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,


History building futures: Why our Old Town Hall matters

SAVED: Many pieces of furniture from the Old Town Hall have been stored safely for future use
INSPECTION: Many pieces of Old Town Hall furniture have been stored safely off-site for renovation and future use.

THE LAST time I was inside the Old Town Hall it was a grim experience.

The last tenants were pigeons who had left their mark throughout the building and the damp and rot had eaten through the once grand features.

I had taken the opportunity to view the building some years earlier – before I became Council Leader.

It was then that I felt the council had failed as the civic custodian and we simply had to put it right.

I can be a romantic about heritage at times, I admit, but this feeling was deeper than mere sentimentality.

When the Old Town Hall, particularly the Firth Street extension, was built in 1890 we were the Kings of Cotton.

We ruled the world in that realm to the extent that we even had our own stock exchange here setting the price of cotton, reflecting our place as the most productive cotton spinning town in the world.

As we entered the building on my first-ever visit the health and safety briefing was, I thought, a pretty standard ‘tick box’ affair: nothing too serious, just going through the usual motions.

But within seconds of entering, the sights were truly shocking.

A deep sense of sadness drew down as we began our walk through the building and it never left me.

When I made my second visit back into the Old Town Hall, I was now leader. This time I was the council – no one else to blame or push for an answer.

No lights were on. The electricity had been disconnected some time ago and so we relied on the thin slices of light highlighted by the dust we were disturbing and, of course, our trusty torches to light the way.

The building stank of a mixture of damp and pigeon mess. The floors had now become covered in a white chalky substance and as we walked our feet were often caught unaware on the bumpy surface.

The old ballroom at the front of the building was secured with a thick steel door. We were approaching the ‘safe room’.

Many of the features throughout the interior had been removed following a spate of thefts years before. What remained had been taken into the ballroom and locked away to save them from thieves. Unfortunately it didn’t save them from decay.

Beneath dust sheets there were stacks of chairs, tables, fireplaces and light fittings from various parts of the building. Some had been damaged during removal and others just showed inevitable signs of age. It’s hard to imagine what damage can be caused when a building has been left for more than two decades without ventilation or heating. The roof was acting merely as a colander in places, bringing down the ceilings and fittings as the water passed through.

Throughout the building various details and odd features would catch my eye: the old family crests, the decorative mouldings and tiled flooring all giving sad hints to its former grandeur.

The layout is complex, the corridors in the place are like rabbit warrens and I can still smell ‘that’ smell as I write this.

The Council Chamber was as unnerving as it was dangerous. The floor had given way in a large section showing the room below and the wallpaper still gave a fleeting sense of its historic past.

The courtrooms were by far the most impressive and, perhaps with the exception of Oldham Parish Church, have some of the most wonderful details in the borough. Courtroom A, along with its crests and hand-painted frescos, showed a softer side to the bulky building and large-scale fixtures elsewhere.

The old police cells told a more modern social story as the graffiti from their former occupants – perhaps even someone reading this now – was made as they passed the time before being presented to the magistrate.

I won’t repeat some of their more colourful thoughts, but I did think to how we now view hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt as an important recording of a point in time.

Quite what someone would make of “Dave ‘ov Oldham” and his views of the police of the day would be interesting if nothing else.

The stunning Egyptian Room (notice that seamless link?) with its floor to ceiling tiles and its double-height vaults was once home to the Treasurers department, where the good folk of Oldham had come to pay the rates not that long ago.

Fast-forwarding to the present day, I had requested that all the fixtures and furniture from the safe room should be relocated during building works and I was keen to see them once again.

Last week I went to the secure offsite storage facility to view what had been saved.

With the benefit of light and a safe calm place to view I realised just how much we had managed to safeguard and we’re now looking to renovate some pieces and rehouse them for us all to enjoy in the future.

Why does any of this matter?

Well to some people it won’t matter one bit. Some will complain about the Old Town Hall as a symbol of civic decline but be equally outraged by our attempts to bring it back to life. Personally, I think it matters a great deal.

