Andy Burnham draws a new 'red line' on the controversial Clean Air Zone
Plus: skirmishes between activists on St Peter’s Square, and the rest of your weekly briefing
Dear Millers — in today’s briefing we’ve got a charming red brick schoolhouse up for sale in Tameside, a not-horrifying weather forecast and a look at what Andy Burnham plans to do next with the controversial Clean Air Zone. Plus, we recommend a great read about Chinese influence at the University of Manchester.
On Saturday we published a long read by Joshi about Oldham, the latest piece we’ve published examining the very unusual dynamics that are roiling the borough’s politics. The piece got a big response online.
Ceri Thomas, the former editor of Panorama and Radio 4’s Today Programme, tweeted: “This is exactly the kind of reporting I dream of local newsrooms doing. Kudos to @ManchesterMill and @joshi for staying with it.” Longtime Miller Matt Baker, who advises councils on regeneration, says the story “highlights the same challenge facing many UK towns - to confront regressive nostalgia & offer a vision of the future” and said he is “struck by the frequency with which a culture of deep resentment links back to a failure to address local high street problems.”
The Mill @ManchesterMillThe paranoid style in Oldham politics. After the removal of a second council leader in two years, we examine how one local activist is harnessing a town’s racial resentments for his own ends. By @joshi. https://t.co/P6FDcc6vZ8 https://t.co/k7b2ghhEGn
The former Cabinet Office advisor Gabriel Milland called it a “fascinating read” and reader Rosie Reeves-Webb tweeted that she read the piece “in my Chorlton flat drinking an oat milk latte” (just as Miah predicted), saying that our reporting on Oldham had started her interest in “the impact of social media on politics, especially amplifying far-right sentiments”.
Some people felt the piece should have spent more time on the sexual abuse that has occurred in Oldham over the years, including the troubling story of a girl who was raped by multiple men in 2006 after being turned away by the police. One perpetrator was eventually jailed, and both the police and council (who have apologised for their failings) are expected to be criticised over the incident in the upcoming report into CSE in Oldham, which we will cover when it comes out.
And one reader pointed out a factual error: Oldham hasn’t had “three leaders in as many years”, as we said. It’s actually worse than that: it’s had three leaders in just over a year. We stand corrected.
You can read the piece here. And if you would like to contribute to our reporting on this issue in Oldham and other areas too, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a coffee, oat milk or otherwise.
To help us produce more deeply-reported stories like this, please join up as a Mill member today. For the price of two lattes a month, you will get lots of members-only stories, and will be one of the patrons of a new form of independent, investigative journalism in the North.
This week’s weather
Our forecast comes from local weather man Martin Miles, who says: “After Monday, we will enjoy lots of dry and warm weather this week as most rain will occur overnight. Temperatures will gradually cool off towards seasonal levels as the week progresses.
Tuesday ⛅️ Breezy and very warm with hazy spells of sunshine. A few showers may break out during the evening. Max 23°c.
Wednesday 🌤 Mostly dry with sunny spells. Low shower risk during the afternoon. Max 21°c.
Thursday 🌤 Pleasantly warm with sunny intervals and light winds. Max 19°c.
Friday ⛅️ Occasional sunshine with a low chance of a shower. Max 18°c.
Weekend 🌦 There is uncertainty as to how much influence high pressure will have, but likely cool and mixed weather.
Home of the week
This eye-catching 3-bedroom former schoolhouse in Littlemoss has been sympathetically renovated and has lots of lovely features. It’s on the market for £399,950.
The big story: Burnham opposes CAZ charges
Top line: Andy Burnham says Greater Manchester will not accept a Clean Air Zone that includes charges, in an update on ongoing negotiations with the government. “If that is what the government wants, it will have to impose it on us,” he said on Friday.
Why this matters: The Clean Air Zone — a scheme designed to bring air pollution down by the mid 2020s by encouraging people to switch to cleaner vehicles — has been a lightning rod for controversy in recent months. Originally, it would have charged owners of polluting vehicles a fee for driving in the CAZ.
Leaders were forced to delay its implementation in February amidst backlash against planned fees of up to £60 per day, with many saying it would put businesses and jobs at risk.
One of the reasons cited for the delay was that supply chain issues mean cleaner vehicles are not as affordable and harder to get hold of than anticipated.
It sparked multiple protests, particularly in the outer boroughs of GM, which we covered in our long read about the backlash to the scheme.
