‘It’s like throwing gasoline on a fire’: Greater Manchester’s crossing from ‘hell’

It is 8.20 in the morning on a Thursday. Students walk, cars queue, and parents panic as the lights turn green at the ‘hell’ junction.

Surrounded by five schools, locals say this Chorlton Park bypass is “chaos” every morning, afternoon and match day at Old Trafford. Cars rush back and forth on Nell Lane, where the carriageway meets Mauldeth Road West, made up of four lanes of traffic with trams running right down the middle.

Chorlton High School, Hough End Hall Academy and Loreto High School are all on Nell Lane, just off the junction, next to a Sure Start Children’s Center which shares the same narrow street. Meanwhile, Chorlton Elementary School and CHS South are located on the busy dual carriageway, less than a mile away.

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Teachers, who estimate that more than 5,000 youngsters use these roads every day, say they have had to ‘jump’ to keep children away from possible collisions while on patrol. They speak of numerous near misses at the ‘dangerous’ crossing and some near fatalities on nearby roads.

In May 2021, a 12-year-old boy from one of the schools was left with life-threatening injuries after being struck while crossing Barlow Moor Road. On the same day, another student was involved in a car accident at the school entrance.

Principals, parents and local residents have been calling for better road safety measures for years. But now, they worry that things will get worse.

Plans for a new Lidl on the corner of the two streets have caused alarm amid fears the supermarket will bring more traffic to the area. Meanwhile, it is feared that changes to other roads in Chorlton, including a right-turn ban on two sections of Barlow Moor Road as a new cycle path is introduced, will divert more drivers to Nell Lane.

“It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire,” explains one parent who lives on the busy street. “I don’t want to be saying ‘we told you so’ when I’m burying my son.”

Plans for a discount grocery store in the area, currently being described as a “food desert” with only high-end stores available on corners, have been welcomed by many locals. The schools also agree that there is a need for a ‘cheap supermarket’ in Chorlton.

Plans for a Lidl on Mauldeth Road West, Chorlton(Image: Lidl)

But in an unusual move, two local schools formally objected to the planning request, which was considered by councilors in Manchester last month. Loreto Secondary School principal Catherine Hughes says road safety in the area has been a ‘primary concern’ of hers since she took office seven years ago.

“Schools haven’t even started yet and they’re already together,” he says of the traffic, standing by the intersection on a Thursday morning. She describes the many accidents in which she and her staff have had to intervene to save students from her.

The principal wants to encourage more students to cycle to school, she explains, but worries about their safety on roads that residents describe as “dangerous.”

Meanwhile, Chorlton High School Principal Zoe Morris is also concerned about the impact traffic on these roads is having on students.

“There are more than 5,000 children and young people who access their schools every day through this route,” he says of the crossing. “Our concerns are specifically about the risks posed to these young people, primarily in terms of their physical safety and secondarily the risk of increased air pollution.”

Speaking at a planning committee meeting last month, local councilors said that, working with schools, they have been campaigning to improve road safety in the area. But plans for a new Lidl have ‘divided opinions’ locally.

They called for specific measures to be put in place if the development goes ahead, including for the store to contribute to school crossing patrols. However, the committee deferred its decision, opting instead to visit the site itself.

Lib Dem councilor John Leech has raised concerns about the cycling scheme on Barlow Moor Road(Image: Kenny Brown)

A committee member, Lib Dem councilor John Leech, also raised concerns about changes to nearby roads adding traffic to the junction. In the final phase of the Manchester to Chorlton Cycle and Pedestrian Route, cars will be prohibited from turning right on Barlow Moor Road onto Sandy Lane or Wilbraham Road.

Coun Leech told a recent town hall meeting that council chiefs told him there would be no more traffic on Nell Lane as a result of these changes, adding that he did not believe them.

“It’s absolutely incredible what we’re doing,” he told a council executive meeting the day before the planning committee met. “Suggesting that the road model says there won’t be any impact on traffic on Nell Lane, well, sorry, the model just isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

Local residents say that Nell Lane has already become a ‘detour’ for Chorlton. Objectors to the Lidl scheme include Graham of St Werburgh’s Road, who describes Nell Lane as the road with “least resistance”.

Meanwhile, fellow objector Nicola, who also lives in the area, says she has had “really positive discussions” with her councilors about the planned changes to the area. “We want to make this a place where kids can bike and walk,” she said. “But this is counterproductive.”

Chorlton Park’s three Labor councilors say they are looking forward to the completion of the walking and cycling route, which should be ready by late autumn. Speaking for him, Dave Rawson said traffic surveys have been carried out at potentially affected junctions, including this one.

Some residents say the new supermarket would exacerbate existing problems in the area.(Image: Kenny Brown)

These surveys identify current traffic flow at junctions along Barlow Moor Road and other nearby roads so that comparisons can be made, he explained. Once the scheme is complete, traffic will be monitored and if there is evidence of negative impacts, measures can be put in place to address them, she added.

“As borough councillors, we have been in many detailed meetings with the design team and road officials to raise issues on behalf of residents and try to come up with a scheme that will make Chorlton safer to walk and cycle.” said Coun Rawson on behalf of his Labor colleagues. “We will continue to work with the team to ensure the scheme is a success.”

Addressing concerns about Mauldeth Road West and Nell Lane at the planning committee meeting on February 16, council chief Des Jones revealed that Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) must improve the junction. He explained that a ‘smarter’ system that deals with traffic flows will be installed.

The head of the city council confirmed that a road safety audit had been carried out and said that TfGM considered the planning application for a new Lidl acceptable. Representing the supermarket, Jonathan Harper of planning and property consultancy Rapleys described the development as a “significant investment” by Lidl that would boost the local economy and create up to 40 new jobs.

He said the location of the store, which would replace the old Lowry House office block last used as a temporary site for a school, would allow customers to walk, cycle or use public transport rather than drive to over there.

Manchester council had no comment on the planning request, which will be considered at a future committee meeting. However, commenting on the extension from Manchester to Chorlton for walking and cycling, a council spokesperson said this is not expected to result in additional traffic on Nell Lane.

Lowry House, at the junction of Nell Lane and Mauldeth Road West, where a new Lidl is planned(Image: Kenny Brown)

They said: “TfGM has carried out extensive traffic modeling as part of the design process for the Manchester to Chorlton Cycleway. Based on this, we do not anticipate further traffic flow through Nell Lane once this project is complete, however However, continuous monitoring will take place once upon completion.

“While we appreciate that there will be some interruptions in the course of construction, these updates are vital to the future well-being of Manchester residents. The City must take bold steps to make walking, biking, and bicycling the first choice for our residents.

“These options are not easy, but we believe they will benefit all of our residents, and the priority of walking, cycling and cycling is overwhelmingly the best direction for Manchester.”

A Lidl spokesperson said: “We would like to reassure the community that safety is of the utmost importance to us and we have been working closely with Manchester City Council to ensure that all necessary safety and accessibility requirements are met. This includes a number of measures, such as security bollards on Nell Lane and increased bike parking provisions.

“In addition, we have revised the site boundaries to further improve pedestrian safety. We look forward to welcoming councilors to the site to help alleviate any concerns, and we look forward to a council decision in due course.”

The Manchester Council Planning Committee will meet on Thursday 16 March.

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