After the Commonwealth Games of 2002 it will arguably be the single most important factor in east Manchester’s economic revival. But, for the time being, it’s all roadworks and dumper trucks. Len Grant sets off to take a look at the progress of Metrolink.
Clutching their red hard hats, two young men are waiting on Ashton New Road, as their bus negotiates the temporary traffic lights.
“Will you be using the Metrolink when it’s finished?” I ask.
“Does it go near college?” asks one, the distinctive hard hats being tell-tale signs that these lads are on a construction course at The Manchester College.
“Not this line, no.”
“Then I won’t,” he says.
“I’m from Newton Heath,” says his mate, “so they’ll be no good for me.” I put his right about the Oldham line and his local stop at Central Park. He’s almost impressed.
Today I am on a journey of discovery. Lately I’ve been diverted and (very briefly) delayed driving around east Manchester as work on the new Metrolink track continues. So this afternoon I’ve parked my car near Clayton Hall and, with camera and tape recorder in hand, decide to follow the track into the city centre.
I’m near Gate 69 as an old black and white photograph comes to mind. It’s a picture I’ve seen of this part of Clayton taken maybe a century ago with trams making their way to and from Ashton. History now repeats itself although, for the time being, this line will only reach Droylsden.
Alongside the fencing I attempt to engage a construction manager in conversation. “It’s more complicated that I’d imagined,” I say after I’ve told him I’m taking images on behalf of the local regeneration company. “You’ve got all the drainage and other utilities to think about,” he says. “It’s not just a case of laying the track.” I’m very unfair to this man, putting him on the spot for an impromptu interview. “I’ve got to get on,” he says, taking the card I offer him. “I’ll get our PR people to call you.”
The line sweeps behind the Little Gem Hand Car Wash and appears to hit a brick wall, literally. Maybe this is one of the sites yet to be compulsory purchased. Staff from the nearby MOT garage have already relocated to Clayton Bridge, says a sign.
Now at Gate 61 (how did I miss 68-62?) I can see there is much activity around the Ashton Canal. A new bridge is being built to take the trams over the canal before they cross the main road. There’ll be a stop between here and Asda called Sportcity: Velodrome. Outside the superstore I stop Mark and Joanne who are happy to talk into my tape recorder.
“If we could sort out the management of the buses,” says Mark, “then we wouldn’t need the trams, would we? It seems very expensive when we have the buses.”
“But,” interjects Joanne, “the trams will be quicker at rush hour. We live in Clayton so we’ll be comparing the journeys between bus and tram when they’re finished. We’ll give it a go but the jury’s still out.”
Along Alan Turing Way I’m parallel to the line as it heads down into the tunnel under the road. I’ve photographed this dog-leg tunnel a few years ago when this route was first given the go-ahead. Dropping down onto the cobbled canal towpath the traffic noise is replaced by quacking ducks, such is the diversity of east Manchester. On Joe Mercer Way (As MCFC manager in 1965 he apparently ‘transformed the underachieving Blues into a team of outstanding talent and breathtaking flair’) I come across Christine and Ivy walking their dogs.
Ivy is already a Metrolink convert, using the tram to go to Altrincham and Bury. “Oh yes, we like the trams, but for us here in Beswick we’d have to walk past two bus stops to get to our nearest stop at Asda, so we’d still use the bus to get to town.”
“But it’s a good thing for the area,” says Christine. “Economically it’s good because it will bring extra money and new jobs.” Exactly.
I’m soon at Gate 53 alongside the City Link walk from the stadium into the city centre. Dumper trucks drop shale and stone into drainage trenches. Then through Holt Town, under the Cumbrian Street bridge and up towards Every Street and The Mitchell Arms.
“We’re building a slope down towards the bridge,” says one yellow-vested workman who I quiz through the fence.
“Is it a good job?” I ask.
“I’d rather have yours.”
Traffic is diverted along Every Street so Pollard Street is eerily quiet as a surveyor checks readings on his theodolite. The Bank of England is boarded up, empty, another closed pub.
I’m in New Islington now: there’ll be another stop here for what will be a burgeoning community. For now the only people around are those going in and out of Gate 31, the main east Manchester compound from where the contractors have dug a tunnel underneath Great Ancoats Street to link with Piccadilly Station. I can see none of it, just white metal hoardings.
I reach the main road, the edge of east Manchester, sling my camera over my shoulder and wait for the 216 to take me back up to Clayton.