Leader's blog


Hello everyone,

I'm Eamonn O'Brien, councillor for St Mary's ward in Prestwich, and it's an honour for me to become leader of Bury Council.

I was born here, educated here, and have lived here all my life. That's how I know that this is a great place in which to live, work and study, and I will do everything I can to ensure it continues to be so.

The coronavirus crisis has shown us just how important teamwork is, and I will be working with all our partners - in health and public services, with businesses, and with volunteers and community groups - to take on the challenges ahead and make Bury prosper and flourish.

Please click on the images in my blog for larger versions.

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22 March 2022: Responding, recovering and regenerating

Hello everyone, and it's safe to say it's been an extraordinary year.

12 months ago, we had just started ramping up Covid vaccinations for those of working age. One year later, and 382,000 first, second, third and booster jabs have been given to people across Bury. This is an astounding achievement, and I want to say a huge thanks to all those responsible for vax rollout - from our magnificent NHS and its clinicians, right down to our venue staff and volunteer marshals.

Infection rates, however, are still stubbornly high, and I urge all over-75s (and those aged 12 and over who are clinically extremely vulnerable) to go for their spring booster jabs when they're invited.

Making sure we responded to the pandemic and ensure we are well placed to recover from its effects have been and will be crucial.

The council has administered £76 million in grants to businesses hit by Covid, and there's now a new pot of £3 million available to help those who did not qualify for support under the rules of previous schemes. See COVID-19 Additional Relief Fund.

We're doing our best to help households with the spiralling cost of living, which is set to soar further once the effects of higher inflation and fuel bills kicks in. That's why, in our recent budget, we set up a 'cost of living' fund to help people in hardship, along with grants to help parents buy school uniforms, and give their children free school meals over the long school holidays. More details: Help with financial hardship.

And our plans to regenerate all parts of our borough are well under way. The council's cabinet is meeting tonight (Tuesday) to discuss the latest stage of our proposals to buy the Mill Gate centre in Bury as part of a transformation of the town centre. This will complement our success in winning £20 million from the Levelling Up fund, which will create a new flexi-hall next to an improved Bury Market, and a new transport interchange.

In Radcliffe, which also won £20 million in Levelling Up money, you can view the latest design ideas for a multi-purpose civic and leisure hub - go to the Radcliffe Regeneration Office on Dale Street.

With new housing and a new high school on the way, the future is indeed looking bright.

In Prestwich, we're writing to 17,000 residents this week with the latest news of our plans to transform the Longfield Centre. The High Streets Task Force will be visiting Whitefield to offer expert support to business, and we've just concluded our public consultation on the best ways to make Ramsbottom an even more attractive place in which to live and work.

Yes, there are big challenges ahead, but we can look back on a year where we've stuck together to survive and cope and we're now well placed to head into better times.

This will be my last blog for a while due to the rules around pre-election publicity. As you may know, the council elections will be held on Thursday 5 May: and this time it's all-out election, with all 51 seats up for grabs.

Whatever your politics, I urge everyone to make sure they are on the electoral register, and to cast their vote. Events elsewhere are a terrible reminder that we can never take liberty for granted.

11 March 2022: Helping those who need it, at home and abroad

It always amazes me - but never surprises me - how many people come forward to help when there's a crisis.

The infamous invasion of Ukraine has touched the hearts of so many, not least the many residents in Bury who have Ukrainian and Eastern European heritage and still have strong links to these countries.

I want to say a huge thanks to those who have come forward to donate supplies and offer emergency help. This includes volunteers from our staff at the council, and our partners in the police and fire service, who arranged transport and logistics for the huge amount of donations that came in. It shows how standing together really makes a difference.

We're doing our best to look after people in need at home, too, despite the continuing pressure on council services and the NHS.

The soaring cost of living hits those on fixed and low incomes most, and it's predicted to get worse as the year goes on.

That's why, in our new budget, we're going to spend £240k on helping thousands of families with the cost of school uniforms, and £570k on keeping free school meals going over the long summer break. We're also putting £100k into a special hardship fund for those struggling to make ends meet.

