£3m plans to revive Manchester’s ‘unloved’ Roman gardens in Castlefield are back on the table

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The historic city centre spot located off Liverpool Road was home to the Roman fort of Mamucium where the settlement of Manchester was founded in AD 79.

Plans to transform the 2,000-year-old birthplace of Manchester are back on track. The multi-million pound revamp of the Roman Gardens in Castlefield, which have been in the offing for years, is now being revived by a local group.

The historic city centre spot located off Liverpool Road was home to the Roman fort of Mamucium where the settlement of Manchester was founded in AD 79. A reconstruction of the fort’s North Gate now stands on the site of the original stone gateway which was uncovered during a dig in the early 1980s.

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Plans to transform the public green space described as ‘one of the saddest and most unloved areas’ were put forward by Castlefield Forum in 2016 with detailed proposals drawn up by architects BDP on behalf of the community group approved by Manchester city council the following year. But planning permission for the project expired during the pandemic before it got started.

A new planning application outlining the same proposals has now been submitted to the town hall with the hope that work will get under way later this year. But first, millions of pounds must be raised, according to Castlefield Forum chair Calum McGowan who estimates the project will now cost £3m.

He said: “Our long-term mission is to transform this space from being unloved into something everybody’s really proud of.  The hard work starts again now.”

Plans for the Roman Gardens, Manchester. Credit: BDP / Castlefield Forum.Plans for the Roman Gardens, Manchester. Credit: BDP / Castlefield Forum.
Plans for the Roman Gardens, Manchester. Credit: BDP / Castlefield Forum.

A masterplan for the Roman Gardens was developed by architects BDP as part of the project which began in 2010. Castlefield Forum raised £19,000 to take the project through the planning process which it achieved in 2017.

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Some initial work such as tree surveys took place using council grants, but because certain elements of the work had not started within three years, planning permission expired in 2020. If the new application is approved, an archaeological survey of the site would be undertaken as soon as possible.

According to the group, satisfying this condition of the planning permission would make consent for the project permanent. Once this work is complete, new lighting is set to be installed at the North Gate by the end of the year.

Other proposals for the site opposite the Science and Industry Museum include introducing a new pathway, replacing broken and muddy paths and removing some of the fencing around the perimeter. The Roman Road which runs through the centre of the site would be resurfaced with a ‘time-line feature’ created, raising awareness and educating visitors of its heritage.

A community area including grow boxes, a timber stage and space for seating would also be created and managed by the Castlefield Forum. A rain garden, trees and Roman-inspired wildflowers would be planted as part of the plans.

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Larger ‘relaxation spaces’ would also be created for the Oxnoble and White Lion pubs located on either side of the gardens, according to the application. An informal stage area would also be created as a starting point for tours.

Roman Gardens, Manchester. Credit: BDP / Castlefield Forum.Roman Gardens, Manchester. Credit: BDP / Castlefield Forum.
Roman Gardens, Manchester. Credit: BDP / Castlefield Forum.

A ‘Clean and Green’ grant of £40,000 was awarded to the Roman Gardens project from Manchester council in 2015. Using this grant, the crown lifting of trees was completed in 2017 and the resurfacing of the pathway that follows the original Roman Road was designed and completed in summer 2019.

Cash from the council’s Neighbourhood Investment Fund has been used to clean the reconstructed North Gate and will be used to install new lighting. The rest of the work will be carried out in phases, but further funds must be raised.

The project was initially estimated to cost £2m, but this is expected to have now risen. Mr McGowan believes costs may have increased by around 50%.

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Fundraising will take place at ‘community level’, but the group is also seeking help ‘in kind’ where companies are willing to provide their services free of charge. Mr McGowan said: “If you want to get stuck in, please get in touch.”

For more information or to get involved, email [email protected]

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