Jonathan Schofield picks out some stories from the city

Police, protests and priorities

The Save Ryebank Fields campaign in Chorlton wrote to on Monday with this. 

‘Protesters and police currently at Ryebank Fields. The developers are commencing intrusive survey works including drilling etc. Residents are extremely concerned that despite repeated requests neither Friends of Ryebank Fields nor residents have been shown any licenses or permits to commence the work, which is taking place during the bird nesting season and could potentially lead to wildlife crimes being committed. The developers’ PR firm told us they were going to commence work May bank holiday weekend, however locals have stood guard on the gate every day since then. A response on 14th June to an FOI (Freedom of Information request) from a local resident shows Man City Council had no record of any licenses or permits at that point, begging the question - did they have the necessary paperwork when they attempted to begin work? There are currently around 20 local residents at the entrance to the fields, along with police, contractors and MMU campus security.’

This has been a protracted battle between Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and some residents over the ten or so acre former landfill and then playing fields site. MMU with favoured developers Step Places and Southway working with 5plus architects want to build 120 homes, 20% affordable (although that’s a very loose term), a community hub, walking and cycling routes and retain more than three acres of green space rising to five acres across the site.   

The protesters are passionate about Ryebank Fields and carry a deep emotional connection developed over the last few years, some of which borders on the magical and mystical. 

But is a new housing development on a brownfield site wrong when all parties in the General Election are stressing the desperate need for housing? It’s not as though the area is not served with plenty of green space already. 

The 54 acres of Longford Park lie alongside Ryebank Fields and quarter of a mile away there are hundreds and hundreds of acres of green space along the Mersey valley. If there are natural areas retained within the development plans for Ryebank Fields and the area already has such natural assets, surely and using a cool head, the critical need for housing is the important point here? 

However, if the developer has overstepped the mark with regard to correct licenses and permits then perhaps work should stop until they have them. Still, this would only result in a stay of execution for Ryebank Fields as it's presently composed. 

This is David Adamson's article about Ryebank Fields from March 2023.

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Ryebank Fields, due to be redeveloped Image: Confidentials

Old University Quad beautifully landscaped

Back to greenery again but this time with an uncontroversial story, indeed a lovely story. The tarmac desert of the Old Quadrangle of the University of Manchester has become a calm oasis filled with plants, lawns and even pools. Given the wonderful work by both MMU and the University in recent years (this was our story) in making the various campuses bloom again then this architecturally gorgeous space  was always the outlier in terms of its landscaping. Now Iteriad designers have delivered something valuable, which, despite all the box-ticking sustainability bits and bobs, succeeds because it is beautiful and tasteful.

To quote the official line: ‘Existing trees were preserved in the design, while the introduction of an elliptical central lawn, 16 new trees, and 4,500 new plants will offer a biodiversity net gain of over 80%. Log piles and shallow pools will also provide habitats and a water source for birds and insects, alongside bat and birdboxes.’  

Diana Hampson, Director of Estates and Facilities and Chief Property Officer, said: “After many years of envisaging a landscaped Old Quad, I am delighted that we have delivered this project in our Bicentenary year. The reimagined space, rich in biodiversity, will provide a garden heart for the University the best possible experience for students, staff, and visitors.” 

Matthew Speight, Director of Iteriad, said:“We feel privileged to have been involved in this regeneration project from inception through to completion. The vision of the University has always been to create a beautiful space that can accommodate the multi-layered functionality they require but, more importantly, it has been to create a place for people and for wildlife.” 

To sum up it all looks absolutely splendid. 

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The Old Quadrangle at the University of Manchester blossoms Image: University of Manchester (and the main image at the top of the page)

£3.5m Link Building links nothing

It’s just bloody annoying. The £3.5m spent in 2015 on the massively controversial Library Walk link building between the Town Hall Extension and Central Library seems to have been an utter waste of money. The idea was to link Central Library with the exquisite Rates Hall in the Town Hall Extension. This was odd because they were already accessibly linked at basement level and the new link building would needlessly ruin the graceful curve of Library Walk. After a protracted protest campaign which went as far as the Secretary of State planning permission was given.

That was then, since Covid the link has been cut, the Rates Hall closed, after use as a vaccination centre, and now the doors in the link building appear to be malfunctioning as well. The result is the link building links nothing. It’s only function is as a sort of pointless £3.5m 10m long umbrella on Library Walk. 

So will the link building become a link again and give us access to one of the best inter-war civic spaces in the country in the Rates Hall. The answer is not yet and probably not for a long time. 

A spokesperson told us: ‘Proposals for the Rates Hall are ongoing and more information will be made public when appropriate. The intention is that it will reopen to the public - along with the entrance that links to Central Library via Library Walk. The Rates Hall remains closed currently to minimise the cost of heating, cleaning and patrolling the space.’ What does ‘when appropriate’ mean, what’s the timescale? Who knows? 

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The Rates Hall, now unreachable Image: Confidentials

OBE for Sally MacDonald – too right 

Congratulations to Sally MacDonald. The immensely talented and charming Director of the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester has been awarded an OBE for services to the arts and heritage in the 2024 King’s Birthday Honours list. MacDonald who grew up in Withington, has led the museum for the last ten years, ‘securing over £40m to date to spearhead the repair and regeneration of its globally significant site for everyone who lives in and visits the city’.  

MacDonald says: “It’s a great recognition of the wonderful work of everyone at the museum and all our partners across the city and beyond. We are all passionate about the role that museums and heritage can play in inspiring the next generation of innovators and creating opportunities for young people to realise the future ideas that will change the world”.   

Among visible successes have been the award-winning Special Exhibitions Gallery from 2021, the recent restoration of the Station Agent’s House with Landmark Trust. The big moment will come when the Power Hall reopens next year. There are a myriad future plans too. 

With the award of the OBE, for a fee MacDonald can now officially commission a coat of arms: suggests one sporting a big steam engine.

The award of an OBE is totally merited given MacDonald's long and fruitful career and her present work with the Science and Industry Museum here. 

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Sally MacDonald, an award-winning director Image: Science and Industry Museum in Manchester

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