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14 Feb
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Trafford Centre Metrolink Line: Economic Impact and Fallout

With the Trafford Centre Metrolink line recently gaining the green light for public consultation in 2014, we decided to delve into the history of this troubled project and examine what its potential effects could be on Greater Manchester's economy.

Background

The idea to expand the Metrolink line as far as the Trafford Centre was incepted long ago, however, the development has been plagued by adverse economic conditions, a lack of buy-in from relevant authorities and being sidelined by expansions in other areas.

However, earlier in the year, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership announced the possibility of funding the line's construction using the regional Earnback agreement with the government.

Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) seeks to have the extension completed by 2019 and plans to submit a formal order for the line to the Department for Transport by summer 2014.

What's the Hold Up?

One reason why this long-standing project has been left, well, standing is that resources have been increasingly devoted to expanding the Metrolink line out to various boroughs of Manchester.

Extensions to Oldham, Rochdale and East Didsbury, Ashton and the controversial second city centre line have all taken precedence, with regional bodies hailing the economic benefits such infrastructure growth will bring.

In years gone by, Manchester City Council has been reluctant to invest in further links to the Trafford Centre, fearing the impact it could have on the economic wellbeing of Manchester City Centre. Largely in consideration of the potential for the centre to rival the city centre for grade A office space and retailer representation.

The relationship between the Trafford Centre and Manchester City Centre has matured, spurred on by a strong catchment, both have seen significant growth in the past decade despite the relatively close geographical proximity to one another.

It has been a bumper year for the shopping centre, marking a trend that has seen it come into its own as a shopping hub in the region.

As a retailing destination, Manchester City Centre has emerged as a powerhouse, 
Experian has Manchester as the 4th largest centre for comparison goods shopping with a spend value estimated at £1.55bn.

This growth has occurred in spite of one another and therefore points to greater influences affecting the success of each destination unabated by any competitive forces in play regarding retailer representation. Indeed, Intu are owners of both the Trafford Centre and the Arndale Centre which underpins the success of Manchester City Centre.

This is therefore a very different relationship to that faced by Sheffield for example, where rise of Meadowhall at a time when retailers were choosing their optimum locations has come at the expense of expansion of the Sheffield City Centre retail core.

Potential Impact

The economic impact of the move is hard to assess and without solid data, we have to rely on extrapolating existing trends.

The economic stimulus brought about by recent expansions to the Metrolink service have been particularly beneficial to the property sector, with estate agents hailing the effect such transport links are having on both commercial and residential properties in the connected boroughs.

And regional bodies have also been keen to trumpet the stimulation such infrastructure boosts have brought. Speaking to Mancunian Matters, the Rochdale Development Agency said that the relatively recent line expansion to the town is already having a beneficial effect in the area.

"It connects together a whole series of strategically important employment sites and gives the communities along that route ready access to those job opportunities. I'm sure Oldham and Tameside would also say it has helped connect us much more strongly and integrate us into the Greater Manchester economy, which has to be really important," said RDA chief executive John Hudson.

There appears to be ample enthusiasm for the project from TfGM also, with the body looking to immediately procure the additional trams needed to service the proposed Trafford line. It will be spending nearly £40 million on the new vehicles, which will be used to ease congestion on existing lines in the meantime.

While only time will reveal the long term effects of increasing interconnection between Manchester's various boroughs, the Trafford Centre and the city centre itself, the majority of interested parties seem remarkably positive about its prospects.

It may not be prudent therefore to starve the west side of the city of improved public transport if retailer competition between the two centres were a concern. It is clearly not a case of ‘one or the other' for retailers given the expansive catchments from which both can draw their respective turnovers.

There are likely to be a host of other benefits linked to sustainable travel patterns linking up communities in the area which currently experience severe social exclusion problems to the wider city improving their opportunities to tap into city wide growth. These wider reaching benefits of sustainability warrant the investment.

And You?

What are your thoughts on the expansion of Metrolink's services?

And if you're interested in learning more about how proposed infrastructure expansions might affect your development project, or simply want to learn more about any of the issues we've discussed in this article, get in touch with NJL today.

Image used courtesy of Phil Long on Flickr

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