Blog: Revitalise – Learning From The Past To Shape The Town Centres Of The Future

17 May 2024

Stretford Mall

Are We Just Going Round In Circles?

When it comes to our town centres, in some ways yes. In the past century planning policies and trends for town centres in Britain have played a pivotal role in driving substantial transformations, re-shaping the urban landscape and influencing the way people live, work and shop.

Stretford Mall 1969 historical

From the independent shops and small-scale streets of the beginning of the last century to the arrival of the retail shopping mall concept which felt modern and even glamourous at that time. The rise of the dominance of the car, the up and down of the economy, creation of monolithic, out of town shopping centres, and a proliferation of changing shopping habits, our town centres have shifted and changed and morphed repeatedly. Each re-invention and adaptation has promised more convenience, more choice, more profit.

The current state many find town centres themselves in is a vicious cycle of decline, with increasing vacancy rates, lower footfall and diminishing public realm. And it is widely recognised that there is now a clear and urgent need for revitalisation.

Stretford Mall 70s Arndale Shopping Centre historical

But beneath those past lives and interventions, our towns hold deep and rich histories, sometimes faded, forgotten or hidden beneath. And with that history comes heritage, culture a sense of place and community. Therefore the ‘future high street’ may not need a complete reinvention. Instead we should be rediscovering and celebrating that past, teasing it back out and bringing it to the fore. Opening up closed-off spaces, re-instating public realm, celebrating that sense of civic pride.

Are we going full circle? Not quite. Town centres can no longer rely on a retail-centric approach as they have done in the past, they need to offer a diverse range of activity and spaces which are dynamic and vibrant, accessible and sustainable. But learning from what has gone before is vital in shaping the town centres of the future.

At Feilden Clegg Bradley, we are currently working with Bruntwood Works and Trafford Council to revitalise Stretford’s town centre, reflecting this approach and ultimately nurturing a sustainable town centre with a rich diversity of uses and services.

Ernst ter Horst
Ernst is a senior associate in our Manchester Office. He is leading work at Stretford Mall as well as early stage residential schemes with strong environmental and placemaking agendas. He specialises in cultural, residential, masterplan and regenerative high street typologies.