Stockport looks to the future after £1 billion investment
11:57 17 February 2017
A £1 billion investment is making Stockport a force to be reckoned with, writes Janet Reeder
Stockport is undergoing a renaissance thanks to a £1 billion investment designed to transform it into a business and leisure destination.
Two new hotels have opened as well as new offices and when the Red Rock development opens at the end of 2017 it will be home to a new cinema complex and smart restaurant chains.
This is a far cry from a decade ago, when for many residents the only source of civic pride was that it appeared in the top ten of Britain’s worst towns! But as Caroline Simpson, Corporate Director for Place, at Stockport Council explains, to do nothing was not an option.
The council has been able to organise a revamp thanks to £1bn which has been obtained from several sources.
Explains Caroline: ‘We have a lot of investment going into our infrastructure at present which comes from the Department for Transport and from Transport for Greater Manchester. We have private investment through developers Muse in partnership with the council, particularly on our Stockport Exchange project, which is a brand new office block and new hotel.
‘The council has utilised its borrowing capabilities through the public works loan board to kickstart and invest in the town centre to bring forward new facilities. So that is money we (the council) are investing into capital projects but ones where we also want to see a return on our investment in future years.’
One recent investment of this kind has been the Merseyway shopping centre, now being managed by the council.
‘We are working closely with the occupiers and giving it some real TLC as well as working on a programme of development and investment,’ explains Caroline.
‘That’s just one example of how the council is using its own ability to borrow money at very low rates and investing that money, not only for the benefit of the town centre but also, over time, to create revenue streams back into the council.
‘Another example of that is our Red Rock scheme in which we are building new cinemas, with the Light Cinemas as our operator. That will be opening next Christmas. We also have a number of new restaurants that will open at the same time - Zizzi, Pizza Express and the Gourmet Burger Kitchen.
‘The Red Rock scheme provides a leisure offer that hasn’t been there before and the council has used one of its own car parks to build,’ said Caroline.
One vitally important area for the town is the historic marketplace. It plays an essential role in keeping the identity of the area.
John Barratt works for creative hub Seven Miles Out arts centre in the marketplace and is responsible for branding the area as Stockport Old Town.
One source of pride is a recently won Best Food and Drink Award for their pop up Foodie Friday event, which was set up with help from money that had been awarded from the Portas Pilot scheme.
John said: ‘We needed an identification for this area because many people outside Stockport don’t realise what a beautiful market hall we have. It’s fantastic architecture and now we’re getting really good offers as a result of Foodie Friday such as restaurants like The Allotment vegan restaurant and Where the Light Gets In.
‘We also have a couple of festivals. Stockport Old Town Food Festival has been going two years and attracts thousands and the Stockport Old Town Fringe Festival (both usually held in August).
‘These are great inclusive community events. There’s a high standard of performance and they are available for free, which is really important,’ he said.
Another gem in Stockport is The Plaza Cinema. Built in 1932 as a cinema and variety theatre it’s a rare style of building. It’s healthy condition is thanks to the people of Stockport who stepped in to rescue it when it was under threat of demolition. In 1990 a charitable trust was created after the council bought the building, since then it has gone from strength to strength.
‘When The Plaza was saved there wasn’t much activity in the evening, ‘explains General Manager Ted Doan.
‘But it started off very much with the old town, the market area and places like Seven Miles Out. Then you have the Red Rock development with the new cinema and national restaurants like Pizza Express so that’s all fantastic.
‘If you just have modern sprawling complexes it doesn’t work because it takes the soul out of a town. But it’s glorious for Stockport that this exists as it shows it can be done and we have become a beacon for venues all over the country who ask how we do it.’
It’s not just big business helping to make Stockport more of a destination - for example a vegan store has just opened, following on the heels of the vegan restaurant The Allotment.
Owner Claire Dickinson gave up her job in the procurement office of Manchester University to open Herbivore on Wellington Road. She became vegan a year ago. ‘Being vegan itself is easy but I found shopping a nightmare - it would take hours. You’d have to go to several supermarkets and read all the ingredients on the backs of the packets, so I just thought I could do with somebody to take that difficult bit out. Then I decided to go ahead and do that for myself.
‘Then The Allotment opened and Curry Culture further down Wellington Road so I thought Stockport needed a nice vegan store. I am hoping to expand the ranges as we go along, stocking cleaning products, vegan baby food and vegan dog food.’
With plans to introduce more housing in the centre Stockport is maximising its potential.
Says Caroline Simpson: ‘Our ambition for Stockport is to bring footfall in, have a really vibrant town centre for the community and the surrounding area and if we can make the businesses more successful then it all fuels the sense of prosperity of an area.’