Oldham’s changing skyline: The need for a plan

SKYLINE1OLDHAM’S skyline and environment are changing fast – and the best is yet to come.

That transformation has been steadily accelerating since the opening of our town centre Metrolink line in 2014.

Walking around Oldham now you can’t fail to notice many new or improved buildings, plus new views and vistas, and the green shoots needed to improve our local economy.

You can see it clearly in areas like the Independent Quarter – where we are co-investing with people putting their life savings, daily graft and faith into breathing new life into the area – and it is steadily being replicated across the town centre.

The Old Town Hall is, of course, the flagship project and it’s already become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Every day you see people stopping to stand around the Cenotaph and the Greaves Arms sneaking a peek at the site and taking snapshots.

Although you cannot yet see inside the grand old building, I can confirm that work is well advanced and we now have a provisional handover date from our contractors.

OTHBlog

Following that there will then be a ‘fit out’ period when the new tenants’ own contractors move into the units to install their own fittings and train staff. I can’t yet confirm the opening date publicly but your new ODEON cinema and restaurants remain on track to open later this year.

And it was great this week – before we’ve even opened the doors – to see the Old Town Hall scheme nominated for a major award.

The GM Chamber of Commerce has shortlisted it for ‘Building of the Year 2016’ and that’s a promising early indication of the kind of impact we’re expecting from a new regional destination that will put us firmly on the map.

If you can’t wait to glimpse that future then I’d recommend a visit to the new ‘Revival’ exhibition which opened at Gallery Oldham this week.

REVIVALThis looks at the Old Town Hall and the iconic old Library and Art Gallery building, which will become our new Heritage Centre, showcasing images and objects belonging to both as they are adapted for their new future uses.

Looking at that Old Town Hall site you can also see work is progressing well on Parliament Square, our new public space, and other much-needed improvements being made to the surroundings of the Yorkshire Street/Union Street area.

Important work has also just got started in the ‘Campus Oldham’ part of town along the King Street corridor linking Oldham College, the new Oldham Leisure Centre, and Oldham Sixth Form College

This will see better highways and pedestrian areas and an improved cycle infrastructure leading into the town centre.

That will make a significant difference to the appearance of that area, which will also be boosted by the new-build three-form academy primary school set to open at the former Grange School site in September.

Just down the road from there I had the honour of attending the official groundbreaking ceremony for Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre at Royal Oldham Hospital on Monday.

This will provide a fantastic place offering free practical and emotional support in an environment that will make a huge difference to the quality of care for local patients. The plans show it set in a sloping garden with trees growing up through the buildings – accessed over a bridge – with views down to a garden pool. It’s just the latest life-changing project to be funded by the generosity of the Stoller Charitable Trust.

But what goes up must also come down – and that’s another way in which regeneration is changing the skyline.

Earlier this year we pulled down the former Oldham Sports Centre on Lord Street which means residents on the new St Mary’s Estate (for now at least) can enjoy a more splendid view of Oldham Parish Church.

A couple of weeks ago I also pressed the button to demolish the seven-storey council-owned car park at Hobson Street which, let’s face it, has been an eyesore for many years and its demise clears that site again for a brighter future.

This was a cold, brutalist structure which, like the old St Peter’s Shopping Precinct (or ‘Windy City’ as many of us called it!) will surely not be missed by even the most nostalgic of residents.

In looking positively to the future like this, I’m also very conscious that we’re living in incredibly uncertain times.

The UK is in a difficult and challenging environment on so many levels at present and, as a mere Council Leader, I don’t for one moment pretend to have a crystal ball about what that lies ahead.

What I do know, however, is that having a long-term regeneration plan – both physical and social – is crucial to anchoring your confidence (and that of others) in your place and its ability to improve people’s prospects.

These latest signs of progress in Oldham’s skyline and environment show that we have that plan. Without it we would surely be exposing ourselves to even greater uncertainty.

This is my final blog now before the traditional Council recess break, but it will return on August 24.

