Drills are boring holes through 1.2 metres of concrete, up to 11 metres below ground level, into the River Roch to investigate the composition of riverbed sediment.
The drilling marks the first physical signs of work that is set to turn plans to reopen parts of the river into a reality, transforming Rochdale Town Centre.
The scheme will see three sections of the culvert removed to reveal the River Roch and the historic multi-phased bridge that dates back to medieval times. The project is looking at the feasibility of opening up the river on The Butts and at the bottom of Yorkshire Street, together with restoration of the surrounding habitat.
Investigations are underway to test the stability of the historic bridge, which has been hidden for over a century. Engineers are also trying to establish the natural state of the riverbed to see what restoration will be needed. Cores have been taken from the structures and the riverbed which will be sent to the lab testing.
Tony Callaghan, Project Manager from the Environment Agency, said: “Removing this culvert not only helps to reduce the risk of flood to properties in Rochdale, it is also part of our wider plan to transform more than 9,500 miles of river in England and Wales by 2015. Work such as this has enabled our rivers to be the healthiest for 20 years and we are doing even more to further improve water quality and biodiversity.”
The River Roch runs through a culvert in the heart of the town centre. The culvert is made up of 12 different phases, most of which are 20th century infill structures that join together earlier bridges.
The Environment Agency (EA) has appointed a private contractor Environmental Scientifics Group (ESG) to assist the council and EA in carrying out the work on this ambitious project. The Environment Agency has already committed £500,000 for the scheme which is expected to cost £3.5 million in total.
Once completed Rochdale will be the only town in Greater Manchester to benefit from an open river running through the heart of its town centre. River plants and foliage will be introduced to support natural ecological and biodiversity developments creating a perfect haven for wildlife and insects. The River Roch wildlife corridor support species such as the dipper, kingfisher, pipistrelle bats, water crowfoot and otters. Opening up the river has the potential to allow these animals and birds to be more frequently seen in the town centre.
Colin Lambert, Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, said: “It’s exciting to see the first signs of work underway on this ambitious project. These investigations are crucial in establishing whether our vision for the transformation of the town centre is feasible. Re-opening part of the currently concealed river to reveal this hidden asset has the real potential to boost tourism and commerce making the river a unique tourist attraction. We hope to create a cosmopolitan promenade of shops and cafés along the riverbank. We’re proud of our historical heritage and want to show it off to the world.”
The council has submitted a Heritage Grant Bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund which includes the conservation of the medieval bridge and a programme of activities to involve local communities in the project.