As Stockport proudly embraces change, its regeneration has caught the eye of even the more discerning national press; the Sunday Times recently applauded the town as the ‘best example in creating a town centre good enough to rival the city.’ Whilst the Guardian declared there was ‘something special in the air’.
As the face of town centres change, so too do the demands of business, residents and visitors. The retail offering has shifted; the call for workspace has changed and there’s a growing appetite for town centre living. Stockport has embraced the new demands in shopping, business and living as it continues to work to develop a future-proof destination of choice, for everyone.
Rhys Owen, Leasing Director at Orbit Developments, explains how Stockport is embracing change to present a unique opportunity for the town centre to thrive.
“Let’s talk retail first. Shopping habits have changed; like most other towns and cities across the UK, we have seen the demise of some high street names while others have opted to relocate to out-of-town retail parks. In time they may return but not without an assured demand; M&S has already shown this to be true. In the meantime, Stockport is boldly embracing the opportunity that a re-purposed town centre can offer for business, its residents and its visitors.
“Online shopping has been the catalyst for change in how we buy: we place our weekly food order online and reserve a delivery slot that is convenient for us; we order goods online, often assuming next day delivery. So, we can hardly blame the big 5 supermarkets when instore sales fall and they see an opportunity to reduce overheads and protect their customers from rising costs.
“In Stockport, the loss of the large Sainsburys store is a shame but also an opportunity for residential in a prime, town centre location. Perhaps this was a factor in drawing back M&S whilst also creating the development opportunity. Likewise, the former 70’s Debenhams store could be granted an exciting new life, perhaps as an anchor leisure use, adding more than Debenhams had for the last decade. It could be a welcome 2nd phase at Redrock. Leisure operators have seen an opportunity in sites like Great Northern in the city centre and Legoland & Sea Life Centre have expanded the offering for visitors to the Trafford Centre; Stockport should be equally ambitious. I saw someone comment recently that something like Eureka in Halifax would be good, I 100% agree! Junkyard golf? A climbing centre? A mix of leisure elements, a mix of food offers? Reclad the exterior and make a statement! In the meantime exciting fresh temporary uses such as the recent Art Battle are great ways to animate these ‘in development’ opportunities.
“And as our home becomes our part-time office too, social interaction outside of office hours has becomes a priority for many. We crave time with friends over a drink or a ‘bite to eat’. It doesn’t surprise me to see how Stockport town centre is embracing that change and the food and drink sector is driving that.”
So, what about the residential offer? Just how important is town centre living?
“I hear the voices saying ‘not more yuppy flats’ but residential is a key factor in how town centres up and down the country are evolving.
“It’s many of these same voices who don’t want green belt used for housing, but it has to go somewhere. In fact, Stockport already has a mix of new residential offer seen in many of the recent schemes around Hillgate.
“And of course, the MDC (Mayoral Development Corporation) is also encouraging a mix of housing styles, complimenting apartment-style living. One of the first schemes to be brought to market was the pioneering transformation of the former Royal Mail Sorting Office into the highly successful Mailbox development of apartments. Weir Mill is equally innovative – a £60m investment in bringing a totally new concept to Stockport, creating a vibrant, town centre community hub opening out on to The Mersey.
“A key factor is ensuring that the right mix and quality of residential is created to ensure that a variety of people are catered for. The right residential mix will in turn create a demand, and when there is commercial demand then comes the supply.
“There is one fundamental, unavoidable but wholly positive impact residential has on an area. Footfall. Footfall is vital to feed the burgeoning café and bar operators and leisure businesses who offer greater choice, attracting more customers, more often. It’s already evident in Stockport where a whole array of new independent bars and eateries are feeding increased demand.”
But it’s not just our shopping and retail habits that have changed; what impact has Covid had on the workspace? Is the commercial property sector dying? Is it critically ill?
“The office is evolving, whether it changes again who knows but it’s clear to see that offices aren’t housing the numbers of colleagues at desks 5 days a week that we used to see.
“Conversely, in Stockport it’s fair to say we are seeing companies increase their office space but, as we see elsewhere too, they are paying more attention to their investment. Investing in the quality of their space, in the facilities within their space (yes beer machines are part of this, as is the pool and/or ping pong tables), investing in their colleagues’ enjoyment at work, their output, their growth of the business. So no, the office isn’t dead.
“I like to think of it like this: dining rooms, for those houses that could justify them, used to be an occasional room used for big events like Christmas and for storing all the stuff that couldn’t fit somewhere else. Now it seems every house on the market, or that has been touched by a builder, must have that open plan kitchen diner where the dining table has quietly migrated to and where it provides a multitude of experiences for interaction. So, the space is still there but it’s being used in a different way.
“I look at our own product, which has been steadily evolving over the last decade and these next few years will see more investment and improvement. The likes of our first Stockport CAT A+ and exposed services schemes are testament to how the town is moving forward. It’s clear to see that the quality of workspace has steadily improved over the last few years and the current drive by businesses to improve the quality of their space has helped those lower quality buildings reach the point of redevelopment.”
“It has to be said that Stockport Council have been a catalyst to a lot of the positive changes to happen, and still happening, in the town centre. Councils are often bashed – damned if they do, damned if they don’t – but to make some key strategic changes that can lead to opportunity for entrepreneurs and the private sector has been bold and key.
“Other prominent investors have now dipped their toes into the town centre including Hall & Co, Glenbrook and Capital&Centric; but there are more to come (and some existing ones that need to wake up).
Edited by Helen White, Marketing Stockport
Photo credit: Weaver’s Square – CGI showing proposed redevelopment of Weir Mill, Stockport (Image: Capital and Centric)