Stockport has a billion pounds of regeneration money being injected into the city in an attempt to transform it from a place that ‘did not beat its weight’ into a thriving ‘destination in itself’.
While the initial development work is publicly funded, the city center attracts private investment, which is a good indication of a growing market with companies wanting to have a front-row seat to the colossal transformation, councilors say.
“There’s a real demand for what we’re doing here,” said Councilman David Meller, cabinet member for economics and regeneration.
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“We have received private investment in new developments, they are happy to support what we are doing, which is really encouraging.
“I think what we can offer here is of real quality, and the transport network we have here you can reach London in two hours.
“As a location, I have always felt that it did not really hit its weight, but we are now or largely realizing the enormous potential that we have and always have had.”
The goal is for the city center to be a multifunctional place of activity where people can live, work, shop and enjoy community services.
Projects already underway under the ‘Whole Town Plan’ include the £ 45m leisure facility Redrock, which comes with restaurants and a Light Cinema, while a Turkish restaurant will be a new addition to the building next year along with a bowling alley.
Stage three of the £ 145m Stockport Exchange development adjacent to the train station has been completed and offers state-of-the-art office space, with phase four underway early next year.
Renters include Holiday Inn, Sainsbury’s, Cafelito and major employers Music Magpie and Stagecoach.
In 2022, the former BHS unit will see two new prominent retailers open the store, while a French bistro will also open in the new year in the iconic Winters building down Underbanks.
And the old M&S unit will open early next year as Stok, providing 64,000 m2 of four-story office space to attract new business into the heart of the city center.
‘A boulevard by the river’
Since August, work has been underway on the ambitious work on the old bus station, which will become a new city center exchange, funded by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), complete with a bridge connecting the station.
The transport network, which can see Metrolink expanded from East Didsbury over the next 10 years, will be located under a new two-acre roof terrace garden, where there will also be high-quality apartments.
The head of development and regeneration for the Stockport Council, Robert Goulsbra, describes the project, which has the landmark Victorian viaduct as a background, as a “river side boulevard” in the coming years.
An abandoned mill next to the new junction overlooking the River Mersey will be converted into 253 flats, after £ 7m. of Homes England funding was secured with it as a historic site.
The developers who brought Manchester’s unique Campus site – Capital & Centric – are behind the redevelopment, called Weir Mill, and construction is set to begin in the spring of 2022.
A new community will emerge, Robert says, with a river terrace and space for independent businesses, markets and events.
The adjoining West Shed will be a flexible collaboration space, set amongst the stunning brick vaulted ceilings.
Housing and new dementia services
“There’s going to be a mix of leases,” Robert said when asked about the affordability of the new housing to get to the city center.
“We are trying to increase the supply of housing in the city center, push the boundaries of higher quality design housing to attract young professionals and take into account people struggling with affordability.
“We work very closely with Stockport Homes, with 11,000+ affordable homes, we place affordable where we can and in the right places.
“It’s a tight rope we have to go and I think we’ll find the right balance.”
He added: “These are radical inventions, but it is over a period of time and it is the nature of evolution that there is a natural delay.
“What we achieve with the investment is to try to make the city center a better place, not all apartments and offices, it also brings a broader social investment.
“It makes Stockport as good as it can get.”
One of the places Robert says is 100 percent affordable is the former St Thomas’ Hospital project, which is to be a new neighborhood with 67 new homes – with 80 percent made available through shared ownership, and the remaining 20 percent for social rental.
There will also be an ‘innovative’ dementia offer to support those who switch between hospital and home.
Meanwhile, there are plans to have 550 new homes for rent on the former Sainbury’s site on Warren Street.
Warehouse community hub to occupy available retail units
Stockport has also been awarded £ 14.5 million by the government’s Future High Streets Fund – one of only 15 cities to be awarded the full amount they bid in the first wave.
The money will be pumped into reusing 70,000 sqm of vacant retail space around Adlington Walk for a new community, cultural, educational and social center, called the Stockroom.
The current library offer is expanded with adult education facilities, a new cafe, a performance area, new parent and child facilities and a sensory room.
Cllr Meller, who is passionate about the new hub, believes that reconstruction work in the city center will address fundamental inequalities in the borough where Stockroom plays a key role.
