PLANS to ensure the long-term success of Bury’s retail sector face challenges from increased online shopping, council leaders have said.

Bury Council’s cabinet has agreed to appoint consultants to prepare a town centre masterplan to guide major developments over the next

10 to 15 years.

Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, leader of Bury Council, said: “Bury has undergone significant transformation in recent years, with major development

such as The Rock bringing new shops, leisure facilities and accommodation to its heart, and being one of the busiest retail destinations in

Greater Manchester.

“However, developments such as online shopping, which by necessity flourished during the Covid-19 lockdown, has brought seismic changes to the high street.

“Increasing rents and business rates, wider economic conditions and a shift in consumer spending away from products towards experiences and

lifestyle, have also altered the landscape.

“The town centres that survive the fallout from the relentless shrinkage of physical retail are those have a diverse range of visitor and leisure attractions, modern workplaces and a reconfigured and varied retail experience, well connected by public transport and high quality pedestrian access.”

The council has cited the wider area around Bury Market and the space between the new Rock and the old Rock, as possible major focus points of the masterplan.

They say the masterplan will have a strong commercial focus, and also identify the potential to boost employment such as offices.

Options could include further hotel development; a new multi-use  hall at Bury Market and space for the creative industries; high quality urban housing; an educational zone linking with Bury’s colleges; and a new transport interchange.

Cllr O’Brien added: “The council has a key role to play in bringing together investors, land owners and cultural institutions. We must work closely with the owners of the two major retail centres, The Rock and Mill Gate.

“The masterplan must also consider how we make the town centre an attractive, clean and safe place for people to gather.”

Cllr Nicholas Jones, Conservative shadow cabinet member for finance and property asked what plans were in place if key retailers closed.

He said: “The report shows heavy reliance on Marks and Spencer and Debenhams. Given that Debenhams has announced it will be closing stores across the country what is the back up plan?

“It’s quite clear the outlook is not what it was six months ago.”

Paul Lakin, director of regeneration at Bury Council, responded: “We can’t base a strategy around the future of one retailer.

“The owners of the two major malls in Bury, their perspective is that there’s nothing to be done about certain chains falling.

“It’s not how they do in Bury but how they trade nationally

“What you’ve got ensure is that when those units become available you’ve got strong footfall, you’ve got a strong plan, that you are investable.”