IN FOCUS | Regeneration and hope in Radcliffe
For decades, Radcliffe has been in decline. Now, thanks to a £20m Levelling Up Fund win, Bury Council is determined to change that, crafting a strategic masterplan to bring jobs and people into the town.
Watch the video above to get a feel for Radcliffe and hear from Bury Council about their plans
A town with ambition
Radcliffe was hit hard by deindustrialisation, with hundreds of jobs lost upon the closures of nearby coal mines and paper mills. That led to a struggling high street. Lack of public spending and government support worsened the situation.
Radcliffe, according to Bury Council leader Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, “really needs something to give it that new lease of life – something that reflects its importance to our borough and its contribution to the region.”
To that end, Bury Council worked with Deloitte and Planit-IE to craft a regeneration strategy to change the Radcliffe narrative. The strategic framework earmarked several brownfield sites for residential development, outlined a strategy for a new civic hub in the town centre, and included plans for a new school and a new leisure facility.
The council wants to create an environment where small businesses can thrive, with part of the Radcliffe regeneration efforts including the creation of an enterprise hub in the old library building.
“Regeneration that’s just about tidying up or clearing up or lifting the feel of a place without tackling some of the fundamentals won’t work,” said Paul Lakin, executive director of place with Bury Council.
According to Lakin, offering a joined-up approach that mixes commercial opportunities with residential was key.
One of the brownfield sites earmarked for homes was the 22-acre East Lancashire Paper Mill site, which had outline planning consent for up to 400 homes. In April, Homes England and the council chose Wilmslow-based Morris Homes to deliver the £80m project.
A new secondary school is already on the horizon. It is much-needed – Radcliffe has been without its own secondary school since 2014.
The council worked alongside Star Academy Trust to secure funding from the Department for Education to build a school on the Coney Green site north of Spring Lane. The site is currently home to a temporary leisure centre, which will be moved to a new civic hub in the town centre – but more on that later.
The land has been acquired for the school, with ambitions for it to open in 2024. It will have a capacity to teach 750 students, with the ability to expand and teach more than 1,000.
A planning application for the school is due to be submitted towards the end of this year, or early 2023.
A town ready to level up
A £20m win from the government’s Levelling Up Fund has kicked off one of the council’s more ambitious projects in the town – the creation of a civic hub on the high street.
This is the project that Rebecca Lord, head of levelling up project delivery with the council, thinks will make the most impact.
“It is going to be a truly transformational piece of work,” she said.
Designed by Aew Architects, the 64,000 sq ft civic hub would be a one-stop shop for citizens, where they can access multiple council services in one space. In addition to council offices, it will hold the new leisure centre, a library and events space.
Next to the civic hub is Market Chambers, which will be redeveloped into a flexible co-working space and a community events space. There would also be spaces for retail, food and beverage vendors on the site.
With the library moved to the new civic hub, the old library building would become an enterprise centre where there would be services geared to support local entrepreneurs, small businesses and innovators.
To make the civic hub possible, the council purchased two 1960s shopping blocks near the market. The plan is to demolish the shopping blocks to build afresh. Preparatory works have already begun on readying the site for its new home, with hopes for the building to be operational by spring 2024.
A town with promise
On paper, Radcliffe is a community that should be thriving: it offers excellent transport links, affordable housing, and green public spaces.
Residents can be within Manchester City Centre in under half an hour, thanks to a Metrolink station that sits less than a 10-minute walk from the town centre.
Compared to its neighbours, Radcliffe is also affordable. The average price of a semi-detached house in Radcliffe last year was £195,384, according to RightMove. That’s more than £40,000 less than the average price for the same kind of house in Bury and almost £100,000 less than nearby Prestwich.
“Radcliffe has so much untapped potential,” Lord said.
She cited the fact Radcliffe has more brownfield land available than anywhere else in the borough and that it has substantial green and blue infrastructure already in place. That includes the River Irwell, which runs through the town.
“You can walk from the town centre and within two minutes you can be in the open countryside next to a river,” Lord said. “That proximity to the river, the canal, and green spaces is really, really valuable.”
A town beginning to change
Work has already begun on bringing new life to Radcliffe.
The 1937 market hall in the town underwent a council-led £1m refurbishment in 2014 and transitioned from a purely retail-centric building to one boasting a variety of independent vendors and public events. Run by a community organization, the market has become a great success – even being touted as an example of how other towns could reinvent their high street in a report from international law firm Withers.
“It just changed the dynamic and the feel of the place,” executive director of place Paul Lakin said.
A town to believe in
Watson Homes is one of the companies buying into the council’s vision for Radcliffe. The housebuilder is set to build 136 apartments and 13,000 sq ft of commercial space on the site of the old Radcliffe Swimming Pool. Of the 136 apartments, 75% would be designated affordable.
Not only is Watson Homes building apartments in Radcliffe, but the company is also making Radcliffe its headquarters too. The housebuilder will be relocating from its space in Salford to take up residence at its new Green Street development.
A Radcliffe move made sense for the company, according to director Rob Watson. Radcliffe offers everything the company needs – namely excellent transport links for its staff, who largely live in the Bury and Salford area. It also has a bright future, Watson said.
“With everything being done in the town centre of Radcliffe, it made sense to get in there,” he said.
The council’s plan for the area “ticks all the boxes”, according to Watson, who cited the return of the leisure facility and the building of the school.
“Radcliffe has had things taken out of it or allowed to fall away over the last 10 or 20 years that has left it a little bit disjointed,” Watson said. “That joined-up plan that [the council] has now will start to allow it to kick on really.”
Watson Homes’ investment in Radcliffe is a step in the right direction, according to Bury Council leader Cllr Eamonn O’Brien.
“It’s a vote of confidence in what where we’re trying to show Radcliffe can do and what it can contribute, he said.
“Radcliffe is not just a place for people to live because it might be a bit cheaper to buy a house or rent than somewhere else in the borough,” O’Brien said. “It’s a place where you can actually create new opportunities, you can provide jobs and skills. This is only a fraction of what we hope will come.”
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