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Business Matters: Place shaping and the impact of Covid-19

By Gerry Brough, Director of Place 

 

Covid- 19 has not stopped any of our development plans but it will shape them

Councils across the UK are facing the same challenges and pressures to keep major development projects on track after the delays due to Covid-19. The need to respond to this situation as a matter of priority and the uncertainty it has created within the commercial property market means that delivering development plans has become more challenging. As a country we have faced an enormous set back but our resilience is key. Bolton is planning ahead and as a town we are not just planning to survive, we are planning to thrive. Realising our future development plans is central to these plans.

What do towns feel like and look like? How will we as an economy move into the next 30 years? And how does the current pandemic affect this? Bolton Council commissioned research by Deloittes to examine what the future holds for our post-retail town centre. This report concluded that, assuming we can control or overcome Covid19 within the next few years, there is no reason why Bolton won’t start to fully realise significant benefits in a few years’ time.

Socio- economic changes from Covid-19 will be incorporated in Bolton Councils £1bn Masterplan

Bolton Council has invested in research to ensure we have an understanding and picture of what the current climate looks like and what we need to do to prepare our town development plans in response to Covid-19. The Deloitte prospectus looks at how we are working with development partners to respond to trends affecting landmark mixed-use schemes in each of our ‘strategic intervention areas’ at Trinity Quarter, Croal Valley, Crompton Place/Bolton Victoria Square, Croal Valley, Cheadle Square and Blackhorse Street. Making the town centre an even better place to live, work and visit is what will drive Bolton’s future development.

By 2030, our programme will have provided 1,700 homes and 4,411 full-time equivalent jobs and added £487.5m of gross value added (GVA) to the local economy. We expect the town centre’s population to increase from below 2,000 people to more than 6,000; creating an additional £48.7m of household spending within the town centre, an annual boost of £7.3m to the visitor economy, and helping to create by more green space and improved connectivity – including four new cycle schemes, as part of the GM-wide Beeline network.

To help us achieve this we are also progressing several multi-million pound bids for both the Government’s Future High Street Fund and Towns Fund which, if successful, have the potential to secure an additional £75m towards regeneration projects across the borough. Last September, Bolton was named as one of a 101 UK towns that are due to receive up to £25m from the £3.6 billion Towns Fund, which aims to help towns build prosperous futures. We have recently completed an extensive consultation exercise to understand what residents and young people want from our Town Centre and we expect to submit our Towns Fund Investment Plan by 31 October.

Prior to being nominated as a beneficiary of the Towns Fund, Bolton had already been successful with two bids for the Future High Streets Fund. This was a highly competitive process that all English Towns and Cities were able to participate in, so being successful with two bids was a significant achievement. One bid for £19.25m has since been submitted for the regeneration of Farnworth Town Centre and one of £23.28m has been submitted for Bolton Town Centre.
These funding bids and the mixed-use nature of major development schemes in each of Bolton’s six intervention areas will contribute to Bolton’s economic recovery by providing the infrastructure required by people increasingly wanting to live, work, shop and play in local town centres, in a post-COVID-19 world.

Over the next decade Bolton Council, along with its partner developers, is set accommodate widespread socio-economic change caused by COVID-19. Suggestions currently being considered include; providing purpose-built large office floorspace to accommodate pandemic workspace guidance associated with social distancing that includes co-working space to reflect increasingly agile and flexible working trends; reducing retail floorspace and diversifying the high street offering; providing homes in close proximity to services, retail and workspace; improving public open space, increasing cycle routes; and, finally, providing new and improved town centre attractions and an enhanced cultural offering to attract new visitors to the town.

The Deloitte report looked at how the post-Covid-19 trend of ‘going local’ presents future opportunities. This means Bolton town centre may become home to new spaces offering touchdown space for working collaboration, providing an alternative to both travelling to the regional centre and working in traditional office spaces.”

The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the shift to digital. Increasing digital opportunities will therefore be addressed by creating a ‘super-connected digital city’ – including a digital hub ‘where businesses and people can thrive’ – as part of Bolton’s development plan for our most recently designated Blackhorse Street intervention area.

The new digital city will see the transformation of a large part of the Town Centre located between the Civic Quarter, the town’s main railway station and Bolton University. Superfast, well connected, interactive technologies will provide information and transactional services for the benefit of businesses, students and citizens alike.

To fully achieve the aims of the regeneration plan, Bolton needs to be at the heart of the digital economy and become a centre of innovation for existing and new businesses to flourish. An investment in digital platforms and technologies is central to business transformations, new innovative products and the attraction of higher value business services.
We are all looking for that silver lining, and Covid-19 has taught us to adapt and evolve. We are therefore determined to make sure that our masterplan responds to current challenges. Bolton Council is committed to addressing the economic and social changes caused by the pandemic, whilst ensuring the town can also realise it’s full economic potential in the next decade and beyond.

Whilst planning for the future, Bolton Council is equally committed to supporting existing local businesses through COVID-19.

Supporting businesses through Covid-19 and maintaining a sound base for future development is high on our agenda. In addition to the £253k that Bolton has received from the Government’s Reopening High Streets Safely Fund, Bolton Council has allocated an extra £1m to support our town centre’s recovery.

We are using these funds to promote the Bolton business and retail offer in a safe and positive way, helping businesses to welcome physical customers back into the town and keeping the pound in Bolton. Measures include free parking in the Town Centre, bespoke business packs, additional information officers on the high street to provide advice and assistance, virtual business sector meetings to provide support and initiating a comprehensive ‘Open for business’ marketing and communications campaign. Engagement with our businesses and their customers is essential since we want to encourage the whole Bolton family to support each other during this challenging period.

If you want to hear more on Bolton’s plans for the future, Gerry will be speaking at the 2020 Insider Property Conference on 23rd October 2020. To find out more or register for the event, please go to:

https://www.insidermedia.com/event/north-west-business-of-property-conference-2020/

 

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