In the past 5-10 years my town centre has been a disappointment every time I visit. Less people are visiting, I have a lack of recommendations to anyone other than first time visitors and there are multiple, 'prime-location' retail spaces which are closed down and not being re-filled. This article aims to look at some of the reasons why.

Police Force

We currently have just 13 police officers for Bolton Town Centre. This may seem sufficient but, only 3 are constables compared the 8 PCSOs 1. I could not find a figure to what this amount was in the past, although, the Greater Manchester area has lost over 15% of its police force in the past 9 years 2. Furthermore, violent crime has nearly tripled in the past 7 years 3. I am not saying that this increase in crime, or the lack of visitors is directly impacted by this reduction in police force and increase in crime but, it is one of the contributing factors.

Most likely, this is also affecting the night-life on a Friday and Saturday night, one of the busiest times for Bolton. Couple this with the ease of access to places like Bury, Manchester and other, busier towns and cities via the train station, the night-life is also dying. ​​​​​​​
The Economy of Bolton – Where is the money spent?

In 2018 the council raised the council tax of Bolton by 4.99% which is the maximum amount allowed at the time. On top of that, the total budget allocated to the borough has been reduced by nearly £14 million 4. One of these cuts was the living wage supplement despite around 25% of people both living and working in Bolton were paid under the living wage in 2017 5. Where has this money gone? Are there other constituencies that are in greater need? This is something which has not been directly addressed. In contrast to this, national wages have increased by 3.8% compared to an inflation rate of 1.9%. Although, this has had little impact on the economy of Bolton.

Bolton's economic standpoint is also negatively affected by the independent owners of many retail spaces throughout the centre. Many of these owners (particularly in the indoor Market Place) do not live in Bolton.​​​​​​​
A 'small' selection of closed retail spaces (17) in the town centre.
Education

The Education and Services Grant was removed in 2017. This affected pupils needing alternative provision and special schools even more as their grant was 3.75 and 4.25 times higher (respectively). This Grant equated to around £1 billion per year 6. To show a correlation between this and the impact on schools, here are the Ofsted averages for the North West. 2% inadequate, 8% needs improvement, 66% good, 23% outstanding as per the 2016 Ofsted report for the North West. 3% inadequate, 11% needs improvement, 64% good, 23% outstanding as of 2018 7. This may not be a causation but, I will let you decide. Another possible impact due to the lack of this Grant is the health in schools. CQC report in September 2018 - 'The quality of serious incident investigations was variable. The trust’s learning from deaths was behind the national average. Following the inspection the trust sent evidence to show the quality of the serious incident investigation reports and systems for death reviews were improving. ' The physical environment from, and in, which some children’s services were delivered varied by location. Storage limitations in some buildings meant that equipment for patients’ care and treatment, and hazardous cleaning products were not always stored securely, and we found examples of potential ligature points. Scary stuff! Safety was one of the aspects that 'needed improvement'.

For the overall report, there was no improvement on last year and one of the worst rated aspects were the services for young people 8.​​​​​​​
Development & Deterioration
Now, onto one of the more positive aspects of this article. At least, it should have been…

I will start with the amount of money allocated to these development. Firstly, The Vaults. £25 million was spent on the development of the indoor Market Place Shopping Centre including the vaults 9. When this first opened there were 7 businesses available to choose from (as far as I can remember, I struggled to find an exact amount). Now, there are 8. You may be thinking 'This is great! The vaults are doing well!' However, there have been 5 closures since The Vaults' grand opening, 4 of which have been local, independent venues.

Both The Baltic Cellar and The Bank took great risks moving their businesses to the 'up-and-coming' Vaults expecting that moving from their well-established locations would bring in more business. Neither were low in interest whenever I visited The Vaults; they gave a nice variety compared to the likes of Nandos and Prezzo. Both businesses were apparently crushed by the increased rental of their spaces. This has not been officially confirmed by the Market Place, nor the businesses themselves but, speculation has led the general community to believe this. Nandos and Prezzo have not been affected by this due to their comfortable place in the retail economy and their public view of being well established restaurants. I have also spoken to a local councillor who has spoken to the owners of these retails spaces who are businessmen, based in London. They have no apparent care for these spaces, and no incentive to lower these rents allowing small businesses to thrive and bring more attraction to our small town. They have confirmed it does not bother them that these spaces are empty.​​​​​​​
Another development still fresh in the minds of Boltoners is the new bus station. This cost a whopping £48 million to build through the funding of TFGM. The reasoning behind this change was to create a transport hub more connected to the existing train station and to create improved facilities (cafés, toilets, cycle storage etc.) According to Montagu Evans (working on behalf of TGFM) they sent leaflets and hosted workshops to gather feedback from the local community, local business owners, stakeholders and transport companies to see if the proposed changes had negative or positive feedback. 'Feedback on the proposed design and facilities was positive with significantly more people making positive comments than negative ones.' - A quote from the Bolton Interchange Key Findings Report in 2011.​​​​​​​
I will highlight the main responses to this survey although, the full results can be found here 10. The total amount of responses was 233 from those who received the form or contacted TFGM directly.

