Poorly-connected public realm has let Farnworth down in the past, writes Ged Couser of BDP, but that could be about to change.
I currently live in Worsley but grew up in a place called Little Hulton which was just a stone’s throw away from Farnworth, which was a fact proven on a fairly regular basis during my school days.
Worsley and Farnworth have an interesting connection in that at a series of tunnels were dug in the mid-18th century, from the 20 coal pits surrounding the Farnworth area to Worsley, from where the UK’s first canal transported Farnworth’s coal into Manchester, fuelling the cotton mills in the city and ultimately the Industrial Revolution.
Much has changed in Farnworth since I was a boy. I remember the town had a thriving local market served by a busy adjacent bus station and a high street full of local shops, from where I bought my first pair of Stylo Matchmaker football boots.
Unfortunately now the town has a failing high street populated with some successful businesses, too many empty units and a scattering of charity shops, which unfortunately mirrors the Portas Review’s assessment of the UK’s high streets across the UK.
However, the recent news of the town’s success in being chosen to go through to the second phase of the government’s £675m Future High Streets Fund holds the promise of a bright future ahead for Farnworth, with the potential for a £25m chunk of that investment coming its way. The town is also one of Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham’s Town Centre Challenge areas, the benefits of which will be added to the mix.
In my view, Farnworth has a good number of positive assets on which to build to take full advantage of the investment that could potentially be on offer. It has a good food retail offer (albeit the Asda store built in the 70’s, whilst guaranteeing footfall in the town, has obliterated some of the street pattern); a university campus; an excellent Victorian park; and a grade two-listed Carnegie library built in 1911 designed by Bradshaw Gass.
They also designed the Town Hall, which contains the council’s adult and children’s services and the Baptist Church which are also grade two-listed, which were designed to form the civic focus of the new town, along Market Street. Significant work is needed to improve that part of Farnworth, which although containing some grand Victorian buildings, is in decline as the retail offer is now concentrated on the part-pedestrianized Brackley Street, which Asda cuts across at one end, acting both as an anchor and a blocker to the street pattern.
The train station also has good connectivity into the wider region with direct trains into Manchester, but the pedestrian links for it into the town centre are indirect and through residential streets, rather than a well landscaped high quality public realm, which would be of great benefit. The park, opened by William Gladstone in 1864, is also a fantastic asset for the town, but it also needs to be better connected in the same way.
Nevertheless, things are on the up with repaving work on Brackley Street, improvements to the bus station, and the junction of King Street and Market Street now complete. There are also ambitions to create new homes, a new community hub and to find alternative uses for publicly owned buildings.
Perhaps Stylo Matchmaker football boots will be on sale again in Farnworth soon?