Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Doomsday: Metrolink Will Devastate the Mersey Valley

In my recent post, ‘The Great Mersey Valley Revolt of 1990’ (08.05.2009) I related how, recently, I had seen contractors drilling in the old UMIST Playing Fields at Hardy Farm. I’ve since received some more information on this from John Leech MP and, at the instigation of Councillor Val Stevens, from Jane Archer who works as Regeneration Co-ordinator for Manchester City Council.
The land is currently owned by the University of Manchester and a potential purchaser is interested in bringing the land back into use as playing fields. The potential purchaser is carrying out site investigations to check if the ground conditions are suitable. There appear to have been some preliminary discussions with the Planning Department. So, thank you to our local politicians for providing this information.

Nevertheless, my thoughts are: do we really need any more playing fields? There is a huge area of playing fields at Hough End, the University has vast acres of playing fields at Kenworthy, on the other side of the river, and just across the Manchester/Trafford border, at Turn Moss in Stretford, there are playing fields so vast in extent that you could probably fit the entire population of Greater Manchester on to them - with room to spare. And all of this open space is empty, most of the time. Occasionally (very occasionally), at weekends, you might glimpse a few lads playing football on them but at other times they are empty and unused. Such ‘urban deserts’ are useless for wildlife and they don’t seem to do much for the majority of the human population either. They seem to exist just so that they can be obsessively mowed. By contrast the so-called ‘derelict’ fields at Hardy Farm are very rich in wildlife. For example, I have found five species of orchid on them (plus hybrids).

It is also worrying that I am picking up vague hints and clues that the refurbished playing fields at Hardy Farm may be floodlit. This will be very bad news for the (currently) healthy population of bats which live in this area.

But all of this pales into insignificance compared to the havoc that will be wrought on the whole area if Metrolink is driven through. Following an article in the South Manchester Reporter (14.05.2009) this is now looking more likely than ever. The front page article headlined: “Two tram lines: No congestion charge” states that: “Two new Metrolink lines are to be created in south Manchester. The tracks, which will link Chorlton with Didsbury and Withington, as well as Manchester Airport, are part of a £1.4 billion transport bonanza across Greater Manchester.
The package will be brought in without the need for a congestion charge and will finally see the completion of the Big Bang of the Metrolink network.”
Much of the rest of the article appears to be about various local politicians congratulating themselves on achieving this coup (although, if they’ve achieved it this easily, why did we need the congestion charge?).

Anyway, I suppose, on balance, the Metrolink is a good thing (although anyone who uses the existing lines at rush hour may not agree with me!). In addition the links between Old Trafford, through Chorlton to Didsbury will use existing old railway lines. Sadly, though, these old lines have become rich in wildlife since they were abandoned and much of this will be lost – at a time when we can’t afford to lose much more wildlife. Nevertheless, as an ardent conservationist and environmentalist it’s hard for me to argue against improvements to the local public transport network.

But the line across the Mersey Valley to Wythenshawe and the Airport is a very different matter. To build this new line will require massive and intrusive engineering works which will completely change the character of this central part of the Valley and the surrounding area. Let’s look at some of the implications behind this scheme – although, in the absence of detailed plans, there are more questions than answers. Much of what follows is semi-speculative, but is based on vague maps published with the literature on the TIFF bid and even vaguer maps published in local newspapers.
Somewhere around the Hough End area a spur will branch off the Old Trafford to Didsbury line and go down the centre of Mauldeth Road West. Anyone who knows this road will know that it is blessed with dozens of fine, mature trees – but, presumably all of these will need to be felled. It will then cross Barlow Moor Road and proceed down Hardy Lane. It is then supposed to cross the area known as Lower Hardy Farm (that area of semi-mature woodland between Hardy Farm and Chorlton Golf Course). This will represent a really major loss of biodiversity; Lower Hardy Farm is one of the richest areas in the central Mersey Valley and a Site of Biological Importance. Then a bridge across the river will be required and this will need to be a substantial structure. On the other side of the river the line is supposed to proceed on to Sale Water Park. But the burning question is: where will the crossing be, exactly? One possibility is Sale Golf Course – but this is unlikely – golfers tend to be influential people and won’t take kindly to the prospect of losing a chunk of their playground. So, the most likely crossing point is Jackson’s Boat and Rifle Road. And this will be a major tragedy: the footbridge and the Pub are in many ways the focal point for the Mersey Valley and the Metrolink threatens to remove that focus. Next to the pub is a fine grove of beech and sycamore trees and these will be threatened, as will the mature trees along Rifle Road. At Sale Water Park a Park & Ride car park and station are indicated, which implies more loss of open space and more disturbance. According to the Reporter article the line then turns south east, running parallel to the motorway, before eventually crossing it into Northern Moor. According to the TIFF bid literature it then takes a somewhat circuitous route to Wythenshawe centre and the Airport.

Is this is all really to do with Airport expansion, I wonder? In that light the Metro seems a lot less environmentally friendly, doesn’t it? In fact it looks more and more like the same old, same old trashing of the environment for profit (surely not!).

And just building the line won’t be an end to the matter. Let’s just think back to those old sports pitches at Hardy Farm. I’m thinking a floodlit, all weather sports centre, with all the facilities, just a short walk away from the proposed Hardy Lane Metro stop, perhaps? And how many flats could developers cram into that end of Hardy Lane, do you think? I’ll leave you to work it out!
And what about the enormous loss of biodiversity implied by all of this. Never mind. No doubt the Council and the developers will promise to plant lots and lots of trees for all of those that they chop down. Don’t be fooled, though. Tree planting is pure tokenism and has very little to do with conservation. In Oliver Rackham’s words, “tree planting is a sign that conservation has failed”.

Dave Bishop, May 2009


Paul ankers said...

I had been labouring under the misapprehension that the line was imminent too.
I thought progress of a line to at least wytenshawe hospital was part of the scheme outlined in recent weeks.
The spur to Didsbury is due in the next few years, but the line that would cut through the Mersey Valley is not.
However, what we have is time on our side to lead the line through the least devastating area possible. That may well be Princess Parkway, or that might not be possible.

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