Digital infrastructure needs to be at heart of Oldham regeneration

by samalhamdani on 21 January, 2020

As the plans for the regeneration of Oldham are presented by the Labour group over the next few days, it is clear that while aspects of the funding are to be welcomed, there are issues that need to be addressed – and it is clear that the headline figure of £300 million includes a considerable number of projects already underway, not least Saddleworth School.

As details of the regeneration projects are released, there is a clear missing link between our digital infrastructure and regeneration plans. Manufacturing and engineering businesses increasingly rely on high quality fibre optic broadband – and while we are reliant on the slow rollout of fibre by BT Openreach, we will never be at the front of the queue.

Oldham has a population of nearly a quarter of a million people, and has excellent transport links to Manchester – the economic powerhouse of the North of England. However, if we fail to develop a genuine business case to invest in Oldham rather than the town centre, we will lose people and investment.

It is entirely possible to develop a high quality fibre optic network, designed to benefit our businesses, homes, hospitals and schools. New homes, business and schools should be located where we can combine transport links and high quality digital infrastructure. If we miss this vital step, we are limiting our ambition, and the ambition of our residents.

Creating a cultural hub in the town centre – including a new home for the Coliseum – and ensuring that the retail in the town centre has a market to appeal to, will work if we can build homes that breathe new life into our town centres. That means a better mix of retail and residential. That means high quality digital infrastructure.

I will welcome investment across the borough. We need to ensure that this investment doesn’t just focus on replacing housing that we already have, but actually creates a brighter future. Oldham should have the ambition to be the model of a thriving, diverse town – giving all our people the opportunity to thrive.

Joining up the apprenticeship schemes available with the construction opportunities that will come through development is a good start. But the right regeneration will mean that jobs aren’t just there for the duration of the development, but through thriving retail, commercial, and manufacturing sectors.

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