THE long and slow transformation of Bolton town centre back into a jewel in the crown of the North West economy is starting to take shape.
A five-year recession, starting when the financial world tipped on its head in 2007, has taken a visible toll locally.
But since then, more than £880 million has flowed into the borough of Bolton from the public and private sectors.
And now the visual evidence of that massive investment is finally starting to materialise.
Plenty of dissatisfaction has been voiced locally at Bolton town centre’s fall from grace in recent years — but it is slowly starting to blossom.
Keith Davies, Bolton Council’s director of development and regeneration, described the process as “like watching one of your children growing up”.
“Nothing seems to be happening and then you look at them and they are becoming adults. In this case we are finally starting to see the bricks and mortar, the result of years of long-term planning.”
An indication of what was to come started with the £90 million construction of the new Bolton College — soon to be complete with the opening of the Science, Technology, engineering and Maths centre at a further cost of £4.3 million — and the £31million Bolton One.
Within the next two years, the landscape of the civic centre will change even more.
A £7 million office and restaurant development by local law firm Asons will stand at the gateway to Bolton in Clarence Street, overlooking St Peter’s Way.
Just yards away, £37 million will have been ploughed into creating a nine-screen cinema and complex of restaurants, cafe bars and shops in the refurbished Market Place.
And, despite the recession, the retail sector has invested heavily elsewhere in the town centre — Marks and Spencer (£1.5million), Sainsbury’s (£1 million), BHS (£2.5 million), Wilkinsons (£1.4 million), four tenants in Victoria Plaza in Oxord Street (£1.5 million), Wayne Walker Quality Meats (£1.2 million).
Meanwhile, millions of pounds have also come in from the residential sector with the creation of The Cube in Bradshawgate (£9 million), Holy Trinity Church (£4.5 million), student accommodation at The Bank in Le Mans Crescent (£1 million) and the Pack Horse Hotel (£3 million).
Commercial properties in addition to the Asons investment also include the £13 million office development in Bark Street, Atria in Spa Road (£4.5 million), the Travelodge (£4 million), NCP (£18 million), St George’s House (£1.5 million) and the Excellency Centre (£2 million).
Outside the town centre, £15 million has come from Bolton Council’s partnership with property development and investment firm PSP and the Logistics North’s Cutacre project will realise £202 million.
The Rivington Chase (Horwich Loco Works) development was worth £262 million and the Burnden Leisure project incorporating the Reebok and Bolton Arena will come in at £93 million.
Bolton Council itself has also chipped in with the £4.5 million revamp of Bolton Market, which has just been completed and the exact same figure has been splashed out on refurbishment of the Town Hall to allow other local authority offices to be occupied by private sector companies.
In addition to that, demolition work has now been completed on the £48 million Transport Interchange.
A further £8.9 million has been put aside for “one-off” projects.
Bolton Council leader Cliff Morris believes the public are suddenly starting to see the fruits of years of planning and hard work behind the scenes.
“We always knew it would take at least £1 billion and this is proving to be the case,” he said.
“The private sector has shown faith in the town and they are in partnership with us.
“There are still a lot of challenges in the town centre, but we are gradually getting there.
“The more investment we attract, it is a catalyst for other firms to come into the town. We’ve got to keep talking to them and saying ‘come to Bolton’.”