The council's cabinet has also agreed a raft of measures to improve people's daily lives. Our new homelessness strategy, for instance, aims to take early action to keep people in accommodation and prevent them becoming homeless in the first place. You don't need to be on the streets to be homeless - by far the biggest problem is so-called sofa surfers, or those facing eviction because they cannot afford the rent.

We're also aiming to establish an £8 million OnSide Youth Zone, which will be a fantastic asset for our young people, many of whom suffered a huge amount of disruption during the Covid pandemic, not to mention cuts to youth services.

New affordable homes at Fletcher Fold, for rent and shared ownership, will help those struggling to get on the housing ladder. It's on brownfield land, and will be carbon neutral, so it proves that it's possible to do the right thing and be green too.

And our plans to regenerate our town centres are going full steam ahead. We've given the green light to proposals for Ramsbottom and Bury, and now Whitefield is to benefit from help through the national high streets task force.

Together, we can make a better life for everyone in our communities.

8 February 2022: Budgeting for the future

Hello everyone, and I hope you're feeling well and continuing to do all you can to keep safe as we slowly escape from the Covid pandemic.

Make no mistake - with an infection rate in Bury of around 670, the virus is very much still with us. I don't mind telling you that I finally succumbed to it last week, which shows you how contagious this Omicron variant is. I'm feeling fine, but would that be case if I hadn't had all my jabs? It's never too late to get vaccinated - see here for the latest clinics.

Later this month, the council will set its budget for the next financial year. And unfortunately, like last year, Covid continues to have a major effect on our finances. We have lost a huge amount of income due to repeated lockdowns, while money has continued to flow out in support of the many businesses and residents who have struggled to survive through these unprecedented hard times.

On top of the coronavirus factor, our budget has been continually sapped by Government underfunding. We have had £110 million cut from our budgets since 2010, while at the same time the demand for services has remorselessly increased. Social care, for instance, takes up the majority of your council tax - but demand for social care has doubled in the last decade. So it's a double whammy - we've less money to pay for the things that cost the most.

Regardless, we are determined to ensure that Bury will not only recover from the pandemic but be in the best position to flourish in the post-Covid world.

In our budget, we will propose setting up a special fund of £3 million to make improvements in children's services. We are also making provision to continue paying thousands of key workers the Real Living Wage, which will particularly help those who work in vital but poorly paid areas such as social care. We will also be finding money to continue providing children with free school meals during the long summer holidays.

And it is not just how we recover in the short term: with our plans to regenerate Bury, Ramsbottom, Radcliffe and Prestwich, we are making the biggest investment into regeneration Bury Council has ever made. We have been working over the past few years to unleash the potential of our borough and we now have confidence to allocate the largest sum of money to boost our towns since the metropolitan borough was created 50 years ago. Not only will this give residents more pride in the places they live and work, it will grow our economy and help provide more resources to run public services in the future.

This will be a budget which, despite the challenges of budget cuts, helps to boost business and employment, prioritises support to our most vulnerable residents, and empowers local communities. After two years of virus misery, it's what we all want and deserve.

25 January 2022: One Day like this

Hello everyone - and if you haven't been for your Covid jabs already, please do so now!

Some people think it's all over - well, it isn't now, or any time soon. The infection rate in Bury is still around 800 - that's 50 times higher than when we went into local measures. So, while restrictions have been all but lifted, let's do what we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

This week is marked by an event which is of huge significance to many in our community - Holocaust Memorial Day. This annual commemoration is on Thursday (27 Jan), and everyone is invited to tune in to a special 'virtual' ceremony with readings, music and prayers. A number of faith leaders are taking part including those representing the Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths, and primary schools have completed work for the event which will be displayed on the night.

The event starts at 7pm - go to Bury holocaust memorial event - and it will be available to watch for a full week afterwards.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we also remember the suffering and the victims of genocides across the world: from the atrocities committed in Bosnia and Rwanda to those in Cambodia.

At this time, however, I would like to focus on the particular resonance this has for our Jewish community, the largest outside London. The recent attack on a synagogue in Texas, and rising levels of anti-Semitic abuse in our own country, show that hatred against Jews is very much still with us. Just last week, here in Bury, an anti-vaxxer thought it was acceptable to use Nazi imagery to make their point.

