By Charlotte Green, Local Democracy Reporter
OLDHAM Council bought the town’s Spindles Shopping Centre for £9.5m, it has been revealed.
The town hall had announced the purchase of the Spindles Town Square Shopping Centre and the proposed relocation of Tommyfield Market into the complex last month.
Council leader Sean Fielding then said they couldn’t reveal the cost as it was commercially sensitive, but described the purchase as an ‘absolute bargain’.
However he made the figure public at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday night.
“While we were told initially that we weren’t allowed to reveal the price for legal reasons, I’m delighted that we’ve now been given to confirm that, whilst it was bought by previous owners for over £40m, we managed to get the whole centre for £9.5m,” Coun Fielding said.
“At that price getting public control of such a central strategically important site rather than let it go into managed decline really was a no-brainer.
“I know spending money when times are so tight raises some eyebrows. But as well as getting it at a knock-down price, it’s an investment that will actually save the council a lot of money.
“It’s being bought with cash rather than taking on additional external debt so there’s no loan to pay back or interest payments, and it’s self financing with income from the centre being sufficient to cover management and maintenance costs.
“I don’t claim to be an expert shopping centre manager but I was sold on the potential of the site for our borough.”
The purchase of the centre is being funded from the council’s pot of capital that it can spend on infrastructure projects and investments, rather than its revenue budget which finances day to day services.
The town hall is also planning on moving ‘hundreds’ of its own staff into the empty office spaces in the mezzanine floors of the shopping centre.
The aim to have authority staff eventually working in the shopping centre would mean they could save money and don’t require a ‘shiny new council building’, Coun Fielding told councillors.
“It’s a win on several levels and is exactly the kind of proactive move that will set Oldham up to flourish on the other side of the pandemic,” he said.
Opposition Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Howard Sykes congratulated Coun Fielding on becoming Oldham’s ‘biggest shopkeeper’.
However he added: “Many residents are wondering if this in fact represents a risky purchase, not necessarily something I would agree with.”
During the meeting Conservative group leader Coun John Hudson also quizzed Coun Fielding on whether the cost of the shopping centre included all ‘liabilities’.
However Coun Fielding responded that the ‘rumour doing the rounds’ that the authority took on debt liabilities of the previous owners of the centre was incorrect.
“That’s just a rumour someone’s made up to try and suggest that it’s not a good deal,” he said.
“We’re not taking on any debt, we bought the building for £9.5m and it’s as simple as that.”
Bosses say Tommyfield Market, which is currently based on Henshaw Street, will be relocated into a more ‘prominent location’ as part the refurbished Spindles Town Square Shopping Centre.
Acquiring the shopping centre will also ‘unlock’ brownfield sites within the town centre for housebuilding, according to the council.
The ambition of the local authority is to build around 2,500 modern homes in the heart of Oldham.
The market hall, which was built in the 1990s, will be demolished and a new ‘linear’ park will be developed from the market site to the former Sports Centre site, with new homes to be built around it.
The new ‘green corridor’, which will take over the pedestrianised route the runs behind the Primark store, will boost access to green space in the town centre for visitors and residents.