About The Quays
To understand the scale of the problem and the achievement at Salford, it is necessary to go right back to the beginnings of the site - and the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal by Queen Victoria in 1894. This was a feat of engineering, running from Eastham on the Mersey Estuary to Salford - a length of 35.5 miles. It enabled sea-going vessels of up to 12,500 tonnes to sail right into Greater Manchester and the industrial heartlands of the north-west, and was built at a time of great national confidence when Britain was the workshop of the world. Significantly, the Manchester Ship Canal opened just five years before Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, so setting the seal on an era of unprecedented industrial prosperity.
With its new canalside docks, the city of Salford, a prominent site of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century, was destined to grow rapidly. In 1896, Trafford Park Industrial Estate was opened for the manufacture and export of textiles and machinery and the whole area boomed. At its mid-20th century peak, Trafford Park employed 75,000 workers. Salford veterans recall thousands upon thousands of men and women streaming into its factories every day. Salford had experienced a major increase in population, from 7,000 to 220,000 by the early years of the 20th century, but even amid enormous wealth creation and with a massive labour force in work, social and economic conditions were often appalling.
In common with the area's other traditional industries such as engineering and steel-making, Salford's docks suffered terrible decline at the end of the 1960s. The advent of containerisation, shifts in trade patterns and the increase in the size of ships all affected Salford badly. The glory days were over and worsening economic conditions, precipitated by the oil crisis of 1973 and subsequent industrial unrest in Britain, speeded up the rate of decline. By the late 1970s, the loss of trade and jobs in the north of England was alarming and the once-proud docks of inner Salford, by now squalid and polluted, qualified to receive derelict land funding under the British Government's Urban Programme.
Salford docks closed forever in 1982. Jobs at Trafford Park nose-dived towards an all-time low of 24,500 by 1985, as unemployment in the north-west soared above 30 per cent in some places. Salford City Council chief executive John Willis, who had joined the council in 1966, recalled how bad things were at the time: "All the traditional industries were shutting and we faced this urban wasteland right in the middle of the city. Unlike Liverpool or London, the docks didn't have good warehouse buildings that could in time be renovated. They were rotting wooden grain stores. The challenge was what to do with the docks and the Council took the view that it had to do something. And that meant partnership with the private sector."
The City Council had already been brave in selling off Salford's worst tenement blocks to private housebuilders for nominal sums to redevelop as owner-occupier flats. Now it persuaded the Department of the Environment to allow it to purchase the docks and engage private entrepreneurs and developers in a phased programme of dockland regeneration. In late 1983 it acquired the majority of the docks (about 37 hectares) from the Manchester Ship Canal Company for a reputed £1.5 million. It then reached agreement with private developer Ted Hagen's Urban Waterside company to transfer land around Dock 6 to its ownership on condition that at least £4.5 million of private sector development be secured. Meanwhile, derelict land funding from the Urban Programme enabled work to start on reclamation as well as new services, landscaping and roads.
Hagen's vision was for a cinema and hotel to occupy the site. Salford was about to begin the long march back from the brink. "At the City Council, we had sleepless nights over the guarantees we had to give but they were never called on," said Willis. "Investment from the Government's Urban Programme, from the European Regional Fund and our own budget meant we were eventually able to start sorting out the infrastructure."
Extracts from Making the Lowry, Jeremy Myerson, Lowry Press, 2000
Support was received from The National Lottery, through The Arts Council of England, The Millennium Commission, and Heritage Lottery Fund. Other funders include the European Regional Development Fund, English Partnerships, Salford City Council, Trafford Park Development Corporation and the private sector.
The total cost of the project was £106 million. The project includes The Lowry building, the large Plaza, the terraced areas down to the canal and the Lifting Footbridge leading to Trafford Wharfside and the Imperial War Museum North. Also included in The Lowry project is the Digital World Centre (DWC) - a high-tech business centre providing quality, serviced premises. It will be home to the Digital World Society (DWS), a new think tank that will generate innovative projects in digital technologies opened in Autumn 2003.