UA92 proposals and the revised Stretford Masterplan

I think it’s fair to say that news of the plans for UA92 and the revised masterplan for Stretford came pretty much out of the blue, with many people at the council, including local Stretford councillors knowing nothing about it.

It’s also fair to say, the plans have grabbed quite a bit of media attention, no doubt due to the involvement of Gary Neville and the rest of the Class of 92. Here’s just some of the coverage from the local media:

More information about the university can be found at the University Academy ’92 (UA92) website. Trafford Council has published The Refreshed Stretford Masterplan, which can be can found on a new masterplan page on their website with additional details, which also contains a link to the online questionnaire.

Further links

Further links from Trafford Council

UA92 Campus Quarter (fact sheet)

University Academy (UA92) is at the centre of the new proposals for Stretford. The UA92 campus is to be located at the soon to be vacated Kellogg’s headquarters on Talbot Road, next to LCCC.

UA92
UA92 visualisation, with added door-zone cycle lanes

The existing building will be refurbished to be used for teaching and learning accommodation. Offices, apartments and a hotel will be built on the site as will a car park and sports and leisure facilities, which I’ll come onto later.

I don’t have a huge amount to say about the campus quarter. The scheme seems reasonable enough, though I suspect it’s more about the offices, apartments and hotel than it is about UA92.

UA92-2

I’d like to see fewer car parking spaces to encourage people to use other forms of transport. Though I suspect the amount of parking spaces might actually be there to make additional revenue from match-day and event parking.

A point I’d like to make, even if it’s relatively minor. In the UA92 visualisation, it shows some pretty inadequate door-zone cycle lanes. Now in itself, it sounds quite minor, but the importance of this I’ll come onto later on.

Lacy Street (fact sheet)

Judging by the comments I’ve seen on the Stretford M32 and M32 Stretford Masterplan and UA92 Facebook groups, I would say the proposals for locating the student accommodation at Lacy Street are probably the most controversial.

The council are proposing the redevelopment of the site currently occupied by the Lacy Street car park and Royal Mail sorting office for quite high density student accommodation, to house 1,700 students.

Concerns have been raised about the impact of having a high proportion of students move into the area, whether from anti-social behaviour or the impact it will have on services in the area, doctors, transport etc.

There’s also been concerns about the development itself and in particular the height of buildings, with talk of them being up to 20 storeys tall. There’s a general worry that this wouldn’t be in-keeping with the area.

Lacy-Street-1
Visualisation of Lacy Street development

I’m not too concerned about the student accommodation and an influx of students. Having been a student myself, I know it’s not all like the horror stories you might hear about places like Fallowfield.

I think a student population could actually bring a lot of benefits to Stretford town centre. Given students tend to spend a reasonable amount of time socialising, it could really give a boost to the night-time economy in an area that’s currently a bit of a ghost town in the evening.

If there is any potential negative impact from students, I suspect it’s likely to be in the Gorse Hill area than in Stretford town centre. It’s walking distance to the campus and much of the housing in Gorse Hill is ideal student accommodation. There’s lots of relatively affordable terraced houses that could easily be used as shared student accommodation, similar to the terraced streets in Fallowfield, opposite Owens Park.

I think we need commitment from the council as part of the scheme that they will do everything in their powers to regulate private landlords and HMOs, to ensure the area isn’t turned over to student rentals.

Lacy-Street-2
Visualisation of Lacy Street development, looking rather bland

In the fact sheet, it talks about developing a landmark building for Stretford, which sounds great, but the visualisations don’t live up to this ‘landmark’ tag. I know it’s only a visualisation at this stage, but at best you’d describe the buildings as bland. They’re certainly not as bad as some recent developments, such as the God awful Pomona Wharf development by Rowlinson, but surely we can do better than this?

Also, what happens if UA92 fails? Will the student accommodation be of sufficient size and quality that it can be converted into another use? That needs to be seriously considered, otherwise there’s potential we end up with another white elephant in the town centre.

Leisure facilities (fact sheet)

The proposals include a significant change to leisure facilities, in terms of the leisure centre part of Stretford Sports Village and Turn Moss.

Stretford Sports Village

Starting with the leisure centre, the proposal is to close down the existing facility and replace it with a new “state-of-the-art” leisure centre for use by the public and UA92 students. Is it just me that’s suspicious when proposals use terms like “state-of-the-art”?

