Jonathan Schofield on the accidental park that's to disappear
There will be tantrums. There will be tears.
The development framework for the substantial patch of land between Pollard Street, the Ashton Canal and Great Ancoats Street has been announced. The Facebook group, Save New Islington Green, a very vocal community action group, have been dismayed to learn 'their green' will disappear.
They consider the 150,000 square feet of grass with its 40 trees ‘provides lots of space to breath that's crucial to the physical and mental wellbeing of thousands of residents.’ Sadly for them, that scale of public amenity will be much reduced in the new plans.
The truth is though this patch of land was never intended to be a park, or even as campaigners call it, a ‘green’
The masterplan, from General Projects, envisages large blocks of buildings, both commercial and residential, with over 300m of canal frontage. Also ‘our proposals will create 1.5 acres of public space which will be a shared for walking, running and cycling – as well as space for adults, children, and even bugs and bees!’
Bugs. Bees. Exclamation Mark. Children. Cute. Didn’t really need that bit did they? It’s an inescapable truth here though, that these plans will mean a huge reduction in the open space by around eight or nine times.
Then again this is an accidental green space created after the clearance of old industrial units, an old fire station and the Fire Station Inn which apparently majored in cider.
One report about the pub former reads: 'The cider barrels behind the bar were leaking and stinking the place out. The feller who was looking after the bar had a torn shirt and looked as if he'd just come off a 2-10 shift at Bradford Pit - he hadn't had a wash in weeks.' Nice. Maybe that 1.5 acre space in the new plans might include an orchard.
The truth is though this patch of land was never intended to be a park, or even as campaigners call it, a ‘green.’ It was always earmarked for development. It’s valuable land and the council stands to gain substantial funds at a time when all councils are cash-strapped and about to feel more COVID-19 pressure on their budget.
The plans don't look too bad either, with plenty of space for the public to perambulate within and those canal walks. Let's hope the build quality of the new structures will be up to scratch and use imagination.
Of course campaigners think the way the green areas sit between building is 'utter bullshit' as one of them remarked. One of the most vigorous campaigners appears to Alan Good, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Ancoats and Beswick. He's created an independent survey to take on the official survey from General Projects.
Confidential was confident that the idea of maintaining the totality of the site as a green space was doomed to failure.
We'd asked Sir Richard Leese whether he'd support the idea of 'New Islington Green' in June.
"There's no such thing as New Islington Green," he retorted. "That land was never a park and there's a new park at New Islington not far away anywhere. The land will be developed but there will be landscaping."
That was certainly categorical. Of course the series of pockets parks in Castlefield such as the Roman Gardens were previously built upon and in the eighties were bought for landscaping. Same goes for Hulme Park in the nineties. These prove that land that was once industrial and residential doesn't have to remain so.
However, maybe the maintenance of city-owned parks and gardens needs to be improved before another large piece of land is acquired. It seems therefore, given the cash pressures on the council there's little choice but to develop the site on Pollard Street, unless of course the residents find a sugar daddy or mama to buy it for them.
I think that first point about maintenance is crucial though. It's simply not right to say there isn't enough green space in Manchester and Salford, there is, it just needs better upkeep. The endless repetition of the 'physical and mental wellbeing' mantra can be served by existing green spaces if maintenance were anywhere near an acceptable standard. The greens spaces at the University of Manchester and MMU need to be the measure.