I consider the council’s role to be that of a custodian: not simply the owner of buildings like this. Our occupation or control isn’t anywhere near as important as our responsibility to take care of it for the next generation.

Let’s not kid ourselves that someone will come along and save the day for us. The responsibility to sort this is ours alone.

Having missed out on a number of commercial developers and cruelly being turned down for a Heritage Lottery Bid we simply cannot wait any longer.

Today we have a plan and it’s coming together. At long last we will transform the Old Town Hall into a cinema with the restaurants you and I want to see in Oldham. We are determined that we will create something special here, something to be proud of and that will make a statement about where Oldham is going.

Like many old buildings the scale, complex layout and design of the Old Town Hall act as a barrier to its future survival.

Without conviction and – let’s be honest –bloody-minded determination it would continue to fall to ruin until there would be no other option left than to send in the bulldozers and flatten it. Then we would lose something which once made us great:  we would lose a big part of what makes us Oldham.

KICK-OFF: Signing the the Get Oldham Working Construction Charter and breaking the ground at the new Oldham Sports Centre with Anthony Dillon, Willmott Dixon’s Northern Managing Director.
KICK-OFF: Signing the Get Oldham Working Construction Charter and breaking the ground at the new Oldham Sports Centre with Anthony Dillon, Willmott Dixon’s Northern Managing Director.

I want Oldham to be confident in our future, but we can only do that if we also build on our past.

You will be starting to see more modern signs of other regeneration projects now with the new Oldham Leisure Centre development breaking ground this week, for example.

This is just the latest physical indication of investment plans coming together and it will be a facility that will be the envy of other towns.

There is no doubt we have many challenges here as a borough – but the opportunities are also very exciting.

Thanks for listening,


It’s show time!

JUST THE TICKET: Council Leader, Jim McMahon, celebrating the Odeon deal on the steps of the Old Town Hall with Shoab Akhtar, Cabinet Member for Business and Town Centres.

JUST THE TICKET: Council Leader, Jim McMahon, celebrating the Odeon deal on the steps of the Old Town Hall with Shoab Akhtar, Cabinet Member for Business and Town Centres.

WHEN THE new Oldham cinema opens its doors in 2015 it will have been a decade that our borough has been ‘without reel’.

We’re now making great progress to address the lack of local flicks which, of course, started when the Roxy at Hollinwood showed its last film in August 2005.

Our latest boost in that mission was confirmation this week that Oldham Council and ODEON have now agreed an exciting deal to run the new facility t the Old Town Hall development.

Our vision to create a vibrant town centre has leisure and entertainment attractions at its heart and this project will blow the dust off a neglected but wonderful building and open it up again to a whole new generation.

We’ve been in discussions with Europe’s largest cinema operator for several months about these plans.

The Old Town Hall will be a landmark development that restores the Grade-II listed building as a ‘civic jewel’ – reusing and extending it to become a new family entertainment complex with an 805-seater cinema with seven screens, plus six restaurants and a branded café franchise.

In any regeneration scheme I’m always conscious about the need to preserve and respect our heritage assets and that’s why these plans are designed to sympathetically conserve as much of the existing building as possible.

The work will also bring the venue into the 21st century with a modern glazed ‘light box’ extension, and provide a new public square adjacent to it in Clegg Street which will feature restaurants and can play host to arts and cultural events.

The case for the cinema and redevelopment of the Old Town Hall is compelling. More than 91 per cent of 426 residents who attended an open day event voted to support this new use for the building.

The development will be funded through a mix of council-sponsored funds including borrowing repaid by tenants like Odeon and restaurants plus, of course, income from increased Business Rates.

The total price of the scheme will also be reduced by Government tax incentives designed to encourage historic buildings like this being brought back into use.

In September 2013 an independent Economic Impact Assessment reported that the scheme is expected to generate around £57m of GVA – ‘Gross Value Added’ – to the local economy over the first ten years. It will also create an estimated 238 jobs, which is why it is such a significant regeneration project by anyone’s measure.

