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The Bolton Masterplan - the billion pound scheme aimed reviving the town's fortunes

PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 January 2020

An artist's impression of the planned Church Wharf development

An artist's impression of the planned Church Wharf development

not Archant

It's a challenge to revive Lancashire's post-Industrial areas, but Bolton has big plans to breathe new life into the town.

When David Greenhalgh was growing up a stream of coaches would bring hordes of visitors to Bolton because of its reputation as an outstanding shopping centre. It still has a lot going for it - including an award-winning market - but you could be forgiven for thinking the glory days are little more than a memory.

However, council leader David and his team believe the great Bolton revival is imminent and they've matched their ambition with a £1.5 billion scheme to fire the economy of this boom town of the Industrial Revolution.

Their Bolton Masterplan has broken down the centre into five key zones - plus another project for the university area - with landmark developments in each. At its heart, in the classic Le Mans Crescent, will be a four star boutique hotel opened by a company with a global reputation. And attached to the hotel will be a training school to provide the hospitality staff of the future for hotels around the world. It is hoped that Bolton will become recognised internationally as a centre of excellence.

David said: 'We are going to have a hotel of a quality never seen before in Bolton. We were always told the most we could hope for would be a three star but what we are getting will be world class.'

There are two strong themes to Bolton Council's plan. The first is to provide quality retailing but, rather than anguish over empty shops, they will respond to changing lifestyles by reducing the number of units overall. At the forefront of this will be the demolition and rebuilding of the Crompton Place shopping centre, which was purchased by the council.

Gerry Brough, one of the council directors, said: 'This will be part of the dynamic heart of the town. It will be a top quality development - we are setting the bar as high as it will go.'

The second theme involves reversing the trend of people deserting town centres as places to live. There are comprehensive plans to work with the private sector to provide 4,000 new residential units.

Chef, Paul Heathcote in The NorthernChef, Paul Heathcote in The Northern

Paul comes home

The redevelopment plans have meant a home-coming for one of Bolton's famous sons - the chef Paul Heathcote.

He is at the helm of The Northern, a recently opened restaurant in the historic Albert Halls. The menu reflects the establishment's name with well-cooked regional dishes - the rag pudding gets rave reviews - made with largely local produce.

The food is described as 'bold, strong, honest and dependable'.

Its decor gives it the persona of an upmarket yet relaxed Victorian dining pub with antique-style lighting and stained glass. The polished wood chairs, upholstered in racing green leather, were salvaged from a golf club and a set of games tables will help to keep any fidgety young diners amused.

'I'm very glad to be here in my home town,' said Paul, who gained a national reputation for his Michelin-starred restaurant in Longridge. 'We aim to serve simple well-cooked food that provides value for money.'

The Northern can cater for just under 100 and, as well as appealing to foodies and theatre goers, it will also host special events and weddings.

Croal Valley will be the town's first urban villageCroal Valley will be the town's first urban village

With those new homes, will come new leisure and entertainment facilities. 'We want to create a destination making the town more vibrant while ensuring it's a safe place to live,' added Gerry.

The new homes will be aimed at a wide spectrum of people. 'We don't want this all to be aimed at providing homes for young people,' he added. 'We have to get the balance right and that means high quality schemes that will also appeal to families and people who want to downsize.'

The council put up £100 million to kick-start the masterplan - a bold commitment financed by the council's lucrative stake in Manchester Airport. It demonstrated to potential investors that Bolton was serious about investing in the future.

It's going to mean considerable upheaval and a great deal of change for Boltonians. 'There will be cranes on the horizon and we don't make any apologies for that,' said Gerry. 'Our intention is for this to happen in as short a space of time as possible. It's about having momentum - you can't just sit around wishing for regeneration. If we did we would just continue to decline as a town. If we don't capture the potential investment out there it will simply go elsewhere. Stagnation isn't an option for Bolton.'

The town has always had a high profile in the region, enhanced by gems such as the Octagon Theatre, currently undergoing a multi-million pound redevelopment that will enhance the town's desire to increase visitor numbers and, with the help of a new hotel and restaurants, turn it into a short breaks destination.

Tony Oakman, chief executive at the council, said visitors from London had recently described the central area as looking like a Mediterranean-style square. 'OK, the sun was shining but Bolton is a tremendously vibrant place. We attracted 400,000 visitors to the Bolton Food and Drink Festival.' TV chef James Martin described the annual event, held in August, as the best he'd visited. This year's will be held over the Bank Holiday weekend, August 27th-31st.

'We want to build on that so people don't feel they have to go to Manchester for leisure,' said Tony. 'We want them to live in high quality homes where great things are available just beyond their front door - top quality theatre, excellent places for a meal, the fantastic market, a great museum. The opportunities are huge - we are really onto something here.'

The plans for transforming Bolton have also received national government support with the masterplan viewed as a possible template for regeneration schemes around the country.

David Greenhalgh added: 'We have one of the really beautiful civic centres and while we may be flattening a lot of 1960s buildings, we don't want to lose our heritage. We are uniquely placed between Manchester and the beautiful countryside of Lancashire which is another big advantage when attracting people to stay. We are showing absolute confidence in Bolton - well, if we can't who can?'

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