In the coming years and decades, the development of Manchester’s suburbs will become more and more relevant to us all, as previously forgotten towns and villages become better connected as transport links improve, and as the urban sprawl of growth expands ever outward.
Add to this the effects of the recent global pandemic, which saw most of us staying within our local neighbourhoods, and ‘Zoomshock’ – a buzzword used to describe the far-reaching economic impact of people working from home, and you’ve got a unique set of events that have changed the way we live forever.
It’s here at the pandemic where we start our exploration into the booming burbs – a major catalyst that has hastened the development of the city’s outlying neighbourhoods considerably.
COVID and the Suburbs
As we entered lockdown in March 2020, the entire work-life paradigm shifted for millions across the UK. No longer bound by the commute into the city centre, and forced to transform a corner of the dining room into a make-shift office, the desire for ‘more space’ was never higher.
Those people stuck in apartments in the city centre for all of those months, with at best a balcony for outside space – well, I feel for you. It must have been hell.
As a result, demand for properties in areas surrounding major cities has surged more than prices in the city itself, with prices in the suburbs growing by 10.8% between March 2020 and June 2021, compared with 8.9% in the city.
Andrew Asaam, the mortgages director at Halifax explained how: “This has been shaped by buyers’ demand for more space, a desire to move from the centre to more suburban locations, and the trend for more home working both now and in the future.”
More Bang for Your Buck
It’s not just this quest for more space that has seen a move towards the suburbs. As with the rise in house prices during the pandemic, renters have increasingly become priced out of the city centre – and into the suburbs – typically the towns and areas which have suffered from a lack of serious investment in the past and are therefore much cheaper to live.
Young professionals who could previously live happily in an apartment in the city centre paying around £800 per month have seen a huge rise in costs and thus have slowly moved out to the region’s ample boroughs.
And so, we’re starting to see the same with businesses, increasingly priced out of city centre areas due to high rents, opting for suburban spots instead – where they can be not only more competitive, but also have more space in which to do what they like.
Well established city centre businesses are opting to open up in the suburbs, such as La Bandera, who will add a new restaurant in Hale in the coming months, or BAB, who will be looking to open another gourmet kebab joint in Bramhall before the year is out.
Dokes, the Anglo-Saxon pizza joint that has impressed down at Society in the city centre will be opening up in Prestwich very soon, a location that will afford them the opportunity to take the step up from street food to a fully-fledged restaurant without being crippled by high city centre rents.
These are just a couple of examples, but it’s clear that many of Manchester’s ample street food businesses are following suit – opting for more affordable suburban bricks and mortar sites as opposed to city centre plots.
And then you’ll find the businesses whose owners actively seem to avoid the city centre and instead operate entirely within the communities in and around the suburbs.
Dave Leape is a Stretford lad and has opened up four of his very popular BrewChimp bars in towns across the south west of Manchester, and Phil Howells, owner of Blanchflower and Longford Cafe sees the allure of the city centre as something of the past.
Set to open up a new Blanchflower in Sale this month, Phil once owned Caffeine & Co in the city, before moving out into the burbs with a spot in Altrincham and the cafe in Stretford.
They’re both a part of a new set of business owners, who are looking to be solely suburban and take advantage of the long list of positives that come with operating in these neighbourhoods.
Over the years we’ve seen a select number of bars and restaurants that have made a HUGE impact in their neighbourhoods, without the desire to eventually end up in the city centre. Campagna at The Creameries in Chorlton, UNAGI in Wilmslow, Levanter in Ramsbottom, and of course – the mighty San Juan Tapas Bar in Chorlton.
The Battle of the Burbs
Always a key sign of the way things are progressing is with the big developers, and the last couple of years have seen massive investments in often long-forgotten or neglected areas.
Many of the huge developers operating in Manchester have projects currently in the ‘burbs, with future additions on the way, too. Bruntwood, for example, is set to undertake a huge regeneration of Stretford but has also been looking at projects in Bury.
Similarly, Capital&Centric are set to transform Stockport with their Weir Mill development, as well as in Farnworth in Bolton, as they move rapidly into more suburban locations.
Stockport itself is seeing huge investment and regeneration, as is Sale with the Stanley Square project. Urmston, Macclesfield, Oldham and huge parts of Salford are all experiencing the arrival of developers looking to get in on the act – a clear indication of how things are moving further outwards.
Of course, the city centre will always be the city centre, and developments continue in spades there, but a major consequence of the global COVID pandemic was a clear paradigm shift away from the city – as people look for more space where they live, and invariably, more bang for their buck out in the ‘burbs.
The New Must-Visit Destinations
So who are the movers and shakers in this suburban revolution? One town that’s currently in the throes of serious regeneration is Stockport – already home to some fantastic independent food and drink venues – and set for many more.
For years it’s been home to Where The Light Gets In, a high-end restaurant that’s almost single-handedly made Stockport into a must-visit foodie destination. It now seems that not a week goes by that I’m not hearing of a new independent bar or restaurant opening up in Stockport – and the area is positively thriving as a result.
Even in Salford, things are on the up, especially in towns like Eccles and Monton, which have previously seen very sluggish development in terms of quality food and drink offerings. Wandering Palate, Butchers Quarter’s Farm & Fish and Oats & Honey have all set up shop there and are positively thriving – bringing people down and also helping to create real community spirit again.
Name any town, village or borough in Greater Manchester and there’ll be news of redevelopment and exciting new additions.
Even my hometown of Oldham, seemingly long-forgotten for decades, is set to see huge new development in the town centre, with a renovation of the Spindles shopping centre as well as the arrival of the Egyptian Rooms Food Hall at some point this summer.
Of course, the city centre is still thriving, especially on the weekends, however it’s becoming increasingly clear that during the week it’s much quieter than pre-COVID. Could this be a consequence of many people’s shift towards their local neighbourhoods? Probably.
And so as the growth of Manchester continues, so does the pull and development of the suburbs – a very exciting prospect for those living in these often-forgotten or neglected areas, that are seeing increased activity and businesses moving in.
This will, inevitably, bring to the forefront the dreaded word – gentrification – which has already been seen creeping into Manchester’s popular ‘burbs in recent years. That though, is brings to the table a whole new level of discussion, problems and potential opportunities, which are too complex and far reaching to discuss here.
In the meantime though the booming ‘burbs should be seen for what they are – a positively good thing for the city and long may Manchester’s neighbourhoods continue to thrive.