Sportcity is an integral component of the regeneration of East Manchester. The long term continued improvement of East Manchester will directly correlate with the success of Sportcity which includes the stadium, Nation Cycling Centre & ASDA Walmart and various sport provisions available for public use such as Philip’s Park Pump Track and Clayton Vale Mountain Bike Trails.
Following the success of the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the City of Manchester Stadium became the new home for Manchester City Football Club following their final match at Maine Road on 11 May 2003. On 31 August 2008 the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) bought the club for £200 million, with a further £1 billion to come in the future for the surrounding area (Devlin, 2015). The football ground was renamed the Etihad Stadium in 2011 (City, 2018).
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The stadium draws in a large number of visitors year round. Throughout the football calendar the Etihad Stadium is host to a variety of UK and foreign teams and along with the players comes large numbers of fans. Throughout the summer when the football season is over the stadium hosts high profile concerts as well as various athletic sporting events.
Although nowadays it is a simple task of inputting a location to your personal smart phone and using that to direct you, this was not as simple of a task back in 2002 for the Commonwealth Games and the subsequent years before the technology providing online maps was commonplace. What aided perception of route in the early years following the construction of the stadium was smart design and effective signage.
Improvement of the Ashton and Rochdale canal corridors was an important element of the East Manchester Regeneration scheme. The stretch of the Ashton Canal between Manchester Piccadilly train station and the stadium provided the perfect opportunity to redefine the link and the former industrial land facing on to the canal. The Ashton Canal was the most popular route used by spectators travelling on foot from the centre of Manchester city (Manchester City Council, 2004).
16 years on from the completed design, has this blue route persevered? The stadium itself is undeniably successful as seen from it’s bursting calendar and a recent addition of a further 7,000 spectator seats in 2015 (City, 2015).
MINI STUDY, WALK THROUGHS
One of the aims of this walk through from Manchester Piccadilly train station is to gauge how legible the route is for pedestrians traveling to the stadium. This is a very important aspect as it shows the adaptability for the future as cars become less welcome in destinations so close to a busy city and tourist destinations such as stadiums, as well as having improved public transport links. The stadium is also situated in a predominantly residential area so a safe and enjoyable route in to Manchester city centre will encourage more people to travel by foot and improves the overall lifestyle for those using it and living in the surrounding area.
1. Using Manchester Piccadilly Train Station as a starting point, as a large proportion of visitors would, I left the main station via Piccadilly Approach. It was surprising to not see any signage for Sportcity. I took the first right available as that would lead me east. The small sign post outside of Linda’s Pantry, a local greasy spoon, on the relatively quiet Ducie Street is the first to give directions to Sportcity. This is roughly a quarter of a mile stretch along the Ashton Canal.
2. Following the instruction of the sign leads to a narrow alley named Paradise Walk which runs between the back of a former redbrick warehouse and a tall security fence with overgrown vegetation. The narrow walkway winds around a business yard and is very secluded with restricted views. The floor is littered with various drug paraphernalia. I deemed the route unsafe and so returned to Ducie Street. Looking over maps following my research, the sign post was directing pedestrians to Store Street which leads to Old Mill Street. It is a shame that the prescribed route is no longer the canal, but is instead a very vehicle heavy road for both cars and lorries. Sparse trees line the route, but this is no match for the exhaust fumes creating poor air quality.
3. Due to my research and knowledge of the area I knew how to access the Ashton Canal. I turned back on myself and entered the canal pathway from the top of Piccadilly Village, a pioneering city centre residential development created in the 1990’s. It is incredible how Piccadilly Village becomes its own bubble, with an all-encompassing atmosphere that tricks the mind in to forgetting that it is situated in a busy city centre, with main roads running underneath the canal arches connecting the surrounding various industrial businesses.
4. Following alongside the canal, I pass under Great Ancoats Street, an important and heavily used arterial route for the city centre providing links to motorways and the suburbs of Greater Manchester. Although you can hear the busy road, it bridges over the canal allowing for a stillness and a break from the pace of a bustling city. This stillness allows you to stand on the fringe of the city centre and look back towards Piccadilly. Newly built apartments cast a long shadow over the canal, an unmoving link to the industrial heritage that created Manchester yet continuing to shape the city as it moves forward.
Stepped seating with two integrated tree pits follow the curve of the footpath under Great Ancoats Street and faces away from Piccadilly and towards a canal lock. This simple intervention provides a space for pedestrians and other canal users to rest and observe the canal.
5. A reoccurring theme for the easterly fringe of Manchester city centre. A mix of industrial heritage against a modern backdrop. It is important for continued development as this, although maybe partly a mind trick, makes an area feel more secure. The more secure an area feels the more likely members of the public are to use it and the success of a landscape rests on whether or not it is used.
6. Iconic yet controversial Chips building. A unique building which was instrumental in the New Islington regeneration scheme. It adds quality to the surrounding area of previously run down housing and acts as a point of interest along the route.
7. The well-known Stubbs building, previously a burnt-out industrial shell, has been thoughtfully restored and brought in to the modern day. A building in a state that would have been easier to raze than restore has become great example of reutilisation that respects and enhances the local history but provides space for new businesses. A row of newly planted trees mirrors the pitched roof whilst natural materials with clean lines accommodates modern requirements such as bike stores, outdoor seating and disabled access without detracting from or clashing with the building (Urban Splash, 2016).
