I PROMISED to blog more about our key priorities in the years ahead – as outlined in my recent Annual Report to Full Council.
As I said last week, Oldham only succeeds when we all make our own efforts towards making it a better place – we can only build a better borough together.
That’s the spirit of co-operative working, but what does it really mean and how does it work in practice?
Put simply, it means everyone with a vested interest in a scheme contributes their own ‘bit’ towards making it a reality, whatever that might be.
And that involves all of us – not just public sector partners and investors putting in funding or sharing resources – but also residents doing simple but important things, like getting behind a plan, being an ambassador for it and using a new facility when it is built.
At the heart of this co-operative work lies our drive to create a strong economy here – and a place that we can all be proud of.
For Oldham Council that means a clear commitment from us to continuing to work hard to attract outside investment.
We’re still having good success on that front. Take last week’s deal for a new DPD Depot at Chadderton last week creating up to 350 new local jobs, for example.
It’s a commitment from us that the regeneration of our town and district centres – like the new Lidl which opened in Royton this month – will go on and that we’ll carry on striving to build a more balanced and stronger economy that works for everyone.
The Old Town Hall will open on October 21 and that’s a flagship project that makes a clear statement about where we are heading as a place.
It says everything about our intent to have a thriving and confident Oldham town centre where families and communities can enjoy quality time. And it’s about banishing those bad old days when the ‘Wild West’ culture of cheap booze offers around Yorkshire Street blighted our reputation.
But as I’ve outlined in earlier blogs, the Old Town Hall will be just the heartbeat of that new town centre and there will be other important developments taking shape around it.
Funding is in place now for our new Arts & Heritage Centre in the old library on Union Street, for example, and next year we can lay the foundations on the Prince’s Gate scheme, including that much-awaited Marks & Spencer store.
You should also have noticed major improvement works going on to highways and pedestrian areas around the town centre.
That’s not just our new Parliament Square, it’s the ongoing upgrades to Yorkshire Street and the Campus Oldham part of town, along the King Street corridor linking Oldham College, the new Oldham Leisure Centre and Oldham Sixth Form College.
All of this is being done to improve the experience for motorists, cyclists, shoppers, visitors, residents and business.
The progress on schemes like this – and the new Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre at the Royal Oldham Hospital – is helping to move Oldham to the next level with better opportunities and jobs and one we can finally market as a visitor destination in its own right.
We’ve worked with so many partners on those schemes I’ve just mentioned: including the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Stoller Trust, Arts Council England, NHS Oldham, Marks & Spencer, Transport for Greater Manchester and the GMCA, to name just a few.
But successful co-operative working also works at all ends of the spectrum – and it’s just as important when it delivers great outcomes at a smaller level.
A shining example of that is the Independent Quarter.
Doing our bit as the local authority has been to put up a £1m package of comprehensive support to help existing or start-up businesses.
For others, their bit as traders has been to put life savings, hard graft and vision into a new venture, or as residents it’s been just to go and use these new shops and support the traders in their new home.
The result to date is that we have seen 30 new specialist traders move in, plus three new quality restaurants and 50 buildings refurbished.
We’ve got a waiting list of applications and people wanting to relocate there – including a new Digital Enterprise Hub that will help new enterprises grow across the digital, technology and creative sectors.
Between all of us we’re transforming what was a run-down area strewn with vacant units into a place that is changing by the day, providing a specialist offer for customers and businesses, creating new jobs and blossoming in confidence.
I believe it could well rank as the best £1 million this local authority has ever spent – and that’s because other people have bought into the vision and backed it.
That is very powerful. That’s the difference we can make together. That’s an economy that works for everyone.
Next week I’ll be explaining the growing importance of social regeneration for this administration.
These are existing and new schemes that are just as important as new facilities and buildings to people.
We want to restore pride – not just in Oldham as a place – but also in people and communities by helping to change their daily lives for the better and improve their prospects.
Above all, it’s about ensuring that, in Oldham, nobody is left behind.