Many of you will have holidays planned soon, so I hope you all enjoy fine family times and weather – and stay safe.

Jean

 

The challenges of uncertain times

TRITON2I’VE ALWAYS put a lot faith in the maxim that ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ – and that’s never more true than now.

We live in very uncertain times where the potential threats to our daily lives, institutions and basic things that we depend on come from all kinds of sources.

We have to be prepared for all manner of incidents and scenarios – some environmental and naturally occurring, others caused by accidental or deliberate human acts.

These include, amongst an almost endless and ever-growing list, incidents and emergencies related to terrorism, community tensions, flooding, gales and high winds, infectious disease, reservoirs, snow and extreme cold weather and even (I know!) heatwaves.

Only last week an important new Government report warned that the UK’s supply of food could be put at risk by climate change as droughts and storms start to devastate farmland here and abroad. It’s a chilling analysis.

As an American scientist commenting on that report put it, climate change is happening “so rapidly that people around the world are noticing the changes in global warming and extreme weather with their own eyes and skin”.

TRITON5That’s why emergency planning events like Exercise Triton II – which we played a key role in last week – are absolutely crucial to building resilience and improving our ability to cope with all kinds of incidents.

Triton was an emergency planning exercise without precedent across the Greater Manchester region and involved an incredible amount of organisation and preparation beforehand by the GM Resilience Forum and partners.

To give you an idea of how complex a task that was, we had players taking part at national level like the Government, military, the Met Office, the National Grid, HM Coastguard, Highways England, British Transport Police, the Environment Agency, NHS England, National Police Air Service, Government Digital Service and the British Red Cross.

And at a regional level all ten of the GM authorities took part alongside Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, GM Police, the North West Ambulance Service, Network Rail, Transport for Greater Manchester and Oldham Mountain Rescue – and many, many more.

Now imagine even just trying to co-ordinate everyone’s diaries for the very first meeting to agree what you are actually planning to do – and you can start to see the scale of what was eventually undertaken.

We’re not allowed to give away details of the full scenario for obvious reasons, but those people responding as if events were real were tested to the hilt.

From Monday last week they all started to get information about adverse weather and warnings of a growing risk of regional flooding.

This gradually ramped up to the main ‘play’ day on Thursday when the public will have seen a lot of activity in the Oldham area.

TRITON4Dove Stone Reservoir is a beautiful place and it provided a stunning backdrop to the dramatic sight of the Chinook helicopter dropping High Volume Pumps onsite to help stem the flow of a mythical breach in the dam that morning.

Cynics sometimes dismiss exercises like this as ‘boys with toys’, but nothing could be further from the truth.

As events unfolded during the day the scenario worsened with the dam collapsing and our response teams having to immediately put plans around floods, evacuation and the setting up of rest centres etc. into action. Their task was made even harder by constant ‘injects’ of new complicating factors like stranded animals, loss of utilities like gas and electricity and frightened people stranded on public transport.

The drama then continued to spread across the region with worsening flooding and a series of incidents that will have given the staff dealing with them a major headache.

I’d like to thank everyone from Oldham Council and our partners who took part in the planning and the playing of the exercise – and especially all the volunteers who played such key roles in making it feel real.

We hope that a day like the one depicted in that exercise will never come, of course, but recent history shows us that it almost certainly can.

No one will ever forget the scenes at Boscastle in Cornwall when torrential rain led to a 7ft rise in river levels in one hour in August 2014. Those images of cars, caravans, homes and boats being smashed into each other and washed away as people clung to trees and the roofs of buildings and cars, are a chilling reminder of us all of the fragility of our environment.

TRITON3Much will have been learnt from Exercise Triton and the analysis of all the log books of what happened, who did what and when, will teach us valuable lessons for all kinds of incidents we could face in the future.

If all that preparation and work helps to prevent just one incident, give one community an extra ten minutes’ warning or save just one life, it will surely have been worth it.

Finally, today is the first time I have blogged since the terrible terrorist attack in Nice.

