This week we made a big exciting step on our path to further regenerate our town centre and continue its transformation into a vibrant hub of leisure, culture and pride.
Along with the council’s other Cabinet members, I have voted in favour of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.
This is the biggest forward planning exercise we’ve ever had for Oldham town centre. It’s exciting and it’s all about creating the kind of place we want it to be in the future.
Many positive regeneration schemes are already improving our town centre – like the Old Town Hall, and plans for the Cultural Quarter with a new Coliseum Theatre, and the Independent Quarter – but we cannot make the mistake of standing still.
So I think I should start by telling you what this is all about.
In short, we want Oldham to be a vibrant place with high-quality attractions, an excellent cultural and shopping offer and a family friendly night time economy.
Ultimately, we want the town centre to be a place where more residents want to live and spend their leisure time.
To achieve this we need a plan, one that can help us turn Oldham into the place we all deserve.
We have a lot to offer in Oldham. We will be a big voice and a big attraction within Greater Manchester and this masterplan will help make us stand out as a destination of choice within the region and beyond.
With these plans we’ll show everyone just how great Oldham is and exactly what we have to offer.
We want to transform five sites in the town centre, 21 acres in total, by 2035.
The plans would deliver a new Tommyfield Market on the existing site with a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park adjacent. This aims to attract additional footfall, plus complementary new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces.
As well as a new market we want to deliver homes and town centre living, a new Civic Hub and plenty more space for other developments.
This would all bring in a projected additional £50 million a year to our economy.
There are only five local authorities to have lost a bigger percentage of their budget from the government over the last seven years than Oldham. We don’t get a fair deal from Westminster but this won’t prevent us from deciding our own future.
This masterplan is a very large scale redevelopment and we can’t fund all of this on our own.
We have a fantastic opportunity to attract partners from the private sector into a joint venture to deliver this scheme, or elements of it, and we’re confident this will be attractive to them.
We’ve already seen private retailers coming forward to invest their own money in our Prince’s Gate scheme. This is because Oldham is attractive, Oldham has potential and Oldham has great ambition.
We are now going to begin a 12-month consultation on our Town Centre Masterplan, listening to residents, partners, business and traders.
When consultation gets underway I would urge everyone to do your bit, get involved and give us your views and ideas.
We all have a stake in the future of Oldham’s town centre and this is a fantastic opportunity to transform its prospects over the next two decades.
I’m the Leader of Oldham Council but I don’t have the monopoly on the right ideas. I’ll be in touch to let you know how you can get involved. We need to hear what you think because you are at the forefront of everything we do.
People will ask questions and so they should. Because we’re a proud bunch in Oldham and we care about our future.
And there might be people who criticise these plans. I remember people doing this when we announced the Old Town Hall plans but just look at it now. We deliver.
It’s a very exciting time to be an Oldhamer and we’re just getting started.
LAST WEEK I visited the Old Town Hall development – and it was an absolutely fantastic experience.
I had been really looking forward to the visit so when I left home last Wednesday morning in belting-down rain I feared I would get a phone call asking me to postpone.
It’s not even been a full month since I’ve officially been Council Leader and this was something I’d been really looking forward to since Day One.
Fortunately we are hardy folk here in Oldham and – despite near-horizontal rain and a swirling wind – myself and the Chief Executive, Carolyn Wilkins, braved the elements to walk from the Civic Centre to the site to see the progress for ourselves. And it was worth it.
I know this project is hugely significant for Oldham and that’s why we have such high expectations of it. That building is symbolic to me and it must be for so many fellow residents.
A lot of us have memories invested in the place from when it was in public use but, even if you’re not old enough to remember those days, you’ve probably despaired at its sad state of decline.
Once on-site with our brollies exchanged for hard hats and high-visibility jackets – and after a quick briefing on health and safety – we approached the building from what used to be the Clegg Street car park.
You may have noticed that the first of the spectacular glass panels making up the new glass extension to the side have recently been installed.
These look impressive enough from the outside but once we’d gone through the main entrance and up a couple of those old flights of grand stairs we were then able to enjoy the vista that people will soon be able to gaze down upon from various levels of the seven-screen ODEON cinema and the new restaurants that the “glass box” will front.
The five ground floor restaurants and the one first floor restaurant will have external seating areas and brilliant views across Parliament Square, which will be our first public space in decades: a new place where families can enjoy leisure time in the kind of environment they have long deserved.
In the original ballroom David Dobson, the project manager, explained the floor had fallen through in places here and that the huge problems they had battled with rain pouring down the walls and dry rot had been typical throughout the building.
The old ballroom (pictured above) has now been rebuilt and refurbished effectively as a ‘soundproof box’ ready for the final fixtures and fittings that will make it one of the smaller and more intimate cinema screens. We were told that final works start from the ceiling downwards and – with that already complete – the light fittings, screen, seats and carpets will be next.
