Monday, 3 September 2012
IN an exclusive report, Northern Voices, can reveal for the first time, that New Charter Housing Trust Ltd, has bought the ailing local newspaper, the Tameside Reporter which was first established in 1855.
In our report on July 14, we informed our readers that the newspaper was facing closure after being in business for 157 years and was looking for a buyer. We also reported that it was rumoured that New Charter was interested in buying the newspaper to add to its rapidly expanding business empire.
For some years now, New Charter have been diversifying into other areas unrelated to housing provision. In March 2000, Tameside Council transferred all its remaining council housing to New Charter who purchased the homes after a previous transfer, of housing stock, to Ashton Pioneer Homes. The housing company have ambitions 'to own and manage 30,000 homes by 2020.'
Since acquiring housing stock in Tameside, the company have rapidly expanded its interests beyond the boundary of Tameside by acquiring 'aksa' homes (Oldham), 'Gedling Homes' (Nottinghamshire) and 'Threshold' a charitable organisation that helps the homeless with 'pathways to independence'. The company also have an interest in 'New Charter Academy', a school/sports college, and recently acquired ownership of Tameside Radio.
In his speech to delegates at the 'Business of Social Housing' conference in April, held at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Tony Powell, an Executive Director for New Charter, told the meeting that the housing company was continually 'delivering more than just housing' and was focused 'on a number of areas including community safety, jobs and lifelong learning, and the environment.'
Why a housing company with no previous experience of running a newspaper and with very, very, close links to Tameside Council, would want to buy a local newspaper, is to say the least, highly suspect. But because of its corporate influence and close links with council, one might also question whether New Charter, is an appropriate and suitable organization, to run a local newspaper.
At a recent Tameside County Court hearing held in July, a judge strongly criticised the housing company for seeking an injunction against a Tameside resident that in his view, was 'ridiculously wide' and a 'significant breach of freedom of speech' aimed at protecting New Charter from legitimate criticism.
In another case, Steve Fisher, a 56-year-old New Charter tenant from Dukinfield, was so incensed by his treatment at the hands of New Charter that he set up his own blog known as 'New Charter Housing Watch'. Mr. Fisher's problems arose in 2006 when the housing company took legal action against him for his allegedly unkempt garden. After several articles about his case appeared in the local Tameside Advertiser, we understand that the housing company threatened the newspaper with legal action demanding an apology and a ban on letters from Mr. Fisher. Mr. Fisher told Northern Voices:
'I am absolutely appalled to hear that New Charter are being allowed to buy the Tameside Reporter. This is indeed a sad day for democracy. Following my court case in 2006, I subsequently phoned the former editor of the Tameside Advertiser about why the newspaper had ceased to publish my letters. I was told that the housing company had threatened legal action unless the newspaper stopped publishing my letters and apologised. Since this spat with New Charter, I've been banned from entering any of their premises and they will not allow me to stand as a Tenant Director as is my right, and which is a breach of my human rights.'
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