Stockport: My reaction to the ‘Portas Pilot’
A scheme that sounds like ‘Pontius Pilate’, was surely doomed from the start – wasn’t it? I’m talking about the Portas Pilot, backed by a government pot of money and Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas’ experience. The plan was to bring life back to town centres that are struggling to get strong footfall into shops. The pilot has been running (and failing) across the country but towns in the North West that have been taking part are Nelson in Lancashire and Stockport, Greater Manchester.
Stockport is my hometown and I’m not ashamed of it – but I am ashamed of what people think of it. There were sniggers in the newsroom, and astonishment out on the street, when the town came second in a poll of the happiest places to live in the UK. My opinion is that Stockport suffers from being so close to the bright lights and bigger city of a fantastic place like Manchester – where there’s something for anyone. As a result, our town centre – and people’s impression – of the place has taken a turn for the worst.
In reality, Stockport shouldn’t be judged by flying visits through the train station or from empty shop units that are all around the centre. I like it here and there are many things Stopfordian’s should be proud of.
MY TOP THREE HIGHLIGHTS: (My opinion and it doesn’t cover everything!)
1. Newly restored art deco theatre, The Plaza, featuring the original wurlitzer organ that rises from the orchestra pit is something to be proud of. There’s a good range of shows on and the pantomimes always fill the seats, despite competition from the wide range of theatres in Manchester
2. I’m a supporter of independent cinemas that offer a quint alternative to the multiplexes; to have one in any town gets a big tick from me. We don’t have one… we have two! The Savoy in Heaton Moor has survived being taken over by developers more times than I can remember but thankfully it’s still going strong. The Regent in Marple is so nostalgic that they have an interval in the film and and ice-cream seller comes down the aisle.
3. The amount of green space in an urban town like ours is something I particularly enjoy, I don’t think many people realise how lucky we are to have it. Reddish Vale is just one example of an oasis of calm that’s practically on my doorstep – there are many other places of serenity around the borough to visit and I’m discovering hidden gems all the time.
… Stockport’s Pure 107.8 FM is obviously another highlight too, but as I’m the Chilled Pure weeknight presenter, I am slightly biased!
MY BOTTOM THREE LOWLIGHTS (I’m being realistic here!)
1. The amount of nightlife available is: Zilch. If you call ending up in the Weatherspoons a night out then you really do need to get out more. Manchester is only eight miles away – that’s a double edged sword for a small town like Stockport. Any kind of amenity or entertainment is so close by that Stockport finds it hard to have anything to top it. (Excluding my haunt of Heaton Moor in this, by the way. It’s great but has an 11pm curfew as it’s a residential area – no good for night owls like me!)
2. The much-needed redevelopment of the Grand Central area needs to get a move on. While the developers have been working on it (ever since I was in primary school) most people now go bowling or to the cinema (multiplex – grrr!) at nearby Parrs Wood complex in Didsbury. Good luck in getting them to come back! It lost it’s appeal when the Heaven and Hell nightclub shut down… now it seems that all we are left with is the hell part.
3. The town centre, or rather, the lack of one. No surprise here! Mary Portas was supposed to help us out but it turns out that ten of the twelve pilot towns have not seen a rise in shop occupancy since it began and Stockport is one of them. In fact, shop occupancy has fallen in the town centre. Although it’s a year since the pilot started, speaking to the BBC’s You and Yours programme, Mary Portas said we need to wait to see improvement:
“Over the last year this government has worked hard to help communities across the country boost their high street. We have lifted planning restrictions to help landlords make better use of their empty properties, and cut business rates for small shops. […] Let’s celebrate their achievements so far and learn and share ideas. Real change will take time.”
The clock is ticking… At the moment though, it would seem that some portaloos in the town centre would be far more useful than the Portas Pilot.