I WANT to use my penultimate blog before the local elections to talk about one of my driving passions – rebuilding Oldham.The new edition of Borough Life is dropping onto your doormats this week and inside you’ll find a double-page spread which looks at the changing face of Oldham.
This shows a mixture of just some of the various housing, schools, retail, business and transport regeneration projects which have either been completed or are well underway across the borough – and there simply wasn’t enough space to provide the full list.
As a public body we have a responsibility to justify all of our spending and be open and transparent about it.
It is clear that some schemes have really caught the imagination and attention of residents and I’m pleased that, like me, many can see just how important these will be to changing the fortunes and perceptions of our town.
Work is now well underway on several major projects like the cinema and restaurants at the Old Town Hall and the new Oldham Leisure Centre, and – from those days of early artists’ impressions – things are beginning to feel very real.
Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, you must at least admit that I am consistent in arguing that our borough deserves better than to be simply ‘managing decline’ – a route which too many would accept as the next chapter in our future.
I believe Oldham deserves better than to watch the threads of its rich cultural and economic heritage unravelling before our eyes. It deserves better than seeing once-great buildings falling into disrepair and the loss of things that not only once made us great but are also key to our confidence as a place.
I simply don’t accept that has to be our future at all.
I believe things can and will be better. BUT that will only happen with a combination of investment, a great deal of concerted effort and an acceptance that if Oldham wants to change for the best then we must collectively take responsibility for it.
We have an opportunity to work to transform Oldham together and leave a legacy of optimism and positive growth for generations to come.
The Old Town Hall is a prime example.
In recent decades this building had gone from being a symbol of civic prosperity and pride to one of decline.
So, what were our options?
Well, we could have simply demolished it, but I don’t have the stomach for that, and I don’t think residents do either.
We could have opted to ‘do nothing’ and let the building continue to rot, but you might be surprised to learn that costs serious money.
Whilst the building stands idle Oldham Council is footing a hefty bill: maintenance, empty building costs and other associated payments would mean a 25-year cost to the public purse of just over £16m. I’m not sure the public would consider that money well spent.
I certainly don’t and, let’s be clear, there are absolutely no economic or social benefits to be had from this option. If anything, this plan would be in negative equity on both counts.
The third option was to be ambitious and use this historic venue as the foundation stone to rebuild Oldham. With this project we’re now addressing our lack of a cinema and establishing one in a unique setting that will put it in a different class from characterless out-of-town retail sites. Not only can that give Oldham a fantastic new entertainment facility in its own right, but it will also help to redefine the future of our town centre.
The total cost of this option is £36.7m, with £26.3m coming directly from Council resources.
So the actual cost difference between ‘doing nothing’ or placing this iconic civic emblem at the heart of our new vision for Oldham town centre comes to just over £10m.
Does this represent good value for money? Well, in working this out it’s important to also look at the economic and social impacts the project will have on the town.
Firstly, this scheme has already seen the creation of jobs, work experience opportunities and apprenticeships by the developers, Morgan Sindall. It is estimated that the Old Town Hall will generate 74 full time and 159 part time jobs within the development and elsewhere in the town centre.
It’s also estimated that it will generate a boost of £5.5 million per year to Oldham’s economy which, over 10 years, equates to in excess of £55 million of additional economic activity.
Secondly, the Old Town Hall will attract new investors. The clear message we’re sending out through investment in regeneration on this scale is that Oldham means business and is ambitious for its future. The announcement – at long last – that Marks & Spencer is finally coming to town is surely proof that confidence breeds confidence.
In addition, further investments like £1.4m into improvements for small businesses in Oldham’s Independent Quarter – plus Shaw and Lees District Centres and the A62 Failsworth corridor – ensure that existing businesses are also benefitting from our regeneration.
Finally, the development will give a significant boost to the number of visitors into our town centre: which will also increase the amount of money spent in our local economy.
It’s estimated that the cinema alone could attract approximately 214,000 visits every year and (based on evidence from the Northwest Day Visitor Survey) this could generate £2.4 million of expenditure elsewhere within Oldham town centre. Over 10 years that means in excess of £24 million of additional economic activity created.
With that kind of return on your investment then, the real question is not ‘Why are you doing this?’ – it’s actually, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’.
If you haven’t yet received your latest Borough Life and want to find out more about regeneration schemes and the economic benefits, you can download it from the Oldham Council website by clicking here.
Finally, I must end this week with a nod to the fantastic success of the Get Oldham Working campaign.
Regeneration isn’t just about bricks and mortar or landmark buildings, it’s also about people, skills, support and prospects.
This campaign, working alongside a range of partners across all sectors, has already now smashed its ambitious target to create 2,015 employment opportunities by the end of 2015.
It has seen the provision of 2,169 jobs, apprenticeship and trainee opportunities to local people since its launch in May, 2013, which breaks down into the creation of 1,184 jobs, 342 apprenticeships and 643 trainee and work experience opportunities.
And the work will continue. We are all committed to continuing this partnership – and with an increased focus on creating more jobs.
The Get Oldham Working campaign shows that by working co-operatively together we can make a real difference to reduce unemployment and support new business ventures.
Thanks for listening,