The One Chorlton project asks residents, traders and others for their views on how Chorlton Precinct should be redeveloped. Here’s Chorlton Traders’ response, written in consultation with our members.
We welcome your commitment to work in partnership with the local community in order to develop plans for the Precinct which will serve its requirements and fulfil its future aspirations over the coming decades.
A number of the principles you describe in the ‘One Chorlton’ document are similar to ours and we are happy to work with you to determine how these will be developed and realised.
As you know, over many years the redevelopment process of the Precinct has had a sorry history, and the associated planning blight that this has caused has been an on-going source of real frustration, and has resulted in significant difficulties for traders both directly and indirectly affected. It is so much harder to create a welcoming, vibrant district centre when at its very heart is an area that is visibly being left to decay, with no investment, empty units and neglect.
Chorlton’s community groups have contributed with energy and enthusiasm at each consultation offered, and we welcome the opportunity to do so again, provided that you do adopt the community-led approach to develop your plans as you are proposing, and that you engage meaningfully with us. We have seen in the past all our work essentially used to fulfil a box-ticking exercise during the planning process. This feedback incorporates work undertaken on these previous consultations.
Opportunity for In-Depth Consultation
Local community and business groups have formed Chorlton Vision to be a focus and an umbrella group bringing together all the interested parties, and take a holistic approach to carefully planning the developments of Chorlton so that they serve all aspects of the local community. On the basis of this work, Manchester City Council is currently developing a new district plan and the Precinct will be part of that.
We would welcome the opportunity to work jointly with you in the Precinct development.
Some of the component groups for Chorlton Vision are:
- Chorlton Traders Association: representing traders and businesses. In the previous 2017 round of Precinct planning, we conducted local customer and business surveys to learn about people’s current and desired requirements of the precinct, and to investigate customer behaviour when visiting Chorlton.
- Chorlton Voice: community group (Civic Society) concerned with quality of the Chorlton district
- Chorlton Community Land Trust: works to have a community-led approach to local developments. In particular, it is involved with Southway in developing plans for the neighbouring Cinema site.
Principles of Large-Scale Redevelopment in the Chorlton District Centre
The Precinct is literally and metaphorically at the heart of Chorlton, which is a home for many people with a diverse range of backgrounds. It provides a retail, social and cultural centre for residents and visitors, and provides a livelihood for those involved in local businesses. Redevelopment plans need to at their core recognise, support and enhance this. This is a once-in-several-generations opportunity to restart the heart of our community.
Its primary purpose should be to serve the wider community of people who live, work and shop in Chorlton. it should not be not a development aimed at generating maximum income (though it will need to make money) nor is its primary purpose to provide facilities solely for the residents in a gated community on the footprint (though they are vital users), nor to serve to ‘attract visitors’ (though it naturally will if it good enough)
In order to deliver this, rather than creating a new (separate) neighbourhood, the development will need to be fully physically and functionally integrated into its surroundings and provide those publicly accessible facilities that a viable district centre is based upon.
The Role of the District Centre and Retail:
- Redevelopment needs to consider the future role of district centres and the High Street, and look to take the lead on ensuring Chorlton remains a success as a district centre.
The Chorlton Local Infrastructure Framework 2010-2016 provides useful information on ways to plan its future:
“Chorlton District Centre is one of the strongest and most distinctive district centres in Manchester .To date it has seen organic growth, which has led it to become a neighbourhood of choice in south Manchester. The facilities, provided by the strong mix of retail, employment and public services, coupled with a recognised independent retail offer, attract people to Chorlton.”
- However, that was back in 2010, and although the perception may still be that Chorlton is a strong, vibrant district centre, it has been battered in-between. Conditions for traders and businesses are now really tough, and the area is run-down and neglected (with the precinct being at the centre of this, and part of the problem). Footfall is still below pre-COVID levels. Things such as the disruption caused by recent roadworks have significantly affected trade. Costs have escalated.
- How will you support independent businesses during and after the redevelopment? The prospect of a massive building site across the heart of Chorlton for such a long time is frightening: noise, dirt, access problems for traders, customers, suppliers will be disruptive and stressful to live in. Unless carefully managed and supported, businesses in the surrounding areas will not be able to survive.
Independent traders overall form an ecosystem. If one leaves, then it affects the others. Our customer survey from 2017 showed that they often visit multiple traders. 40% were visiting the precinct. How can you mitigate this danger in loss of trade, especially during development? What are the key types of trader desired to have together to provide the best overall offer for Chorlton, and support those who do want to shop local and benefit from a 15 minute neighbourhood environment? How can you build resilience into traditional retail provision which is likely to adapt with changing trends and customer requirements?
If retailers leave, it is so difficult to get them back. Successful high street regeneration projects have taken great care in actively managing and supporting the independent retail offer, so it is important you do too, both to preserve and enhance existing independent traders and to attract new ones.
