Jonathan Schofield and a "result" from Transport from Greater Manchester

They like Stella Artois in Pioneer Quay. The cans of gassy beer, derisively nick-named ‘wife-beater’, lie as thick as autumn leaves in planters that last saw a real flower several years ago. Heineken cans blossom occasionally but it's definitely Stella that's the dominate species.

It looks like Pioneer Quay, this potentially beautiful and impressive part of Castlefield, has been abandoned.

It looks like that because it has.

Pioneer Quay is so called not because of a rich historical legacy. It is called Pioneer Quay because of Marie Ashworth from Bury

It has been abandoned by its owner, the public body that is Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM). We mentioned Pioneer Quay in the Castlefield article that created a stir back in July.

Pioneer Quay lies between Deansgate, the Rochdale Canal and the Metrolink Viaduct. It's passed by tens of thousands every week who should be taking a break there from their daily travails and travels. Mancunians and guests should be sat amongst verdant lawns and graceful willows on canal banks alive with… er… well... life, rather than cans of Stella.

What we also have in Pioneer Quay are the handsome manmade bare bones providing an impressive frame for what should be a gorgeous place. Particularly lovely is the warm Manchester sandstone bedrock exposed by canal workings more than two hundred years ago. There is water on two sides and a fine cobbled lane dating from when the place was a coal wharf. The whole area is south facing for that summer sun and there's the drama of the arches and walls of a fifteen-metre-high railway wall to the north.

Pioneer Quay Castlefield
The sandstone walls cut by canal companies make for an attractive addition to the site Image: Confidentials

Presently Pioneer Quay is full of rubbish and literally, shit, plus lots of the detritus of occupation by rough sleepers. Meanwhile the whole place is overgrown with thickets of ivy, willow and bramble that turn it into a jungle adventure movie just to walk through. Rewilding this is not, it's abandonment. 

What’s not to like? Well, everything at the moment, as these pictures show.

Pioneer Quay 4
Stella, Stella everywhere and not a drop to drink Image: Confidentials
Pioneer Quay 1
Underneath the arches I threw my litter away Image: Confidentials

Confidentials asked TfGM this.

"Pioneer Quay in Castlefield, Manchester, is owned by Transport for Greater Manchester. It is a filthy and hazardous tip at present. (We are) doing another Castlefield story focussing on Pioneer Quay and would like to know what currently is happening to this site in a showpiece area of the city. Please may we have a response as to the plans for the future of Pioneer Quay and what remedial action TfGM intend to take in the short term."

TfGM delivered an answer. And it’s good. It’s a start.

A spokesperson for TfGM said: “Our long-term plan for Pioneer Quay is for the site to be part of the wider Castlefield Quay redevelopment. 

“Working with local stakeholders, including Manchester City Council and the National Trust, we are reviewing how future Metrolink and operational requirements may be integrated into a cohesive development opportunity. 

“TfGM remain committed to bringing forward development in this area, but in the interim we fully appreciate that Pioneer Quay needs to be looked after. 

“To this end we have commissioned contractors to undertake landscaping and maintenance work to ensure that it is a safe space for the public to use.”

Pioneer Quay From The Other Side Of The Rochdale Canal
Pioneer Quay from the other side of the Rochdale Canal - this picture taken in summer Image: Confidentials

We then asked if there was a timeframe for these contractors to give it a proper clean.

The answer was “We’ve been informed by the contractors it should be this week, if not early next week.”

That is a bit of a “result” as they say in football. 

It might be a shock for the contractors about how much they have to clear up. 

Pioneer Quay 6
Pioneer Quay is flowering with all the wrong things Image: Confidentials

Calum McGowan of local residents and businesses group, Castlefield Forum, says: "We are very pleased Pioneer Quay is to be given a spruce-up. It’s long been a problem location and although it has massive potential to become an enchanting green space it often attracts antisocial behaviour. We are hopeful the clean-up will make it a safer place to explore. 

"Of course, the main problem with Pioneer Quay is that it doesn’t actually connect to surrounding areas and thus lacks general footfall," McGowan continues. "It would be sensational if it were to become a new through-route to other parts of Castlefield including the Castlefield Viaduct and the Scheduled Ancient Monument of the last remaining genuine piece of Manchester's Roman Fort, which is, after all, where the city began."

McGowan has a point, connectivity would massively enhance the site, although high-level maintenance and landscaping would increase football immensely without the need to increase access. 

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The rather fine cobbled road through the site Image: Confidentials

We have asked TfGM how cleaning and maintenance will be programmed going forward and we'll report back when we get an answer. 

Clearly the site is up for sale as a “development opportunity”. What we need now is a philanthropist to stand in, buy the site and make it into the glorious place it could be - anyone out there? There’s room under those vast railway arches for a bar or even some really entertaining modern structure, an office or gallery perhaps that might help to pay for landscaping the rest of the area.

Dreams. Of course.

But, in the short-term at least we know the space is going to be given some care. So, given the positive response to a problem being pointed out, this is good news from TfGM. A solution, albeit a temporary one, has been found. 

By the way Pioneer Quay is so called not because of a rich historical legacy. It is called Pioneer Quay because of Marie Ashworth from Bury. 

She won '"The Quay with No Name" competition in 1987 on BBC Radio Manchester's Phil Sayer's show. Her winning entry was in honour of the Rochdale Pioneers who set up the first successful UK cooperative in 1844. Presumably the logic behind linking a part of Manchester to the Rochdale Pioneers was that the Rochdale Canal runs past the Castlefield site. 

That there was a competition at all hints there was a clear idea, back then, probably through the Central Manchester Development Corporation, to make something happen on the site, make the place a special destination. 

Wonder what prize Marie Ashworth got for naming "The Quay with No Name"? Maybe a 24 pack of Stella Artois.  

Read next: Drama of The City: Droning on about Manchester

Read again: The Visit: Ordsall Hall

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