Linking the railway network from north to south across Manchester had been an ambition since the 1960s. The first proposal to link together the two principal stations at Piccadilly and Victoria was for an underground tunnel, proposed in 1971 but abandoned due to excessive costs.
A new proposal quickly followed, comprising a curved elevated track linking existing train lines across the River Irwell. This received permission to construct in 1979 but was again abandoned due to costs.
The project was then revisited in 2005 by Network Rail in recognition that it had considerable potential to reduce congestion across our historic network.
Major infrastructure project in a heritage setting
The site area of this major infrastructure project is vast, spanning from Manchester into Salford. I led the initial heritage assessment which needed to consider over 30 historic structures and 100 potential archaeological sites, including the world’s first inter-city passenger railway line from Manchester to Liverpool which opened in 1830.
As the “heritage gatekeeper”, I worked alongside a complex multi-disciplinary team ranging from planning advisors and track engineers to stone masons and concrete specialists, as well as BDP. I advised on the aspects of the design which affected the historic structures, including assessing the heritage impacts and stipulating the mitigation requirements.
Close working relationships
Liaison with key stakeholders was a critical part of my involvement throughout the project. This was particularly important through the construction phase where my close working relationship with the Local Planning Authorities, Historic England and the neighbouring Museum of Science and Industry enabled the team to deliver high-quality conservation-led repair works to the historic railway structures.
A significant part of the project was the creation not only of a new rail link, but also of a pair of piazzas on either side of the river, carefully designed to enrich the experience of the historic rail structures and add the next layer to this constantly evolving area.
Although very challenging from a heritage perspective, the project has been a great success. In recognition of the project’s achievements in restoration, regeneration and place-making, the team won an Architects’ Journal award.