A multidisciplinary team comprising Cushman & Wakefield, Mott Macdonald and Optimised Environments is working to produce regeneration proposals for nine key centres across the borough, including Wilmslow, Middlewich and Knutsford.
Cheshire East Council aims to draw up strategies over the next 18 months, containing “bespoke initiatives and solutions” to support and develop the towns and help them tackle their own distinct opportunities and challenges, it said in a statement.
The towns included in the project are Alsager, Congleton, Handforth, Knutsford, Middlewich, Nantwich, Poynton, Sandbach and Wilmslow. They are known as the borough’s key service towns.
Consultancy Cushman & Wakefield, transport planner Mott Macdonald and urban designers Optimised Environments (OPEN), have been hired to work with the council to prepare the so-called Town Centre Vitality Plans.
The project has already begun, with work underway to gain a deeper understanding of each of the town centres through site visits, market analysis, strategic document review and engagement with key local stakeholders.
Public consultations are to take place early next year on the emerging draft plans and the intervention projects proposed to support the “vibrancy and viability of each town centre”, according to Cheshire East. It did not provide any detail at this stage as to what the interventions may include.
The Government has acknowledged the need for investment in town centres across the country and has launched its Future High Streets Fund and Town Deal pots, as well as a High Streets Task Force and changes to the planning system to provide further support to town centres amid a challenging retail environment and economic slowdown.
However, not all towns have access to these funds and there is a need for an alternative approach, the council said.
Caroline Baker, head of Cushman & Wakefield’s Northern Region and its Manchester office, is leading the multidisciplinary team. She has expertise in town centre regeneration strategies, having served as a national judge for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Great British High Street Awards last year.
Baker said: “Town centres across the UK are facing unprecedented challenges – significant structural changes have been further impacted by Covid-19. The Government has acknowledged the need for intervention through the Future High Streets Fund, Town Deals [and other initiatives], but not all towns have access to these funds.
“We are delighted to be working with Cheshire East, to build on the work already being undertaken by the town councils and their partners and determine action plans to support the nine centres, so that they can respond to local opportunities and enhance their roles at the heart of their communities.”
Cllr Nick Mannion, Cheshire East Council’s cabinet member for environment and regeneration, added: “The council recognises the value of thriving town centres that meet the needs and aspirations of the communities they serve. Our local centres enable people to carry out day-to-day activities close to their homes, reducing reliance on cars and therefore bringing associated environmental benefits.”
The pandemic has “highlighted afresh the vital importance of our local centres, and the work will help the council and town councils understand where the opportunities lie to support their vitality and viability in recovery and beyond.”
It is understood that the focus of this study is on “next-tier town” strategies. Strategies have already been prepared for Macclesfield and Crewe – Cushman & Wakefield prepared a strategic regeneration framework for Macclesfield around two years ago and a regeneration framework for Crewe about five years ago.