A Vision For Rochdale Town Centre

August 3, 2020 5:57 AM
By Nigel Sarbutts

Let's play a game of guess the year…..

When were these words published by the Council in its masterplan?

"Rochdale Town Centre has been identified as a key driver in the regeneration of the Borough. The town centre has become tired and is losing its proper place amongst competing centres."

Here's a clue - it was the year we all went mad for Crazy Frog and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

2005.

Fifteen years later we have a third shopping centre and even before the high street went into free-fall that decision looked very suspect. Urgent enquiries need to be made on who carries the cost if it fails.

The opening up of the Roch, led by some forward thinking Councillors in the Town Hall at the time has undoubtedly been a success.

But no-one would argue that the high ideals of that 2005 plan have been met.

We also now have another masterplan, courtesy of Rochdale Development Agency a body funded by the Council but whose minutes are not published, this time focused on the Station where it is said 1,500 new homes could be built for 3500 people, based on the appeal of fast rail connections into Manchester Victoria.

Any serious effort to plan a regenerated area near the station is welcome, but we've been here before as well - does anyone remember the Station gateway masterplan agreed in 2012?

2005, 2012, 2020. Can we expect another masterplan around 2027?

This new plans has two big flaws. One was obvious all along the other has been revealed by the pandemic. To be absolutely clear we do not criticise the authors of these latest plans for not predicting Covid-19, but the plans cannot now ignore the changes we are seeing in how and where people work.

The problem with the new station masterplan is that it lacks ambition because it is disconnected from the town centre. It's as if the authors have not walked down Drake St or Church Stile and the cobbles of Church Lane and let their imaginations run free.

Yes, we agree that high quality, high density living around the station to attract first-time buyers makes sense (especially if it takes pressure off the Greenbelt where Labour seem fixated on building executive homes) but sitting between the stunning architecture and town planning of the Esplanade and the core of the town, we have the history and setting of St Chads, the pockets of open space on School Lane and Great George St that could be traffic free neighbourhood centres or micro-parks or places where people can play sport.

We also have some amazing buildings in that area that a clever developer could turn into homes that make headlines.

By creating a masterplan that is in effect a campus for commuters, we ignore the assets we have and miss a chance to breathe life into our night time economy and hospitality sector and make our streets safer simply because there are people out and about. It's a miserable picture of get off the train, walk to your flat and then back to work in Manchester the next day, as if Rochdale itself was not there.

The pandemic has put a huge question mark over city centres that nobody could foresee. Major employers are questioning whether big offices have a future and commercial landlords are terrified.

What we are looking at in this latest plan is building an offshore island of Manchester, populated by office workers and it is outdated before the ink is dry.

If this plan is not radically altered in the light of the pandemic to embrace the desire for local living rather than hub and spoke dormitory towns, then it is a guarantee that we will be seeing another "bold plan" in a few years' time and Rochdale will have missed the opportunity once again to make the most of what our forefathers bequeathed us.

Follow us on Facebook!