Jonathan Schofield welcomes 141 city centre trees but worries about 31 others

The trees are coming but some might be going. 

A collection of 140 mature trees of 43 different species have arrived in the UK ahead of being moved to their home at Manchester’s new Mayfield Park.

The trees will be part of the 6.5 acre Mayfield Park which opens to the public in autumn 2022

If you leave aside green spaces such as Cathedral Gardens which is small in scale Mayfield will be the city centre’s first new park in 100 years. When the 6.5 acre park opens to the public in autumn 2022, it will feature open lawns, riverside walkways, three new bridges over the River Medlock, play areas and a variety of seating options, ensuring all members of the community have spaces they can visit and enjoy. 

The park, a hop, skip and jump from Piccadilly Gardens will also enjoy a very distinctive and stirring backdrop of the striding riveted columns of the former Mayfield Depot currently hosting Escape to Freight Island, the food hall and entertainment company. The columns held up the platform levels of the former station and will add a sturdy, industrial quality to the park, giving the place context and, even, nobility. The park designers are Studio Egret West.

The site of Mayfield Park with Escape to Freight Island at the bottom of the image
The site of Mayfield Park with Escape to Freight Island at the bottom of the image

The park is part of the huge Mayfield scheme which covers 24 acres in total. This will deliver 1,500 homes, 1.6m sq ft of commercial space, 300,000 sq ft of retail and leisure facilities plus 14 acres of new public realm including the park. The total value of the scheme is £1.4bn and is led by Mayfield Partnership. This is a public-private venture with regeneration company U+I, Manchester City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester and developer LCR. 

The 140 trees, including Austrian Black Pines, are currently being nurtured by Knutsford, Specimen Trees. They will be moved to Mayfield in late autumn as part of a massive planting operation that will also introduce around 120,000 plants and bulbs of 250 different species to the park.

Duncan Paybody of Studio Egret West says: “We have chosen a variety of native and non-natives trees as we think it’s important that the first park of its kind in the city centre should provide a botanical collection to enlighten people’s knowledge and awareness of tree species. We have planned for time. Seasonal autumn leaf colour, spring and summer blossoms will signal different times of the year while long-lived species such as Metasequoia and red oaks will continue to grow and provide impressive scale for future generations.”

Trees set to come to Mayfield Park Manchester
Manchester bound trees being readied in Knutsford

Meanwhile, a ten minute walk away and close to Piccadilly Gardens is a surface car park occupying a site once inhabited decades ago by textile warehouses. This borders Aytoun Street with its tramlines. Around this broad expanse of tarmac are 31 very fine mature London Plane trees. These are now the subject of a provisional Tree Preservation Order from Manchester City Council and thus, for the time being, are protected. 

This is prime development land, you can almost imagine the mid-height tower block that might rise on the site. So, a campaign was started earlier in the year called Aytoun Barks Back which led to the preservation order.    

Aytoun Street trees Manchester
The Aytoun Street trees, see also the main image

Local resident, Lynette Cawthra, says: "We're absolutely (delighted) the Council agree these trees 'make a significant contribution' to the urban landscape. There are so few mature trees in the city centre that this group of 31 lovely trees are really something special.’ We'd urge people to write to the Council to make sure they’re kept safe for everyone to enjoy". 

It's now being considered whether the temporary stay of execution should be made permanent. Of course, the best course of action might be if some generous benefactor steps in, like a bold Victorian philanthropist, buys the car park and pays for its transformation into a garden, a green stepping stone from Piccadilly Station into Piccadilly Gardens. That’s unlikely to happen of course. 

Either way the Aytoun Street trees make a valuable contribution to the street scene in this part of the city and surely should be maintained. As we get good news from Mayfield about 141 trees it would be sad to lose 31 fully mature trees helping, right now, soften a tough urban landscape.  

Read next: Metrolink strikes set to cause weekend of chaos

Read again: Dogs and well-behaved owners welcome at Coach and Horses, Bolton by Bowland

Don't miss out

Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email.