Chorley Hotspots: View from the Bay

By Ged Henderson

19 Jul 2023

Botany Bay Steel Units Drone Shot

The steelwork rising out of the ground at Botany Bay is solid evidence that the latest inward investment project in Chorley is advancing at speed.

The historic Canal Mill was built in 1855 and with its fairy tale turrets was an iconic retail location until closing its doors in 2019.

Now FI Real Estate Management (FIREM), which is headquartered in Chorley, has started work creating a business park on the site, just off the M61, and is expecting occupants to start moving in next year.

The plan will see the creation of the park on a 21-acre site in a £100m development. Phase one will deliver 33 units for light industrial and commercial use across 405,000 sq ft and a ‘drive-thru’ food outlet.

Phase two will occupy a further 16 acres located across the canal, featuring a 91-unit scheme totalling 322,560 sq ft of mixed-use space ranging from 500 to 24,000 sq ft.

In June another £3m phase of the development was given the green light by planners. It will see FIREM build a podium to provide an extra 85,800 sq ft of space across four floors to accommodate parking and leisure activities.

There will also be a helipad and hangar, as well as an 11,200 sq ft multi-use space which will be used for exercise, wellbeing activities, team bonding and sports for FIREM employees.

Botany Bay is the latest chapter in Chorley’s long running regeneration story that has seen the transformation of Market Walk in the town centre and the creation of a new community at Buckshaw Village.

When work started at Botany Bay, Alistair Bradley, leader of Chorley Council, spoke of its strategic importance to the borough. He said: “Not only will it create new jobs, it will provide modern facilities for existing Chorley businesses to grow into and also opportunities for businesses to relocate here.”

Robert Woolley is senior asset manager at FIREM. He says the growing business, founded by Chorley based businessman Tim Knowles, has around 10m sq ft of buildings and land in its portfolio in locations ranging from Clydebank to Southampton.

FIREM also has around 5m sq ft of new build projects across the country, mainly in the industrial sector but also in retail, leisure and warehousing.

Robert says: “Tim Knowles is from Chorley and has always been forward thinking in what he wants to do for Chorley. He’s got national property, he could be anywhere in the country but he’s chosen here as his base because he wants to give something back to the community.

“Hopefully Botany Bay will create higher employment for the area. We’re looking at creating 150 new jobs this year.”

He is also full of praise for “progressive” Chorley Council and its regeneration work, including Market Walk in the centre of the town.

The council bought the shopping centre in 2013 and five years later work began on its £12m development which has brought a six-screen cinema and M&S Foodhall into Chorley.

It is a strategy that has paid off for the council, as well as the community, with the local authority receiving £834,000 a year from its investments including Market Walk.

Robert says: “They’ve taken that risk on and they’ve got the income coming through. They have a great anchor tenant in Market Walk in M&S. It’s great what they’ve been doing for the town.

“They are also happy to work with us, which is also great, and they understand we are trying to bring something to the community.”

Elizabeth Porter is group chief executive of Brysdales. The group has been based in the borough since 1998 and she has seen Chorley’s growth journey at close hand. She is full of praise for the way it has been carried out.

She says: “I went to a presentation by the council leader a number of years ago and what impressed me about the vision is it wasn’t just about building houses, it was about building employment opportunities as well, using the brownfield sites.

“There was an acknowledgment of the need to create employment. When you look now you can see all that has happened, including Botany Bay.

“In the town centre we are seeing a lot of independent businesses, if you look at all the restaurants and bars this is not a ghost town at night.

“Buckshaw Village has seen the creation of a little town, with new schools and shops and a mix that is really developing the community.”

Elizabeth also points out the change in Chorley’s local economy, from a town dominated by a major employer in the Royal Ordnance Factory, which once occupied the major piece of land where Buckshaw now sits.

Looking at the development that has taken place locally, she says: “It has been done in a well-balanced way, future proofing it.”

Richard Barnes, director at Chorley accountants Studholme-Bell, says projects like Buckshaw and Botany Bay are helping bring larger businesses into the town.

He says: “The Market Walk development has been brilliant. It is a great place to visit. The council is also very pro-active when it comes to events to bring people in.

“Chorley has a lot going for it as a town. More people need to discover it.”

Craig Parsons, chief executive of B2B Tradecard, also praises the council for creating a single vision for the borough and for being “forward thinking” in its actions including the purchase and development of Market Walk.

He says: “The council does a lot to create that atmosphere that says we are not a ghost town, we are not a former market town - we are a thriving town that happens to have a market.”

However, he believes more can be done to attract businesses into Chorley town centre. He says: “I don’t see enough development of space for professional services to grow and some of that could happen in the town centre. There are a lot of brownfield sites that could be redeveloped into those sorts of spaces.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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