Council leader wants to serve five more years to oversee regeneration
Date published: 09 July 2019
Councillor Allen Brett
Councillor Allen Brett says he will stand for re-election again next year.
Many expected that the 73-year-old leader of Rochdale Council would retire in May next year rather than seek another four years as a councillor but instead he hopes to continue in office until he is aged 78.
However, the Labour leader - who replaced Richard Farnell as leader in 2017 - believes he has plenty more to offer and he insists his support for his predecessor - who was found to have lied under oath to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse - won’t overshadow his campaign.
Councillor Farnell has always maintained he told the truth to the Inquiry, and a lengthy investigation by the Metropolitan Police found there was “insufficient evidence” to prosecute him for perjury, but suggestions he could stand for Labour again – should his suspension be lifted – sparked controversy recently.
Explaining his decision to seek re-election next May, Councillor Brett said he wanted to oversee key renewal projects: “I’m enjoying it and I feel I still have a lot I can give.
“And I want to see not only the town centre regeneration but also the start of the regeneration of the town hall.”
The centre-piece of the town centre’s regeneration is the Rochdale Riverside leisure and retail development.
Due to open in Easter 2020, it will boast high street giants including Next, Marks and Spencer and River Island as well as six-screen Reel cinema and hundreds of new parking spaces.
And a second phase – based around new town centre homes but also potentially including offices and a hotel – is set to follow.
With the shopping centre and cinema development now visibly taking shape, Councillor Brett says he is looking ahead to the next stage.
“Phase Two is to change from aspiration into reality,” said Councillor Brett. “Once Phase One opens perhaps that will get rid of all the doubters.”
Also close to the leader’s heart is the £16m regeneration of the borough’s grade I listed, neo-gothic town hall.
Often referred to as the borough’s ‘jewel in the crown’ its revamp will include a £3m revamp of town hall square as well as the restoration of historic features, including the Magna Carta mural and ceiling panels in The Great Hall.
The council has received £8.9m from the National Heritage Lottery for the scheme and will also be putting some of its own money in – with an announcement expected soon.
However, this will not cover all the work the council would like to do.
Councillor Brett says that an innovative approach will be needed in order to close the funding gap and ensure the town hall receives a comprehensive restoration while it is closed to the public.
He said: “We might be saying to certain Rochdale patrons here in the borough ‘would you like to be involved in and have part of the heritage of Rochdale’.
“I think we need a totally new approach to fundraising; we need a target, we need a prominent citizen to head up the fundraising purely for the town hall.
“It needs to be totally independent of the council and run by some of its citizens. They need to set themselves a target and raise that amount of money, because if you are going to close the town hall down you want to do everything.”
Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter
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