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“If we are to have thousands more homes here, we need to have the social infrastructure in the city center,” he said.
“If you go from Bramhall to Brinnington, you lose on average about 10 years of life expectancy.
“Much of what we do is with that in mind. It’s one of the most economically divided neighborhoods in the country, with pockets of real deprivation.
“Through the work we do, we seek to solve it.”
However, the enormous scale of change has not been without controversy and hesitation among some locals, Cllr Meller continued.
“By and large, there is a lot of support and I think people are aware of what we are doing,” he said.
“We have to move forward, we can not afford to sit, we did for many, many years, and that was what led to the decline of the city center.
“Now we’re finally starting to get up again and beat our weight. It’s bold things we do, but it needs to be done.”
One area of £ 7m investment that has proven to be a hit is with Old Town’s Underbanks, which received funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to raise its profile and restore its once thriving history, with specialist shops taking up space.
The city’s nightlife has also expanded there, with The Good Rebel, Cherry Jam, Dr Feelgood along with the municipally owned popular Produce Hall.
Residents will also be able to move to the area inside the Grade II listed White Lion building, which will be developed into one- and two-bedroom apartments, with the rent-to-buy scheme available to encourage young people buyers for the real estate ladder.
Cllr Meller claims that the city center now attracts people who would normally have visited the Northern Quarter in Manchester for a night on the town.
His personal view, he says, is that five years ago he would not have even thought of Stockport as a place to spend an evening.
“I would not come to Stockport to go out, I would not touch it, I would go directly to Manchester. Now it is very rare for me to go to Manchester,” he said.
“Stockport town center has everything I want and need.
“We’re hitting the point now where we’re attracting those who would normally go to the northern quarter.
“There’s a real shift going on, and it’s finally realizing the potential that has lain dormant for so long. Those who have bold ideas, we’re doing what we can to help them.”
Along the sub-banks lies Gingko – a health and eco-lifestyle store – which opened its Stockport site in July after first opening a store in Altrincham.
Co-owner Safiyyah Abdulla was drawn to the street because of the “amazing architecture and character”.
“When we first got to the area and we were looking at units, there was just this incredible buzz, a strong sense of excitement,” she said.
“There was so much construction work going on, clattering, hammering, builders in and out of so many other units down the stretch, it just felt like things were happening so fast.”
Safiyyah hopes that more independents will join and get a snowball effect that attracts more influxes.
“It just requires people to back it up,” she said.
“It can be a destination where people come and spend a whole day doing different activities, shopping in different types of stalls.
“There is such a lovely collection of places and it has so much to offer that just needs more people to the area.”
Right next door is Top Of The Town Vintage, owned by Sophia Rosemary Barrese of Stockport, who says she had always dreamed of owning a store inside Underbanks, where her location was exactly as she had imagined it. .
“There’s such a nice vibe here and something really magical about it,” she added.
“It has been a dream to be here and I feel like I have a place in the front row for all the exciting plans that are going to happen in the next year or so.
“I think it’s just about giving people the opportunity to rediscover the area and see the potential, in the end it’s always been a beautiful area, it’s just spraying that love back into it.”
The owner of the vintage store agrees with his neighbor that the more businesses that pop up, the more life it will bring.
“It’s really exciting because on a weekly basis you can see the progress where more people are coming down this way and discovering it; it’s kind of like a hidden gem.”
One unit of down-painted bottle green to open in 2022 is Yellowhammer – a bakery, pottery and deli brought by Where The Light Gets In chef Sam Buckley in collaboration with potter Joe Hartley and baker Rosie Wilkes.
Across the road is Tony Murray, who moved in just over a year ago, with his Old Town General Store.
He also says it’s an ‘exciting’ time to own a business in Stockport because of the high-quality mixed-use development coming into the city center.
“Stockport has been oppressed for quite a few years, whereas there is now a quite fine community building,” he said.
“The fact that more homes are coming to the city is great for us as retailers, we have worked hard to create a better night economy, then there is Redrock, to bring in a cinema, it is so much better for the city center, so on the whole, it’s just really exciting. ”
Cllr Meller credits Underbank’s success to its niche, yet wide range that attracts different types of people, with “conventional retail no more”.
He added: “I want people to come here and it is a destination in itself. I think we are very much getting there now.”