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

Happy New Year for 2018…

OB YB 2018

I’D LIKE to wish all our residents a Happy New Year.

The last 12 months have seen some genuine highlights and progress for Oldham.

A personal favourite was confirming all the funding is in place for our exciting plans for a new Arts and Heritage Centre and Coliseum Theatre. Work starts imminently on-site and – alongside Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library – this will give us a fantastic Cultural Quarter we can all be proud of and enjoy.

EXTERIORAnother highpoint was opening our Digital Enterprise Hub as home to Wayra UK – backed by an £8m investment fund to help tech sector companies grow here – and Hack Oldham.

We’ve also unveiled the stunning Maggie’s Oldham cancer care centre and welcomed many new faces to our Independent Quarter, including Stocco and Furniture by Lauren.

Oldham showed great resilience this year responding to all kinds of events from flooding to police incidents and wintry weather with brilliant partnership working across all sectors and communities. We will need more of the same in 2018.

Looking ahead my priority is continuing the job of making this a place where everyone has a fair chance to access new opportunities and improve their lives. Better living standards, wages and skills are key to becoming an inclusive economy where nobody is left behind.

Get Oldham Working (GOW) made fantastic strides in 2017 having now created around 7,000 work-related opportunities, including more than 4,500 jobs, which is partnership working at its very best.

Many new businesses have also opened or relocated here including the Audi showroom for Jardine Motors at Chadderton, which is a high-end brand committed to GOW and working with local colleges and supply chains.

And there’s plenty more to come in 2018.

JEANHOLLINWOODA DPD delivery depot at Greengate with 350 new jobs is on-track and work is also starting at Hollinwood Junction, a hugely important strategic site, on a development creating new employment, retail, leisure and homes with 760 jobs.

Once legal issues are finalised, I’ll soon be able to announce next steps at the Prince’s Gate development and we’ll also be announcing another tenant at the Old Town Hall.

Our young and growing population is one of our biggest strengths and we must do everything to help them shine.

That’s why we’re working closely with Government, local education leaders, voluntary organisations and employers as one of six new Opportunity Areas in the UK. This focusses on social mobility and means extra funding from early years up to lifelong learning which we are determined will make a difference.

We’re also progressing well towards targets from the Oldham Education and Skills Commission. Having pledged that every child must attend a school rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted by 2020 we now have 98 per cent of primary and 81 per cent of secondary pupils doing just that.

Much work remains to be done but alongside proactive schemes like the £4m Oldham Enterprise Fund, the Skills for Employment programme and our Career Advancement Service, we’re deadly serious about helping people of all ages to get on in life.

That’s not easy when we’re continuing to take harsh funding cuts – with almost £25m to save next year – and uncertainty about the future from Government, but we’re unwavering in our ambition for the borough.

tidyoldhamKey to all our futures is the amazing co-operative work we’re doing with partners and residents.

An 8 per cent increase in recycling rates this year is all down to you doing #your bit: and schemes like Warm Homes Oldham, #1Pieceofrubbish, Get Oldham Growing – plus our work to integrate health and social care into one system – all point the way to a brighter future.

But challenges persist and we know many people are still struggling with problems with Universal Credit and welfare sanctions. We are still lobbying at the highest level for change and our Welfare Rights team have this year helped hundreds of residents to claim an extra £2million they were rightly entitled to.

Thriving communities also need new and aspirational homes that offer a better range and choice for families, so we’re continuing to deliver these with building work underway or due to start at sites including Broadway Green, the Lancaster Club and the former Counthill site.

We’ve had many positive accolades for our Old Town Hall, Bloom and Grow, community energy schemes and other initiatives this year, but it is what residents think that matters most.

Town_Centre_Master_Plan_HP_Rotator_RESIZEThe defining moment in 2017 for me was launching the Town Centre Masterplan – our biggest-ever forward planning exercise.

I thank everyone who’s taken part in the consultation so far and would encourage everyone to do the same. We certainly don’t have a monopoly on bright ideas and only you know best what kind of place you want Oldham to be in the future.

We’re doing all this because we must ensure that we are a place with a plan – and one that residents fully understand.

I’m fiercely proud of our place and will continue pushing to give us an even stronger voice within Greater Manchester in 2018.

Oldham is not perfect, but it is changing – and for the better.

Happy New Year!

Jean

Oldham Town Centre Masterplan is gathering momentum

Town_Centre_Master_Plan_HP_Rotator_RESIZEINTEREST and confidence is spreading in our new Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

Our vision to make it a more vibrant place – including new homes, employment space, attractions and activity worth an extra £50 million each year to our economy – is about getting a clear strategic plan in place backed by residents, partners and business for our future.

That’s why it was important and heartening to speak at a breakfast event in Manchester last week where potential development partners, plus representatives from the public and private sectors, had all gathered to learn more about our ambitions and discuss the investment opportunities lying ahead in Oldham.

