Restaurateur Steve Pilling has won the bid to overhaul the Produce Hall - but some locals are unhappy

After pouring over the three applicants vying to be part of the £7 million transformation of Stockport’s Market Place and Underbanks area, the town council has chosen ex-Damson and Chophouse boss Steven Pilling as the preferred operator of the Produce Hall and its neighbouring units, as part of a wider £1 billion investment programme.

The aim of Stockport Council was to find a capable anchor tenant for the two historic buildings as part of a plan to help transform the town centre into a must-visit destination which attracts a significant rise in the number of visitors, much as Nick Johnson has done over in Altrincham and the Mackie Mayor in Manchester.

Pilling has amassed over three decades of hospitality experience, having set up and run the now closed Damson restaurants, Sam’s Chop House and Athenaeum in the city centre, La Cantina and Roost in Heaton Moor and the Dockyard ‘industrial chic alehouses’ in Spinningfields and Media City, as well as the Gasworks Brewbar on First Street. 

He is also co-owner of new pub group Pilling & Pride behind Didsbury’s Dog and Partridge and the soon to re-open Stonemasons in Timperley.

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Restaurateur Steven Pilling has won the bid to transform Stockport's Produce Hall

A statement by Stockport Council claimed that the panel’s decision was unanimous and that 'Mr Pilling’s application clearly demonstrated how his vision and plans for both the Produce Hall and 28/29 Market Place will truly transform the area. His submissions were built upon a strong financial foundation and wealth of proven success, giving the Council confidence that the plans will be both transformational, successful and financially sustainable for the future.'

But the decision comes as a serious blow to the team behind Stockport’s Foodie Friday, one of the unsuccessful bidders, despite the proven success of their Fringe Festival, Folk Festival, The Teenage Market and monthly Foodie Friday events which won Manchester Food & Drink Festival’s award for Best Pop-Up Project in 2016.

Stockport Foodie Friday
Stockport Foodie Friday: "We feel incredibly disappointed"

In a statement posted via their social media accounts, they said: “We feel incredibly disappointed that Stockport Council has taken the decision not to support our plans to create a modern market space for the local community in The Produce Hall, despite the fact that it has been supported online by 4,000+ people.

"In making this decision, it is quite clear that the Leader of Stockport Council, Cllr. Alex Ganotis, the Executive Member for Economy and Regeneration, Cllr. Kate Butler, and the Labour Cabinet have prioritised the corporate desires of council executives over the needs of the local community."

“They have also rejected the chance to support the development of our delivery partners, who are all Stockport-based independent food and drink traders, in favour of Steve Pilling, an individual businessman from outside the town centre who wants to capitalise on all the success that we have achieved through the delivery of Foodie Friday.”

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Stockport's Produce Hall is to become a casual dining hub

The grade II-listed Produce Hall measures 3,300 sq ft on the ground floor with a 900 sq ft mezzanine. Pilling plans to turn it into a casual dining hub incorporating a mix of permanent food and drink outlets based along the lines of his current venues, along with a rotating selection of guest pop-ups and street food traders. There will also be space for live music and ‘immersive theatre’.  

The neighbouring two units at 28-29 Market Place are currently occupied by Blackshaws Café and are to be turned into a 1,400 sq ft restaurant. This is expected to enhance the town’s reputation as a dining destination following the success of nearby restaurants such as Where The Light Gets In and the Allotment vegan restaurant.

'Disappointed and very short sighted of Stockport council...'

Councillor Kate Butler, Cabinet Member for Economy and Regeneration stated: “We've been working hard to ensure the Market Place is a key feature of our plans for town centre regeneration. We are serious about unlocking the potential of the whole area to see it thrive and become a must-visit destination both locally and from further afield.

“Offering long-term leases on the Produce Hall and 28/29 Market Place is central to our ambitions and will allow these much loved, council-owned premises to play a significant role in drawing visitors in to shop, relax and enjoy the unique charm and character of Stockport's beautiful historic core.

“From a field of very strong applicants we chose the bidder who most clearly demonstrated a sound, sustainable and transformational offer. We look forward to working with Steve Pilling in what will be a new exciting chapter in the life of Stockport's treasured Market Place.”

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28/29 Market Place will become a restaurant

But the council's response hasn't washed with many locals, some of whom have accused the council of 'selling out' and betraying local enterprise.

One Facebook commentator said: 'Really disappointing news, especially in the face of providing local businesses and traders a platform to be noticed and thrived. Like someone else said above, I hope there is an appeals process available. Clearly no thought has been given to local residents and the community who support Foodie Friday.'

Another said: 'Disappointed and very short sighted of Stockport council. Look what Altrincham market has done to the regeneration of that area. Sold out to a corporate, disgusting.'