Why the best is yet to come for Rochdale

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Five years ago next month, Steve Rumbelow became the chief executive of Rochdale Borough Council, after holding a similar role at Burnley Council.

Steve became Rochdale’s fourth chief executive in the space of three years in 2014 and has provided stability, leadership and direction to the borough and it’s now paying dividends.

His commitment to business and placemaking was much in evidence when he was at Burnley, particularly through the Burnley Bondholders scheme, which promotes business and investment in the borough.

When Steve arrived in Rochdale five years ago he said he found “a gritty northern town that had lost its mojo but had the opportunity to get it back”.

Explaining his philosophy he said: “I recognised the value of business in the context of place. That’s the differentiator. It’s trying to get businesses to be part of the place and they all are because they all attract the workforce from the place. It’s getting them to recognise that they can offer a different kind of value to the place. Some of it is about getting businesses to say what they already know, which is the positives.”

Critical to this has been the launch in 2017 of the Rochdale Ambassadors, a private-public sector led group that highlights the town as a destination for businesses.

“We ask the ambassadors to project out to sell Rochdale as a business destination to the outside world,” explained Steve. “It’s not internalising it. Any business success we have reflects back in. Real people see and read what’s been happening in their town and their borough.

“If the council says something people think ‘they would say that wouldn’t they?’ but if businesses say ‘this is a really good place to do business’ people believe them.”

The best way of getting people to live in Rochdale is if they work in Rochdale so business became a key platform of our approach to placemaking.

Rochdale businesses like Salt Separation Services; Lancashire Farm Dairies; Zen Internet; Dachser; and Hanson Springs are major employers and global names. They sit alongside heavyweight UK companies like JD Sports and ASDA, who have set up giant operations in Rochdale after being drawn in by its many advantages.

In the five years that Steve has been in Rochdale, he’s worked tirelessly to promote the borough and play to its strengths, and there have been a number of notable successes like the continuing growth of the enviably-located Kingsway Business Park next to the M62 motorway and the town centre renaissance which will culminate in the opening of new retail and leisure complex, Rochdale Riverside, early next year.

“There is something about former northern industrial towns that get a bad press and don’t get recognition for what’s still here and what it’s potential is,” explained Steve.

“One of the things that we have going for us in Rochdale is connectivity. We’re so well connected in terms of our transport infrastructure.  That also means we’re part of a big conurbation so there are lots of chances for businesses to move around so we need to capitalise on our major assets. We’re really well connected into the centre of Manchester and a 35-minute journey to the airport.

“We are also on the main route between Greater Manchester and Yorkshire so a really important strategic link. Plus, we have some of the best open spaces in the region so people are recognising that we are a great place to live and work.”

Steve has worked to cement Rochdale’s position within Greater Manchester but acknowledges more support needs to come from London.

“Our first strategy as an emerging Greater Manchester Combined Authority was ‘stronger together’ and it’s absolutely true that Greater Manchester has been stronger together and the same is true of the north,” he said. “But if you compare it with London people commute into the capital daily more than the time it takes to get from Manchester to Liverpool or Manchester to Leeds. Manchester is driving the Northern Powerhouse but it’s more powerful with the cities around it, including Newcastle. That’s something which any Prime Minister should take seriously.

“We’re quickly getting to the stage where UK plc won’t be as good as it could be if it’s not spreading the growth to complement what’s happening in London and the South East.”

As Steve celebrates his fifth anniversary the good news is he believes the best is yet to come for Rochdale: “I would like to think in another five years we’ll see more change than we’ve seen in the last years.”

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