2014 was another remarkable year for Rochdale Town Centre, with dramatic changes to the skyline a powerful visible reminder that Rochdale is on the rise.
As part of our round up of the year, we look back at the many changes which are shaping a town centre finally ready to realise its potential.
On the right track – Metrolink comes to town - March
It was full speed ahead for Rochdale’s regeneration when the Metrolink rolled into the town centre in spring.
The extension created a modern, state-of-the-art public transport hub in the heart of Rochdale, with the town centre stop opening just across the road from the new £11.5m bus station.
The River Street taxi rank, which opened alongside the bus station in October, completed the integrated transport system.
By the end of October, tram ticket sales to Rochdale had more than doubled, peaking at over 20,000 people buying tickets to travel to either the Rochdale railway station or town centre stops in September this year.
The Black Box comes down – June
The Black Box, known to many as one of the worst examples of 1970s architecture, started to come down in the summer.
It was the end of an era for the well-known building which has dominated the Rochdale skyline since it was built in 1978 to bring local authority workers together in the administrative centre of the new Rochdale borough following local government reorganisation in 1974.
It took until the end of October to finally remove the building, which was once voted one of the top six eyesores in the North West.
The area on which the Black Box stood now acts as a thoroughfare to link the different parts of the town centre, with plans to open a new town centre market on the site in February.
Despite its removal, the Black Box will live on in its own way, with 90 per cent of the materials removed from the building being recycled.
Big business shows its support – Tetrosyl on the way – August
Rochdale’s regeneration started to deliver big results when Tetrosyl, the largest manufacturer of car care products in Europe, announced plans to move its headquarters to Newgate House on St Mary’s Gate.
The move, which saw the Council and Rochdale Development Agency work together to persuade the international company to make Rochdale its home, was hailed as a coup for the town, with the relocation set to bring 150 jobs into the borough.
Securing Rochdale’s past to create a better future – Cabinet approves ambitious town hall plan - September
The Council revealed its plans for the future of Rochdale’s favourite building, the stunning Grade I Listed Town Hall, in September.
The proposals to revitalise the much loved hall centred around bringing closed off sections of the building, including the old police cells, back into use.
The Council is also hoping to restore some of the town hall’s most significant pieces of art, including the Magna Carta mural in The Great Hall.
The plans, which seek to enhance the town’s key asset and increase visitor numbers, will be worked into a Heritage Lottery Fund bid which, if successful, would be phased in over a five year period.
Rochdale hits the national stage – October
Rochdale’s flagship customer service centre, office and library building, saved the best till last, with its most recent design award, The British Council of Offices – best corporate workplace and best of the best, being the biggest in the business.
Number One Riverside scooped the award partly because of the building’s ability to act as a catalyst for wider regeneration in the town centre and the win opened people’s eyes to the idea that cutting edge design doesn’t just belong in the big cities.
The judges also praised the building for ‘meeting an exacting brief for a great looking and energy efficient building.”
The council’s service director for economy and environment, Mark Widdup, summed it up when he said: “Rochdale deserves a building like this.”
Private sector investment pours in – throughout the year
This was the year that businesses signalled their support for Rochdale’s regeneration plans in the most tangible way.
Hot on the heels of Tetrosyl’s announcement was a move by Morrisons Local to open a new store at Number Two Smith Street, formerly the Nile nightclub, just next to the Transport Interchange. The store, which is expected to open early next year, will bring 20 jobs for local people.
In October, fast growing grocery chain Aldi, submitted a planning application for a new store on the former Carter Brother’s site on Mellor Street, close to the town centre Asda store.
At the time, representatives for Aldi cited the town centre regeneration as a key reason for choosing Rochdale, saying : “We have a successful track record of working with Rochdale Borough Council across the borough, following the opening of our second store in 2010. The significant regeneration works in the town centre led us to explore the option of a third store and this site presented the ideal opportunity.”
Construction of the new store, if approved by the Licensing and Regulatory Committee in January, is expected to begin in the summer. The store opening would create 40 local jobs.
In a further boost, Lidl submitted plans just days before Christmas to knock down their town centre store and rebuild a significantly larger one using the footprint of the old Blockbuster shop.
River reopening on course – December
The Heritage Lottery Fund gave Rochdale’s regeneration an early Christmas present with the announcement that the river opening, a flagship development project for Rochdale, would receive a vital £1.2m cash injection.
The scheme to uncover Rochdale’s 800-year-old medieval bridge, which has been hidden for more than a century, aims to create a visitor attraction, which will be unique in the wider area.
Alongside the town hall and proposed traditional market on the Butts, the site will help form a heritage quarter in the heart of the town centre.
The Environment Agency and Regional Flood and Coastal Committee also gave their backing to the scheme, which will reduce town centre flood risk.
The project was revised earlier this year to create a more cost effective scheme which would maintain the heritage and environmental benefits of the original.
Supporting local business – free parking and innovative new business rates scheme - December
The council threw a lifeline to Rochdale’s high street by pledging a £100,000 cash injection to pay for a pilot scheme to drastically cut business rates for new businesses from April next year.
The scheme would offer an 80 per cent business rate reduction in the first year and a 50 per cent cut in the second year for businesses opening in vacant units in a selected area of Rochdale town centre.
At the same time, the Council announced free parking for three hours in all town centre car parks from next April.
Key industry watchers have heaped praised on the schemes, with Simon Edmondson, from the Federation of Small Businesses, saying: "This is fantastic news for all retailers in Rochdale, and will hopefully help the authority address the high vacancy rate in the town centre.
"This should be seen as a boost for existing shops too, as boarded up, empty units look unappealing and harm the potential of existing traders to do well. Once this rot sets in it's difficult to stop, with other potential retailers reluctant - for good reason - to set up in a ghost town. Rochdale's fresh thinking recognises this and is an extremely sensible gesture that will no doubt attract in new businesses in.”
He added: “"For far too long local authorities have viewed car parks as cash cows, with the predictable result being diminished trade. We'd like to see every authority across the region who hasn't yet done so take a look at Rochdale's lead."
Rounding up the achievements of 2014, Councillor Richard Farnell, Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Rochdale’s ongoing £250m regeneration gained real momentum this year and anyone visiting the town centre couldn’t help but notice the remarkable physical transformation which has taken place in 12 short months. Ugly old buildings which blighted the skyline have been swept away, as final preparations for the arrival of our new town centre leisure and retail development took place. 2014 was also the year that big business sat up and took notice, with a string of well-known companies signalling their intention to open new stores or expand in Rochdale. This private sector investment means that Rochdale’s short term future is looking positive while we work towards our longer term goal of having a town centre which our residents can be proud of and which visitors will want to come and see.”