Could a revitalised Stretford rival the trendy Greater Manchester outposts like Chorlton, Didsbury and Altrincham once a new masterplan to reshape its town centre comes to fruition?
Developers behind the ambitious £28m rebirth of its town centre think so – absolutely, in fact.
That’s the message coming from the joint venture partners as the historic King Street and Pinnington Lane thoroughfares – engulfed for decades amid the sprawling-but-now-outdated indoor Stretford mall were once again exposed to daylight this week.
Partners Trafford council and property firm Bruntwood have begun the first phase of the redevelopment of the town centre which will see cafes, bars, restaurants, independent retailers as well as the ‘big guns’ of the high street, centred around a new town square and enhanced by a nearby park.
Their long-term plan is for the new town centre to be augmented by 800 new residential properties and further improvements to the town centre around King Street and Kingsway.
Enthusiasm and excitement over the progress of the work being carried out was personified by Ernst ter Horst of Stretford Town Centre architects and James Tootle, Bruntwood’s head of retail and leisure as they guided media visitors around the site as work was progressing.
From the exposed top of the mutli-storey car park, we could see the skyscrapers of Manchester five or six miles away in the distance. From there, the city is starting to look like Chicago.
In the foreground, there is Stretford Public Hall, built by Manchester’s first multi-millionaire and philanthropist John Rylands and first opened in 1879.
And it’s that link with the Victorian era when Stretford was choc full of little lanes and streets lined with independent shops which Bruntwood and constructor Caddick are now harking back to.
This week, as King Street was newly exposed, so too was the Pinnington Lane street nameplate which had been covered for decades.
Looking down from the top of the car, you could see the dust lying there and an old building emerging with ornate window frames.
Ernst said: “We realised we could work with the grain of these existing buildings and bring them back to life, with a sort of deep retrofit approach and upgrading the thermal efficiency of all these buildings as well.
“You can see all the character. Down there Pinnington Lane has been revealed. Incredibly, they built the roof right up to that sign and didn’t move it.”
Ernst, who has lived in Stretford for 18 years, continued: “It’s a really exciting symbolic moment down there, with narrow streets and places that will become vibrant.
“It’s almost coming full circle to the days of John Rylance, who built Stretford Public Hall and a number of buildings here and the legacy of Longford Park, that was his estate.”
He said the town centre would be returned to ‘granular local streets’ with independent retailers as well as a mixture of the national brands.
There will be slightly smaller premises with more of them in a smaller area, with ‘more intensity’ than the ‘big box retailers on huge estates’ which are no longer needed because people are shopping online, Ernst said.
“But they do need, like most shops, a customer point of call where you can go in and talk to people about an issue,” he said. “This is informed by research into what the high street needs to be.
“And that needs to be a blend of different uses, not just retail any more. So definitely food and drink, we all know that, and also leisure and community uses.”
James added: “We’re trying to enhance what’s already here so it becomes a really appealing town centre with a really wide range of people.”
On King Street, there will be a first-floor arcade area with rooflights, a staircase and a lift going up, ‘a bit like Aflecks Palace’, where the old Peacocoks and WH Smith once were, and there will be a market hall with a mix of different uses.
“We’re still working on exactly how that’s going to manifest,” said James, “but there will be definitely food and drink, maybe some street food vendors, maybe markets that come and go and retail presence.
“King Street is the first phase of a much wider scheme that then allows us to pick up on what retailers will move here. New residential properties will eventually be built out.”
Meanwhile, a big part of the wider masterplan is that there will be a central park, 85 metres by 35 metres – ‘a substantial space’ leading to a residential neighbourhood as well as some food and beverage outlets nearby.
“We always wanted to bring new green space to the town centre,” said James. “We’re looking at reorientating that now as part of a new planning application that we’re going to put forward.
“That’s all being done to interlink with the retail offer that’s coming to King Street. We’ll be making sure we test ourselves and check that this the right thing to be doing.”
There’s a definite feeling that the Stretford scheme could be a ‘trailblazer’ for other similar projects at Bury and Altrincham’s Stamford Quarter, for Bruntwood, reiterated when James said: “This is a really exciting scheme. We’d like to think we’re getting a lot of things right, and we’ll learn a lot of things along the way.”
And he went on: “We fundamentally believe that in order for Manchester city centre to thrive, it needs to have a network of thriving towns around it that support that city centre and the wider conurbation – particularly, in South Manchester.
“A lot of that’s happened already with Chorlton, Didsbury and Altrincham and others. But with Stretford, it feels like it’s crying out for this level of change. Can that happen here? Absolutely.”
Back to Ernst: “Many of the buildings are going re-find their identity that’s been concealed for so long.
“When you see some of the photographs from before and after, what’s really profound is that now the roof’s come off there’s daylight flooding into King Street for the first time in 50 years.
“Suddenly people now starting to get it. It starts to make sense. Before, you could’ve been anywhere because it was a mall. Some really exciting things are happening now. This is a really good time.
“The interesting thing is that this is the issue for so many towns throughout the UK. There was that era when it was right at the time to modernise, to have larger cleaner, bigger shops, but now things are going back the other way. So a lot of these places have to adjust.
“I think a lot of people in the UK and Greater Manchester are looking at Stretford about how this is done as a joint venture – a very strong partnership model – as the way forward.”