A £5m project to reopen the River Roch and expose the town’s historic bridge more than 100 years after they were concreted over has been completed.
The original bridge was built in the medieval period and expanded as the town grew, with sections also dating back to the Regency, Georgian and Restoration periods. During the early 1900s the bridge and river were covered to make way for the expanding tram network and they have been hidden from view ever since.
The Rochdale Council scheme, backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Environment Agency, is part of a £250m town centre regeneration programme which has seen the area change substantially since 2010.
Trees and benches have been installed around the reopened river and nearby lower Yorkshire Street and Baillie Street will be repaved in traditional York stone later in the year to complement the area’s heritage. A statue dedicated to the late Rochdale-born singer and actress late Gracie Fields will also be erected in the town hall square in autumn.
Cllr Richard Farnell, leader of the council, said: “This marks another milestone in our ambitious regeneration programme, following the news that Next, M&S and Reel cinemas will be part of our new shopping and leisure development, Rochdale Riverside. We’re working really hard to give our residents and visitors the kind of vibrant town centre that they want and we’re well on our way to achieving that.
“With a grade 1-listed town hall, Saxon church and grade 1-listed war memorial just a stone’s throw from the newly reopened historic bridge, it’s clear that Rochdale has some incredible heritage. Now, with the completion of this project, we have shed even more light on our borough’s fascinating history.
“We’ve already seen lots more visitors to the town hall since the tram came to Rochdale town centre and I’m confident that even more tourists will come to enjoy all our town has to offer now this important scheme is complete.”
The bridge played a key role in the development of Rochdale as a town, with merchants using it as a means to travel to Yorkshire to buy wool, which was then finished in Rochdale’s mills. In the 1700s, as one of only two main routes from Lancashire into Yorkshire, it was used by people from far and wide, making Rochdale one of the most important towns in the region.
The scheme, which has also received support from the North West Regional & Coastal Flood Committee, comes with flood risk benefits, including protection for 40 properties in the town centre and improved drainage for a further 500 properties.
The project will also help attract new wildlife. Brown trout, kingfisher and wagtails have all been spotted in the area in recent months.
The project team included: John Percival, capital programmes manager, Rochdale Council; Paul Ambrose, senior planning officer, Rochdale Council; Tony Callaghan, project manager, Environment Agency; Richard Walsh, site agent, Volker Stevin; Mike Lilley, lead designer, CH2MHill; John Simons, heritage architect, Donald Insall Associates; Laura Ward, project case officer, Heritage Lottery Fund.