Business as usual as Masterplan marches on

ballot-box-3THIS WILL be my final blog before the Local Elections that will be taking place on Thursday, May 3.

During this pre-election period – known in Local Government circles as Purdah – strict publicity rules mean you’ll hear less formally from me now until all the votes are counted up.

My role as Oldham Council Leader continues during that time and the usual packed schedule of meetings and decisions does not stop.

Sadly this week, we’ve lost another colleague following the passing of my fellow Hollinwood ward councillor, Brian Ames, last weekend.

Incredibly, Brian’s time at Oldham Council stretches right back to its inception as a local authority in 1974 which is a proud and lengthy record of public service.

My sincerest condolences go to his wife, Teresa, and all of Brian’s family and friends at this time.

Ames_B___1_If you knew Brian, you can pay your tributes in special Books of Condolence at Failsworth Town Hall and Oldham Civic Centre (Rochdale Road reception) during normal working hours – or do it online here.

As I say, it’s business as usual behind the scenes until May 3 and during that time we’ll continue to forge ahead on discussions around the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

I’ll be chairing Cabinet next Monday evening when we consider a report seeking approval to formally launch our search for a development partner on that scheme in summer. This is to secure a partner to work alongside us on the transformation of the town over a 10-15 year period.

This issue has been my clear priority in the past year and I want to reiterate again just why it is so important.

We’ve made some great strides in recent times in Oldham – like the development of the Old Town Hall, Parliament Square, and progress on a new Heritage and Arts Centre, and Coliseum Theatre.

But what we’re talking about with this Masterplan is way bigger than that. This is an actual strategic vision designed to build on the great assets this borough already has and make sure it prospers in the future.

We cannot stand still as a place and – in spite of funding cuts from Central Government – I am determined we will not.

This Masterplan sets out a clear roadmap for what we want Oldham to be in the next 10 to 15 years, and how we will achieve that.

This isn’t some think-tank’s dreamy vision of the future, it’s rooted in all our aspirations. It is about leadership of the place and that’s we really need now.

Successful town centres in 2018 aren’t what they were 15 years ago: an almost random stack of shops anchored by the likes of Woolworths, British Home Stores and HMV. That has all changed. Society has changed. Habits have changed – and our needs have changed.

Just think of recent headlines from retailers and eateries everywhere like Toys R Us, New Look, Maplin, Prezzo, Jamie Oliver and Chimichanga.

Retail has a future in town centres, for certain, but it’s no longer the ‘be all and end all’ of the full mix that a place needs to be thriving.

Town_Centre_Master_Plan_HP_Rotator_RESIZETown centres like ours are crying out for a new approach that stops them being left behind and the Masterplan is all about tackling this: delivering regeneration, renewal and a clear purpose. This is about Oldham being a place thriving round the clock and – crucially – isn’t totally dependent on the unlikely prospect of retail of shopping habits remaining stable.

This is about Oldham offering an experience as a destination with, for example, a better Tommyfield Market environment and offer rooted in the 21st Century. And this is about Oldham being a place where more people choose to live and work – and therefore help that economy to thrive every day and night.

Without this Masterplan we’d simply be managing decline and dealing reactively with the terrible future fallout from all that. We cannot let that happen.

Some people still talk about the possibilities of building ‘new towns’ like Milton Keynes for future growth, but I believe the way to go is to reinvigorate our existing ones first. They have identity and they can be fixed.

JeanStrettonWith this Masterplan we can change Oldham’s story and its destiny, that’s what I am committed to do here.

See you in May!

Jean

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