‘I counted 13 boarded up shops in Stockport town center – but it’s good news for some’


Stockport is undergoing an enormous transformation with £1billion being injected into the town – but it may not look like much has changed yet. During a quick walk around the town center on Thursday lunchtime, I counted a total of 13 boarded up shops.

On the surface, it can look bleak in some parts, as there are empty units lying around the town calling out for a new lease of life. Some days it’s very quiet, and even the town’s favorite lunch spot – Ate Days A Week – moved from its Vernon Street premises, earlier this year, to Manchester city center for more custom.

There is a lot of talk about the Old Town and Underbanks, and rightly so, with its £7million investment program to regenerate the area back to its former glory. A collection of vibrant independents has set up shop there, drawing in visitors.

READ MORE: Stockport has one BILLION pounds being injected into it – and some ‘radical’ changes are coming

However neighboring units still have shutters drawn, waiting to be transformed into new and exciting spaces. Fortunately for Stockport, many vacant spaces have been snapped up by investors or have been taken over by the council, with a view to repurposing them into swanky apartments, office and community spaces, bars, and retailers.

Projects already delivered by the council include the Whole Town Plan, which provided the £45m Redrock leisure facility, with restaurants and the Light Cinema. However, Redrock won’t be fully complete until the new Turkish restaurant takes up one of the currently empty units, and a bowling alley is also to come this year.

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Just one of the vacant units waiting to be taken on

The old BHS unit within the Merseyway Shopping Centre, which has been vacant since 2016, is currently closed off. But two new prominent retailers are set to open up shop in its place – JD Sports and Poundland – while the shopfronts will be modernised.

The shopping precinct was hit hard during the lockdowns as people’s spending habits moved online, but work is underway to have new paving and lighting installed within Vernon Walk – connecting the main shopping area to Chestergate – between Primark, Boots and the public toilets.

In the coming years, shoppers will see new paving, benches, and planters there, while maintenance work will be carried out on the 400m long Merseyway bridge, which supports the heart of the shopping centre. Stockport was awarded £14.5m by the government’s Future High Streets Fund – one of only 15 towns to be awarded the full amount they bid for in the first wave.

The cash will be pumped into repurposing 70,000 sq of vacant retail space around Adlington Walk, within the Merseyway Shopping Centre, into a new community, cultural, education, and social hub, called Stockroom.



How Stockroom could look

The current library service will be expanded, with adult learning facilities, a new cafe, a performance area, new parent and child facilities, and a sensory room. Cllr David Meller, who is passionate about the new hub, believes the regeneration work of the town center will address fundamental inequalities within the borough, with Stockroom playing a key role.

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What do you think of the plans? Have your say below

“If we’re going to have thousands more homes here, we need to have that social infrastructure within the town centre,” he told the MEN in a previous interview. “A lot of what we’re doing is with that in mind. It’s one of the most economically divided boroughs in the country, with pockets of real deprivation.

“Through the work we’re doing, we’re looking to address that.” The scale of planned change hasn’t been without its controversy, Cllr Meller acknowledges, adding: “By and large, there is a lot of support, and I think people are realizing what we’re doing.



The work on Stok has commenced

“We have to push forward, we can’t afford to sit around, we did that for many, many years and that is what led to the town centre’s decline,” Cllr Meller said. “Now we’re finally beginning to get back up and punch our weight. It’s bold stuff we are doing but it needs to be done.”

Builders have taken over the site where M&S used to be on Princes Street, with it set to open later this year as Stok – providing 64,000 sq ft of office accommodation across four floors, in a bid to attract new business into the town centre. Meanwhile, over in the Old Town, the past few years have seen a series of independents open, including Ginkgo, Cherry Jam, and soon-to-be bakery Yellowhammer.



There are many empty units waiting to be renovated on Underbanks

French bistro Bistro Marc opened last week after taking over the historic Winter’s building. But Underbanks is far from finished, with units next door to small independents still closed.

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The good news is that they are gradually filling up. A trendy cocktail bar – Town Bar – which promises a ‘relaxed lounge atmosphere’ for the more ‘discerning’ drinker, will be able to welcome revellers along Lower Hillgate eventually.

The proposal was a concern for some local residents, who raised objections about the potential for noise pollution and anti-social behaviour. However, a few months ago, the council granted the venue a premises license, allowing it to open until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays, midnight on Thursday and up to 11pm during the rest of the week.



The White Lion is being converted into apartments

There will soon be opportunities for residents to live in new apartments along this historic stretch, as developers Hall & Co will take over four vacant sites along Underbanks. They’re also set to deliver ground-floor retail space aimed at independent retailers, an expansion to the Profolk coworking space, and an incubator Lab for start-up businesses.

Upper levels of the properties will offer dual-aspect living set around private green spaces, with communal gardens on the rooftops. One of the four buildings will be developed solely as affordable housing.

Homeowners will also be able to move to the area inside the Grade II-listed White Lion building, which will be developed into one and two-bedroom apartments, with the rent to buy scheme available to encourage young buyers onto the property ladder.

The MEN has approached Stockport Council for a comment on the latest developments.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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