Stockport should look to the successful regeneration of Manchester's Northern Quarter to bring its high street back to life, claims the commercial real estate team at local law firm SAS Daniels.
The town was named this week as having one of the highest shop vacancy rates in the country, with 25.9% of units currently standing vacant, according to the Local Data Company. The data also revealed there are one in five shops in the North now empty, compared to one in 10 in the South.
James Clarke, partner at SAS Daniels LLP, said: "This data paints a pretty grim picture of the high street in Stockport and the North West on the whole but there's a lot of good work being done to help improve our local town centre."
Clarke continued: "Although there are already plans in place to regenerate Stockport we believe that more needs to be done to create a strong customer base by encouraging residential development in the town centre and this needs to include affordable housing.
"We've seen this work particularly well in Manchester as areas like the Northern Quarter have aligned residential developments with leisure, making it an attractive location to live and for hotels and independent retailers to base themselves."
Clarke said business rate concessions and lower rents or incentives from landlords would encourage entrepreneurs and independent retailers to start to fill some of the empty properties.
He added: "The council should look at old offices and brown field sites in Stockport for residential development to provide a customer base which will support our shops and encourage growth and introduce plans to diversify the high street to create a destination experience. The success of the Northern Quarter is a great example of how this can be done.
"Stockport has loads going for it; it's a historic market town with a rich history, excellent transport links, countryside on the doorstep and lower living costs than Manchester. But it needs to make the town centre more attractive to increase footfall and provide an alternative to out of town/retail park shopping, rather than trying to compete with it.
"It's important that Stockport becomes a key destination again and we need to encourage diversity in the high street with more independent shops, cafes and restaurants to encourage shoppers to visit."
SAS Daniels employs 70 fee earners, including 23 partners, in Stockport, Macclesfield, Chester and Congleton.