This was one of several rooms we visited which are all in various stages of development. Each had a different past use and quality or allure – and the restoration work could be seen all around us with various groups of craftsmen painstakingly restoring frames, tiles and other delicate features (see below).
When we finally got to the magnificent Egyptian Room I was offered the chance to climb two vertical ladders to view the latest restorations at roof level.
This is an extremely tall and splendid place and I have to admit at this point I gave in to my vertigo. Being able to see the huge drops beneath and between my feet was already unnerving enough! However, I will definitely want to revisit this room as it nears completion because it will be spectacular – the jewel in the crown.
Having declined the invitation to climb I looked around another of the ground floor areas that will become restaurant space and saw a young worker. I asked what he was doing.
I wanted to know what his job was, but he thought I was questioning whether he was working hard enough(!) and said he was “only taking five minutes”.
I quickly clarified and it turned out he was a labourer and clearly in one of his first-ever jobs. Having seen the progress on the development for myself it was great to listen to someone so early in their career talking about the project with such enthusiasm.
He told me he was fascinated by the work to restore the old features, which he had really come to appreciate, and that he would be bringing all his family and friends to visit the Old Town Hall as soon as it was open – such was his pride at having been personally involved. That conversation was one of the highlights of my visit.
Make no mistake, the Old Town Hall remains a magical venue.
There’s always great public eagerness to see the latest artists’ impressions of it but, as a politician, you always have a nagging inner fear that the reality might not match up to them. That will not be the case with this development.
We do have an opening date ‘pencilled in’ for later this year, but we won’t be going public with it until we are certain there are no unforeseen issues that might delay us on what remains an incredibly complex heritage scheme.
In a week dominated by the harsh realities of Council Tax and budget setting, this reminded me about the very best part of this job – being able to create new opportunities, improve the borough and help restore civic pride.
This project is crucial for the local economy in terms of the jobs and additional inward investment it will bring, plus enhancing our regional profile and attracting new visitors.
So much has already been said and written about the Old Town Hall that I don’t think anything I write here can possibly add any further to that growing sense of expectation.
But I do know that when those famous old doors are finally reopened this will be a place that people will want to visit again and again.
It’s been a good week for Oldham with the news that we’ve signed another major inward investment deal – bringing yet more jobs and money to the local economy.
Landmark deals like this one are usually the result of considerable time and effort by officers and this one is no exception.
Last year the Jardine Motors Group, a major Audi dealership, approached us about the availability of the old Westhulme Hospital site off Chadderton Way.
They had identified it as a perfect fit for their plans to build a 17-car showroom with a 24-bay service workshop and to create a hub that can support all of their existing businesses across the region.
The site was owned by the NHS Trust and we knew it was surplus to requirements so officers in our regeneration team set to work with them to see what could be done.
The upshot – subject to planning permission – would be a new Audi dealership that will represent an investment of around £8 million into the borough.
Not only does that mean another major brand has chosen to have a presence in Oldham, it’s also good news in so many other ways.
It will mean the creation of around 87 new skilled jobs and Jardine have also signed up to our Get Oldham Working campaign which means they’ve committed to working alongside our colleges and supply chains to create even more new local opportunities.
That makes this a ‘win win’ for everyone – and every extra bit of business rates income will, of course, also help the council in the face of our ongoing financial pressures.
That is timely as Monday saw the release of the final Local Government finance settlement, which is official confirmation of exactly what funding we will get from Government for the 2016/7 financial year.
Tomorrow night (Thursday) we will be taking the final proposed tranche of cuts for that year of around £16.1m to Cabinet.
Getting to this stage has meant making a series of tough decisions: the vast majority of which neither myself nor my colleagues would willingly want to make.
Part of the final proposals also mean that your Council Tax will increase next year.
Two per cent of that rise is because the Government – by its own admission – simply isn’t giving us enough to help tackle the spiralling costs in social care.
Their solution to this has been to conveniently give all councils a new option to put their Council Tax up by 2 per cent to fund that gap (it doesn’t do that at all, by the way).
I understand every Greater Manchester council – like the vast majority across the country – will be taking this option, but it is still a bitter pill.
Essentially the Government is passing the blame for this funding cut and problem down to us – and then leaving us to pass it on to your bottom line.
Since 2009 we’ve now had to find a total of £176 million in cuts from our budget and February has become a time of year that we all dread.
The decisions get harder each time and so, undeniably, does the impact on residents and your frontline services.
Our final proposals will go next to Full Council (Budget) on Wednesday, February 24, for approval.
The meeting will, as usual, be broadcast live on our website, but I can’t promise it will make for happy viewing(!).
I’D LIKE TO wish all our residents a ‘Happy New Year’ for the last time in my capacity as Oldham Council Leader.
Later this month I’ll be stepping down to focus on my new role as the MP for Oldham West and Royton, but this does not mean I am moving on.
