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!


New shoes, new faces – and familiar challenges  

pollingIT’S ALWAYS something of a relief to get back to ‘business as usual’ once the local elections are finished.

As council leader the election period is an incredibly busy one spent supporting established and new candidates on doorsteps the length and breadth of the borough – and buying a new pair of shoes is often one of your first considerations afterwards(!).

I was generally pleased with the results last Thursday as this administration – having lost one seat and gained another, through Stephen Hewitt (in Saddleworth West and Lees) – remains in the same situation it was in before the polls opened.

However, that is also tempered with deep disappointment that Arooj Shah was not re-elected in the St Mary’s seat that she has served with distinction for four years. I firmly believe, however, that what doesn’t kill you simply makes you stronger, and she will be certainly be back in local politics soon.  

Without being in any way complacent I am taking the overall result as a general backing for the priorities and policies that we have been working hard on for you and your families.

OTH2Much of the regeneration programme we promised since 2011  is now delivered, or firmly underway, and the opening of the Old Town Hall (right) later this year will be a symbolic moment and a real boost for our town centre, residents and visitor economy.

Aside from next month’s EU referendum, of course, things are now getting back to normal and I am enjoying the chance to refocus and get on with planning what comes next for Oldham.

As I have previously said there will be more focus in the months and years ahead on social regeneration. These are schemes designed to invest in and help to improve local people’s prospects and lives.

It’s an agenda that includes work with our partners to implement the findings of the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report, for example, plus schemes that can help residents to lead healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives – and deliver the homes and community facilities they need.

There are also emerging opportunities for us from devolution to Greater Manchester: in particular on health, skills and transport  where we could have much more say over the public services and investments which affect all our communities.

I will be setting out this agenda more fully in the coming months and I promise that the focus of our work will stay true to our long-standing ambitions and vision for this borough.

As I write I’m currently drawing together my final thoughts on a new Cabinet, which will be revealed later today.

I am fortunate in having a strong talent pool to draw from within the group and the line-up will go before Annual Council for approval next Wednesday (May 18).

As a Cabinet we’ll also be turning our attentions quickly to the huge task of how to find a projected £37 million in savings we need to find from reduced budgets over the next two years…What did I say about it being ‘business as usual’ at Oldham Council?