I HAVE written several blogs about the importance of valuing our heritage but this week the topic merits special attention.
On Monday night, Cabinet agreed to a new phased programme over 10 years to deliver our commitments to a new Heritage Centre and Coliseum Theatre – and to go much further and ensure a more secure future for several important heritage buildings in the town centre. Let me explain why…
I will never forget the time a few years back when I first walked around the interior of the Old Town Hall.
The building had simply gone too far. The deterioration over the past two decades had caught up with it and the mixture of damp and dry rot had eaten through most of it.
Finding a modern day use to save that building has been no mean feat. It required vision, determination and a strong stomach to say the least.
As you’d expect I’ve made it my business since then to fully understand all the land and property assets owned by the council and then to look at their long-term future: both in terms of what each is used for and the current condition and any repairs that might be required.
I’ve paid particular attention to the buildings in Oldham town centre because – if you haven’t gathered this by now – we are determined to transform it into a place we can all be truly proud of.
Heritage isn’t just about bricks and mortar, it is about culture and identity; people and society.
Buildings are just an articulation of that but they are important because long after their uses have changed and people have moved on they still tell a story: a nod to our past, if you like.
Walking around the town centre you find that some of our best buildings are just self-selecting. They stand prominently. They demand attention.
That’s why it is vital that in developing our flagship Heritage Centre we will also secure the future of the Grade II-listed Old Gallery on Union Street.
In finding a new use for it, that also has the consequence of leaving the Old Post (and Telegraph) Office, the former museum, empty.
And while thinking about future uses it became clear to me that we need to think and plan differently.
If the experience with the Old Town Hall has taught me anything it is that the cost of doing nothing is very expensive. Eventually you are forced to take action and the longer that takes the more expensive it will be to put it right, or to demolish.
We’ve now outlined a list of the heritage buildings we want to help secure the future of and I personally see these as essential if we are to have the town centre we aspire to have.
What makes Oldham stand out is that it is Oldham.
We don’t want or need an ‘off the shelf’ out of town retail park that feels like a chicken shed to replace our town centre. We want character and experience that gives people a reason to keep coming back.
We have now agreed that will we be paying particular attention to the following buildings:
Old Bank at Mumps;
Former Post Office and museum, Union Street;
Conservative Club, Union Street;
Masonic Hall, Union Street;
The Prudential Building, Union Street (pictured right);
The Town Centre Conservation Area – which includes the Parish Church and War Memorial.
In deciding to expand the Heritage Centre and Coliseum Theatre project to include a vision for our other heritage buildings, I hope the people of Oldham can see that we are serious about our obligations.
We are committed to making sure our future is built on solid foundations; our past.
Thanks for listening,