The shape of things to come with an all-singing and all-dancing bus/train/tram interchange
It has been a while since you could transfer from three modes of transport in Stalybridge town centre. 90 years ago to be precise. If you count trolleybuses as a third mode, that was 61 years ago.
Since 1960, Stalybridge has had a purpose built bus station between Waterloo Road and Market Street, running parallel with King Street. It is handy for The White House and Cosmo Bingo Hall, though that usefulness has been diminished by cuts to evening bus journeys. The present version is over 21 years old with its single island platform of four stands, replacing the previous version that had six stands and three single directional platforms.
Before SHMD opened Stalybridge bus station in 1960, the town’s main bus station (if you could call it that) was two stands near the railway station. One was close to where The Q Bar is today. The other backed on to some spare ground by the Palace cinema. The 4 and 4A – part of today’s 343 route – used to stop by the cinema before turning towards The White House. As of now, there was stops by what was the Town Hall and the war memorial opposite.
The regeneration game
In the last year, there has been plans to extend the Metrolink to Stalybridge. Metrolink would substantially improve the town’s connections with Manchester city centre and get it back to pre-bus deregulation levels. With a 12 minute frequency, let alone a six minute one, it would bridge the gap left by cuts made to Manchester bus routes from Stalybridge in the last decade.
For a flourishing tram system, there needs to be connections with other modes. Private motoring as well as active travel, buses and trains. At present, Stalybridge railway station is 300 metres from the bus station. The nearest shelters to the railway station are 10 metres from the entrance. Every bus route apart from the 343 and five times a week 220 calls at the stops on Rassbottom Street, which are denoted in TfGM publicity material as Stands E and F.
It is proposed that the new bus station would be closer to the railway station than at present. This was also discussed in a 1999 regeneration plan where the station forecourt and car parks were designated for bus/rail interchange facilities. The size of the plots would only allow for basic facilities, enough for two southbound shelters on today’s car park, and a single shelter with a tight taxi forecourt.
22 years on, The Greater Manchester Stations Alliance (which includes Transport for Greater Manchester, Network Rail, and a number of service providers) identified Stalybridge station as a potential ‘growth point’. In the long run, it has looked at its potential as a Bus/Rail/Tram interchange. Tameside MBC has been allocated £100,000 of funding from TfGM for the Stalybridge Interchange Options Development. Its aim is the same as in 1999, though one of yellow trams and franchised bus routes.
Town centre penetration
At present, most of Stalybridge’s bus route call at Stalybridge railway station and Armentieres Square. For many shoppers (and the town’s biggest bus operator, Stagecoach Manchester), Armentieres Square is the main bus interchange. So much so that Stagecoach’s 237 route hasn’t used Stalybridge bus station since May 2011. Though moving the bus station from its present site to a site nearer the railway station might enrage locals, I have actually seen more people use Armentieres Square in recent times.
Should the new bus station be nearer to Rassbottom Street, there will be little or no effect to present-day (October 2021) bus routes. The one route that will see some modification to its town centre route will be the 343. At present, it serves both Armentieres Square and Stalybridge Bus Station. It does not (and hasn’t done since the SHMD era) offer a near-seamless transfer between bus and train services. Should the bus station be at the back of The Q Bar, this could add about two to three minutes to each journey, unless there’s a suitable road up to Caroline Street.
As we know, the Stalybridge Interchange Options Study is looking at moving the bus station closer to Rassbottom Street than that present. The question, one might ask is “whereabouts?”
Some of the potential sites have been stymied by non-rail-related developments on former railway land. The fire station is on what used to be the station’s goods warehouse. The trackbed of the former Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, which led to the L&YR station behind the present building has light industrial units. As for the subway side entrance from Market Street to the railway station, that was demolished near 50 years ago with some brickwork remaining. In its place is light industrial units. On the site of the southerly goods yards is Bayley Street Recycling Centre and a lorry park.
This leaves the site of IMI Range as a possible favourite. One downside is its distance from the railway station if its southerly entrance (after some construction work) isn’t reinstated. If buses were to access Stalybridge Interchange from Harrop Street, Hully Street or Chapel Street, there may be conflicting movements with heavy goods vehicles. From a road safety view and operational point of view, a possible nightmare. That could be rectified by the Compulsory Purchase Order of small business units and Broadhurst Transport’s yard.
