Oldham Council, its partners and community organisations, are cleaning up Moston Brook. This is a 70-hectare corridor straddling part of the boundary of Oldham and Manchester. It is affected by dereliction, neglect and contamination and has a polluted waterway. Cleaning up the area will reduce the risks to health of local communities and create a health-promoting space alongside areas of high deprivation.
According to Simon Papprill, Oldham's Principal Regeneration Officer, Moston Brooks' location on the fringe of both local authority areas: "had led to its potential as a significant cross-border green space being overlooked".
But in 2007 this situation could no longer be ignored because of a perceived rise in antisocial behaviour on parts of the site. This prompted Councillor Paul Murphy to convene a cross-boundary meeting to discuss the future of the area.
From a health perspective, the site was neglected and attracting undesirables. The site was also polluted: tests by the Environment Agency (EA) on the water quality of the brook revealed it to be one of the most polluted waterways in Greater Manchester.
The wards adjacent to the brook, Failsworth in Oldham and Moston in Manchester, are areas of high deprivation. Of the 10 super output areas (SOAs) that are located here, five are within the 20 per cent most deprived in England. Eight are within the worst 20 per cent by health deprivation - which combines scores for a range of health-specific indicators.
The problems and how they were tackled
The two councils jointly funded and commissioned Groundwork Oldham and Rochdale to produce a feasibility study on the Moston Brook corridor. The study was published in 2008 and included an action plan and a long-term aspirational plan. This brought together some of the ideas that came out of the consultation workshops that involved local people.
The plan highlighted the importance of the site linking up with adjacent open spaces to create a 70-hectare corridor of open space. This would include some areas of high ecological value - the neighbouring Rochdale Canal is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
To keep up the momentum of the feasibility study and to start applying for funds to implement the plan, the councils formed the Moston Brook Partnership. This led to a bid for regional reclamation funding.
At the start of 2010, the partnership received a provisional allocation of £4.97 million from the Newlands programme. This is funded by the North West Development Agency and managed by the Forestry Commission.
Due to the recent abolition of regional development agencies (RDAs), the status of this funding is currently under discussion (September 2010). However, other work continues with partner agencies and landowners investing in the site to improve its environmental quality and its attractiveness for users.
For example, United Utilities is spending £2 million on improving sewerage infrastructure located on the site. This will help to improve the water quality of the brook, as well as contributing financially towards local initiatives around Moston Brook.
Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority has spent more than £400,000 and installed a methane stripping plant on one of the two former landfill sites within the Moston Brook corridor. This is to reduce methane emissions - one of the greenhouse gases thought to contribute to climate change - entering the atmosphere. This also includes a leachate collection system to reduce the amount of pollution going into the brook.
Other bids have secured staff and more than £250,000 of financial resources to improve access in and around the corridor and recreational facilities. These include fishing platforms, along with in-kind work from partners, the community and volunteers.
In early 2010, the councils appointed Ann Bates to be the Moston Brook Project Officer. Her role is to improve the quality of the Moston Brook environment, coordinate the activities onsite and encourage local communities to use the corridor.
Groundwork Oldham and Rochdale has set up a 12-month volunteering programme on site, aimed at 16 to 25-year-olds, called River Valley Futures. A summer 2010 guided walk and ‘bug hunt' along the brook attracted 70 people, all of whom live very close to the site.
Lancashire Wildlife Trust has also used the site to run ecological ‘taster sessions' with young adults. These included a stream clearance where volunteers literally got their feet wet to clean up one section of the brook.
Outcomes and impact
The most pressing health concern has been to reduce the pollution on the site. This is now happening, although detailed investigations continue.
The improvements to recreational facilities such as paths and cycleways mean that the site can now be used for health walks, cycle rides and outdoor educational activities.
What is happening at Moston Brook fits with much of what we would want to do across the whole of Oldham with regards to improving physical environments to improve health and wellbeing.
Indirectly, the health of local people may improve because of the increasing economic investment in the area. Two new business nodes are being developed at either end of the green corridor that Moston Brook forms part of.
The railway that runs alongside this area is being replaced by three Metrolink (tram) stations to link Oldham to the Manchester system. And a series of high-profile developments are being proposed in and around the Moston Brook corridor. These could lead to additional inward investment and job creation.
Having a dedicated site officer means that someone is thinking creatively about attracting people from local communities into the area. Bates says that one of the main aspects of her role is helping people to overcome misgivings they might have about visiting:
People who don't go to the site think ‘Hmm, that's a bit scary', but I can find ways to get them there and talk to them and break down some of their fears.
For example, she ran an evening bat survey and walk for the local community, but made sure local police community support officers (PCSOs) attended. This reassured anyone who might feel intimidated about being in an urban park at night.
Much of the funding for what has happened so far has come from a mixture of sources. These have been either internal, through partners, or external bids for specific projects. For example, funding for the site officer post came from an internal bid by both councils. This followed on from the initial joint contribution of £20,000 each towards the feasibility study.
Papprill has watched a one-off meeting in 2007 evolve into a multi-million pound improvement scheme that provides the opportunity to rejuvenate a green space and help improve the health of some of the poorest communities in the country. He says that the scale of the project has been deliberate:
Small scale projects across an authority can often have a limited impact. But by focusing our attention and resources on a particular area, and pooling technical expertise and partner resources, it can build up a momentum of its own that increasingly attracts more partners and funding opportunities.
Adopting cross-party political support and consensus for the project has also been important. Councillor John McCann, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Environment at Oldham Council, says:
This has helped steer and reinforce the strong cross-authority partnership that has formed between Oldham and Manchester, and partners such as the Forestry Commission, Environment Agency and Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority.
At the same time as pursuing large-scale investment and change, the councils have kept implementing smaller projects that have kept people involved, and provided a story that they can continue to publicise.
Having a dedicated site officer has helped to keep this momentum going. Bates says that:
You need to keep offering a range of activities to get different people involved, especially when there isn't a history of friends' groups and strong local interest.
Contacts and links
Principal Regeneration Officer
Telephone: 0161 770 5163