Tree planting, Prestwich

At such times, we stand together. I was privileged to be at a tree-planting event in Fairway, Prestwich marking the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shvat. Organised by the Friendship Circle, with support from the council and City of Trees, this holiday symbolises new beginnings and will be an important place for those supported by the Friendship Circle to go along and use.

It was also a pleasure to attend another tree-planting event in Hamilton Road Park in Whitefield, where we planted a native oak tree to mark the 80th anniversary of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) - the national charity providing social and welfare services to Holocaust refugees and survivors in the UK. The great work of the AJR, in keeping so many memories and stories of Jewish refugees, has instilled a spirit of care and concern for refugees today. I recalled that, when the first Afghan refugees came to Bury, Jewish residents and synagogues were among the first to offer help and support.

AJR tree planting

A national campaign, 80 Trees for 80 Yearswill have oak trees planted around Britain in honour of people and places that embody the enormous contribution made to every walk of British life by refugees who escaped from Nazi Europe. You can read more about this event in Whitefield here: My Newsdesk - Tree planting commemorates 80 years of Jewish refugees.

The previous week's focus on new beginnings seemed a very apt message for this event too.

Remember to tune in on Thursday or during the following week: Bury holocaust memorial event.

14 January 2022:

Hello everyone, and I hope you all managed to have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.

If you haven't already, can I urge you to make a resolution to get your Covid jabs? In Bury, the infection rate is now the highest it has ever been, and getting vaccinated is crucial in preventing people from becoming seriously ill or worse.

All our local vax clinics are walk-in, although you can book if you prefer - for clinic details, see Getting vaccinated.

The coming year will present a range of challenges, but we are well prepared to meet them, and ensure our borough bounces back in line with our 3 Rs policy - response, recover, regeneration.

One of the first things we're doing is taking action to improve our children's services, following a recent critical report by Ofsted. We're certainly not the only council to have faced major difficulties caused by cost pressures and high staff workload, but this is one of the council's most essential functions and we need to do better. We'll be putting in additional investment and improving our staff recruitment and retention policies, all under new senior leadership, and we are confident that this will bring us results.

We also have major plans for a strong and fair recovery, one which places the values and aspirations of our communities at its heart.

The council's cabinet has just agreed to enter a formal agreement with Bury supporters groups to help bring football back to Gigg Lane. We have always been supportive of this, and we are now looking at how we can provide financial help, in a way that brings everybody together as a united fanbase with a successful club at the heart of the community.

On a smaller scale, but a no less important matter, cabinet has also agreed to approve 13 new one-bed flats specifically for people with learning and/or physical disabilities. This will enable Bury people to stay in their home town rather than be placed elsewhere for the support they need, and it also brings a derelict brownfield site back into use. It really is a win-win situation.

You may have read about our plans to regenerate the heart of Bury and Ramsbottom. These proposals are now out for public consultation. (Update: The consultations are now closed).

Together with the unprecedented investment we are making in Radcliffe and Prestwich town centres, this shows we are determined to ensure that the whole borough can thrive in a post-Covid world, so that Bury remains a great place in which to live, work and study.

14 December 2021: A year like no other

Hello everyone, and, as this is my last blog of 2021, I'd like to wish every one of you a very happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

And what a year it's been. Last December, I never thought we would be going into a second consecutive festive season with Covid restrictions and a potentially fatal virus that simply won't go away.

But here we are, and I urge everyone to get vaccinated and go along for their booster jabs. More than 600 people across Bury have already died from Covid, and we can't have one person more, especially when we can do something about it. Remember - we didn't have any vaccines one year ago, so despite the gloom we are in a much better place than we were then.

Can I also urge everyone to obey the law and wear face masks where they have to, such as in shops and on public transport? It's really not too much to ask for, and it really does make a difference in cutting the transmission rate.

And remember our NHS, which has been given the mammoth task of vaccinating one million people a day between now and 31 December. This is unprecedented in scale, but I agree with the Government for getting ahead of the game for once and taking strong action in the interests of public health.

