It has all the making of a quaint, lovely town, with its setting in the foothills of the Pennines, and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal flowing right through the centre.
But some residents say the heart of Stalybridge has become a ‘ghost town’, with overflowing bins, parking costs, and inadequate transport links hurting local business and pride.
The Tameside town has a population of just over 26,000 – but there was little sign of them when the Local Democracy Reporting Service visited the centre this month.
Although that day’s icy weather may have deterred some from frequenting the local shops, many regulars said empty streets had become a normal sight.
The hub of the area cut a picturesque scene in the snow, but that vision fell apart when locals started to point out the overflowing bins that have become a regular eyesore.
Listening to people who regularly visit Stalybridge, it has become apparent that the tornado ripping through the Carrbrook area of the town on December 27 is not the only problem that needs to be resolved.
Just like the council acted to help those who faced huge damage to their homes due to the 160mph winds in the Tameside Tornado, people want to see action to spruce up their town centre.
Janet Howard, sitting waiting for her bus home, said: “It used to be dead busy around here but look at it now. There used to be a market hall over there (pointing at a building covered in scaffolding off Corporation Street).
“I come here fairly regularly. Buses are awful and unreliable. Transport needs to be seriously looked at by authorities, otherwise people can’t get in and out as easily.
“My husband would rather set off walking before waiting for a bus as he’s waiting so long – and I might not be able to get to Hyde by train easily, for example.
“it’s the interconnectivity between Tameside. [We need] transport links and a clean-up job as there are bins overflowing all over here.”
Janet says she believes elderly people are less likely to take a trip into town from residential areas due to the poor standard of public transport. But she stated that the biggest boost the town could get would be for it to be cleaned up.
Butcher John Boult agreed with Janet and urged the council to take more pride in the appearance of their towns.
“It’s alright pumping money into an area but it’s got to be spent right,” he said. “Clean the streets up and get rid of rubbish, I say. It is a problem in any town centre in Tameside as there is an issue with litter and rubbish bins not being emptied.
“Having pride in the appearance of all areas [is key]. The council need to clean up the whole of Tameside.
“If I was M&S, why would I invest in a scruffy area? Make the place attractive – there is something lacking throughout.”
John still believes Stalybridge offers a good range of shops in the centre, praising the cheesemonger and fruit and veg stall just down the main high street from his own shop – Boult’s Butchers – which he says is busy.
“We have no problems with the footfall,” he continued. “We’re very busy and have plenty out on the counter even on a quiet day like today.
“Ashton is rubbish. People say they’ve stopped going there. Stalybridge just needs a good fishmonger. We have an excellent cheese shop and fruit and veg shop.
“There is no comparison with what we do to what the supermarkets offer, and my customers recognise that.”
Nonetheless, he says there are challenges.
“Parking is an issue, no matter what people say. It’s a massive thing,” he adds. “People won’t do a week of shopping and get a bus even if the buses come every five minutes.”
John says parking prices in Stalybridge have shot up from around £2 all day to £9, adding that if there was a big boom in footfall, the lack of parking would not be able to cope with it.
Another local, Michael Bentley, believes business rates are hurting the local high street, and feels Ashton offers more choice than Stalybridge.
“It’s a ghost town,” Michael said, pointing at the empty high street. “This is busy for us.
“All the shutters are down and there is nothing open. You can’t get anything like shoes or a shirt. You have to go to Ashton.
“Greggs does well, though," he said, adding that shops closing down might be something to do with "the rates being too high".
When asked about why there are very few people on the streets, another local passing through with his bull terrier simply said: “It’s crap. There is nothing to bring people here.”
Not everyone is that critical. Kathy Smith came especially from Audenshaw for the shops in Stalybridge with her daughter Heidi. She said that the area had "a nice feel to it" and has good independent shops that just need some support.
“I come here for the little shops and to support small businesses,” Kathy said. “Although some places I have visited previously have shut down.
“I’ve just been to My Wendy House, which has stuff for kids' parties. Stalybridge has a nice feel to it, more countryside than what I get.
“It’s a shame there aren’t many people today as it’s quite quiet. It’s all about bringing people in.
“More of the festivals like Street Feast might help with that. Some more small stalls, a bit like Altrincham Market, would be good.
“We’re near Droylsden and Audenshaw which have a few places to go to. I think it could be a lot better; the Droylsden precinct is pretty dire. The local authority needs to invest in their centres and start promoting local shops better I think.”
Despite concerns about the high street, Stalybridge has enviable assets, like canalside walks and the greenery boasted by Stamford Park, Cheetham Park and Stalybridge Country Park.
Meanwhile, last year’s successful Levelling Up funding bid of £19.9m will help see Stalybridge revitalised. The regeneration package includes major refurbishment work at the Civic Hall, which will house the Astley Cheetham Art Gallery and library.
What Tameside Council says
Councillor Jack Naylor, Tameside Council Executive Member for Inclusive Growth, Business and Employment, stated: “Our street cleansing and waste enforcement teams are out every day working to keep our town clean and tackle flytipping.
“Through the Our Streets initiative we aim to bring together our resources with partners, businesses, and residents to create a cleaner, greener, and safer borough.
“Profiling the success that comes from joint working with the local community and the brilliant work of schools, residents, and councillors. Local community support is invaluable to complement our stretched resources and initiatives like our Litter hubs offer access free equipment in the town for residents who feel strongly about keeping the borough clean are then able to support our efforts.
“We all want to live and work in an area where our families are secure, and our streets and parks are spotless, and everyone has a responsibility for their surroundings and behaviour. Our Streets enables us all to contribute to improving our community and sharing in its success.
“Through Our Streets we can team together to utilise our strengths and resources and take pride in our neighbourhoods.
“There is an awareness at GM level that transport services need to be improved and the Bee Network which Stalybridge is part of will help people to get around by providing an alternative to cars, and buses will play a key part in the network. The ambition is to develop a modern low-emission accessible bus system, which is affordable, fully inclusive and is integrated with the wider Greater Manchester transport network on which everyone will be willing to travel regardless of their background or mobility level.
“For several years now, we have been investing in Stalybridge and Hyde alongside other town centres in line with our Inclusive Growth Strategy aims and objectives. The aim is always to regenerate and improve the borough to attract investment for the benefit of Tameside as a whole.
“Our towns, like others across the country, are facing challenges. The traditional high street has declined, and this has been compounded by Covid and the cost-of-living crisis. Online shopping has fundamentally changed the way we use our towns, and we are looking for ways to bring people back to town centres."