RAPID progress is being made on a new shopping complex coming to Bolton town centre.

The former Bow Street car park is in the process of being transformed into The Link, which will bring together a wide range of small businesses as well as housing a new hotel and leisure space.

Almost half of the retail units being created on the ground floor of the centre have already been snapped up by local entrepreneurs and it is hoped they could be open by early summer.

Initial talks have also begun over the upper floors, with a bowling alley and laser tag among the potential options.

Farhad Azimy, who is developing the scheme with business partners Subhash and Geeta Kotecha, said: “There are going to be some really, really exciting shops and businesses coming in and we have had an excellent response from people in the Bolton area.

“Our focus has always been on bringing in small businesses, artisan shops, craftspeople.

“We are offering units for as little as £75 a week and that is going to open the door to a lot of businesses who would otherwise not have the chance to come into a town centre.

“A unit in a town centre shopping complex might cost you £20,000 a year elsewhere.

“For a long time there has been doom and gloom about shops closing in Bolton but this is a real opportunity for a new beginning.”

Since builders moved onto the site in January, work has begun to stabilise the structure and to create an open area — to be known as Crown Square — at the entrance to the site.

The new shopfronts will be individually tailored to each business and the outside of the building will be given a modern look with copper cladding.

More than 20 units have already been taken up and the first occupants are expected to be revealed soon, including food outlets, retailers, and hair and beauty shops.

Mr Kotecha said: “With what is planned for the railway station, Newport Street, the Market Place, this is another positive thing to add.

“Every person who has come for a viewing here has signed up, I think we have really exceeded their expectations.”

The developers have contacted Bolton College and the university to encourage budding entrepreneurs to get in touch, and want to hear from other local businesses keen to move into the town centre.

Mr Azimy added: “What we want and what everyone wants is to get more people coming into the town and make Bolton a thriving place again.

“By coming here, small businesses can retain their individuality but also have all the benefits of being in a shopping centre facility.

“I think people are going to be excited and quite surprised by some of the businesses coming here.” To get in touch visit thelinkbolton.co.uk