Public Sector Focus

26.02.20

Oldham Council: Creating a better place

Source: PSE Feb/March 20

Cllr Sean Fielding, Leader of Oldham Council, explains their newly-announced ambitious development plan for Oldham and what it will mean for the local area.

 

In January 2020 Oldham Council launched an ambitious plan to transform Oldham, including creating more than 2,000 new homes in the town centre, 1,000 new jobs and 100 apprenticeship opportunities.

The ‘Creating a Better Place’ vision will unlock £306m of investment across Oldham by focussing on building more homes for local people, delivering new jobs through town centre regeneration, and ensuring Oldham is a great place to visit and do business.

It’s a game-changing plan aimed at doing exactly what it says on the tin: Creating a Better Place. Its benefits will be felt across the borough and act as a catalyst to create more opportunities and improve the life chances of our residents.

Our thinking has been shaped by our residents. When I became Leader of Oldham Council in 2018, one of the first things I did was launch a review of the existing town centre masterplan. Elements of it were among some of the key issues raised on the doorstep during the election campaign – alongside things like litter, community safety and the state of the roads.

More street cleaners were recruited, a funding pot was launched to improve the highways and a new cabinet portfolio created to provide strategic focus on community safety. But futureproofing the town centre required us to take stock of where we were, and where we wanted to be.

As councillors, if we are to command the support of the people of our borough, we must ensure that we occasionally pause, reflect, and take time to listen to the views of those we represent.

I listened and realised that for us not to take their opinions away and act upon them would have been the worst kind of politics and the thing that the public hates more than anything else.

Oldham is a diverse town both in terms of people and place. Our town centre is just nine miles from Manchester City Centre whilst a quarter of the borough lies in the Peak District. It’s a town built on industry and innovation, a town which was once the cotton spinning capital of the world.

But times have changed. We’re not alone in seeing our high streets battle against the impacts of the recession, out-of-town retail parks and the rise of online shopping. At the same time, we’ve faced huge budget cuts from central government.

Since 2010 the council has been forced to remove over £215m from its budget, and yet because of government funding reductions and significant budget pressures, it will have to further reduce its spending over the next few years.

Creating a Better Place is a bold and brave vision aimed at generating additional income and reducing costs, with the financial benefits available in future years to help to address the council’s funding pressures.

In overall terms, investment will total £306m split between capital projects of £102m (financed by capital receipts and prudential borrowing) and investment projects of £204m (funded by returns on the investment).

But Creating a Better Place is a long way from being about balancing the books. At the heart of it are people. The same residents who told me what they want their town to look like in the years ahead.

It’s a plan which will ‘Create a Better Place’ by:

  • building quality homes
  • providing opportunities to learn and gain new skills
  • providing opportunities to grow local businesses and create jobs
  • ensuring Oldham is the greenest borough in Greater Manchester
  • embedding sustainability, energy efficiency and low (zero) carbon
  • improving life-chances and the health/well-being of our residents and local communities.

We’ve achieved a lot in Oldham over the past decade. Our Grade II-listed Old Town Hall – the same building where former Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his inaugural speech after becoming an MP in 1900 – has been transformed into a cinema and restaurants after being vacant and falling into disrepair for 20 years. The £37m redevelopment was a key milestone in the town centre’s regeneration.

Metrolink, which boasts three stops in the town centre, opened in 2014 and provides unrivalled connectivity across Greater Manchester with trams every six minutes.

Whilst construction work to transform the former Grade II-listed Oldham Library into OMA (Oldham Museum & Archives) – a state-of-the-art £13m arts and heritage centre which will offer galleries, a modern archive facility and performance space – will soon begin.

We’re proud of our heritage, it’s what sets us apart from many other towns, and we’re working hard to preserve our historic buildings for the future. But there is much more to do and Creating a Better Place is about looking forwards.

It’s Oldham Council nailing its colours to the mast: Oldham is a town of opportunity. We are invested, and investing, in Oldham – and we’re calling on others to follow our lead.

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