Instead I see this as ‘stepping up’ to represent the borough in a different way – championing your interests at Westminster, where we need a strong voice now more than ever.
I’ve also agreed to take on a new ambassadorial role to continue giving leadership on the regeneration programme here which will be entering a very exciting period in 2016.
We’ve had plenty of milestones in the last year with the opening of new Leisure Centres in Oldham and Royton, the North Stand at Oldham Athletic, FCHO’s new headquarters on Union Street, plus the blossoming of new businesses and creative ventures in the Independent Quarter, and much more.
In the coming months you’ll continue to see even further progress on projects that are there to ensure Oldham – and above all, its people – can prosper.
The developments I just mentioned are important parts of our ‘invest to grow’ programme of physical regeneration, but none are more symbolic of our aspirations than the Old Town Hall.
This is our flagship scheme and the sense of anticipation is growing with every new steel strut, column and window.
When work to rejuvenate this venue is complete, when families are queuing to end a decade-long wait for cinema tickets, when doors open at its six new restaurants, and when the first cappuccinos are frothed for visitors to the adjacent Parliament Square, it will be a hugely-significant moment for Oldham.
This is a development to put the town centre back on the map: to reawaken this grand old building and its surrounds and restore it to its rightful place as a symbol of civic pride.
That will be a powerful moment in 2016, but I know it really only marks the end of the beginning of the longer journey that lies ahead.
Much remains to be done because we’re still facing a range of challenges to our future prosperity and wellbeing.
In 2015 at Oldham Council we finalised the process of finding £35m in cuts for our 2015/6 budget and then almost immediately set about finding a further £18m of savings for 2016/7. We know these cuts are having a real impact on residents and services – and our partners – despite our determination to continue delivering and supporting people.
The cuts – more than £200 million since 2010 – have been accompanied by rising demand for help from our most vulnerable residents and will be further compounded by new Government plans to remove central funding that will effectively leave towns like ours to ‘sink or swim’ on our own resources.
That’s why so much hard work has already being going on in key projects that aren’t about bricks and mortar, but about social regeneration.
When I say that I’m thinking of schemes like Get Oldham Working, which beat its original target to create 2,015 jobs, apprenticeship and traineeships with nine months to spare this year.
I’m also thinking about the introduction of the Living Wage for council staff, the new Fair Employment Charter, which is designed to tackle issues like ‘zero hour’ contracts, and our work to put social value – ensuring contractors support our local economy – at the heart of every pound we spend.
Another huge challenge is providing people with homes and good places to live. This year we began our licensing scheme for private landlords to stamp out the letting of poor quality accommodation, and continued to fight fuel poverty through projects like Warm Homes Oldham, from which around 2,000 homes have benefited.
Construction has also begun on new homes at sites across the borough and we’ve introduced a Green Dividend scheme to help fund tree planting and other projects to make neighbourhoods better places to live.
Crucially, the focus will turn to our future – young people and education – later this month when the Oldham Education and Skills Commission (OESC) delivers its landmark report.
We’re working hard to deliver better facilities like the new Hollinwood Academy, Saddleworth School and the new three form entry primary school currently under construction on the former Grange site, but education isn’t just about an inspiring learning environment: it’s about every child getting the best chance to fulfil their potential.
We know we can – and must – do better here because successful schools and training underpins all our ambitions to become a place where people want to live and work.
The new OESC report will clearly set out the challenge that lies ahead: how to ensure our young people are school ready, work ready and life ready and we all have a part to play in that.
Finally, I give you my word that as an MP I will be retaining as close an interest as ever in our progress on education and many other areas – including to ensure that we benefit fairly from devolution to Greater Manchester.
I’m determined to continue to help drive things forward in our borough and make sure that we continue to innovate and change so we can deliver for tomorrow’s generation.
Councillor Jim McMahon OBE
Leader of Oldham Council
MP for Oldham West and Royton
THE ELECTIONS have now finally passed and I suspect most people have now settled back into ‘normal life’.
As the dust settles we will all reflect on the campaign – nationally and locally – to understand the results and also to plan ahead for what it means to our country and, of course, to our borough.
I am fearful for what another five years of cuts might mean for Oldham and for the public services that we rely on.
But there will also undoubtedly be new opportunities for our borough too with full force devolution to Greater Manchester – in particular on health, skills and transport, with the prospect of us having much more say over the public services and investments which affect all our communities.
What we must be clear about is that while devolution is welcome it cannot be seen as a solution to deep cuts to council budgets.
With the added weight of more power and responsibilities here we must ensure that the foundations on which those opportunities are placed are strong and secure.
We must also make sure that although the pressures facing the council are significant, we do not lose our focus on regenerating Oldham, creating new jobs and providing better quality homes, schools and decent care for the elderly.
