Leader of Bury Council Cllr Rishi Shori brings you his latest column, highlighting ongoing improvements to our local environment.

WE live in an increasingly digital age, yet the physical environment that surrounds us still shapes who we are.

And in Bury, we are privileged to live and work in a fantastic place. From vast swathes of countryside such as Burrs Country Park, to the Irwell Sculpture Trail — the largest public arts scheme in the North West — and the distinctive Bury town centre cultural quarter, we live in a beautiful borough.

Part of what makes our borough special are its trees. By looking after our woods, we become a more resilient and sustainable place.

We are working in partnership with the Forestry Commission to consider the future management of some additional woodland areas, including Philips Park, Outwood trail and Prestwich Clough. The project aims to create a vast urban forest, 50 per cent bigger than Heaton Park, on a par with New York’s Central Park.

Of course, being happy where you live goes beyond green spaces. With the majority of people now living and working in urban areas, the great outdoors can only go some way to enhancing our wellbeing. We need to ensure that our town centres are flourishing places where people want to spend time.

Multi-million pound plans to transform the heart of Prestwich are one step nearer reality following a ‘summit meeting’ of the main partners alongside Mayor Andy Burnham and myself earlier this month. The vision is Prestwich Village — a modern and lively centre with a focus on living, creativity, shopping and enjoying life. Early design concepts include a hotel, restaurant, shops, a food hall and a number of apartments. A key element is the provision of community facilities to serve the local population. It is envisaged that this hub will provide healthcare, leisure, a library and community space meeting space.

Ramsbottom is another town in our borough which is booming. I was delighted to support the Best of British Retail Awards bid for the town, alongside local business leaders. This would be another feather in the cap of the town, which recently featured in a Guardian article: ‘Let’s move to Ramsbottom: the town is a delight.’

Better public transport is critical to our environment, not just in terms of future-proofing for the next generation, but creating a lifestyle where local people have the means to walk and cycle. We have filled 1,000 more potholes so far this year. The real difference we can make though, is to encourage alternatives to car travel.

We actually have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionise the way we all get around. Beelines is an ambitious plan to give people a real choice in how they travel; easing congestion, improving health and creating better places to live.

I’m delighted that we have a first stage allocation of £2.6 million for new or improved road crossings and £1.2 million for improved cycle parking at Metrolink stations. The first Bury scheme includes 16 new and upgraded crossings and junctions, costing in the region of £2.6 million.

The second stage would see new cycle parking provision, including highly visible and accessible locations at Metro stops, with lighting and CCTV.

Renewable energy continues to soar in the UK and Bury is no exception. The world’s first grid-scale liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant was launched in Bury in June. The plant is located on project partner, recycling and renewable energy company Viridor’s landfill gas generation site. LAES technology makes use of a freely available resource, the air, which is stored as a liquid and then converted back to a gas, involving an expansion process that releases stored energy, and this drives a turbine to generate electricity.

This technology can scale to hundreds of Megawatts in line with the energy demand of urban areas the size of small towns up to large cities. This means that LAES plants could easily store enough clean electricity generated by a local windfarm to power a town like Bury (around 100,000 homes) for many days, not just a few hours. In addition to energy storage the plant also converts waste heat to power using heat from the onsite landfill gas engines.

Long-duration energy storage is critical to enable the broader deployment of renewable energy; overcome the intermittency of solar and wind energy; help smooth peaks and troughs in demand; and provide the UK with a stable and secure source of homegrown energy.

Places are also about communities, local identity and social cohesion. This month I launched ‘A Shared Future’ alongside the Mayor and Deputy Mayor Bev Hughes. In this Social Cohesion Report, our Greater Manchester collective response to the Manchester Arena attack, we advocate for a whole-society approach to gathering information and tackling extremism.

It is clear that the nature of terrorism has changed and cities need to face up to the consequences of that. It is no longer the case that acts of terror are likely to perpetrated by known terror organisations. Now, it can be individuals or small, localised groups who plan and carry out these atrocities. In return, this development requires a new, more localised response. We are stronger when we work together as a community.

In Bury, we are very well placed to support each other as a community. We may be small, but we pack a punch! And our size can be advantageous in sustaining a strong community spirit. We are the friendliest place in Greater Manchester, with dementia and autism-friendly spaces. This focus on ‘locality’ or place is also at the heart of health and social care integration. People value local joined-up health and care services, where they live.

Bury is a place to be proud of. I love getting out and about in our wonderful borough, so please invite me to your events, especially those that celebrate Bury as a great place to live, work and play.