Water, sludge, green energy and the civil engineering awards

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Today’s edition of Making Manchester was a bit different. It was broadcast live, which meant there was perhaps a bit more music than usual, as well as a live interview with a studio guest.

The main theme of the programme was water, and it contained packages based on interviews recorded in Cumbria and Trafford. The first tells the story of how Victorian civil engineers turned a small lake in the English Lake District into a reservoir in order to move some of the best drinking water in the world 96 miles along Britain’s longest aqueduct to serve the needs of the growing city of Manchester.

The programme also looked at how award-winning green technology is now used to treat Manchester’s sewage, creating farm fertiliser and clean energy in the process.

In the second half of the programme Kathleen Harrison, former chair of the Institution of Civil Engineers North West, talks about ICE North West’s forthcoming Annual Awards. The nominations from Manchester and the surrounding area include the Victoria Station redevelopment, a smaller station development at Hyde Central, a land-stabilisation project intended to prevent residents’ gardens from slipping into the River Irwell, and a wonderful project in the River Bollin at Wilmslow which allows migrating fish and eels to bypass an Environment Agency monitoring system which is necessary for gathering flood risk management and warning data but which would otherwise inhibit the passage of aquatic wildlife.

This year ICE North West has introduced a new Heritage Award, and Kathleen Harrison talks about some of the first nominations for this award. These include the Wigan Flight of locks, which help the Leeds and Liverpool Canal – one of the UK’s longest canals, which was completed 200 years ago this year – to get across the Pennines.

Another Heritage Award nomination is for a work of civil engineering which must be familiar to everyone in the country and many people abroad – Blackpool Tower, 125 years old, 518 feet 9 inches tall and nominated against some stiff opposition from other classic works of civil engineering around Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, the Isle of Man, Lancashire and Merseyside.

If you’d like to know more, ICE North West’s Twitter feed @ICENorth West will be publicising the nominations for this year’s North West Civil Engineering Awards over the next few weeks under the hashtag #ICENWawards.

Meanwhile we look forward to next week’s Making Manchester, which will tell the story of the Manchester Ship Canal – and the current Atlantic Gateway project which is set to transform the economy of Manchester, the North West and indeed Northern England during the coming decade and beyond.

The programme is now available on Mixcloud to listen to anytime.


The epic engineering behind a glass of Manchester tap water

This is a short video preview for the next Making Manchester programme due for live broadcast on ALL FM 96.9 and http://www.allfm.org 0900-1000 GMT Monday 25 January 2016.

The programme will feature the Victorian civil engineering which since 1894 has brought drinking water almost 100 miles from the Lake District to Manchester.

Secondly the programme will investigate the award-winning green technology that nowadays treats Manchester’s sewage, producing farm fertiliser and green energy in the process.

Manchester’s railways past, present and future

Railways, Victoria dome from beneath

This morning’s broadcast of Making Manchester: The engineering of the first modern city is now available on Mixcloud here. It’s called Manchester on track and it looks at Manchester’s railways past, present and future.

Katie Belshaw, Curator of Engineering at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, tells us us about the first intercity railway – the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, engineered by the great George Stephenson and opened in 1830 – and how the railways transformed society. The oldest surviving intercity railway station can still be seen on MSI’s site, along with a Power Hall full of wonderful old machinery including railway engines and carriages from different centuries.

Next we visit Manchester Victoria Station to talk to Noel Connolly of Network Rail. Manchester Victoria had been voted worst Category B station in the country, but recently had a thoroughgoing – not to say moderately spectacular – redevelopment. Noel tells us about the redevelopment, and puts it in the context of a broader package of improvements to railways in and around Manchester.

Finally we meet Charlotte Bowen of HS2 Ltd to ask: What will High Speed Rail do for Manchester? Charlotte explains the rationale behind HS2, and the benefits to passengers and the economy, and looks at the possibilities for how the new 400-metre-long trains that travel at 225 mph will come into Manchester.

In a future programme we’ll take a close look at Manchester’s other rail network – the Metrolink light rail system – which now serves Greater Manchester.

Manchester on track

The Venice of the North

The Venice of the North – the nickname Manchester acquired due to its plethora of canals – is also the title of the first programme in the Making Manchester radio series, first aired on ALL FM 96.9 and http://www.allfm.org at 0900-1000 GMT on Monday 11 January 2016.

This programme tells the fascinating story of Britain’s first modern canal and the boom in canal building which it triggered.

It also discusses the current renaissance in the life of Manchester’s canals, in terms of leisure, wildlife, canalside regeneration for offices and homes, improvement of the towpaths as cycling routes – and includes interviews about how to experience life on the canals if you don’t happen to own a boat, and also how you can get involved in looking after the canals through voluntary work.

As a preview you can watch this video.

Coming soon to ALL FM 96.9…

So what’s this all about?

What made Manchester the city it is?

That’s obviously a story you could tell from various perspectives. Its location, the climate, the people, popular culture, politics, football, the industrial revolution… It’s a small, rainy inland city in northern England, but it has two of the world’s top ten big football clubs. It’s the UK’s third most popular destination for overseas tourists – and is about to overtake Edinburgh in that regard. And for some reason, there are more than thirty towns and cities in the USA named after Manchester. There’s obviously something about the place. What is it?

I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive answer. I’m simply going to tell a story of the making of Manchester from a particular perspective.

The word infrastructure isn’t usually one that sets pulses racing. And unlike many professions, civil engineering is seldom glamorised in popular culture. But when you look at Manchester from this perspective – the infrastructure that forms a kind of physical framework in which everyday civilisation functions – there are some fascinating stories to tell.

Britain’s first modern canal led to Manchester. So did the world’s first intercity railway line – and the UK’s only ship canal, which was once the biggest in the world. Britain’s longest aqueduct was built by Victorian civil engineers to bring Manchester its drinking water, and for more than a century Manchester’s pioneering sewerage systems have taken away our waste.

So this series of radio programmes, and the blog that accompanies it, will tell the story of the engineering of Manchester – and how civil engineering made it possible for Manchester to become the world’s first modern city.

But it’s not all about history and heritage. The renewal of Manchester’s infrastructure is playing a huge role in the current development of the city. Today’s civil engineers are grappling with tomorrow’s challenges, such as making sure the city’s transport and water and sewerage systems cope with an expanding population, and working out how to keep the lights on despite massive extra demand for energy in a world of finite resources with a changing climate. We’ll be looking into these things too.

So if you’d like to know a little more about all this, I hope you’ll join me on ALL FM 96.9, Mondays at 0900 GMT from 11 January – or you can listen online at www.allfm.org. There will also be a listen-again facility on Mixcloud, so you’ll be able to hear the programmes at any time. And each programme will have a short tie-in video to accompany it, in case you’d prefer a potted version of the story.



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