POSITIVE news from a town that needs all the good news it can take. Oldham town centre has received a huge boost with the imminent re-opening of one of it's landmark buildings.
This is a hugely positive move for the town
Below is the press release from Oldham Council, followed by Confidential's comment:
'Oldham Council's flagship regeneration scheme will see the Old Town Hall reopened as a stunning new ODEON cinema and restaurant venue this week. This ambitious project had a simple vision - to restore the Grade-II listed building and give it a modern use as the heartbeat of a new Oldham town centre - but it faced many challenges.
'In 2009 the structure was named in Britain's 'Top Ten most endangered buildings' by the Victorian Society. It had lain vacant since 1995 and was beset with wet and dry rot. The roof was in risk of imminent collapse, floors were dangerous and the only remaining tenants were pigeons.
'On Friday, October 21, it will be reborn as a state-of-the-art seven-screen ODEON cinema with restaurants in a unique heritage setting next to Parliament Square - a new high-quality public space. The phased opening, beginning with ODEON and Costa Coffee, starts that day with restaurant unit tenants - including Nando's, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and Loungers - following in the weeks ahead. The opening will be celebrated with a free event for the public - 'Standing on the Shoulders of Giants' - that promises to be the most spectacular outdoor show ever hosted in Oldham at 7.30pm.
'Jean Stretton, Oldham Council Leader, said: "The Old Town Hall became a symbol of decline but it has now been restored to one of civic pride. I am so thrilled that people are finally going to get to see and enjoy the results of this project for themselves - and I'm certain they will like what they see. We are ambitious for Oldham and this is the flagship project in a wider regeneration programme designed to transform it into a great place for residents, visitors and businesses. We recognised the arrival of Metrolink was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to spark the town centre back into life and we have seized it.
'"It wasn't good enough that we haven't had a cinema for 30 years. It wasn't good enough that we had no Arts and Heritage centre to celebrate our history or no public square for families to spend their leisure time. And it wasn't good enough that we were struggling to attract retailers at both ends of the scale - from specialist independent traders to the likes of Marks & Spencer. All that is changing and this development sends out the message that we’re deadly serious about delivering better for Oldham.
'"The Old Town Hall represents a huge boost to Oldham with the creation of more than 230 new jobs and the attraction of new private investment. It will be worth an estimated £5.4 million to our local economy, drawing around 224,000 extra visitors per year.
'Oldham Council appointed BDP as architects for this project in 2012 and the plans were backed by hundreds of residents at a consultation event. The design retains key architectural features like the existing ballroom, council chamber, committee rooms and court rooms, which have been transformed into cinema screens. A new extension, a translucent glass light-box, also creates a new façade onto what was Clegg Street. This extension provides a new entrance and foyers to the cinema areas and stunning views of Parliament Square. Since October 2013, construction firm Morgan Sindall Group plc has replaced or replicated 92 different styles of heritage tiles, made 2,282 replica replacement tiles and had craftsmen carrying out 1,250 heritage tile repairs. The development has used 550 tonnes of steel, 56 tonnes of temporary steel/bracing and propping, seen the pouring of 1,725m³ tonnes of concrete, the installation of 220 concrete piles and 864 repairs made to the external stone.'
So what does Confidential think about this?
This is a hugely positive move for the town. But it has to be put in context. A walk around Oldham town centre reveals its potential and its problems. The cultural area around the Library and the splendid Gallery Oldham looks the part but there's grim decay all along tram-dominated Union Street which includes epic buildings such as the rundown School of Art and Lyceum. The planners who allowed a massive supermarket to break the street midway along should be dunked in the Alexandra Park boating lake (Alexandra Park is one of the best parks in the region, by the way, a real credit to Oldham but not in the town centre). Meanwhile the absolute tat of kebab shops and 2-4-1 pubs along the eastern end of Yorkshire Street is a disaster.
The planners who allowed a massive supermarket to break the street midway along should be dunked in the Alexandra Park boating lake
The immediate area around the restored Town Hall will, we hope, attract new investment, because the streetscene here could be both lively and very attractive. There is the facade of the Town Hall but also the change of level up to the striking parish church by Richard Lane from 1830 (the interior is especially stunning but how rarely is it open?).
The War Memorial by Albert Toft is located here between church and Town Hall and it is one of the most spectacular in the region. Sadly this area is blighted by the closed yet handsome Greaves pub. Another potential joy is the empty Hilton Arcade while the 1901 work of Edgar Wood on Greaves Street and of Henry Sellars for Dronsfield's offices from 1906, over the bypass, are both pioneering for their age.
It's a typical story in many ways of too many grand sixties and seventies schemes for bypasses walling in the town centre, cutting it off from the surrounding population. Yet with its hilltop location and its greater connectivity to Manchester via Metrolink there is a lot to work with in Oldham town centre. (Just a point with Metrolink, Transport for Greater Manchester should think of putting on express trams between the city centre and the town because at present there are too many stops and it takes longer than it should to travel between the two.)
Another bonus for Oldham is that just a short walk from the parish church there is the potentially wonderful open space of Oldham Edge. This offers dramatic views across the conurbation and into the Pennines from 800ft above sea level. No other town boasts such an open space at such a high level in the UK. This must be used to the town's advantage.
The redeveloped Town Hall is a fine start but there is much work to be done to knit the disparate parts of town centre together. In January we published this article looking at the problems for the smaller regional centres, especially those on the north side of the city centre with low wealth and health indices.
Oldham Council is to be complimented for the work on and around the Town Hall and in trying to improve the town centre generally, but it should also bow its head in shame for allowing the splendid 1841 building to stand empty for thirty years or more. If recent good governance has brought about the restoration then let the not-so-distant bad governance be a warning against any complacency. Simply by attracting a Nando's and a Gourmet Burger Kitchen doesn't mean the job is done.
Find out more about the public opening event on Friday 21 October here.