The latest details of vaccination clinics and al matters coronavirus are here: Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Come the New Year, we'll be cracking on with our plans to regenerate the town centres of this borough - Bury, Ramsbottom, Prestwich and Radcliffe - to the tune of £250 million. This is the biggest investment programme we've ever embarked on, because we are determined that we will not only recover from the Covid pandemic but thrive for generations to come.

Businesses especially have suffered during this health crisis: through closures, through restrictions, though disruption to supply chains and much more.

We have paid out more than £41 million in Covid business grants to around 3,700 companies in Bury, but the criteria meant that some businesses could not qualify for help.

This is why I have now written to the Government's business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng asking him to allow us to keep any surplus and set up a business recovery fund to be administered at our discretion. This could mean that millions of pounds are used to help businesses here in Bury, rather than that money being returned to Whitehall.

I call on Mr Kwarteng to give us this early Christmas present and allow us to bring some festive cheer to companies across Bury. Their success, and our economy, may depend upon it.

3 December 2021 - Let's back our borough's businesses

Hello everyone, and I hope you're looking forward to Christmas - and remembering to wear a face mask while doing your shopping!

I know that many of our local businesses are hoping for some festive cheer, but - more importantly - in the longer term following the impact of coronavirus.

That's why I was keen to visit a number of them last week, and have a serious discussion about how we can support them to build back better and flourish.

One thing holding us back is the strict criteria on allocating Covid support grants. I have written to the Government calling on them to drop the restrictions and allow councils like ours to pool these surpluses into a new business recovery fund. This would put millions into our local economy, money that exists on our balance books but cannot legally be accessed by many businesses who are outside the restrictions. I hope the Government listen to this sensible and costed solution: it will be a test of whether they are serious about "levelling up" in my view.

The second biggest issue raised on my visits was skills, and many businesses say they are struggling to recruit suitably qualified and talented staff. This is a major concern, given our plans to regenerate our towns and create thousands of jobs.

Added to this, many young people lost out on vital education time during the lockdowns. The Government's former education adviser says that £15 billion is required to help them catch up on their learning - but so far the Government has coughed up just 10% of that sum. That's why we passed a motion at council last week calling on the Government to spend the full £15 billion on a children's recovery plan: to include breakfast clubs and activities for every child, mental health support, small group tutoring for all who need it, and continued development for teachers.

A new skills strategy is a key part of our 10-point plan for recovery, bringing together our schools, colleges and higher education institutions with local businesses to identify where the gaps are and how to fill them. Together, we can all ensure Bury's economy is the best it can be.

Finally, I'd like to wish everyone in our Jewish community a very happy Hannukah, and hope you can all celebrate safely in peace this week.

15 November 2021: Investing in people - our people

Hello everyone, and I am delighted that our plans to support the lowest paid in our community have attracted national praise and attention.

Earlier this year, we announced our intention to tackle poverty pay and deprivation, and decided to become a Real Living Wage employer.

We've set aside more than £5 million to meet this commitment, which will benefit around 4,000 staff - whether they are employed by the council or by organisations we commission services from. Around three-quarters of them work in adult social care, and I think many people were shocked to learn - courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic - just how low their earnings were.

As the largest employer in the borough, we felt it was essential to lead by example - and many other local employers and partners are already following suit.

When people earn enough to live, they have more income to spend in the local economy. Adopting the Real Living Wage means we will be supporting the financial stability of 4,000 people and protecting them from in-work poverty.

Research by the Real Living Wage Foundation shows that organisations who bring it in keep more of their staff who are better motivated and work harder for their employers.

They are able to recruit more staff. People see they pay the Real Living Wage and are attracted to work for those organisations.

It's not only good for staff but also the organisations who pay them. It's why we're recommending other employers across the borough adopt it.

Living wage plaque presentation

I was proud to attend an event in Manchester this week when we were formally accredited by the Real Living Wage Foundation. (I'm pictured here speaking at the event).

