Updated: Tuesday, 2nd June 2020 @ 1:57pm

‘It is the injustice that drives us on’: Living in Metrolink's shadow – the true cost of Manchester’s tramline extension

‘It is the injustice that drives us on’: Living in Metrolink's shadow – the true cost of Manchester’s tramline extension

By Tui Benjamin

More than 22 million journeys are taken on the Metrolink each year – a staggering 60,000 a day.

With the ongoing expansion work trebling the size of the line and set to make Manchester’s tram network the largest in the UK, extension is expected to create 21,000 extra jobs.

Bringing with it the prospect of an additional £1.3billion of yearly economic output, it seems the road to the expansion of this highly successful transport system is paved with gold.

But for some, this £1.5billion investment Metrolink’s development comes at a higher cost, as for the communities who live along the route of the new lines Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) are a force against which they struggle to be heard. 

In 2012 MM reported on the residents of the Nurseries Estate in Sale who have spent months battling what they see as the ‘inflexible, uncaring and inconsiderate’ TfGM to reconsider inadequate landscaping proposals, after eight houses were knocked down for the line to Manchester Airport to be laid.

Although upwards of 80 homeowners have complained, Councillor for Sale Moor Philip Gratrix said the situation remains slow and protracted, with Trafford Council’s chief planning officer failing to obtain a meeting with the organisation despite an unofficial meeting arranged with residents later this week.

“Why is it so impossible to engage in proper consultation?” he said.

“We just want the opportunity to be able to speak face to face.

“Often just a few words of explanation can make people’s lives much happier, and help them understand a situation, but we’re just not getting that.”

Cllr Gratrix said even the hardest-hit residents know the benefits of the tram system and understand the inevitability of some disruption.

“There’s no any animosity towards the Metrolink, but there’ll be people left with sour tastes in their mouths because there properties have been blighted and not enough have been done to help them,” he said.

He believes TfGM’s Stakeholder and Consultation policy simply isn’t adhered to.  

 “Other bodies communicate with and reach out to the public in a far better way,” he said.

“I’m worn down by this – we’re used to dealing with rational people who’ll talk to us and we don’t see any essence of that at the present moment,”

This is a sentiment echoed by Graham Roe of the Nurseries Estate Homewatch Association, and one of the homeowners affected.

“TfGM have an excellent stakeholder policy on paper – a truly amazing document when you consider it’s not stuck to at all,” he said.

“Without the public they would all be looking for work, and it is this stubborn refusal to consult and negotiate with communities that is one of the key failings of the organisation.”

TfGM claim they have been clear and courteous in all communications with residents of the Nurseries Estate, with their stakeholder policy stating the organisation listens carefully to, values and takes into consideration the public’s views.

A spokesman for TfGM said the process of securing the power to extend the lines involves widely publicised public consultation, the opportunity for representations from interested parties, and usually a public inquiry.

He said TfGM’s dedicated Stakeholder and Communications team liase with residents in relation to issues they may have arising from extension construction, providing a variety of ways to approach the organisation.

Describing the Metrolink as a ‘catalyst’ for the regeneration of Manchester, Altrincham, Bury and Salford, the spokesman said high-quality transport links are widely recognised as a fundamental driver of economic growth.

“They provide essential links to work, shops, entertainment venues, healthcare and education facilities in local towns and city centres,” he added.

“The Department for Transport’s commitment to funding part of the current expansion is testament to the strength of the business case put forward – a business case based on detailed cost-to-benefit analysis – as well as Metrolink’s success to date and importance in Greater Manchester’s economy.”

Earlier this week, MM reported Greater Manchester’s homebuyers are willing to pay a premium of 7.3% to be within spitting distance of rail links.

With £12,000 the average people will pay to be 500m from a tram or train station, homeowners can look to see a substantial rise in the value of properties close to the tram stop.

But for those who watch the landscapes before them changing as construction work continues, it can be difficult to see these long-term benefits.

David Bishop, Chair of Friends of Chorlton Meadows, has studied local plant life for 40 years and is concerned over the impact of the Metrolink work on local biodiversity.

He is not convinced TfGM keeps the promises it sets out in its environmental policies and is concerned  there has been no creation of new habitats other than tree planting, which he described as a universal panacea for biodiversity loss.

“An organisation’s concern for the environment is inversely proportional to its propensity to plant trees,” he said.

“We have lost many mature trees as a result of Metrolink construction; some tokenistic planting of a few saplings does not even remotely adequately compensate for these grievous losses.”

Dismayed at TfGM’s ‘careless destruction’ of the area’s biodiversity, Mr Bishop said his understanding of the benefits the Metrolink provides made the severe damage to local biodiversity and inadequate mitigation all the more disappointing.

“TfGM should be taking this crisis more seriously – not just paying lip service to it via policy documents which are in reality just paper promises,” he said.  

John Jordan is a member of the Didsbury Residents’ Network, which has been in constant interaction with TfGM for the last two years in relation to claims the body’s working methods and contractors have harmed safety, security and privacy.

“We have been lied to on many occasions,” he said.

“Plans have been altered without any warning, and TfGM appear to be working with Manchester City Council to directly damage our natural and built environment.

“It is the injustice and sense of powerlessness that drives us on.”

Councillor Andrew Fender, Chair of the TfGM Committee, lead the joint strategy group which first looked at the options for linking Piccadilly and Victoria in 1982. 

He said since the first Altrincham and Bury lines opened in 1992 the Metrolink has gone on to become one of the most successful light rail systems in the country.

“It is a symbol of Greater Manchester’s rejuvenation and ambition,” he said.

“It has helped to drive the regeneration of Manchester city centre, which at one point in the 1980s had just 500 residents compared with some 20,000 today.”

Citing the renewal of the Trafford, Bury and Salford Quays areas as due to Metrolink expansion, he said the best is yet to come.

“You only have to look out of the window when you’re riding along and see the new developments built since the Metrolink opened to appreciate just how vital it has been in attracting people to work, live and do business in the towns and cities it serves,” he said.

“Last month I took a ride on the new line to Oldham Mumps, something we identified as a potential part of the network almost 30 years ago, and it was fantastic.

“I’m incredibly proud of what Metrolink has achieved in the 20 years since Her Majesty The Queen officially opened the first phase of the network, and of what it is going to go on to achieve in the next 20 years and beyond.”

Picture courtesy of Puru-Two, with thanks.

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