Altrincham has seen its number of vacant shops fall by 73% since 2010, when it had among the worst vacancy rates in the country, according to new data shared with Place North West.
According to figures from Trafford Council, shop vacancy rates have dropped from more than 30% in 2010, when the centre was labelled a “ghost town” in the national media, to 7.9% as of December 2017. This is significantly below the national average of 12.2%.
Footfall in the town centre has risen by 5% in the last 12 months alone, rising to 1.7m at the end of 2017. Again this bucks the national trend, where footfall on average has dropped by 5.5% over the same period, according to Ipsos Mori’s Retail Performance Index.
The transformation of the town centre has been led by a series of initiatives, including the town’s market, a new focus on food and drink, and a significant investment into public realm since 2015, which was project managed by consultant LK Group.
Managing director Conor Leyden told Place North West the impact of the investment on the town’s retail offering and footfall had been “unbelievable”.
Working with a team including designer Planit-IE and backed by a mix of private finance via Section 106 agreements, Transport for Greater Manchester, and Trafford Council, Leyden said the transformation “has made it almost impossible to remember what the town used to be like”.
Works have included improving the Goose Green conservation area and Cross Street; and works to Stamford New Road between Moss Lane and Regent Road.
Leyden said there would be further funding of around £3m into public realm across the town and the team had been working to make sure further private investment “tied in” to the work had already been carried out.
These include the South Trafford Health & Wellbeing Centre, built on the site of the town’s former hospital; and a proposed apartment-led mixed-use scheme on the current Regent Road car park.
Both schemes are being brought forward by developer Citybranch, and Leyden said there had been “an awful lot of conversations between Citybranch, LK and Planit” about how these would link to town’s improved public realm.
There are also plans for an Everyman cinema to open on George Street, part of the town centre that has seen significant improvements to its public realm since 2015. Occupiers that have taken space in the town’s pedestrianised shopping street in the last two years include Bistrot Pierre and Paperchase.
The improvements have not been without their difficulties after part of the Stamford Road surface had be re-laid after an error by contractor J Cooney. Leyden said the remedial works, caused by the contractor using the wrong type of finish, were carried out by J Cooney at no additional cost to the council.
The council, which part-funded the investment in public realm, is now looking at applying a similar model to other towns in the borough, including Sale.
A professional team of Planit-IE and Civic Engineers was chosen last year to work on a feasibility study for public realm improvements in and around Sale’s town centre, which will look at rejuvenating Northenden Road, School Road, and Waterside Plaza.
The study is due to be released in the coming weeks, and Leyden said LK would be “keen to bring what we’ve learned in Altrincham” to the project, once more concrete plans are in place.