A man in lycra paddles beside me. The bow of his kayak cuts through the still water and ripples lap the canal bank in its wake. I worry that he might tip over as he leans to the side and swivels round, but his expression is calm and determined.
I’m walking into Sale town centre, preferring the peaceful canal to the noise and pollution of the A56 which runs parallel. As I pass under Marsland Road, I hear the chatter of a queue outside US Four, a family-run diner occupying the former Brooklands Station ticket office.
It was a welcome addition in 2017, breathing life into a tired building which had been boarded up for as long as I can remember. A significant change.
In many ways, Sale has been changing for quite some time. Developments seem to ebb and flow: sometimes there are improvements, like US Four, other times, a soulless chain or another bookie.
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The next two years hold the most significant change Sale town centre has seen for decades, as plans to redevelop the shopping area take shape.
I wanted to capture the town centre’s architecture before work begins next month.
The redevelopment will take place in two phases, Michael Brown tells me over the phone. He is one of the directors of Altered Space, an asset manager and developer which owns much of the town centre.
Altered Space received planning consent for mixed-use development of the shopping centre in March 2019, but proposals have been in the pipeline for a number of years.
The planning application submitted to Trafford Council sets out the first phase. It envisions 202 new homes, a six-screen cinema and multi-storey car park. The application states that the homes are to be split between two apartment blocks of 15 and 12 storeys and incorporate ‘affordable housing at 10% of the overall number of residential units’.
Work on this part of the project is expected to begin in 2022, subject to funding.
Brown says that the second phase has jumped ahead and expects work to begin as early as next month. The gates at the entrance to the newly renamed Stanley Square will be removed, as will the canopies overhanging the main walkway.
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Altered Space are quick to point out that they will be working, for the most part, within the existing buildings and structures of the town centre. The spaces above the retail units in Stanley Square, for instance, will be converted into offices.
I’m cautious about the plans. I hope that new retailers coming to Sale will be affordable for local people and that residents will have green spaces to enjoy. But, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel that it’s Sale’s turn for some new money.
A planning strategy published in 2018 said that: “Sale lacks a kind of specialness that makes residents proud to belong there and visitors eager to come and be part of the street-life.” Walking past countless charity shops, bookies and the occasional chain clothes shop on School Road, I can see where they are coming from.
The new independent retailers popping up in the square and the popular makers market are a sign of something positive, though I worry about rising prices.
For now, things are looking up for Sale and perhaps “a kind of specialness” will creep back in.