Last Friday I asked for our Union and Peace flags to be flown at half-mast and invited staff to join a one minute silence in respect of the victims.

I think many of us were left to reflect not just on the senselessness of the attack – but also how often we now seem to be marking events like these.

As I said before, we really do live in uncertain times – but we should never let that stop us going about our daily lives and enjoying the freedoms that we are so fortunate to have.

Jean

Every step counts…

Strinesdale Reservoir
THIS WEEK I have a confession to make – and it’s about a new addiction I have.

It all started last month when I took to the stage at the council’s Staff Conference with Carolyn Wilkins to talk about the theme of the event: which was the health and wellbeing of all our staff.

This is part of a new drive within the council and it has obvious merit.

A huge amount of credit for many of the achievements here in recent years is down to our staff, be they frontline, back office or managerial, and that’s something I am keen to recognise.

Despite the ongoing cuts, reductions in their teams and rising demand for our services, so many of them have kept focussed on doing their bit towards continuing our improvement journey.

But we also recognise that for our staff to continue getting better at what they do – and having the drive to do so – we also need them to be in good shape.

Put simply, to serve our residents well we need our employees to be ‘fit for purpose’, both physically and mentally.

FITBITTo help them achieve that we’ve put together a comprehensive programme that signposts them to help, inspiration and whatever else they might need to make important life changes for themselves and their families.

Happy staff are productive staff, after all. They take less time off, their morale is good – and that means they deliver for residents.

Let’s face it though, very few of us these days have the time to lead perfect lifestyles.

And if you’re anything like me you’ve probably become expert at always finding an excuse or a reason why we can’t make that healthy change ‘just now’.

But I knew it would be utterly pointless that day if I stood there in front of staff urging them to make a change if I didn’t try it myself. “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t a great mantra for any politician…

That’s why I agreed to take on a ‘Fitbit challenge’, which basically means agreeing to use a tracker to monitor your daily physical activity and see how it compares to others.

This has proved to be a fantastic ‘lightbulb’ moment for me (so far!) as I have been more active in recent weeks than for many more years than I can care to admit.

The standard target is for people to try and do 10,000 steps daily, so I set out determined to achieve that and, I will admit, my natural competitive streak didn’t take long to kick in.

LGFW logo and bootsI really don’t have time to start planning routines so I just decided to use the fantastic walks from our ‘Let’s Go For a Walk’ campaign and see how it went.

My followers on Twitter may have noticed me tweeting away with pictures lately as I have been doing these routes.

I have walked around sites like Daisy Nook, Strinesdale (five times!) and Dove Stone Reservoir with plenty more yet to have a go at.

This is such an easy way to get active.

It removes the bother of working out what to do or where to go and I’ve also enjoyed seeing some fantastic scenery across the borough.  Some of it was already familiar, but I’d never been to Strinesdale before and there are other walks that I’ve yet to do that will be new to me.

I started out on this mission on June 22 and I am still going strong, touch wood.

In the first full week I did 60,000 steps, which I was pretty pleased with. I then managed 90,000 steps the next week due, at least partly, to being at a local government conference where I used this as a perfect motivation to get around and see everything.

As I mentioned, other colleagues at the council have also been getting involved and you really do become competitive (in a nice way) when checking the latest data to see if you’ve just managed to overtake a hardened walker/runner’s efforts for the day.

We are, of course, all doing this mainly in our own time but the habit is now quickly spreading around the organisation and it has become a great talking point amongst staff. Some are even having ‘walking meetings’.

I’d encourage anyone reading this blog to visit the Let’s Go For a Walk section on our website here, have a look at what’s on offer and consider having a go.

DNOOKIt’s all totally free. These walks take you around some of the most beautiful parts of our borough and you can also use them as a great way to get quality time with family and friends.

So, that’s it. My new addiction is steps and physical activity and it feels a good one to have right now – so long as I don’t start getting obsessed to the point where I’m deliberately getting up during meetings and pacing around the tables…

This has all even culminated in a new delivery at home this week.

