Town centre regeneration - sharing the city’s spotlight

4th March 2020 Real Estate Commercial

When it comes to investment and development, the North West has plenty to shout about. Yet, while Manchester and Liverpool are the jewels in the crown, the region’s smaller towns are drawing attention.

We recently gathered a mix of the region’s property experts to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing our smaller towns, and what the coming twelve months might hold. While there was no doubt that 2020 will see investment continuing to flow into towns on the periphery of Manchester and Liverpool, there are several challenges that remain unsolved, and the ubiquitous food hall is unlikely to prove a silver bullet for every town.

Prime sites in the city core see no shortage of interest, but developers are increasingly looking further afield to surrounding boroughs like Tameside and Stockport, where lower land values equals stronger profits. Successful development projects such as Ashton Old Baths and the redevelopment of Stockport’s Bank Chambers - now Profolk, a thriving collaborative workspace - have demonstrated strong demand for modern commercial space.

Ashton Old Baths, an ambitious £4m project delivered by PlaceFirst with the involvement of Tameside Council, mirrors a growing willingness of local authorities to look more closely at their assets and potential for redevelopment. We are likely to see councils investing more in land and existing assets; with costs rising and budgets falling, it has never been more important to squeeze the value of underused buildings and land.

While land values outside of the city centre are lower, those around the table were resolute in the need for local authorities to put some skin in the game - if councils aren’t willing to put their weight behind regeneration projects in more marginal locations, the numbers are unlikely to stack up for developers.

With the support of local authorities, locations like Stockport - with rail links into the city in under 10 minutes - offer interesting and lucrative opportunities for forward-thinking developers. Stockport has benefited hugely from the council’s commitment to regeneration - the newly-refurbished Produce Hall has been joined by unique independent retailers and coffee shops, resulting in a marked transformation that will only get better.

Great development and well-designed space undoubtedly plays a huge role in the gentrification of towns, but it is experience that brings people back time and again - Altrincham being the most obvious example. The food hall concept has proven successful in both Altrincham and Stretford, generating footfall and adding that crucial social element and reason to linger - however, other towns may need a more creative solution.

The nighttime economy - or lack thereof - will also prove an enduring challenge for many towns, along with the chronic underinvestment in transport links.

Challenges aside, 2020 is likely to see considerably more investment in towns and boroughs on the city’s periphery. Whether Stockport, Urmston, Rochdale, Eccles or Tameside, each has something to offer - and with local authority support, creative placemaking and forward-thinking development, each has an opportunity to thrive.

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Thomas Pearson is a Partner and Joint Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Real Estate Commercial department

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