And as those candidates who were unsuccessful on May 7 are getting back to their normal lives, I can tell you that things have barely stopped since for those of us who elected.
Immediately following the elections all political groups must meet to appoint lead members for posts on the Cabinet and Committees, and then prepare for the Annual Council meeting which took place this afternoon.
That leads me to pay tribute and offer many thanks to our outgoing Mayor Fida Hussain and his wonderful wife of 25 years, Tanvir. Both came into their roles fully realising that for 12 months year they would be utterly giving themselves up to Oldham as they represented the borough.
After attending more than 500 community events, facing Fida’s fear of heights (!) and raising over £43,000 for charities including Dr Kershaws, Mahdlo, Christies and the Voluntary Action Oldham fund, they can be well satisfied with their efforts.
My very best wishes also go now to our new Mayor and Mayoress Ateeque Ur Rehman and Yasmin Toor.
Finally, as part of the business at Annual Council, we confirmed our commitment to meeting our firm election pledges which have now been incorporated into a new Corporate Plan for Oldham Council which you can now view or download from our website by clicking here.
OUR PASSION for Oldham and drive to improve the town has been a feature of the majority of my blogs.
I make no apologies for that because I think it’s important that we’re all focused on the job in hand.
Last year we launched 30 pledges for a fairer Oldham in a two-year manifesto.
Once the election was over with, the votes counted and the battered black ballot boxes all stacked up, we went straight on to delivering those promises.
The pledges we set out weren’t just about being re-elected. There are plenty of politicians who believe getting elected is an end in itself, but I am clear that this simply gives you the means to start improving your town.
A vision and ideas are meaningless, however, if you haven’t got a plan for delivering it, so I should start by offering my thanks to staff at Oldham Council and our partners.
Together we’ve brought together our shared ambition in the Oldham Plan and it’s meant that, even in very difficult financial times, we have made serious progress.
Very little, of course, could also be achieved without the support of YOU, the people of the borough: many of whom have agreed that simply managing our town’s decline isn’t the future we want for the next generation.
We’ve demanded better and I hope the following review gives confidence to all that, even when times feel hopeless, we can find hope. Even when we are scared of believing for fear of being let down, we can find the strength to believe. And even when there is so much to distract us we find the wisdom to keep focused on the job in hand.
Firstly, we wanted Oldham to be ‘Open for business’ so we set out to support firms to grow and create jobs. Here’s what we’ve done:
We wanted Oldham to be a ‘Regenerated borough’. Here’s what we’ve done:
Invested in new leisure centres in Oldham and Royton as well as upgrading facilities across the borough;
Got busy onsite to deliver your flagship ODEON cinema and restaurants in the Old Town Hall, which will soon be a destination to be proud of;
Brought forward key employment sites by working with development partners to secure new jobs, the most significant being at Foxdenton and Hollinwood Junction, both of which are essential for our long term economic success. And we’ve also worked to bring other sites and facilities back into use including the former BAE Systems factory on Greengate;
Invested in new primary and secondary school facilities including a special school for children with Autism at Hollinwood Academy. This has ranged from completely new buildings to catching up on important maintenance and upgrades so our young people have the best facilities we can afford;
And we’ve invested in redeveloping Royton Town Centre with the announcement of a new supermarket which will compliment work to Royton Town Hall and the precinct.
We also wanted Oldham to be a ‘Working Borough’ and so we…
Set out to create 2,015 job opportunities by the end of 2015 – and have already smashed that target. That work won’t stop until we not only get people into jobs, but also support them into better-paid and more secure employment. We’ve also helped 70 new businesses get up and running;
Supported the expansion of the Primary Engineer and Junior University schemes working in primary schools to inspire our young people;
Supported new Enterprise Hubs in every secondary school, encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs. Young people are benefiting from programmes organised by Young Enterprise, and through the involvement of businesses like Jaguar Land Rover, NatWest, Bank of New York and O2;
Are on target to deliver our Youth Guarantee for every school leaver by Autumn 2015, which means every young person will have an offer of further education, apprenticeships, a job or support to set up their own business.
And are on course to introduce the Oldham Scholarship to help young people go to University.
We want this borough to be a ‘Confident Community’ and set out to give Oldham a voice and tackle things which affect our communities by:
Leading the way on fairness with the Fair Employment Charter tackling low pay and zero hours contracts. Already 25 local employers have signed up and we’re gaining more all the time;
Giving housing priority to those who in work, volunteering or caring because you tell us it matters to support those who are contributing to make Oldham a better place;
Introducing the National Living Wage to all council workers by April 2015 and are working hard to make sure our contractors do the same;
Continuing to invest in Youth Council support and facilities to give our young people a voice in the future borough they will inherit;
On track to open a high street shop to take on expensive weekly payment stores, offering affordable and fair choice to local people;
And we’re on track to introduce a Green Dividend to fund new allotments and tree planting projects to communities who work together to create a better Oldham.
