The arrival of a coherent regeneration framework and a raft of exciting independent retailers indicates that Stockport is a town on the up, writes Emma Dickson of Turley.
The first thing I notice about a new place is the smell. I know it sounds strange, but fresh coffee wafting through the air from the new independents and the smell of hops from the micro-breweries popping up in and around the market place say to me that the tide is turning in Stockport.
I moved to Heaton Moor, a suburb of Stockport, about four years ago from the bars and boutiques in West Didsbury. I was excited about moving to the place where I would put down my own family roots.
For a long time, Stockport was associated with the trains passing above on the viaduct and the iconic Pyramid below. Being honest, I was drawn to Stockport because of the liveable suburbs, excellent schools and transport links to Manchester, London and beyond. But for many people, Stockport was seen as a place to pass through rather than an area to spend time in.
However, in physical terms, the town centre is a special blend. The heritage is rich, including the grade two-listed Plaza and Town Hall and it has a population that can drive a strong economy. Despite these positive attributes, the town centre had struggled to compete and retain trade over recent years.
Fast forward to the present day and it’s fantastic to see the frogs have landed in Stockport this summer. The council is leading the charge with ambitious plans, branded as ‘Stockport. Change here’. This town-wide regeneration strategy seeks to deliver a £1bn programme of investment, presenting a once in a generation opportunity.
The public consultation on Stockport’s Town Centre West Strategic Regeneration Framework, under Andy Burnham’s Mayor’s Town Challenge, is further evidence of progress, demonstrating the potential for a new urban village comprising 3,500 new homes with 100,000 sq metres of employment space and the social infrastructure required to support a significant increase in the residential population.
The plan, the first time the Mayoral powers have been used in Greater Manchester and the first in the country to focus on a town centre, puts Stockport on the verge of something unique.
It’s also encouraging to see signs of private investment quick on the heels of public investment. This includes the residential-led transformation of the former Royal Mail Sorting Office on the A6 and the opening of foodie establishments including chef Sam Buckley’s Where the Light Gets In, and the ‘Produce Hall.
Stockport is primed for further investment with projects planned for Stockport Central, Merseyway Shopping Centre and the bus station. The ingredients are there for a vibrant mixed-use town centre.
However, regeneration is not just about new buildings and spaces but about people and their experience of places. People love to be entertained, inspired and excited, and a safe, healthy and clean town centre is the perfect host. Place management is also important, as well as events that entice us into the town centre. This offer must be carefully considered to provide for everyone.
Today, Stockport town centre has become a place destination rather than a place to simply pass through. With a focus and energy on its future, more people will look to the town both for their every-day needs and for their next ‘Instagram moment’.