Mayor Andy put on spot at Q&A night

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The Mayor of Greater Manchester was quizzed by Wiganers on an array of subjects at a public question time event last night.

The region’s elected first citizen Andy Burnham faced questions for more than 90 minutes at The Old Courts as his popular Q&A roadshow arrived in the borough.

Andy Burnham under the spotlight

Andy Burnham under the spotlight

The discussion at the Crawford Street venue ranged across some of the burning topics of the day, with issues brought up including the health service, transport, the green belt and the environment, housing and homelessness and Brexit.

With Wigan Post editor Janet Wilson chairing the event, Mr Burnham gave unscripted responses to the problems concerning local people, with several announcements and new ideas being thrown up.

The evening started on a positive note for the borough as it was announced Wigan Steam CIC, a town centre-based organisation connecting technology, science and the arts, had received funding as part of a £7m Greater Manchester cultural package.

It is thought to be one of the first times a group in the borough has received regional arts support.

The audience contained senior members of Wigan Council, representatives from Greater Manchester Police (GMP), councillors, political activists, trade unionists, campaigners and members of the public.

Mr Burnham repeated his manifesto promise to end rough sleeping by 2020, describing it as a “massive challenge” but one he was committed to after hearing of the death of a Leigh homeless man this winter.

He had strong words on housing, too, saying landlords with poor-quality properties should face action.

However, this should be balanced by a Good Landlords Scheme to promote high-quality practice in the sector, he said.

The Town Centre Challenge, which Leigh is the borough’s nomination for, came up several times, with the Mayor saying he wanted it to inspire new thinking on revitalising urban areas.

He also hoped to see more houses built on brownfield sites in response to questions about the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and protecting the green belt.

At times he came in for tough questioning, with one audience member asking him to justify adding a mayoral precept to household bills.

He said he needed a budget to carry out manifesto promises which required extra cash not provided by Westminster.

Another tense exchange came when the RMT union asked for support for its campaign against driver-only trains, with Mr Burnham pledging to look at the evidence and hold a meeting.

Police also filled up their diaries at the event, arranging to meet residents fed up of nuisance behaviour from off-road bikers and 4x4 drivers.

Transport came up several times, with former councillor Norman Bradbury handing in a petition for parking at Hag Fold station and Mr Burnham saying people had to be given incentives to ditch the car and take up public transport.

However, he said initiatives such as free bus passes would be primarily aimed at younger people.

Town hall bosses faced a potentially-nervous moment with a question about accountability and whether councils wasted money before Mr Burnham said he believed they did not.

He also praised The Deal for bringing communities into decision-making, saying he wanted something similar at regional level.

Other topics addressed included climate change, Brexit’s impact on businesses and helping people with autism.