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Collaboration is the key to building a better Bolton; the main message of the first Building Bolton Better workshop at the University of Bolton.
Paul Holt, director of MAC Construction Consultants, which helped put together the event featuring invited strategic investors, influencers and decision-makers, welcomed guests from Bolton Council, the university, housing and health sectors, as well as the private sector. He said: “Building Bolton Better was a conversation that started in October 2021, involving the community, employers, the council, individuals and the university.
“They asked how we planned to build Bolton up. There is the £1.2bn regeneration in the town centre and a second £1bn which is amazing. Part one included the redevelopment and expansion of the university to what it is today – at the heart of the community.
“There have been 4,000 houses built across Bolton and there is the ambition for an international golf course, as well as expanding infrastructure, education and primary care.
“We have brought people together to join the debate and engage with each other about what we are doing in Bolton.”
University of Bolton Provost Dr Zubair Hanslot said: “It is important that the university is not just insular, but looks outwards and reaches out for other people to see how we can work together for the prosperity of this town.
“Today is about starting the engagement journey, connecting people and developing conversations.
“Our key message is recruit, retain and employ.
“University is a wonderful experience and we want to give people the opportunity to learn and succeed and retain them so that they want to work in this town.”
Dr Hanslot revealed that the university is creating a purpose-built £40m Bolton College of Medical Services facility at the Royal Bolton Hospital site, which is being delivered by MAC Construction.
He said: “Academic staff will work with hospital staff to deliver a curriculum that is practical and up to date to work in the health industry. It will initially offer post-graduate qualifications while we work towards GMC approval to teach an undergraduate course.”
Bolton Council director of place development Gerry Brough outlined the huge developments planned for the town, as well as obstacles and opportunities.
He said: “We are working on bringing initiatives to Bolton. We have spent four years on the town centre regeneration plan, but it is not something we can do on our own. The council acts as a catalyst for change. In 2017, we borrowed £100m to secure key parts of the plan. That £100m attracted £1bn from the private sector.”
Mr Brough said the new vision for the town centre included housing, reducing retail space by 50 per cent, and creating more office space.
There are plans to create a transport corridor from the interchange to the new health campus at the hospital.
The town is also looking forward to welcoming the Ryder Cup in 2035 with Peel’s plans for Hulton Park.
Mr Brough said: “Bolton is a can-do town and is not short of opportunities, but we need to give developers a reason to invest.”
Infrastructure Workplace Facilities Management chairman Mark Whittaker led a discussion on how strategic collaboration can enhance investment across the Bolton economy.
Duncan Armstrong-Payne, of Peel Holdings, spoke of the ambition and passion in the town and the need for deliverable projects to keep the momentum going.
Step Places CEO Harinder Dhaliwal spoke of the importance of retention and creating an environment in which people want to live. “People want to live where they feel part of a community and near where they work. We need to make the town attractive to locals.”
Former student and Paralympic gold medallist Ayaz Bhuta spoke of the barriers he faced growing up in Bolton, as well as the opportunities the university provided.
He said: “We have missed a trick – there is no disability centre. There is one in Sydney and the whole building was fully accessible with wheelchairs for the beach. There’s nothing like that in the UK.
“Bolton can develop that on the social side for Greater Manchester. People can come and bring their families. More needs to be done to take people’s needs into account.”
Prof Peter Farrell, of the University’s School of Engineering, said collaboration is essential to upskill the workforce to carry out the big projects that will change Bolton forever.
He said links between the University, Bolton College, Alliance Learning and employers are vital to bridge the gap in the workforce.
This was illustrated by Barbara Entwistle, who began her association with the University in 1994 as a student, before teaching here, and is now chair of the Chartered Institute of Building, Lancashire and Cumbria.
She said: “I came in for coffee and 28 years later, I am still here! I started an HNC and then did my master's. I never thought I would be teaching here and then to become chair of the CIOB is incredible. It shows that anything is possible with knowledge and education.”