Bolton's recently published Core Strategy describes a borough of contrasting urban and rural settings, with an unusually large gap between rich and poor:
- Population projected to increase by around 8% in the next 25 years from 262,400 in 2006 to 282,700 in 2031, an average gain of 812 a year
- Unemployment is above average for Great Britain
- Development of retail, leisure and commercial property has been high in recent years but less so in town centres
- There are active coal, mineral and gritstone workings in the borough
- Deprivation is concentrated in the inner areas of Bolton and Farnworth and more prosperous areas are in north and west of borough
- Inner Bolton, Farnworth and Breightmet are the priority areas for investment and development
Mike Redshaw, director at Nolan Redshaw, surveyors with a strong presence in North Manchester…
Bolton's definitely got potential, but has some work to do – let's start with the town centre. After the disappointment of the proposed 300,000 sq ft Wilson Bowden redevelopment scheme not proceeding, there is a real need to revitalise the retail core. Prime Zone 'A' rents have hardly moved in 10 years, despite Bolton being one of Britain's largest towns by population.
A further challenge, but again linked to the town centre, is an oversupply of secondary leasehold office space, some of which is effectively obsolete, but which still predominates around the town centre, with over 500,000 sq ft on the market, compared to an annual take up of less than 200,000 sq ft.
There are some glimmers of hope; the letting of two floors of the new Bark Street office development to Regus, for example is an encouraging sign for the Bolton office market and is clearly a sign generally that the market is beginning to turn.
Moving further out from the town centre, there is a lack of good quality, small office and industrial freeholds. Small office freeholds are effectively non existent, whilst a lot of the industrial stock is cheap space, which is deteriorating.
The borough needs to build on the success of Middlebrook, by allocating more sites close to the M61 corridor for business park development, whilst allowing successful sites, like the Miiddlebrook and Wingates Industrial Estate, to expand further.
The UK Coal Cutacre site could work well, if brought out of the green belt, and builds upon one of Bolton's great strengths, which is its easy access to the motorway network.
Bolton has a good opportunity to allocate some new sites, which will allow the future demand of small industrial and office freeholds to be met. It also needs to work on its links with Manchester city centre and look at further expansion of the University.
Occupiers give their views on doing business in Bolton
Chris Hopkinson, joint managing director of Mark Two, kitchen and bathroom parts supplier, and chairman of Bolton Vision partnership: "Bolton is pretty good for office space but not brilliant for warehousing at times. Before the downturn we tried to find a large unit or land to consolidate our three sites on to and it wasn't easy."
Mark Two has warehouses in Heywood, Bury and Bolton, where it is headquartered. The company employed 380 at its peak but had to let 200 go at the end of 2008 as household spending plummeted.
Hopkinson adds: "The location of Bolton is good as it is pretty central with good connections to the big conurbations. We find it easy to recruit as there is traditionally a broad range of skill sets in Bolton. Whether it is IT or marketing or warehousing staff we always find what we need."
Mark Hawthorn, managing director of Landmark Investments Group, which invests in ground rent portfolios: "The North West is considered second only to London as a place to be based and do business, and for me, setting up the company in Bolton was a conscious decision. We've been here ten years now our location has been integral to our growth and success. There have been massive developments over the last 10 -15 years in the North West and, even now, there continues to be major projects such as Media City, Wirral Waters and Ocean Gateway, which are all within easy access from Bolton via the main motorway networks.
"I am in London regularly on business and we have a clear advantage on costs and ease of movement. I can leave home in Bolton and be at Euston station in under 2 ½ hours. Bolton continues to be a mecca for national and international business, with the likes of E.ON, AXA, NHS, RBS and Keogh Solicitors all based in the town, and as long as its economy thrives, I think we have all the advantages of Manchester city centre without the costs and traffic issues of physically being based there."