Concerns after one of Europe’s ‘most important wildlife sites’ in Greater Manchester turns ‘dirty brown colour’

Date published: 07 December 2023

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The canal next to a former chemical works in Littleborough, Rochdale is being investigated after residents raised concerns about contaminated material potentially entering the water.

Officers from the Environment Agency are carrying out work at Rochdale Canal next to the old Akzo Nobel site near Hollingworth Lake, where the land is being developed into a new housing estate, to look for the source of potential pollution.

Plans for 126 new homes on the site were approved in March despite a number of concerns being raised by residents at the time over asbestos contamination, traffic congestion, and increased pressure on local services.

The site was bought by the Together Housing Group and Countryside Partnerships which is managing the development. It is set to build a mix of houses from two to five bedrooms, with 19 being classed as affordable.

The stretch of the canal from Littleborough to Failsworth in Oldham is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a  Special Area of Conservation, which means it is a protected area due to its natural heritage.

Ian Jackson, chairman of the Littleborough Civic Trust, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the water in the canal next to the old chemical works is regularly turning a “dirty brown colour.”

He said: “Numerous photographs are on the internet showing the whole stretch of the canal adjacent to Akzo, and the SSSI, to have been polluted and it is now a dirty brown colour. This cannot be recalled by more senior residents of Littleborough as having previously occurred.”

The Environment Agency said that its officers are “attending the site of a potential pollution on the Rochdale Canal at Littleborough to investigate the source” and that it is “providing advice and guidance to local businesses to reduce the potential for pollution.”

Adrian Griffiths, a 75-year-old fisherman who stops by the canal daily, claims he has spotted mud from the former chemical works going into the water.

He said: “When it rains all the mud is all going into the canal. It’s all contaminated land and it’s all coming in here now in the canal. It’s normally clear but there are firms which draw water from here and it can’t be helping them.

“It’s not doing any good, it’s unbelievable. Our main concern is what’s in it, we don’t know what’s in it, it looks terrible. If you walk past the site it’s clear water. This will go all the way through to Manchester.”

Mr Jackson said he has reported the issue to Rochdale Council and the Canal and River Trust, but is worried that the issue has not yet been resolved.


Residents have raised concerns about contaminated material from the former Akzo Nobel site potentially entering the Rochdale Canal


A spokesperson for Canal and River Trust said: “It is very concerning that this is happening. The canal is home to floating water plantain, a European protected species and, as such, is one of the most important wildlife sites in Europe.

“It also provides Greater Manchester with vital urban green space and we are working with partners and communities to improve the area.

“We have been trying to work with the developers to sort out this issue and we have also contacted the Environment Agency, Natural England and Rochdale Council. We are hopeful that this will result in a positive resolution.”

Andrew Poyner, managing director for Countryside Partnerships, on behalf of the joint venture said: “The Littleborough development site is being delivered through a Joint Venture between Countryside Partnerships and Together Housing. Countryside Partnerships lead on the construction and operational activity on site.

“Together Housing are investors in the site and support Countryside Partnerships to deliver the highest of standards and protect the environment. Site health, safety and environmental issues are a very high priority for both Countryside Partnerships and Together Housing, and Countryside Partnerships have been working with the Environment Agency and local authority, with representatives from both organisations having visited the site to review the extensive measures in place to manage excess water.

“Both parties were satisfied with the current management on site, and Countryside Partnerships will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that site activity is not affecting the canal or the local environment.”

Declan Carey, Local Democracy Reporting Service

'Pollution' in Rochdale Canal next to former Akzo Nobel site
©Adrian Griffiths

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