Jayne Dowle’s Focus On: Stockport

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Jayne Dowle, northern correspondent for The Times' Bricks and Mortar supplement, begins a regular column looking at the region's towns and cities vying for investment with Manchester and Liverpool.

Stockport is where the Mersey starts its journey to the Irish Sea. But instead of a river running through it, Stockport's got the M60. The traffic noise hits you almost as hard as the sight of the massive Asda which looms up and straddles several roads like a red-brick fortress.

There are fine old buildings – 16th century, Georgian and Victorian – in the Underbanks and market areas. And as well as the usual retail outlets in the unremarkable Merseyway shopping mall there are some definite indicators of affluence, including Starbucks and Waterstone's.

 Stockport Mealhouse Brow

The centre of Stockport typifies the split personality of the place. Stagger up Mealhouse Brow (a picturesque street undergoing renovation to include 28 housing association homes) towards the market and you expect top-hatted ghosts to come round the corner. Yet this is the town famous for the eye-meltingly modern "Blue Pyramid" Co-operative Bank building. There are acres of unlovely brownfield sites, then smart Cheshire and the Pennines rolling away on the horizon.

The town centre is a victim of the success which surrounds it. Manchester, only a 10-minute train journey to the north-west and the Trafford Centre nearby exert a magnetic pull on shoppers and those after a film or an evening out.

In 2004 a report for Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council concluded: "…there is a strong sense that the town centre has seen better days and that there has been little investment in recent years."

To reverse this, SMBC launched Future Stockport, a masterplan for transforming the town centre. A healthy "hub" will send out positive vibes, consolidating the core and creating a stronger economic and social base for the town.

PyramidFuture Stockport plans to deliver up to 100,000 sq ft of commercial floor-space, the majority aimed at retailers who have complained at the lack of large central sites, 3,000 new jobs and 1,000 new homes, representing a total investment of £500m by 2015.

Key elements include The Bridgefield scheme, which will extend the town centre from the Merseyway to the M60 with shops, homes and leisure facilities, a modern transport interchange, an arts complex to span the A6 and a "landmark water feature" to recognise the source of the River Mersey.

Underbanks, Stockport"What we really need are younger people shopping in the market," says John O'Mara, frying bacon for barm-cakes at his café in the market hall. "If we advertise and promote something special, like the producers' market we had on in July, they will come into town. But we need a wider range of stalls all the time, things young people would be interested in, like jewellery."

The market was granted its charter in 1260. The market hall, opened in 1861, is about to undergo a major £999,000 renovation, backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The idea is to use the market for exhibitions and evening events as well as selling interesting things. John and his fellow traders face major disruption, which they hope will not drive existing customers away.

Emma Boronat opened Bubsquash, a children's clothes shop in the Market Place, three years ago. The driving force behind the producers' market, she is delighted that SMBC has agreed to hold it as a monthly event from October.

"There is the demographic to make Stockport one of the most affluent places in the North West," she says. "But instead of coming in, money oozes out. I wouldn't go into profit with the shop alone, so I have launched my own label, which I manufacture and sell wholesale to justify my existence in the Market Place."

There is certainly money about. More than 60% of the borough's 284,528 population are of working age. Gross weekly pay is £429, compared to an average of just over £426 across Greater Manchester and the North West, and £462 nationally (source: New Earnings Survey (workplace based statistics), 2003).

The largest local employer is the distribution, hotel and catering sector, which provides 28% of jobs, followed by banking, finance and insurance, and public administration, education and health. Manufacturing, which bequeathed Stockport a legacy of 60 textile mills, some of which have been converted into apartments, accounts for only 15% of the workforce.

House prices reflect the relatively high-spending capacity of the population and the proximity to desirable Cheshire. In Rochdale, less than 20 miles to the north, the average property price is £120,845, compared to £168,931 in Stockport (source: latest Land Registry figures). Prices have risen by a steady 5%-10% for the past two years.

"Most buyers are local," says Emma Wimpeney of Edward Mellor estate agents. "Families like the big terraced houses. We also get a lot of young professionals, maybe those who have graduated from Manchester University. They are looking for a more affordable place to live than the city centre."

Popular areas include Edgeley (excellent transport, good schools), Cheadle (aspirational families) and Bramhall (cosmopolitan and upmarket). "It's where the Cheshire rahs hang out," Ms Wimpeney adds. What will it take to persuade them into Stockport central?

The most expensive roads in Stockport

Rank Road name Sales Average price

1

Princes Street

2

£285,000

2

Goyt Crescent

3

£193,833

3

Woodbank Avenue

3

£189,983

4

Greave Road

2

£173,636

5

Old Croft Mews

2

£158,500

6

Canterbury Road

4

£153,750

7

Brookfield Close

5

£152,100

8

Glenmoor Road

6

£148,667

9

Ennerdale Road

4

£147,750

10

Waterloo Road

2

£146,000

The cheapest roads in Stockport

Rank Road name Sales Average price

1

Upper Brook Street

2

£65,500

2

Peak Street

3

£78,983

3

Alberta Street

5

£81,900

4

Covent Garden

2

£85,500

5

Hall Street

20

£89,241

6

Ward Street

5

£91,500

7

Shawcross Street

2

£92,000

8

Rectory Fields

5

£92,398

9

St Marys Close

6

£93,825

10

Caistor Street

17

£94,766

The most transient roads in Stockport

Rank Road name Sales Average price

1

Hatters Court

76

£117,893

2

Turncroft Lane

30

£123,685

3

Charles Street

21

£96,674

4

Hall Street

20

£89,241

5

Caistor Street

17

£94,766

6

Victoria Road

16

£104,447

7

Forbes Road

16

£121,209

8

Windermere Road

14

£129,736

9

Yates Street

12

£98,079

10

Athens Street

11

£112,365

Source: http://www.ourproperty.co.uk/ . Information taken from average sales of two years.

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