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Bolton Pioneers The Future Of Towns: More Resi, More Office, More Digital

Victoria Square, Bolton, as it will look

Former 'red wall' Boris-voting Bolton is setting itself up as the testing ground for what the successful post-coronavirus town will look like. And the government is watching.

Bolton, which returned two new Conservative members for its three constituencies in the December 2019 general election, is rethinking its regeneration plans. The answers will be more residential, more offices and more digital — eventually. The result will be rising office rents and more life in the town centre, the local authority predicted.

The newly published investor prospectus from Bolton Council promises a Q3 2020 start on-site to Muse Development’s £150M Church Wharf scheme. It will include 352 homes and 80K SF of new offices.

The document unwraps plans for a sixth development zone focused on the digital media and tech sectors at Blackhorse Street.

“The pandemic has highlighted a need for increased digital innovation opportunities, digital enhancement and digital connectivity which would be facilitated by Bolton’s proposed digitally-enabled cluster,” the prospectus said.

Socioeconomic changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic have been accommodated by Bolton Council and its developer partners to ensure the delivery of the £1B masterplan to transform the town centre by 2030, according to new analysis by Deloitte. It comes just days after Bolton missed out on funding for 'shovel-ready' projects to other schemes in Greater Manchester.

Deloitte said Bolton’s town centre schemes “present an opportunity for remodelling the urban environment to better meet the demands and needs of a post-COVID society".

The council is behind six landmark mixed-use schemes at Trinity Quarter, Church Wharf, Crompton Place/Bolton Victoria Square, Croal Valley, Cheadle Square and the new Blackhorse Street-Bolton Digital City.

By 2030, the council’s plans will have delivered 387K SF of new office floorspace, more than 100K SF of leisure floorspace and 1,700 new town centre homes.

The Deloitte report predicted that the rethink will push up office rents, which today hover beneath the level that makes private sector speculative development viable. It predicted a rise from £18/SF today to £19/SF by 2024.

New floorspace “will bring a more diverse mix of office employment types and skills to the town centre through increased attraction of sectors such as financial and professional services, digital and information technology, from Manchester City region and the North West,” the report said.

Meanwhile, retail-led development in the Croal Valley and at Crompton Place is described with less urgency in the document’s timetable, with indications that thinking is “ongoing” or subject to delay.