Picture House: Disappointing News, But Resolve To Work Together

The news has just come out that the Co-op has sold the Funeral Care/ Picture House site to Southway Housing Trust. The Co-op has decided to reject our long-standing offer which would have seen the community retain the main building.

Sketch of what Picture House might look like with a big green wall and funky mural

The story is set out in Place North West | Future of Chorlton Picture House up in the air following sale. We are extremely disappointed about what has happened, and we are concerned that the building’s potential to create a more vibrant district centre may be at risk of being lost.

We are also very frustrated about the process. We have been presenting our case to the Co-op since they first agreed to sell the site to a private developer without any local consultation back in 2019. We are grateful for the opportunity to present an alternative proposal to the Co-op but have struggled to work with them to agree a shared way forward. Despite our efforts over the last few months to meet with the Co-op, we have had nothing until this week’s news.

The Co-op has based its decision on

  1. Price: Co-op has decided to accept a higher price offer from Southway without giving us the opportunity to re-engage.
  2. Community Focus: Co-op has justified the Southway offer as a community-based proposal, but the local community has not been involved! There is some talk of a community room being offered, but this isn’t the focus of what the Stayin’ Alive campaign has been pressing for and doesn’t help us realise our ambitions to revitalise our district centre in a significant way.
  3. Risks: Co-op has gone for what they see as the easy solution that allows them to dispose of the building, but we believe this approach falls well short of their ambition to be a community-oriented business which wants to help other social enterprises and Co-ops (like the CLT) make their communities better places.

Co-op has signed off by asking that we work with Southway regarding the way forward.

Way Forward

We have already had a quick initial meeting with Southway and will be having another meeting next week to hopefully establish a working relationship and agree a plan that works for us. Although we would have preferred the working relationship to begin from a more positive starting point, we are ready to roll up our sleeves and explore the options and can see that Southway are genuinely interested in exploring the scope for a shared scheme.

Confirming Our Aims

We will be going down a different route from the one we originally hoped to go down, but our core ambitions for the Picture House site and the Stayin’ Alive campaign remain the same, broadly:

  1. To establish place that can create jobs and businesses to help strengthen the High Street and district centre economy.
  2. To create an open and welcoming place for residents and visitors.

The Picture House building at the front of the site is ideally located at the heart of the district centre and has the floorspace to host a range of different commercial/leisure offers. If the building were demolished, this potential would be lost as would the historic link to the Bee Gees and the captured carbon in the construction. Our plans included housing on the rear part of the site (currently garages), but a primarily residential scheme would not match our goals or realise the one-off potential sat right in the heart of our community.

Renewed Importance of Our Aims Right Now

Our goals have always been well-aligned to the challenges and opportunities facing Chorlton, but they now feel even more vital:

  1. We have been busy developing a new Vision for Chorlton: working with traders, councillors, city council officers and other community groups to set out local aspirations for how to make Chorlton a better place. Our aims for the Picture House are vital to the Vision and we have secured strong support for the proposals from everyone involved.
  2. The neighbouring precinct is now up for sale with a view to being redeveloped: the Development Framework for the site indicates this will be a primarily residential scheme which means Chorlton’s urgent need for more affordable housing is likely to be eased by the adjacent and more appropriate site which backs on to existing housing on Oswald Road. We also believe that there is real scope to look at the two sites together and have been working with Manchester City Council and the various companies involved to take stock and look creatively at the options. We believe there is real value in looking to create a new public square and pedestrian zone by closing the end of Nicolas Road between the precinct and Picture House.  This would establish a new focal destination for people to meet, play and host events/markets in the heart of Chorlton.
  3. Post-COVID importance of district centres: we all have come to rely more on our local shops, cafes, restaurants during the lockdown and we see real potential for Chorlton to be a real success story for the post-COVID economy with an engaged community, local wealth creation, walkable neighbourhoods and a strong sense of local pride. We look at what the Altrincham Market has done to help turn the town around, and want to emulate the successes they have had.
  4. Vital growth for the Manchester economy: Chorlton is relatively prosperous compared to the rest of Manchester and we are not expecting public grants to make a success of our plans. We do however believe Chorlton has huge potential to help create more jobs, establish more businesses and attract more victors, all of which will help provide a positive complement to the massive growth taking place in the city centre.

Turning To Success

We believe there are some critical issues to address if we are to establish a viable proposal with Southway:

  • Embrace place making and community wellbeing: we know that Southway is committed to strengthening the communities of South Manchester. They already offer learning hubs and skills support. Our priorities are closely aligned, and we need to embrace a shared understanding of the role of vibrant district centres and placemaking to the benefit of Southway’s tenants and overall goals.
  • Manage risk: we know that our plans are innovative (although not unprecedented) and will be working with Southway to reassure them that we can create a viable collaborative plan working together with our development partner Brook Finch.
  • Demonstrate local support: we are so grateful for the commitment from 1,000+ financial pledges to our plans and we would really appreciate it if everyone could reaffirm your passion for our plans. Right now, the best way to do that is to post comments at the Place North West article here. Place North West is widely read by the property industry and will be seen by everyone involved in the process. You can leave your name or do it anonymously if you prefer.

We will be working hard and pressing on with our discussions with Southway over the next few weeks and will let you know how we get on.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

Simon Hooton
Chair, Chorlton Community Land Trust