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Developer given permission to close 300-year-old public footpath in Salford | Salford

A developer has been given permission to close a 300-year-old riverside footpath and divert pedestrians through a back street or through a hotel lobby in what critics say is the latest egregious example of the privatization of public space.

Campaigners in Greater Manchester have made an 11th-hour attempt to stop the path by the River Irwell being shut, saying citizens had a “fundamental right” to walk along the river, which “should not be sacrificed for private gain”.

The contested path is in Salford’s rapidly gentrifying Blackfriars neighborhood, right on the border with Manchester. It runs opposite the glitzy Spinningfields district, home to Manchester’s branch of celebrity restaurant The Ivy and numerous financial and legal institutions.

The development, known as Ralli Quays, will see government office buildings demolished to make way for an office complex and a 16-storey, 260-bed hotel. It was approved in January by Salford councilors despite widespread public opposition, although the path cannot be closed until approval is granted from the Department for Transport.

Councilors accepted claims from architects employed by the developer, Legal & General, that it was too “difficult” to maintain and restore the existing right of way, which runs 207 meters along the Irwell at various heights.

The developers also argued that the existing path, which has not been fully accessible for some time, “seemed to be used by rough sleepers”.

Instead, the new public footpath will run along a parallel sidestreet with no river view, with an additional “permissive path” granted alongside the river’s terrace and through the hotel lobby.

Permissive paths are often controversial because the landowner can withdraw access at any time.

An artist’s impression of the development shows a terrace with cafe seating, where the permissive path will run until it reaches a glass fronted lobby called The Junction.

Campaigners argue that Salford council should be creating more public rights of way rather than taking them away. The authority’s own masterplan envisions the creation of the Irwell City Park, a riverside walk and cycle path running from the University of Salford to Salford Quays.

Dr. Morag Rose, a lecturer in urban geography who is leading the campaign, said: “We believe the right to walk along the Irwell is a fundamental right and we assert the value of public space. It should not be sacrificed for private gain.”

Rev. Andy Salmon, a local vicar, said: “I passionately want to see our cities feeling like good, healthy and interesting places to live. This to me means that we need to be adding more public rights by way of not taking them away.

“People want to walk alongside the river, and why shouldn’t they? I long to see the river as a lovely route through the city and at the moment there are too many spaces where it doesn’t work. Every development is an opportunity to enhance the river route as was envisaged in the Irwell City Park planning guidance which still has authority but seems to have been ignored for this development.”

Salford councilor Mike McCusker, lead member for planning, transport and sustainable development, said: “Our original intention was to improve and upgrade the existing towpath as part of the development. However, this was not deemed possible due to safety concerns with this particular section.

“The new proposed access, which was welcomed by the Manchester Ramblers Association, is a compromise that allows us to pursue the goal of creating a huge area of ​​high quality, usable green space for local residents to enjoy. It is important to remember that this development is also significantly expanding Salford’s public realm, not losing it.”

According to the Greater Manchester Pedestrian Association, the footpath under threat was originally built around 1720 when the Irwell first became navigable by horse-drawn barges.

Legal & General has been contacted for comment.

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