At first sight Escape is just another bar in a suburb that has seen many new bars and restaurants open (and some close) over the last decade. But I reckon the proprietors of Escape are heroes for bravely investing in what was a rundown shopping parade opposite Chorlton Bus Station. When a couple of restaurants, along with an upmarket boutique, followed them another little patch of Manchester was regenerated.
So successful have the entrepreneurs behind Escape and other bars and restaurants been, it’s not uncommon for the odd Birmingham celebrity to come over all jealous and we’ve a perilous shortage of chefs. Meanwhile, those who don’t like it can sell up for a tidy profit and move to one of the many dormitory suburbs common to any city. Everybody wins.
Yet local Lib Dems Cllr Tony Bethell and Cllr John Leech MP are most upset. To them Escape represents the worst excesses of Labour’s 24 hour licensing policy; a rather silly claim given that Escape is clearly closed in the Lib Dem’s photo and Chorlton has no 24 hour drinking dens. (Bethell and Leech have well earned reputations for being economical with the truth.)
Sadly, despite headline grabbing ethical clothing stores and Beech Road’s trendy boutiques, the high street is still dominated by charity shops and there’s no shortage of units sporting for sale signs. The claim that bars and restaurants drive out traditional local shops is simply nonsense.
Yet Cllr Tony Bethell lives right by a failed shopping parade in the middle of a former council estate; the Merseybank shops (or rather ex-shops, as most are boarded up). So you’d think he’d understand that there is no queue of traditional shopkeepers desperate to get into Chorlton. The good people of Merseybank have no interest in returning to 1950s shopping habits, dividing their shopping between small independent butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, bakers and the like offering limited product ranges and poor service at inflated prices.
Bethell and Leech reckon the council should step in and convert the entire parade into a great big council service centre, which could hardly be described as a sustainable approach to urban renewal. Sadly, it’s almost certainly time to give up on the Merseybank shops, situated as they are in an area unsuitable for destination retailers or bars. Better to look to redeveloping the parade as housing which, given the location, could be relatively affordable.