BEING Council Leader can sometimes feel like a roller coaster ride and I will admit this has felt like a very tough week.
Since my last blog I’ve barely had time to catch my breath as a series of challenging events unfolded.
We started off by dealing with the winter’s first deluge of snow, then moved on to internal building problems that caused Access Oldham to be closed and relocated to the Civic Centre.
Then we had the terrible severe rainfall and flooding, and then came a phone call from Marks & Spencer…
You probably already know that M&S informed us yesterday they won’t now be taking up their option on retail space at Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps.
As commercial discussions remain ongoing with them, I can’t add much to my original response statement in the media, but I do want to reassure people.
Was it disappointing news? Yes, of course it was.
But in context it is also not a major shock and we should see this as more of a fork in the road rather than some dramatic reversal of Oldham’s forward direction.
We knew M&S had been experiencing problems driven by global economic and trade factors that are completely outside of our control.
They recently confirmed they are shutting 30 UK clothing and homeware shops and will convert dozens more into food stores as part of a business restructuring. Against a backdrop of falling sales and profits the Oldham decision was, no doubt, one of many tough ones that they are still yet to take.
M&S also made it clear to us, however, that they aren’t necessarily closing the door on coming to Oldham – it just won’t be at the Prince’s Gate site.
We are continuing to have discussions with them about that and hopefully work towards a positive outcome. It’s not the end of that road: it just means we may take a different path.
I want to be clear when I say that what remains unaltered and undiminished are our ambitions for the town.
We’ve seen only recently through the opening of the Old Town Hall what it is possible to achieve in Oldham, so we must reflect on this, regroup and then push forward again and deliver with the same determination as before.
Despite the M&S decision it’s clear that Oldham town centre’s fortunes are actually on the up. We’re already seeing increased footfall, trade, new investment and visitors here and I’ve been inspired by many recent chats with partners and residents.
We remain in positive discussions with several partners to capitalise further on that success – and we do also have some good news to announce on another front next week. Watch this space…
Now onto other choppy waters – the flooding that hit several parts of the borough this week…
It was heartbreaking to see those people and businesses who suffered damage and loss on Tuesday night and, as I write, our highways team are still working as fast as they can to help get things back to normal.
Some people have questioned whether more frequent clearing of our drains would have prevented the damage. But this was caused by extreme rainfall. Oldham was not the only place affected and we weren’t caught napping.
Weather experts say we had more than a month’s rainfall in one night and we also saw local rivers, like the River Tame, rising to unprecedented levels.
All drains across the borough are cleared on a cyclical rota and – as an example – the gulleys on Station Road, which was badly flooded at one point, were cleaned on September 27.
Road gulleys are there for surface water only and each year we clean more than 44,000 on a rota basis.
We recently introduced new software which maps all our gullies and shows us what their condition and status is. That means we can identify those that may need more – or less – cleaning than the current schedule suggests.
We also use a high pressure-jet machine to clear blockages. There is a high demand on this machine so we prioritise sites that may cause flooding of properties and areas with high footfall or busy traffic.
Road flooding is usually caused by rainwater from the surrounding area flowing downhill to a low point on the road and overwhelming the drains. The problem is normally due to the volume of water rather than a blockage.
Heavy rain also washes debris like soil and stones into drains which means that some which were initially clear can quickly get clogged and struggle to drain water away.
You can find more information about gullies and flooding in the latest edition of Borough Life and if you need to report a blocked gulley, please email email@example.com or call 0161 770 4325.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to everyone that played a part in the response work on Monday night/Tuesday.
When the deluge of rain hit the area our staff came in at short notice to work overnight through atrocious conditions alongside brilliant partners like the GM Fire and Rescue Service and local police, and some fantastic local residents.
At the worst of times like this you can often see the very best in our communities: people mucking in selflessly together and helping out alongside official and emergency services.
That’s a spirit that is clearly still afloat in Oldham – and one that makes me very proud.