Stockport Bus Interchange will undergo a long-awaited total renovation as part of a £1 billion investment. Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC), along with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) have presented the new Interchange as part of a “radical and exciting… town centre revival”.

The plans were given the green light back in June 2018 and construction is estimated to begin in autumn 2019, subject to planning permission. However, the Interchange would not be completed until approximately 2021, with routes being diverted to a number of locations around the town centre.

Plans include an all-in-one open plan concourse for commuters, which is in contrast to the half-dozen detached wind tunnels currently in place. It will have space for 20 bus stands, which it boasts is enough to cope with an expected increase in demand in the coming years. It also will feature a large doughnut-shaped public park – a ‘green space’ – on top of the buildings, giving it the look of Thunderbirds’ Tracey Island.

Other aspects of the new design include retail developments housed alongside the concourse building, looking out over the River Mersey, which are expected to provide jobs. The section of the Trans Pennine Trail running alongside the river shall also be revamped, providing greater access by foot or bicycle. Furthermore, local artist Tim Ward has been appointed by SMBC to create an installation devoted to the Interchange which will celebrate its opening.

Renovations will at last mean that one of the largest towns in Greater Manchester, with a population of 150,000, will be provided with travels choices which are attractive in more ways than one. With decades of neglect to make up for, one consequence of the new station could be that public transport now becomes a more appealing option for individuals put off by the much-maligned interchange.

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However, over the past eight years the Campaign for Better Transport have published a study which suggests funding for busses has been cut consistently. Since 2010, public transport budgets have seen a collective real-term decrease of £182 million. Steve Chambers, a representative of the group, explained the knock-on effects of this avenue of austerity: “It can prevent people accessing jobs and education; have an adverse effect on the local economy with people prevented from getting to shops and businesses; affect people’s physical health and mental well-being; and has an inevitable effect on congestion and air pollution as more cars jam up our roads.”

SMBC, under the direction of several regional projects, have thus been trying to reverse the adverse conditions vital public transport links have been under; Andy Burnham has stated that the overall project demonstrates the effectiveness of the GMCA co-operation with the Council. He says the Interchange will help Stockport a “become a key urban centre in South Manchester”, echoing TfGM head Alex Cropper, who believes that “it remains the best option for delivering a modern transport interchange with green space and a residential development.”

Stockport Interchange will become another aspect of the transport network which will also now consider access and enable cycling by linking Greater Manchester Beelines routes to the station. The Town Centre Access Programme (TCAP), which works to better the facilities for walking and cycling, it seems was instrumental in putting across the case for these additional amenities.

Transport for Greater Manchester redirects people to the StockportChangeHere.org site for further details on the project. Dave Butler, Policy Officer at the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign, writes that, “The town centre is the hub of commerce and business, while outlying areas such as The Heatons, Marple, Hazel Grove and Bramhall offer great places to live in a greener, leafier setting.”

The Interchange seems to be an attempt to bring the best of both worlds. Through a venture which will satisfy economic and infrastructure needs along with appeals to suburban commuters with an updated transport link, the project purports to act as a bridge to a greener future.

The project falls under the Connect banner of the ‘Live. Work. Play. Connect.’ slogan of StockportChangeHere.org, which Chris Boardman, the Walking and Cycling Commissioner, states will make Stockport “a star attraction by becoming a cleaner, greener, healthier destination”.

Metrolink trams are also expected to be part of the network in the future. Council leader Alex Ganotis has said it is an issue of “when, not if” the Greater Manchester tram service shall reach the town centre. Stockport remains something of a missing link in the network, as trams currently extend to Eccles, Altrincham, Manchester Airport, Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham, Rochdale, and Bury.

The bus station was first opened in 1981 and has seen little-to-no rejuvenation in nearly 40 years. Built on the site of a former car park, it reflects the blighted charm of the early 80s along with the economic recession the country was in.

The Sweetener

The Stockport Interchange plans also include the construction of 200 luxury flats with in-built car parking on the south side of the revitalised complex. This raises a widely reported issue: the need for new housing, chiefly social-housing. A story in the Guardian stated that, “Manchester City Council said there are already 68,000 social rented properties in the city – a third of the housing stock, compared with the national average of 16%. Despite this, more than 12,900 people are waiting for a house on Manchester’s social housing register.”

According to the Stockport Council’s own Housing Strategy document (2016-21), the authority desperately needs council housing and the means to tackle rising rents and house prices. The five-year plan drawn up by Councillor Bailey highlights the Council have proposed five brownfield sites which could deliver 230 ‘starter homes’, which can be funded by Governments grants and through collaboration with the GMCA.

However, the Interchange Project seems to disregard the ambitions of the five-year plan, as it is constructing properties for rent, which the MEN reported were “[not] affordable [i.e. 80% of the market rate], because the council says there is enough affordable housing in the area already.”

It might be a shocking revelation that the flats were designed to be out of reach for the majority of buyers/renters. On the other hand, what better way to announce the creation of a large, unattainable source of housing than to build it in the shadow of a popular, long-awaited public works project?

SMBC, along with the other Greater Manchester councils, make provisions for affordable housing which in ordinary circumstances may abate the problem. But the current levels of need for housing put even greater pressure on authorities seemingly determined to satisfy house builders, developers, landowners, and others seen as blocking the construction of social housing.

The Buy Association, which monitors property investment opportunities across the UK, ran an article late last year noting that Stockport was placed 2nd on the list of the Top Ten Locations for Buy-to-Let Investment.

Buy-to-Let has been branded one of many factors contributing to the national housing crisis where it has been observed that an ever-shrinking number of landlords amass larger property portfolios. Typically, it is found this is pricing the young, poorer, and most vulnerable people out of the housing market.

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The £39 million block of flats is expected to be completed one year after the Interchange, in 2022. From the concept drawings released to the public, the design of the building will see it dwarf the historic Hat Works and the iconic Stockport Viaduct celebrated in LS Lowry paintings.

Developments such as these have been part of the so-called ‘A6 Master Plan’, a string of house-building projects along sites close to the major roadway. Included in the plan are sites at Stockport College, the train station, and the old Weir Mill.

An early announcement of the planned Interchange renovation back in 2014 made no mention of the flats – the plans were for a £41 million ‘transport hub’ narrower in scope than the current approved bid.

It could be argued that although the renovation is long overdue – and would have included some aspect of ‘beautification’ of the land anyway – the fact the flats will now have the rare view (in central Stockport) of a green space is perhaps the unique selling point of this whole project.

Lucas Jones