Why was untreated sewage poured into the river at Crumpsall for 93 days last year?
The river described by Engels as a ‘foul-smelling stream’ is being befouled again, new data shows
Dear Millers — a word of caution. If your usual habit is to read The Mill over a mealtime, you might want to make an exception today. We’ll be delving into the murky world of sewage dumping, which new figures reveal is happening on an industrial scale in some parts of our city region.
In one spot in Crumpsall, untreated sewage was poured into the River Irk for 2,242 hours last year — that’s the equivalent of 93 full days. We visited the area to speak to locals yesterday. And the figures show there are sewage dumping sites in Greater Manchester even worse than that. We asked United Utilities to explain why they are polluting our waterways like this — and we’ve mapped out the worst hotspots in the story below.
As always, this edition is a members-only affair, but regular Millers can read a few bits at the top to stay informed and to see what they’re missing. Our kind of journalism is only possible because we have more than 2,000 paying members. Getting money from readers is the only known way of guaranteeing quality and preventing media companies from becoming unreadable clickbait farms.
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A key signing: Today’s story is the first Mill byline for Daniel Timms, a data and policy guru who used to work as an analyst for Metro Dynamics and is going to be writing for The Mill and our sister publications in Sheffield and Liverpool for the next four months. We’re delighted to have him on board to beef up our coverage of key policy areas like transport, education, green issues and of course, sewage. To get in touch with him, email email@example.com.
More great coverage: If you live near a newsagent that stocks high-minded political magazines like Prospect, please go and pick up the latest edition, which features an interview with Mill founder Joshi on page 2 (you can also read it online). Under the headline “Could email newsletters keep local journalism alive?” and featuring an illustration that makes Joshi look as haggard and drawn as an editor of a Manchester newspaper should be, the piece covers our American-inspired style of journalism and our well-known views on the companies that control the local press (“They are basically responsible for dismantling a key bit of national infrastructure”).
Reader pushback: We got a few interesting comments under our Monday Briefing, which led with the Guardian’s analysis of Manchester’s lack of black leaders (black people make up just 4.6% of the city’s most prominent positions despite representing 14.8% of the city’s population). A Mill member called Mark pointed out that the proportion of Greater Manchester residents who identify as black is less than 5%, and commented: “I’m not saying there isn’t an issue here but you need figures at Greater Manchester level to get a clear picture of what is going on.”
Another member called Brian made a similar point about the story’s methodology: “The Guardian are mixing their data up,” he wrote. “They are using the black % population of the Manchester council area to extrapolate what the diversity make up should be of Greater Manchester-wide institutions like GMP, and institutions based in other boroughs, like Manchester United.”
Your Mill briefing
A construction worker was hospitalised yesterday after becoming injured while working on a new high-rise development in Deansgate. Viadux, a 40-storey tower with luxury apartments and 20,000 square metres of office space designed by SimpsonHaugh, cost £300 million and is expected to be completed in 2024. Greater Manchester Police said they received reports of an explosion at the site, but developers Salboy have since confirmed there was no explosion, and the worker was trying to unblock a pipe connected to a concrete pump. The worker sustained injuries to his calf and has since been released from hospital.
Salford City Council have published a new five-year plan to prevent homelessness in the city. The council says that partner organisations need a bigger role in identifying those at risk of homelessness. “We want earlier identification of those who are at risk, so we can step in and help out,” says council CEO Tom Stannard. “That is why the report is titled ‘Homelessness is Everyone’s Business’ — so partner agencies, wider services or members of the public can point out those who are most in need.” You can read our reporting on the battle against homelessness over the border in Manchester here.
An 87-year-old woman in Bury died of hypothermia after refusing to put her heating on over worries about energy bills. An inquest found that Barbara Bolton died of pneumonia brought on by hypothermia last December. She was discovered at her kitchen table, by her grandson, with a body temperature of 28C, 9C lower than normal. The coroner’s court heard Bolton was encouraged to put her heating on by her family, but wouldn’t listen. Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said: “For some reason, she had clearly become slightly entrenched in the view she couldn’t put the heating on for whatever reason. No matter what anyone was telling her, she wasn’t going to do anything differently.”
Andy Burnham argues in the Guardian that more needs to be done to understand how transatlantic slavery shaped Manchester. It follows the newspaper’s Cotton Capital project, which investigates the Guardian’s and Manchester’s links to slavery.
And finally, thanks to the Miller on Twitter who told us that two popular bars in Stockport have closed. The owner of The Glass Spider and Doctor Feelgood, opened in 2020 and 2021 respectively, announced the venues would be closing due to “rising costs and the lack of people going out spending”.
By Daniel Timms and Mollie Simpson
Abid and Iszar, two cousins, are sitting by the River Irk in Crumpsall and throwing sticks for Bullet, an energetic brown Staffordshire terrier, who has decided to ignore them and wrestle a rope buried deep under the riverbed. He growls and they call at him to come back, laughing. The river’s surface is glittering under the sun. It’s idyllic.
The Irk rises north of Oldham, bears west to Middleton, then runs south, eventually flowing under Victoria Station and into the Irwell. It’s the long-neglected river that became a dumping ground for mills and factories during the Industrial Revolution, which offloaded grease and oil into the water. In The Conditions of the Working Class, written in 1845, Friedrich Engels described it as “a narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse, which it deposits on the shallower right bank."
So how much has changed?
Newly published figures from the Environment Agency reveal that Crumpsall has the dubious accolade of being Manchester’s top spot for dumping untreated sewage, with effluent being poured directly into the River Irk for a staggering 2,242 hours in 2022 — the equivalent of 93 full days.
The city’s four biggest sewage leaks are all within three miles’ walk, with 35 days’ worth released at Blackley, 60 days at Harpurhey, and 54 days in Moston. It’s a pretty clear geographical pattern, and while Manchester’s North/South divide is a well-known phenomenon, it came as something of a shock to see it even in the sewage spills data.
Of course, this sewage doesn’t just stay put, but works its way downstream, carrying its grim cargo into the centre of the city. On the way, it passes the popular Queen’s Park, before heading straight through the heart of the city’s prime new development area — the Northern Gateway.
When we broaden our view to the whole of Greater Manchester, even more alarming figures come to light. In Oldham, the River Tame gets a double dose, with 79 days’ worth at Delph, and another 97 days downstream at Greenfield. But worst of all is to the west — where Hindsford, near Wigan, got 122 days and Urmston Wastewater Treatment Works in Trafford poured sewage into the Manchester Ship Canal (just north of the Mersey) for the equivalent of 143 days — or 24 minutes in every hour. See our map below for the worst local sewage dumps across the city region.
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