Chorley's Botany Bay redevelopment must wait as now's not the time 'to put a spade into the ground'

It’s a year on from the closure of the landmark Botany Bay building in Chorley for its multi-million pound redevelopment.

By Gordon Mccully
Tuesday, 17th March 2020, 10:31 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th March 2020, 10:33 am
Botany Bay in Chorley
Botany Bay in Chorley

The scheme - by FI Real Estate Management in conjunction with Chameleon Retail - will consist of a 37 hectare mixed-use development providing 300,000 sq ft of employment land, 288 luxury new homes and a brand new 300,000 sq ft fashion and lifestyle outlet village.

The outlet village will showcase a stunning, complementary take on heritage architecture, using sympathetic materials fitting with the beautiful canalside and wonderful landscaped leisure spaces.

A unique urban/industrial chic will serve as a reminder of the power of innovation and reinvention of the landmark Victorian cotton mill, Botany Bay.

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An artist's impression of the redeveloped mill

However, the current economic climate has been flagged up as not being conducive to such a scheme right now.

Retail consultant Neil Chapman said the redevlopment of Botany “was not going away” - but that the current economic climate was not one for the owners “to put a spade in the ground right now”.

Mr Chapman, of Taunton-based Chameleon Retail, has been working for Botany’s owners on the proposed project.

He has worked in the retail and leisure property sector for more than 25 years, initially with two of the leading surveying practices in UK, Bernard Thorpe and DTZ plc.

From 1991 he joined Eagle Star Property which subsequently became Threadneedle Property Fund Management.

At Threadneedle his main role was leasing and asset management, which included responsibility to reposition distressed retail and office projects.

By 1996 he had joined McArthur Glen working on their Swindon, Cheshire Oaks, Mansfield and York schemes.

From there he headed up the Outlet development at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth which opened in 2001 creating the first World Class Waterfront in the UK.

Regarding Botany, he said: “I suspect we’ll have to wait until we see the green shoots on the horizon.”

He said: “The retail market is hard hit and it will be a brave person to be putting £30 million into the ground today on the back of having a fully let centre in 18 months time.

“It’s a challenging time.”

However, he explained that the outlet market is a comparative survivor during tougher times.

“The outlet market is more resilient than the high street in the downturn of the economic climate,” he said.

Brand buying customers pay 30 per cent less than on the high street - “because it’s from a previous season,” said Mr Chapman.

“Outlet centres have proven to be more resilient in a recession.”

He continued: “I have very belief that the scheme is going to happen.”

Malcolm Allen, of Chorley Traders’ Alliance, questioned whether the proposed development was feasible in the current economic climate.

He said: “To be honest, when you look at it last year we were expecting a lot from how they sold it to us.

“Very similar to 20 years ago when they first came up with it.

“It was feasible, like Middlebrook and the other ones, and that was good.

“When I’m looking at it this time, I’m thinking ‘where are they going to get the retailers from?’

“The firm that owns the Trafford Centre, and somewhere else, are struggling because they have a £5bn debt and retailers are trying to reduce the rent.

“If the Trafford Centre has seen a marked decrease in footfall and traders there are trying to reduce rent, whether it’s economically faesable for them to do it (Botany Bay), I just don’t know.

“The retail could affect the town centre - but the traffic is going to be the problem there. It’s bad enough now. I can’t see how they’re going to improve the traffic situation.”

Councillor Alistair Morwood, Executive Member of Chorley Council (Public Protection), said: “Outline planning permission was granted for various developments across the Botany Bay site in 2018, which included retail, employment, housing and associated highways, landscaping and infrastructure provisions.

“It’s now in the hands of the developers.”

A spokesperson for FI Real Estate said the company had no comment to make on the redevelopment at this stage.

Botany, next to the M61, closed its doors for a final time last February 20.

The former cotton mill, built in 1855, had been home to a number of small businesses selling a range of goods, from collectable toys to gardening supplies.

The Botany Bay roundabout, next to junction 8 of the M61, will be the main access route to the development but another access junction is planned for the residential area.