Northern Roots – Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Northern Roots project?
Northern Roots is a project to create the UK’s largest urban farm and country-park on 160-acres of under-used green space in the heart of Oldham, Greater Manchester. Developed for and with local communities, the vision for Northern Roots is to create sustainable economic, social and environmental benefits for those communities. Simply put, the project aims to:
- Develop a range of new facilities and activities to create a unique new community asset and visitor destination.
- Create jobs, training and business opportunities for local people.
- Stimulate the local economy and attract increased visitor numbers to the wider borough.
- Improve the health and wellbeing of local residents and communities.
- Protect and enhance the habitat, biodiversity and environmental value of the 160-acre Northern Roots site.
Read more about the vision for Northern Roots at Growing Northern Roots
How long has the Northern Roots project been in development?
Northern Roots was initiated by Oldham Council, which owns most of the site. Feasibility work started on the project in 2017. Over the last five years the Northern Roots project team has been working with experts in business modelling, ecology, urban farming and green technologies, and consulting with local communities, to explore what could and should be done on the 160-acre Northern Roots site.
Northern Roots achieved charitable status in 2021. The charity is now working towards submitting a planning application in early 2022.
Northern Roots will need to secure both planning permission and external capital funding before the vision for the project can be delivered.
Who currently has responsibility for the Northern Roots site?
The majority of the 160-acre Northern Roots site is currently the responsibility of Oldham Council. The Northern Roots project is in the process of becoming a charity. In time, the aspiration is that the Northern Roots charity will take a lease on the land from Oldham Council, however there are several steps to be worked through before this will be possible.
How is the Northern Roots project being funded? How will it become financially sustainable in the long term?
Oldham Council provided initial funding to enable the feasibility and development phase of the Northern Roots project. That phase is now coming to an end. The aim is for the project to be self-funding from now on for both capital and revenue costs. Northern Roots is working to secure funding from a range of external sources to cover these costs, and to develop a business model that harnesses different revenue strands to create long-term sustainability.
Northern Roots is exploring a wide range of statutory, charitable, educational and commercial funding streams to kickstart the development of the site. To date, Northern Roots has secured funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, GM Moving, the Green Recovery Fund, (a National Heritage Lottery Fund initiative), the Rural Community Energy Fund, the Community Renewal Fund, and the Towns Fund.
The long-term ambition for the Northern Roots project is that it will become self-financing through a blend of social investment, enterprise, licensing, membership and commissioning. As a charity, Northern Roots will be a not for profit entity. Any profit the charity makes will be ploughed back into the project for the benefit of local communities.
What opportunities has Northern Roots created for Oldham residents so far?
In 2020 Northern Roots initiated a range of pilot projects to create opportunities for local communities to get involved. These have included an Environmental Team volunteering programme, a Community Food Growing volunteering project, the Northern Roots Creative Writing Competition, Walk Leader Training and the Northern Roots Trainee Beekeeping Programme. Designed to give Trainees an opportunity to learn beekeeping skills and explore beekeeping as a business, the twelve-month Trainee Beekeeping programme has created one Northern Roots Lead Beekeeper job – which has gone to an Oldham resident – and offered free training to 20 people from across Oldham.
The Northern Roots project team has created five jobs, three of which have gone to Oldham residents, the remaining two to Greater Manchester residents. Three young people from Oldham joined the Northern Roots project in November 2021 as part of the governments’ Kickstart Scheme. During their paid six month role, they will learn and develop skills in environmental conservation, landscape management and community engagement.
“Roots of Opportunity” is a partnership initiative, led by Positive Steps working with Northern Roots and The Skill Mill. The partnership has been successful in securing £595,772 funding from the Community Renewal Fund to deliver a six-month pilot project starting in January 2022.
Roots of Opportunity will focus on supporting young people in Oldham into employment, delivering an initial arts and culture programme at Northern Roots, and supporting a few local businesses to start operating from the Northern Roots site.
The funding will support 21 local jobs over six months, including two Project Rangers and an Arts & Culture Producer, as well as eight new paid Environmental Traineeships.
Roots of Opportunity will empower young people who are thinking about their future career options and connect them with job opportunities in the growing green sector. Across Oldham, 133 young people in years 10 and 11 of school will have an opportunity to undertake work-experience on the Northern Roots site and work-readiness activity. In addition, 24 young people who are not in education or training, will undertake work experience at Northern Roots in February.
In future, Northern Roots aims to create new jobs and opportunities for local people and enterprises, by licensing and supporting operators to set up and run on the Northern Roots site. Northern Roots will continue to create further volunteering and work experience opportunities for local people.
What are the plans for developing the Northern Roots site? Will there be public consultation on proposed plans?
Over the last five years the Northern Roots project team has been working with experts in business modelling, ecology, landscape architecture and green technologies, and consulting with local communities, to explore what could and should be done on the 160-acre Northern Roots site.
An initial masterplan proposal for the site was shared for public consultation in August 2021. Five months of in-depth community consultation followed, involving consultation events, site tours, community co-design sessions and online consultation. Feedback from this consultation was used to revise the masterplan, and shape designs for the Visitor and Learning Centres.
