Once again we find ourselves trapped between two tempting offers. On the one hand, preserving our industrial heritage for generations to come, educating them on what made our city great. On the other, the promise of future development and the revolutions that they too may allow to pass, further carving our name into the history books.

The Ordsall Chord development plans are nothing new. The project was originally conceived in the 1970s when it became startlingly apparent that the rail network in the North West was simply not sufficient to support demand. Several proposals were put forward, but were ultimately defeated on cost grounds and opposition from local MPs.

The problems have not gone away. As our city becomes more and more attractive to tourists and commuters alike, we need a rail system that will move people around as effectively as possible. The current thorn in Network Rail’s side is the lack of a link between Victoria and Piccadilly, which is where the chord comes in.

The current plan is to create a brand new, 340m length of track that will cross the River Irwell on a new bridge and Trinity Way on a new viaduct. This will link the Castlefield Junction Line with the Deal Street Junction Line, thereby connecting Manchester’s three rail stations for the first time.

According to Network Rail, the plan will allow:

– A new direct service through Manchester city centre to Manchester Airport.
– Faster journey times to Hull, Newcastle and the North East.
– Two new fast trains per hour between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool.
– Six fast trains an hour between Leeds and Manchester (as opposed to four now).
– Faster journeys across the north.

So far so good, right? Well, not entirely. The area earmarked for the improvements is the home of the historic Liverpool Road Station site, the Manchester terminus of the world’s first, steam-powered, intercity passenger railway. The station closed to passengers in 1844, but has always retained a working connection to the wider rail network, allowing heritage trains to run along the line to the Museum of Science and Industry, which now has its home in the historic building. If the Ordsall Chord plans go ahead, this historic connection, which has been constant for over 180 years, will be severed. The museum, originally opposed to the plans, dropped its opposition in May 2014 after reaching a compensation settlement with Network Rail. Ignoring the station site, there are a further 30 ‘heritage assets’ alongside the proposed route, as well as two additional Grade I listed buildings – the house in which the stationmaster lived and a warehouse building dating to 1830. And they’re getting in the way.

Another option had been proposed by Mark Whitby, a former president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, who appealed against the original decision at the Royal Courts of Justice. His plan was to alter the route, moving it so it cut through Middlewood Locks instead. The revised route would have cost £20m more but would save the historic site from harm. However, once again, things aren’t as simple as they seem. Middlewood Locks is also an area earmarked for development, a development which is crucial to the regeneration of Salford.

There are no easy answers in this saga. Do we risk damaging what has been labelled ‘the place where the modern world began’ to improve a desperately under-performing rail system? Or do we leave an area of Salford in dire need of regeneration to stagnate to preserve relics of a forgotten age? Ultimately, it appears the decision has been made for us. Despite Mark Whitby’s last ditch attempt, the chord looks set to progress. His appeal was recently thrown out in favour of Network Rail’s original plans. This is in spite of the fact that the area has been described by Andrew Davison, acting on behalf of English Heritage, as the “Stonehenge of railway history”.

No one is more for the regeneration of Manchester than myself. But as in the case of Beetham Tower dashing any hopes of the centre of Manchester becoming a UNESCO world heritage site and the proposed plans for soulless, characterless flats at the site of the old Pomona dock, those in charge are often far too eager to rush forward plans without thinking of the massive loss to our city’s incredible cultural and social history. Could the regeneration of the Middlewood Locks work in tandem with Whitby’s alternative route? We’ll never find out. It seems that we are whitewashing what makes Manchester great in a bid to appear more charming to big business as part of the much promised ‘Northern Powerhouse’, rushing towards an unsure future instead of preserving a concrete past. The dangling carrot of the Powerhouse is a lure we haven’t asked for and have already had to make several compromises for, but the loss of our city’s history is one we will surely lament in generations to come.

David Ewing