TOWNS are planning for their share of a multi-million pound fund promised for the regeneration of Bolton’s district centres. HELENA VESTY reports.

BOLTON Council has promised £16 million to give district town centres in Bolton a makeover.

Westhoughton, Horwich, Little Lever and Farnworth all stand to get a share of the money, and although it has not yet been revealed if the pot of money will be divided evenly between the four locations, each of the centres is now making a case for its fair handout of the cash.

Farnworth moved the fastest out of the four — the town already has a plan of changes passed by the council which are now in progress. Following in Farnworth’s footsteps, other town centres are making their first moves.

The newly appointed deputy council leader, Martyn Cox will oversee the plans and is keeping up the pace in the borough-wide push for regeneration.

After Farnworth’s quick success in July, he told The Bolton News: “We don’t want it to take too long. This isn’t something that’s going to drag on for months, years.

“By spring next year we want to be breaking ground.”

Steering groups made up of local leaders, along with a district town centre team working within the council, are driving the makeovers on the ground.

Kicking off the first stage of brainstorming, it was confirmed last week that planning firm BDP has been appointed to plan the remaining three district centres’ regeneration.

The international firm of consultants, also in charge of the Bolton and Farnworth town centre masterplans, has been tasked with coming up with proposals for how the money could be spent in each of the other areas.

Cllr Cox said: “Now that steering groups are in place in Horwich, Little Lever and Westhoughton and regeneration specialists BDP have been appointed, we expect to see real progress in the coming months.

“BDP will work with the steering groups, which are made up of councillors, business leaders, and local residents, to draw up the initial concepts for each of their districts. We want everyone to have their say on the proposals and consultation for each area will start early next year.”

So far, residential developments have featured heavily in the approved Farnworth and main town centre masterplans, but town leaders say it’s down to residents to put forward their ideas for their areas.

Ideas are being invited in over the coming weeks by Cllrs David Wilkinson, Marie Brady and Sean Hornby, who is chairing Little Lever’s steering group. Cllr Wilkinson encouraged residents to send in their thoughts, saying: “Lots of good ideas have come forward and lots more are needed.

“No idea is too weird and wacky, the weird and wacky might just be a great idea for Westhoughton. Don’t think inside the box, think outside the box — it’s where some great ideas come from.”

At the top of the to-do list for the town is its landmark hall in Market Street which currently has a ‘hole in the roof’, according to town mayor and Westhoughton Steering Group chair Cllr Wilkinson.

At Westhoughton Area Forum last week, Cllr Cox said: “Westhoughton is slightly different from other district centres. Money has already been set aside for Westhoughton Town Hall — a considerable amount of money because it needs some TLC.

“The town hall should play a part in the town centre masterplan when the steering group gets back together. It’s probably the most important building in Westhoughton.”

Cllr Wilkinson said Westhoughton can now move forward with its priorities: “Things have been a little quiet while we have been waiting for the consultant but there is a long list put in by people.

“Pedestrianisation in the town centre, more parking, better accessibility for those with disabilities, improvements to traffic flow though the town centre.”

Councillor Brady, the chair of Horwich’s masterplan steering group, has also found traffic to be a frontrunner, saying: “Traffic has been a big problem, the number of heavy goods vehicles coming through the town. CCTV cameras are being mentioned, frequently, as well as car parking and transport into the town centre.”

However, while ideas are being welcomed from residents, there may be challenges as decision-makers decide how the funding is sliced in the coming months.

The £16 million boost for the four district centres comes from the £100 million fund for Bolton town centre’s regeneration project and there is no guarantee that each town centre will be granted an equal sum. But, for the moment, councillors marshalling the plans say that competition is not a concern.

Cllr Brady said: “We’ve all got the same consultant advising us accurately. I suppose it depends on the ambition of each steering group.”

Cllr Wilkinson added: “It’s possible that some towns might get more than others. Some towns might have more ideas or some ideas may cost more. But if some of these ideas don’t get through this time, they can be looked at for future funding streams. It’s not a case of ‘that idea is no good, throw it away’.”

At last week’s Westhoughton Area Forum, a representative from the council’s town centre team said: “There is no funding allocated to date specifically for each of the town centres, that will be allocated when we get the outcomes of the masterplans.”

Once ideas have been gathered and draft proposals put together, the initial plans will be put to public consultation. After residents have had their say, final plans will be drawn up and submitted for a council green light.

SUGGESTIONS are now flooding in from residents desperate to see long-awaiting regeneration of their town centres, but leaders say there are limits to what can be done with the £16 million fund.

Cllr Marie Brady, chairing Horwich’s steering group for its masterplan, says that at least some changes put forward will need to have long term benefits to be given the green light and make the final proposal.

Cllr Brady said: “We’re going to include ideas that have a good outcome.

“£4 million is an awful lot of money and we have to make sure it is well spent.

“This is a real opportunity to do something, it’s going to make a lasting impact. We’re planning for the years ahead.”

Westhoughton leader David Wilkinson says the funding has to be used on physical projects, such as changes to the high street, rather than ‘revenue costs’ which come from other sources of funding, including paying for more police officers on patrol.

Ideas will be reviewed by planning consultants BDP.

ALONG with a share of £16 million in funding from Bolton Council, one town is inching closer to another multi-million pound cash injection and other towns are hoping to follow suit.

Farnworth masterplan for a regenerated town centre has already been approved and now, the town is also in line for a £25 million grant from national government.

Farnworth’s masterplan sets out objectives for the town centre including a new community and civil hub in the heart of Farnworth, improved public spaces, redeveloping the market precinct and extending the leisure centre.

‪Initial terms have already been agreed with the current owner St Modwen to acquire the precinct.

The town has since been chosen as one of only 50 areas across the country to go through to the second phase of the Future High Streets Fund, a multi-million pound pot of cash set up to make high streets fit for the future.

‪Bolton Council’s successful bid means that it will now receive a grant of up to £150,000 to help develop a full business case for the proposed investment programme. ‪The maximum award under the Future High Street Fund is £25 million but most successful bids are expected to receive £10 to £15 million.

Leaders in other towns are hoping that their masterplans will be equally as successful at paving the way for future funding.

Horwich councillor and chair of the town’s steering group, Marie Brady, said: “We’re hoping that the masterplan put in can be put in pretty quickly and then that will lead to further funding. We have a big conservation area here and we would look to unlock further funding for that.”

The leader wants residents to be hopeful that the big figures are not just pipe dreams, saying: “I don’t want people to think ‘we have heard it all before’, we can’t be complacent.

“It is resident-led and it’s about what residents would like to see.”