Heritage: When to save it – and when you have to let go… 

Hartford Mill 01

OUR HERITAGE is our inheritance as a place and it encompasses many different things.

It can be the physical: like historic buildings, objects, artefacts and documents. It can also be the natural environment: our landscapes, native wildlife and plants. And it can be the intangible: things like our traditions, folklore, music and skills.

We are blessed with some amazing assets and heritage in Oldham.

No doorstep in our borough is more than two miles away from glorious open countryside and we can offer the benefits of town and rural life in one location.

Our pride in our heritage buildings, people and history has also been the foundation of our regeneration.

This is exemplified in the Old Town Hall project which restored an iconic Grade-II listed building at the heart of the town centre with a modern use. In relaunching it we also used heritage symbols and tales – like the owls in Parliament Square and the ‘Oldham Giant’ puppet – to showcase our pride in who we are.

CreditIanBeesley1That’s also why we’ve worked hard to rescue the amazing haul of documents, newspaper clippings and images that were the archives of the Oldham Evening Chronicle.

This week we were able to confirm that they have been saved and I want to thank KPMG, the administrators, for letting us assess the quality of this trove and then transferring it to public ownership.

These archives will be fully accessible to the public when the new Heritage and Arts Centre opens in late 2019/early 2020.

That new facility – which also sees the restoration of the Grade II former library building on Union Street – will tell Oldham’s story from our era as cotton spinning capital of the world to the present day.

P1290127The Chronicle archives will then be alongside the borough’s extensive collection of objects, works of art, heritage and archive information as we open up them all up to public access in an unprecedented way.

That particular heritage tale had a happy ending but it isn’t always straightforward.

Sometimes you must be realistic about when to save something – and when to let it go. One example of the latter is Hartford Mill.

Last week I was concerned to learn that Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service had to rescue two teenage girls who got stuck on the roof.

Sadly this isn’t an isolated incident and we’ve been asking serious questions for considerable time about the wisdom of this structure remaining in place.

I genuinely understand the beauty and historic value that many people see in heritage buildings, but this one is a total blight on the Freehold and Chadderton area.

It’s a danger to the public, a magnet for vandalism and anti-social behaviour, and is an awful sight as you travel along the Metrolink line. Would you really want to look out of the window of your family home at that every day?

The mill is privately owned and it’s clear that the security and safety of the site is costly and challenging.

In 2004 Oldham Council had secured an option to buy the mill but when the government pulled the plug on Housing Market Renewal (HMR) we could no longer proceed. The owner has since looked at conversion options and in 2015 we agreed to grant an option to transfer council-owned land adjoining the mill to him so he could offer a larger parcel of land that might be more attractive to developers.

Little has happened since then, sadly. Renovating Hartford Mill would cost huge sums of money and who will spend that on a property with no apparent practical use? The situation has become an impasse – and a huge frustration to local residents – and it has to end.

Freehold Metro 02

That’s why Oldham Council is now about to submit an application to demolish the listed building. Because of its status this is unlikely to be an easy or straightforward process, but it’s clearly the best solution for the community.

I understand the strong emotions cases like this can arouse but the prospects of ever turning Hartford Mill into housing, offices or public amenities are extremely remote.

The private sector has brought forward no such proposals in two decades. Now it is time to think about the future – and to let it go.

Jean

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