Because, when it comes down to it, it's people that matter. Yes, we were very pleased to win £40 million from the Levelling Up Fund towards our plans to regenerate the heart of Bury and Radcliffe.

But it's not one-off projects that will make a real difference to people's lives. Take our Radcliffe project - yes, there will be new buildings and facilities, but it's about so much more: about improving people's health, their skills and job prospects, their chances in life. And paying them a proper wage that they can live on is the perfect place to start.

4 November 2021: Levelling Up? Not quite

It's like the buses. You wait ages for government money to turn up, then three lots of cash arrive at once.

You may have heard that £100 million is coming to our borough. We've won two £20 million grants from the Levelling Up Fund, which will go towards our ambitious plans to regenerate Radcliffe town centre and the area around Bury Market. And we are expecting at least a further £60 million from the Greater Manchester bid to improve our public transport infrastructure.

Make no mistake, this is fantastic news. But it didn't happen by accident, or through an atypical act of kindness. This was a highly competitive process, and the result of years of hard work by the council.

The £20 million for Radcliffe will create a new hub building, home to new leisure facilities, businesses and skills. It will complement the £30 million the council is putting into the regeneration of the whole town centre, which will be transformed with new housing, a new high school, and much more. In Bury, the £20 million will help build a new flexi-hall on our market, with modern and community facilities that will ensure our historic and famous attraction thrives for many more generations.

Talking about our world famous market - the Chancellor may have got his East Lancashire towns confused on his visit last week, but as long as he sends the cheque to us, we'll forgive him.

You can read all about our successful bids and the Bury and Radcliffe projects here: Levelling Up Fund.

However, these grants cannot overshadow the fact that the Government has stripped £100 million from our budgets over the last decade. This is £100m every year we no longer have to pay for essential services, from social care to the bins. One-off investment for flagship schemes is very welcome, but it is no substitute for being properly funded for the day-to-day services that local residents and taxpayers expect and rely on.

It's an odd coincidence that the money taken from us is practically the same as the money we're getting now - again, only on a one-off basis. This, is my view, will not level us up.

Onto other matters, and I'd like to wish Bury's many Hindus and Sikhs a happy Diwali, one that brings happiness, prosperity and joy to them and their families. Bury is proud to be a multi-cultural borough where people of all faiths and none are welcome.

I'd also like to thank Brookdale care home for joining our campaign to pay their staff the Real Living Wage. More and more employers are doing so, as it's the right and sensible thing to do. Not only do their employees benefit, but they gain too through greater loyalty, productivity and lower staff turnover. We need to ensure that all workers, particularly those in the social care sector, earn what they deserve.

And this year, please show your support once again for the poppy appeal. With Remembrance Sunday approaching, we'll be signing our new armed forces covenant next week, demonstrating our commitment to the borough's former and current servicemen and women. Their contribution to our society and the freedoms we often take for granted cannot be over-estimated.

11 October - Delivering our "Brownfield First" ambitions

Hello everyone, and we've got some good news that every person across Bury should welcome.

At the council's cabinet on Wednesday 13 October, we'll be unveiling our latest plans to develop brownfield sites and bring much-needed homes and regeneration across the borough.

We've identified nearly 100 acres of land which, subject to planning permission and viability, could accommodate thousands of new homes.

Young people, older people, families - everyone needs housing, and the type of housing that is most suitable for their needs and budget, and whether they wish to rent or buy.

As one of the largest landowners in the district, we have a golden opportunity to bring to Bury a range of affordable and 'open market' homes that matches these demands.

What's more, the sites we have identified are all on land that has previously been developed - clear evidence of our 'brownfield first' policy.

In fact - did you know that, since 2010, nearly 90% of new housing in Bury has been on brownfield land?

