Oldham LIVE and kicking

CLINTOLIVEEVEN the worst kind of weather couldn’t stop the first-ever Oldham LIVE event being a big success.

Heavy showers on Saturday morning and afternoon were an untimely frustration but Oldhamers are – as we know – a hardy lot.

Families and young children took to their deck chairs undeterred to brave the elements and enjoy a pirate-themed show led by CBeebies’ Gemma Hunt sprinkled with magic, puppetry and plenty of laughs.

By the time the live music began at 6pm the skies had finally cleared and it was great to see Parliament Square, its restaurants and outdoor spaces, all filling up with brisk and happy trade.

The live music was, as expected, excellent – and there was something for all tastes and ages.

There were great Oldham welcomes home to Kelly Llorenna and Clint Boon, who clearly enjoyed themselves. Stooshe bounced onto stage and put great ‘girl power’ into the line-up while Nathan Moore (pictured below) is such a natural entertainer that he’d have probably have stayed on-stage for hours if we’d let him.

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By the time The Farm brought the event to a close around 10pm, Parliament Square was rocking in delight and it was a fantastic sight.

This is exactly what this new public space was designed to be: somewhere people can enjoy something to eat or drink and the kind of high-quality entertainment you might not normally expect in Oldham. And it was all free.

Now that we’ve tested our detailed event safety and management plan for this new venue, the hard work has been done.

We’re confident Parliament Square is an ideal setting for this kind of event and – as I promised the crowds on Saturday night – Oldham LIVE will certainly be back next year.

What was best about it all, for me, was just seeing so many smiling faces with volunteers, spectators and strangers dancing together, and all in a family friendly atmosphere that lasted the whole day.

I spoke afterwards with Paul, the manager at Molino’s, to check the impact on town centre businesses, and he seemed delighted.

Many customers appeared to be first-time visitors to the Old Town Hall and were more than pleasantly surprised by what they found, so there should be some positive repeat business for town centre premises to come.

But this is not the end of the transformation of Oldham – it’s just the start – and you can play a part in making it even better.

CONSULTPOSTER

This week we’re launching a public consultation exercise on our masterplan proposals for the town centre of the future.

If you get time on Friday or Saturday this week I would urge you to visit the Egyptian Room at the Old Town Hall, next door to Nando’s. This is a glorious setting that the public have been unable to visit for several years and we’re now opening it up, in all its refurbished glory, to let you see it and have your say on our future plans at the same time.

This town centre masterplan is the biggest forward planning exercise we’ve ever had for Oldham and it’s vitally important.

It looks at how we can create a town centre that works better and is aspirational for everyone – for residents of all generations, public sector partners and businesses/traders of all sizes. Its purpose is to provide new homes, 55,000 square metres of new and refurbished office, leisure and retail space – set to bring economic activity worth an additional £50 million each year to the Oldham economy.

We have our budget challenges, as you know, but I’m determined that we will not make the mistake of standing still.

This is a great opportunity for us all to decide the kind of place we want Oldham to be – and then get a clear plan in place to achieve it. The opening times for this event are:

Friday, September 15 – 10am to 5pm

Saturday, September 16 – 10am to 3pm

Anyone can attend, admire the Egyptian Room, view the proposals, submit comments and speak to officers and members.

We’ve all got a stake in Oldham town centre so please do #yourbit and drop in to help us to get these plans right. If you can’t make it, we’ll also be holding a series of consultation ‘drop in’ sessions across every district before the end of 2017, with details to be announced soon.

After all that music this week, I’ll be turning my attention to all things dancing in next week’s blog. No, seriously.

Bet that’s got you intrigued…

Jean

Changing boundaries

pollingA STORM began rumbling yesterday – and I don’t mean the extreme weather that arrived in the evening.

I’m talking about the long-awaited publication of Boundary Commission proposals to redraw the Parliamentary map and cut the House of Commons from 650 MPs to 600.

The North West loses seven constituencies – the highest number in any region – and only 14 of the current 75 seats are unchanged.

