Manchester city centre isn’t a city famed for its green spaces. How many people visit the city to see the Gardens at Piccadilly (a dismally-rated 144th best ‘thing to do in Manchester’) or to relax by the banks of the Irwell? It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the only green spaces that have really put Manchester on the map are turfed, manicured and floodlit.
While there’s a great ambition for Manchester to be a ‘green city’ both at council and city region levels, high quality green space in the city centre is conspicuous by its absence. New developments such as the Mayfield and Circle Square include tantalising proposals for public green space, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Elsewhere across the city centre, pocket parks are delivered piecemeal and almost as an afterthought, and opportunities to enhance green infrastructure through development are missed time and again.
Meanwhile, just over the river in Salford, there are a couple of developments which really show how green space can help make the area liveable - for people and wildlife.
Take Middlewood Locks. Barely had the first phase of the scheme been completed when the canalside was turfed and planted with trees and shrubs, taking advantage of the natural assets and immediately creating a liveable neighbourhood. Nearby, the spacious street has been redesigned to include sustainable urban drainage planted with herbaceous perennials and a segregated cycle lane.
Nearby, the restoration of Peel Park, thanks to Salford City Council’s Heritage Fund project, has given the public a world-class green space right at the heart of the growing city. Glorious bedding displays are surrounded by sinuous paths which lead to vast wildflower borders, play areas, and on to the river.
Media City is another example of how Salford has maximised the potential for public green space to really enhance the quality of the place. It has done so well that it's even won a Green Flag Award. And now with the council’s massive investment in a new multi-million pound garden at RHS Bridgewater, the people of the city have a rich green resource for rest, relaxation, and learning.
Of course, Salford doesn't have everything right - we're not about to suggest it does - and the council has come under pressure from the community for permitting green field development. But examples such as Middlewood Locks, Peel Park and Media City show that there may be areas where Manchester can learn from its next-door neighbour.
So what's the key? Lower land values in Salford may have a role to play in raising the quality of development and making green infrastructure viable. But policy surely has a role to play, too, and Salford can surely be proud of its Green Space Strategy and a delivery plan (which are admirably clear compared to Manchester's visionary but woolly equivalents).
If Manchester can raise the bar for green space in the city centre, planning ambitious and high quality green infrastructure in from the start, it can meet its ambitions and make the city a truly green place to live, work and play.