Burnham was keen to stress that this decision was not a “climb-down” from his original plan and that the combined authority he leads has listened to residents’ concerns. He said the previous plans were untenable in the current climate:
We were required to act within a very strict framework. A plan agreed pre-pandemic was not going to work.
The new “red line” is an effort to put the ball back in the government’s court. Burnham has complained that he has been solely blamed for the implementation of CAZ charges, despite it being a ministerial directive.
Boris Johnson already refused to rule out a charging CAZ in a letter to Burnham, sent a week before the local election. At the time, Tories across GM were campaigning against the CAZ, and blaming Burnham for it. The mayor has now written to Conservative MPs in Greater Manchester, calling on them to stop “playing politics,” and accused opponents of spreading misinformation about who is responsible for the scheme.
So, what next? Transport for Greater Manchester must show the government that compliance with the CAZ can be achieved without charges. In fact, Burnham is aiming for a scheme that would be non-charging and would identify non-compliant vehicles and offer their owners funding to upgrade their vehicles to cleaner models.
Your Mill news briefing
There were skirmishes between trans rights activists and so called “gender critical feminists” over the weekend. St Peter’s Square, which has become a hotspot for this kind of incident, was the location for a #LetWomenSpeak rally organised by Standing for Women, a gender critical feminist group. They had intended to speak in front of the Emmeline Pankhurst statue, but were seemingly blocked by activists dressed all in black, some of whom were wearing balaclavas. In one video shared on Twitter, one of the protestors in black appears to physically push a woman back. That clip was shared by the Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who tweeted: “Never expected the right side of history to include so many people in masks intimidating and assaulting women, did you?” It’s the latest clash in Manchester between activist groups who disagree over ideas about gender identity and what part biology should play in the legal definition of women. We will write a feature about this issue soon, so please do get in touch if you have information to add.
Tameside Council’s leadership battle ended on Saturday when leader Brenda Warrington withdrew her nomination. Councillor Ged Cooney was nominated as leader yesterday morning. It came after a fiery week in which Warrington accused other members of mounting a hostile leadership bid and pressuring young councillors into voting against her. In a statement sent by Warrington to party members — seen by The Mill — she lamented the acrimony and division within Tameside’s Labour group and said she didn’t accept the reasons behind the leadership challenge. Councillors have said the challenge came down to a need for change, having more members involved with decisions and a desire to speed up the renovation of the town hall.
Over in Stockport, the council’s Labour leader Elise Wilson is vying to stay in control for another year before next year’s “all out” election. After their recent gains, the Lib Dems now have three seats more than Labour but they would need the support of the Conservatives to form an administration, and the two parties don’t have a brilliant relationship after bitter battles over tight Yellow-Blue wards and constituencies. Wilson wrote to all councillors last week saying that “continuity and the stable running of Stockport should be our collective priority.” How’s the horse-trading going, we asked a Labour figure down there. “No horse trading,” they replied.
A cyclist sustained life threatening injuries after a collision on Great Ancoats Street yesterday. No arrests have been made. The busy thoroughfare dividing Ancoats and the Northern Quarter has history when it comes to cycle lanes, or lack thereof. In 2019, petitions were signed and protests led against council redevelopment plans that didn't include cycle lanes. By February last year, the council were offering yet more routes, but none that ran parallel to Great Ancoats Street. More here.
A three-year-old has died after a suspected dog attack in Rochdale. Police were called to the scene around 1pm yesterday, and the child was pronounced dead after arriving at hospital. GMP have launched a criminal investigation, and are appealing to anyone with information. More here.
Need better internet?
The digital infrastructure of Greater Manchester is in the process of being upgraded and future-proofed by Brsk, a new independent broadband provider. They have sponsored today’s briefing to spread the word that residents in Stockport, Didsbury, Withington or the Heatons (and some nearby neighbourhoods too) will soon be able to get home internet via 100% fibre optic cables, with prices starting at £25 a month. Many households currently have access to fibre broadband, but it is provided by part-fibre, part-copper cables, which are slow and unreliable. That’s why you are experiencing lag and buffering when doing video calls or streaming your favourite shows. Click here to find out more and register your interest, or call 0330 0886947.
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Our favourite reads
‘Being homeless felt inevitable’ — The Guardian
Award-journalist Daniel Lavelle, who is from Oldham, writes about his experiences of care and homelessness. As a child, he had behavioural issues and, with little support from social services, his parents were unable to cope. “I never thought I would go into care. It seemed like a horror story, an abstraction exclusive to fictional characters or people in the news. But by the time I reached the front door of my new foster home, my life was spiralling from one catastrophe to the next.”