The leisure centre has been around a while now and is in need of refurbishment or replacement, so a new leisure centre would be welcome. But the big concern is about sharing the new facilities with UA92 students and public access.

An artist's impression of new Stretford leisure centre
The new ‘state-of-the-art’ leisure centre, to be shared with UA92 students

Shared facilities like this can start off with the best of intentions, but before you know it, the facilities are overrun with students and public access gets cut. As a family, we’re regular users of leisure centre, so this is a big concern for us.

Trafford Council and Trafford Leisure have form for this too. When the Talbot Centre part of Stretford Sports Village opened. Guarantees were made on public access to facilities that are now regularly broken.

People have been asking why do we need to share facilities with UA92, why can’t we have new leisure facilities dedicated to public use? Trafford are currently replacing or refurbishing the other leisure facilities in the borough, why is Stretford being short-changed?

How about having shared leisure facilities at the UA92 campus and additional new leisure facilities in Stretford town centre as part of the Lacy Street development?

Turn Moss

The playing fields at Turn Moss are already well used, including the existing football pitches. In the masterplan, it talks about providing potential training facilities here, with the installation of artificial pitches, as well as a new play area and café. Though it’s a little vague as to what they’re for.

Turn-Moss
Turn Moss proposals with private training facilities for Salford City Football Club

It has since come to light that these training facilities would be fenced off and for the exclusive use of none other than Gary’s Neville’s Salford City Football Club. This isn’t in any of the documentation and has only been mentioned at a meeting with Turn Moss residents. Why are they are they being so underhand about this, is it because they know it will be unpopular, what is essentially part privatisation of a public green space?

Stretford town centre (fact sheet)

Anyone who knows Stretford town centre and the mall will be well aware it’s suffered from years of mismanagement and under-investment. While other town centres in Trafford are thriving, Stretford has clearly been in decline for some time.

The proposals talk about addressing this by partially demolishing and redeveloping the mall, introducing new spaces for bars, restaurants and cafés. Introducing new accommodation, community and leisure facilities. This all sounds great, but is very light on detail. We need the council to demonstrate what their vision for the town centre is, beyond vague aspirations.

Town-Centre
Stretford Mall 80s extension with recently opened Aldi and Costa

Many people in Stretford would love to see the wholesale demolition of Stretford Mall and Stretford town centre to return to something like what it was before. While that sounds very attractive. I’m realistic enough to see that’s highly unlikely to happen. I also think some of the original parts of the mall (Arndale in its day) are actually quite pleasant.

I think dealing with the problems caused by the A56 are more critical to resolving Streford’s problems than dealing with the mall. The severance, noise and air pollution caused by 6 lanes of traffic have a significant negative impact to the town centre and people’s desire to spend time there.

2951
Stretford Arndale (now Mall) under construction, prior to A56 widening

In my opinion, the key issues facing Stretford Mall are its location next to the A56, poor opening hours and the lack of frontage for bars and restaurants. Right now, the only frontage is on the A56. Who’s going to want to sit outside a bar while 6 lanes of traffic hurtle past?

All these issues could be addressed, but is there the political will to do so? Particularly when it comes to the A56. We’ve seen Altrincham and Urmston town centres get significant investment and plans are under way for Sale. It really is time Stretford town centre saw some of that investment. Done correctly, it could really thrive.

The Essoldo (fact sheet)

Along with the public hall, there’s been talk in the community for years about doing something with this once beautiful building. While the owner has sat and done nothing and the council has said there’s no money to do anything.

Essoldo
The Essoldo now, looking a bit sorry for itself

I do remember the Essoldo being open back in the 80s as a bingo hall and it was already way past its best days. Looking at old photos of the building, you can see it was another casualty of the A56 road widening. Where once there used to be a grand entrance, there’s lanes of traffic and barriers. You can see how it ended up where it is now.

essoldocinema_6910771
The Essoldo in happier times, before the A56 widening

When the UA92 scheme was first announced, much of the talk was about the council CPOing the building and it becoming the student union building. In the proposals though, it talks about asking the community what the building should be used for, with the library moving in as one potential option.

Given the nature of the building and its original use, it doesn’t easily lend itself to a lot of uses, unlike many old building do. I’d love to see this building being an integral part of the town centre and put to use. It’s hard to see it becoming a cinema again, but how about an indoor food court/market like Altrincham has and Urmston is soon getting?

