ASHTON town centre would be transformed with a hotel, a pocket park and thousands of new jobs created in another if ambitious new plans come off.
Now the search is on to find investment and development partners for the Ashton Mayoral Development Zone (MDZ), or they will have to be scaled back.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham helped launch the scheme at the town’s Old Baths complex, which has been redeveloped into a world-leading technological hub.
Combining three different areas – the town centre, St Petersfield and Ashton Moss – it is hoped to completely revamp the town.
And Mr Burnham himself admitted more should be made of what it has.
He said: “I don’t know Ashton well and I don’t know the borough particularly well but it’s always felt to me you’ve got great assets, especially in the town but they just need knitting together that little bit more.
“You can feel that happening now with the vision that’s being out forward, bringing Ashton Old Baths and the St Petersfield area to the town centre, then to Ashton Moss.
“All of that will knock on against each other and will drive the value of the whole up. It’ll put Ashton not just on the Greater Manchester map but the national map.”
Gregg Stott, Tameside Council’s assistant director of investment, development and housing, unveiled plans for the town.
With the council themselves having described the centre as ‘not fit for purpose’ he claimed it has undergone improvement in recent years and they have been working with the owners of The Arcades and Ladysmith Shipping Centres since 2019.
A memorandum of understanding between all three parties has been struck.
He also described the fact it has double the retail space of any other north-west town as, ‘something we certainly need to look at.’
And a breakdown of the recent awarding of almost £20 million of levelling up cash from the Government detailed how £3.4 million will go on renovating the town hall, with work starting later this year.
A further £5.3 million will be spent on a refurbishment of the market square and the transport interchange, the recently reconfigured bus and tram stop.
Soon that will become under council ownership and the whole thing was described as, ‘an incredible opportunity. Something of significant scale and impact.’
The St Petersfield area, which houses the Old Baths, would also see a number of new units, including a six-storey block of apartments, with neighbouring town houses, where the old fire station stood, with two other units behind that.
A food and drink unit and events space will be added alongside the Old Baths and more office development, including what are now car parks, could see 18,000 square metres of space available and if all is let, it is estimated it could bring a gross added value of £100 million to Tameside.And the stand-out of the plan sees a ‘key landmark building’ on Old Street – which a council spokesman insisted is not the old library when asked by The Correspondent – earmarked for hotel/leisure/residential use of up to five storeys, with that part of the road being closed of the vehicles and changed into a ‘green and active corridor.’
A new branding strategy has already seen an inquiry from one business and Mr Stott added: “We are in control of the next stages, we intend to go out to market later this year.
“St Petersfield is almost seen as bit of standalone but we’ll really integrate the surrounding areas and improve access into the town centre. This is not pie in the sky.”
At the unveiling, Ashton Moss was described as ‘a critically key employment site in the borough and in Greater Manchester’.
Up to 200,000 sqm of space and up to 4,500 jobs are envisaged, with an emphasis on the new units being quality, not warehousing.
There are obstacles, however, as the land is not council-owned, meaning a public/private partnership and Mr Burnham himself raised a question on earthworks that may be needed on the area.
Studies on that will be complete this year as the line, ‘significant opportunity, significant aspiration’ was used to describe the MDZ.And Mr Burnham added transport connectivity is key, even though there are concerns the new HS2 development will cut off the tram line between Ashton and Manchester city centre.
He added: “Transport connectivity is key. It’s a huge selling point for the town.
“But what we’re really beginning to feel now is how the success of Manchester as a city is now beginning to lift the towns.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, it is a beginning, but it is now happening. I think what’s happening in Stockport is because of the connectivity to the city.
“Go to Rochdale and you’ll see a similar story and I think when you’ve knitted these assets together, added to that transport connectivity, you’ll have one of, if not the best, connected towns in the region.
“I’ll be right at the heart of the town and will be a huge selling point for St Petersfield and the branding is a lesson from the city. You’re doing the same.
“And let’s think about the Moss and what goes there. Let’s not just give it away to warehousing.
We’ve got to have the highest ambitions for what we bring to Ashton Moss.
“We’ve got to get the best possible jobs we can get. This is the future of Greater Manchester beginning to emerge.”