Despite welcoming some aspects of the overall plan, I am very disappointed with the specific Stretford Masterplan proposals for the canalside. I feel that in sacrificing the opportunity to develop the canalside into an attractive recreational setting, we're undermining the economic stimulus provided by an influx of students.
Canalside culture should be at the centre of Stretford's revival
Stretford has excellent transport connections to Manchester and elsewhere. It has hundreds of passengers alighting at the Stretford Metrolink stop everyday, emerging onto the bridge over the canal. Having a picturesque canal is usually by default an economic blessing in any regeneration. Think of Camden Lock, Birmingham, Sale.
Canals normally make for attractive town centre settings.
Our canalside is currently occupied by the Royal Mail sorting office, but given the extant plans already announced by the Royal Mail to move their operation, it's created a once in a generation opportunity to bring the canal back into focus.
And Trafford Council's Masterplan?
The Masterplan document feels unconvincing. Its trickledown approach takes for granted that an influx of 1700 or so students in purpose-built accommodation will shop here rather than Gorse Hill-Tesco or White City on the way home.
Compare to Gateshead
Gateshead is a council that has used student accommodation as one facet of a successful town centre regeneration on the site of an iconic multi-storey carpark. The scale of the Gateshead project is much bigger and included a brand new shopping centre with the student accommodation built on top of the Tesco's Extra. That last aspect is perhaps significant. There's nothing subtle in the Gateshead model, designing where the students will spend their money with the 24hr Tesco directly below the student accommodation.
Positive Aspects of the Trafford Scheme?
Edge Lane frontage
"Edge Lane Shops - Possible Intervention. There are six commercial units on Edge Lane adjacent to the former Essoldo Cinema, five of these are currently vacant, with six apartments above. These units are in a single private ownership and are currently being marketed for sale. There are a further five shop units under separate ownership.
It is proposed that both shop units will be redeveloped for either all student accommodation, or retail on the ground floor with accommodation above.
I very much support the proposals for Edge Lane as described in the Refreshed Masterplan. Ideally, the attractive frontage should be retained. I would like to see something of similar scale and style on the facing side of Edge Lane.
If The Essoldo comes into Trafford ownership, it will look better and may deliver on its community potential. I do agree with the masterplan that "There is a specific opportunity to bring the former Essoldo back into active use as part of the UA92 student campus".
I support the principle of the Essoldo being brought back into use. I hope that once purchased, it remains in council hands and that the local community is consulted before any commitments are entered into.
My worry is that the student population will head to the tram, bus or taxi rather than spend their money here. The challenge for Stretford is not just about keeping its new student residents buying the odd bottle of milk here, but giving them enough facilities to want to invite friends over. The Essoldo could help, but I believe we will need much much more. Since this UA92 is a sports themed university, it just seems to make sense to use sport as a hook for Stretford. A leisure centre in Stretford should not have been so easily dismissed.
I do agree a student population can feasibly stimulate a night time economy in particular, and make a town centre a culturally lively and more diverse place.
However, Stretford would require significantly more social investment in supporting infrastructure than is promised in the masterplan for that stimulus to be realised.
In addition to student accommodation it is proposed that there would be a mix of commercial spaces on the ground floor - for shops, cafés or restaurants – that would be accessible to all. There would also be a new public realm with access to the canal opened up.
This feels so half-hearted. I'm extremely underwhelmed. It absolutely is not opening up the canal, and I'm struggling to imagine any café/restaurant area on the plan. The 'quad' looks too enclosed and uninviting; making the viability of any restaurant or café less certain. It looks to me that there'd be practical problems to servicing any commercial activity in the quad too. How would deliveries be made? Disabled Access? Disabled Parking?
We really need the public realm within the student accommodation to work. The 'Quad' area in the middle of the Lacy Street development reminds me of the area contained within the Hulme Crescents of the 1970s.
A priority has to be in opening up the canal now there's an opportunity to deliver it. This does not preclude student accommodation in Stretford, nor indeed on Lacy Street. Getting right a cafe/restaurant/village shopping quarter on the canalside, at ground level, makes adding the student accommodation to enhance the scheme so much easier rather than the other way round; and creates a symbiosis between the two.