Greater Manchester Green City Region. Creating a greener, greater city region differently

River Irk Middleton

Bringing the River Irk to Life

The vision will be a collaborative 10-year initiative covering the river and its tributaries under the title of Bringing the River Irk to Life (BRIL).

The River Irk and its tributaries worked hard for the people of Greater Manchester during the industrial era - supporting the development of a wide range of trades and unprecedented population growth. The legacy of this past lives on in the unnatural form of the river which is straightened for long stretches and sometimes underground. It also suffers from contamination and in many places is cut off from local people.

The process of developing the vision began in October 2018 when over 30 representatives of stakeholder organisations came together at a workshop in central Manchester.

The participants in the workshop were asked to outline their ambitions for the River Irk catchment, to identify areas of shared aspirations and to prioritise actions to be taken forward. During an initial interactive session participants put forward suggestions for improving the River Irk under three headings: people, ecology and resilience. In the meantime, representatives from the three local authority areas in the Irk catchment, Manchester, Oldham & Rochdale, spoke about the history of the River Irk and how they are working to regenerate the river and to reduce the risk of flooding to properties, for example.

In the second part of the workshop delegates were asked to condense their earlier suggestions and identify priorities for action. Each delegate had a fund of virtual cash which they could invest in up to three projects. The top priorities to be taken forward are:

  • Re-naturalisation and reconnection of the river.
  • Transforming the Irk so that it becomes “The People’s River”.
  • Supporting planning policies and decisions that promote increased investment in green infrastructure within the river valley.  

The next stage in the development of the vision will be taken forward as a Phase 3 Action of Natural Course, an EU LIFE Integrated Project aimed at accelerating delivery towards the objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive, and will use a natural capital approach pioneered by DEFRA and the West Country Rivers Trust. The approach is made up of 5 stages:

  • Building partnerships and developing the vision
  • Drawing on the evidence base to characterise the landscape and understand the starting point
  • Setting goals, identifying solutions and weighing-up the options
  • Designing an implementation programme
  • Implementing the plan, measuring progress and evaluation

This process will enable the Environment Agency and its partners to identify and access sources of income to make the vision a reality and will build on earlier Natural Course projects which include a survey of outfalls to the river and the production of a Natural Capital action plan for the regeneration of the lower section of the valley as part of Manchester’s Northern Gateway.  

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