By Phil Sim
The controversial £11m regeneration of Salford’s Chapel Street got off to a chaotic start after it caused rush hour madness yesterday.
The project, designed to create a new gateway to Salford City Centre, has coincided with continuing work at three A6 junctions, leaving commuters gridlocked for over four miles.
The enthusiasm surrounding the redevelopment appears to have been deflated, with Conservative councillor Robin Garrido slamming the project he once supported.
“When you see the chaos, the leadership of the council has to say ‘we have made a mistake,’ said Mr Garrido.
Drivers had been warned of significant delays when work got underway, but this did little to relinquish their anger.
One driver said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous; I have been in the jam for more than an hour and hardly moved.”
Mr Garrido said: “Businesses will get fed up of not being able to move around and will get out.”
This isn’t what planners had anticipated, after having hoped to see the project create 11,000 jobs through the combination of shops, cafes, hotels and business and leisure premises, as well as creating almost 850 new homes.
The scheme received unanimous backing from the City Council back in January 2010, after two years of consultation with the community and stakeholders, and was ranked joint 29th in the country’s top 100 regeneration projects by ‘The Planning Magazine,’ alongside MediaCityUK.
The route links Salford University to Manchester City Centre and is a popular commuter route, therefore plans to reduce the lanes for cars to one per direction to calm traffic angered regular users of the road.
Rachel Kirkham, who commutes from outside Salford, believes there should have been better communication to non-residents.
She said: “It’s crazy, if these appalling plans are completed there will be chaos on this road.”
But leading planner Councillor Derek Antrobus leaped to the defence of the ambitious plans, and insisted they still had the full support of residents and businesses.
“You’d think we were closing off Chapel Street. We’re not. We want Chapel Street to be a place where people can go and enjoy living there,” he said.
“The area has been neglected for too long, there is already a vibrant community based in the area and we expect this to thrive with the new development.”
He acknowledged that such work will inevitably cause disruption, branding Conservative claims that they believed traffic flow would not be affected as ‘gullible,’ and called on travellers facing delays to recognise the positive impact the improvements will have on the city.
The council continue to work alongside the English Cities Fund in completion of the redevelopment, and despite opposition calling for the money to be spent in more needy areas of Salford, non-executive Chairman Sir Michael Lyons remains committed to the cause.
He said: “With the continued support of its partners and the local community, I am confident the English Cities Fund will produce a development that Salford can be proud of.”
The £11m worth of funding for the 22.5 acre site has been received in large from the Northwest Development agency (NWDA), who have provided nearly £9m and are continuing to work to bring economic success to the Northwest.
They also manage The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in the Northwest, who have provided £1.79m in funding towards the project and are making a real difference in the region, setting aside £755m for investment in the area between 2007-13.
Councillor Antrobus added: “This funding is critical to get the plans off the ground and we are grateful to the NWDA for their support.”
The council has decided to opt away from the traffic-choked highway, and will attempt to transform Chapel Street into a ‘destination, not a driving thoroughfare,’ creating a safer, calmer and more enjoyable environment for businesses and visitors, in which they hope it will flourish.
The Cathedral, St Philips Church and The Town Hall will be revitalised in an attempt to put the heart back into Salford. Alongside this the vacant Bell Tower will be retained and converted for a new commercial use allowing the city to meet the needs of key business sectors.
And Salford resident and Vicar Andy Salmon urged patience with the project.
He said: “I accept in the short term it is going to be disruptive, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”
Delays are said to be expected until November.