The latest sites include:

  • The former Wheatfields day centre in Whitefield - to be developed by Onward Homes to provide 30 affordable homes, including accessible bungalows and apartments along with family homes for affordable rent and shared ownership.
  • Prestwich town centre - through the formation of a Joint Venture with Muse Developments, bring about 240 homes as part of the Prestwich Urban Village regeneration programme.
  • School Street in Radcliffe - to be developed by Hive Homes to deliver 89 new family homes, with 25% of them to be affordable homes for rent and shared ownership.
  • Green Street in Radcliffe - to be developed by Watson Homes to deliver 133 new apartments. These would include 75% affordable homes for shared ownership, 30 homes for private rent, alongside mixed commercial uses to complement the town centre regeneration.
  • The former East Lancashire Paper Mill - working with Homes England to create an initial 25 affordable homes (delivered by Great Places) followed by 400 homes (minimum 25% affordable) currently being tendered.

But it's not just about housing - it takes more than bricks and mortar to create sustainable communities.

That's why we have our 3 Rs strategy - Response, Recovery and Regeneration - to build back from the impact of Covid-19 and make sure our residents and businesses thrive.

Our housing proposals are backed up by plans to create local jobs, use local contractors and businesses wherever we can, and to upskill job seekers so they can secure more and better paid employment.

Coronavirus has brought a long and tough 18 months, but we're making sure that Bury has a bright future.

8 September 2021: Helping Bury residents out of poverty

Hello everyone, and I hope you managed to enjoy a summer break after such a long year of disruption. Sure as fate, the heatwave arrived just when the kids went back to school!

You may have read in the local press that the council has just officially become a Real Living Wage employer. This means that all those employed by the council will be paid at least £9.50 an hour, compared to the Government's standard of £8.72.

This is one of the many council decisions that I am most proud to have led on, and it's one that will directly benefit our borough's lowest paid key workers, especially those who work in social care, traditionally a low-paid occupation and predominately made up of women workers.

We all heard people saying they were heroes during the coronavirus pandemic. Well, now's the time to put our money where our mouth is and thank them properly. This will also help improve our social care services for the most vulnerable in the borough.

We hope other employers will follow our lead, and we've already had great support from local businesses who either already pay the Real Living Wage or will now do so. The more people in Bury who are paid the Real living wage, the stronger our recovery will be and the less deprivation will exist.

In short: it gives working people more money in their pocket, which is good for them and their families, and also good for the local economy as they have more money to spend. It really is a win-win situation.

Lifting society's lowest earners out of poverty is not something the council can do alone. One way that local people could be helped would be for the Government to scrap its plans to cut Universal Credit by £20. We'll be discussing this at the full council meeting on Thursday (9 September), but what I say is that there are more than 15,000 households on Universal Credit in Bury, many of them in work, and they need just as much financial help post-Covid as they did during the pandemic. You can watch the council meeting live from 7pm at Council Stream - Live meeting streams.

The Government has also now announced how the nation can pay for decent social care. I am deeply disappointed that they have gone down the route of increasing National Insurance, which will have a disproportionate effect on poorer people, younger people and on hard-pressed local employers.

We also don't know how this will affect councils in the money we receive, or whether the burden will be passed on to council taxpayers in the form of higher bills or precepts.

It's all about priorities, and lifting the weight off those who are least able to bear it is top of ours.

27 July 2021 - Going for gold

Hello everyone, and a big shout out to Bury's Olympians currently competing for gold in Tokyo - Adam and Simon Yates plus James Guy.

Stop press: James Guy has just won gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay! Huge congratulations to him - he's done the borough proud.

It's strange to watch such a major sporting event without an audience to witness their achievements. It's in sharp contrast to the situation here, where lockdown has been lifted and England were cheered on by a capacity crowd in the Euro final.

The good news is that Covid infection rates here are finally going down. But is this due to the school holidays? More people being vaccinated? It's too early to say. The local rate is now 463 per 100,000 people - but remember last July, when Greater Manchester was placed into local lockdown? The rate then was just 16!

So it's obvious we're nowhere near out of the woods yet, especially as a number of new variants have cropped up since then. That's why I urge everyone to get their jabs at one of the many walk-in clinics in Bury (details here: Getting vaccinated). Do it for your family and loved ones - but do it for yourself, even if it's only so you can go abroad on holiday!

You may have heard the terrible news at the weekend about a woman in East Street, Bury who died from severe burns. The police are working hard to find out what happened, and I urge everyone not to speculate in the meantime. If you have any information you should contact the police on 0161 856 7386. Our heartfelt sympathies go to her family and loved ones.