We want Oldham to have ‘Safe, Strong and Sustainable Communities’ so we have:
Invested in new Neighbourhood Patrol Vehicles with the Police and Fire services, so we’ll save money and you get to see enforcement taking place;
Worked to bring together Police and Fire service staff into your local District Town Hall to provide closer team working and better services to the public;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MY BLOG this week is the draft text version of my Annual Statement which I delivered – not word for word(!) – In the Council Chamber on September 10…
“My Annual Statement to Full Council is traditionally a time to reflect on the past year and look at our achievements and challenges.
But I want to use it as an opportunity this year to look at what is really important to residents – our basic services – to show where we have gone even further than just delivering those and to look forward at what lies ahead for the borough.
Oldham is a place that has been on an improvement journey for some time and is now ambitious and growing in confidence about where it is going.
I could simply opt to rattle off a stream of good news stories – and I wouldn’t be short of material.
I could point to the deal struck with Odeon to bring a new seven-screen cinema and restaurants to the Old Town Hall, something that is long overdue.
I could point to the 24 per cent fall in the number of 16-18-year old NEETs, the St Mary’s Housing scheme being named the Best Social and Affordable Homes project at the Building Excellence Awards, the record SATs results that saw our young people surge ahead of national averages in the basics of English and maths.
Or I could refer to the building work that is underway around the borough right now.
I could point to the impressive new Oldham College facilities rising out of the ground, the new FCHO headquarters on Union Street, work underway on the new Oldham Sports Centre, or the fantastic new stand taking shape at Oldham Athletic.
Or I could navel gaze and talk about the Peer Review which found that Oldham Council had undergone a “remarkable transformation” that has seen it become “an ambitious and effective council”, or that we were highly commended in the LGC’s ‘Best Council of the Year’ award for 2014.
But I’m not going to do that.
Instead I’m keeping it real for the people whose opinions really matter and the people who pay our wages – the residents. I want to talk about their priorities, because these are also our own. And I want to show what we are doing to get the basic stuff right and to deliver so much more.
Another year of tough decisions
It has been a challenging year again. Like everyone’s household budget the past year sits against the backdrop of tough financial choices and decisions.
Having already taken £141m out of our budget in the past five years we must now find a further £60m in savings in the next two financial years.
To put that in context it’s half our original budget. It’s devastating – but there’s just no point in me moaning about it.
As a Council and as a Borough we must meet those challenges. That is what every resident would expect us to do. We’re not going to let them down.
We’ve got our building blocks in order. Our financial arrangements are spot on. We filed our final accounts this year faster than any public sector body in the country, breaking a half-century old record, and doing it faster than 45 per cent of FTSE 100 companies.
And that is a vital foundation if we are to realise our ambitions on dwindling budgets.
We’ve said all along that we’re not interested in managing decline – we’re about finding solutions and we are firmly on with that job.
I know the budget challenge is difficult for people to understand. The numbers involved are so enormous that the figures almost seem meaningless, the funding issues are complex and – frankly – I know that even the most sympathetic of residents will still demand that we get the basics right.
In the past year our staff have worked incredibly hard on doing just that.
Officers and politicians alike know that local people depend on Oldham Council’s 700-plus services to help them on a daily basis.
The way these are delivered or funded is fast-changing in so many areas, but there’s also a consistently clear set of priorities that people hold dear.
Residents expect their bins to be emptied, their streets to be cleaned, the grass verges near their homes to be cut, their library to be open – and they expect high standards in those vital services to help and protect vulnerable people of all ages: work that accounts for more than half of what we spent last year.
Getting the basics right in this financial climate is tough – and it is only going to get harder – but we’re rising to that challenge by targeting and prioritising what residents tell us really matters.
Let’s hit the road by starting with highways. It’s residents’ Number One priority. It causes the most telephone calls, Tweets, letters, emails and doorstep exchanges. It always has.
Across the borough right now you cannot fail to have seen major improvement works either completed or underway on your roads.
You can’t fail to have noticed the Metrolink-related highways and footways works in Oldham town centre this year which are moving us ever closer to the high-standard destination we aspire it to become when our regeneration projects are delivered and the doors are open to the public.
But the highways improvements are also underway across every part of the borough.
We are undertaking a huge programme of works to tackle the important gateways and corridors, the busiest routes in the borough like the A62, the A627 and the A669.
Ripponden Road is currently undergoing works to bring it up to scratch right now, for example, as part of this massive targeted spend to sort our priority routes.
Not only will we lift them back up to a good standard but, for the first time ever, we’re also offering a 24-hour repair promise on those roads. A firm pledge to keep them fully repaired and refurbished, and in a good condition that we can all be proud of.
We’re not stopping there either.
For the next financial year, we’ve already planned in and approved major works on the A62 right up to the Pennines, serious repair works to unclassified roads, secondary corridors and minor works in Saddleworth, plus improvement to retaining structures in Greenfield and Denshaw – all worth around £800,000.
