Interview with Leader of Rochdale Council, Councillor Alan Taylor

July 5, 2007 12:00 AM

In his latest interview with Rochdale Online, the leader of Rochdale Council, Councillor Alan Taylor talks about the first weekend of the smoking ban, the imminent congestion charges to be introduced in Greater Manchester, the job losses at MyTravel and offers an in-depth insight into the regeneration of Rochdale Town Centre.

Reports from people that went into the clubs and bars of Rochdale on the first weekend of the national smoking ban suggested that they were much quieter than usual. Could it be that the smoking ban will have a detrimental affect on the town's nightlife? Councillor Taylor did not think so.

He said: "I suspect that the bars in the town centre were not as full as normal because there were continuous thunder storms all weekend that would probably have drowned the people that were trying to get there!

"I'm fully supportive of this ban because it makes cigarette smoking even more unacceptable and the more people that can be persuaded not to even start the better. I can understand very well the people who do smoke because it is sometimes quite difficult for people to give up but this must help a little bit and it should make going out a pleasure.

"If it's going to stop people starting to smoke, it's looking to the future and we should welcome it for that."

Congestion charging has been a hot topic for debate throughout Greater Manchester in recent weeks. A leaflet has recently arrived on Rochdale residents' doormats detailing the proposed congestion charge but in some quarters this has met with criticism for being too vague and 'spinning' the congestion charge proposals.

Councillor Taylor believes that if the town can secure some of the £1.4 billion that is available for improvement to public transport in Greater Manchester there will be no need for congestion charging in Rochdale. He said: "The whole point of this money from the Labour Government is to introduce congestion charging across Britain. I think that most people would say that you should introduce congestion charging only if there is a congestion problem, and I can't see a congestion problem in Rochdale. After Metrolink and things like that have been introduced will there still be a need for congestion charging in Rochdale? I'm absolutely certain that the answer to that is no, there is no need for congestion charging in Rochdale."

With Gordon Brown still in his first week as Prime Minister, the leader of Rochdale council said that the council would take forward any plans that the new government had that would benefit Rochdale. He said: "I'm quite prepared to see what Gordon Brown does bring forward and anything that is of benefit to the borough of Rochdale we will pick up and run with. I think that already we have been seen by the Government as a local authority that are doing things and are listening to them. We're quite prepared to go into things with an open mind and if it suits Rochdale we'll go along with them.

An unnamed retailer in Rochdale town centre recently contributed to a Rochdale Online article on parking charges in the town centre that Rochdale had become a 'tumbleweed' town centre. Councillor Taylor did not agree that parking charges were such a major issue.

He said: "My understanding is that the park ingcharges in Rochdale are amongst the lowest in Greater Manchester. People must understand that the two main car parks, the Wheatsheaf and the Exchange, are not controlled by the Council. I really do not believe that the parking is the problem, although I have asked that the parking at the town hall square be looked at and should be made into a longer stay car park and council officers are looking at parking policy in general.

"I know that the town centre has a lot of empty shops but the Council don't own the shops, I suspect that at the moment there isn't an incentive for people to rent those shops or the people who own them to get money from renting because they are waiting for what will happen in the near future.

"I know that at the moment Rochdale town centre is not the best place for people to go and shop, however, being one of last to redevelop we can learn from others' mistakes and from what I've heard we are learning from others' mistakes.

"Rochdale will never be a giant shopping area but it will be our shopping area and I'm convinced it can be made to be welcoming."

Last week, following Thomas Cook's merger with MyTravel, it was announced that the Rochdale MyTravel offices would close and 1000 Rochdale jobs lost. Like Rochdale MP Paul Rowen, Councillor Taylor has not given up hope that those jobs can still be salvaged.

"Personally I have not given up on all the redundancies at MyTravel. I'm supporting Paul Rowen as much as he asks me to do and we're both of the same opinion that this is the wrong decision for Thomas Cook to make; they've probably made it because it's cheaper for them to sack people in Rochdale than other places.

"As far as the Council is concerned, what we need to do is make sure that every person who works at MyTravel, whether they live in Rochdale or not, can get all the support that the Council can give them.

"There is a building there that is state of the art and I'm sure that the council can help in pointing people at that building. We've got the Kingsway Business Park not that far away, hopefully there will be more people wanting to go on Kingsway than we can accommodate then we can look at accommodating them elsewhere. The town has got an asset in the MyTravel building but first all we hope that Paul Rowen is successful in saving the jobs.