There is a need for measures to keep / attract independent businesses and not introduce chains, or ‘Glocal’ chains. Retail units need to be designed and sized specifically to appeal to independents, and the retail portfolio needs to be carefully managed.
- Rents for independent traders need to be affordable.
Non-Retail Employment Opportunities
- There needs to be provision of lower cost share and co-working spaces for non-retail business, including office and workshop space, and smaller retailers, to benefit the local economy and preserve the independent trading characteristic of Chorlton, and in particular developing daytime footfall for traders.
- As well as creating local employment and economic growth it is important that Chorlton continues to have a diverse and thriving commercial centre so that it doesn’t become just a large housing estate with major chains of shops and restaurants. The local economy needs to be as vibrant in the daytime, not just when commuters return from the City Centre. If the precinct is largely housing, then it will degrade the community aspects of Chorlton and take it further down the route of being just a dormitory district.
- Research shows the benefits of the ‘15-Minute Neighbourhood’ concept, so the precinct needs to contribute to the infrastructure needed to support this. A large number of local jobs were lost with the closure of Graeme House, along with the local custom of those working there. These need to be replaced.
- The parking issue: while society is looking to transition away from fossil-fuelled vehicles, the precinct needs to provide appropriate infrastructure: free short-term parking is still crucial at the moment, with cycling infrastructure to support active travel. This may change over time. It is unclear at the moment how the use of EVs will develop, alongside active travel and public transport provision as society behaviour changes and is guided.
- Supporting people to adapt to active travel needs to be actively managed. For example, in order to avoid using a car, a customer would need easy delivery of bulky items. The precinct needs to enable deliveries by bike to be readily available, to support the local retailers and businesses in the development, with cycling hub provision within it (including Chorlton Bike Deliveries). What design features and facilities will it incorporate to support walking and cycling? How will the precinct utilise the flagship Chorlton Cycleway passing right by it, the nearby Metrolink, or excellent bus links?
- Alternatives to demolition and bare-site redevelopment need to be seriously considered: there is recently interest in the retrofitting and refurbishing of large existing buildings rather than wholescale redevelopment, due to the massive carbon costs of new build. This needs to be considered for the precinct. For example, locally the Unicorn Grocery building shows what can be achieved by repurposing and retrofit, first transforming a 60s offices and a factory building into a supermarket, then recently undertaking award-winning refurbishments to vastly improve its thermal performance and to enhance the space and visual appeal. Several other local independent businesses have invested heavily and carefully in their premises to provide attractive and appealing shop fronts and facilities.
- The resulting redevelopment needs to be fit for 2050 (and beyond), in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability. Retrofit would save enormous amounts of carbon during redevelopment as would using environmentally friendly materials. The highest standards of energy efficiency should be adopted, and all opportunities for power generation and water conservation should be taken.
- Simply put, we want something that looks good, functions well, and which we can all take genuine pride in.
- The scale of the precinct needs to be in keeping with surrounding buildings and be restricted to 3 storeys. The 8-storey Graeme House is clearly a design mistake from a by-gone age, and should not be taken as the build height, otherwise the new development will overpower the existing centre.
- Housing needs to be genuinely affordable. Currently, people born in Chorlton cannot afford to stay, and those who work here cannot afford to live here.
- High standards of design need to be followed, so that the result architecturally enhances the area, and the community is proud to live and work here. It should bring joy and energy to our lives, and visitors will come to admire it.
Contributing to a Cohesive District-Wide Plan
- Any changes to the Precinct need to be part of the overall cohesive community-based District Plan currently being revised by Manchester City Council, in partnership between the developers, residents, local businesses and the Council. It will need to integrate with the neighbouring Cinema redevelopment, and deliver those community services allocated to it within the District Plan.
- In particular CCLT is working with Southway to incorporate a food hall into the Cinema site, with an opportunity for a public square linking the Precinct and Cinema site via closing Nicolas Road to traffic, and improving pedestrian connectivity with Oswald Rd school and Chorlton health centre.
- The precinct needs to provide free high quality community access areas and public space, as well as community facilities and services. It needs to not be locked at night. We often joke about having a Chorlton Lido on top of Quality Save, similar to Clifton Bristol, Hathersage or Edinburgh. But why not? If not a Lido, then something similar; for example, the Salling department store Aarhus in Denmark has a stunning freely accessible rooftop terrace (also in a video).
The precinct needs to enhance the public realm, including public space for meeting and sitting, and space and facilities for walking, wheeling and cycling.
- The development needs to link with, enhance, extend and complement the existing amenities and community initiatives, for example: community building and cooperation, community green spaces and gardens, community energy, green walks, public transport links, arts, food and drink, the locally-based festivals, the Mersey Valley and canal, Chorlton’s history and contemporary characteristics.
- The precinct needs to enhance and complement the district, not compete against it. This is especially so for retail provision, so that it caters for the diverse community in the area.
Alan Williams, Co-Chair, Chorlton Traders
16 August 2023