In the last year the Department for Transport has rewarded us with significant additional grants. Why is that?
It’s because the Dft recognises our commitment to getting the roads right. Our 24-hour priority route pledge, our rapid response to repair reports and our commitment to investing in value for money equipment means we continually punch significantly above our neighbours’ weight when bidding for Government funding.
Even with the budget challenges we’re much more proactive in managing highways maintenance work than before.
No longer is reactive repair the way we work – the guiding principle now is that prevention is better than cure.
The DfT like that approach – and it’s one we’re determined to stick to.
Often, of course, the media can be your biggest critics on services like this. Pick up the Daily Mail and every day there’s a headline about a council failing to fill in a pothole for years, or residents labelling their street ‘Britain’s Worst’.
But when ITV’s John Stapleton recently spent a day doing his old road repair job with Oldham Council, he got to see our commitment in action and deeds.
He saw how much the job has changed and the commitment of his workmates for the day, Geoff Munroe and Peter Smith, to the job – dedicated staff who’ve been with us for many years.
This potholing team isn’t just one that goes the extra mile – it scampers across the borough daily looking after more than 500 miles of roads.
It is back-breaking work that never stops. The team fills in around 15,000 potholes a year which – even with the state-of-the-art equipment we’ve invested in – is done at a pace which John Stapleton himself admitted left him “absolutely cream-crackered.” after just one afternoon.
In the last year, Geoff, Peter and their colleagues repaired around 27,000 square metres of highways and responded to around 130 rapid response incidents a month, using 14 tonnes of tarmac a day.
Highways is what most people mean when they talk about getting the basics right – and it’s why we’ve invested £14.5m in this year alone to help that team fix the roads.
But reduced budgets also mean less staff and having to find ways to become more effective. In the 1990s the highways team used to be around 140 staff. Now there are just 33 of them – but we’ve spent money on new machines to make repairs quicker and cheaper than ever – like the Jet Patcher and the Multihog – so that jobs that used to take 20 minutes, filling a pothole by hand, now take five minutes.
Ninety-five per cent of that highways team is from Oldham. Their managers have now served more than 107 years’ between them – 39,000 work days – and they live here. Believe me, they get more annoyed than anyone when they drive over a pothole and they live the values by reporting what they see to help us get it fixed. We hope more and more residents ‘do their bit’ and follow that example.
We also know, of course, that Oldham’s roads present greater difficulties than those in the majority of other local authorities.
As one of the highest places in England – and with two-thirds of our Borough being rural roads – we suffer potholes badly after winter weather.
But even when the snow inevitably falls the highways team doesn’t down tools and boil the kettles. It picks up shovels and jumps into gritters to get the borough moving again. It works with our fantastic First Response team and our dedicated adult social care services staff to ensure vulnerable people are not cut off and helps to keep them smiling, warm and safe. It gives their family and friends comfort that they will not be alone.
That’s why we continue to invest heavily in those basics too – making sure they have all the salt stock and equipment they will need to battle whatever the elements throw at us.
And aside from all the essential repair works, we’re also conscious that residents expect a basic standard of what the place should look like. Again, we get that and we’re on with that work. Only last week we approved another £200,000 from our airport dividend to repaint road markings all across the borough.
It would be wrong of me though just to focus on road repairs and emptying bins.
Our environmental services staff cleaned up around 100,000 miles of streets in the last year – removing just a mere(!) 4,000 tonnes of rubbish that blights people’s daily lives and communities. And they cleared 5,700 sites of all manner of waste.
It’s also easy to forget how they worked tirelessly after major events to return districts to normal as soon as possible. A major case being Saddleworth band Contest where they liaised closely with community groups prompting the Dobcross Whit Friday committee to write in saying the team “surpassed themselves (and) did a great job removing all the litter” and a Diggle resident to say “ we couldn’t have asked for more”.
I dread to imagine how many acres of grass verges and parks we are still cutting. We can’t continue to do them all – and we are open to talking to residents groups about this to share costs or find new uses for some of them – but again it is a basic service we know the public values.
But as a Co-operative Council it’s not just about getting it done – it’s about doing the job right.
A Limehurst resident recently contacted us to ask for her thanks to be passed onto “Paul” who was cutting grass near her home. “He did a thorough litter pick of the grass prior to mowing”, she writes. “It was raining hard so it would have been easy for him to stay put on his machine but he didn’t – all he wanted to do was a good job. Paul was very enthusiastic about his work – he seemed really dedicated in doing the best he could and presenting our area in the best possible light”. Well done to Paul.
Away from the maintenance side our basic services teams are also fantastically creative – they have done things this year that really made a difference in our communities.
