How Manchester built its first park in 100 years for less than half the original budget
Manchester has opened its first city centre park in over 100 years for around half its original budget, i can reveal. Mayfield Park, opposite Manchester Piccadilly station, welcomed its first families this weekend to enjoy 6.5 acres of green space, footpaths, thousands of new plants and trees and one of the largest children's playgrounds in the city. Among the slides is one which is partially transparent and traverses the River Medlock, a large portion of which has been opened up for the first time in decades.
Local leaders have hailed the opening of the park as a triumph of the public and private sector working together to deliver regeneration - the project was a partnership between developer U+I, Manchester City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester and LCR, an arm of the Government which develops railway assets. During the Victorian era, Mayfield was the "city within a city" of booming Manchester, a vast industrial complex of dye works and tanneries spewing pollution into the air and river. Building a green oasis on that land was always going to prove a challenge.
But i can reveal developers were able to take advantage of the area's industrial heritage to ensure the project was delivered quickly and for around half the original budget. Originally, the scheme was estimated to cost around GBP45m, but just as it received planning approval in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Mayfield Park was delivered for GBP23m, around half the original budget (Photo: Mark Waugh/Manchester Press Photography Ltd)
Rather than being held back, project bosses decided to plough ahead when the prospect of funding from the Government's Build Back Better scheme came on offer for "shovel ready" projects that would drive economic recovery. Two years later, they have managed to deliver the park for GBP23m.
"It was a case of necessity being the mother of invention," said Mike Harrison, director at regeneration specialist U+I. "It was partly because of the Build Back Better funding, partly because of a drive to save carbon, partly because Covid made it difficult to get hold of materials. Mayfield is a success out of those particular circumstances."
A wide range of decisions helped make savings during construction, some innovative, some simple. U+I chose a smaller, local firm P.P. O'Connor as the main contractor and partnered with the them to share risk.
Another independent supplier, Massey and Harris, built the children's playground - complete with towers that are a nod to Manchester's cotton mills - at their workshop in Stockport. The collection of 140 trees came from experts in Knutsford, Cheshire. One of the biggest cost-saving moves was using demolition material from the site as the "engineered fill" for the base on which the park was built.
"It was manufactured on site," said Mr Harrison. "So we also didn't have lots of trucks using diesel. We reused and re-engineered some of the existing Victorian structures, like the bridges." "Not only did it save us an awful lot of money, it also created a much more authentic palate that makes it what it is now."
The new children's playground includes a slide which traverses the River Medlock (Photo: Oli Scarff)
All sorts of fascinating and useful discoveries were made as the park started to take shape. The remains of Mayfield Baths - built in 1857 in part to stop the spread of illnesses among the working classes - were unearthed and studied by archaeologists before being removed.
An old water well will now be used to irrigate the new green space and provide drinking water. "It was the most sustainable thing to do, and the most effective," said Mr Harrison. The successful delivery of Mayfield comes at a time when there are increasing fears over the future of levelling-up projects, due to soaring construction costs and the collapse of Boris Johnson's Government for whom it was a flagship policy. But Mr Harrison believes Mayfield shows what can be done even on a limited budget. "[Saving the money] wasn't just one thing, it was lots of things that all add up," he said. "There was no more money and no more time."
"I think there's lessons to be learned about working hard with the engineering to reuse things people might not think about."
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Mayfield Park sits alongside a range of historic buildings, including the landmark former railway station on Fairfield Street, which are being retained and redeveloped as part of the wider GBP1.5bn regeneration plans.
It is hoped with the arrival of HS2, the Piccadilly area of Manchester will follow the rest of the city centre's rapid development and become a new neighbourhood with around 1,500 homes, commercial buildings and retail and leisure facilities.