FUTURE: The latest artists impression of how the Old Town Hall will look from Clegg Street.

ODEON is the largest cinema operator in the UK and is synonymous with great film experiences. From day one we were absolutely determined to get them on-board and bring them back to the borough. Their commitment to us is a huge vote of external confidence in our aspirations for the town centre.

Central to those plans is a recognition that a thriving town centre isn’t just about retail any more – it’s about a mix. It’s about providing other complementary uses that make it a place that people will want to spend time in.

That means we need to combine a wide range of high street retailers with varied markets, thriving independent businesses and a leisure offer – plus a range of cultural venues, attractions and events, new open public spaces and a more attractive environment.

By using the Old Town Hall’s historic building as its ‘shell’ we have a fantastic opportunity here to deliver a cinema that is in a unique venue and has a backdrop that will put it in a different class from the usual out-of-town retail parks.   Signing up the cinema operator is a very important step in this project and now we can’t wait to get started on working with ODEON.

If you’ve been in the town centre recently you’ll probably already have noticed that the building itself is now about 80 per cent covered in scaffolding.

What you can’t see behind it are our contractors, Morgan Sindall, who are carrying out enabling works to allow a ‘drying out’ process to take place before restoration work begins.

The next steps will then see stonework, cleaning and repairs, the demolition of certain areas, roof replacement and internal support foundations.

During Spring a specially-designed hoarding featuring photographs of local people and their memories of the Old Town Hall will also be put in place.

The Old Town Hall has been a sad sight in recent years: a jewel that only said the wrong things about Oldham’s ambition as a place and for its people.

But as you can see we’re now well on the way with delivering this exciting project and I want to place on record my thanks to Oldham Council officers for working round the clock on the ODEON deal.

We all understand the importance of this. It’s not just about building a new cinema, it’s also about the confidence of our borough and the growing belief in the future we are defining for ourselves.

Thanks for listening,


Summer is here…

SUMMER IS HERE: This blog will be taking a short break for the Council recess period – and will return on Wednesday, September 5.

AS WE HEAD into Oldham Council’s summer recess this seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the past year.

I believe we have moved forward with plans on several fronts in that time.

From the outset it was our intention to modernise the Council and important steps have been taken to make it more relevant to local people.

Internal changes made to our constitution, for example, are now enabling the public to grill Cabinet Members – and watch it live on the Internet. More outward changes have also been made in supporting our Councillors to be better local leaders with greater devolution of power and influence.

In March we won the prestigious ‘Most Improved Council’ accolade at the Local Government Chronicle awards and we were also later shortlisted for the MJ’s ‘Best Achieving Council’ award.

Whilst I’m not one to chase ‘gongs’, I do think both make a statement about the direction we are taking this Council in.

More importantly to me there is evidence – anecdotal and from face-to-face discussions on doorsteps – that our reputation is steadily improving with at least some residents: although we know much remains to be done to regain trust and build confidence.

Despite the backdrop of the recession we also embarked on an ambitious journey to create jobs, attract inward investment and show Oldham has still got what it takes to be great and proud.

The confirmation that Monopumps is relocating to the former BAE Systems site at Chadderton was a huge achievement and a very positive start, but we still need to do much more to make up for the 2,000 local jobs lost in the last two years alone. No stone is being left unturned in this respect.

Our plans to create a new complex at the Old Town Hall – and address the lack of a cinema and family entertainment venue – have now been submitted and will go before the Planning Committee in September.

Agreements have also been reached with partners that could see up to £25 million invested in Royton Town Centre, and to realise the delivery of Hotel Future – the country’s first national hospitality training academy.

We’re also working at a rate of knots to ensure Oldham town centre improves as a shopping venue and we are – touch wood – within weeks of making a major announcement about a new anchor tenant.

We now have 90 per cent occupancy at Tommyfield Indoor Market and are putting plans in place for a bold new approach to offer two hours of free parking, every day of the year. More on that soon.