We’ve been overwhelmed again, for example, by the positive reaction to this year’s Bloom and Grow campaign which routed from Oldham town centre out into the villages of Saddleworth and the district of Royton.
This project is a brilliant example of the Co-operative Council in action – working with local residents and community groups to create beautiful displays that lift the feel of our borough, that make people smile and encourage them to ‘love where you live’. The value of the civic pride we’re fostering can never be itemised on a financial spreadsheet, but we know exactly how important it is to confident communities.
Bloom and Grown isn’t just the Wow bed in the town centre, it’s the legacy it leaves – the ongoing projects on wildflower meadows in districts, the stunning use of planters across the borough, the little projects with elderly people in residential homes, and the by-products of other schemes like Get Oldham Growing.
Community projects and staff volunteering
And being Co-operative in everything we do this year while delivering those basic services has also been about schemes which staff undertake – often in a voluntary capacity – to help communities to help themselves, or to help others.
I think, for example, of Ian Meynell and Saddleworth colleagues who helped residents set up an environmental community group offering what they tell us was “extremely helpful and invaluable experience” – or the work recently featured on BBC One’s Countryfile by Greg Cookson and members of our Dovestone Rangers Group to nurture and conserve the area – or our All Age Disability team which recently hosted an overseas visit from severely visually impaired Japanese students at Castleshaw prompting one to later say of their trip that “We loved London, but we long for Oldham”.
And it’s also just as much about the small – but so vital – gestures as we deliver the basics for people. Like our street cleaner who found a lady’s bus pass in Shaw in July, put it in his pocket and posted it straight back to her that same day.
Services for vulnerable people
As I mentioned earlier, more than half of what we spent goes on services for adults and children’s services. Those basics don’t touch every resident’s lives directly – but when you do need them, their importance can become absolutely critical on a daily basis.
As budgets dwindle we are working incredibly hard to ensure that vulnerable people are protected and that where possible people continue to live independent lives in their own homes, and are looked after with the respect and dignity that they all deserve.
Again, this is a basic service – but again we have added value in the last year.
Working co-operatively with our partners has seen some major success stories that have changed people’s lives for the better.
Our Fuel Poverty Investment Agreement, for example, has lifted 1,000 local families out of fuel poverty. I think here of people like Alison Isaccs whose 12-year-old son Darryl is an asthma sufferer whose condition was made worse by cold conditions in their family home in Fitton Hill. A new boiler and solid wall insulation fitted through the Warm Homes Oldham scheme means his health should improve and there will be less pressure on the NHS. A great example of how different partners can do their bit, and everyone benefits.
I also think here of our work on dementia – that tragic health timebomb which is set to affect so many more hundreds and thousands of people in the years ahead.
Working with NHS Oldham CCG, Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust and Age UK Oldham we are now delivering an enhanced memory service for local people suffering the condition.
A £400,000 investment means memory clinics are now held in GP practices with mental health staff and GPs working together to assess their needs and develop a care plan that supports people with dementia, and their carers and families on an ongoing basis. An early beneficiary has been Pamela Bartlett, a 63-year-old Oldham resident who was frightened when diagnosed in February this year, but is now just one of many people being helped to come to terms and cope with the condition.
Opportunities and aspirations
As a Co-operative Council then, Oldham has worked hard to get your services right in the last year.
But where we differ from many other authorities is in our belief that creating opportunities and raising aspirations is also part of those basics.
And in the last year we’ve been doing that for businesses – from the back-room trader to the external investor – and for our young people.
We’ve worked hard to ensure that the Oldham of the future – with the Old Town Hall cinema, with a new Hotel, with a new Coliseum and Heritage Centre – is a place with that will attract more visitors, more jobs, and a thriving local economy.
But I know we can’t just hang our coat on a few regeneration projects and a tram and expect everything to work out. That’s lazy and it’s short-sighted.
Opportunity needs nurture across all levels of the economy and again we’ve innovated in the last year to tackle this.
For independent traders we’re offering a hand-up that has already seen about a dozen new and existing businesses benefit from our £1m investment to improve the town centre’s independent retail offer in a new Independent Quarter.
Firms like Scoots, Suits and Boots, Illumina Hair Salon and Kahmir Bakery are already part of that revolution – with news of more on the way imminently taking up building improvement grants and a whole range of support and advice to help them thrive.
And we’re now extending that out to the districts, to help the start up traders in the districts of Shaw and Lees do just the same because our aspirations as for all parts of the borough, not just a select few.
And what about our biggest asset – our people? The provision of education is a basic service – granted – but again we’re going further.
Unfulfilled talent is a tragedy. The long-term impact of a young person not in education, employment or training is a waste of potential, not to mention public money.
To prevent another lost generation we launched Get Oldham Working. This is going above and beyond what’s ever been done before – an unprecedented partnership between Oldham Council and partners across all sectors including local businesses and organisations of all sizes, JobCentre Plus, job clubs, work providers, schools, colleges and the voluntary sector.
