Feb 2014: The state of play

As High Streets go into freefall and even Christmas is now dominated commercially by online sales; and as Debenhams hits the news with poor performance figures, Cheshire East Council is still committed to its major Macclesfield town centre development, centring on a Debenhams, a multiplex cinema, a multi storey car park and a whole pile of new retail outlets.

Wake Up Macc was born out of the anger felt by so many locals at this perverted vision of our town. A soulless development, identical to hundreds of other towns, placed slap bang in the middle of a vibrant community and a stunning landscape.

Treacle Town 2010, Ghost Town 2030.

Throughout the planning process, we have sought information. Cheshire East’s stated commitment to transparency has not been apparent in their handling of our requests for further details. Our initial Freedom of Information request in September 2012 for details of the contract arrangements between the council and the developer was met with the production of heavily redacted (blacked out) documents. Perseverance, however, paid off, and we now have significant information that we did not have a year ago. Notably, disclosure was given piecemeal, with the final chunk coming only after CEC had issued its written planning consent on the 6 September 2014.

Read what we know about timescales and other contract details

What do we think?

Wake Up Macc still believes that it is absurd to be discussing such a radical expansion of town retail spaces at exactly the moment when high streets sales are plummeting.

But the concreteness of what we now know makes some things very much worse. A central part of our argument rests on a recent, tangible re-vitalisation of the town: it began with the revival of the Barnaby Festival but has since spilled out into various festivals and, centrally, the highly successful Treacle Market. Alongside this has come a whole new crop of bars and cafes, new catalysts such as Totally Locally, and a distinct upturn in roads like Sunderland Street and Church Street.

More, the existing retail streets have certainly witnessed shop closures; but Chestergate, to take one example, has thrived very much better than its equivalents in many market towns. Macclesfield is, still, teeming with unusual retail outlets: these may have faced the very obvious clouds of a recession-hit country, and we have not been unaffected by the massacre of high streets resulting from the rise of on-line sales: but we stand a lot taller than many other towns our size.

But just how will these businesses cope when others are offered ‘incentives’ to move into the new buildings? How will Chestergate fare when its competitors are offered inducements not available to them? What will happen to the new bars and cafes – so many of them a credit to innovative individuals prepared to put their own money into the town – when Frankie and Benny’s and Prezzo (the only two we are aware of who have confirmed) and others move in with rent-free period courtesy of Wilson Bowden?

And what about Cinemac? Here is a Macc business par excellence, a one person operation that successfully brought cinema back to the town. Having invested in a decent sound system and, just recently, in the technology for relaying live productions, Cinemac is now faced with the prospect of competing with a Cineworld cinema that will be given a cool £1.3 million towards the costs of setting up in Macclesfield.

What we want is a town that organically grows in precisely the manner in which it is presently growing: not as an imposed vision that makes us look like everywhere else. We are certainly not opposed to change, which is why we approved of the proposed Castle Street development centring on the Cheshire Building Society. We know, however that the uncertainty relating to what happens next – the development could take until 2019 and might not even get built at all – will act as a brake on any other development. We are facing a long winter of planning blight; and the so-called spring of Wilson Bowden’s plan may never, in reality, be realised; and would be damning to the town’s identity if it were.

We will keep monitoring developments and sharing what we find.

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