Warrington one of the liveliest and most commercially successful towns in the UK
PUBLISHED: 11:08 15 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:12 05 April 2013
Over ten years ago, civic leaders pledged to make Warrington one of the liveliest and most commercially successful towns in the UK. There are still challenges ahead but they're well on their way... Words BY MIKE SMITH
A decade ago, the approaches to Warringtons town centre were emblazoned with banners carrying the slogan: The streets they are a-changing. And they certainly were a-changing at that time because American designer Howard Ben Tr was busily transforming the entire central shopping area.
Tr replaced the traffic island at Market Gate with a large fountain and encircled it with a colonnade of curvy pillars, officially known as guardians but immediately rechristened skittles by the locals. He then enlivened the radiating streets with serpentine paving and funky water features. One of the roads to benefit from this imaginative makeover was Bridge Street, which had long been Warringtons main shopping thoroughfare.
In more recent years, the Golden Square indoor shopping centre, first established on the perimeter of Market Gate in the seventies, has undergone a huge expansion and a makeover of its own, with the result that it is now a major shopping destination for people from miles around.
But the outstanding success of the centre has meant that those radiating streets have been a-changing yet again.
As more and more high street names have moved into Golden Square, more and more shops have closed in the surrounding streets, particularly in Bridge Street, where the emptiness of a number of premises has been disguised by display boards advertising Warringtons many cultural and community events.
The situation was well summed up for me by Alison Lodge, a deputy headteacher from Newton-le-Willows, who was shopping in Golden Square with her husband Mark. She said: Golden Square is great for shopping.
Many of my colleagues in Liverpool choose to shop in Warrington because Golden Square offers such a wide choice and everything is under one roof.
Very few of them have a concept of Bridge Street as a major shopping destination, but the Hancock and Wood department store is there and I would hate to see Bridge Street die.
Someone else who would hate to see Bridge Street die is Terry ONeill, the leader of Warrington Borough Council. Talking to me with obvious passion and commitment, he said: Its not possible to have a successful town unless every part of it is successful and that certainly involves Bridge Street, which has some very good buildings and is one of our most historically important streets. Steps to breathe new life into the area are beginning this year.
Warrington Borough Council has just appointed Muse Developments as their partner in a 130 million scheme embracing 6.5 hectares from Bridge Street to Academy Way and from Buttermarket Street to Mersey Square, including the market area. The development will contain restaurants, shops, a gym, a cinema, a new indoor market, a hotel, a cultural centre and new council offices.
Stressing the importance of the scheme for Warringtons vitality, Cllr ONeill said: The development will transform the town centre, bring new jobs to the local area and provide the entertainment and leisure facilities that are currently missing but greatly needed. I want people to travel into Warrington, not just to shop in Golden Square, but also to enjoy the towns cultural and leisure offerings. Id also like to see the centre re-populated as a residential area. For example, some of the upper floors of those impressive buildings in Bridge Street could be converted into apartments.
Another man who has faith in the future of Bridge Street is David Shaw, who has several McDonalds restaurant franchises in the Warrington area. After investing 160,000 in the refurbishment of his premises in the street, he said: Ive taken the decision to stay in Bridge Street and fight for the future of what used to be the premier shopping street in Warrington.
With regard to cultural offerings, the Borough Council has handed over the delivery of arts, heritage and events across the town to a new charitable trust called Culture Warrington, which is also responsible for operating Parr Hall, the Pyramid, the Museum and the Art Gallery.
Working under the slogan Its all going on in Warrington, the trusts members are determined to make the most of their opportunity. For example, Warringtons annual music and contemporary arts festivals will be supplemented this year by the towns first literature festival.
Its all going on in Warrington in several other respects too. Omega North, on the outskirts of the town, has just signed up its first tenant in the shape of Brakes, the food suppliers, whose warehouse will create hundreds of jobs for local people. The Stadium Quarter, which forms the northern gateway to the town centre, is earmarked for a 34 million mixed-use development that will result in a new living and working community.
As all these schemes develop, the streets will be a-changing yet again, but the councils slogan on this occasion is Warrington Means Business.
The town already has 8,000 businesses employing 115,000 people and is the eighth most popular office location in the country. A recent Centre for Cities report on the UKs 64 major towns and cities placed Warrington in the top five for business investment and in the top ten for business and enterprise.
Delighted to flag up the new schemes that will ensure the continuation of this success story, Cllr ONeill said, Our aim is to create and nurture new opportunities in the town, unleash the potential of Warringtons people and its businesses, promote the towns status as an economic power house and attract further investment. 2013 is going to be an exciting year for Warrington.
WARRINGTON FACT FILE
The town was founded by the Romans at a crossing point on the River Mersey.
Cromwells army stayed in the town during the Civil War.
Warrington people know about Walton Hall and Gardens at Higher Walton, but it is one of Cheshires lesser-known beauty spots. Pay a visit: its beautiful.
Warringtons population has doubled to 202,000 since it was designated a New Town in 1968.
During the Industrial Revolution, Warrington developed brewing, tanning, chemical and steel industries but gained a particular reputation for the production of wire.
During World War II, Burtonwood was the largest American base outside the USA. Troops were entertained there by Humphrey Bogart and Bob Hope.
Warrington is the pre-tournament training centre for the Samoans in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and is hosting their match against New Zealand. The Halliwell Jones Stadium is also staging a quarter-final match.
Famous people from the town include Rebekah Brooks, Chris Evans and Kerry Katona.