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Mary Portas visits Stockport

by Iain Roberts on 29 January, 2013

Along with Stockport Town Team members, I met Mary Portas today on her first visit to Stockport. We became a Portas Pilot town last May and since then have been working to improve the Town Centre – focussing on the Market/Underbanks area.

After meeting Mary and her team at the station, we went to the Plaza for lunch and a round-table discussion. That was very useful – Mary had some challenges for us and there are certainly things the Town Team can be doing better. For example, Mary made the point that the Town Team can’t construct a vision on the basis of getting 259 members to agree – that’s never going to happen, and it needs a small group to lead and create that vision and plan. She also suggested that the Town Teams to achieve most have been very focussed: better to do one thing and do it well than try to do everything. That’s certainly a lesson we can take on board – our aspirations for Stockport Town Team have probably been too high and more focus is needed.

Thanks for the Plaza for being superb hosts, as ever, and putting on a delicious lunch.

Mary then went for a walk along the Underbanks and into the Market, meeting lots of shopkeepers and stallholders on the way, giving useful advice and seeing what Stockport has to offer.

Walking down Little Underbank I was struck by just how many shops we have there now – all independents and all sorts of businesses. It’s easy not to notice when you visit every week, but thinking back to how it was 12-18 months ago the transformation is impressive – very few empty units and a real sense of community among the traders.

The market, too, seems to have a very different feel to a year ago. There’s more going on in it and around it. Mary did two circuits of the marketplace, speaking to traders and was presented with a Stockport hamper to remember the visit.

Stockport is on a journey to re-invent its town centre, to attract people across the region and give a real reason for coming to the town that’s competing against Manchester and the Trafford Centre. We’re making good progress – as figures on footfall and new shops shows – but there’s still a long way to go and Mary’s help and advice will certainly be valuable in getting us there.


9 Responses

  1. DR C says:

    Alas, most folk one knows have cars – hence they shop at Cheadle Royal, Handforth Dean and the Trafford Centre.
    Gatley, Cheadle, Stockport – cannot compete – parking costs, lack of cover, convoluted routing…

  2. Iain Roberts says:

    You’ve highlighted the challenge facing Stockport – and pretty much every other Town Centre up and down the country.

    That’s what the Portas Pilot is about.

    Town centres aren’t going to compete directly with the Trafford Centre; but they can offer something different – markets, independent shops, special events.

    Happily, it would seem a lot of people want that – we’re seeing more people visiting the town centre (and more people parking in our car parks) year on year.

    It’s not easy – our town centres were built in a different age and are having to adapt fast.

  3. Bob says:

    Abolish parking charges and make more parking spaces, thats the only way forward for Stockport, then the people WILL come and stay much longer and hopfully spend more.

  4. Iain Roberts says:

    We’re building a new 1,000 place multi-storey car park by the station.

    Abolishing parking charges is tricky – we use that money to maintain the car parks and the roads so if we cut it, we need to get the money from elsewhere.

    There are some new possibilities open to us from April (thanks to localisation of business rates) but it’s not clear how the numbers will stack up.

  5. Robert Taggart says:

    A new car park ? beside the train station ?? you having a laugh ???
    Fine for intending travelers, but, shoppers ????!
    Solution, demolish Merseyway, end to end, then build a covered two tier shopping centre in its place, a la Trafford Centre !

  6. Bob says:

    Yes , the new multi will be very handy for the train station and also the new proposed hotel on the same site,and office workers and the like that need to park all day, but shoppers don,t want to lug shopping across the busy A6, perhaps several times aday, they want to park where the shops are, ie Mersey way etc.The likes of Tescoes, Dunhelm Mill etc finance their own carparks, so why not put a levy on the Mersey Way Stores to pay for the upkeep of those carparks, money would also be saved by not paying for carpark inforcement attendents, maintaining the machines and entrance barriers etc. I throught some of our vehicle road tax went towards the upkeep of the roads?Parking fees at Cheadle Hulme Precinct has recently been abolished, and I believe trade there has increased because of that.

  7. Iain Roberts says:

    The new car park at Grand Central is aimed at rail travellers and office workers.

    It is an option to have traders in Stockport cover the cost of the car parks – if they were willing to do so (for example, we could propose a “Business Improvement District” where businesses pay higher rates to cover the parking costs, and if a majority agreed then it could go ahead).

    Vehicle Duty goes to central government so may end up paying for the upkeep of our roads via an indirect route (or for motorways directly).

  8. Bob says:

    I think that about sums it up Iain, lets hope the traders are willing to dig a little deeper, I am sure it will be worth it to most of them, I for one will then shop in stockport centre and probably stay longer and have lunch there.

  9. Dan says:

    The Underbanks and Market are what make Stockport worth visiting. Merseyway needs knocking down and the historical town centre opening up – very much like the job the IRA did with Shambles Square in Manchester, if not in quite the same way.

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