Regeneration – It all adds up

REGENERATION: The investment, benefits and impact of the five major regeneration projects planned for Oldham Town Centre.
REGENERATION: The investment, benefits and impact of five major regeneration projects planned for Oldham Town Centre.

I WANT to use my penultimate blog before the local elections to talk about one of my driving passions – rebuilding Oldham.The new edition of Borough Life is dropping onto your doormats this week and inside you’ll find a double-page spread which looks at the changing face of Oldham.

This shows a mixture of just some of the various housing, schools, retail, business and transport regeneration projects which have either been completed or are well underway across the borough – and there simply wasn’t enough space to provide the full list.

As a public body we have a responsibility to justify all of our spending and be open and transparent about it.

It is clear that some schemes have really caught the imagination and attention of residents and I’m pleased that, like me, many can see just how important these will be to changing the fortunes and perceptions of our town.

Work is now well underway on several major projects like the cinema and restaurants at the Old Town Hall and the new Oldham Leisure Centre, and – from those days of early artists’ impressions – things are beginning to feel very real.

Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, you must at least admit that I am consistent in arguing that our borough deserves better than to be simply ‘managing decline’ – a route which too many would accept as the next chapter in our future.

I believe Oldham deserves better than to watch the threads of its rich cultural and economic heritage unravelling before our eyes. It deserves better than seeing once-great buildings falling into disrepair and the loss of things that not only once made us great but are also key to our confidence as a place.

I simply don’t accept that has to be our future at all.

I believe things can and will be better. BUT that will only happen with a combination of investment, a great deal of concerted effort and an acceptance that if Oldham wants to change for the best then we must collectively take responsibility for it.

We have an opportunity to work to transform Oldham together and leave a legacy of optimism and positive growth for generations to come.

The Old Town Hall is a prime example.

In recent decades this building had gone from being a symbol of civic prosperity and pride to one of decline.

So, what were our options?

Well, we could have simply demolished it, but I don’t have the stomach for that, and I don’t think residents do either.

We could have opted to ‘do nothing’ and let the building continue to rot, but you might be surprised to learn that costs serious money.

Whilst the building stands idle Oldham Council is footing a hefty bill: maintenance, empty building costs and other associated payments would mean a 25-year cost to the public purse of just over £16m. I’m not sure the public would consider that money well spent. 

I certainly don’t and, let’s be clear, there are absolutely no economic or social benefits to be had from this option. If anything, this plan would be in negative equity on both counts.

The third option was to be ambitious and use this historic venue as the foundation stone to rebuild Oldham. With this project we’re now addressing our lack of a cinema and establishing one in a unique setting that will put it in a different class from characterless out-of-town retail sites. Not only can that give Oldham a fantastic new entertainment facility in its own right, but it will also help to redefine the future of our town centre.

The total cost of this option is £36.7m, with £26.3m coming directly from Council resources.

So the actual cost difference between ‘doing nothing’ or placing this iconic civic emblem at the heart of our new vision for Oldham town centre comes to just over £10m.

Does this represent good value for money? Well, in working this out it’s important to also look at the economic and social impacts the project will have on the town.

Firstly, this scheme has already seen the creation of jobs, work experience opportunities and apprenticeships by the developers, Morgan Sindall. It is estimated that the Old Town Hall will generate 74 full time and 159 part time jobs within the development and elsewhere in the town centre.

It’s also estimated that it will generate a boost of £5.5 million per year to Oldham’s economy which, over 10 years, equates to in excess of £55 million of additional economic activity.

Secondly, the Old Town Hall will attract new investors. The clear message we’re sending out through investment in regeneration on this scale is that Oldham means business and is ambitious for its future. The announcement – at long last – that Marks & Spencer is finally coming to town is surely proof that confidence breeds confidence.

In addition, further investments like £1.4m into improvements for small businesses in Oldham’s Independent Quarter – plus Shaw and Lees District Centres and the A62 Failsworth corridor – ensure that existing businesses are also benefitting from our regeneration.

Finally, the development will give a significant boost to the number of visitors into our town centre: which will also increase the amount of money spent in our local economy.

It’s estimated that the cinema alone could attract approximately 214,000 visits every year and (based on evidence from the Northwest Day Visitor Survey) this could generate £2.4 million of expenditure elsewhere within Oldham town centre. Over 10 years that means in excess of £24 million of additional economic activity created.

With that kind of return on your investment then, the real question is not ‘Why are you doing this?’ – it’s actually, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’.

If you haven’t yet received your latest Borough Life and want to find out more about regeneration schemes and the economic benefits, you can download it from the Oldham Council website by clicking here.

MILESTONE: I was delighted to announced tthis week that get Oldham Working has already created 2,169 jobs, apprenticeships and trainee opportunities.
MILESTONE: I was delighted to announced tthis week that get Oldham Working has already created 2,169 jobs, apprenticeships and trainee opportunities.

Finally, I must end this week with a nod to the fantastic success of the Get Oldham Working campaign.

Regeneration isn’t just about bricks and mortar or landmark buildings, it’s also about people, skills, support and prospects.

This campaign, working alongside a range of partners across all sectors, has already now smashed its ambitious target to create 2,015 employment opportunities by the end of 2015.

It has seen the provision of 2,169 jobs, apprenticeship and trainee opportunities to local people since its launch in May, 2013, which breaks down into the creation of 1,184 jobs, 342 apprenticeships and 643 trainee and work experience opportunities.

And the work will continue. We are all committed to continuing this partnership – and with an increased focus on creating more jobs.