To even my own astonishment I have just taken delivery of a shiny new treadmill.

I’m not naive enough to think it will ever has as many miles on it as my car does, but I am hoping I can really stick to this and that it won’t be going on e-Bay any time soon!

Jean

Three-weekly bins – Why, how and when

Grey bin with bags 2 flippedYOU’VE PROBABLY read by now about plans for a new waste collection system to be introduced across the borough in early October.

Put simply, it means a move from two-weekly to three-weekly collections of your grey, general waste bins – plus other measures to help people recycle.

I must stress that we haven’t done this lightly – and also that we did our research first.

I know kerbside collection is the one service that every single resident relies upon. That means making changes to it is a big deal and that we must get it right.

After weighing up all the options the decision boiled down to some inescapable facts.

At present, the cost to Oldham Council for disposing of grey bin waste comes to hundreds of pounds per tonne. Yet for every tonne we recycle, we actually get a small income.

That means our future simply has to be about less waste and more recycling – which are environmental and economic ‘wins’ for everyone.

The more money that we can save by doing this, the more funds we can then put back into protecting vital frontline services as Government continues to slash our funding.

We’re not unusual in making this change. Across Greater Manchester there is now only Wigan that still has fortnightly collections of the standard 240-litre grey wheelie bins.

Other authorities have all either introduced three-weekly collections – or moved to 140-litre versions of the general waste (grey) bins, which are 40 per cent smaller than the standard containers.

By not changing bin sizes we don’t have to spend money on replacing all your bins, which is a considerable cost. It’s been reported that Manchester’s switch to slimmer bins, for example, will cost them around £1.8m.

We’ve also looked closely at how three-weekly collections are working in other areas.

Bury were the first to introduce them and faced a storm of national headlines about fears of overflowing bins and infestations of rats and insects.

In the first year of the new scheme thousands of tonnes of general waste – a drop of 16 per cent – were no longer sent to landfill.  Bury’s recycling rate jumped by nine per cent and they saved hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In Oldham we estimate we can increase our recycling rate by 12 per cent through these changes which – over the next two years – would save us up to £3 million during a time when we need to find £37 million in savings.

I’ve heard it said this move will lead to a more flytipping here, and I understand that concern.

3WK1However, our experience with flytipping – as detailed in my blog two weeks ago – is that the majority of it isn’t down to selfish residents. It’s lazy trade waste discarded to avoid costs/responsibility, and bad landlords dumping items left by departed tenants.

The new collection regime will be a simpler one.

Grey bins for general rubbish will be collected one week. Blue bins for paper and card the week after, and then brown bins for glass, plastic and tins in the third week.

We’ll also continue collecting all garden and food waste on a weekly basis. That’s to stop the potential for bad smells and flies/insects, especially during the summer.

Households with extra waste they cannot recycle could be entitled to an extra grey bin and they should contact us to discuss the options. And we’re also offering – free – any extra blue, brown and green recycling bins you need, or upgrades to bigger recycling bins if you have the smaller ones.

Before the new system starts I’ve been very clear that we must contact every resident with information packs that explain your options and help with the changes.

Those will include new collection calendars, plus information about how to recycle more effectively. I’m sure the Stretton household isn’t alone in having had many debates about what can and can not be recycled, and exactly how(!).

You can read about the new arrangements on our website at www.oldham.gov.uk/waste or find out more by calling 0161 770 6644.

Rubbish HouseChange brings challenges and I can moan as much as the next person when asked to do something a different way after years of habit.

But we also know doing things differently is our best chance to help find the savings we need to provide good services here.

For now all I ask is that you give the new arrangements ‘a go’ as others have elsewhere.

Please do ‘your bit’ and get behind our mission to recycle as much as we possibly can.

‘Our bit’ is a pledge to monitor this scheme.

We will test how it is working on an ongoing basis and, if something is wrong, we will try to fix it.

Together we can make this work for Oldham.

Jean

3WK4