New vision for Old Town Hall

NEW VISION: Council Leader Jim McMahon examining plans for the Old Town Hall in the Egyptian Room with Alan Davies, BDP architect, at the public consultation event.
NEW VISION: Council Leader Jim McMahon examining plans for the Old Town Hall in the Egyptian Room with Alan Davies, BDP architect, at the public consultation event.

YESTERDAY was a special day as we reopened the doors of the Old Town Hall to the public for the first time since its closure in 1995.

No one can disagree that the Old Town Hall has become a symbol of civic neglect and I can understand the frustration that so many people have with the lack of progress on this building.

Since gaining control of Oldham Council in 2011 we have set about the challenge of dealing with a number of ‘historical sores’ in the Borough – those longstanding issues which rightly or wrongly consistently wind people up.

Having a building which has the potential to be a civic jewel like this carries a huge responsibility.

Whatever is to become of it in the future we must act now to find a viable modern day use – and not an indefinite drain on the Council Taxpayer.

These proposals seek to create a family entertainment facility that would include a cinema and a host of restaurants.

They have the potential not just to save an old building from an increasingly uncertain future but also to give Oldham a cinema – the lack of which has been a running sore for many years since the closure of the Hollinwood Roxy.

For several days in the run-up to this consultation event I heard from many different people who said they were pleased to see that progress is being made.

For many who attended the consultation event this was also a great opportunity to see the Egyptian Room which – for a whole generation – has been off limits to the public.

We must now fine tune these plans to take into account the wishes of local people and to ensure that this facility has the best possible chance of success.

What I have seen shining throughout all of this process is that despite the often vocal minority of naysayers, Oldhamers are passionate about our Borough and want to see it succeed.

Onto other matters now as this week is, of course, the Diamond Jubilee weekend – with two extra Bank Holidays to enjoy (and hopefully some more sunshine).

A wide range of community events have been organised across the Borough, so if you want to find out about any taking place in your area then take a moment to visit the information we have gathered together on the Oldham Council website at : http://www.oldham.gov.uk/diamond_jubilee

Finally, last week saw some emotional scenes as we held the Annual Council meeting.

This traditionally provides a chance to say farewell to retiring or defeated Ward Members, and in particular – of course – many loving tributes were paid to former Failsworth East Councillor Barbara Dawson, who recently passed away.

Barbara was a true community champion in every sense and a great friend to myself and my family.

For many of us here being a Councillor is a vocation.

But what often goes unnoticed is not just the sacrifice made by those in public office, but also those family members in the background who give such great support and also give up a large part of that person’s time to their community.

I have been fortunate so far in my political life in that I have not been subject to many personal attacks or insults but – after reading one such letter in the local press last week – it brought it home to me that, regardless of how hard you try,  sniping from the sidelines is simply a hobby and cynical entertainment for some.

What absolutely none of us can lose sight of is that for Oldham to succeed we must pull together.

And if you aren’t part of the solution, then perhaps you are part of the problem…

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Focus and delivery: Building a better future

EXPANSION: Paul Naylon, NOV Mono's Managing Director, shakes on the Greengate deal with Jim McMahon, Council Leader
EXPANSION: Paul Naylon, NOV Mono’s Managing Director, shakes on the Greengate deal with Jim McMahon, Council Leader

WITH THE start of the new Civic Year this week it is vitally important that Oldham Council’s focus and agenda are clear from the outset.

I make no apologies for reiterating that this means we need to send out the clearest possible message that Oldham is not just open for business, but also deadly serious and proactive about attracting inward investment.

Our focus in these times as a Co-operative Council is simple. It’s about doing our bit on regeneration, job creation and delivering real opportunities that improve people’s lives and help them into work.

That’s why I was delighted to be able to confirm today a deal that sees Nov Mono – an internationally recognised pump manufacturer – relocating here to Oldham.

The firm, currently based in Audenshaw, is taking the former BAE Systems site at Greengate, Chadderton, in a move that will see it expand and increase its manufacturing capacity with the potential for it to be home to more than 1,000 jobs.

That site has a proud history – not least as the production line of the Lancaster Bomber – and it was absolutely vital that it remained an industrial hub.

Oldham Council has worked proactively within the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) to pull together a package that ensures this could be done quickly.

This was crucial work not just for our Borough but also in terms of ensuring this firm and its jobs were not lost to the region.

This news also comes just days after Global Draw, one of the biggest global gaming machine operators, announced it is planning a major expansion at Broadway.

Deals like this are just the start, of course, but they are clear indications that businesses are starting to see Oldham as a place to invest.

Our new Cabinet line-up, approved by Annual Council on Wednesday, is another important step in this work.

Crucially it sees Councillor Shoab Akhtar becoming the new dedicated Cabinet Member for Business, Skills and the Town Centre. This is a new portfolio and he is the ideal person with the energy and commitment to make a vital contribution.

