Manchester’s urban sky park is actually happening – and it will open this summer

Work is about to get underway on the city landmark which will create a new urban green space and breathe new life into the Victorian viaduct

Plans to create a new urban sky park for Manchester to bring more green space and nature to the Castlefield area of the city are a step closer to reality, with work about to get underway.

Due to open in July, the National Trust is aiming to turn the imposing 330 metre steel viaduct built in 1892 into a temporary park in the sky and create a meeting place to benefit people and nature that celebrates the industrial heritage of Castlefield

Originally built to carry heavy rail traffic in and out of the Great Northern Warehouse, the station closed in 1969. 

Since then it has stood unused with National Highways undertaking  essential repairs and regular maintenance to keep it safe. 

Photo: National Trust Images / James Dobson

The pilot phase of this project will see a green space created to stretch half way across the elevation of the viaduct. 

Trees, flowers and shrubs will be planted to soften the hulking, grey steel work of the industrial structure to help attract wildlife.

Made possible thanks to working in collaboration with National Highways Historical Railways Estate Team, supported by Manchester City Council, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Transport for Greater Manchester, the local community, businesses and supporters, the project will be open for 12 months.  

During this time visitors will have the opportunity to not only explore part of the structure, but to find out more about the viaduct’s heritage, the city’s long relationship with plants and trees, and have the opportunity to learn some urban gardening tips.

Photo: National Trust Images / James Dobson

A section of the viaduct will be left untouched to provide a sense of how nature has reclaimed the space since the site was closed to the late 1960s. 

It will also have several new features including installations, a community space to hold events and other native planting. 

The charity also aims to capture visitors’ opinions when they visit to help determine the longer term future of the Grade II listed structure. 

“This is a hugely significant moment in our plans for creating a unique green space to benefit the surrounding community and to bring more nature to people’s doorsteps,” says Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust.

“The project is also a fantastic way to celebrate our industrial heritage, bringing it to life for the 21st Century.

Image ©Twelve Architects & Masterplanners

“The pandemic showed us the importance of our local parks and gardens, but it also highlighted significant inequalities in access to green space in urban areas like Manchester.

“By working with others, we aim to increase access to parks and green spaces in, around, and near urban areas, so eventually everyone is in easy reach of quiet places for reflection with wide open skies.

“We hope that ‘greening’ the viaduct will become a stepping-stone to other Manchester green spaces and nearby attractions, adding to the city’s vibrant, cultural offer.”

Image ©Twelve Architects & Masterplanners

Costing £1.8 million, the pilot has been made possible thanks to funding raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, as well as public donations which will cover two-thirds of the build costs.

“Having access to green spaces and being able to connect with nature has such a huge impact on our wellbeing, so I’m delighted funding raised by our players is helping bring this to Manchester’s city centre and breathing life into this iconic piece of the city’s heritage at the same time,” says Laura Chow, People’s Postcode Lottery.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the project come alive in July.”

Image ©Twelve Architects & Masterplanners

The plans for Castlefield Viaduct are part of the National Trust’s Urban Places work to increase access to parks and green spaces in, around, and near urban areas, so that more people are in easy reach of quiet places with wide open skies.

“We want to share the viaduct’s story with the people of Manchester, many of whom may already have walked the cobbles underneath this mighty metal bridge, or spotted it on the Castlefield skyline, without knowing its history,” says Duncan Laird, National Trust.

“The viaduct has stood in Manchester for over 125 years, and we want to help the city to protect it, injecting the viaduct with a new lease of life so it becomes a space people can use and be proud of.

Image ©Twelve Architects & Masterplanners

“We’ve already had a positive response from the communities in the surrounding area – and we want to work towards being able to deliver an exciting future for the viaduct and the residents that live close by.

“Working with partners, over the next four months we’ll be creating an exciting offer for our visitors on the viaduct.

“We’ll be installing various garden areas which will include sensory and heritage planting as well as planting for pollinators and information on green gardening techniques.

“There will also be a covered event space where we’ll invite you out of the elements to discuss your thoughts for the future of the site.

“Some of the shrubs and plants we’ll be using include the cotton flower, Manchester’s county flower, and local nature friendly species which will help attract more birds and pollinators. 

“By testing ideas, finding out what people really need from this unique space during the pilot we will take the learning and progress a more permanent solution for the viaduct – directly shaped by visitors and the local community.”

Image ©Twelve Architects & Masterplanners

The four partner organisations working with the charity to create areas on the viaduct include Urban Wilderness, the Science and  Industry Museum, City of Trees and Castlefield Forum.

Urban Wilderness will be working with Manchester based charity, 42nd Street, supporting young people who have suffered mental health challenges to create something special in the space.  

The Science and Industry Museum are planning a garden with heritage plants, trees and flowers; interpretation of the industrial heritage that can be seen from the viaduct; and themed special talks and events for all ages across the summer and autumn. 

The theme of the City of Trees partner plot is ‘Trees – Past, Present and Future’.  It aims to showcase a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers that have been used throughout the Industrial Revolution, as well as displaying trees which are significant in Manchester today, and those that will play a role in the city’s response to climate change in the future.

Castlefield Forum will be using its space to tell visitors all about the essence of Castlefield set within the context of a modern sculptural pocket garden.

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