Our river valleys enable social health in a community; greater access encourages sustainable commutes whilst providing multiple mental and physical wellbeing benefits. Above all, they could be key to combating effects caused by the climate change emergency.
Written by Mike Kane, MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East
“River Mersey at Sale. Hard to believe we’re surrounded by the M60 ring-road.” Photo by Paul Kleiman
In my constituency of Wythenshawe and Sale East we are lucky to have the Mersey River Valley; an urban countryside area where the Mersey intertwines between both communities of Wythenshawe in Manchester and Sale East in Trafford; it provides many square miles of open green space.
This year has been turbulent to say this least with the Covid-19 crisis. Many of us have discovered and rediscovered how important our open, green and blue spaces are to us. During the first lockdown earlier this year the Mersey path in Northenden was busier than ever, with couples, families, runners, cyclists and dog owners making the most of this incredible asset we have on our doorstep.
In Northenden we also have access to the well-loved and used Riverside Park which was awarded a Green Flag back in 2014. Before I became the local Member of Parliament, I was the elected Councillor for Northenden on Manchester City Council. One of the achievements I am most proud of during that time was the creation of the Riverside Park and overseeing the creation of the Trans Pennine trail through Manchester which runs from Liverpool to Hull. This was a key part of improving access to the Mersey and encouraging more of the local community to use the river and its banks for exercise, leisure and recreation.
I am a previous proud winner the Northenden Boat Race (kayak division) so you can see, the Mersey Valley has always been special to me and is at the heart of our community. This year more people have been dusting off their walking shoes and bikes and enjoying the Trans Pennine trail from Northenden up to Sale Water Park via Chorlton Water Park.
Crowds gather at Northenden’s annual boat race in 2019, photo by Cllr Mary Monaghan
I too have had more time to get out on my bike and explore different parts of Wythenshawe and Sale. Earlier this year I stumbled on a cycling and walking path which stretches between East and West Wythenshawe. The path connects Wythenshawe Park to the Town Centre and the Airport, two big employers in my constituency. The path navigates its way through Blackcarr Woods, parallel to Greenwood Road by the M56 and connects to existing paths on Simonsway. I have since learnt that the path was created by workers completing the M56 motorway back in the 1970s. After completing the stretch of motorway to Manchester Airport, there was still money in the pot and workers keen to earn a wage, so they built this path beside the motorway.
The path had been almost forgotten about, and due to being unmaintained over the years was overgrown and hidden away. However, back in the summer we kick started a project to bring the path back to life for walkers and cyclists to enjoy what we now call informally, the Wythenshawe Greenway. For the last few months volunteers have come together to reclaim the path and restore it to its former glory. Without the hard graft of the volunteers the path would still be in a state of disrepair. By connecting the greenway to existing path networks, you can now connect almost off road the whole way between Manchester Airport and Chorlton Water Park, opening up accessibility to the River Mersey.
‘Wythenshawe Waste Warriors’ have helped to transform the Greenway Path.
Opening this network will be key in encouraging more to use active travel for leisure and commuting. In Wythenshawe we are home to some of the biggest employers in Greater Manchester, including the airport, Wythenshawe Hospital, Airport City and our bustling industrial estates. Improving accessibility for active travel, whether that be on our river banks or existing path network will form a key part in combating the climate emergency as well as making our residents and those who commute to work here healthier.
Another way in which we can tackle the climate emergency in the Mersey Valley is by improving the eco system and protecting the habitat for our wildlife to flourish. In Northenden the heron is celebrated with the popular heron sculpture by the Riverside Park. Many local members of the community share stories of witnessing the grey heron standing proudly by Northenden Weir. The heron is not the only water bird which calls the Mersey home. You can also find goosanders, cormorants, mallards, and Canada geese to name just a few.
In recent years during the unpredictable weather, we have experienced flooding alerts along the Mersey valley, and many residents have commented that they have not witnessed such high levels before. Flooding is a risk in many parts of the country due to extreme weather conditions which are all now too common. Here in Manchester, we always assumed that we would be safe from flooding, but the horrific images of the flooding of the Irwell in recent years in Salford and Manchester City Centre alert us all to the risks.
We have lots to be thankful for in Wythenshawe and Sale East, with many of our communities having this asset on the doorstep. However, we must not be complacent and ensure that we treat the River Mersey and the valley with the respect it deserves. We want the next generation to be able to have greater access and enjoyment out of this South Manchester gem.
Mike Kane is the Member of Parliament for Wythenshawe and Sale East, he was first elected in 2014 and is currently Shadow Minister for Aviation, Maritime and Security.
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Our Rivers Our City is a project working in partnership to assess the current functionality of Manchester’s local rivers and streams, and their potential to provide multiple benefits to the city and its neighbourhoods.
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