The full council meets tomorrow, and one of the topics for discussion will be the Places for Everyone masterplan for jobs, housing and the environment over the next 15 years.

I know as well as anyone the concern that this has generated, particularly among those opposed to any release of green belt land.

It's not just about housing. It's about jobs and investment to secure the future prosperity of our borough. It's about getting the infrastructure - transport, schools, doctors' surgeries - that we will need to complement any new housing. Even if every house in the plan is built, more than 53% of Bury's land will still be in the green belt, so it's not (as some would have it) concreting over the green belt.

Some people say we should simply produce a Bury local plan and ignore the Government's housing targets. What they might not tell you is that we have already tried this - twice. And, both times, our local plan was thrown out by the planning inspectors because they said we had not allowed for enough housing using the Government's population targets.

To anyone who says we can simply ignore those targets, I'd advise them to read this press article Welwyn Hatfield Times - Council 'bitterly disappointed' as planning inspector says borough needs 15,200 homes. In short, it appears that housing need does indeed trump the green belt.

Having a plan with the other GM authorities has already enabled us to offload 2,228 of our houses onto other districts. We would not have been able to do this by going it alone. We need a plan, otherwise developers will simply cherry pick the plum sites for housing, and there will be precious little we can do to stop them.

Litter pickers

Tomorrow's council meeting (Wednesday 28 July) will be live streamed from 6pm, so why not tune in and listen to the arguments? Go to Council Stream - Live meeting streams.

Finally, a big 'thank you' to the many litter-picking groups that do tremendous work across the borough. I'm pictured with some of the Prestwich councillors and local residents. If we all do a little bit, a lot can be collectively achieved. Details of how to take the Bury Litter Pledge are here: Take the Bury Street Care pledge.

2 July 2021 - Remembering the past, but planning for the future

Hello everyone, and it was both a pleasure and an honour to attend this year's Armed Forces Day at the weekend.

While social distancing restrictions meant a limit on numbers, there was no shortage of pride on parade as veterans and military representatives raised the flag opposite the town hall before marching to a commemorative event at Gallipoli Garden.

We are rightly proud of our military tradition in Bury, the historic home of the Fusiliers. Former and current serving members of our armed forces have made a tremendous contribution to our country, during times of conflict and in peacetime.

Nowhere is this more evident than the support they have given hard-pressed public sector workers during the Covid pandemic - and they are helping to carry out testing at local schools in Bury as we speak.

It is only right that armed forces personnel receive all the support that we can give them. I spoke to a number of veterans at the commemoration, listening to talk about the things we can do to help.

Armed Forces Day leader, Councillor Gold

I'm pleased to announce that we are refreshing our Armed Forces Covenant which will give them 'protected status', and we'll be spelling out what that means in the coming weeks.

I'm pictured at the ceremony with Councillor Richard Gold, cabinet member for communities, and Councillor Gareth Staples-Jones, who was representing the reserve forces (he serves with the Queen's Own Yeomanry, B Squadron, (Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry) in Wigan.

While we rightly remember the past, we're also making great plans for the future in Bury.

With members of my cabinet, I will tonight hope to approve reports which will bring a new hotel to the former fire station, bring investment and jobs to this gateway - and brownfield - site in Bury.

We have also just submitted bids of £40 million to the Government's Levelling Up Fund - half to drive forward the regeneration of Radcliffe, and half to build a new flexi hall and wider improvements at Bury Market and the surrounding area.

We trust that the Government is as good as its word in wanting to see northern districts such as Bury thrive as much as our southern counterparts, and we look forward to our bids being approved in the autumn.

These investments will help us to flourish post-Covid, but let's not forget that we're still very much living with coronavirus. Our infection rates are still far too high, and we need to get on top of this.

So please - go for your vaccinations (both of them), and follow the guidelines around space, face, hands and fresh air. And get tested too, so we can crack down on any localised outbreaks quickly. All the information you need is on the council's Coronavirus (COVID-19) web page.

