New future for Botany Bay after retail "freefall" forced shopping village to be scrapped

The future of the iconic Botany Bay site in Chorley finally appears to have been settled - more than three years after it closed to the public.

Wednesday, 13th July 2022, 4:54 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th July 2022, 6:32 pm

A new business park is to be built on the plot - after previous plans to turn it into an outlet shopping village were abandoned during the depths of the pandemic in November 2020.

Chorley Council’s planning committee has given the go-ahead to the latest proposal, which will see the construction of 10 new buildings, eight of which will provide employment space, with the remaining two given over to retail or food and drink outlets. The existing historic mill building will be retained and did not form part of the new planning application.

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Botany Bay: A look back at how it was, in pictures
The landmark Botany Bay mill building, alongside the Leeds/Liverpool Canal, pictured before its closure in February 2019

Permission was granted for the scheme subject to a raft of modifications to - and monitoring of - the highway network in the area in order to ensure that the development does not cause traffic problems at nearby busy junctions.

Only last month, the operator of the site - FI Real Estate Management (FIREM) - was given the green light to store dozens of nearly-finished Leyland Trucks on the land while the locally-built vehicles awaited microchip components which have been delayed due to global shortages. That haulage storage arrangement is permitted to continue for the next three years.

However, during the meeting at which councillors considered the business park plans, the committee was told that the lorry park facility would be “phased out” - and possibly transferred elsewhere - to allow work on the new development to begin “as soon as practically possible”.

Mark Adams, head of development and construction at FIREM, said that the firm had been forced to pull the plug on its initial plan to build on the site’s heritage as a leisure and retail destination by opening a larger outlet development, a blueprint which was approved in October 2019.

The Botany Bay site as it would look from the air after its redevelopment as a business park (image: FI Real Estate Management)

“Unfortunately, the retail market then went into freefall, making that scheme unviable. As a business, we made a conscious decision to focus on developing, constructing and operating high-quality employment parks

“[Chorley’s] local plan..allocates [the site] for employment development. In this regard, we are therefore bringing this important site back to life in line with that plan,” said Mr. Adams, who added that it would be a “welcome boost” for the local economy. The firm expects hundreds of jobs to be created as a result of its plans.

Committee member - and cabinet member for planning - Cllr Alistair Morwood said he believed that the new vision for Botany Bay was the best of those that had so far been proposed.

“I think that the applicant has recognised the change in people’s shopping habits. There’s certainly demand for industrial units in Chorley more and more,” Cllr Morwood said.

How the now scrapped plans for a retail outlet village at Botany Bay might have looked

However, he warned of the need to ensure that traffic mitigation measures were put in place before the new buildings started springing up, adding: “[Otherwise], the whole thing will be a total disaster, especially if it is as popular as I hope it will be.”

The highway upgrades that the developer will be be required to deliver - as demanded by Lancashire County Council - will include new technology to ensure more co-ordinated traffic signal operation in the vicinity of the Hartwood Hall roundabout (the junction of the A6 and A674) and the Chorley Hospital roundabout (where the A6 meets Euxton Lane), which will also see its mian central island reprofiled. Queue detection technology will be reviewed at the latter junction and expanded at the former.

Traffic light optimisation work will also be carried out at junction 8 of the M61 and also the A674 junction with the B6228 - with reviews taking place at agreed “trigger points” during the different phases of the development.

The site’s main access will continue to be from the A674 Blackburn Road, where kerblines will be altered to ensure “lane discipline” can be maintained by HGVs. A new footway and cycleway will also be introduced between the site access point and the M61.

Dozens of lorries have been parked up at Botany Bay since January, while they await microchip components - but that arrangement will now be "pahsed out"

Council planning case officer Iain Crossland said that some of the measures would have to be completed only prior to occupation of the units, rather than before the first bricks were laid - but he said that a construction management plan, determining suitable routes for HGVs and times for deliveries would ensure that the roads were not “clogged up” at peak times.

He also said that County Hall had taken into consideration the potential impact of approved housing schemes on nearby land. Planning permission is in place for a total of 333 properties across two plots at Great Knowley off Blackburn Road.

Mr. Crossland told the committee that the business park would be “an appropriate use” for an employment site which was intended to be of “sub-regional significance”.

He added: “The proposed units are large in scale and mass - and the development would have the appearance of a modern industrial estate.

“The height of the units would be greatest around the area of the mill and whilst the peripheral landscaping would be retained and enhanced, it wouldn't screen the development in entirety - although it would soften the views from the canalside.”

Committee member Cllr Aaron Beaver highlighted concerns put forward by the Inland Waterways Association, which said that Chorley Council would, if it approved the development, “be losing many opportunities to enhance the area for leisure, health and wellbeing”.

The roundabout close to Chorley Hospital - where Euxton Lane meets the A6 - will be re-profiled as part of work to mitigate the traffic effects of the new Botany Bay development (image: Google)

However, deputy committee chair Alex Hilton said that he believed the plans were going to be of “huge economic benefit to Chorley”.

The application was approved by a majority of 11 to one.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Chorley Council leader Alistair Brdaley said: “This will be a really important development for the borough as it will create hundreds of jobs and much-needed industrial units.

“It will not only attract new businesses to Chorley, but also give those needing to expand - but wanting to remain - in the borough the space to do so.

“We’ve seen the positive impact that developments we have led have had on the local economy, but it’s just as important that other businesses bring sites forward too and we look forward to seeing Botany Bay rejuvenated by these plans.

“Most people know that we have had too many houses developed in the borough and it is important that we have places for people to work as well.”

Also commenting after the committee meeting, Tim Knowles, founder and managing director of FIREM - which employs 300 people at its Chorley headquarters - said: “We’re delighted that Chorley Borough Council’s planners have approved our application to create more than 400,000 square feet of prime industrial and commercial space.

“We’ve been based in the borough for nearly 40 years and we know that companies looking to expand or relocate in Chorley are struggling to find suitable space, which is why this application is so important for the region. Our redevelopment of Botany Bay will deliver a host of new employment and commercial opportunities, serving both local businesses and those that want to make this fantastic borough their home."