Rack and ruin
Altrincham’s Rackhams, long a staple of the Saturday morning drag-around-the-shops, is to be the latest part of the town centre to get a new lease of life. Leaseholder Lunar is looking to redevelop the site into a mixed-use offering, taking the 60,000 sq ft store and transforming it into offices, retail, and apartments. All makes sense on paper: the monolithic grey beast sticks out like a sore thumb more than ever, especially given the revamp the rest of the Stamford Quarter has had over the last few years. Nevertheless, it’s not all good news: Debenhams, just a stone’s throw away, is going to close in 2020. A slightly more surprising choice for the troubled retailer; closing down in a town centre that’s actually seen footfall increase seems odd, but we’re sure it has its reasons.
The people’s champion
From one closed Debenhams to another, this time in Southport where the Lord Street branch will be shutting up shop next year. The town is one of the key challenges that new chief executive Dwayne Johnson will have to wrestle with when he takes over Sefton Council in the summer. The current situation in Southport has raised a few people’s eyebrows, with Lord Street supposedly losing its traditional lure, and the townspeople being unable to elbow their way to the front of the queue ahead of what’s cooking in Bootle, Crosby, and Formby as retail and leisure destinations respectively. It’s always sat strangely as a place: is it simply a commuter suburb for Liverpool, or is it a destination in its own right? Should Lord Street’s traditional retail be abandoned in favour of a focus on leisure? Modernising Southport and giving it back a raison d’etre should be one of Johnson’s aims: although he has a background in social care, let’s hope he really knows his role.
It’s not just Stockport County, promoted this weekend to the National League, that’s moving up in the world. April has seen a number of key sites in the town centre move forward , not least Weir Mill, where Hodder + Partners and developer Maryland Securities are proposing a comprehensive overhaul of the grade two-listed site. While being under a viaduct, a flight path and a stone’s throw from a motorway might not appeal to all of us, there aren’t many more places outside the city centre that are better connected, and with the town’s ongoing leisure renaissance at the Produce Hall, the excellent Mobberley Brewery tap at Project53, and the successful new cinema, it’s no surprise more resi schemes are coming forward. On the other side of town, another residential cluster is emerging on Piccadilly: joining Urbanize Homes’ plans for the former Greenhale House are proposals for an apartment block opposite Regal House. There are plenty more sites so watch this space.
Where were you on New Year’s Eve 2009? For Trafford Council it should be memorable as when it started its CPO for Nikal’s Altair site. Now, 10 years later, if the stars align, it looks like the project might actually get started. We’ve been through two contractors, a seemingly endless rigmarole with Network Rail, a recession, and two ice hockey teams at the neighbouring rink in the process. On paper, the first phase of apartments at the mixed-use scheme looks like it should fly based on the state of the market in Altrincham, although the second phase including retail and leisure isn’t quite as arresting. Further up the road, another rite of development necromancy was performed at Whitworth Street; Inhabit has reiterated to Manchester City Council its plans for a 35-storey tower on the cleared plot next to the City Road Inn are still very much alive, although a failure to sell the site, secure a contractor, or find funding doesn’t necessarily show it. Another one to keep an eye on in the coming months.
…and the whole room applauded
Planning committees in the weeks before local elections are often a mixed bag. Take the example of Manchester, where the council very rarely puts schemes likely to become political footballs into April’s committee; this month was no different, with nary a tower to be seen. However, it doesn’t mean it was without drama. The redevelopment of Hardy’s Well on Wilmslow Road in Rusholme was deferred for a site visit, while on Cambridge Street, the committee put forward a ‘minded to refuse’ recommendation, meaning a final ruling on the 12-storey student scheme is expected in May. It’s a different kettle of fish in Cheshire East, with not one but two committees unanimously refusing projects that were recommended for approval by officers. Both New Care’s proposals for a care home in Wilmslow and BAE’s plans for an employment site in Alsager were knocked back, despite the recommendation to approve, with both decisions greeted with applause from the public galleries. Does that tell you where councillors may be wanting to curry favour ahead of this week’s local elections?