Major project to create new river channel gets underway at The Victoria Ground in Stoke

Work has begun on a major project to improve and naturalise the River Trent by creating a new section of river channel at the site of the old Victoria Ground in Stoke-on-Trent.

This project to restore the River Trent is one of 16 environmental enhancement schemes which make up the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) SUNRISE Project (www.erdf-sunrise.co.uk). Led by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and delivered by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and other partners, the project is working to improve urban green space across Stoke and Newcastle. With £3.6 million of funding over a three-year programme, the SUNRISE project represents the most significant current investment into urban wildlife habitats in the area.

The work at the Victoria Ground will have a huge benefit to the wildlife of the river corridor, as this stretch has been identified as one of the worst remaining sections of the river Trent. But beyond the biodiversity improvements, it will also result in a far more attractive looking river which local communities will be able to enjoy from the new footpath which will be installed as part of the scheme. As the former home of Stoke City Football Club this site holds special memories for many locals; by restoring public access and enhancing the river, it is hoped the site can again become a highlight of the city.

Having developed the proposals for the scheme, with the support of the land owner St Modwen Homes, planning permission was granted for the project in December 2019, and work began on site in late April. Given the current restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to work commencing all site working procedures were reviewed and amended where necessary to ensure the work is compliant with all government guidelines.

A new, more natural section of river channel, approx. 500m in length, will be excavated, bypassing the current, lifeless concrete channel and two weirs before re-joining the current course of the river at the south of the site. This naturalised channel will provide massively improved habitats for wildlife both in the river and along its banks.

Richard Guy, SUNRISE Project Manager at Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, said: “It is fantastic to see the work underway after a long period of planning and preparation. The current condition of the river, as well as being unsightly, presents no opportunity for wildlife.

“At the conclusion of the work this section of the river will be unrecognisable. The improvements will allow a wide range of species to return to this section of the river and it will also enable local people to enjoy the river their city is named after.”

Matt Lawrence, Environment Programme Manager for the Environment Agency said: “We’re extremely pleased that work has now begun to divert the river Trent through the old Victoria ground.

“These two sites, that have played a huge role in the city, are now coming together.  The work will lead to improved biodiversity in the river and provide an enhanced amenity to the residents of Stoke-on-Trent.”

Cllr Carl Edwards, cabinet member for environment at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said: “This is one of the major elements of the SUNRISE project, which is all about creating new wildlife habitats within the city for residents to enjoy.

“We are rightly very proud of the many fantastic green spaces and waterways we have in Stoke-on-Trent and it’s really great to see work getting under way.  This particular stretch of the River Trent is quite unappealing to the eye with no public access, but this work will change all that and there are future plans for a new public footpath to be created once the work is complete.”