WHEN Bolton Market Hall closed 10 years ago there was an audible sigh of regret from local people who believed the days of independent shopkeepers in the town centre were over.

Their concerns turned out to be largely justified as big name chains moved in. Now, fast-forward to 2017 and the prospect of two fascinating projects which are set to bring back independents centrally, harking back to the roots of Bolton business.

These two projects have a history that could not be more different.

One is the former NCP multi-storey car-park in Bow Street, closed because of structural problems. The other is Little Bolton Town Hall in St George’s Street, dating back to 1826.

Even the people behind the projects are very different. The Link is being developed by Farhad Azimy and husband and wife Subhash and Geeta Kotecha.

The three all have, separately and together, an impressive track record in projects like turning a former snooker hall on Blackburn Road into the Global Interiors’ development. The Kotechas are particularly associated with the successful Spice Valley restaurants.

Little Bolton Town Hall has been bought by a local couple, who were actually traders in the Market Hall, along with a former retailer in the town’s fish market.

Chris and Rebecca Brayshaw are the fourth generation in the over 100 year-old business Umbrella World, currently based in former mill the Nortex Business Centre on Chorley Old Road. Here, they run a successful online company. For the project, they have teamed up with Rebecca’s father, Mr Mark Hayton, who now lives in America.

The Link involves between 40 and 60 specialist retail units, single and double, from ground level. On a further level, a food court of street food shops and a micro-brewery plus an open landscaped area with seating is planned. They have already signed up 20 local businesses.

There is a large flexible retail area in the basement, several levels of parking and studio apartments at the top of the building.

“We want to bring back small, local businesses to the town centre,” explained Mr Azimy, “to return what we lost when the Market Hall closed.”

Stated Mr Kotecha: “We think The Link will complement The Market Place and be another reason to bring people into Bolton, which is what we all want.

“But, most of all, we want the people of Bolton to support The Link, to make it their own.”

Little Bolton Town Hall already has an important place in Bolton’s history as the scene of a Chartist riot in 1839 and it has been a court and a police station.

More recently, it underwent a £450,000 sympathetic renovation by specialist heritage developer Simon Linford.

The Brayshaws wanted to find a new showroom for their goods and online business, retaining the mill premises for storage. But there was more to it than that.

“We looked at it two years ago and fell in love with it,” explained Rebecca. “We knew the adjacent house on All Saints Street would make great premises for us but we felt we could do something special with the main building. But we understood it was already sold.”

Last year, however, with the building still empty, they made fresh inquiries. Now, they envisage new life for the listed Georgian landmark.

They want to bring in a well-known restaurant chain along with a craft brewery and a craft wine bar. On the upper floor, they plan a large business space for conferences or for smaller businesses to rent areas or “hot-desk”.

“We just want to get more local businesses involved and get this lovely old building well-used again,” stated Chris. The couple welcome The Link development nearby. Added Rebecca. “We want our town centre to be thriving again.”

Leader of Bolton Council, Cllr Cliff Morris, said: “Developments like this are an important part of the town and our vision for regeneration across the town centre.

“Both of these projects will bring a range of independent businesses to the town which in turn will broaden the retail and leisure offer for our shoppers.

“It also shows a confidence amongst independent retailers who are prepared to invest in taking on new outlets. Bolton is open for business.”