A public meeting will take place at the Civic Hall “as soon as is practicable” to discuss the issues around parking in Uppermill, members of Saddleworth Parish Council agreed last night.
But that agreement came at the end of a lively, and sometimes tense, hour-and-a-quarter of debate at the regular monthly meeting of the council.
Usually I’m the only member of the public to attend these meetings, but on this occasion more than 20 people were in the public seats, many of them residents of Lee Street.
They’re angry at how the time limits on Uppermill car parks introduced earlier this year have affected their lives, and say visitors to the village now often leave their cars outside properties on Lee Street for a day or two at a time. They say the problem’s been made worse by the fact the Civic Hall car park is currently out of action because of the building work.
Addressing the meeting, Lee Street resident Gail Booth described the situation as “untenable” saying: “This street in particular has suffered. It’s causing my neighbours distress as people are using our street as the car park the council is not providing.”
According to Oldham Council, a survey of streets in central Uppermill found only three with 50% of residents in favour of a permit scheme for residents’ parking, and Lee Street wasn’t one of them, a notion that Ms Booth rubbished.
She told councillors she had signatures from 95% of residents of Left Lee Street, and added: “We’ve been whitewashed with a survey that was poorly constructed, we need some action.”
Parish Council Chairman Cllr Bill Cullen told her that power over parking ultimately rests with the borough council, and said: “You are talking to the wrong council. We will make representations on your behalf, but we can’t go out and change those orders on our own.”
Ms Booth responded: “You might be the wrong council, but please back us up. With the greatest of respect, all I’m hearing is ignorance and nothing but ‘back off.’ I’d like you to support us instead of rebuking us, I’ve had nothing but rudeness from many councillors.”
This exchange followed an earlier one prompted by a speech from Nick Watts, the Uppermill resident and business owner who raised 750 signatures against the time limits, which were introduced in February. He later failed in his attempt to be elected as an Independent Uppermill parish councillor.
He told the meeting that, in his view, there had been a mixed response to the restrictions. He noted: “Some businesses are happy with the increased turnover they’re getting… but what’s the cost? There have been angry letters, threatening behaviour, and even the boycotting of certain shops.”
Mr Watts continued: “Tourists are turning away from Uppermill because of the diminishing number of public parking spaces… there is an ongoing inability to park conveniently in the village.”
At a meeting of an Oldham Council panel in March, Mr Watts secured an agreement that the operation of the scheme would be looked at again after six months. He said last night he had been promised a “full public consultation” and was concerned that this appeared to have been downgraded to a “review.”
Later, the councillors got down to discussing the resolution before them, put forward by the four Independents, which called for a public meeting to be held on all the Uppermill parking issues within the next four weeks.
Proposing it, Cllr Rob Knotts said: “I’ve heard a lot of concern tonight from the residents, and I have considerable sympathy with them. We have a responsibility to do something about this problem.”
Cllr Ken Hulme, seconding, added: “We only have limited powers at Saddleworth Parish Council, but we should be a point of reference, and make sure that people’s voices can be heard. We need to make sure residents are in the frame, and we should act as their advocates. We are supposed to be the closest layer of local government to the people, that’s where our responsibility lies.”
Senior Conservative Cllr John Hudson backed the idea: “We have been perceived on the parish not to be perhaps in touch, so we shouldn’t knock this back, because it encourages a dialogue. But we should take politics out of it, it should be done through the Clerk as something residents have asked the Parish Council to do.”
Cllr Mike Buckley, a Liberal Democrat member of both the parish and borough councils, said he agreed that “we need to take another look at this.” On the point about the review, he said: “This is not a Lee Street issue, it affects the whole of Uppermill. This needs to be done on a broad basis, with a proper analysis of the goings and comings… we need to look at it in a scientific way. We have to balance everyone’s interests.”
He continued: “I won’t try to defend it, some of the consultation on this has not been very well done in the past. But it’s very important that we carry Oldham with us on this.”
Cllr Alan Roughley, another Lib Dem who serves on both councils and lives in Denshaw, said that others in Saddleworth should also have a say: “There are too many cars for the amount of space. Uppermill is a commercial and social centre, and everyone has a right to be consulted.”
He warned that a public meeting “could degenerate into a shouting match” and then added: “The inhabitants of Lee Street seem to think that Lee Street belongs to them. But others have a different view.”
Then came the stormiest moment of the discussion. Newly-elected Uppermill parish councillor Lesley Schofield rose, and turned to Ms Booth in the public seats as she said: “The feeling I get is that you have such hostility. Your attitude just really shocks me, to me that’s not what this is about.”
She went on: “We must get on board the bank, the doctors, the Co-op, who bring their staff in every day, those people need to be addressed. I really resent your hostility, it’s not an ‘us and them’ situation.”
Ms Booth shook her head in frustration, but was reminded by Cllr Cullen from the chair that she was not allowed to respond during that portion of the meeting.
There was then a lengthy series of discussions about various amendments to the resolution. Cllr Buckley said that any meeting should be held under the joint auspices of the Parish Council and the Saddleworth and Lees District Partnership, but that was voted down 10-4.
Cllr Buckley also called for a form of words to be added to the resolution, making clear the meeting would be one part of a series of consultations on the matter. This fell, by 8 votes to 7.
However, Cllr Buckley’s suggestion that the meeting should be held “as soon as is practicable” rather than within a four-week time limit was accepted by Cllr Knotts, and was passed 10-3. It’s expected that the relevant Oldham Council Cabinet member, as well as District Partnership members, will be invited, along with members of the public.
Cllr Derek Heffernan put forward the idea that the meeting could be held on the same date as the next regular monthly meeting of the Parish Council, because of councillors’ crowded diaries. But that notion was rejected by his colleagues, who said the parking issue would inevitably take over such an occasion, and the discussion ended with no firm date given for the public meeting.
Past Saddleworth News articles about the Uppermill parking issue can be read here.