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

Budget Day looming large… 

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277IT’S AN important few weeks for Oldham Council – and all local authorities nationwide.

We’re now in the final stages of agreeing how to balance the books for the next financial year here and we must bridge a £24.8million funding gap.

This has been our toughest budget process to date because we’re way beyond looking for easy cuts – they’ve all long gone – and are literally now being squeezed down to the pips.

Like all council leaders I’ll have a keen eye on the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, when delivers his latest budget to Parliament next Wednesday (November 22).

This will, he has stated, set out the Government’s thinking “on how to keep the economy strong and resilient and fair – an economy that works for everyone.”

They’re fine words, but will that be what he deliver in practice? I’m very clear about what I want for Oldham Council…

As I said in my Annual Statement at Full Council last week, the landscape for Oldham remains a challenging one.

As a place, we are facing unprecedented uncertainties as a result of several complex inter-playing factors including Brexit, the future of local government funding, Welfare Reform, Business Rates, Adults and Childrens’ Social Care funding, and many more.

We’ve now spent several years since 2010 under a regime of so-called economic ‘austerity’; a phrase I dislike to hear because it is a benign term for a regime that is actually having savage consequences for so many people across our communities.

It became the dominant fiscal ideology in Westminster after the Greek financial crisis and weaponised the dangers of ‘deficits’ and ‘debts’ to attack the welfare state and justify punitive measures like increased cuts in benefits.

Government seems to have ditched concerns about things like unemployment and the viability of public services, including the NHS and has focussed instead on an obsession with massive spending cuts.

This must now come to an end. It has not delivered. It was not necessary at the time and what our economy needs now is the prioritisation of investment, stimulus and inclusive growth.

What we need from the Chancellor – and the Local Government Finance Settlement that follows in December – is a dose of reality and a clear plan.

If he is really serious about Government delivering “for everyone” then he cannot ignore the obvious fact that local government must be fairly and adequately funded and given the powers to help to deliver those outcomes.

Depressed elderly woman sitting at the table

I’m going to be particularly interested in what Mr Hammond says about social care.

The Local Government Association recently calculated than an extra  £1.3 billion is needed from the Treasury just to plug funding gaps in this area of local government funding over the next financial year.

And here’s a frightening thought. By 2020 almost 60p in every £1 people pay in Council Tax may have to be spent caring for children and adults. With a population in which people are living longer than ever before, there’s a very clear challenge to both sustainability and the dignity we give our most vulnerable residents.

Social care isn’t the only area of concern either. What measures will the Government bring forward to tackle the housing crisis or address how we help young people to achieve their ambitions without saddling themselves with huge debt?

There is also the massive unresolved question of how local government is to be financed in future.

By 2020 this sector will have lost 75 pence out of every £1 it got from the Revenue Support Grant in 2015 and almost half of all councils will no longer get any of this core central government funding by 2019/20.

The Government previously said it was committed to letting local authorities keep all of their business rates income by 2020, yet even that is now in doubt after the Local Government Finance Bill failed to re-appear in the Queen’s Speech after the General Election.

There’s now a real fear and lack of clarity about our future funding and I know it’s something that keeps colleagues awake at night.

ABDULMBEAt Oldham Council finance is the portfolio of my Deputy Leader, Abdul Jabbar, and it is an unenviable task.

I was delighted to see him receive his MBE at Buckingham Palace this week because anyone handling that kind burden must be worthy of a medal!

Seriously though, Abdul has been a great ward member, community leader and Cabinet Member for around a quarter of a century – and he is a great ambassador for Oldham.

His persistent and patient approach has helped to steer our finances through some very choppy waters in recent years and we’re all delighted to see that recognised with this honour.

Finally this week, I want to pay tribute to all those Royal British Legion personnel, local volunteers and residents who helped to make Remembrance Sunday such a poignant occasion.

I attended the service in Oldham town centre. The weather conditions were perfect – if a tad chilly(!) – and it was heartening to be part of such a huge crowd stretching across Parliament Square and down High Street all paying their respects to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Thank you all.

Jean

Remembrance in Oldham | We will honour them

FCOUNCIL2I’M PREPARING to deliver my Annual Report to Full Council as I write this week’s blog.

One of the themes running through my speech tonight is about supporting and developing thriving communities across our borough. So, what does that mean?

Essentially, it’s about Oldham being a place where being a part of society – and societal action – really means something.

We want people and communities to be coming together to share local agendas, tackle problems, and make the most out of their opportunities and assets as a place.

We also want them to have civic pride about where they live – and one part of that is having great free family events, which is something I believe we do well in Oldham.

The Big Bang Bonfire last week, as an example, was attended by a record crowd and – six years after we brought it back and changed its focus and venue – it’s been a huge success.

Despite our ongoing budget challenge we’ve added further free events to the annual calendar this year including OldhamLIVE, Illuminate and this year’s YourOldham festival.

These complement the range of other great family occasions already on offer.

Our Christmas shopping events began with last week’s Reindeer Parade (now in its 20th year) and there’s also the likes of the live@thelibrary and Bookmark Festivals, which have all been attended by big numbers in 2017.

Oldham War MemorialBut one thing I am particularly proud of that we do well in Oldham – working alongside a range of partners, including the local branches of the Royal British Legion – is our annual Remembrance Sunday events and related activities.

This Sunday at 11am thousands of people will fall silent at district services across the borough to remember the fallen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, peace and security. You can find all the details of these local events here.

Residents, uniformed services and representatives of all organisations are invited and encouraged to attend these events and I’d also ask people to again support the RBL’s annual campaign and wear a poppy with pride.

We are now into the third year of commemorative events to mark the centenary years of World War I (1914-18) and there has been a huge effort undertaken to mark this locally. This has been led on our side by Councillor Cath Ball, who is our Deputy Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Cooperatives with special responsibility for WWI and Remembrance, and has done an enormous amount of work behind the scenes on this.

The Oldham Council website has an on-line roll honour here which contains many names of borough residents who have lost their lives serving their country from WWI onwards.

WalteRMillsThere is also going to be a very special event taking place on Monday, December 11 at Oldham Parish Church at 11am.

The borough will be honouring Victoria Cross recipient Walter Mills (PICTURED RIGHT) with a service to mark 100 years since his death at Red Dragon Crater, near Givenchy in France.

The 23-year-old – one of three Oldham recipients of the highest military honour awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” – was on duty when a strong gas attack saw the trenches overwhelmed.

Despite being badly gassed, he stayed at his post and fought the attackers single-handedly, throwing grenades until reinforcements arrived

Whilst being carried away from the scene he sadly died from gas poisoning on 11 December 1917, but it was solely thanks to his efforts that the enemy was defeated and the line remained intact. He was awarded the VC posthumously.

It is stories like these that really bring alive the incredible human costs and heroicism shown in the service of our country.

That’s why it’s so vital that we continue to archive and preserve memories like this so that future generations can learn about them.

oldhamremebersThe Oldham Remembers website – which was created as part of the WWI centenary commemorations – is there to achieve just that.

This is being regularly updated with the stories of soldiers who fought in conflicts, plus images from our past. Please pay it a visit at www.oldhamremembers.org.uk

It may seem a long way off, but in 22 years we will be commemorating the start of the Second World War. The problem is that there will be literally nobody around left to tell their own tales by then, which is why we want to gather them now.

If you have information, stories or tales you wish to submit to this community effort then please contact us via email at oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk

Lest we forget.

Jean