Whilst it is often never easy to make progress in these financial circumstances, we are doing our bit and getting some very tangible results. 

As we look forward I know we must ensure that roadworks associated with the next phase of Metrolink are handled in a more co-ordinated way. We can see the difficulties that local businesses are facing – and we are determined to work with them and do all we can to help.

A reflection on the past year wouldn’t be complete, of course, without mention of the tragic recent events in Shaw.

All that can be said about this scenario probably already has been, but I do think it is important to reflect on the positives – on the strength of a community which rallied around when it needed it to most. That brings some small comfort in what was a truly devastating scenario which saw Jamie Heaton, an innocent child, lose his life.

Whatever the cause of this incident, and we should not speculate on that at this stage, my only hope is that justice will be done which adequately reflects the scale of what occurred.

Looking forward overall, I’m confident our Borough can hold its own even in the choppy waters that surround us.

Like every other town and Local Authority we have our challenges, of course, and there will be more to face down. Will it be easy? No, far from it, but failure is not an option.

We have a fantastic place with enterprising and selfless people here. And I am clear in my mind that the Council’s role is to provide energetic leadership and a genuine commitment to work alongside you to take our Borough forward.

My blog will now be taking a short break for the Council recess period, but it will return on Wednesday, September 5.

Finally, if you have also holidays planned in the weeks ahead – or are just hoping to take in the sunshine at home – enjoy them and take care.

Thanks for listening,


New vision for Old Town Hall

NEW VISION: Council Leader Jim McMahon examining plans for the Old Town Hall in the Egyptian Room with Alan Davies, BDP architect, at the public consultation event.
NEW VISION: Council Leader Jim McMahon examining plans for the Old Town Hall in the Egyptian Room with Alan Davies, BDP architect, at the public consultation event.

YESTERDAY was a special day as we reopened the doors of the Old Town Hall to the public for the first time since its closure in 1995.

No one can disagree that the Old Town Hall has become a symbol of civic neglect and I can understand the frustration that so many people have with the lack of progress on this building.

Since gaining control of Oldham Council in 2011 we have set about the challenge of dealing with a number of ‘historical sores’ in the Borough – those longstanding issues which rightly or wrongly consistently wind people up.

Having a building which has the potential to be a civic jewel like this carries a huge responsibility.

Whatever is to become of it in the future we must act now to find a viable modern day use – and not an indefinite drain on the Council Taxpayer.

These proposals seek to create a family entertainment facility that would include a cinema and a host of restaurants.

They have the potential not just to save an old building from an increasingly uncertain future but also to give Oldham a cinema – the lack of which has been a running sore for many years since the closure of the Hollinwood Roxy.

For several days in the run-up to this consultation event I heard from many different people who said they were pleased to see that progress is being made.

For many who attended the consultation event this was also a great opportunity to see the Egyptian Room which – for a whole generation – has been off limits to the public.

We must now fine tune these plans to take into account the wishes of local people and to ensure that this facility has the best possible chance of success.

What I have seen shining throughout all of this process is that despite the often vocal minority of naysayers, Oldhamers are passionate about our Borough and want to see it succeed.

Onto other matters now as this week is, of course, the Diamond Jubilee weekend – with two extra Bank Holidays to enjoy (and hopefully some more sunshine).

A wide range of community events have been organised across the Borough, so if you want to find out about any taking place in your area then take a moment to visit the information we have gathered together on the Oldham Council website at :

Finally, last week saw some emotional scenes as we held the Annual Council meeting.

This traditionally provides a chance to say farewell to retiring or defeated Ward Members, and in particular – of course – many loving tributes were paid to former Failsworth East Councillor Barbara Dawson, who recently passed away.

Barbara was a true community champion in every sense and a great friend to myself and my family.

For many of us here being a Councillor is a vocation.

But what often goes unnoticed is not just the sacrifice made by those in public office, but also those family members in the background who give such great support and also give up a large part of that person’s time to their community.

