ACROSS Britain, the population continues to soar, yet in one of Bolton's most affluent suburbs it has fallen. THOMAS GEORGE reports.

IN the past 15 years, Bolton's population has increased by more than 20,000 people. But, in some of the town's most desirable areas, the population is falling.

While the number of people living in and around the town centre has risen by 20 per cent since 2002, the population of Harwood, Bradshaw and part of Bromley Cross has dropped by six per cent.

The shift has been attributed to young people leaving the area for university and choosing to move elsewhere after graduating because of house prices, poor transport links and a desire for city centre living.

One such person is Harriet Killeen, who left Bromley Cross for Bury last year to be closer to her workplace in Manchester.

Ms Killeen, aged 26, explained: “It’s a long commute in the car from Bromley Cross because of the traffic and public transport is pretty unreliable.

“I do think it’s a good place to live, however I wouldn’t move back there if it meant commuting into Manchester.

“There are decent pubs and restaurants close by, but when you compare it Manchester, where there is so much going on for younger people, it just cannot compete."

The population drop in north west Bolton is also matched by a considerable rise in the average age of people living there.

According to data visualisation website Plumplot, the average age of Bradshaw and the west of Bromley Cross increased from 40.8 to 45.7 between 2002 and 2017. Meanwhile, in Harwood it rose from 42.6 to 46.6 and in Egerton and the north of Bromley Cross from 38.2 to 42.5.

The average age of Bolton as a whole is 38.8, while across England and Wales it is slightly higher at 40.

Cllr David Greenhalgh, who represents Bromley Cross and Egerton, said the figures came as no surprise to him.

He added: “I think many graduates and young professionals are drawn more to town centre and city living and all that offers, but make different decisions when their priorities change when they start a family or ‘settle down’.

“As councillors we work towards providing an environment and facilities for all ages within our communities.

“All we can do is our best to cater for all demographics and create that strong community that all ages feel welcome to participate in.”

Perfectly positioned between the West Pennine Moors and several bustling town and cities, the suburbs of north west Bolton have long been a popular destination for people to raise a family.

In 2011, Bromley Cross was even named one of the top ten places nationally to raise a family.

Its low crime rates, leafy streets and excellent schools were cited among the reasons why families should seek out the suburb as a place to call home.

Recently, several bars, restaurants and shops have also sprouted up around the area, giving it a more cosmopolitan feel.

In the past five years, a Sainsbury's Local has opened in Darwen Road, while independents such as café and juice bar Earthlings and micropub Nook and Cranny have proved popular among locals.

Among the newest additions is The Railway pub, which reopened opposite the train station in Chapeltown Road back in November following a £500,000 refurbishment.

Thirty-five-year-old Laura Smith works at the pub, having recently started renting in Bromley Cross upon returning from travelling with her partner.

She said: “We are the youngest on our street by about 40 years. There is not really much to do here, but it is a nice area and it is quiet. That is perhaps why there are so many elderly people.”

House prices and the high cost of renting undoubtedly contribute to an older population in Bolton's most desirable suburbs.

To buy a house in Bromley Cross, a young person would, on average, need to fork out slightly less than £195,000. Down the road in Harwood, it is even more pricey, with properties going at an average of more than £210,000, according to Rightmove.

In comparison, the average home elsewhere in Bolton sold for more than £160,000 last year.

According to Bradshaw councillor Stuart Haslam, the problem of young people choosing not to return home after university is one affecting Bolton as a whole.

He said: “This has been the problem with Bolton in general that people who leave to go to university do not return.

“They make their lives in the big cities and this is having a negative effect on the vibrancy of the Bolton economy.

“We need to try to create a more buoyant economy that will keep people in Bolton. The key to this is the regeneration of the town centre and getting Bolton linked back to the national rail network.”

He said that while young people may decide to reside elsewhere, they do eventually wish to return to places like Harwood and Bradshaw when they have a family of their own.

David Weatherall, aged 71, grew up in Bromley Cross and has lived there for decades. Recently, his son decided he wanted to get his foot on the property ladder in the area, but was priced out and had to instead settle with moving to Astley Bridge.

“I know the rental rates around here are quite high," said Mr Weatherall.

“I think it is a job situation as well affecting younger people. My son is a freelance graphic designer and 60 per cent of his jobs are in Manchester."

Town centre is the key, says MP

ACCORDING to Bolton North East MP David Crausby, the rise in the area’s average age is due to a lack of opportunities for young people.

Mr Crausby said that rather than settling in areas such as Bromley Cross or Harwood, young people were choosing flats in central Manchester as a way to get on the housing ladder.

He said: “They are not unattractive areas to live, but the best way for young people to get on the housing ladder is to buy a flat and those opportunities are not really available in those places.

“The number of flats in the centre of Manchester has massively increased, and the people living in those come from areas such as Bolton.

“If young people want to buy a flat then they are much more inclined to do that in central Manchester than Bolton.”

He added that the redevelopment of the town centre held the key to attracting the next generation to the town.

“We have to put a huge effort into improving the town centre and providing more green space,” said Mr Crausby. “It is not an easy problem to solve and the council are making big strides, but they still have a long way to go.”