Bolton continues with ten-year transformation masterplan after the coronavirus
PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 July 2020
Shoppers are returning to the town centre and a massive development to boost the economy is back on track
Like towns and cities everywhere, Bolton found that Covid-19 cut across daily life, silencing the streets, driving the population indoors and into an uncertain future. Now, the town is fighting back. After all, its history shows how it coped with enforced change – from the move away from the textiles and locomotive engineering which had given it a worldwide reputation to dealing with disasters from mining accidents to recession.
The physical signs of development in the town centre are now back, as Bolton continues with a ten-year masterplan to transform five different areas – Church Wharf, Trinity Gateway, Croal Valley, Cheadle Square and Crompton Place – providing hundreds of new homes, jobs, offices and a huge boost to the town’s economic activity.
Bolton Council’s Chief Executive Tony Oakman said: ‘We are still on track’. And Council Leader Cllr David Greenhalgh added: ‘Our ambitions remain the same. The developers are getting back to business as normal.’
They acknowledge, though, that the Coronavirus has changed major elements of local life, like the way residents shop and work. As Cllr Greenhalgh said: ‘It would be foolish if we didn’t take account of changing behaviours and patterns. Our plans have to be flexible.’
To help businesses, Bolton Council has already stepped in with a raft of support measures, financial and otherwise. A £1.25million fund has implemented free parking in car parks and on-street to boost central footfall and trade.
By the end of the summer, the council will have submitted two bids totalling £44 million for the Future High Streets Fund for Bolton and Farnworth town centres and later a £25 million bid from the Towns Fund.
Nor is help just confined to the town centre. ‘There is a wealth of independent businesses all over the borough in places like Horwich and Westhoughton and all along our main arterial roads,’ said Cllr Greenhalgh. ‘We want to be supportive to them.’
A relaxation in licensing laws was approved in order to help the hospitality industry locally to encompass social distancing. Cllr Greenhalgh also praised the way businesses generally had tackled the new restrictions and their innovation, like restaurants opening takeaway services and new food delivery services springing up.
The food hall at the town’s historic market on Ashburner Street was open throughout lockdown. Its delivery service not only attracted new customers but also proved a lifeline for thousands of vulnerable people forced to self-isolate.
The University of Bolton – pivotal to the development of the town in recent years – is leading the country in returning to face-to-face education for students this September.
As Professor George E Holmes, President and Vice Chancellor, explained, they were ‘active long before lockdown’. They have spent £750,000 on a raft of safety innovations and have eight airport-style walk-through temperature scanners and 1,000 bicycles for students so they can avoid public transport.
‘We’ve tried to be innovative in our approach,’ added Professor Holmes. ‘As somewhere teaching innovation, if we can’t innovate, who can?’
The university boasts excellence in healthcare and dental provision, advanced performance engineering, special effects and multi-media among others. Stated Professor Holmes: ‘The University helps Bolton to grow and is important to its future.’
This practical optimism is reflected in businesses across the borough. Dr Chris Houghton is CEO of technical business solutions provider Eventura which provides a range of services, especially cybersecurity. It opened three new offices last year, was busy during lockdown and Dr Houghton said: ‘We’re looking forward to recruiting more technicians and business consultants in all areas. We’re planning to grow our business now through new market streams, locations and acquisitions.’
Janet Casey from Redman Casey estate agents was also busy throughout lockdown, looking after lettings and progressing existing sales. Post-lockdown ‘sales figures are good and confidence in Bolton is high,’ she said.
She has noticed a continuation of the recent trend for people of all ages from around Manchester and further afield opting to live in Bolton, especially in Horwich, with its access to Rivington and the motorway system. ‘There’s a lot of optimism about the future of the town,’ she said.
Suzanne Harulow who runs Shout business network for companies across Bolton said: ‘The atmosphere has been extremely positive in spite of our members facing challenges both professionally and personally. They’ve adapted to facilitate their own clients’ needs and tried their utmost to maintain excellent levels of service and customer care.’
Plainly, in Bolton, the green shoots of positive change are now returning.