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Theatres of Dreams


As the Making Manchester series builds towards a close, we feature the city’s sports infrastructure in a two-part special called Theatres of Dreams: The civil engineering behind a great sporting city.

Part 1, first broadcast on 19 September 2016, features an extended interview with Simon Inglis, a leading historian of sports architecture and a former member of both the Football Licensing Authority and the Football Stadia Advisory Design Council, covering the remarkable development of Old Trafford Football Ground from 1910, and how its development has helped shape English football as a business, and of Manchester United FC as a global brand.

Part 2, first broadcast on 26 September 2016 and based on insider interviews, looks at three more of the city’s key stadiums: Emirates Old Trafford, home of Lancashire County Cricket Club since 1864 and in recent years a classic example of business diversification around a sports club; the Manchester Velodrome, home of British Cycling since 1994, and one of the keys to the acsendancy of Britain’s world-leading cycling team in recent years; and finally the Etihad Stadium, originally built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and now the home of Manchester City FC.

There’s also a taster video, and both programmes can be accessed on Mixcloud.


Moving Manchester on Mixcloud


Today’s edition of Making Manchester was broadcast by ALL FM 96.9 as scheduled, and an extended cut of the programme is now on Mixcloud.

Moving Manchester: Planes, trams and smart motorways tells the stories of Manchester’s biggest current transport infrastructure projects: Manchester Airport’s expansion (based on an interview with MAG’s Director of Planning John Twigg), Manchester Smart Motorways (based on an interview with MSM’s Project Director Dave Emery) and Metrolink’s expansion (based on interviews with Cllr Andrew Fender of Manchester City Council and Peter Cushing, Transport for Greater Manchester’s Metrolink Director).

Next week’s Making Manchester will be the first of a two-part programme called Theatres of Dreams: The civil engineering behind a great sporting city.

The Metrolink story

Ahead of our next programme Moving Manchester: Trams, planes and smart motorways, here’s a short video featuring clips from the interviews in the programme.

Cllr Andrew Fender of Manchester City Council was involved with Metrolink from its inception in the 1980s, and recounts for us the saga of transforming Metrolink from a drawing-board idea to being the UK’s biggest tram network.

Peter Cushing, Transport for Greater Manchester’s Metrolink Director, tells us about some of the engineering challenges faced in putting the system’s current seven lines and 93 stops into place over a twenty-year period.

The short video gives a flavour of the longer story in the ALL FM radio programme.

Thanks to Manchester String Quartet and Glucose Records for their kind permission to use their “Happy” in this video and others in the series.


New video: The Origins of Manchester Airport

DSC00871Next Monday ALL FM 96.9 will broadcast the next programme in this series: Moving Manchester: Trams, planes and smart motorways. The programme discusses Manchester’s biggest three ongoing transport infrastructure projects.

As a taster, here’s a video on The Origins of Manchester Airport, featuring John Twigg, Planning Director at Manchester Airports Group.

You can hear the full interview with John on Monday morning’s programme, 0900-1000 on ALL FM 96.9 or or later via Mixcloud.

And look out for the Manchester Evening News on Saturday 3 September, which will carry an article on Metrolink to tie-in with Monday’s programme.


Series resumes 5 September

DSC00871The Making Manchester radio series is set to resume on ALL FM 96.9 from Monday 5 September¬† with a programme called Moving Manchester: Trams, planes and smart motorways. The programme will look at Greater Manchester’s three biggest ongoing transport infrastructure projects.

Since our last programme, Manchester Airport has become the first UK airport to operate direct, scheduled flights from anywhere outside London to mainland China. Meanwhile work has continued on the Manchester Smart Motorways project, and Transport for Greater Manchester has forged ahead with Metrolink’s Second City Crossing, with the new St Peter’s Square stop due to open at the end of August.

So Moving Manchester will recount the history of Manchester Airport from the early days of grass airstrips and airport facilities converted from barns and farmhouses, with a look at the airport’s future development based on an interview with John Twigg (pictured), Planning Director of Manchester Airports Group which now owns three other airports around England.

Next we’ll visit Manchester Smart Motorways and find out from project manager David Emery just what is a smart motorway, how does it work, and what are the challenges involved in making one of the UK’s busiest roads smart while it’s still carrying all that traffic.

And we’ll be discussing how Greater Manchester was given a brand-new tramway network in the space of 20 years – a story of the single-minded determination of local politicians in the face of all obstacles, and of the everyday ingenuity of civil engineers in converting railways, building bridges and driving tramways through busy town centres to create the UK’s biggest new tram network. In the programme we’ll hear from Cllr Andrew Fender, Manchester City Council’s transport portfolio holder who has steered Metrolink’s development from its inception, and Peter Cushing, Transport for Greater Manchester’s Metrolink Director, on the civil engineering challenges.

As usual, the programme will air first on ALL FM 96.9 and 0900-1000 on the Monday morning (5 September), and the recording will be available thereafter on Mixcloud.

The rise, decline and renaissance of the Manchester Ship Canal

Ahead of next week’s programme The seaport 40 miles from the sea, here’s a preview video featuring clips of the people we interviewed.

The full story will be broadcast on ALL FM 96.9 and 0900-1000 on Monday 1 February 2016 and will be available later on Mixcloud.





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.

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 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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