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  • "Bolton entered the 1960s with a thriving shopping centre, that went from strength to strength for the next thirty-plus years. The town centre's pull extended well beyond even the new metropolitan borough boundary, and coach parties descended from as far afield as Chester and Carlisle to shop in pedestrian-friendly, and just plain friendly, Bolton. In the early eighties, the GMPTE was forced to revise its fare structure to acknowledge the fact that people were taking the train and bus to Bolton, rather than Manchester, and just before its abolition, a GMC officer specifically conceded that "places like Bolton have a life of their own".

    What went wrong? Four factors have combined to destroy it: the emergence of out-of-town retail facilities like Middlebrook and the Trafford Centre, the convenience of the Internet and the establishment of Manchester, after decades in the doldrums, as a "regional centre", where it had previously been regarded as little more than the city down the road, with nothing particular to recommend it.

    The fourth factor? This is not at bottom a party-political issue, but the failure of the current regime to address the above challenges cannot be ignored. Councils of both political hues have successfully moved Bolton forward in the recent past, including through the devastation of the mill closures and the clearance of large areas of central Bolton (and Farnworth). They succesfully sidestepped the errors of other areas - very few high-rise flats, no all-encompassing shopping mall like Manchester's Arndale initially was, and they set out at every stage to improve - pedestrianisation, sympathetic development of buildings and sites and enhancement of the setting of the town's iconic town hall (now ruined by a plethora of poles and assorted clutter, and unbalanced by the removal of the fountains from opposite the town hall and their replacement by near-invisible trickles dwarfed by the frontage).

    In other words - we had real imagination, and we haven't got it any more. Now we just have "vision" in the buraucrats' sense: something someone has told us to have, bulletpointed and written up so we can check what we are suposed to believe if anyone asks us.

    While Bury has made the most of its assets as a much smaller market town, we have destroyed what could have been (given that it had already been through at least three refurbishments in its long life) a real selling point: a proper Lancashire market hall. Stockport has its preserved 1930s picture and variety palace in the Plaza, now once again thriving; we pulled down the Odeon, a masterpiece of art deco inside, and located in the very "cultural quarter" the council is meant to be promoting - and replaced it with - nothing. From the ABC to the old fire station to the Tech, we have allowed buildings of dignity and substance to be replaced by inferior ones that do not enhance the townscape in any way. As for Smithills Hall - the Council's craven kowtowing beggars belief.

    All this after other areas have learnt their lesson in this regard - and also as regards doctrinaire anti-motorist policies. I'm all for promoting public transport, but you cannot simply force people out of their cars and on to the buses, as Manchester found out in the 1970s. They will just go elsewhere, and there are more places to go now than there were then. Besides Bolton's transport system is worse than it was 40 years ago; it is expensive, sporadic and unreliable, run largely by a company based in Oldham and overseen by a body that is not primarily interested in our area.

    Would unitary status give us back some of our pride and a council that had real vision? it seems to have worked for Warrington."
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Bolton town centre 'is a mess'

First published in News

A ROW has erupted between one of Bolton’s Labour MPs — who branded the town centre “a disgrace” — and the leader of the council.

David Crausby, MP for Bolton North East, made the claims after he was criticised for publishing a political pamphlet with a picture of empty shops in Bolton town centre headlined “closed for business”.

The Boltonian pamphlet claimed government policies were sending people “from the town centre to the JobCentre”.

Mr Crausby told The Bolton News: “The town centre is a disgrace.

“It’s in a mess and we need to pull together and do something about it.

“The reason for it is the state of the economy. I’ve been going on about this for years and years, with the rise of internet shopping and we’re facing a triple-dip recession.

“We need to take action and we need a long-term plan.”

But Bolton Council leader Cllr Cliff Morris called on the MP to get behind the town.

Cllr Morris said: “We don’t think it’s helpful to talk the town centre down. We shouldn’t forget 20,000 people work in the town centre.

“Bolton is actually holding its own compared with our comparable rivals, and we work with businesses to try to attract investment.

“The coalition’s economic policies are hurting the town centre, because people’s spending powers have been reduced due to wage freezes and high VAT on goods.

“We know that the town centre faces a significant challenge and will have to restructure to reflect the changed economy and customers shopping habits.

“We have put a strategy in place, which we believe responds to these challenges.”

Mr Crausby has now spoken to Bolton Council’s director of regeneration, Keith Davies, about the issue.

The MP said: “I’ve met with Keith Davies and told him what I think.

“I don’t think the solution is to have more town centre shopping and more town centre living.

“We need more green space, more industry and leisure in the town centre.”

Mr Crausby’s pamphlet was first criticised by Conservative Bradshaw councillor Mudasir Dean, who said the town’s Tory group had been previously attacked by Bolton Council’s ruling Labour Party in the past for calling for more action to regenerate the town centre.

He claimed Bolton’s Labour Party was sending out “mixed messages”.

At a council meeting in October, Astley Bridge Conservative Cllr John Walsh was jeered by the Labour benches, branded “a dinosaur” and accused of “bashing Bolton” after he called for a debate on town centre regeneration.

Cllr Dean said: “Whenever the Conservatives have tried to contribute by offering positive ideas to improve our town centre, we have always been accused of “knocking the town centre and not supporting it” — these were the exact words of the Labour leader Cliff Morris at a council meeting.

“The Boltonian has been sent out headlined Closed for Business — and if this is not knocking the town centre then what is?

“I suggest Mr Morris and Mr Crausby work out a single message they want to give the people of Bolton on this sensitive matter.”

Bolton’s Conservative leader, Cllr David Greenhalgh added: “I suggest Cllr Morris has a word with Mr Crausby to get him on message.”

Cllr Morris said: “We’ve given this message to the Tories, and we’d ask David Crausby to also support our town centre, rather than knock it.”

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