Public Consultation + Political Engagement

Will second Mayoral Development Corporation transform another GM town?

Bolton Town Centre and shopping precinct.With the results of the Greater Manchester Mayoral Election having been declared, now is a good time to look in detail at how one pledge made by Labour’s Andy Burnham might play out. (Some may argue we could’ve done this sooner given the result was something of a foregone conclusion…)

A few days before polling stations opened, Burnham travelled to Bolton to announce that, if re-elected, he’d “move quickly to establish the new Bolton Mayoral Development Corporation with a high profile Chair”. Like GM’s other MDC in Stockport, the proposed Bolton version will cover the Town Centre.

So could this be as transformational for Bolton as it is argued it has been for Stockport?

I suppose firstly, you’d have to look at whether it is the MDC that has transformed Stockport, or whether it would’ve happened anyway. Stockport is, of course, demographically and geographically very different to Bolton. For starters, it’s undeniable that it’s more affluent, with a lot more people with a lot more disposable income which can support local businesses. Witness the transformation of Underbanks to a hotbed of craft ale bars, vinyl stores and other quirky indies which began before the existence of the MDC, or even the Mayor with the power to create them.

Stockport arguably also benefits from frequent rail services to London, which makes it an attractive and convenient place to live for those with the kind of high-paying jobs that require the odd jaunt to the capital.

Furthermore, being on the edge of some of the most desirable places to live in Greater Manchester, including Didsbury and the Heatons, areas of Stockport close by to the town centre are benefitting from being an overspill effect. As they offer a more achievable alternative to those looking for that South Manchester lifestyle but who have been priced out of the other areas people typically gravitate to.

However, cynics who may point to the above as being indicative that Stockport’s MDC simply rode the wave would be shot down. Insiders say that the Board has been beneficial in bringing in private expertise, fostering co-operation between different political groups and raising Stockport’s profile such that it has been more likely to secure external funding.

So even with the more challenging demographics, it’s hard to argue that and MDC for Bolton could be anything but a good thing. The town drew up an ambitious £1billion masterplan in 2017. There have been a few setbacks along the way but significant numbers of new residential properties have since been developed in the Town Centre, and the Council will soon demolish the half-empty, dated shopping centre, Crompton Place, to provide a cleared site for a developer.

Bolton’s challenges it has in common with elsewhere; covid (obviously) and government cuts leading to a lack of capacity to bid for funding and project manage regeneration projects. It’s that latter point where an MDC and the private sector expertise which Stockport says has been beneficial could provide the most valuable support for Bolton.

All eyes will be on the board membership to see how Bolton may benefit. Perhaps they could even negotiate the reinstatement of the Bolton-London rail link?

Matthew Crisp is a Director at Cavendish Consulting, leading their North team in Manchester. Cavendish is the award-winning communications consultancy for the built environment. To find out more visit cavendishconsulting.com

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