INSIDER2After opening the event I sat on one of two panel discussions with business and regeneration experts who unanimously agreed that Oldham’s Masterplan proposals are “investable”.

Local business stalwarts Dave Benstead, from Diodes, and Craig Dean, from Web Applications UK, spoke about skills issues and the work that is being done to address Science, technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) standards in our schools.

Dave also highlighted schemes like the Oldham Enterprise Fund, saying that the borough’s offer is amongst the best in the North West for businesses starting out – and that “Oldham is easy to sell and to get people to relocate to.”

Also discussed were the exciting things that are happening with the likes of Hack Oldham, Wayra UK and North Planet in creating a great digital offer for start-ups in Oldham.

It was fantastic to hear Craig Dean explaining how most of his staff initially commuted from Manchester but how many subsequently then moved to Oldham as it is now seen as “a place people want to be”.

Carolyn Wilkins, Chief Executive of Oldham Council, did a great Q&A session inbetween the panel discussions. She used this to explain our co-operative approach and how we’re working with partners to deliver the maximum mutual benefit for everyone and be ambitious for the place.

INSIDERShe also stressed to the 120-strong audience – who each took away hard copies of our new borough prospectus – that “We don’t want Oldham to look like every other town centre: we want something different” and stressed that we are keen to make progress on the Masterplan as quickly as possible.

On the second panel, Neal Biddle from Langtree, who are currently making great strides on the redevelopment plans for Hollinwood Junction, paid our borough perhaps its finest compliment of the day by saying that it is now a “cool” place to be.

These comments were backed by more positive vibes from Muse’s managing director, Matt Crompton, and Christian Gilham from Leach Rohdoes Walker, which you can read from Insider North West’s excellent report of the event here.

Developer interest in the Masterplan – and we will officially launch the search for a partner to progress these plans next year – was high on the day and there were some very positive conversations taking place at the networking event afterwards.

Early in 2018 we will be doing further consultation targeted more specifically at the local business audience, but there’s also still plenty of chances, if you’ve not already done so, to have your say as residents in shaping these plans.

We’ve already held 17 public consultation events all across the borough since September and there are still some more left before the festive season at Uppermill Library, The Civic Centre, Oldham Library and Lifelong Learning Centre, Greenfield and Lees libraries. You can find out dates and times here.

December is always the busiest time of the year for events and there’s a couple of great ones in the next few days which are both at the town centre gem that is Oldham Parish Church.

Firstly we have the annual Christmas Tree Festival which starts this Friday and runs until Sunday, December 17.

This features more than 60 individually decorated trees for you to browse, admire and get some inspiration from and – on weekdays from 12noon – you also get the bonus of being able to listen to the sounds of carols, and you can enjoy a brew at the café, which is open throughout the festival.

XMASTREENext Monday (December 11), the church is also hosting a very special event at 11am.

This is a Service of Dedication to honour Oldhamer Private Walter Mills VC where family members, long-lost relatives and visitors will join dignitaries and representatives from local community groups and schools at what is certain to be a very moving occasion.

A commemorative flagstone will then be unveiled in the church grounds before an exhibition about Private Mills and the Manchester 10th Battalion Regiment opens for the day in the Egyptian Room in Parliament Square from 12Noon onwards.

Everyone is, of course, invited to come along and pay your respects to this fallen hero.

Jean

Digital future shines bright for Oldham 

EXTERIORYOU MAY have read this week about an important new report outlining a masterplan for the future of Oldham town centre to 2035.

That will go before Cabinet next Monday (July 10) and – following that decision – I will blog about it next week.

What I will say now, however, is that the importance of having a plan for our future is more vital than ever and I saw that first-hand last week at the opening of Oldham’s new digital hub in what was the Wahoo bar on Yorkshire Street. 

This completes a dramatic transformation for a period building that had fallen into ruin and been empty for several years until the council bought it and refurbished it to attract new tenants.

FURNITUREBYLAURENJust a couple of weeks earlier ‘Furniture by Lauren’ also began trading next door at 46/48 Yorkshire Street in what was once known as the Kiss Bar.

Gavin and Lauren Howarth from Royton run this small family business. It specialises in made-to-measure sofas but also sells a full range of accessories and just one peek through the window – or at their website – shows you the kind of elegance and style on offer. They’re yet another welcome addition to our Independent Quarter, so please pay them a visit…  

The opening of the digital hub – at 38-44 Yorkshire Street – was an inspiring event.

The aim of this venture is to help local entrepreneurs launch and expand technology businesses. 

On the upper floor is Wayra UK’s Open Future North office, which is the northern branch of their national support network for technology firms, backed by the worldwide O2/Telefonica Group. 

