Neil Hardy, who runs Boatel Party Cruises from the Botany Bay Boatyard on Blackburn Brow, has been told by his landlord that he will have to leave the location now that a proposal to build new industrial units on part of the plot have been given the green light.
The boatyard itself will remain in operation and Neil says that his recently revamped leisure facility could also continue to be accommodated at its home of over 40 years.
He bought Boatel back in 2012 and told the Post that it remains business as usual, with bookings going ahead as planned.
Neil also claims that the celebration, corporate and cream tea cruises which he runs along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, catering for parties of up to 60 people, have bounced back strongly from the disruption caused by the pandemic. He says that the firm is seeing its busiest period since 2015 – buoyed by investments made during lockdown.
“When we were forced to close due to Covid, we completely ripped out the interior of [party boat]the Royal Sovereign. We fitted a new sound system and lighting, a new bar, air conditioning, heating and power system – and spent £12,000 on a brand new exterior waterside seating area.
“We spent [that] money improving Boatel so we would return better than ever once we were allowed to reopen.
““We would obviously be disappointed if our business had to end at Botany Bay Boatyard due to circumstances out of our control. We are a family-run business and we bought [it] from the landlord [of the wider site].
“No-one buys a business for 10 years – we bought it for the long run,” said Neil, who has two children, aged one and five.
He added that as his business is based on the water, it could be “easily accommodated” within the new development – although he admits he would be saddened to have to rip out the new seating area barely a year after it was installed.
However, Botany Bay Boatyard owner Shaun Smith told the Post it was not possible for Boatel to remain under his now-approved plans for the plot.
“We are redeveloping [the] site and it will include that area. [Boatel] would need parking and it just wouldn’t work – we haven’t got the room to facilitate [Neil Hardy’s] current operation.
“He is [also] operating without a lease. He has not negotiated a new lease…so I’ve given him notice to leave.
“We intend to keep part of the yard as a boatyard, [for which] we’ve got an operating crane. The developments will be down [the] side near the entrance and the boatyard will be on the opposite side,” Shaun added.
Chorley Council’s planning committee gave the go-ahead to the redevelopment at a meeting earlier this month.
Councillors approved plans for 10 individual units for light or general industrial usage, storage and distribution and also a café or sandwich shop.
However, several members expressed regret at the implications for the Boatel business.
Cllr Alistair Morwood – who is also the authority’s cabinet member for planning – said that while he felt the proposal would bring about an “an improvement” to the overall site, he was disappointed that the party boat did not form part of the blueprint.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the applicant could not perhaps have included the Boatel cruise business in his future plans. It’s been a longstanding business and, if that goes, I think it will be a loss to Chorley – and I hope that maybe [the owner] can find another suitable berth,” Cllr Morwood said.
Fellow committee member Danny Gee said he was saddened that the attraction was being jeopardised, although he accepted that it was not a planning consideration.
However, Cllr Martin Boardman said that the industrial units would provide “much needed business space” and encourage employment.
Ten representations were made to the council objecting to the proposal – including on grounds of noise.
However, planning case officer Iain Crossland said that the site was allocated for employment space or housing – and that the proposed use was a suitable one.
“[The] development would be prominent when viewed from the canal towpath [and] it would have the appearance of a modern industrial estate.
“The scale of the units would, however, be modest and they would be set back from the canalside and separated from it by the car park, whilst changes in levels and features around the site are such that it would be well-contained and concealed from other viewpoints,” Mr. Crossland added.
The new units and the existing boatyard will be served by 74 car parking spaces – seven of which will be reserved for disabled users – as well as cycle storage and motorbike spaces. An additional 12 spaces will be provided for the adjacent Lock and Quay pub, over and above those currently available.