There are 36 strategic sites on the North West Development Agency's list of priority development areas in the region. Nine of these are in Greater Manchester. Not one is in Stockport.
It's too easy to knock Stockport as an under performing town punching below its weight compared to its M60 neighbours. Affluent residents, strong workforce and excellent transport links suggest it should be a runaway success in its own right. The boom years, however, largely passed it by.
At last the picture is changing: underlined by the forthcoming 45,000 sq ft civic centre, new buildings for Stockport College, BAM Properties' 50,000 sq ft office at St Peter's Square – nearly half of it let to Sky recently – and interest in redeveloping the former Royal Mail sorting office on the A6.
Confidence is also helped by the imminent arrival of Eamonn Boylan as chief executive of the council, having been part of Sir Howard Bernstein's inner team at Manchester City Council and latterly working with the respected Sir Bob Kerslake as deputy chief executive of the Homes & Communities Agency.
Ken Bishop, director at DTZ, is advising Stockport Council on its office strategy. He said: "Developers missed the opportunity in the past decade to make more of Stockport. It has material advantages in its mainline rail station and proximity to the airport. I am optimistic about the prospects for Stockport in the next five or ten years and it could well figure as the best performing town in Greater Manchester."
The elephant in the room remains the £500m Bridgefield retail-led scheme which collapsed before it had begun in summer 2008 with the withdrawal of preferred developer Lend Lease. Critics and supporters continue to argue over whether it should ever have been proposed in the first place.
Mark Rawstron, director at GVA Grimley, LPA receiver running the rival Merseyway shopping centre that forms the bulk of the retail core, says Bridgefield's failure was a blessing in disguise. "Lend Lease pulling out of Bridgefield was actually the best thing for Stockport town centre. If it had been built it would have been the death of Merseyway shopping centre."
Bradford & Bingley appointed GVA Grimley as receiver after the former owner, a special purpose vehicle controlled by prolific investor Simon Halabi, breached a reported £100m loan on the scheme.
Rawstron adds: "Bridgefield won't happen. It's not realistic to expect these grand projects to get off the ground in the next five- to ten-year cycle. There is not the retailer demand, not the rental levels, the investment yields or the development funding."
Nicola Turner, head of town centre and major developments at the council, says plans are being worked up for a reduced, piecemeal development at Bridgefield. Details will be announced in 2010, according to Turner.
Simon Bedford, partner at Drivers Jonas Deloitte, advisor to Stockport Council, adds: "Delivering a major retail scheme in the town centre is still very much an objective for Stockport. The difference now is that the strategy for doing so is supported by a focus on both housing and job creation that will help fuel demand for a new 'Bridgefield'.
"Stockport has already started to diversify, putting it well on course to achieve its ultimate goal. The Covent Garden Village project is set to deliver several hundred new homes in the town centre over the next few years.
"A huge part of Stockport's appeal to occupiers is its transport interchange including the fast train connections to London. Network Rail has recently confirmed funding for further improvement to the Station. This will help renovate the station and strengthen the town's offering."
Meanwhile, the revamp of the leisure complex Grand Central by Targetfollow is no nearer a definitive start date and the former Ritz cinema site on Piccadilly and Fletcher Street has failed to sell in six months on the market through agents DTZ. Hotel consents exist on half a dozen other sites but construction has yet to begin on any.
The signs are Stockport is turning the corner but is not in new territory quite yet.