A number of companies have moved out of the town centre or out of Crewe altogether in recent months
Burton, Poundland, Boots Pharmacy, Total Fitness, Sainsbury’s, Pizza Hut – just some of the businesses that have either closed or will be closing sites in Crewe. Meanwhile, a huge pile of rubble occupies a significant part of the town centre, awaiting the long-anticipated, multi-million pound regeneration, and people remain confused over why a centrally-located car park remains closed as plans to turn it into an entertainment space appear to remain in limbo.
JD Sports is one of the latest firms to announce that it would be leaving the town centre, following the example set by the likes of Marks and Spencer and relocating to Grand Junction Retail Park. When it was reported, comments from residents included ‘another one gone’ and ‘there will be nothing left in the town centre soon’.
The slew of closures, albeit many coming in the wake of the pandemic, has caused residents to question decision-makers’ ability and desire to turn things around. And while there’s been the promise of regeneration on the horizon, many are not convinced and have a somewhat gloomy outlook for the town’s future.
“It is just dying. Everywhere is closing and that’s because there’s nothing in the town centre for people. You can’t park and you’re there just looking at a big, massive pile of rubble,” resident Warren Pearson said.
“The part near the town square where McDonald’s used to be is now obsolete. You basically have the Market Hall and a few shops around it but the rest of it is just dead.”
The ‘big, massive pile of rubble’ was created when the Royal Arcade’s demolition began in November 2020 in anticipation of the regeneration. Peveril Securities and Cheshire East Council were granted planning permission for the new car park and bus station in September last year.
Outline permission was also granted for the leisure aspect of the development. This will include a café/restaurant, gym, bowling alley, retail units and a cinema along with public realm works.
A spokesperson for Peveril confirmed during the September planning committee that ‘a favourable approval here this morning, would enable us to commence on site in January 2022 with a completion date of August 2023’. Yet many have said things aren’t moving quickly enough.
Meanwhile, white panels have been erected around the demolished site, which have attracted criticism from residents and business owners. Some have called for them to at least be brightened up with artwork.
Former Crewe Works employee Steve Shoebridge, who now runs the Nantwich Road branch of Ebenezer’s, said: “It’s just a complete an utter eyesore. It’s dreadful. They’ve just knocked it down, left all the rubble there and the billboards – in other places you’d have all these graphics displayed to give people an idea of what’s going on.
“I don’t blame these big retailers and companies moving out. You don’t see anything happening. Nobody seems to care, they just don’t seem to be bothered about it.”
And there has been much debate over whether the agreed plans are right for the town. Much of this has been directed at the planned new cinema, which would be a five to 10-minute walk from Odeon on Phoenix Leisure Park.
Steve said: “They’re supposed to be building a gym, a car park etc and I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do or not. In my opinion they should be building apartments with retail outlets underneath so you’ve actually got a community.
“Why they’re building a cinema, I don’t know. What frustrates me about it is they say they’re going to sort it all out come the new year and here we are in April and nothing has happened.”
Meanwhile, the Lyceum Square car park remains closed to motorists, which was often used by people visiting either the theatre or the town centre businesses. It was shut for much of the pandemic but remained so after plans were unveiled to turn the area into an entertainment space.
The scheme, termed Ly2, would see the creation of a mixed-use space to host open-air events, festivals, performances, and activities throughout the year. As part of this, a new events stage with integrated digital screen would be built.
The ‘unused’ part of the outdoor market shed area would be transformed into a ‘creative centre’, while shipping containers would be brought in to provide a base for small emerging businesses and artists to ‘exhibit their work’. Street furniture would also be installed as well as floor graphics and a wall mural.
Yet despite Cheshire Live being told last year that a decision on the planning application wasn’t far off, little to no progress appears to have been made. Warren, who often used the car park, is one of the many people who have been vocal about its continued closure.
“Why they can’t unwrap the machine and let people use it until they make a decision rather than put people in limbo, I don’t have a clue,” he said.
“That’s the end of Crewe that’s actually open and having something done with it. The Market Hall has all the bands on. They could just let people use the car park and take the money until they decide what they’re going to do.”
Despite the vast number of store closures in the town centre and delays around developments, there are some signs of hope for Crewe. The £3 million Market Hall regeneration opened last year and many people believe it has been a success, with Steve saying it has ‘brought people together’.
But he added: Where is the next bit? Let’s get Lyceum Square sorted – get it up and running for summer. Let’s get some entertainment out there for the kids.”
Outside the town centre, the Dorothy Flude Retail Park is up and running, transforming a parcel of land that had long been an eyesore. A number of new businesses have opened too, including the Holy Bun and Ebenezer’s on Nantwich Road as well as Swish Lounge on Mill Street.
And then there’s the promises of HS2 and what that will bring to the town. More recently, the council and partners have pushed ahead with a bid to make Crewe the home of Great British Railways.
But Steve said there needed to be more immediate action from decision makers, adding: “That’s what people want to see. You can’t blame your JD Sports and Marks and Spencer, which was historic in Crewe.
“Surely there must be people in the council who walk around, look at things and think ‘hang on, who owns this building? It’s a mess’. There doesn’t seem to be any care at all.”
Cheshire East Council has been contacted for a comment on the concerns.