Shoab’s task is to not only ensure we capitalise on Metrolink but also to drive the business and employment agenda, work to promote the Borough’s markets, and oversee the vital offer we provide in terms of post-16 education.

As Council Leader I will continue to direct our national and city relationships and our overall regeneration strategy but having this new support will undoubtedly assist me in bolstering our focus on these clear priorities across all that we do.

We know from ongoing conversations with potential investors and business outside our Borough that they believe it is vital they can see our commitment to this agenda – and that they can deal quickly and directly with dedicated people to get results.

Finally – continuing on that regeneration theme – there is a hugely important event taking place next Tuesday (May 29) at which residents can go back into the Old Town Hall for the first time in almost two decades.

Back in March we appointed BDP to come up with a scheme to bring this building back into use. This is the first result of that work.

You can come along on the day at any time between 12.30pm and 7pm to view and comment on the new drawings and proposals that they have come up with.

This is a really fantastic opportunity for us to correct two things that people have rightly moaned about for years on doorsteps across the Borough – the desperate need for a cinema facility, and to transform the Old Town Hall back to a symbol of civic pride rather than neglect.

By using this historic Grade-II listed building for this purpose (plus restaurants) we have a great chance here to create something so much better than those out-of-town developments elsewhere that lack character.

The potential impact of delivering this for our town centre – making it a destination for families to visit and enjoy leisure time – is clear to everyone.

There is a lot at stake here in terms of our future. That’s why I would urge as many of you as possible to please take a few minutes next Tuesday to come along and give some serious feedback and momentum to these plans.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

New Council year begins…

BACK IN BUSINESS: Oldham's new line-up of Councillors is preparing for the start of the new Civic year
BACK IN BUSINESS: Oldham’s new line-up of Councillors is preparing for the start of the new Civic year

NEARLY two weeks on from election day, Oldham’s new councillors are settling into their new duties and responsibilities as the new civic year begins.

Disappointingly, the turnout for this year’s local elections in Oldham was around 33 per cent.

Whilst this was in line with other areas in Greater Manchester politicians and Council officers need to work much harder to get people involved in their local area so that election day becomes more relevant and they feel their vote will make a difference in their area.

Reconnecting with Oldham residents was the Council’s focus over the last twelve months and this will continue throughout the year ahead.  

At next week’s Council meeting we’ll be approving plans to change the constitution – making it easier for residents to get involved in decision-making at both a district and borough level.

Over the last year all Councillors have been given the opportunity to take part in training and development to support them to lead in their local areas. One of the proposed changes will give all elected members who took part in this training increased local decision-making and budget powers.

We’ll also introduce a system of community call in – the first authority in the country to do so.

This will mean local residents can ‘call in’ executive decisions made by local District Partnerships by submitting a petition with 100 signatures – this covers anything from the location of traffic calming measures to how local budgets are spent.

Over the past few months we’ve been piloting the streaming of Council meetings live on our website and via the Oldham Advertiser’s website. We’ve also been taking questions to Cabinet submitted through email, Facebook and Twitter. This has been a huge success with nearly 1,000 people watching across the three streamed meetings and more than five times as many questions submitted to Cabinet by residents.

Next week we’ll make these changes to Full Council more permanent with all future meetings being streamed live. This idea is attracting interest from outside the Borough with visits from other AGMA authorities keen to follow suit.  

Next Wednesday is also the Council’s Mayor Making Ceremony, where this year’s Mayor, Councillor Olwen Chadderton will take over from Richard Knowles.

Councillor Knowles has been a fantastic ambassador for Oldham – helping to raise the profile of the Borough, managing Council meetings, hosting all civic duties and, last but not least, raising a considerable amount for the Mayor’s Charities Promobility, Barnardos Oldham and Dr Kershaws.  I’d like to thank him for all his hard work during what has been a very difficult year.

I’d also like to welcome Councillor Chadderton to her new role. As Deputy Mayor last year Olwen did a wonderful job of chairing our new ‘live’ Council meetings and carrying out duties on behalf of Councillor Knowles during his illness.

In addition we’ll also be appointing the Borough’s new deputy Mayor – Councillor John Hudson, who I’m sure will add some humour to proceedings.

Finally, I’d like to mention last week’s Civic Memorial service for Councillor Barbara Dawson who sadly passed away recently.

It was fitting that Barbara’s memorial service last Monday was held in the newly refurbished Failsworth Town Hall – a building she fought tirelessly to have reopened and renovated for the local community.

In recognition of this and all the hard work she did on behalf of the people of Failsworth, a resolution will be put to the Failsworth and Hollinwood District Partnership to rename the function suite at the Town Hall in her honour – a lasting and fitting tribute to a valued, respected and much loved advocate for our area.

Thanks for listening,

Jim