Rochdale’s thriving business parks have helped bring cash, confidence and speciality coffee to its historic town centre, but the momentum can’t be lost, writes John Barton of BC Real Estate.
On the Friday before the Bank Holiday I had lunch with colleagues in The Medicine Tap, one of a number of new eating and drinking establishments to have opened in Rochdale in the last couple of years. The Medicine Tap is housed in the grade two-listed old Post Office building, and with a good menu and great bar, wouldn’t be out of place in the centre of Manchester.
Instead, the Medicine Tap has made its home in the centre of Rochdale. I live in Rochdale’s suburbs and find myself coming into town in the evening much more now than I ever used to. There’s choice today when before there was none. Ambitious new businesses have made everyone up their game. Rochdale Riverside – a major mixed retail and leisure development opening next year – will only add to Rochdale’s growing reputation (unthinkable a decade ago) as a thriving leisure and nightlife destination.
Rochdale is making the most of its town centre with a £250m regeneration programme. The river has been opened up and transport links greatly improved. Work will soon begin on the restoration of Rochdale’s magnificent Victorian grade one-listed Town Hall.
There is certainly more to be done. Transition takes time. The rundown train station remains a neglected piece of the town’s transport infrastructure. There are plenty of good bars in the town centre now but not enough good restaurants. The Riverside development will open in tough times for retail.
Nevertheless, Rochdale town centre is a far livelier and more interesting place than I’ve ever known it to be, and I’ve lived here most of my life. For that it has a progressive council to thank, alongside the success of a property portfolio that lies far from the centre’s bustling bars and chic coffee shops.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Rochdale’s renaissance relies on its 14 business parks, strategically located to offer easy access to the motorway network. Together they create thousands of jobs and add millions of pounds to the local economy. The town may need to diversify in future, but for now it is playing to its strengths. Rochdale has made itself an ideal location for manufacturing and logistics businesses looking for good transport links, a wide choice of affordable property and a large labour pool.
Kingsway Business Park is the jewel in the crown, a 420 acre site sitting on Junction 21 of the M62. It is one of the best performing business parks in the North of England. Occupiers include prestigious names like Asda, Wincanton, JD Sports and E.ON.
On the other side of town, Stakehill Industrial Estate sits adjacent to the A627M, putting goods and people within a few minutes’ drive of both the M62 and M60. Occupiers include Yodel, Comfy Quilts, Howard Tenens, and Parcel Force.
These parks are supported by solid infrastructure. Kingsway, for example, boasts its own dedicated Metrolink stop. A superb further education sector in the town provides a ready source of talent for the growing number of advanced manufacturing businesses that are making Rochdale home.
All this activity on the outskirts of the borough provides customers with cash in their pockets for the town centre’s new businesses, but Rochdale must not let the momentum slide. The town boasts growing high-tech and startup sectors, but for the foreseeable future manufacturing and logistics will continue to drive the local economy. The fear is that Rochdale will run out of the kind of land and facilities these businesses need.
To address this concern, the priority should be to expand its current business parks where that is possible, and also exploit the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – a scheme that allows for the commercial use of brownfield and limited stretches of Green Belt land for homes and businesses. The need for more strategic sites will become imperative in the next five to 15 years.
In the meantime, there are still units to be let and space to be filled, the success Rochdale has had by focusing on its business parks was all too evident as we enjoyed lunch in its bustling, newly confident town centre.