You may have seen media praise for Altrincham's regeneration recently, such as this article in the online local government journal Local Gov. It's a worthwhile read. In many ways the Partington transformation has been even more impressive despite its much smaller size.
Altrincham has benefited from a focus on the assets within the town centre and recognition as to the extent of its catchment. Similarly Partington town centre now has an impressive 100% occupancy rate. These two Trafford towns may be polar opposites in affluence but there are similarities in how their town centres function.
The article praises Altrincham's introduction of narrower carriageways and more street crossings to slow traffic. A thing I love about Partington's centre is that despite generous car parking, it feels that it's just as accessible on foot or by bike. Given it's in the middle of a residential area, that makes perfect business sense. Altrincham needs people to come in via public transport and on foot to sustain its thriving evening leisure economy. As a consequence, I never feel that it’s unexpected to travel in on modes other than the car to shop in these centres. There's street furniture and connecting pathways/bikeways to avoid the traffic. And whilst it may be that most of the custom to these two towns is reliant on the car, my mental image of them is of people in the street talking to each other.
That last point is important. It's not just about the variety of retail, you've got to get the customer into town in the first place. I suspect that we're psychologically conditioned to expect to see certain things as we enter a town centre and by quite a young age we know when we’re in a town centre, even if we’ve never been there before. The characteristics we’re so clued into probably include shop fronts and people, movement and bustle.
I am convinced we want to see shop-fronts and people on foot even if we come in by car. It's psychological confirmation that it’s a town centre we’re in.