Rochdale chiefs told to think again over sale of land after ‘confused’ vote
Date published: 29 August 2019
Three plots of land - including car park off Langton Street and Starkey Street, in Heywood
Town hall chiefs have been told to think again about their decision to sell off a residential car park and land next to it after it emerged some councillors had been confused about what they were voting for.
Last month Rochdale council’s cabinet gave the nod for the sale of three plots of land in Heywood, including Langton Street community car park and a neighbouring plot which opens on to Starkey Street.
They also approved the sale of another parcel of council-owned land in Langton Street, opposite Hilda Street.
Deemed surplus to requirements and an ‘ongoing maintenance liability’ they were to be sold on the open market in order to raise much-needed funds for the council.
But the decision was ‘called in’ by ward councillors Liam O’Rourke and Peter Rush, who said their reasons for objecting to the sale of the car park and the parcel of land next to it had not been included in the officer’s report – despite having been raised verbally.
They had no objection to the land opposite Hilda Street being sold.
A meeting of the council’s Communities, Regeneration and Environment overview and scrutiny committee has now voted to return the decision to cabinet, after agreeing members had not been properly informed when rubber-stamping the sell-off.
Coun O’Rourke told the meeting that a cabinet member had told him there were computer and microphone difficulties when the cabinet met to make a decision.
He said this led to some confusion on what land was on offer, with some mixing up Langton Street with Longford Street.
Council leader Allen Brett said that members had been shown the map in the report and felt this was ‘irrelevant’.
He added there had been ‘mixed messages’ at the cabinet meeting, but the decision to sell all three sites had been taken ‘for the overriding reason’ that money was needed to fund other developments.
Coun Brett also suggested that residents or businesses bought the car park themselves if it was ‘so vital’ and they would then ‘own it for evermore’.
However he told the meeting he would abide by whatever decision the scrutiny committee came to.
Outlining ward councillors objections to the sale of the two plots, Coun O’Rourke said, “Regarding the car park it is quite clearly not just used by local businesses, as the report indicates, it is also used by local residents at night.
“For those aware of Heywood, Starkey Street is probably the most congested street in Heywood, both sides get parked on and the car park gets full.
“The key point is that at night residents use it, if that car park were to disappear then you would see residents park on Queen’s Park Road which is one of the main arteries into Heywood, you would create traffic chaos.”
And he added that the piece of grassy land attached to the car park was of ‘higher amenity value’ than the officer’s report suggested, being a popular play area for young children.
Residents have since expressed an interest in buying the land to keep it for recreational purposes, which Coun O’Rourke said was an option he hoped could be looked at in the longer term.
Fellow ward councillor Peter Rush and a Heywood resident both echoed Coun O’Rourke’s comments about the impact the loss of the car park, and potentially new houses, could have on road safety – particularly on Starkey Street.
Members of the scrutiny committee, chaired by Coun Danny Meredith, unanimously voted to send the decision back to cabinet with the recommendation not to sell either the car park or the adjoining ‘play area’ – and to explore the possibility of local residents buying the latter in the longer term.
Cabinet will be advised to proceed with the sale of the land opposite Hilda Street, as before.
The committee also sent a request for how township’s views are fed into officers’ reports and for a review of the consultation process which it would carry out.
Heywood North councillor Ray Dutton said, “We have to ensure this doesn’t happen again, that a cabinet decision, without being fully informed cannot go through. They are selling an asset from underneath local councillors feet and it’s wrong.”
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