Facilities: 115 – Positive. 31 – Negative.
Facilities, 'Is there anything you particularly liked?': 22 – Nothing. 19 - All good. Facilities that could have been implemented into the old interchange – 48
Other comments: 56 – Like location. 36 Don't like location 18 – Money could be better spent. 18 – Waste of money. 17 – Concerns about impact on market.

Here is a comment from Montagu Evans and one from a member of the public who completed the survey:

Montagu Evans: 'As well as the 36 who said they did not like the location, an additional 14 people claimed that a new bus station was not required at all, stating that the current facility was either fit for purpose or requiring a revamp only. 17 people were concerned about the impact the proposed move would have on market traders. A couple of people felt that a minority of commuters were being given the priority over a majority of shoppers.'

“Wrong site, takes you from the market why not keep the existing site on Moor Lane and put the new facilities there – more central.” Female, over 60.

Through reading general comments from the public and through my own observations, these issues raised during the original survey have not been addressed. The market has received no additional promotion around the town centre or at the new interchange. A free shuttle has been implemented; however, this is rarely used by those visiting the market as it takes too long.

I decided to ask those who impacted the most negatively through this development, the Bolton Market.

Q: 'How has the amount of visitors changed in the past 5-10 years?'

A: 'Massive decline.'

Q: 'How has the amount of visitors changed since the bus station has moved? What do your customers think?'
A: 'The older generation have been affected the worse as they now cannot reach the market easily. The market has been getting worse before the bus station moved though. When the Market Place changed from markets to high street stores, people stopped travelling to Bolton. Everywhere has high street shops but, markets are always unique.'

Q: 'What would you like to see improved about Bolton Market and Bolton as a whole? Why?'

A: 'Bring back the bus station/make transport easier to get to the market. Bring back the market hall with actual markets! Bring back the outside part of the market. 40% of traders have lost customers since these changes.'

Charlie, Preston, Working on Bolton Market for 22 years.


Q: 'How has the amount of visitors changed in the past 5-10 years?'

A: 'The amount of visitors has gotten much worse. We have empty stalls, management don't care, there's a lack of ground floor car parks, the town centre is scruffy. We've fallen behind other local towns.'

Q: 'How has the amount of visitors changed since the bus station has moved? What do your customers think?'

A: 'I would say we've lost about 15% of customers since the station moved. We've had customers complain about the free bus because it doesn't come often enough. The council were supposed to start providing coaches but this still hasn't happened.'

Q: 'What would you like to see improved about Bolton Market and Bolton as a whole? Why?'

A: 'Better ground floor parking. Coach services. Active management, with retail skills and experience, who help promote the market. Town centre needs cleaning up and needs more development. Bury has done very well with this. Shops also need filling.'

Chris, Bolton, Worked on the market for over 35 years.​​​​​​​
A comparison with Bury

If we compare these opinions and my experiences explained above regarding the town centre to Bury, the contrast is extreme. As an example, Bury Market (that's JUST the market) gets over 250,000 visitors every single week 11. To show a scale comparison of this, the Bolton Food & Drink Festival received just 260,000 visitors over the 3 days it was on. So that shows just how Busy Bury is and like I said, this does not include visitors to the Rock, The Millgate and other areas of the town centre!

The Rock is another prime example of a good shopping experience. Cafés, places to eat, high street stores, a supermarket, and it looks excellent! It's a pleasurable place to be and people who visit for the first time are surprised that a modern structure like that is in a smallish northern town. Bury are innovating! Also, they were trying to pull attention away from underdeveloped areas of the town. The Millgate was already bustling, with quite a few successful, independent shops and eateries.​​​​​​​
Footnotes
1 Police.uk website showing the police officers for Bolton Town Centre: https://www.police.uk/greater-manchester/KC41/
4 Annual survey of hours and earnings by Manchester City Council: https://www.bolton.gov.uk/downloads/file/1517/budget-report-2018-19
8 Annual CQC report for Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust: https://www.cqc.org.uk/provider/RY2?referer=widget3
9Cost of refurbishment for the Bolton Market Place: https://boltonmarketplace.co.uk/about/
10GMPTE Key Findings Report for the construction of the new bus interchange: https://www.montagu-evans.co.uk/boltoninterchange/pdf/Detailed%20Design%20Public%20Consultation%20Report.pdf
11The amount of people visiting Bury Market every week: https://www.burymarket.com/index.aspx?articleid=8330

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