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 eco-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 https://northern-roots.uk/the-northern-roots-story/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 three 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. The project is now working towards submitting a planning application later in 2021.

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 has 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 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, and the remaining two to Greater Manchester residents.  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?

Northern Roots has just shared its initial proposed masterplan for the 160-acre Northern Roots site. The initial masterplan proposal is the result of three years of ongoing community consultation, and working with experts in ecology, hydrology, business modelling, landscape architecture and green technologies to see what we can and should create on the Northern Roots site.

This phase of consultation will run from August to December 2021 and the team want to hear from as many local residents and communities as possible. You can find out more about the consultation process, digital interactive map, and face to face public consultation events under GET INVOLVED on the  Northern Roots website.

Residents’ ideas, suggestions and concerns will directly feed into the next iteration of the masterplan.  This will then be shared with the public for further consultation and feedback over the course of autumn 2021.  On the basis of that round of consultation the final masterplan will then be 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?

We are 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.

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 northern.roots@oldham.gov.uk

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. Our feasibility studies indicate that Northern Roots can deliver a 25% increase in biodiversity on the site and in doing so, generate future revenue for the project through Biodiversity Net Gain payments.

We are working with partners like the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, City of Trees, The Environment Partnership and the Greater Manchester Environment 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”.

Biodiversity has been in decline across England for decades, but it’s also recognised that urban greenspaces are oases for nature. Natural England, the Government’s nature adviser, has recognised that the Medlock Valley is an important zone for nature recovery, so Northern Roots has a part to play.

Ecological surveys reveal that the Northern Roots site is already home to a broad array of wildlife – mammals, bats, birds and amphibians. But there is a lot we can do to increase biodiversity across the Northern Roots site, by enhancing existing habitat and creating completely new habitat.

Our ecological surveys found that there were opportunities to make the existing plantation woodlands on Northern Roots more wildlife friendly through management and restructuring. There are also significant opportunities to increase biodiversity through grassland enrichment, tree and hedgerow planting and wetland creation to the south of the site.

With funding provided by the Green Recovery Challenge Fund – a National Heritage Lottery Fund initiative – Northern Roots will start actively managing woodland and grassland areas on the Northern Roots site during 2021. Northern Roots will also work with City of Trees and local volunteers to plant up several hectares of new trees on site in the next two years.

https://www.lancswt.org.uk/news/nature-gets-million-help-blossom

Within the more formal landscapes we propose to create in and around the market garden, it will be possible to plant attractive hedges, orchards and ornamental gardens that diversify food sources for pollinating insects and create year-round visual interest to attract visitors, as well as enthusing people about growing and getting involved in their local green spaces.

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.

https://www.bds.org.uk/index.php/advice-education/species/roe-deer

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 https://northern-roots.uk/the-northern-roots-story/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.