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Green skills future for Bolton retail park

A Bolton retail park is set to play a key part in the town’s growing green technology industry, after we secured its future. 

We aim to transform Trinity Retail Park, based off St Peter’s Way just outside the town centre, into a community-focused green technology and skills hub.

The site, which is currently home to Bolton charity Urban Outreach’s food storage and distribution facility, Jump Xtreme trampoline park as well as retail units, will become part of our plans to invest in supporting local people to learn new skills and find work in the construction and energy industry.

Plans for the site include developing a training centre for staff to learn the latest skills in green technologies, which will become commonplace in retrofitting and housebuilding in the near future. We'll also explore building a modular training house for staff to develop their trades in a real environment and food growing on the site to help reduce the level of food poverty in the borough.

Funding for the acquisition has come from our reserves with external funding being sought for plans to transform the site. While we'll run the area as a not-for-profit enterprise, we'll reinvest any surplus generated from the commercial rents back into local community projects such as helping people back into employment.

Jon Lord, our Chief Executive, said: “This is a move with both eyes firmly focused on the future and supporting our local people and businesses in Bolton. We want to use this site to create a new centre of excellence for green technology and skills with our community partners. We also want to continue supporting the vital humanitarian response work from the site, which is led by Urban Outreach on behalf of the Bolton Family, to provide community food support. This will be a vital part of the post-pandemic response and economic recovery.

“The centre of excellence will allow our staff to learn new techniques in green technology that will be part of our tenants’ homes and local companies could hire space to upskill their own staff. It can also play an important role in helping those out of work to reskill so they can secure jobs in the energy and construction industries, which we expect to be a big part of the government’s levelling up agenda.

“The site will also offer opportunities for local businesses in what will be a fast-growing sector of the economy after the pandemic. In addition to supporting start up companies, businesses will also be able to train up staff in terms of new skills.

“Bolton at Home tenants will benefit from this investment in different ways. It’ll create new training and employment opportunities for them and enable us to identify more ways to deliver sustainable improvements to tenants’ homes such as renewable and sustainable heating systems, reducing their running costs and our carbon emissions. Of course, while tenants will be our main priority, these technologies will ultimately also benefit other houses and buildings across Bolton and the wider Greater Manchester region.”

Councillor Adele Warren, Bolton Council’s Cabinet Member for Environmental Services Delivery, added: “This is a fantastic initiative for our town and residents.

“Environmentally friendly technology will deliver sustainable development and employment opportunities, boosting our economy whilst helping Bolton achieve carbon net zero. This is an exciting project that will also improve existing homes and create new sustainable homes whilst upskilling the work force and creating job opportunities.”

Questions and answers

Plans for the site

What prompted us to buy this land?

Our partner Urban Outreach was worried about the sale of the site and the loss of their venue, as the borough requires a food hub project to support local communities. They were looking to purchase the leasehold of their unit, but this could still be insecure depending on who bought the freehold.

We realised the potential opportunities offered by purchasing the site to guarantee security for Urban Outreach and explore new opportunities for us. We need to invest in green tech to reduce fuel poverty and meet carbon reduction targets and we currently have no facility to train our staff to install or maintain these green technologies. We also saw opportunities to offer training to other organisations and tenants so you can access new jobs in green tech.

Trinity Retail Park is a good location near to us with space and scope to explore green technology, carbon reduction, co-working, a green centre of excellence, research and development opportunities and manufacturing. We’re also exploring replicating a modular home on the site for training purposes.

We’re also exploring food growing possibilities and an orchard, which could support Urban Outreach’s goal to reduce food poverty and increase sustainability and affordable food for all.

Our vision for the land will help us achieve our overarching objectives to 1. meet customers’ housings needs, 2. support our customers to be more independent and our communities to be more sustainable, and 3. ensure we run a socially responsible and financially secure business. 

What’s our timeline for the project?

We’re developing a full business plan for the site and would expect it’ll take at least 12 months from us taking ownership through to starting new business operations onsite.

Have any other housing providers done anything similar?

This is a first for Bolton but we can be confident in its impact, as Wythenshawe Community Housing Group already manages a similar enterprise.

Funding

How much is the purchase?

Approximately £2.2m. We’ve funded it from our reserves and it won’t impact Bolton at Home tenants’ rents.

Commercial rents and revenues from leased units along with external funding will help us meet future costs for the site.

When did we take ownership of the site?

December 2020.

What was included with the purchase?

Three large retail units and land used for parking (not all the car park), the access road, some land across the local river, some billboards, leasehold arrangements with existing tenants and the freehold of the site.

We don’t own the Arnold Clark unit. Urban Outreach has also bought the leasehold on one of the units and we’re now their landlord.

What type of funding investment are we looking for?

We’re exploring external funding opportunities and hoping to access national funding and investment such as the Build Back Better Fund, which has grants available for green technology.

What will happen with profit/surplus generated?

We plan for the development to be a not-for-profit enterprise, for revenue to cover costs and to reinvest any surplus into employment and enterprise projects and green technology initiatives.

How will it impact local businesses?

What will happen to current businesses on the retail park?

Our plans shouldn’t affect them.

What are the benefits to local businesses?

Once our project is up and running, it’ll create opportunities for local businesses to use the training facilities to reskill their own staff on green technologies. We’ll announce more about the opportunities in due course.

How will it affect or benefit tenants?

Will it impact tenants’ rent?

This purchase will not impact what you pay to live in your home and our development will pay for itself in the future through the commercial rents from businesses leasing the units.

Also, we won’t need to stop or scale back any of other services in order to pay for this.

Will new homes be built on the site?

No. New homes are urgently needed throughout the borough and beyond to provide more quality affordable housing and reduce the risk of homelessness, but we’re looking at more suitable locations for people to live. 

While we won’t build new homes here, we’ll use the site to better respond to the increasing impact of climate change. Using the space to help us explore more green technologies will enable us to identify innovative solutions to reduce carbon emissions and develop the means to deliver sustainable improvements to properties including your home.

Will there be opportunities for tenants and others to get involved?

Yes. Our plans will create new opportunities on the site to benefit you.

It’ll complement our existing training, employment and enterprise offer for tenants and residents; help to establish new green businesses; create some new jobs and lead to other reskilling opportunities.

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