What to do about Stretford

Stretford town centre has hit the press again. In a league table of a thousand towns it’s been placed at number 999.

It’s infuriating. Stretford Arndale is fifty years old this year. It feels to have been a slow decline for decades. For a brief period when it first opened Stretford would have been top of the league. The idea of a covered town centre with everything you needed under one roof was novel and exciting. I used to get on the bus to Stretford with my brother and mum, and it was the epitome of modern living to shop without fear of a soaking, or worries about being pushed into road traffic.

However Stretford soon got overtaken by bigger supermarkets and better planned centres. We can blame the Trafford Centre and Tesco-Extra as much as we want, but it still became easier to get the weekly shopping from Sale or even Irlam if you had a car than it was Stretford. It is not even competing with nearby town centres like Chorlton, Urmston and Sale.

So what’s to be done?

It’s fairly clear that planners’ main thrust in addressing Stretford’s decline is to repopulate the immediate vicinity. There’s scope for increasing the population across the road at Lacy Street and on the land released with the demolition of the southern wing of the mall.

Of course there are other elements such as bringing the Essoldo back into use but the strategy remains one of giving the Mall a bigger local catchment in order to revive it. It’s a jump-start via repopulation.

I am sceptical. The Mall has inherent design challenges. By definition a high street should be a natural route for people to be taking. Even an indoor parade normally links one place to another. Stretford’s Mall is a detour from most natural pathways.

If it can’t attract the accidental shopper, the question then becomes one of whether it can be a destination shopping area. Can the Mall attract a quality retail offer into its units to entice these new residents? It’s a key question.

At the same time it feels to me as though the space with the best potential is close to the canal. The canal is Stretford’s prime asset but then we get into the dilemma that to develop a retail/leisure/evening economy mix on that canalside we’re pulling them away from the mall.

We have to lift Stretford’s town centre. I don’t think there’s a risk free solution out there but we are going to have to take some decisions. We really can’t guarantee either approach. Whilst a Stretford version of Venice is enticing, are we really capable of delivering such a destination here on the towpath of the Bridgewater canal?