Friday, 8 May 2009

The Great Mersey Valley Revolt of 1990

When I first moved to Chorlton, in 1972, the fields on either side of the path which leads from Brookburn Road, Chorltonville to Jackson’s Boat Bridge were being used as a tip for household waste. Over the next couple of years the tip was capped off and the fields to the left of the path converted into playing fields for the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). In 1990 Chorlton’s historian, the late John Lloyd, wrote a rather melancholy piece for the South Manchester Reporter (1) lamenting the loss of the ancient ‘Boat Meadow’ which was buried forever under the tip:

“It was there that we went with our sledges where the snow covered banks offered the only slope steep enough.
We went collectively to the Boat Meadow for the Sunday School Sports at Whitsuntide...
We valued the isolation it offered when we tentatively experimented with smoking. Later we did our courting there...
And then UMIST took away our beloved Boat Meadow with its diagonal path with the bump half-way along it [and] the water-course where we annually gathered the frog spawn and which we daringly crossed by balancing on the exposed sewer pipe.
They replaced it with a clinically perfect sward and now they want to spoil it even further.”

The trouble was the “sward” wasn’t “clinically perfect”. The underlying tip settled unevenly, the playing fields became bumpy and waterlogged and, by the mid-1980s, had to be abandoned for sporting purposes. In the meantime the abandoned playing fields and adjoining areas, such as the ‘Hardy Farm‘ site (now the ‘Hardy Farm Fruit Woodland’) and Lower Hardy Farm, became richer and richer in wild life. At least five species of orchid and numerous other plants have been recorded from these areas as well as many species of birds and butterflies.

At some point in 1989 or 1990 (I can’t remember exactly when) I was walking towards Jackson’s Boat and noticed that a hole had been dug by the path and part of the underlying tip exposed. I thought no more of it but some time later I spotted a planning notice pinned to the back of a post where, presumably, it was hoped that it wouldn’t be noticed. The plan was to stabilise the playing fields by dumping builders’ rubble on them and then to re-establish the pitches on top. As the year 1990 progressed the full ‘horror’ of the plan became apparent. Up to 50 lorries a day would be driving up and down Hardy Lane for five years. Eventually an artificial plateau would be established up to 12 feet high and 50 acres in extent. UMIST stood to make around £2 million pounds from this exercise – which was probably the real reason why they were so keen on it. As far as we were able to ascertain UMIST had not even considered the impact on the local community or environment.

A local Action Group was set up to oppose this monstrous plan. The Group was certainly well supported and lobbied local politicians as well as national personalities such a Prince Charles and David Bellamy (2).
I remember attending a packed public meeting in a church hall on Hardy Lane. The meeting was addressed by a representative of Robinson Fletcher Ltd. who were “acting as agents” for UMIST (presumably they would be doing the actual tipping). This representative assured us that everything would be fine, there was nothing to worry our little heads about and at the end of the exercise we, the local community, would have brand new sports facilities (this was the first that we had heard about the new sports fields being made available to anyone but UMIST students). I can still hear the great collective roar that nearly blew the patronising git off the stage:
In September of that year a ‘Protest Picnic’ was organised on the existing fields by the Action Group. Between 750 and 1,000 people turned up and the guest of honour was Benny Rothman (see picture) who had been one of the organisers of the famous Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932 (Mr Rothman is in the centre of the picture above and see ref. 3 for more information on the Kinder Trespass).
The rest of the story is a bit hazy. If I remember correctly the local planners turned down UMIST’s application and they appealed. Eventually the matter went to a public enquiry – but UMIST failed to turn up and the plan was thrown out.

And that was how matters stood until last Tuesday morning (5th May 2009) when I noticed contractors drilling test holes all over the playing fields. Of course UMIST is now amalgamated with Manchester University and they now have the problem of useless playing fields. If the example of Ryebank Fields is anything to go by, the University will only be interested in getting the maximum return from ‘their’ land (is it really 'their' land - aren't they a public body and isn't it really public land?). And like UMIST before them they will have little interest in the impact of any plan on the local community or environment. You would think that a ‘centre of learning’ would value a site of Biological Importance that they happen to ‘own’ – but don’t bank on it.
Of course this whole central part of the Mersey Valley is already under threat from the proposed route of the Metro Link to the airport. I’ve also heard rumours that Hardy Lane could also be extended across the river to join up with the motorway. We could be due to lose a huge area of open space – with all of its attendant wildlife very quickly.
If we value our local environment WE NEED TO BE VIGILANT FROM NOW ON!

Dave Bishop, May 2009


1. ‘When Chorlton Ees was an island in a Saxon River’ by John Lloyd, The South Manchester Reporter, 28.09.1990.

2. ‘UMIST vow: ‘We won’t build on the meadows’’ by Sarah Doyle, The South Manchester Reporter, 07.09.1990.

3. The Kinder Trespass: Building on the Legacy: http://kindertrespass.com/index.asp?ID=26

1 comment:

toast said...

Very interesting Dave, I spotted the diggers out there the other day and i presumed that it was something to do with the proposed metrolink, but i have never heard about the extension of Hardy Lane - that's quite a terrifying thought.