Church Wharf grant decision ‘due in summer’

Ken Knott, chief executive of Ask Developments, said he was confident of winning approval for public subsidy to unlock the Bolton regeneration scheme.

A joint venture between Ask Developments and Bluemantle won a development competition for the major 13-acre Bolton town centre project prior to the downturn. Since then values have fallen and taken the scheme 'below water' financially.

A grant application, for a sum believed to be sub-£10m, will take the scheme back into profit if approved. Ask/Bluemantle plan 300,000 sq ft of offices in several phases and 125,000 sq ft of leisure, as well as residential, a new square and hotel.

Knott, speaking at MIPIM in Cannes, said: "As a result of the value shift the scale of the project cannot be sustained or building work advanced without some public funding."

The grant would only cover the first phase, which will, if delivered, include the entire 125,000 sq ft leisure and an initial office phase of around 40,000 sq ft.

Knott added: "We have cleared the first stage with the NWDA of testing social and economic benefits and Church Wharf clearly does that. We are now halfway through the second stage of carrying out detailed feasibility work to closely understand the costs of all aspects of the build, which is a hugely demanding exercise.

"We hope to conclude that detailed work and submit a formal application that can go to the NWDA board by mid-summer."

The NWDA would not have to defer the final approval to Treasury as the grant is under the £20m threshold for Central Government sign-off.

Talks with the Homes & Communities Agency have concluded that its budget is fully committed for the next year and assistance for Church Wharf's residential content would only be possible if delivered in the latter phases of the development.

Knott said raising development finance for Church Wharf would not be a problem once the NWDA funding had de-risked the project.

Mark Caldwell, chief executive of Bluemantle, said: "Bolton is one of Bluemantle's key areas for investment and we have significant land holdings in the area.

"We are working closely with Bolton Council to deliver Church Wharf. We are also working with the council to unlock Horwich Loco Works, a 150-acre regionally significant residential and employment scheme which will provide 1,600 houses and 750,000 sq ft of commercial space."

Outline planning permission for the scheme, designed by Carey Jones Architects, was granted in 2008.

Liverpool-based regeneration consultancy Amion is advising Ask on the application process.

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