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What’s happening with Manchester’s first ‘new town’ in decades, two years on

Two years ago, the Victoria North development began, and now significant progress shows its potential to reshape the city with 15,000 homes, schools, medical facilities, and parks.

Two years ago, we were shown around an under-the-radar development which was set to quietly change the city.

The facts and figures were staggering: A 20 year project to build 15,000 homes for 35,000 people at a cost of £3.88 billion over 155 hectares, including a new tram stop, new schools, new medical facilities, and a new park — all via a joint venture between Manchester city council and developers Far East Consortium (FEC).

Victoria North

How Victoria North could eventually look

At the time, the project — called Victoria North — was just emerging, literally and figuratively. The press tour was one of the first times bosses laid out their vision on-the-ground, and building work on some flats had started — so those apartment blocks were just about visible from the edge of the city centre.

But if only Victoria North’s head was visible before, most of her body is viewable now. Two years on from that initial tour, we’ve done the same route with FEC and council staff familiar with the programme to see what’s changed — and what’s still to come.

From Angel Meadow to Dantzic Street

Collyhurst towers in the background

Before that, a primer: the Victoria North project area stretches from the north-eastern side of Angel Meadow, near to Co-op’s head office, along Dantzic Street. That road is sandwiched between the River Irk, which will become the focal point of the ‘City River Park’, and Sandhills Park — the site of the hoped-for Metrolink station.

After that, it goes on to Collyhurst, with the suburb undergoing significant regeneration work. In all, there are seven neighbourhoods in this project.

The iconic Marble Arch Photo: Marble Beers Ltd

They are New Cross, next to Ancoats; New Town, around the Marble Arch pub; Red Bank, where a smattering of hospitality firms have moved in; Vauxhall Gardens, near to where Sandhills Park is now; Smedley Dip, bordering Queens Road; and the aforementioned Collyhurst Village and South Collyhurst.

The 2024 tour took in five of those, namely the Smedley Dip, the Collyhurst sisters, Vauxhall Gardens, and Red Bank.

Collyhurst: “We need to get on site and deliver”

Like last time, it’s a baking hot day for the tour. It’s been organised for the Housing 2024 conference, held at Manchester Central, with around 40 developers, architects, planners, investors, and a couple of journalists hopping on the tram.

Alighting at Queens Road, the party moves through the Smedley Dip portion of the project, where, in truth, not much seems to have changed since 2022. The first stop is the FEC marketing suite in Collyhurst.

The idea here is to build 274 homes in total. In Collyhurst Village, 100 will be social housing. In South Collyhurst, another 30 will be social housing.

There has been controversy around the Collyhurst element of Victoria North, though. It’s the only part of the project where people already lived — with FEC’s Tom Fenton saying in 2022 that 29 homes were going to be demolished, but ‘everyone will be offered the opportunity to stay’.

There is an element of mistrust in this area — because Collyhurst has been let down before. It was constructed after post-war slum clearances, laid out to suit car travel. That led to it becoming ‘quite unpopular soon after it was built’, a source told us on the tour.

Most notably, a 2012 plan to regenerate the area was cancelled at the last minute when the Private Finance Initiative was pulled, with work so advanced that some sites had already been cleared.

Tom said two years ago that scepticism could only be tackled by ‘getting on-site and delivering’. And now, it looks like that is happening.

The air-conditioned and scented diffuser-laden FEC marketing suite is surrounded by fencing, diggers, and shells of buildings.

Spades are firmly in the ground, and it might be just the start, with developers seeing this as ‘phase one’, although they have not yet formally committed to constructing even more homes in Collyhurst.

That means, for the moment, the new neighbours will be the aforementioned 274 homes, a potential new GP surgery to replace an ageing Rochdale Road facility, and perhaps a new primary school a short walk away.

Sandhills: “mission critical”

Victoria North

Slightly further down Rochdale Road towards the city centre, is Sandhills Park, which has seen some new businesses opening on one of its parades of shops,

While there’s been significant progress since the last visit in Collyhurst, next to nothing has happened in Sandhills. As the tour winds its way through various tower blocks on Hamerton Road, which were re-clad several years ago, the main indication we’ve got to the park is a stationary fish and chip van.

It’s solitary, sitting in what looks like a layby. Behind it is greenery, and then verdant foliage which is where Sandhills really begins.

