UK condemning the legislation has engaged the Russian and hopefully has made them stop and think about the issue.

Thirdly and finally, other forms of protest could have just as much effect as a boycott. Some in the village are boycotting Russian Vodka. At the recent World Athletics Championships in Moscow one champion dedicated his medal to all his gay friends. Another idea which can be adopted here in  Manchester would be to ‘un-twin’, or suspend our twinning arrangement with  St Petersburg, to show Manchester’s absolute opposition to laws of this nature.

Perhaps we could adopt a rainbow coloured team GB kit!

MEN article: Chorlton Footpath 181: Council hit with £42,000 bill



 

Manchester town hall has been landed with a £40,000 bill after losing a battle with green campaigners.

The council had tried to officially close a waterside footpath in Chorlton arguing it had been abandoned since the Second World War and was ‘unnecessary’.

Politicians say making the 275-yard route – known as ‘Footpath 181’ – safe to use could cost taxpayers £100,000.

But last month a judge ruled in the favour of a group of ramblers and nearby residents who argued the council had repeatedly promised to clear it in the past.

Ramblers have been fighting to clear the path – which runs through Chorltonville, behind Anchorside Close – for years.

And in 2010 council officers indicated work would start on reopening it the following year.

But Judge Paul Richardson ruled officers had either ‘deceitfully fobbed off’ the campaigners or radically changed their mind. He has now ordered the council to pay all legal costs associated with the case, totalling £42,000.

Coun Bernard Priest, the council’s executive member for neighbourhood services, admitted it had at one point considered clearing and reopening the path but the estimated costs had been greater than expected.

He added: “This is extremely frustrating, especially in the context of the financial pressures facing the council.”

Local Liberal Democrats – who agree the path needs closing – said the town hall had brought the situation on itself.

Chorlton councillor Victor Chamberlain dubbed it a ‘cock-up’, while Withington MP John Leech said it had failed ‘miserably’ to deal with the problem years ago, when Anchorside Close was built.

Mr Leech added: “I have no problem with the action the council has taken recently and support going for the official closure because it had to be done – but it’s been the council’s incompetence over the decades that’s led to this.”

Lib Dem MPs welcome £20m Greater Manchester cycling boost.


Greater Manchester Lib Dem MPs John Leech, Andrew Stunell and Mark Hunter have welcomed today’s announcement that Manchester will get £20million grant to improve cycling across the City as part of Government’s Cycle City Ambition scheme.

The bid is to support a series of continental-style, largely segregated, cycle routes with Greater Manchester, together with the delivery of a number of cycle and ride stations.

The bid also funds a promotion and engagement scheme designed to trigger a generational shift to cycling, and would unlock further investment across Greater Manchester from the public and private sector

The bid has been supported by Friends of the Earth and the GM “Love your bike” campaign.

John Leech MP said today,

“This is great news. Much credit should go to Lib Dem cycling minister Norman Baker. We lobbied him hard and he has delivered for Greater Manchester”

Mark Hunter added,

“On top of the £1.1million announced by Norman Baker in April to improve cycling in Cheadle, this £20m will really make a difference improving cycling routes across Stockport and Greater Manchester.”

Andrew Stunell added,

“I have long been an advocate for cycling. This scheme will help encourage as many people as possible to use pedal power to travel to work, school and local amenities.”


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