Another possible site could be off Crossley Street, Harrop Street and Chapel Street near The Q Bar. This could be made possible by the compulsory purchase of workshops on Chapel Street. A trapezium shaped site could cover between 50,000 to 75,000 square feet which should provide space for passenger facilities, a place for drivers to lay over and a taxi rank.
One problem with having the site south of the railway station is the lack of seamless journey experience. It is likely that The Greater Manchester Stations Alliance would like to see its TfGM Travelshop in the present-day station building (as at Altrincham where TfGM staff can sell you a System One travel card and an Anytime Day Return to Knutsford).
The northern side of the Stalybridge station site is constrained by a tight concourse and the present site of Stalybridge Fire Station. This is where the wonder of hindsight could have solved a few issues for the Stalybridge Interchange Options Study. Had the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway station platform and trackbed not been demolished, its trackbed and platform could have been good for Metrolink trams. Any spare land from the goods yard could have been used for buses, and the goods warehouse could have been a neat mixed-use development (and house the TfGM Travelshop, a Greggs or Caffe Grande Abaco and crew relief facilities on the ground and first floors).
Developing the northern side of the station site could mean relocating the fire station to another part of Stalybridge. Given the industrial nature, Bayley Street could be a potential site for a new Stalybridge Fire Station. The light industrial units could be relocated to the present Fire Station site, a little nearer to Stamford Drive. This would require some remodelling of the access road to the fire station and incumbent industrial units. The bus and tram section could be directly north of the station building.
What kind of bus station for Stalybridge?
If the newest version of Stalybridge bus station is going to be the greatest thing since Ian Cooke’s winning goal against Emley (or Don Cooke’s stint at Bower Fold), it needs to have the following:
- Toilet facilities (including a Changing Places lavatory);
- Cycle lockers;
- Crew relief facilities;
- A taxi rank;
- A free-to-use cash machine (Stalybridge is distinctly lacking in ATMs at the moment);
- Real time bus information;
- Layover facilities (also a must for bus replacement service vehicles).
In the interests of passenger security and road safety, a single terminal layout works best. Examples of best practice with towns a similar size to Stalybridge could be seen with Lancashire’s bus stations. Rawtenstall, which has a population of 23,000, has a single terminal bus station that blends in with the town’s architecture very well. Opening in November 2019, it replaced the previous structure on Bacup Road, costing £3.5 million to build with eight stands. Nelson, slightly bigger in population size than Stalybridge, has a dazzling nine-stand bus station that is fully integrated with its railway station. Architecturally, it is nothing on Rawtenstall, but it’s a vast improvement on its predecessor which was under a car park.
Some of Metro West Yorkshire’s smaller bus stations could be a suitable model for Stalybridge Bus Station Mark III. Ossett’s bus station is a compact six-stand example which (again) is an improvement on its narrow leaky eight-stand island platform. If economy is a concern, Cleckheaton’s bus station is another fine example. With six stands, one stand is designed for nighttime use when the terminal building is closed for the night.
Less suitable, and filed under ‘afterthought’ in bus station design is Hemsworth Bus Station. This is part of the town’s TESCO store and has five stands. Though it might have The Best Bus Station Toffee Shop and a better than average café for such a facility, its toilets are the in-store lavatories. Its access road is shared with delivery lorries, making this a triumph of design for privatised public space. In Fort William, the same could be said of its bus station, which is an eight-stand affair on the side of its Morrisons store. Where it improves upon Hemsworth is its integration with the railway station and its taxi rank.
What about the site of the present-day bus station?
The predictable answer to that question could be new-build flats. The addition of new-build development would make for a claustrophobic approach to the one-time Lancashire end of the town centre. Instead, there is potential for another public square. which could be another site for a much-expanded Stalybridge Street Feast open market. Perhaps the name of the public square could be called Wharton Square (dedicated to the memory of Arthur Wharton, the first English black footballer, late of Stalybridge Rovers). Or Talbot Square, to remind people of the late great Talbot pub. To remind tourists of its previous use, public art could include a sculpted version of ELG 40F – one of SHMD’s idiosyncratic dual door Daimler Fleetlines.
One more thing… where do you think the site of Stalybridge’s new station should be?
Do you think moving Stalybridge bus station towards Rassbottom Street is a good idea? Can you think of other suitable sites or ideas? Feel free to comment.
S.V., 06 October 2021.