It’s easy to see why people would like to be near that greenery. It’s difficult to see the attraction of the layby — but there is reason to be interested in it.

A new Metrolink?

Victoria North
An area in need of some love

That’s because a small side-road, gated off at both ends, could be the access for the new Metrolink station eyed here.

In 2022, a Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) spokesperson confirmed it was ‘still in the early stages of development with details of the scheme’, but has an objective to build a ‘transport hub’ in the area, which they acknowledge ‘could potentially comprise a new Metrolink stop serving both the Bury and Oldham and Rochdale lines and sustainable travel facilities such as bus and active travel improvements’.

By the time that statement was released, TfGM had already committed to completing a business case for the stop by 2026.

Now, sources have called it ‘mission critical’.

That’s because, if it gets built, they believe a new neighbourhood could be built around the station, connecting one of Manchester’s poorer areas to the thriving city centre. As ever, it’s now a question of money to get it built.

Manchester’s executive councillor for housing, Gavin White

Manchester’s executive councillor for housing, Gavin White, explained why it was so important. He said: “That’s to enable 5,000 additional homes in that area. Public transport unlocks development. There’s a tram stop at Holt Town which looks odd because there’s nothing around it, but in the next five years there will be a lot of development.

“We see Sandhills as having the potential to unlock the community, with doctors, dentists, and shops… We have already got an outline business case for the tram stop, it’s about pushing on all the levers. That’s a big ask of an incoming government – to support that and support further housing.”

“Victoria North is a significant new housing development in an area that’s not had much investment for years and at the heart of that is council housing.”

And FEC’s Tom Fenton said after the tour: “In addition, it will allow the project to realise its objective of creating a new neighbourhood centre at Vauxhall Gardens, where community uses such as doctors, dentists and localised retail outlets can be concentrated with easy access to sustainable modes of public transport including bus and Metrolink – all of which will underpin the ongoing housing investment in the Collyhurst neighbourhood and support population growth in the coming years.”

The park itself, it’s worth saying, will stay. It will be one of the two big green spaces for Red Bank residents, with the other being City River Park.

Red Bank: “More to come”

Things are changing in the area

The tour which started on Rochdale Road has now walked through Sandhills to reach Dantzic Street, home of light industry and the steep steps possibly made famous by L.S. Lowry’s painting ‘The Footbridge’.

We’re here to look at a derelict railway depot.

In 2022, one digger was here, doing some groundwork. Now, there’s an army of machinery out, moving mounds of earth with ease.

It’s all to make way for around 3,000 homes, which Tom’s FEC colleague Hilary Brett-Parr previously said ‘will be focused on family living with plans for a primary school’.

“There’s an aspiration for a new secondary school,” she added 24 months ago — with that idea appearing to have progressed, after Coun White also said ‘we will look at sites for a secondary school in Victoria North or the edge of the city centre’ only last month, with a public update expected to come later in July.

Before that, however, FEC needs to build a road to the Red Bank site. To do that, a lot of remediation work is being undertaken, as a result of its previous life as a rail depot.

Beyond the depot, another 1,500 homes are being built on Dantzic Street itself — with some already completed — and ‘more are expected’ on currently-privately owned car parks closer to the city centre.

In fact, the Victoria Riverside scheme within Red Bank has partially completed. It’s got 634 homes in total, spread across three towers.

One of those is 18 storeys tall and has 128 flats available for shared ownership, meaning 20 percent of Victoria Riverside is affordable. All amenities will be available to all residents, the tour leaders said.

Two years on in Red Bank

The future looks bright for the area – how it may look as CGI

Two years on, a fair amount has changed.

Apartment blocks have been completed in Red Bank, with building work well underway in Collyhurst. Some of the promised shops and cafes have opened up too, helping give Victoria North more of a distinct identity, rather than the next extension of the city centre.

But what’s also apparent is this project has so much more to give Manchester — and looks like it might. The plans for a new school appear to have moved on within the Town Hall. The case for a new tram stop has momentum with TfGM’s own business case deadline looming. Developers are now talking about future phases of the scheme, rather than just the immediate plans.

The last tour finished by asking when Mancunians would notice Victoria North changing the city. The answer to that is now.

The question to ask at this point, then, is just how much will the city change with Victoria North?

You can find out more about Victoria North by clicking here

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