IMG_9488Ground floor is the new home to Hack Oldham (see above), our community-led ‘makerspace’ that has grown from humble beginnings to offer a great range of workshops and events to upskill residents.  

They’re also offering desk and workshop space on a daily, half-day or monthly basis plus training rooms in what is a great creative environment for people to network seven days a week – much better than working alone at home(!). 

I’m particularly pleased that Wayra chose to come to Oldham.  

As an administration we’re clear that we are ambitious for everyone, so to attract their investment is fantastic.

But what was just as exciting was to see Wayra launching their new Fair By Design scheme: an investment fund that already has £8million to deploy, and is looking to raise up to £20million.

Its objectives are inspiring. It will support up to seven start-ups a year to tackle the ‘poverty premium’, and that’s something that is very important to me.

It’s hard enough being ‘left behind’ in 2017 and being among the one in five people that are living in poverty.

But what’s even worse – and surely unjustified – is the ‘poverty premium’: the situation where people are actually paying more for everyday goods and services like energy, borrowing, transport, insurance and food than others who can more easily afford them. 

The Fair By Design scheme complements our own drive for Inclusive Growth so that everyone gets the chance to share the benefits of economic prosperity.

This week, I was confirmed as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Lead on Fairness, Equality and Inclusion, so this is all very close to my heart.

To be tackling clear social injustice like this by supporting local tech companies to design solutions is something that can really put Oldham on the map.

WAYRA4The digital hub venture is also another important way in which we’re diversifying our offer to residents and businesses.

We have many talented individuals and our goal is to provide them with opportunities here, so that they don’t need to move elsewhere.

The Independent Quarter will be an ideal location for this. Once businesses grow out of the space provided by Wayra, they will get the chance to relocate nearby, ensuring they are still within easy distance and access to advice and that network of like-minded individuals.

Small to medium enterprises like these are vital to Oldham’s economy – remember that around 85 percent of Greater Manchester’s Gross Value Added (GVA), the total measure of the value of goods and services in the area, is generated by these companies.

Oldham’s offer to business has never been stronger. I’m confident that through Wayra and Hack Oldham we can truly become a digital force in Greater Manchester – and one for positive social change and mobility.

Jean

Giant strides forward for Oldham

illuminate1ILLUMINATE – the first-ever late night arts festival we’ve held in Oldham town centre – was a sparkling success.

Now that the Old Town Hall is back in business and revitalising the area, exciting new opportunities are opening up that enable us to offer completely different types of events for the public.

And Parliament Square – the new public space adjacent to it – is a perfect new location to host these events given its central location, street furniture, space and vistas.

It just gives us a whole new civic focal point where families can gather and be entertained.

illuminate3Illuminate was the first of our new regular events designed to capitalise on this and we were delighted by the public reaction.

Even though it was a four-hour long ‘drop in’ show, it was busy throughout the evening as hundreds of people braved the wintry showers. The Old Town Hall and its Lightbox made the perfect backdrop for the array of spectacular performances of drumming, lighting, choreography and dance.

A major highlight was the children’s lantern parade and there were some great street arts to see including the Spark! illuminated drummers, Global Grooves’ carnival arts version of The Tempest and The Bureau of Silly Ideas.

Gallery Oldham held an installation of ‘Shakespearian curiosities’ in its gardens, plus a visit from an illuminated vintage bus and a Stomp to the Light dance display from Oldham Theatre Workshop. It stayed open late and it was great to see so many people milling around it on an evening.

illuminate2It was also fantastic to see Oldham Parish Church playing a central part.

In recent times this Grade II* listed church – which dates back to 1830 in its current form – has felt somewhat ‘left out of things’ on the periphery of a quiet area, but not now.

For Illuminate it was beautifully lit up with spectacular 3D projections accompanied by a bells and pipes soundtrack from the church itself. Outside an installation of sound, water and mechanics by Oldham artist Mike Green added to the ambience, and I know many people kept going back up for another look.

Tours were also held in the crypt beneath the church and there was a real sense that this jewel has finally re-entered the town centre ‘scene’.

illuminate5In that crypt, of course, lies the Oldham Giant, whose five-metre puppet persona was a main attraction for the evening.

Earlier that day I had the great pleasure of meeting Tom Scholes-Fogg and his granddad, John, who had travelled from London and Slaithwaite respectively to see Illuminate.

Tom had contacted me via email after the Old Town Hall opening event last year when he was astonished to hear how his sixth great grandfather – Joseph Scholes – had been brought back to life in puppet form.

Known as a “gentle giant”, ‘Dody’ was said to have been around 6ft 7in tall and 37 stones when he died in 1814. Instantly recognisable for obvious reasons, he was probably the best-known Oldhamer of his time: especially given his work as a military recruiting sergeant and his time as governor of the Oldham weavers’ workhouse where he stood up for the rights of underfed local apprentices.