So – how will it affect you?

As you know, Oldham currently has three constituencies – Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and part of Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner’s seat which includes wards in Failsworth and Hollinwood).

The new proposals would mean:

  • Most of the current Oldham West and Royton constituency would become a new Oldham seat containing Royton South, Chadderton Central, Chadderton North, Chadderton South, Coldhurst, St Mary’s, St James, and Waterhead – plus the addition of Moston.
  • Oldham East and Saddleworth would be replaced by a new Littleborough and Saddleworth constituency. This would be made up of Royton North, Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth North, Saddleworth South, along with five Rochdale borough wards.
  • Of the remaining wards in our borough it is proposed that Werneth, Hollinwood, and Medlock Vale should join a new Failsworth and Droylsden constituency alongside Failsworth East, Failsworth West, Alexandra and Saddleworth West and Lees – plus the current Tameside wards of Audenshaw, Droylsden East and Droylsden West.
  • The Ashton-under-Lyne seat would no longer contain any Oldham borough wards.

We are told that this is all about ensuring “an equal say for each voter” by having more equal-sized constituencies – and cutting costs by £12 million – but what is the real price of these proposals?

Surely the make-up and footprint of all seats has to make geographical sense and context to the people living within them?

Many of the wards and constituencies affected have long-standing identities and associations and there’s plenty in these initial proposals to raise eyebrows…

Is it right, for example, to cut the historic district of Royton in half and move the North ward into a Littleborough and Saddleworth seat alongside Rochdale wards?

Under what rationale does Moston, currently in Manchester Central, fit into the proposed new Oldham seat?

And what reasoning lies behind splitting Saddleworth and Lees away from the rest of Saddleworth – and then planting it in Failsworth and Droylsden?

Obviously I have my own personal views on the proposals and I will be discussing these with councillors across all parties in the coming weeks.

I am more inclined to support proposals that would allow Oldham to be a borough that has two constituency MPs, has none of our wards in another constituency and no wards from outside of the borough in either of our constituencies. That’s common sense.

partner-resource-poster-212x300There are other issues too…

The Boundary Commission set a ‘quota’ size which aims for each constituency to represent around 74,769 voters, but that figure is based on the electoral register as it stood on December 1, 2015.

Since then we know that a further two million people have also registered to vote – many signed up to take part in the Brexit referendum – and they simply haven’t been taken into account in these calculations and proposals.

That’s just a smattering of the issues at stake here and a public consultation on the plans is now under way.

Although final proposals will not be made until 2018 you have just 12 weeks to put your views forward.

If agreed by Parliament the new boundaries would be in place by the 2020 general election.

I would urge everyone reading this to take the time to look at the proposals and have your say on them. Visit here to find out how.

Two more vital points this week…

Firstly, I can reveal that we will be announcing the opening date for the Old Town Hall next Monday – and I will comment further on that next time.

And last but not least, I must pay tribute to another remarkable athlete, and a former Oldham resident, Sascha Kindred OBE.

The 38-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, has been a household name in Paralympics for the past two decades and is one-half of a ‘golden couple’ with his wife and celebrated fellow swimmer Nyree Lewis.

Although he now lives in Herefordshire, Sascha is an ex-Kaskenmoor School pupil who moved here from Germany as a young boy.

On Monday he marked the last-ever appearance of his Paralympic career by setting a new world record time to win his seventh gold medal since his first games in 1996.

Sacha’s positive attitude and determination also shines in his work as a motivational speaker and this is a fitting final chapter of what has been a truly glittering career.

Jean

The balancing act: Budgets, services and aspirations

Old Town Hall, Oldham, September 7, 2016
LABOUR OF LOVE: Around 200 contractors are on-site at the Old Town Hall daily putting finishing touches to the flagship development 

I’M PREPARING to deliver my first ever Annual Report to Full Council as I write – and it’s been a very busy few days.

