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Mersey Valley Nature

A Community Park

Background

Mersey Vale Nature Park is a new public park formed from previously derelict bleach works and railway sidings sites in Heaton Mersey. It was chosen for its strategic position in relation to Stockport town centre and the route of the Trans Pennine Trail. It was also desirable to address anti-social behaviour which had been encouraged by the dereliction of the land. The project aimed to enhance the economic activity of nearby Stockport town centre and transform what was previously contaminated land into a valuable amentiy for the nearby population.

The River Mersey Development Plan (2002-2007) presented Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council's vision for the development of the riverside in Stockport. During the initial consultation process, it was apparent that there was some informal use of the riverside but that many people were not aware of the close proximity of the river to their neighbourhood.

Project

The Mersey Vale Nature Park project was part of the European Interreg IIIB-funded Artery Project. The Artery Project brought together 12 main partners from Germany, Holland and the UK to address the regeneration of former industrialised rivers. Mersey Basin Campaign was the lead partner in the UK.

The capital phase of the project was completed by September 2006. The park received around £1million of investment. This included:

  • £800,000 of Artery Budget - including Council budget, European Interreg IIIB funds, grants from the then Countryside Agency (now Natural England) and investment by the Environment Agency.
  • Over £100,000 of investment on the River Mersey Canoe Trail with £50,000 from the Environment Agency.
  • £40,000 from the Countryside Agency (now Natural England).
  • The remainder from the Council budget, as well as Section 106 funds.

Having identified a large area of riverside land the main objectives were to:

  • Develop an area for public use and interest
  • Increase biodiversity
  • Provide a cleaner, greener and safer environment
  • Create a green corridor and meadow to promote native species

The project has delivered over 22 hectares of remediated land in the form of a linear riverside park. Mersey Vale Nature Park now offers a safer, cleaner and greener environment, new leisure opportunities and a habitat for wildlife. Improvements have included:

  • The creation of a wildflower meadow
  • Two new dipping ponds for schools and the community to use
  • Improved accessibility and pedestrian connectivity
  • A new footbridge across the River Mersey for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders
  • Deterrents to discourage motorcycling
  • Appropriate access into the site with signage
  • Improvements of wider pedestrian approaches to the site
  • A Community Parks Officer as a recognisable point of contact for the public
  • The creation of the River Mersey Canoe Trail for visitors and community members
  • The planting and maintenance of a ‘Community Orchard’

The masterplan was drawn up on the basis of the opinions of 500 local residents who met regularly as a forum to discuss the plans. To reach younger people, the council employed artist Michael Johnson to work with Mersey Vale Primary School. The resulting landmark sculpture installed at the entrance to the park and entitled 'Seeds of Change' was inspired by grass heads gathered by pupils in the park.

A successful bid to the Big Lottery's 'Breathing Spaces' programme allowed work with BTCV to reinstate and develop a community orchard at a previously abandoned site within the park. This provided opportunities for volunteers to be involved in the park and in the management of the natural environment.

Stockport Council and Mersey Basin Campaign have supported Burnage Rugby Club in setting up a canoe hire facility at their premises and continue to work to support and encourage use of the Canoe Trail. The park and canoe trail have been included in the Stockport Visitor Guide. The River Mersey Canoe Trail is one of four pilot projects across the UK that demonstrate the use of local access agreements in securing use of rivers for canoeists.

The Mersey Vale Fun Day in July 2006 was an informal welcome and celebration of the park. This attracted around 1,000 people with a variety of entertainment from pond dipping, sheep dog trials and flying birds of prey, to dancing, music and a fun fair. Stockport Council has continued to raise the profile of the park and its natural environment via a series of press releases, newsletters and the distribution of publicity materials across Stockport and directly to local schools - highlighting the educational opportunities the park presents.

Mersey Vale Nature Park has also been designated as a Local Nature Reserve. This provides statutory protection for the area.

Impact

The impact of the Mersey Vale Nature Park project is evident in the way that the community have taken the space to heart. Complaints are rare and this is particularly important in light of the anti-social behaviour which was being reported before the project began.

The success is measured through the response of the public to the park. Feedback to the Community Park Ranger has been positive. From the original 500 consultees, the 40 members of the reference group and 1,000 attendees at the opening fun day, more people are now getting involved. This is mainly through events such as nature walks, volunteering opportunities and the canoe trail and races.

The park’s designation as a Local Nature Reserve will not only protect its habitats and the species they support in the future, but will also encourage the local community to enjoy and learn about the natural environment.

Stockport Council's River Mersey Development Plan (2002-2007) has been used as a best practice example by the European Network of Municipalities and Rivers (ENMAR) at a European level during conferences and in publications.

Lessons Learned

Difficulties with the Mersey Vale Nature Park project came in the form of losing one major funder. Stockport Council was able to rescale the project and make up the shortfall through several of its departments. Project team members attribute the overcoming of this problem to sheer determination.

Stockport’s focus on the river allowed the partnership with the Mersey Basin Campaign to flourish, and established a relationship which has since been built upon. Taking on opportunities for investment was a key function of this partnership.

The canoe trail was an added benefit that came about largely because of the geography of the council’s land acquistion. This covered a long stretch of the river, allowing more land to be used in the scheme.

Good Practice

  • Always allocate enough in your budget for effective community consultation. The overall benefits, including financial benefits, will be greater if this is done properly and from the start of a project.
  • Good partnerships work when they have clear shared missions and goals.
  • Bringing ‘dead’ green areas back to their natural habitat can have a variety of benefits for the native habitat and local community.
  • When delivering a large-scale park it is important to factor in the cost of a park ranger. They can act as a gauge to understanding public feeling towards the park as well as acting as a connecting point for the community.
  • Provide a range of activities with and for the local community to make them feel connected with the green space and have a sense of ownership over it. A variety of activities opens up more opportunites for different local people.

Reference

Louise Murphy

Programme Manager

Town Centre Regeneration Team,

Mersey Vale Nature Park, Battersea Road, Heaton Mersey, Stockport, SK4 3EA
Contact Phone: (0161) 474 4446 / (0161) 474 4565
Contact Email: louise.murphy@stockport.gov.uk