Protestors, stinks and the maternity unit return… everything discussed at the latest Rochdale Council meeting

Date published: 21 March 2024

Protestors with placards outside the front door, fierce political debate on local sour points and a number of witty quips – the latest meeting of Rochdale full council, held on 20 March, had everything you would expect in local politics.

Walking up to Number One Riverside in Rochdale town centre, groups of protestors could be seen gathered around both entrances to the council building armed with signs saying ‘SAVE OUR GREENBELT’. It was clear that the Places for Everyone plan is a hot topic for many in a borough with as much green space as Rochdale.

The majority of them had to wait outside as the council meeting could only hold 10 people due to the capacity of the Hollingworth room on the first floor where the meeting was held. That was the first decision of the night to cause anger.

The second was actually approving the adoption of the Places for Everyone Plan. The proposal would see more than 165,000 homes built across Greater Manchester over the next 15 years.

The PfE allocations for Rochdale include 1,200 homes at the site being called the 'Northern Gateway' in Heywood; 1,680 at Stakehill; 450 in Bamford and Norden; 125 in Castleton Sidings; 250 at Crimble Mill; 300 north of Smithy Bridge; 250 at Newhey Quarry; 200 for Roch Valley; and 550 for Trows Farm in Castleton.

For the Conservatives, there is enough brownfield land to fill the government quota – so Councillor Ashley Dearnley told the council there is no need to build on the green belt. Tory leader Councillor John Taylor claimed the plights of campaigners against PfE have been ignored by the council and that this was a dark day for Rochdale Council and the environment.

The Conservative leader said: “Despite the best efforts of the Conservative group and others this evening, Rochdale Council has voted for the totally unnecessary destruction of the greenbelt by approving the Places for Everyone plan. The plan is a disaster for our wards and in my view this marks a terrible day for local democracy and the environment alike.”

Lib Dem leader Councillor Andy Kelly explained that Stockport Council pulled out of this plan and created their own plan based purely on brownfield sites. He stressed that “it could be done, and that is what we should’ve done.”

Despite this, Stockport Council was used as the example by Labour members for why the PfE plan should be voted for. Councillor John Blundell pointed out that Stockport Council is now having to fork out millions in legal costs for refusing a development on greenbelt land – and still having to see it built anyway.

Councillor Neil Emmott, leader of the Labour-run council, spoke about the history of the textile industry in Rochdale and that the jobs lost after its demise have never been recovered. He pointed out that this plan could create 20,000 new jobs, with the Atom Valley project being a key part of that.

He added: “This is an attempt to address that and bring prosperity to Rochdale again.”

Councillor Liam O’Rourke chipped in by saying this can help younger people get on the property ladder through the increase in house supply – which in turn would reduce prices.

“We need the jobs, we need the houses,” Councillor O’Rourke said. “There are people who haven’t been heard, those that can’t get on the housing ladder.”

Despite the best efforts from protestors and the opposing parties, Labour’s strong majority in the chamber made the approval inevitable – despite members from the Castleton and Littleborough Lakeside wards voting against it.

Calls for a maternity unit in Rochdale to be reinstated

Despite strong differing opinions in regard to PfE, there was one topic on Wednesday night that got unanimous support – that was the feeling around the return of a maternity unit in Rochdale.

A motion put forward by council leader Neil Emmott proposed that the chief executive writes to the health secretary requesting that they restore maternity services to Rochdale. Maternity services in Rochdale ceased in 2011 under the ‘Making It Better’ programme.


Elizabeth Wales, Carole Ashworth-Lord and Jean Ashworth
Elizabeth Wales, Carole Ashworth-Lord and Jean Ashworth
protesting in 2008 at the impending closure of maternity services


Councillor Emmott pointed out that this has resulted in a situation where it is now practically impossible for babies to be born in Rochdale.

He added that for a town of Rochdale’s size and heritage, “this has proven to be a bitter blow and that decision now needs revisiting”. There was unanimous agreement across parties supporting this motion who wanted residents to have Rochdale on their children’s birth certificates, rather than another Greater Manchester borough.

Referring to the new Rochdale MP George Galloway, who was referred to as ‘Johnny-come-lately’ throughout the meeting, Councillor Emmott reiterated that it was the council pushing for the return of the maternity unit – not Mr Galloway.

Deputy leader, Councillor Janet Emsley, pointed out that 37 babies were actually born in Rochdale last year – they were home births. This is also a safe and valid option for mothers to take, the council heard.

Councillor Emsley wanted to make that clear, disregarding a comment made by the Rochdale MP that the only babies born in the borough are those in a taxi en route to Royal Oldham Hospital.

Pilsworth South Landfill site

The matter of the Pilsworth landfill stink was brought to the attention of the chamber after Lib Dem leader Councillor Andy Kelly asked for an update on the progress of getting it shifted.

Locals living near the Pilsworth South Landfill site, situated next to the M66 between Bury and Heywood, have described noxious smells coming from the site. According to councillors it can even be detected as far as Shaw.

Councillor Kelly said he was hit by the smell when doing the airport run for his mother, according to him the smell is getting worse and not better.

West Heywood councillor Angela Brown stated that she has been working tirelessly on this issue which she hopes will soon be resolved. She has been in discussions with the Environment Agency to sort this out.

The Environment Agency previously revealed that Valencia Waste Ltd conducted unauthorised “engineering works” for “overtipping,” in late 2023, breaching their permit. For this reason, Councillor Emmott called for their licence to be removed, he said: “They are not fit for purpose.”

He added that Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has written to the UK Health Security Agency, urging them to take action against Valencia.

Changes ahead of the local election in May

The meeting ended on a light note, with words of thanks and tribute to outgoing councillors before the May election. Party leaders paid tribute to Pat Sullivan, Sara Rowbotham, Rina Paolucci and Peter Malcolm – who are all stepping down as councillors.

They also gave their thanks to the mayor, Councillor Michael Holly, who conducted his last full council meeting in the famous mayoral robes. Councillor Holly offered his thanks to all those that supported him throughout his tenure and his last action saw an invite for drinks after the meeting which concluded just before 9.30pm.

George Lythgoe, Local Democracy Reporter

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