Macclesfield Redevelopment:

Fact or spin?

Is the Wilson Bowden development right for Macclesfield? We don’t think so. We’ve heard the arguments, and we don’t believe they stand up to analysis. Here, we give our response to each of the main arguments used in favour of the development, and suggest alternative approaches.

See what you think.

They say: No change is not an option.

We say:

We agree. But Macclesfield is changing.

• Consider the planning application to expand the Grosvenor Centre into the former Cheshire Building Society, the proposals for new shops, restaurants and housing on the Three Pigeons site, and the new proposal to turn Craven House over to retail use.
• Compare the buzz on Sunderland Street today with the dereliction of a few years ago.
• Look at the number of new independent shops and cafes that have opened recently.

The Wilson Bowden proposals don’t do anything to tackle the problem of unused buildings and derelict sites, some of which are a real blight on the town. What we really need are smaller scale developments that bring these areas back to life without turning Macclesfield into a clone town, without major disruption, and without the high risk associated with a single large development.

They say: Macclesfield needs more retail space.

We say:

We already have empty shops. Maybe we need a few additional larger units to attract national retailers. But do we really need 21,370 square metres? That’s two and a half times the size of the retail space at Lyme Green. How much shopping can we realistically do?

The council has no evidence that Macclesfield needs lots of new shops. They have not conducted any thorough up-to-date assessment of the town’s retail needs. Even the council’s own (very small) survey of residents didn’t show strong demand for more large retail units. The joint highest number of responses to the ‘one single thing the development should do to improve the town centre’ question were for ‘Increase independent shops and markets’ and ‘Emphasise heritage and integrate with the town’, not ‘bring in more national chains.’

The retail climate has changed hugely since the original brief for this development was put together. Online shopping and the recession together have meant that shopping centres across the country are struggling to fill their empty units. Evidence from other towns suggests that retailers will move from existing locations into the new development, leaving even more empty stores on Mill Street and Chestergate.

Let’s look instead at other ideas. If high street retail is not the way forward, what is? Low-rent space for start-up businesses? Workshop and studio space for artists and craftspeople? Niche markets? A hub for Macclesfield’s growing digital industry? A theatre?

They say: The development will bring visitors to Macclesfield.

We say:

Why would a clone town shopping development attract visitors?

If people want the same shops they can get anywhere, they will go to Stoke, Manchester or the Trafford Centre. Macclesfield won’t be on a big enough scale to compete.

To attract visitors to the town, we have to offer something different. We already do that – and we could do a lot more. Macclesfield has twice as many historic buildings as any other town in the region. English Heritage has written to the council saying the plans should be refused on the grounds they would harm historically important buildings and views. The council only put this letter on the planning portal at the end of July, after we raised the issue – too late for the public to see it before the consultation period ended.

Rather than letting developers destroy our heritage forever, let’s celebrate what we’ve got and use it to bring visitors and their spending money into the town.

They say:  We will build houses on green field sites.

We say:

Green field sites should be the last to be considered for housing. Back in 2004, the Macclesfield Local Plan identified that we should put more housing in the town centre. National planning policies support this approach.

Housing above shops is a very good option. Residents add life to a town centre, and make it safer and friendlier in the evenings after the shops have closed. And the more people who live in a town centre, the fewer have to drive to it, so saving on energy use and reducing traffic congestion.  Yet the Wilson Bowden development gives us just five extra houses.

They say: We will build on the three main surface car parks. You can have a multi-storey at the bottom of the hill instead.

We say:

How can people shop at the top of the town without being able to park there? The scheme proposes building on the Churchill Way, Exchange St (little Tesco), and Duke St (Senior Citizens’ Hall) car parks and replacing them with a multi-storey at the bottom of Churchill Way, between Park Lane and Samuel St (where the Arighi Bianchi warehouse is now). These existing car parks offer good access to the shops and are particularly convenient for the elderly and for people with children. And you can push a trolley from Tesco to the car. If the only provision is a multi-storey in the wrong place, how many people will simply abandon the town centre and shop elsewhere?

Let’s also not forget that for years the council have told us we can’t have free parking in the town because they need the revenue to put towards public services. Yet the multi-storey will be privately owned. If the council sell the land to Wilson Bowden, the revenue will be lost to the town for good.

They say: The scheme will create a series of exciting new public spaces.

We say:

No, it won’t. The proposed new ‘town square’, Mulberry Square, would be built on the section of the current Exchange Street car park in front of the Heritage Centre. New shops would be built on the eastern side of the car park. This will give us a small, closed-in concrete space adjacent to the Churchill Way traffic, overlooked on three sides by large unattractive buildings, and redeemed only by the Heritage Centre.

The secondary ‘exciting public space’ – Roe Square – already exists. It’s where the benches are outside Smiths.

We already have a town square – in the market place. It’s away from the traffic, in the historic heart of the town, has interesting buildings and gives views of the hills. We also have the green refuge of Heritage Walk, which, under these plans, would disappear under a massive block of brick almost two and a half times the height of Halfords.

Where would you rather sit?

They say: Construction will last two years.

We say: The town will be a building site for at least two years. And that’s optimistic. There will be constant noise, fumes, and disruption in the town centre and surrounding streets, and we can expect to see around 8,000 40 ton trucks coming into the town.

Can our roads cope? Can we cope? Do we want to?

They say: We believe the proposed development is appropriate.

We say:

The WB plan is out of keeping in terms of scale, mass and design with a historic Cheshire market town – and it’s in the wrong place.

A six storey high car park? A five storey department store? A vast multiplex cinema? These will dwarf the existing buildings. The town side of Churchill Way would be lined by the multi-storey car park from the Park Lane roundabout as far as Samuel Street, then by a solid wall up to Roe Street. Much of this wall would be six storeys high.

The design is typical of so many shopping centres built with high hopes but which have since turned into windswept wastelands.  Imagine the proposed Silk Street on a cold, windy evening with all the shutters down. Would you want to walk through it on your way home from a night out?

Not only is the scheme big and ugly, it would also change the geography of the town. Existing traders would suffer, because the scheme doesn’t link naturally to the traditional shopping areas around and Mill Street and Chestergate.

They say: Wilson Bowden has worked closely with the council to refine the scheme design and have consulted widely on the proposals.

We say:

The Wilson Bowden submission completely ignores the section of the Macclesfield Local Plan that relates specifically to the area in question. This is not surprising, because their proposals conflict with the plan on a number of very important points.
The local plan is a strategic plan that focuses on how to improve the town over the long term and is independent of any input from developers. National planning regulations state that where a Local Plan exists, developments must comply with it.

If these plans were to go ahead, it would make a mockery of local planning guidelines and of the consultation process.

We want to see Macclesfield thrive. We want to see it become a town fit for future generations, without losing its past. We know that with a little imagination, it can be done.  But this is the wrong type of development, in the wrong place. We must do better.

See Get Involved to find out how you can help influence the decisions.



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