We all share one target – to create 2,015 new employment opportunities by 2015, which we are well on course to meet with more than 1,100 already created.
We also commissioned Positive Steps to work with young people to target NEETs on a ward and school basis, working alongside them one-to-one to identify and address barriers holding them back and point them towards new opportunities.
We’ve many case studies showing this works. There’s Shanice, who dropped plans to enrol at a college despite good GCSEs but has since been helped to become a business administration apprentice. And there’s people like Muhammad, who threatened to quit school after his father’s death to be “the man of the house” but has now just started an engineering apprenticeship.
And then there’s the work we’ve been doing to deliver the fantastic Oldham Youth Guarantee. This will mean no young person here will leave school at 18 without the guarantee of a job, education, apprenticeship or support towards self-employment.
We want to show young people that Oldham is town which believes in them. We want to say to every young person – if you’re willing to roll your sleeves up and get on in life you will have the full support of your town behind you.
That’s a big ambition – unique in fact – and the first in the country.
And we’ve spent considerable time in the last year looking even further ahead now to how we can help future generations.
Setting up the new Oldham Education and Skills Commission this summer is so vital.
We’ve made progress in recent years in education but we can and must do better. The commission is there to raise standards and aspirations by looking at education from 0 to 19 years. It will identify underachievement and set out a shared vision and standard for young people. It will realign education with our economy and test whether it really supports people into meaningful employment or further education.
We must equip people with the right skills, experience and opportunities to prosper – and we’re very clear we don’t just want someone off the unemployment or neets register for the sake of it. We don’t want people simply taking casual, low-paid jobs. We want them to access good and fair employment.
That’s also why this year we’ve started signing up local companies and organisations to a new Fair Employment Charter which commits them to paying a living wage, fair contracts and stability of employment, access to training, support and development, and encourages staff to volunteer and give something back to the borough.
So – to conclude – we’re getting the basics right and we’re investing in them where more needs to be done . We’re fixing your roads, stocking your libraries with books, emptying your bins and looking after your grandma.
The Co-operative difference
But in the last year Oldham Council has gone beyond that basic service delivery with a vision.
In that time we’ve taken the next important step from sticky-back plaster approaches to problems to the strategic – to define exactly what we want Oldham to be and how we will get there.
We believe we are playing our part in defining a bright new future for local authorities. Less top-down governance. More local leadership. More genuine co-operation. More collective action. More empowerment and more enterprise.
This Co-operative Council doesn’t now just simply empty the bins, sweep the street in your neighborhood and disappear for a few days.
It works with your community groups to make your local environment better – and it encourages people to take care and pride in the place they live.
It looks after the vulnerable people in your street and works with partners to keep them warm and healthy.
It fixes that pothole outside your door at low cost and keeps your main road up to a better standard.
It sets up a selective licensing scheme to clamp down on rogue landlords and tackle anti-social behaviour in your area.
It works to give you a better Oldham town centre – one where children can enjoy a play area and you can do things together as a family again.
It works side by side with investors and businesses to understand their needs.
It helps to give your children the skills they will need to flourish and find work in a local climate where businesses feel confident to invest.
And it helps budding entrepreneurs – our next generation of Norman Stollers – to get into premises and start building the next big business idea.
All this and why? Simply because we know that people in Oldham deserve better.
Yes, the past year one was one of many challenges – but look at the difference this Co-operative Council is now really making.
‘Do your bit’
Finally I would urge everyone to think about how you can do your bit to help.
The £60m budget challenge means we have £2,232 less per household to spend on delivering services.
I promise that Oldham Council will continue innovating and going the extra mile on your basic services in the ways I’ve outlined tonight – and more.
I promise we’ll continue to work hard to save money, and to raise extra money from new homes and businesses that bring in additional Council Tax and business rates.
But my message is that we simply can’t do this alone.
Small changes that you can make as an individual resident in your daily lives can all add up to making a huge difference.
To help us make the most from every penny we ask that you recycle more and recycle right – that alone could save us up to £5m a year in landfill costs.
If nobody flytipped or littered we would save £1m a year – and if we recruited 25 more foster carers we could save £1m a year on residential placement costs for children.
An extra £1m could be saved annually if we help another 100 older people continue to live independent lives in their homes – and if everyone used online council services, where available, rather than calling or visiting, we could save another £1m.
And I would urge you to all to please support your local economy. Use your local shops and facilities to keep them viable and help them grow. That’s what our free car parking offer of up to three hours at weekends is there for.
Supporting your local businesses can have a huge impact – every £1 spent in Oldham delivers £4 of value to our economy – creating more jobs and growing businesses, and employing more people.
That is what a Co-operative borough is all about.
Residents, businesses and organisations all pulling together and doing their bit so we can all make Oldham a great borough to live, work and invest – and one that has a much brighter future.”