Firstly, I know many of you are hoping for an update on the opening of the Old Town Hall, so here’s where we stand right now…

I chaired a meeting with the regeneration team here at the Civic Centre last week where we discussed this matter at length and I’m continuing to personally monitor progress on the development.

You can’t see them from outside, but there are currently more than 200 contractors working daily inside the Old Town Hall right now – drilling, preserving, painting and finishing off what has been a mammoth task and a labour of love for many craftspeople.

But the issue here isn’t just about progress on the old Grade II-listed building itself, it’s also about us being confident that the improvements we’re making to the surrounding environment and highways, and especially the new public space at Parliament Square, will also be ready.

It’s important that we have a date that will enable the maximum number of spectators to enjoy the public opening events and get in and out of the area safely and quickly: so please just bear with me just a little while longer for that announcement.

On Friday, I caught the early train down to London to take my place on the Local Government Association’s City Regions Board for the first time.

That might not mean much to you, but it’s crucially important that as key partners in Greater Manchester devolution we are at the centre on this issue, ensuring we get the best deal for our region, and for Oldham.

jeannic
GOLDEN GIRL: Nicola White

That appointment meant I couldn’t be at Oldham Leisure Centre for the homecoming event for Nicola White, our Olympic Gold medallist, but I’m happy to report that I made it back in time to meet and talk to Nicola at a celebration at the Oldham Event Centre later that night.

This evening it will be my absolute pleasure to introduce an agenda item which (subject to approval!) will see her nominated for the title of ‘Freewoman of the Borough’.

Nicola is our first Gold medal winner since Henry Taylor in 1908. Her achievement is historic and it’s only right we mark that by bestowing upon her the highest honour that we can as a council.

When I deliver my Annual Report at that same meeting tonight (more about that in next week’s blog) I’ll be setting out the progress we’ve made in the past year and what our clear priorities are for the borough looking ahead.

This is an administration that is ambitious for Oldham – for its people, for its businesses and for the local economy – but that continues to be hampered by reductions in Government funding and these amount to a further £20 million next year.

Getting that balance right between delivering good services, defending vulnerable residents and giving people the new opportunities and facilities they deserve is an incredibly hard challenge.

That’s why we launched our budget consultation yesterday on a series of proposals to help us balance those priorities – and the books.

This will be the eighth consecutive year when we’ve been hit by a significant fall in our funding and we don’t have a monopoly on the answers or bright ideas.

We’re facing some incredibly tough decisions, so we need your input and views more than ever before.

Much of the proposed budget reductions could come from changing internal processes and how we deliver services and share resources in ever-closer partnership with other equally hard-pressed public bodies. Examples of that are our work with the NHS and Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group on social care, health and children’s services – and with neighbouring councils on some back office functions.

Inevitably, however, after eight years of cuts it is increasingly difficult to absorb these without directly having some impact on residents.

The more contentious ones include proposals to close the Link Centre on Union Street, reduce top-up funding to Parish Councils, introducing a charge to cover the cost of producing residents’ parking permits and more rigorously enforcing fines to drivers who ignore bus lane restrictions.

I don’t believe any member of Oldham Council, regardless of their politics, sought office to take decisions like these, but we simply have no choice and must balance the budget.

Please take a few minutes to tell us what you think about these proposals – and give us your own ideas – at the online consultation at www.oldham.gov.uk/budget

budget
Your feedback about possible alternative savings, or steps we could take to mitigate the impact of these proposals, would be particularly welcome.

It’s a harsh fact that when this latest budget process is complete we’ll have lost £212m from budget savings requirements and the Government’s funding reductions since 2009.

That is a huge hit to our income and resources. And it is not a burden which is being shared proportionately across the country.

That’s why – as I will explain in my Annual Report this evening – it’s more vital than ever that Oldham Council continues to provide the civic leadership and direction needed to make this a better borough by working with you to get results.

If you don’t want to wait until next week’s blog to see my Annual Report, you can watch it live on our website here from 6.05pm tonight (Wednesday, September 7).

A video replay will also be posted online separately by the end of the week and I will post that link on here when it is available.

Jean