Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Altrincham

Oh Altrincham! You do disappoint me so. I've been going to this place for years and it should be better than  it is.

Recently there has been lots of regeneration work done to the main pedestrianised shopping area. It has been a slow transformation, but they have done a good job. Before the work was done it was an uninspiring 60s built shopping centre, now it's a steel, glass and paved shopping confection. So technically it should be a more aesthetically pleasing shopping experience.  The trouble is the rest of the town has fallen into decline.  Stamford New Road (A538), next to the train/bus station, looks quite desolate these days with lots of empty shop fronts and even some of the charity shops have closed down.  The recession has really hit this town hard.  It's not just me saying it either, there have been reports in the media that a third of the shops remain empty and it's one of the highest rates in the country.  There used to be so many shops here and some quite posh.  I used to love popping into the sewing shop, but that has gone too.  Apparently the Council have applied for Altrincham to be one of the pilot projects for the Mary Portas Pilots to regenerate the local high street.  I hope they get it as Altrincham needs it.  It's so surprising for a town surrounded by such affluence to be in such a state.  Hale, only a ten minute walk away, is glorious in comparison.


There are a few coffee shops in the town - The Rhode Island Coffee shop, two Costas opposite each other which is slightly mad, there is a Starbucks in the local Sainsburys and a few locally run ones. We went into the Costa in Waterstones for cake and coffee.  I felt sorry for the lone author doing a book signing that day in Waterstones.  Her table was devoid of customers, so she busied herself by making the table looking presentable.  I hope she managed to sell some of her books.

I guess out of town shopping at the Trafford Centre and John Lewis at Cheadle hasn't helped at all.  There is a massive Tescos too just behind the station, along with a large Sainsburys.  It's so hard for local shops to compete with these shopping mammoths.  Parking isn't brilliant either as the car parks in the town are very busy.  You are forced to park in the supermarket car parks on the edge of the town and they are pay and displays too.

Altrincham is really quite hard reach in terms of motorway access - it's miles away from the M60 and you have to navigate a long stretch of boring road from Sale to get to it.  The M56 I guess is the closest, but it still a quite a drive.  Once you get to Altrincham it's so easy to miss the town centre as the Dunham Road (A56) bypasses the centre.  It's by far easier and quicker to get to Altrincham by tram.  Although it puzzles me why Bury, at the other end of the tram line, appears more prosperous than Altrincham.  Bury is a working class mill town and does not have the same economic prosperity as Altrincham residents.  However it has a buzz about it compared to Altrincham.  I guess it helps having Bury Market, which is a draw to the town.  I'm still traumatised by markets, no reflection on the Bury Market,  just me and one of my many foibles.  Altrincham has its own small market, but it isn't that exciting and I usually try to avoid it.  There are plenty of charity shops and sometimes you can find some nice things too.  Neil finds the Oxfam books overpriced for records, but I can always find an interesting book or two in there.

I love popping into the second hand book shop called Abacus Books on Regent Road.  The woman in the shop is always welcoming and the place is jam packed full of books.  I do worry it doesn't get enough people through the doors though, as I do have a soft spot for second hand book shops.  There is another book shop by the market that does new books, but I didn't get chance to go there this time.  Hopefully it is still open.  Waterstones is now in the main precinct and I do worry that independent book shops will suffer with this type of competition.

I believe Altrincham can get a bit lively at night and there seem to be a number of bars, pubs and takeaways catering for this market.  I find the sign above the 'Starving Man' a bit disturbing though.
My friend recommends the eateries at Goose Green, a little square off Stamford New Road.  It's quite a pretty spot and an oasis of calm from the rest of the town.

It frustrates me to see a place that has so much potential not reaching it.  I've often pondered this and I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the design of Altrincham.  Stamford New Road looks so unloved, but I'm hoping the scaffolding I saw on the road was the sign of some regeneration work about to happen.  They need to do a nice heritage shop frontage scheme along here.  If they could demolish the horrible shop fronts just before Lloyd Street, on the left hand side, would be an improvement.  I think if they could open it up as a public space would be nice to link in with some of the developments on Lloyd Street.   I think opening up the shopping precinct to Stamford New Road would be good too. I seem to be keen on demolition and that maybe due to the fact, apart from the pedestrianised shopping centre, it feels so cramp and dark.  There are some lovely buildings in Altrincham, but they do not have the space to breathe as they are so close to one another.  Recently I revisited Liverpool and the amount of open space they have created at Liverpool One links wonderfully to the waterfront and the old Town.  Maybe I should have become a town planner, but Altrincham needs some space, light and also a big make over on the bus station would not go amiss.

Oh dear Alty... fingers crossed you'll get better soon with some TLC and a shed load of regeneration money!