A Virtual Stroll Along the Mickle Trafford-Shotton Railway

brook lane allotmentsHere, west of Newton Lane, the line runs close to, and parallel with, busy Brook Lane. Bicycle and foot access between the cycletrack and Brook Lane has been provided via a ramp at this point.

Across the road is a green area until recently providing the neighbourhood with allotments, but being gradually encroached upon by new houses. It is typical of the type of urban so-called 'brownfield' site currently being earmarked for redevelopment under local authority plans.

And indeed, in September 1999, the city council received a planning application for a development of 35 "different style properties" upon the former allotments and play area. Neighbouring residents objected to the plan on grounds of loss of open green space, the intensity of the development and the likelihood of extra traffic.

To no avail, naturally. On the left, behind these young cyclists, we can see them- an extremely mundane collection of structures behind an ugly fence- completed in April 2002.

On the other side of Brook Lane (and illustrated below) is the large, extremely attractive and well-maintained green open space, graced with birch trees, wildflowers and two fine ponds- home to all manner of protected wildlife- situated behind Northgate Village and immediately adjoining the old railway. This park is a treasured green oasis minutes from the fume-laden air of the ring road- but not, apparently, for much longer, as this is intended to be the point at which the busway will leave the course of the old Mickle Trafford railway via a ramp, slicing across and destroying much of the pleasant area seen in our lower photograph on its way to the city centre.

Another photograph of green space behind Northgate VillagePhotographs and 'artist's impressions'- such as this- in the official consultation leaflets issued by the City and County councils show the busway leaving the railway at a sharp right angle to the track (circled in red), clearly avoiding the ponds.

Upon being quizzed about the unlikelihood of buses being able to negotiate such a sharp bend, City Engineer Colin Stredder, in obvious contradiction to the 'official' material, admitted to the possibility of these ponds having to be filled in to accomodate the great earthwork carrying the busway.

In addition, a bus driver acquaintance assures us that his vehicle would be incapable of safely negotiating the curve as it is shown in the illustration.

Sure enough
, the Chester Chronicle of 7th May 1999 carried the following city council notice:

DISPOSAL OF LAND FORMING PART OF AN OPEN SPACE. Notice is hereby given that the Council of the City of Chester intend after the expiry of the period mentioned below to dispose of three areas of land forming part of an open space, namely land adjacent to Brook Lane Bridge, off Northgate Avenue and Victoria Road, Chester measuring 2210 and 2360 sqare metres respectively. (we make that only two pieces...)
It is intended that the areas of land will form part of the route of the proposed Chester Deeside Transport System".
CV Kerry, Head of Legal Services

Thus the illustrations in the official consultation material would indeed appear to have been misleading and inaccurate.
After joining the park, the course of the busway is then shown running between two lines of greenery behind the houses in Northgate Village- where the little red bus is at the bottom of the illustration. Curiously, this piece of land doesn't actually exist- the back gardens of these properties terminate at a fence seperating them from a steep drop to the railway sidings below. We gather that the plan is to acquire- at unknown cost- this section of sidings from Railtrack, which will then be filled in to provide space for the busway. Strangely, however, the sidings continue to appear in the illustration.

The former park may also serve as a depot for building materials and heavy vehicles during the construction of the busway, being among the very few places offering easy vehicular access to the old railway- albeit through heavily-populated residential areas.

This fascinating photograph from May 1959 shows how much this part of the old railway has changed. A signal box- the Chester East Box- once stood here (seen on left of photo).

The right-hand branch is the modern course of the Sustrans cycleway while the left-hand, which headed for the now-vanished Northgate Station, has gone without trace, to be replaced by the above-illustrated park and the houses of Northgate Village.

Interestingly, the above-mentioned ponds actually existed at this time, marooned among the railway lines! Note too the allotments on the right-hand side of the picture.
(Many thanks to Ralph Hodgkinson for this photograph)

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