Oh it was going to be big. So big that former Council Leader John Merry announced in 2003 that the Middlewood Locks development "is critical to the continued growth of Salford".
It was so `critical' that over £4million of public money – from Europe, from the North West Development Agency and from Salford City Council, of course – was pumped into the vast derelict area on the border of Manchester city centre to re-open the Manchester, Bolton, Bury Canal. And make it even more attractive for the developers, Valley and Vale and Beaupere Castle, which were going to build a £300million `urban village' around the Canal.
It never happened, as the developer went bust and the scheme joined the previous dream, SnoWorld, on the scrapheap, while the Canal was left in the middle of a derelict site as the biggest embarrassment in Salford.
While Manchester city centre has continued to sprawl and cram as many buildings as possible into its space, once the border is crossed into Salford the Middlewood Locks site is the largest visual sign of the difference between the two cities. There's just a canal and Middlewood Locks in the centre of a vast empty space.
The Locks were central to the developer's plans, as waterside properties attract a premium of around 25%. So, £4.2million of public money was pumped into restoring the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal at the centre of the area. £2.1million came from Europe (ERDF), £1.1million came from the North West Development Agency (NWDA) and £1million came from Salford City Council.
The developer was supposed to pay back the money to NWDA, while the Council was supposed to recoup its outlay from Section 106 payments from the site.
The developer was also to pay £30,000 a year maintenance costs for the Locks, and Salford Council agreed to stump up £35,000 a year.
Valley and Vale went bust shortly after; presumably NWDA didn't get its money back and neither did Salford City Council. Meanwhile, Salford Council has also, presumably, been paying the £35,000 a year for six years (£210,000) since agreeing to the deal in 2005, when its own risk assessment on the proposal stated that "the City Council must be mindful of the cost of such an ongoing liability"...
In February this year, Scarborough Development Group, the property development arm of Scarborough Group International, acquired the 21-acre site through the administrators, Grant Thornton, and has been consulting with the Ordsall and Trinity community this month over future plans for the area.
The original £300million `urban village' blueprint was to create canalside apartments, bars, shops and offices but a press release from the Scarborough Group states that `Scarborough feels the nature of the consent in place is not right for Salford at this time'…
"This site has had lots of plans over the years for a variety of uses" says Lee Savage, Development Director at Scarborough "We want to bring something to fruition which will not only meet the appetite in the market but also benefit the people and communities of Salford. Initial meetings with the local council and key stakeholders has started the process and we're looking forward to the next stage of the consultation with the local community to understand how any potential development could benefit the area."
When developers come calling talking of the `local community' and how plans will `benefit' them it's always best to get the pinch of salt out. The Scarborough Group is a huge global real estate company which owns Sheffield United FC amongst loads of other huge projects.
According to its website (click here) Scarborough specialises in huge office developments with some shopping centres chucked in. And social housing does not seem to be on its agenda.
So what would happen if the `community consultation' decides that affordable housing is most needed in Salford, over office blocks? Will Scarborough go with the will of the people?
The first public consultation has been happening throughout June and there is still time to fill in the online feedback form – click here
The next step is the outline plans which will be produced in September for further consultation, with a final consultation in October this year.
For further information see www.middlewood-locks.com or click here