'We want this to be that escape': New plans revealed for Manchester's 'oasis in the sky’ Castlefield Viaduct

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Manchester’s ‘little strip of happiness’ is here to stay - with big plans for the future.

It’s been almost two years since the Castlefield Viaduct opened to the public. Since then, it has been visited by over 100,000 people, providing the city with some much-needed green space and helping to preserve an important part of Manchester’s industrial heritage. 

But the sky garden was only meant to be temporary. Originally planned for a 12-month stint, the project was extended for another year in July 2023. And now, as we approach the second year mark, it has been confirmed that Manchester’s new landmark is here to stay – and there are plans in the works to make it bigger and better.

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The National Trust, which is responsible for the project, has unveiled the masterplan for the sky garden’s development, titled the Vision. In its current form, the Castlefield Viaduct sky garden occupies around one third of the abandoned railway line, which once transported goods into the Great Northern Warehouse. Under the next phase of the Visions project, the garden will be extended to make use of the entire 330m site, adding another exit and entry point near the Mancunian Way, turning it into a connecting thoroughfare between the city centre and Pomona, Salford and Trafford. 

Castlefield ViaductCastlefield Viaduct
Castlefield Viaduct | national trust

But the new and improved Castlefield Viaduct will be more than a new commuter route. As Darrell Wilson, landscape architect at BDP, which has been working with the National Trust on the project, said: “We want it to be more than just a connection because you can walk there in about 11 minutes, so we wanted to slow it down and create experiences and spaces, and meander, and explore, and just make it a real experience.”

Long-term plans for the Viaduct include the creation of seven distinct “character” areas, designed with different aspects of the city and its history in mind, such as the Strawberry Garden, inspired by the long lost Victorian recreation garden at Cornbrook; or the Village Hub, which provides a space for community growing. There will also be spaces for other events and activities. 

The Vision has been put together following extensive consultation with the public, including around 1,000 people from all ages and backgrounds. As well the addition of a café on the Viaduct, creating a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city centre was a recurring theme among participants. 

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The 'Strawberry Garden' area as featured in the Vision for Castlefield Viaduct. Credit: BDPThe 'Strawberry Garden' area as featured in the Vision for Castlefield Viaduct. Credit: BDP
The 'Strawberry Garden' area as featured in the Vision for Castlefield Viaduct. Credit: BDP | BDP

The National Trust project manager for Castlefield Viaduct, Nichola Jacques, said: “We want people to slow down. People have told us that they want a space to come and reflect, relax. Slowing people down with a windier path and giving secondary routes through, so that people can really take their time and reflect. Essentially, what the public told us what they wanted is what's here and more of it.”

“Some of the really key things that came out is that they want this space to be free, that's really key. They want it to be open to everyone, accessible and they want that green space, that escape from the city, a real oasis in the sky.”

These sentiments are echoed by Calum McGowan, Chair of Castlefield Forum, a local interest group that has contributed to the Viaduct project. He said: “We're very clear that this is for everybody. There should be no reason why you might not want to come up here. It's a whole new space. We didn't want the whole thing to feel the same, so it's been deliberately broken up into different zones with different feelings -  some will slow you down, all these different portholes give you different views. 

The currently unoccupied section of the Castlefield Viaduct, which is set to be developed, pending planning permission. The currently unoccupied section of the Castlefield Viaduct, which is set to be developed, pending planning permission.
The currently unoccupied section of the Castlefield Viaduct, which is set to be developed, pending planning permission. | ManchesterWorld

“Just stop. Don't rush through. Bridges are used for the quick movement of cars or rail. This is deliberately slowing you down.”

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There are more public consultations planned for the coming months before the planning application is submitted in August. A significant amount of funding for Phase Two of the project has already been secured and the National Trust is actively seeking funding for the rest. Pending a successful application, work is expected to begin at the start of 2025. 

For now though, the Castlefield Viaduct will continue to welcome people into its urban oasis, – or “little strip of happiness” as Calum described it – and build on the good work done there so far. 

Darrell said: “The first phase got such an amazing response, it just feels like you've got to keep that going. You don't want to be in a position where you have to close down all this amazing work. You've got to keep going and keep raising the ambitions and the aspirations.”

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