What is all this about?
Nutsford Vale is a naturally growing council park that sits on the borders of Longsight, Levenshulme and Gorton in Southeast/Central Manchester. Until 2009 it was known to locals as ‘Jackson’s Tip’ or often simply ‘Jacksons.’ In late 2016 contractors arrived and began conducting survey work on the site, including deep drilling work. For many months the Council refused to tell local residents what this survey work was for, then in February 2017 the Council publicly admitted that they want to use Nutsford Vale as the location for a huge new secondary school for up to 1800 pupils, to be built and finished before September 2019.
What’s wrong with a school – we need a school in the area, don’t we?
We have no problem with a school! In fact we welcome another high school to provide our children with more choice and potentially a better education in smaller class sizes. We just need the Council to understand that taking away one public amenity to provide another at the expense of the residents and taxpayers is not OK, especially when there are numerous more suitable places the school could be built. The community will continue to fight the Council on any development on Nutsford Vale as it is simply not wanted.
Why don’t local residents want a new school on Nutsford Vale?
There are many reasons why local residents are objecting to this idea (see below) but there are three overriding arguments against the scheme. The first is that it would represent a huge loss of a valuable amenity to this community. This area of inner city Manchester has very little in the way of green space, wildlife and biodiversity and very few places to find peace, quiet and tranquility. To lose Nutsford Vale would leave us with nothing.
The second reason is perhaps more frightening. Before it was capped over and re-planted as a park, Nutsford Vale was used as a landfill site and clay pit. The Environment Agency believes that underneath Nutsford Vale is buried domestic, commercial and industrial waste including hazardous chemical waste that may be carcinogenic, corrosive and poisonous. The site is entirely safe for as long as it remains undisturbed, but the site was being used as a toxic waste dump for more than 70 years and the Council has very few records of what materials were dumped there and knows little or nothing about what might be disturbed by major construction works. The local community is extremely concerned that building works could release toxic or noxious gases into the atmosphere and also worried that this site can never be a safe place for children to spend seven hours a day, five days a week for several years! The landfill site was capped and covered around 1983. Industry standards say it is best to wait 30-50 years before ‘reclaiming’ any old standard domestic landfill site, so this development is terrifyingly close to the bare minimum.
The third reason is that even if the ground were safe, the Matthews Lane area is a heavily populated residential neighbourhood which is already home to Cedar Mount High School (about 200 yards from Nutsford Vale), Mellands High School and Grange Primary School, and is simply not an appropriate location for (what would be) one of the biggest schools in Manchester. Already hundreds of teenagers use Matthews Lane every day to come and go from other schools. If this plan went ahead it would mean more than 3,000 children from rival schools on the streets of our neighbourhood every day, and hundreds more cars. Both the construction work and then the daily activities of the school would cause immense inconvenience and distress to neighbours. Not least among those neighbours is Grange Special School for children with autism, which would be immediately adjacent to the new school and would end up trapped directly between two rival comprehensive schools.
Well this sounds like a really stupid plan. Why do the Council want to build a school there?
In a word, money. In announcing their plan for the area, the Council published a desktop appraisal of three possible sites for the new school. Of the three, only Nutsford Vale is owned by the council. The appraisal gave a massive ‘weighting’ to a site that is owned by the council and therefore more affordable, plus immediately available, because they wouldn’t have to buy land from elsewhere. It is impossible for us to assess the accuracy and honesty of the appraisal of the other sites as the other two locations remain secret due to ‘commercial confidentiality.’ However we believe the assessment of Nutsford Vale is riddled with untruths and inaccuracies, so we can have no faith in the honesty of the exercise. Every indication is that the appraisal was nothing more than a rubber-stamping exercise on a decision that had already been taken.
The Council must have done some testing before saying it can be built on?
The Council has commissioned Architects and a Construction team for the site already, and they have conducted toxicology tests, biodiversity reports and archaeological surveys. We are somewhat concerned that the tests have been conducted around information and ordinance survey maps held by the Council, and ignoring the plethora of local information which can contradict the information they ‘know’. For instance, they have drilled to a depth of 30 metres to test for the presence of dangerous explosive chemicals based on Council held reports on the landfill, but we have personal accounts from several long term residents who say the Clay Mine on the site went to depths of more than 60metres in places, with tunnels coming off the main site sprawling underground around Gorton.
So what do the toxicology reports on the site say?
We don’t know. The Council do not know. Incredibly, at the time the appraisal document was published (February 6th 2017) the monitoring and survey work was still being conducted and the reports on their findings had not even been written. At time of writing, (March 4th) the Council has already held two out of its three community consultation events without anyone knowing what the risks are to local residents and (eventually) pupils and staff of the new school.
What do the biodiversity and archaeology survey reports on the site say?
We don’t know. Despite asking (through Freedom of Information requests and via our local councillors) the Council are still refusing to publish the results of the reports which they have conducted. We do not know if these reports have even been written yet.
How important is Nutsford Vale to the local environment?
Nutsford Vale is home to tens of thousands of trees which play a significant role in cleaning the air we breathe. As Nutsford Vale is only a hundred yards from A6 Stockport Road and a few hundred yards from A57 Hyde Road, both of which are busy arterial traffic routes, the air is already very polluted and breathing problems such as asthma and COPD are very common in the area, particularly among children and older people. Building a school on the site would certainly cause a significant increase in air pollution.
The site is also vital to biodiversity. Among the wildlife living on the Vale are rare woodpeckers and heron, bats, frogs and other amphibians alongside the numerous squirrels and foxes. There is a wildflower meadow which attracts bees and other flying insects which help pollinate the area, and a recently-planted community orchard.
Most homes in the area do not have gardens, so Nutsford Vale is the only place locally where our many of our children can experience nature in the wild, climb trees, explore, and learn about the natural world. The area is also well-used by local residents for dog-walking, picnicking, playing or just chilling in a rare pocket of peace and tranquility in a busy, noisy inner city neighbourhood.
How important is Nutsford Vale to the local community?
Members of the Friends of Nutsford Vale group have played a key role in developing the Vale from the wild scrubland of ‘Jackson’s Tip’ to the beautiful park we have today. They attracted over £600,000 of public funding to develop the area, including putting in paths, benches and seeding the wildflower meadow and orchard. Over the past 20 years, local residents have volunteered thousands of hours of their own time to work on the Vale, organise community events, organise regular litter-picks and much more, all of which has been encouraged and recognised with award nominations and numerous accolades and plaudits from the very same council officials who now want to throw all of that away. The proposal to build a school on Nutsford Vale is an appalling, offensive slap in the face to local residents and gives a clear message that Manchester City Council does not care about social capital, does not value community involvement and does not appreciate or reward civic engagement and volunteering.
Does the Council have planning permission for this new school?
No, not yet. At time of writing, the Council is involved in what it calls ‘pre-planning consultation.’ A formal planning application is likely to be submitted soon and we understand a final decision on the proposal is likely to be taken in February 2018. When the application is submitted, local residents will have the opportunity to make formal objections.
How do I get involved?
Firstly, make sure you sign the petition at http://petitions.manchester.gov.uk/petitions.ti/savenutsfordvale and share it with all your friends and neighbours. The Friends of Nutsford Vale have regular meetings at the Blue Bell Inn, Barlow Road, Manchester M19 3HF from 6.30pm – check out the “EVENTS” page of our website for details of the next meeting.. If you are not able to make those meetings, you can get involved on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for updates or contact us directly via the “CONTACT US” page on our website.