I have been fortunate so far in my political life in that I have not been subject to many personal attacks or insults but – after reading one such letter in the local press last week – it brought it home to me that, regardless of how hard you try,  sniping from the sidelines is simply a hobby and cynical entertainment for some.

What absolutely none of us can lose sight of is that for Oldham to succeed we must pull together.

And if you aren’t part of the solution, then perhaps you are part of the problem…

Thanks for listening,


Focus and delivery: Building a better future

EXPANSION: Paul Naylon, NOV Mono's Managing Director, shakes on the Greengate deal with Jim McMahon, Council Leader
EXPANSION: Paul Naylon, NOV Mono’s Managing Director, shakes on the Greengate deal with Jim McMahon, Council Leader

WITH THE start of the new Civic Year this week it is vitally important that Oldham Council’s focus and agenda are clear from the outset.

I make no apologies for reiterating that this means we need to send out the clearest possible message that Oldham is not just open for business, but also deadly serious and proactive about attracting inward investment.

Our focus in these times as a Co-operative Council is simple. It’s about doing our bit on regeneration, job creation and delivering real opportunities that improve people’s lives and help them into work.

That’s why I was delighted to be able to confirm today a deal that sees Nov Mono – an internationally recognised pump manufacturer – relocating here to Oldham.

The firm, currently based in Audenshaw, is taking the former BAE Systems site at Greengate, Chadderton, in a move that will see it expand and increase its manufacturing capacity with the potential for it to be home to more than 1,000 jobs.

That site has a proud history – not least as the production line of the Lancaster Bomber – and it was absolutely vital that it remained an industrial hub.

Oldham Council has worked proactively within the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) to pull together a package that ensures this could be done quickly.

This was crucial work not just for our Borough but also in terms of ensuring this firm and its jobs were not lost to the region.

This news also comes just days after Global Draw, one of the biggest global gaming machine operators, announced it is planning a major expansion at Broadway.

Deals like this are just the start, of course, but they are clear indications that businesses are starting to see Oldham as a place to invest.

Our new Cabinet line-up, approved by Annual Council on Wednesday, is another important step in this work.

Crucially it sees Councillor Shoab Akhtar becoming the new dedicated Cabinet Member for Business, Skills and the Town Centre. This is a new portfolio and he is the ideal person with the energy and commitment to make a vital contribution.

Shoab’s task is to not only ensure we capitalise on Metrolink but also to drive the business and employment agenda, work to promote the Borough’s markets, and oversee the vital offer we provide in terms of post-16 education.

As Council Leader I will continue to direct our national and city relationships and our overall regeneration strategy but having this new support will undoubtedly assist me in bolstering our focus on these clear priorities across all that we do.

We know from ongoing conversations with potential investors and business outside our Borough that they believe it is vital they can see our commitment to this agenda – and that they can deal quickly and directly with dedicated people to get results.

Finally – continuing on that regeneration theme – there is a hugely important event taking place next Tuesday (May 29) at which residents can go back into the Old Town Hall for the first time in almost two decades.

Back in March we appointed BDP to come up with a scheme to bring this building back into use. This is the first result of that work.

You can come along on the day at any time between 12.30pm and 7pm to view and comment on the new drawings and proposals that they have come up with.

This is a really fantastic opportunity for us to correct two things that people have rightly moaned about for years on doorsteps across the Borough – the desperate need for a cinema facility, and to transform the Old Town Hall back to a symbol of civic pride rather than neglect.

By using this historic Grade-II listed building for this purpose (plus restaurants) we have a great chance here to create something so much better than those out-of-town developments elsewhere that lack character.

The potential impact of delivering this for our town centre – making it a destination for families to visit and enjoy leisure time – is clear to everyone.

There is a lot at stake here in terms of our future. That’s why I would urge as many of you as possible to please take a few minutes next Tuesday to come along and give some serious feedback and momentum to these plans.

Thanks for listening,