16 June 2021: If I can do it, so can you!

Hello everyone, and the weekend gave me at least two reasons to be cheerful.

Eamonn gets his Covid vaccination

Firstly, I was delighted to volunteer at the Prestwich Walk-in Centre alongside all the magnificent people who are helping keep us safe by administering coronavirus vaccinations.

I want to say a huge 'thank you' to the volunteers as well as the clinical and support staff, who are still just as enthusiastic and helpful as when they started months ago. One man is a retired primary school teacher who has been asking the same questions of visitors nearly every day since January, but still puts people at their ease and was a real inspiration.

The second reason for feeling happy is that they gave me my first Pfizer jab while I was there! As someone in the younger age bracket who has only just been made eligible, I wanted to make sure I took the opportunity as soon as I could. With only a sore arm the next day, I can reassure anyone who is reluctant that it is safe and you will be doing a great service in getting yours.

Being vaccinated is vital in getting this virus under control, and new clinics - both walk-in and bookable - are being organised literally by the day to make it easier for people to get what could be life-saving protection.

Follow the council on Twitter - Bury Council and Facebook - Bury Council to get the very latest news on the clinics. And if you're unsure whether you're eligible for a jab, come on down and the staff there will advise you. Remember - we're looking for reasons to vaccinate you, not to turn you away.

In terms of the latest news from the Prime Minister, I'm as disappointed as everyone else that the final easing of lockdown measures has been delayed for another four weeks. But I also understand why, given the sharp increase in infection rates locally and nationally.

The rise shows how important the continuing 'Response' element of our 3 Rs plan for the year ahead is and will continue to be for some time. We must continue to get people vaccinated, encourage everyone to regularly test themselves and to self-isolate when necessary.

We are very much still here to provide support to businesses (see our Bury Means Business website for details of financial help).

And we're still here to help residents, who need assistance to self-isolate and get their food and medication - and financial help is available too: see Coronavirus support for residents.

It's been a long struggle, but we're nearly there, and we all need to do our bit to win this.

21 May 2021 - The 3 Rs to a bright future

Hello everyone. Now that the dust of the local elections has settled, the council's annual meeting today re-elected me as council leader.

It's an honour and a privilege to hold this post, and I promise you that I will do everything in my power to improve the borough in which I was born and brought up.

And there's a lot to do, as we emerge from a year of coronavirus lockdowns.

Yes, we're making great progress on getting people vaccinated: more than 100,000 Bury citizens have received their first dose, and 60,000 have returned for their second jab.

But keeping our people safe from illness is just one of the many tasks we have to ensure our borough flourishes in a post-Covid world.

To adapt an old mantra, I'd summarise the challenges as the 3 Rs - response, recovery, and regeneration.

About response: coronavirus hasn't gone away. In fact, cases of new variants are rising on our doorstep. We've got to keep up our fight against this potentially fatal illness: and we need to continue to follow the rules about social distancing and hand hygiene to reduce the likelihood of transmission.

It's still essential for us to carry out extensive testing, and make sure the pressure on our hospitals doesn't increase. Vulnerable citizens will still need looking after, whether in care homes or through our network of Community Hubs, and we must keep our children safe in schools.

And on recovery: we'll be refreshing our 10-point plan to boost the economy, which was originally drawn up before the pandemic. This will identify the key issues facing us, spell out what our priorities are, and identify the resources needed to fund them. This will be embedded in our Bury 2030 vision, securing our future for generations to come.

And finally, regeneration. We will shortly be submitting bids of £20 million to the Government's Levelling Up Fund, to continue the regeneration of Radcliffe and transform Bury town centre around our famous Bury Market. We'll also be consulting on the Ramsbottom town plan, bringing forward new housing on brownfield sites, and implementing a range of measures to improve the social care and wellbeing of our residents.

More detail about these measures will be discussed at next week's meeting of the cabinet, at which we will also launch our far-reaching and comprehensive Climate Action Strategy. This will need everyone in Bury - residents, businesses, organisations - to get on board if we are to achieve our ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2038, and making our borough (and the planet) a better place for our children and their children.

Together, we will recover and prosper.

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