Manchester’s River Valleys can Enhance the Northern Gateway

By Matt Doran, Northern Gateway Strategy & Coordination Lead

Manchester’s Northern Gateway initiative is a residential-led development programme that seeks to transform more than 120 hectares of brownfield, under-utilised land over the next 20 years. Running in a north-east direction from Victoria Station to Queens Park, this ambitious programme aims to deliver circa 15,000 new homes alongside complementary commercial and social and community uses as well as a significant amount of high-quality green space.  
According to the National Trust, Green space visits have doubled in the last decade from 1.2bn visits in 2009/10 to 2.1bn visits in 2018/19, emphasising a need for investment in urban greening of neighbourhoods.

West Gorton Featured Image

West Gorton has been given a green space boost with their brand new Community Park

A large proportion of the land in the Northern Gateway was formerly used for industrial purposes and, as we all know, where there was industry there was usually a water source.  And that brings me to the River Irk. Many people who have lived in the city for years, and even some people I know who were born and bred in the city, could be forgiven for not being aware that (quite literally) a stone’s throw from Angel Meadow and the NOMA estate is the lower section of the River Irk.

Look closely and there it is; hiding in plain sight and quietly making its way towards the depths of Victoria Station and out into the Irwell. In the coming years this long forgotten and timid water course will play a key role in the activation of the Northern Gateway development.  Opportunities such as this – a river valley on the edge of the most vibrant and dynamic city centre in the UK – are few and far between.  

Consultation design for the river irk

Smedley Dip development by the river via Place North West

The #OurRiversOurCity project believes that working together with nature we can create beautiful, sustainable and enterprising neighbourhoods with great access, and therefore respect, for our water courses. 

When I lived in Didsbury you could often find me strolling or cycling along the River Mersey on a pleasant afternoon whereas now, as a resident living closer to the city centre, although I still have access to some fantastic local parks, I have to travel much further to access to the natural riverside environment.  In future years it is my hope that I, and residents of North and Central Manchester, as well as visitors to the city, will be able to take to the Lower Irk Valley and enjoy the nature and calming environment of a revitalised River Irk, as part of the Northern Gateway’s City River Park.  

River Mersey sunny day landscape

Many have called for inclusive access, better transport links, re-wilding and even more bins.

I’m very proud to have played a part in the creation of the Northern Gateway Strategic Regeneration Framework. This document sets out a bold vision for this lower section of the Irk Valley as a cornerstone of an expansive City River Park, providing greater connectivity between the city centre and North Manchester. We now need to build on this conceptual vision and bring it to life with the help of key stakeholders such as Groundwork, TEP and the Environment Agency amongst others.  But there is a hell of a lot of work ahead of us!    

Written by Matt Doran,
Northern Gateway Strategy & Coordination Lead, Manchester City Council 


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