FOXDENTON and Hollinwood have been put forward as ‘strategic development sites’ in the Borough.
This basically means they are both developable locations which have an importance that stretches beyond their immediate area.
There has been a lot of concern and interest in the plans at Foxdenton in particular recently with some searching and important questions rightly being asked about potential impact of the scheme.
As we work through this process we will seek to address those specific concerns but for the purpose of this blog I want to focus on explaining our challenges and the strategic vision for employment sites like this.
As a starting point, it’s important to recognise that we are not an island.
Greater Manchester is one of the fastest growing regions in the country and we are part of that growth – or at least we should be.
But Oldham has a problem when it comes to development land – there isn’t much of it that is ready to use.
There are several reasons for that, so I’ll try to explain some of them…
Firstly, many of the clean sites here have simply already been developed and are taken.
Secondly, the size and location of former mill sites doesn’t often lend itself to modern industrial commercial uses where the requirement is often for single-storey, high bay units with access from a main road. Mills were also tightly packed in with terraced housing, so the alternative use for such a site is often now housing as it fits better with the surrounding uses.
Another issue concerns lower value brownfield sites which contain what you might call ‘dirty industrial’ uses. These could collectively be developed – but they often take many years to acquire and decontaminate.
A good example of this is the former Broadway power station which is now the Broadgate Business Park. In total it took around 15 years from closure to bringing in the first new business.
More recently a new agreement in Hollinwood with Langtree will see the removal of a gas holder which itself has taken more than eight years to get to a stage where it can be decommissioned.
Ultimately any new development also has to be a commercial success. If it doesn’t pay for itself then it would require significant taxpayer funding. In reality some element of taxpayer assistance in the form of European or UK Government funding is usually required, but it is not easy to come by – and it takes time to get it too.
Our strategy here in Oldham has to be to try to bring forward sites today that will create jobs in the next three to ten years.
We must have an active brownfield strategy to start acquiring and preparing those low-quality sites in different ownerships now to address the requirements beyond the 10-year period.
We must also work with existing businesses to support their expansion plans. Not all of Oldham’s employment growth will come in the form of large new commercial or industrial units, but we are working hard to attract funding for expansion where possible.
We’ve had some great recent successful examples of this.
Sidcot Investments, owners of the successful tissue converting business Matryx and Negociar, put in a Regional Growth Fund bid supported by Oldham Council and were awarded around £6m to help install new state-of-the-art machinery at their base in Royton.
We also provided support to James Briggs, a firm supplying aerosols and speciality chemicals, in an application to the GM Investment Fund which has since seen them get a substantial loans and grants package enabling them to make huge improvements to their manufacturing efficiency and Research and Development operations
.And let’s not forget Monopumps, the industrial pump manufacturer, who we’ve been helping to relocate at Chadderton. That firm is now about to conclude a major £3m grant deal with the GM Investment Fund that will keep it the region and expand its operations at Greengate.
We’re working hard to ensure vacant units like that can be given a new lease of life and this support means engineering will now continue at the former BAE Systems site. It will create new jobs as well as ensuring we make the best use of what we already have.
We recognise in 2013 that the days of a handful of large employers giving work to a whole town are long gone – so we have to support small businesses and self-employment to succeed too.
But let’s be clear: cases like Foxdenton and Hollinwood are not about ‘development for development’s sake’.
It is equally vital though that in a desire to strengthen our employment base we also insist on quality.
And when consulting the public we also have to be crystal clear about exactly what is up for discussion – and which elements are simply outside of our control.
The alternative here is that we fail to grow and that we fail to create the infrastructure that a Borough with a population of 225,000 people both needs and deserves.
That, for me, would be failure too far.
Thanks for listening,