Public realm and movement (public realm fact sheet, getting around fact sheet)

Given the proposal is to locate the student accommodation some distance away from the UA92 campus, travel between the two is going to be critical. As I’ve covered a number of times elsewhere, the A56 is already heavily congested and polluted, with air quality at illegal levels. Metrolink facilities are already way beyond capacity at peak times and buses are slow due to congestion.

The proposals talk about creating “an enhanced street scene along Talbot Road and the A56 from the UA92 Campus Quarter to Stretford Town Centre” and that they propose to improve pedestrian and cycle routes, address congestion and improve air quality.

That sounds great and all, but what does it actually mean? Are we going to see a reduction in motor traffic capacity so that high quality walking and cycling facilities can be introduced and air quality can be improved?

Or are we just going to see more of what we’ve seen with the public realm scheme, some trees, fancy barriers, feature lighting and dangerous cycle lanes?

 

Going back to that UA92 visualisation at the top. Is that the council’s idea of high quality cycling facilities, some door-zone cycle lanes? These are already worse than what’s due to be implemented on Talbot Road in the near future. They shouldn’t be in there and the council should be more ambitious about active travel plans.

Conclusion

Overall, I welcome what Gary Neville and co are doing with UA92 and the potential benefit it’ll have to Stretford. I think it’s good that they’ve chosen to locate the student village away from the campus, so it’ll benefit the whole town and not just a pocket in the north of the town.

I do have genuine concerns though, particularly around what looks to be back-door privatisation of leisure services and spaces. I know the council have said that the new leisure centre will still be managed by Trafford Leisure, but I don’t think that’s enough of a guarantee.

I’m concerned too about the potential impact an influx of students could have to the Gorse Hill area, if no regulation is introduced. We need clear guarantees from the council on this as part of the proposals.

Overall, I want to see the council be more ambitious in their plans for Stretford town centre and set out a clear vision for the future. I also want to see ambitious plans for the A56 and addressing active travel between the campus and student village. In my view, until the problems caused by A56 are addressed, the town centre will continue to struggle.

Have your say

If you’re a local resident, it’s really important you have your say. This is probably the most significant change we’ll see in Stretford for a generation.

Unfortunately, the council have used the same trick they did with the public realm consultation by weighting the questions so heavily that they’re guaranteed a majority of positive responses.

Many of the questions contain multiple positive responses and only a single negative response. So you need to make sure you chose your responses carefully. The council are already quoting numbers for positive survey responses at some of the meetings.

This consultation runs until 19 December 2017, make sure you respond.

You can also get in touch with the council via email: stretfordmasterplan@trafford.gov.uk

#AskSean

Trafford have arranged an #AskSean session on 14 Nov 2017 6-7pm. These are my questions for Sean Anstee.

  • The survey is heavily weighted to give positive results, like the public realm consultation. If you believe in this scheme so much, why can’t you create a survey that isn’t rigged?
  • Can we have a more detailed consultation that covers the individual elements of the masterplan, rather than the masterplan as a whole?
  • While Trafford are upgrading other leisure centres in the borough, you’re proposing for Stretford to have a leisure centre shared with UA92. Why can’t we have a leisure centre dedicated to public use?
  • Guarantees on public access to facilities at the Talbot Centre are regularly broken. How can you guarantee this won’t happen to new leisure centre and Turn Moss?
  • Why hasn’t the details about Salford City FC using Turn Moss as their training ground been mentioned in any of the literature? What public access will there be to these facilities?
  • What exactly does “an enhanced street scene along Talbot Road and the A56 from the UA92 Campus Quarter to Stretford Town Centre” mean? Will we see space given over to public transport/active travel?
  • Proposals talk about improved walking and cycling routes on A56/Talbot Rd. Can you confirm you will work with Chris Boardman’s office on these? How will you avoid the mistakes of the public realm scheme?
  • The proposals talk about creating a landmark building at Lacy St, but the visualisations seem to suggest something else. Will you guarantee it won’t end up another Pomona Wharf?
  • Will you ensure the Lacy St buildings will be fit for other purposes, if UA92 was to fail?
  • People are concerned about the impact an increase in student population will have to the area. Will you be regulating the student rentals, so that impact can be properly managed?
  • Given air quality is already at illegal levels on the A56, adding tall buildings, removing trees and increasing the numbers using it are going to make things worse. How will you ensure air quality doesn’t get worse and actually gets within legal limits?

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