Pic Matt Buck Commons

The Port of Manchester is long gone. The docks were redeveloped as Salford Quays and MediaCity, but that’s not the end of the story for the Manchester Ship Canal, one of the engineering wonders of the Late Victorian age.

Reports of its demise were premature. The canal, opened 123 years ago, is thriving again under the stewardship of the Peel Ports Group and the volume of shipping along its 36-mile length is increasing.

Already a vibrant trading hub for bulk liquids and dry bulk cargo, with 7.5 million tonnes passing through each year, the canal is also seeing a dramatic rise in container traffic with the development of Port Salford and the success of the Manchester Shuttle, linking Liverpool and Barton-on-Irwell.

Barges designed to carry 250 containers each shipped 3,000 in 2009 rising to 22,500 in 2013. The figure is forecast to top 100,000 by 2030 – drastically reducing the number of lorries on the roads between the two cities, it’s backers claim.

The development of Port Salford and renaissance of the ship canal is part of Peel’s gigantic Atlantic Gateway project, said to be the most significant opportunity in the UK to accelerate growth and rebalance the economy, achieving levels of growth not previously attained outside London.

The scheme has the potential to create 250,000 new jobs on Merseyside and along the length of the ship canal in the next 15 years involving £14 billion of new investment. It is a critical part of the Northern Powerhouse ambition. It is ironic that the ship canal, conceived and built to compete with the Port of Liverpool, is now part of the same grand plan.

The bitter 10-year battle for the ownership of the ship canal, which ended in 1993 with Peel emerging as victor, was never about ships and cargo. It was about property and at its heart was a patch of real estate near the hamlet of Dumplington on which Peel developed the Trafford Centre. Salford city council had already used a derelict land grant to purchase the docks and develop Salford Quays.

By the mid-1980s traffic on the upper reaches of the canal had declined to such and extent that its owners had considered closing it above Runcorn – which makes its current resurgence all the more remarkable. Key to the future is the £138 million expansion of Port Salford, due for completion by the end of this year.

The plans include massive regeneration of the canal and the surrounding area on a site on the north bank adjacent to the City of Salford Stadium – home of Salford City Reds Rugby League Club. It has become the UK’s first “tri-modal” inland waterway port served by ship, rail and road and is now fully operational.

Described as a “ground-breaking” development, it includes an inland port and warehousing facility, container terminal and major distribution park. A giant 280,00 sq ft warehouse building is now in use for food and drink logistic specialists Culina Group following a £23 million investment by Peel Land and Property. Ultimately the complex will provide a gigantic 1.6 million sq ft of warehouse space.

Work on the delivery of improved berthing facilities and railway connections are also underway, as is the scheme to construct the widest lifting bridge in the UK that will link Salford and Trafford via and extended A57.

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