On the basis of this phase of consultation, the final masterplan and building designs are being developed for inclusion in the planning application for Northern Roots.
Northern Roots has secured capital funding to start delivering this vision. Award-winning architects JDDK have been appointed to design the proposed Visitor and Learning Centres and develop a planning application. Northern Roots will need to secure planning permission before the vision for the project can be delivered.
Are there plans to build housing developments on site?
There are no plans for housing development on any part of the 160-acre Northern Roots site.
In future, will I have to pay to enter /access the site?
The Northern Roots charity is still developing the future business model for Northern Roots. Over time the project and site need to become self-financing. At present we anticipate that there will be no charge for entry to the Northern Roots site, and it will remain a free and open community resource for all users – cyclists, equestrians, walkers, mountain bikers etc.
There will be charges to access some of the facilities or activities provided on site, for example, training courses, performances or holiday clubs. We are working on plans for a subsidised model that will ensure inclusion and equality of access for all, especially the communities living directly around the site.
How does Northern Roots plan to tackle the issue of illegal motorbikes and quads, anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping on the Northern Roots site?
The issue of motorbikes and quadbikes on the Northern Roots site is a historic and persistent problem. Oldham Council, who are responsible for most of the site, continue to receive complaints from the local community in relation to this issue.
Motorised vehicles are legally prohibited from using the site, create noise and disturbance to local residents, destroy the surface of the playing fields, reduce the quality and safety of the public footpaths, and pose a potential safety risk to members of the public.
Motorbikes and quad bikes are legally prohibited from entering the Northern Roots site; it is a criminal activity. Such activity should be reported directly to the police on every occasion. Oldham Council have continually introduced preventative measures and report illegal activity when it occurs.
Oldham Council installed new kissing gates and fencing at the top of Snipe Clough, where Honeywell Lane meets Kings Road in 2020 to deter motorbikes from entering the site. There are barriers at most major entry points, although they have on occasion been forcibly altered and vandalised by individuals wishing to gain access.
Longer-term solutions may involve further physical preventative measures at key access points, accompanied by additional signage that clearly states that it is illegal to ride motorised vehicles and motorbikes on the site and that riders will be prosecuted if caught. If you’ve got any practical ideas that might help the situation, Northern Roots welcomes them – please get in touch via email@example.com
Northern Roots aims to maintain the community’s ongoing open access to the site, alongside access for wildlife such as Roe deer, which are migratory and roam between habitats in the Medlock Valley.
We hope that as the Northern Roots project develops and there are more facilities, activities and regular users on site, we will naturally see a reduction in anti-social behaviour and an increase in community pride in the site.
Will equestrians be able to access the Northern Roots site as the project develops/in perpetuity?
Equestrians have used and enjoyed the Northern Roots site for many years, with a rich history of Pony Club and Carriage Driving events taking place on the site. The site provides not just beautiful hacking opportunities, but safe off-road routes for horse and rider. The Northern Roots site is already a multi-user site. As the project develops, equestrians will remain part of that multi-user community with continued access to the site.
As Northern Roots improves and develops signage, pathways and access points on site, the needs of equestrians will be properly considered alongside those of other users. Going forwards there will be opportunities for the local equestrian community to collaborate with Northern Roots to enrich the equestrian experience on site, for example, by organising shows, events and open days where the public can meet and learn about horses.
Northern Roots has said it will create more biodiversity and enhance existing wildlife habitats on site. How does it plan to do this?
Preserving and enhancing biodiversity is key to the development of the Northern Roots project. Ecological surveys indicate that – with careful landscape management and habitat creation – Northern Roots can deliver a 25% increase in biodiversity on the site.
This can be achieved both through the sensitive management of existing habitats – like woodlands and grasslands – as well as through the creation of new habitats, such as tree, scrub and hedgerow planting, and pond and wetland creation. For example, existing woodland can be managed to make it more biodiverse by opening up crowded canopy to let light in to the woodland floor, using the cut wood to create brash piles, planting more diverse species of tree and native woodland plants, installing bird, bat and hedgehog boxes, and managing invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed which supress native plants.
Plans for habitat creation and enhancement have been incorporated into the current masterplan proposals for the Northern Roots site. A detailed management plan has been developed by the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit to restore degraded habitats in the Bankfield Clough Site of Biological Importance (SBI), to the south of the Northern Roots site.
With funding from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, Northern Roots is now beginning to implement this plan, cutting back encroaching scrub and rank grass to enable the recovery of the acid grassland, and reinstating three ponds which have been identified as promising habitats for the endangered Great Crested Newt.
Northern Roots is working with Lancashire Wildlife Trust, City of Trees, The Environment Partnership and the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit to deliver these improvements, create new corridors for pollinators and wildlife, and ultimately ensure that Northern Roots becomes part of one of the newly designated “Nature Recovery Networks”.
How does Northern Roots plan to protect the deer already using the Northern Roots site?
Over the last three years Northern Roots has worked with independent ecologists to create a thorough survey of flora and fauna on the site. From mammals, birds and amphibians to trees and plants, we have a clear picture of what is already present on site, and how we can balance the needs of existing wildlife and biodiversity, with the creation of more opportunities to enable local communities and visitors to benefit from the site.
