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Cllr. Roy Oldham: Bypass Hero or Villain?

Labour Council Leader Roy Oldham has spent 30 years cultivating his image as the ‘Bypass Hero’, but the cloak is beginning to slip as residents consider he may actually be to blame for all those years of failure.

Alderley Edge Bypass won the go-ahead

Once again the Longdendale Bypass is back in the headlines.  For 30 years Tameside Council Leader, Labour Councillor Roy Oldham has been unfailing in his support for a bypass.  As the bypass is the single biggest issue in his local ward of Longdendale, his championing of the project has served him well politically, and he is now the longest serving Council Leader in England.

In 2009, it finally seemed that the long awaited bypass was in reach.  Residents looked forward to no longer having their domestic schedules dictated by local traffic gridlock.  But their hopes were again dashed as the plans were put back on hold for another decade.

Undeterred by just another in a line of set-backs, Cllr Oldham simply slipped back into the tights and cape of his ‘Bypass Hero’ costume, and started  to reaffirm his ability to eventually deliver a bypass and hope that no one would examine his performance more closely.

To do that, we have to start by understanding why the latest ‘near-miss’ failed.  It’s a good question and one most residents of the ward are unable to answer.  After so long in power Cllr Oldham has learned how to ‘manage’ the local media (I’ll save how he does that for another story), and as a result, local residents variously blame ‘the recession’, the National Park Authority, Environmental Campaigners from ‘down south’ etc.  This confusion is rather helpful to Cllr Oldham.

The simple truth is that the funding for our bypass was simply reallocated to other projects within the North West of England.  It didn’t disappear; it went to other projects. The next step is to understand why that happened.

Decisions over such large projects are no longer taken in Tameside nor in Westminster.  Two bodies, AGMA (the association of Greater Manchester Authorities) and 4NW (an even larger grouping covering the whole of the North West) now decide which projects get completed.  Getting your project approved and built is a certainly a complicated process.  There are many (forgive the horrible word) ‘stakeholders’ that need to be identified, understood and brought ‘onside’. The arguments need to be clearly identified and articulated. Data presented in the most favourable light. Deals need to be struck with neighbouring Councils; Ministers of Transport need to be persuaded.  I agree it is complicated, but it is not impossible.

Cllr Oldham simply failed to do enough, well enough, to keep our project near the top of the list. The money didn’t disappear; it simply went towards better-argued proposals.

Rather than question if his own leadership maybe to blame, Cllr Oldham views this latest sorry twist as an opportunity to dust off his superhero costume.  He thinks that simply climbing back into his ‘Bypass Hero’ tights and cape, no one will question how effective he has been.

He hopes issuing draft proposals for a new shorter bypass will be enough to see him retain his role as Hero and see him re-elected safely in May.  But the doubters are growing in force.

Under Cllr Oldham’s Leadership, Tameside has invested heavily in telling us we have “an Excellent Council”.  Their years of absolute power and large ‘publicity’ budget have certainly allowed them to polish this illusion.  But as we are finding with many other local issues, once you shine a brighter light on any issue, their boastful claims soon become questionable.

No one here doubts Cllr Oldham wishes to see a bypass built.  Charging around, shouting his support from the rooftops may have kept him in power, but it has failed to win any relief for the long-suffering residents of his ward.

I’m not going to try and paint him as the “Bypass Villain”.  I accept his efforts were sincere and well intentioned, but in the end, inadequate.  Let the record show; Council Leader Roy Oldham failed to win the necessary arguments and failed to be our Bypass Hero.  In doing so, he has failed Longdendale.

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