|Sandyforth Farm – it’s back and it’s green!
Five football pitches across and deep enough to stack a ten double decker buses on top of each other – that was just the hole left at the centre of the Sandyforth Farm open cast site in Winstanley.
The whole site – by common consensus an eyesore very visible to all from the M6 – was 56 hectares of slag and spoil, and one of the largest areas of derelict land for miles around, left after the mining stopped a decade ago when the owners went into receivership.
But drive past today and, just a few months after restoration work finished, it’s hard to see what all the fuss has been about – gentles green hills, even trees and pools, just another rural view from the motorway.
What happened in between times was a success story which has delighted community leaders.
With over £3million of funding from the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), work began in 2002 to restore the site, creating over 30 hectares of open space for borough residents, with the remainder of the site for agriculture.
Locals were pleased that it would signal the end of Sandyforth being used as an off-road biking site, and stop any talk of it being used as a landfill tip.
At the peak of the restoration, the earthworks team was shifting 50,000 cubic meters of earth a week using a fleet of nine 40 tonne earth movers. Over a quarter of a million cubic metres of subsoil and over 105,000 cubic metres of topsoil have been recovered and form the basis of the transformation from black and grey to lush green.
Community leaders, including Ian McCartney MP, local ward councillors and residents have all worked together to bring about the improvements, and Scots contractors I & H Brown have carried out the reinstatement work to recreate the physical profile of the land lost to mining.
Ian McCartney says: “The restoration work has been fantastic and I’m really pleased to be able to come along to the site with members of the community and Winstanley Community Primary School to start the tree planting.”
As the work draws to a close, children are being invited onto the newly greened fields to plant flowers and even restore hedgerows and an ancient meadow-like feel to the brand new countryside.
Cllr David Molyneux is the deputy leader of Wigan Council and regeneration champion. He says: “The next phase of the restoration is to plant trees and hedgerows to increase the biodiversity of the site. We’d expect to see all sorts of animals and birds back over the coming few years.”
Mike Hollows, NWDA Head of Land and Property for Greater Manchester, said:
"It is excellent to see how this former eyesore along the M6 has blossomed into a green space which the whole community can enjoy and be proud of.
"This project has transformed derelict land into a high quality space helping to create a positive impression which in turn helps to boosts business and investor confidence and improves the quality of life for local people."
Officials are keen for the local community to take ownership of the area and for the site to remain an informal, wild area for the benefit of wildlife.
As part of this aim to involve the community Wigan Council’s Environmental Education team has been working with the primary school, delivering lessons on the importance of biodiversity and the role hedgerows and native trees can play in this.
To follow up these lessons, Year 6 pupils from the school helped to plant a new hedgerow at the site including maple, oak, cherry and wild rose.