Category: The Great Town
Date of visit: 2014
Revival of a post-industrial town
A post-industrial town that has revived its fortunes using its assets and local partnerships to improve the economy and well-being of the area. Although some of this may have been at the expense of less ambitious neighbouring towns, lessons can be learned from its approach.
Cross-conurbation, as well as Bury-wide, public and private sector co-operation. Other conurbations and Metropolitan boroughs could learn from this.
Importance of leadership and effective Council
Strong leadership from the Council, particularly the Leader and CEO, plus an exemplary good practice of working with business and education.
Value of culture
The economic and social value of a strong popular and challenging cultural offer.
Bury is not just about black pudding. Often the urban landscape does not distinguish between administrative boundaries, but Bury has a distinct identity for local residents and visitors despite its proximity to other parts of Greater Manchester. This is reflected in both the pride in the town and the strengths of its internal and external partnerships, with a strong relationship between the public sector, local communities, developers and the private sector in general. School attainment levels are high, and schools work well together and want to stay under local authority control. The only three academies in the borough were forced by improvement plans. It is the top-performing borough in secondary education in the North West.
Bury town centre is seen by the Team Bury partnership as the economic driver for the whole borough. The Leader and CEO both took up their posts in 2011 and brought new energy to the town, particularly by visiting local businesses on a very regular basis and offering what support they can without cutting across agreed plans and policies. Although Bury has medieval origins it boomed in the Industrial Revolution, specialising in textiles. The town has successfully reinvented itself and is very much more successful than the majority of other former industrial towns and is attracting newer industrial, commercial companies and service industries. Textiles have not disappeared and it is home to the world’s largest manufacturer of specialised fabrics for vehicle airbags.
At the macro level, Bury is one of 10 Districts that make up the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which is a new governance structure that is integral to strategic transport policies, economic development and presenting a coherent case to Government, international partners and inward investors. The Council and community want Bury to be a viable and vibrant town and it offers a surprising range and quality of retail, leisure and cultural experiences for residents and visitors. Unusually it also has two town centre medical centres built by the NHS. Local communities and businesses were involved in the town centre master plan prepared by URBED that has provided a coherent strategy for the growth and development of the town centre in recent years. When asked for ideas for a strap-line the consultation came up with ‘Bury but Better’ showing the pride in what they already have and hopes for the future.
Award winning Bury Market with over 350 stalls has been developed as a major national tourist attraction as well as being part of the local retail offer. 20 million shoppers visit Bury every year with the market being a major draw and in the last year hotel stays have increased by 20%. The new Rock shopping centre, a product of a strong partnership between the public and private sector, combines shopping and contemporary leisure and entertainment facilities.
Bury has exemplary cultural provision; for example the Council-operated Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre has recently been refurbished and presents a challenging programme of contemporary art as well as a permanent collection. It is recognised as a national and international centre for language-based art. As a former military town, Bury has tremendous loyalty to the Lancashire Fusiliers regiment and through its partnership with the Council there is a new national regimental museum in a former technical and art school which is another important visitor attraction. The Met arts centre has an extensive programme of small-scale music and drama and a recording studio as well as housing one of the town’s most popular independent restaurants. Bury’s annual Light Night arts event attracts 30,000 people, predominantly families.
The popular East Lancashire Heritage Railway, with over 140,000 visitors, runs innovative special events throughout the year and a scheduled service up the Irwell Valley. Its main station is in Bury where there is also a transport museum. The high level of volunteering for this, and throughout Bury, is another sign of how engaged local people are with their town. Its 12 parks have active Friends Groups and Green Flag awards. Bury is located on the River Irwell, once one of the most polluted rivers in Britain, changing colour with the outflow from dye works. This is now clean enough to fish and there are nature reserves and country parks within walking distance of the town centre.
There are many different urban environments within Bury reflecting its various stages and styles of development and regeneration. For example; there are some fine Victorian public buildings around Market Place; the Millgate shopping centre was created from what was an aging 60’s shopping mall before being transformed by a major refurbishment programme; the large functional bus/Metrolink interchange, the rambling purpose-built Bury Market and 21st century retail development at The Rock. This variety is not an issue, as Bury does not pretend to be anything other than a working town with strong social, cultural and economic ambitions.
The 1960’s ring road may be seen as a barrier creating a ‘wall’ around the town centre. However, it is well managed, does not inhibit pedestrian movement and it makes access to and from the town very straightforward. The Metrolink light rail line runs to and from the centre of Manchester and the network was recently extended to new destinations across Greater Manchester following a £1.5b investment programme. Bury’s Metrolink station is adjacent to the bus station that also has cycle facilities. Buses run to all parts of the Borough and Greater Manchester.
The Council believes that the diversity of its population is one of its strengths. There is a distinctive Asian heritage community to the east of the town centre with local shops, services and places of worship and the Asian Development Association of Bury has been established to assist with social care, health, housing and education. It also has the largest Jewish population, outside of London, in the UK. It has the lowest crime rate in Greater Manchester and it is close to getting a Purple Flag award for the centre.
The Council takes a long view of economic development. The Council-owned Chamberhall Business Park is being strategically developed by attracting high quality uses, rather than speculative development and out-of-centre retail. Public sector land ownership aids regeneration and the Council, NHS and the public housing management agency, Six Town Housing, have developed offices at Townside, releasing town centre premises for smaller businesses with a variety of different lease arrangements.
Bury is part of the GM Climate Change Strategy and was one of the first authorities to produce a climate change strategy in 2002. Examples include the forward thinking electric car charging points in town centre car parks, and a sustainable urban drainage system and proposed hydro-electric scheme at the Chamberhall Business Park. The Council has 3,000 existing permissions for housing on brownfield sites and is resisting government and market pressure to use Greenfield sites.