Northern Roots plans to improve existing habitats and create new ones, including planting up to ten hectares of additional woodland, which will benefit the existing deer population on the site. The deer that currently visit the Northern Roots site are Roe deer, which are thriving across Greater Manchester. Their population is increasing because they have no natural predators and – happily – because more woodland habitats are being created in the region.
Roe deer are migratory, roaming between habitats, and it’s likely the ones on the Northern Roots site are part of a population that uses the Medlock Valley more widely. There are no plans to fence the perimeter of the Northern Roots site, in part to ensure Roe deer continue to be able to roam. We will however have to protect the market garden and young trees, as deer will eat and destroy crops and saplings.
Wildlife in urban areas adapts with great resilience to living around human populations. There are many examples of visitor attractions like Centre Parcs, Dunham Massey and Tatton Park, where human-deer interactions are far more common than will be the case at Northern Roots, and where the deer have adapted and are thriving.
Future visitors to the Northern Roots site will have minimal access to the very steep, wooded slopes in the Bankfield Clough area, along the Medlock, which are currently frequented by the deer. There are existing mountain bikes routes and a National Cycle route through that area. Northern Roots proposed interventions in this area will principally involve improving the existing foot and cycle paths to make them safer and bringing the woodland under active management to improve tree health, flood management and biodiversity.
As the Deer Society webpage shows, Roe deer are partly nocturnal and most active at dawn and dusk; during these hours there is likely to be very little human activity in these wooded areas. On this basis, we are confident that roe deer and humans can coexist happily on the Northern Roots site – as they currently do.
What are Northern Roots’ plans for carbon neutrality and green energy generation on the Northern Roots site?
The aspiration for Northern Roots is that the project should be carbon neutral, or even carbon positive. To this end the project will be developed to maximise the amount of carbon that can be stored within the site, to maximise the amount of green energy that can be generated from the site, and to minimise the amount of carbon dioxide emissions created in running and powering the site.
Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Trees play a vital role in this process, because they lock up carbon in their roots, branches and trunks. Carbon can also be captured in soils, and even in buildings if they are constructed using natural materials like timber.
We’ve calculated that the existing woodland at Northern Roots can capture a further 17,000 tonnes of carbon by 2050 if well managed. In addition, by planting new woodlands and actively managing soils to sequester carbon, we estimate that Northern Roots can capture an extra 7000 tonnes of carbon by 2050. Northern Roots can also be paid to store carbon, generating a revenue source that will help sustain the project.
Northern Roots has been working with specialist consultants in low and zero carbon technologies to explore how the Northern Roots site can function as a renewable power station. This has involved looking at the future energy demands for the Northern Roots project and site, and proposing the following solutions:
- Electricity generated from solar panels and possibly hydropower turbines.
- Heating produced from boilers burning biomass or woodland thinnings, and also from heat pumps which “concentrate” the heat contained in water, air or the ground to warm the air in buildings.
- Studies confirm that Northern Roots can meet its own energy demands by a combination of renewable sources coupled with a battery storage facility and excellent detailing and insulation of the built facilities.
- The site could also generate surplus electricity which can be exported to the local grid to help fund the operation of Northern Roots, or surplus could be sold directly to the local community at below market rates, giving a win-win situation where local people and the project benefit.
Read more about our plans at Green Infrastructure and Blue Sky Thinking
Why are you felling/thinning trees on the Northern Roots site?
Active woodland management involves preserving ancient or ‘veteran’ trees, felling diseased trees, sensitively managing trees that pose a health and safety risk to the public (rotten branches, trees that have fallen naturally and block pathways etc) and selective thinning of trees and saplings to allow light to reach the woodland floor. Alongside planting new and diverse species of trees and plants, these elements of woodland management are essential to conserving and enhancing biodiversity on the Northern Roots site.
Woodland plants, including trees, shrubs and ground flora, require sufficient light for germination, establishment, flowering and seed production. In turn, these plants are the food source for many woodland insects, animals and birds. The availability of light in a woodland is key to ensuring healthy ecosystems and biodiversity. Where trees are all the same age, size and shape – as they largely are on the Northern Roots site – habitats and biodiversity become very limited, and the woodland is likely to be less resilient to disease and pests than an actively managed and more diverse woodland.
Across the UK, the diversity of woodland plant, butterfly and bird species is in decline. In the last two decades alone, 14 new tree diseases have emerged in the UK, including the devastating Chalara ash dieback that threatens up to 95% of the UK’s ash trees. Active woodland management, including thinning and felling, can help manage disease and mitigate species decline.
Our woodlands are likely to play an ever-more important role in sheltering us from the effects of climate change (e.g. controlling flood run-off in water catchments, reducing urban heat island effects and locking in carbon dioxide). To achieve this, woodlands themselves need to be resilient to environmental change (e.g. climate, new pests and diseases). Active management of the woodland on Northern Roots site, will ensure a wide range of species, genetic diversity and age structure; the main elements essential to ensure resilience.