A portrait of Chernobyl three decades on from the disaster — Huck Magazine
For three decades, a Manchester-based photographer called Jake Millers documented Chernobyl following its nuclear disaster. This is a poignant photo essay, which has a special resonance given the war in Ukraine. “The resulting photographs paint an eerie portrait. With an atmospheric stillness, Millers’ camera enshrines relics of a former way of life, such as Soviet-era sports halls and the original ‘Welcome To Chernobyl’ road sign,” the article says.
Kay Burley's road back to Wigan Pier — Sky News
As the cost of living crisis bites, TV presenter Kay Burley returns to Wigan. She grew up on a council estate there, and writes: “I went to school there in the '70s when Labour couldn't decide what a secondary education should look like — middle schools were a brief and disastrous experiment — and also the location for my first job in journalism when in the '80s the miners' strike saw much of the north pitted against a Thatcher government.”
The joy of queer dance floors in Manchester — Salt Magazine
We enjoyed this piece from Salt Magazine about the unique freedom of queer dance floors. Vic Saule writes: “I feel at home in the sweaty basement of a club. You are anonymous, immersed in a group of people experiencing various manifestations of euphoria. I wanted to seek out these spaces in Manchester and speak to the organisers and club-goers who make them special.”
Chinese money is pouring into British universities — The Economist
An interesting piece in The Economist looking at how Chinese money is pouring into British universities like the University of Manchester, which has research links to nine Chinese universities and hosts Britain’s second Confucius Institute. “Chinese influence is manageable on campuses as long as administrators and academics stand up for academic independence, says Steve Tsang of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. But for universities that lack Oxford’s deep pockets and global prestige, firmness may already have become too risky.” Go deeper, and read our fascinating long read about Manchester's relationship with China.
Our to do list
🎨 Manchester photographer and sketcher Len Grant launched a new pop-up exhibition today, focusing on the cost of living crisis and raising money for Coverdale and Newbank Community Grocers. Donate here. You can follow the exhibition as it tours Manchester on Len’s Twitter.
🌈 Pride in Trafford is a five-day festival of LGBTQ+ arts, and it’s back for 2022. Featuring Your Own Light exhibition by Allie Crewe, a series of portraits of trans/non-binary people. Info here.
🎤 One Mic Stand is a poetry slam at The Blues Kitchen. Poets will battle it out to be crowned the winner. Prepare to be delighted, entertained and moved. Starts 7pm. Book here.
📺 There’s an interesting talk at the Central Library about the days of Granada TV, as its archive is returning to Manchester as part of the British Pop Archive. Starts 4pm. Book here.
📚 Join author and longtime Mill member Lucy Ward at the Portico Library, where she will be in conversation about her new book The Empress and the Doctor. Starts 6.30pm. Book here.
🎻 Manchester Collective are playing at the White Hotel, and are performing their show Neon which is built around American composer Steve Reich’s Double Sextet. Starts 8pm. Book here.
🥬 Vegan eatery The Allotment is moving to its new home in Cathedral Gardens and will be opening on Friday. If you fancy jackfruit tacos or a plate of delicious sun-dried tomato risotto, then look no further. Info here.
☕ Want to chat?
We often rely on our community of readers to pass on information or stories. If you have a story or some information you’d like to share, do come into our office on St Ann’s Square for a cup of tea. If the city centre’s too far for a visit, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity.
Letters to the editor
What an intelligent, thought-provoking article (‘The paranoid style in Oldham politics’) and an example of why an independent press is needed. The thing that struck me was the comment about how Manchester and its money hadn’t reached Oldham ‘yet’. It’s impossible for a town or area to thrive and to offer its residents a good quality of life with hope and opportunity lacking. But that is clearly, to me anyway, where the likes of Miah peddle their filth. Taking advantage of social depression and galvanising those affected into action. It makes me not only fearful for Oldham but extremely angry. Caroline, Ancoats
For 20 years, we ran Holy Name Church on Oxford Road and were very much aware of the demographic melting pot that this area is (‘What can the Curry Mile tell us about multilingual Manchester?’) We feared we would lose that moving to St. Chad's on Cheetham Hill Road 10 years ago. If anything, this area is even more diverse than south of the city centre — add Hebrew and Yiddish and many African languages to the pot with Polish and other Eastern European tongues. To sit in one of the many ethnic eateries is like taking a trip abroad in a very interesting way. Thank you for your thoughtful contributions to the debate on modern life in our exciting city. Ray, Manchester