Stalybridge is set to benefit from an initiative to regenerate town centres by Mayor Andy Burnham and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

When the Town Centre Challenge was launched in December, all ten councils in Greater Manchester were asked to nominate a town to be part of the initiative, which will try to reverse a lack of investment in town centres by focusing more on housing than retail, such as the Summers Quay development in Armentieres Square.

Speaking at a public Q&A event in Droylsden last month, Mayor Andy Burnham explained: “This policy is trying to reverse a lack of investment in these town centres by coming at things in a certain different way, which is not trying to cling on to retail space which, with the best will in the world, has gone as shopping habits have moved online.

“The town centre challenge is based on the idea of delivering housing growth through our town’s because that can help shift the burden away from green spaces and it’s closer to the public transport system, therefore not putting more cars on the road. If you build more flats and apartments in our towns, you also then maybe bring a younger population in, then perhaps you’ll get new bars, restaurants and coffee shops in the town centres.

“It’s a new idea but I’m hopeful it can deliver real benefits. We’re going to start with one town per borough but if it works, I’m quite prepared to start working through some of the other towns in Tameside to see if we can give them the same benefits.”

Stalybridge was chosen by Tameside and put forward at a GMCA meeting on Friday. Tameside Council Executive Leader, Cllr Brenda Warrington, confirmed the news at a council cabinet meeting earlier this week.

“Tameside needs to have thriving town centres and I believe we are demonstrating our commitment to their success by putting Stalybridge forward for the Town Centre Challenge,” she said.

“We’ve already provided free town-centre wi-fi for shoppers and superfast broadband for business. With the metropolitan mayor’s support we’ll be lobbying for further funding and looking for imaginative solutions that we can pilot in Stalybridge and then use in other parts of the borough.”

An artist’s impression of the Summers Quay development, currently under construction in Stalybridge.

Andy Burnham is now set to visit Stalybridge with local MP Jonathan Reynolds and the town’s councillors, where the public will get a chance to quiz him on the proposal, although a date has yet to be set.

A delighted Jonathan Reynolds, Stalybridge and Hyde MP said: “I am extremely pleased that Tameside Council have endorsed my recommendation that Stalybridge become the borough’s candidate for Andy Burnham’s town centre regeneration challenge. In Autumn I invited Andy to Stalybridge himself to see both the town’s challenges and its potential, and I could see he was motivated to use his mayoral powers to leverage change in the town.”

“Stalybridge has some fantastic assets which make it ripe for investment – great road and rail links, the canal, the River Tame, stunning views, some hugely successful new projects and businesses. But there is no doubt we have also found it difficult to deal with the large-scale shift to online and out-of-town retail shopping. It has so much more potential for urban living housing, which would ease the pressure of the greenbelt, independent and high street shopping, and a strong cultural offering.

He continued: “The land behind the station, known as Stalybridge West, will be crucial to this, and I hope that together we can develop a truly visionary ambition for the town, which respects our local traditions and culture whilst confidently building a new economy that moves with the times. Stalybridge is the ideal candidate for the Mayor’s challenge and I’m excited by everything this opportunity may bring.”

The news is a welcome boost to the town, which lost one of its bigger high-street brands in Lloyds Pharmacy earlier this month, after the chemist closed it’s doors for good. Just yards away, Yorkshire Building Society have also announced that they will be closing on March 15th.

Speaking about those closures last week, Jonathan Reynolds said: “I think high street brands will really regret not investing in Stalybridge. It is a town on the up, as demonstrated for our bid for investment from Andy Burnham’s town centre challenge, and I’m confident our town benefit from exciting regeneration in the next decade, bringing new shops, services and footfall with it.”

The idea of improving town centres by investing in housing is one that is supported by both sides of the political spectrum. Stalybridge South Conservative councillor Clive Patrick says it’s becoming a nationwide trend.

“Towns all over the country are moving in that direction and it’s worked in big cities such as Manchester,” he said. “Stalybridge has been sinking under the weight of under-occupancy. There have been many plans over the years that have lack the money and impetus but this is a fantastic opportunity. More housing and residents will hopefully bring in more business.”