8. Built in 2007, these 14 houses along Guest Street are also part of the New Islington regeneration scheme yet are lesser known than Islington Square. Each property has a green roof made up of a variety of sedum plants. What is apparent is the lack of access to green space however, as the end users were consulted during the design process it came about that older residents did not want to live in apartment complexes, that they still expected to live in a house, but did not want the burden of maintaining a rear garden (Grant, 2007). What is left is a streetscape, over ten years on now that has barely changed and still looks relatively new. It would have helped to settle the buildings in to the landscape and softened the industrial surroundings if trees were included as part of the scheme. This way the view from the canal would be more pleasant and privacy could be afforded to the residents.
9. A short walk on and any evidence of regeneration has ended. These redbrick units stand like crumbling monuments to the industrial revolution, waiting for the tendrils of investment to arrive. Although the buildings are redundant and derelict it gives a close-up experience of the industrial history of the area. Sites as derelict as these are not accessible and only seen from a distance which creates a unique and evolving experience for users of the canal.
10. The next stretch of the canal is a monotonous walk of buddleia, crumbling red brick and security fencing with Bradford Road Gasometer looming in the background. The added feeling of insecurity comes from limited exit points. From the houses at Guest Street the next access point to the canal is at the stadium which is just short of a mile in total. It is also notable how narrow the towpath feels when a cyclist or another pedestrian passes. Although it is reassuring to see others using the canal towpath, the concept of thousands of people heading towards the stadium on foot alongside a potentially dangerous body of water is difficult to visualise.
11. This is the first official ‘Sportcity’ signage along the towpath. Looking past the graffiti and damage, what is more important is that it is out of date. Much like the crumbling industrial units along the canal being a reminder of the past this too stands as a reminder of the initial Sportcity development for the Commonwealth Games. There is a clear gap of redevelopment between the edge of New Islington and Sportcity.
12. There is evidence of some improvements from the not too distant past however maintenance has clearly been an issue. There is little vegetation other than weeds from the canal towpath, and young trees that have failed have not been replaced. A line of benches that are positioned to look towards the stadium. This may have been a good idea in the beginning however, silver birches planted along the stadium’s boundary have since matured and now obscure the view entirely.
13. Large steps and integrated seating lead to the iconic blue bridge entrance to the stadium. This is a heavy duty piece of hardscape which has not deteriorated since its construction and can clearly cater to a high volume of foot traffic. This is clearly a destination point but unfortunately is hindered by poor signage.
‘The Ashton Canal and Medlock valley link to the city centre formed the second part of the Sportcity framework. Using the city centre, Piccadilly Station, the stadium and Phillips Park as anchors, the framework envisioned the opening up of the canal and river corridor as a high-quality environment’ (Manchester City Council, 2004).
14. A quarter of a mile further along the towpath is Philips Park. An information board at the entrance details that the park was rewarded is a Green Flag status following investment from New Deal for Communities money. Philips Park was initially a green space for the rapidly growing urban population and today provides respite for the same communities it was originally intended to benefit. It is a vast openness in comparison to the surrounding closely built residential areas and the canal corridor. A neighbouring electricity pylon dominates the skyline, an industrial figure of more modern times. Tall modern apartment complexes occupy former industrial land encompassed by Philips Park, the stadium, ASDA Walmart, the Velodrome and Ashton Canal. This hub provides everything a local resident of any age could possibly need to enjoy a rich and fulfilling lifestyle.
15. In Philips Park interesting and beautiful murals display the passage of time and the struggles of the people of East Manchester. These murals are in Victorian archways situated beside a mountain bike skills area. It is wonderful display of trust to place public art alongside a youth focussed sports facility. The track opened in 2013 and is part of the long term goal of engaging more people in activities and creating a sporting hub (National Cycling Centre, 2018). An access gate is shut of an evening but it is a low gate that would not be a problem to disregard. The track is still in great condition and the accompanying art work is untouched. This is a great example of long term improved relationships with communities and their public open space.
The relationship between Sportcity and regeneration within East Manchester cannot be denied. Sportcity has redefined East Manchester a destination. Although the success of Sportcity as a cluster of sport focussed businesses is indisputable, the surrounding infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the progression and in turn failing to improve the overall user experience of moving between anchor points (city centre, Piccadilly Station, the stadium and Phillips Park (Manchester City Council, 2004)). It is imperative to create strong corridors to link East Manchester to neighbouring communities and more importantly the city centre to maximise the potential success of regeneration.
The funding for the rejuvenation of the Ashton Canal came from the North West Development Agency, European Regional Development Fund and New East Manchester (Manchester City Council, 2004). However, over ten years on who funds the continued long-term maintenance of this blue corridor? It currently falls under the remit of the Canal & River Trust which is a registered charity. The trust describe the Ashton Canal as ‘pleasant route, accessible to walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users.’ (Canal & River Trust, 2018). It is as if they themselves are down playing the role of the route which has been highlighted throughout the regeneration frameworks.
It seems that basic infrastructure was implemented to the interconnecting routes between anchor points that could deliver in the short term, in regard to a successful Commonwealth Games, but the standard was not sustainable without financial support in the long term.
An unforeseen issue for the increased footfall for this blue route is the growing popularity and reliance upon online maps which advise pedestrians travel along main roads to access Sportcity. Even a website selling stadium tour tickets only suggests a tram or a taxi from Manchester Piccadilly station (Manchester Sightseeing Tours Ltd, 2018).
What would enhance this route and make it more appealing to potential users would be;
- Improving lighting of the route. Football matches, concerts and even evening walks could be made safer with this addition,
- Widening the towpath between Piccadilly Station and the Stadium to allow for heavy footfall and draw people away from roads and public transport,
- Addition of more access points to the canal towpath. This would improve accessibility to local residents and overall safety.
- A joint commitment of investment and support from Manchester City Council, the stadium owners ADUG and the Canal and River Trust who would oversee maintenance.