Tom showed me some of the research he has been doing into this story and shared some fascinating anecdotes.

There were thousands of people at Dody’s funeral – he’s been buried three times, which is another story in itself(!) – but it was only able to take place after the windows of his Henshaw Street home were removed once the funeral director realised he just couldn’t get his casket outside. Once on the streets it had to be carried by several groups of 12-strong coffin bearers who constantly rotated, such was the weight of the task at hand.

illuminate4The Scholes family are rightly proud that their ancestor’s story is finally getting a wider audience and it was a wonderful moment on Friday night when Tom and John met up with locally-based Debbie and Amelia Scholes – four generations of the family – to have a unique ‘selfie’ with the Oldham Giant puppet.

Tom continues to research this story further so, if you have any information or anecdotes passed down amongst your family about him, then please get in touch and let us know via an email to presspr@oldham.gov.uk with the subject ‘Oldham Giant’.

Finally, if you want to see ‘Dody’ and others there are now regular public openings of the Oldham Parish Church and the crypt on every second Saturday of the month from 9.30am to 1pm. Group/party visits can be made by prior arrangement with the church, and light refreshments are also available. I can highly recommend a visit.

Next week, I’ll be returning to more serious matters as I blog about our final Council Tax proposals for 2017-8 and the continued crisis in national underfunding for adult social care.

Jean

Independent Quarter: As one door closes…

tooth1
NEW TENANT: The Tooth Place is bringing the Old Mess House back to life

I WAS in the Independent Quarter last week to welcome our latest new tenants to the area.

The Tooth Place has just moved into the Old Mess House building on Yorkshire Street after this local business had got too big for their previous home on Rhodes Street.

I took a tour of the practice, managed by Dr Amjad Chaudhary, and could not fail to be impressed with what they have had done to the place.

There’s been extensive refurbishment internally and to the exterior of the building. It has all taken around 18 months and it has scrubbed up incredibly well.

The design and layout meant that finding a new tenant for this building would always be problematic but it works really well for their four new dental surgeries – and with another yet to come that will mean extra capacity for more local patients.

tooth2This is just another great sign of renewal in the area. We’ve removed the historic issues of anti-social behaviour at this premises dating back to the ‘Wild West’ days and revived it for a new use in a way that completely respects the heritage of the building.

It’s also another great example of the Co-operative ethos combining investment from Oldham Council to initially purchase the building with a local business prepared to take a personal stake in its future and invest their livelihood.

I also took the chance to call into Scoots, Suits and Boots to see Mick Harwood while on Yorkshire Street.

He was the first-ever recipient of an Independent Quarter grant and – along with his wife Jo – blazed a trail for others to follow.

Sadly, Mick recently took the decision to close his shop but he is going to continue trading online – at least for the time being – at www.scootssuitsandboots.com

We all wish him the very best with his new plans but he’s been such a hit in the area with shoppers and other traders that we simply didn’t want the partnership to end.

scoots-boots-07
AMBASSADOR: Mick Harwood of Scoots, Suits and Boots

Mick has been a great ambassador for everything we are trying to do in the IQ and popular with shoppers and traders alike.

His innovation has ranged from putting an eye-catching installation in his shop window, to organising vintage markets attracting people from as far afield as Wrexham on scooters, to launching his own record store….

That’s why I am pleased to report that he has accepted an invitation to become a voluntary mentor for future independent businesses opening in the town.

Mick is the certainly the right man for that job and we’re delighted to be able to keep his passion and knowledge on-board for others to benefit from in future.

Finally this week an update on the future of the Link Centre.

Budget-making is never easy. It’s something few of us enjoy in any walk of life and for local authorities like ours it has been an ever-increasing nightmare for the past eight years.

More than £200m has been taken from our funding since 2009 and an impact on public services is unavoidable.

I wish it were different but the harsh reality is that – other than statutory services which Government requires us to provide – practically nothing can be exempt from consideration as we try to find huge savings.

linkcentre
LINK CENTRE: The facility will remain open but with a new operating model

The Link Centre offers a large number of services, support groups and signposting facilities for residents with a disability, carers and others with additional needs, but it has also had low footfall for a period of time and it was right to consider the options.

When the option to close it first came onto the agenda we knew it would inevitably cause concern, and I’d like to thank everyone who took part in the public consultation on this.

It has now been decided that the centre will remain open, but with the caveat that it will have a different operating model to help find the necessary savings.

It was obvious from the consultation that there is still a need for the Link Centre in Oldham. You shared your views, concerns and suggestions and we listened to them.

The best way forward is for communities to take control of the services provided and for the centre to be run in a different way that makes it more financially viable. To that end we intend to allow a third sector organisation to run the building and let space.

What’s important is that it means our residents will still be able to access and develop the services that they want to see at the centre.

Jean