The Get Oldham Working campaign shows that by working co-operatively together we can make a real difference to reduce unemployment and support new business ventures.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps: Gamechanger

GAMECHANGER: Prince's Gate at Oldham Mumps is all about our aspirations for Oldham
GAMECHANGER: Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps is all about our aspirations for Oldham

THIS IS a big week for Oldham – and one that I believe will be a significant milestone in our future success.

In recent years you’ll have already become aware of several regeneration schemes that we’ve brought forward for Oldham Town Centre.

Work is already ongoing to transform the Old Town Hall into an ODEON cinema with restaurants and a high-quality new public space at Parliament Square.

Builders are also busy finishing the bespoke FCHO headquarters on Union Street and constructing our new sports centre.

Plans for a new Coliseum Theatre and Heritage Centre are entering their crucial second bidding phase and we’ll also be making important decisions soon on the next steps to deliver a hotel and a revitalised QE Hall.

But our approach is about so much more than just dealing with individual buildings and problems.

We’ve always had a wider vision and I hope that is now becoming clearer after we finally unveiled our plans for Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps this week.

I’ve been unashamedly calling this masterplan a “gamechanger” and I don’t say that lightly because it really is all about our aspirations for Oldham.

For too long we’ve been the only town of our size without a Marks & Spencer (M&S) store and the news that we’re so close to achieving it has been very well received by people across the borough.

Prince’s Gate is a significant scheme for Oldham Mumps. This is a part of town that we know has stalled in recent years but now has a unique chance to capitalise on our long-awaited Metrolink connection.

Not only will it deliver a big M&S in a 51,000 sq ft food and clothing store, it will see them acting as anchor tenants to attract more missing retailers into an additional 66,000 sq ft of retail space.

That will all be housed in a stunning glazed development with a natural wave form roof and around 200 underground car parking spaces on what is currently the Park and Ride site at Mumps.

The first development phase will see a replacement Park and Ride facility delivered over the road before construction work then gets underway to enable the new stores’ to open their doors in 2017.

But that retail element is just one part of the work we’ve now set out to transform this area into something offering a much wider range of exciting new benefits.

VISION: CGI view from above of the Prince's Gate at Oldham Mumps site.
VISION: CGI view from above of the Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps site.

Regeneration here will establish a quality town centre living offer as well as redeveloping redundant land.

Our vision is to deliver 800 quality homes – including apartments – with a significant number provided on the former Mumps station and heavy rail line, plus a total of around 700 car parking spaces around the site.

The fine former NatWest bank building will also be refurbished to include apartments, retail and leisure units.

And there will be another new retail/residential unit on the RSPCA/Roscoe Mill site hosting a major supermarket tenant – talks are ongoing – with 50 apartments above across three storeys.

Our plans for Oldham are focussed on two key things – the place and its people – and it’s more important than ever to invest in both now.

Prince’s Gate is without doubt the most important scheme we’ve been working on and will ultimately set us apart from other towns.

But this masterplan hasn’t been developed in isolation from other projects – we’ve been talking to M&S since 2011 – and it’s integral to a much wider vision of the town centre’s future.

It will totally complement our blossoming new Independent Quarter, for example – and that’s no accident.

In that area, between Yorkshire Street, Clegg Street and Union Street [East], you can already see some of the most inspiring green shoots epitomising the spirit of what we’re trying to achieve.

Independent and niche traders are putting their life savings on the line, helped by our £1 million investment and support package, to forge a brighter future.

We’re investing something back in people here who, in turn, are investing something of themselves in Oldham’s future and that fledgling Independent Quarter will act as a natural, buzzing link from Prince’s Gate up towards the new ODEON cinema and Parliament Square, and the adjacent shopping centre.

It’s vital that we get the balance and these linkages right, which is why we’re also working closely with Kennedy Wilson, the new owners of Spindles Town Square, about how to best align our plans so that their venues – the traditional retail core of Oldham – also go from strength to strength.

In addition to all that we’re continuing to work hard on improving the town centre experience for everyone. That includes not just our plans for a new public space at Parliament Square, but further enhancements to the public realm and street furniture, the addition of a childrens’ play area, measures to attract street performers, and the fabulous WOW Bed which won Britain in Bloom.

Overarching all this we’re also striving hard to ensure we’re creating new jobs and opportunities for our residents and bringing new money into town.

An independent economic analysis of the Prince’s Gate masterplan has projected it will create more than 700 new jobs and could generate up to £21 million per year to the local economy.

In the days of shrinking local authority budgets we know that taking such an active leadership role is one hell of a challenge, but it is also one we must not shirk.

UNVEILED: The biig moment this week as we unveiled our plans to the media.
UNVEILED: The big moment this week as we revealed our exciting plans to the media.

The Prince’s Gate masterplan will bring new private investment to Oldham – and it will in turn raise the new business rates and Council Tax income needed to deliver the facilities we know the public wants.

We could, of course, follow the example of many other councils right now and just navel gaze instead.

We could continually whinge about Government funding cuts and see our future role as being to simply empty your bins and deliver statutory services.

But I don’t believe that is what you want and I am certainly not the man to sit here and do that.

I’m not interested in a continual pathway of further decline for Oldham and simply drifting along as a satellite town to Manchester. What would be the point?

This borough deserves better and that’s why we are tackling this huge programme to try and improve people’s lives, facilities and prospects.

These are bold plans for Oldham that will need external partners and investors to get on board – many of whom we are already talking to.

But equally we will also need advocates like you to act as positive ambassadors for our future and help to spread the word.

To ‘do your bit’ I would ask you to please take the time to visit the Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps webpage by clicking this link.

Here you can watch a video blog from myself (don’t worry, it’s short!), and a stunning 3D animation of our plans. You can also read more about the scheme, including a list of Frequently Asked Questions.

Thanks for listening,

Jim