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A Tale of Two Manchester Markets, And Why It Matters

Altrincham's funkly market hall, revived

English towns exist because of their markets. Ancient charters say that the main privilege of a town is to buy and sell in their own marketplace. Townsfolk have guarded that right over the centuries, knowing that without it their raison d'etre would vanish.

The fate of two of Manchester's ancient markets, in Rochdale and Altrincham, dramatises the fates of different parts of a booming city, and the extent to which they are benefitting from Manchester's rapid economic growth.

After 768 years Rochdale's market is to close. The market was founded 15 years before England's Parliament was first summoned, in a world in which England's relationship with Europe was unquestioned because the English King ruled over half of France.

Both the indoor market, and the more traditional outdoor market which has welcomed visitors on or around The Butts since 1251, will cease to trade.

The local council say the markets were losing taxpayers about £40K a year.

The council took full control of the market in 2013 when its then-home was sold, the Manchester Evening News reported.

Rochdale Market: bags of potential?

The contrast with the southern Manchester suburb of Altrincham could not be more marked.

Altrincham's market is a relative newcomer, having begun trading as recently as 1290. Unlike Rochdale's market, it is still trading. The market hall was repurposed in 2014 and has since won a multitude of awards for its innovative approach to dining and retail.

The renaissance of Altrincham, led by the rethought market, has been hailed as an example other high streets might usefully follow.

The town is now attracting serious interest from developers. In August, as the death rattles began to sound in Rochdale market, it emerged that Manchester developer Bruntwood was to partner Trafford Council in the redevelopment of the town's 367K SF shopping centre. Bruntwood's involvement is worth £14M, Place North West reported. The move resolves a long-standing concern about the future of a key retail destination, and bodes well for the future.

The Rochdale decision comes amidst growing concern that Manchester's economic boom has left some of its northern, eastern and western suburbs trailing behind. Rochdale is one of the "left behind" towns awarded modest extrta support by the government. Much of the recent analysis has focused on its neighbour Oldham, a town with multiple problems and high levels of deprivation, yet one only 5 miles from central Manchester. An acute analysis of the town's strengths and difficulties was published in Prospect Magazine this summer and is available here.

Perhaps the gaps will close? The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, mired in its own problems, is intended to focus growth on northern districts including Rochdale and Oldham.

In the meantime Rochdale is assesing retail redevelopment, although progress on the £80M Rochdale Riverside scheme has been an uphill struggle for the local council. The 200K SF scheme is now 60% let, and is being developed by Genr8 with backing from M&G.