Coming of Age: Manchester’s “Millenium Community”: 16 years on

The fringe of Manchester City Centre is changing rapidly – nowhere more rapidly than New Islington.

Millenium Communities were an initiative to create new villages which set the standard for 21st century living. A project of John Prescott, they were designed to promote innovative building technologies, high urban design standards and sustainable principles.

New Islington and its developers including Urban Splash,  has received applause for it’s approach here. Will Alsop’s Chips building, Islington Wharf and the marina at Cotton Field Park were early projects. These were striking. However, the recession and poor market conditions stalled some of the other projects including Urban Splash’s shelved self-build project ‘Tutti Fruity’.

Appreciating the area, has (until recently) involved looking towards these landmarks, but closing your eyes to the huge gaping wasteland at the heart of the village. Guardian Cities writer Owen Hatherley commented on the universal applause for this area, which was distinctly disjointed until recently.

The “battle over the Ancoats Dispensary in 2014 focussed the attention on the future direction of the site, at a time when money was sparse. This historic site, was close to demolition, Around this time, the beautifully designed bridge on Redhill Street was closed for around a year for repairs. Things looked to have paused. The original vision for New Islington was bold, but masterplanning is a long-term game.

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Things then appeared to start looking up for the area. The Dispensary was saved. The opening of the East Manchester Metrolink line in 2013 helped to provide enhanced connectivity towards the City Centre and Ashton. A new link bridge between the station on Pollard Street and Bradford Road opened in 2014. The free school project, has opened, albeit on a temporary site. In 2015, construction at the new location for the school, finally started on the ground.

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The development of ‘Islington Wharf Mews’, ‘The Point’ and the second phase of Milliners Wharf (known as ‘Hat Box’) have added more housing density to the edges of the area. The renovation of former local authority tower blocks further north have enhanced views through the area, whilst Lovell Homes ‘Bramah Place’ and ‘Platting Village’ developments are adding much needed quality family housing.

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The area seems to finally be maturing, with the ‘core’ area to the north of Cotton Fields Park seeing increasing development – “filling in the gaps”.In 2016 the the first of Urban Splash’s ‘HoUSe’ project.

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House is a prefabricated housing development offers self-design as opposed to self-build. The townhouses are built off-site to the prospective owner’s specification, then dropped into place. Manchester’s Life’s project next door (the site with the rather large cranes on) will add some bulk to the proposals and fill in some of the gaps.

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Walking around the area today, with new cafes and restaurants opening in neighbouring Ancoats, it appears that the area is getting there. After a cesarian birth, a growth spurt, a few shaky teenage years, it seems that the “Millenium Community” is finally about to mature.

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