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. Read more of this article »
There was never going to be anything conventional about New Islington. Already the social housing at Islington Square is included on architecture tours. Now they’ll have to add Chips, too, says Len Grant.
The Chips building in New Islington is now complete
It’s been a long time coming. In fact, just over three years since I photographed workers preparing to dig the basement car park. But with water on three sides, it’s been a complex project. One construction manager apparently commented, “Normally you’d build the castle first, and then the moat!” Here the ‘moat’ was ready-made.
‘Three fat chips on a plate’ is how the building was originally described and that’s just what it looks like. There’s nothing ‘blocky’ about this apartment block.
It’s the first residential building in the UK that architect Will Alsop has completed and the first opportunity for city living pioneers to buy into New Islington. Less than half a dozen of the 142 apartments are unsold and already, with still a handful of yellow-vested workers on site, some apartments are occupied.
Fifty apartments have been sold to Manchester Methodist Housing Association, the social landlord for New Islington and one of the partners in this Millennium Community Programme. There are shared equity schemes and ‘try before you buy’ plans, which means you rent for a while before you put your money on the table.
I’ve been around Chips several times whilst it was being built but today my tour guide is Urban Splash’s Chris Stalker. “We always wanted a feature here,” he says, as he leads me into the foyer. “This is what we call the ‘jelly bean wall’.” Dozens of jelly bean-shaped recesses dissolve from one bright colour to another. Subtle, effective and very photogenic.
The 'jelly bean wall'
We take the lift. The views from the top floors are impressive, looking over the new park, (now called Cotton Field), towards the renovated Ancoats mills. I can imagine in 10 years all the cleared land will be occupied with buildings as adventurous as Chips, and you won’t be able to move for architecture tourists!
On the Ashton Canal side we can see the Metrolink engineering work and the site of the new tram stop. “That connectivity is very important,” says Chris. “It will really open up this area.”
Stunning views that will only get better
It’s true. You can see all the elements coming together: the tram, the canals, the new park, the health centre, and all against the city centre backdrop. Not that much is coming out of the ground at the moment – not even New Islington is immune from the ‘crunch’ – but when things do start rolling again, Chips will have been just the starter.
Names of local rivers and canals wrap around Chips
Chris leaves me to wander around the outside of the building and I try to take in all the names of canals and rivers that wrap around the cladding, supposedly like newsprint. Cheshire Ring, Bolton and Bury, Bridgewater, Ashton, Mersey, Rochdale. Are these all the waterways you can reach from here? Maybe so.
Soon brightly-painted boats will be mooring alongside the newly-created canal arms, their crew enjoying a pint (and a packet of salt ‘n’ vinegar) at Chips’ restaurant/bar. Not long now.
About buying or renting in Chips:
About Manchester Methodist Housing Association: