The rise of Eastlands - from 'barren wasteland' to Manchester powerhouse

The City of Manchester Stadium at Eastlands in 2002
The City of Manchester Stadium at Eastlands in 2002 -Credit:Universal Images Group via Getty Images

To some it's Eastlands, to others, it will always be Bradford - but this area of east Manchester has seen an incredible transformation over the last 25-years. The area didn't only acquire a new name but was completely transformed.

These days the area east of the city centre has been reinvented as a powerhouse of sport and entertainment. The SportCity complex in Eastlands is the home of Manchester City's Etihad Stadium and Campus, National Cycling Centre and Velodrome, Manchester Regional Arena and the National Squash Centre.

It's also now home to Co-op Live, Europe's largest indoor arena, set to host some of the biggest acts in music as well as the MTV Europe Music Awards in November. All this, is a far cry from an area of the city seen as a 'barren wasteland' a little over 25-years ago.

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The name Bradford is steeped in history, first recorded in 1196 as 'Bradeford', meaning 'broad ford'. Up until the Industrial Revolution, this area was mostly rural and woodland, which eagles and wolves are once said to have inhabited.

Coal has been mined in Bradford since at least the early 17th century, and when clay was also discovered, a brickworks was also built. The village's proximity to the Ashton Canal and the River Medlock also helped it play a key role in the industrial revolution and factories including cotton mills and Bradford Ironworks provided hundreds of jobs.

A view of Bradford's industry from Philips Park in 1946
A view of Bradford's industry from Philips Park in 1946 -Credit:Manchester Archives and Local St

The Etihad Stadium now sits above what was Bradford Colliery. And, during improvement works on the MCFC stadium in 2010, archaeologists uncovered the remains of an iron works and mine shafts dating back to the dawn of the industrial era.

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The first iron works at the site date back to 1740, but the first signs of a significant settlement began to appear in the early 1800s. By 1848 two mine shafts and the arm of a canal can be seen on Ordnance Survey maps.

During the 19th century, the area became increasingly built-up and industrialised as Manchester expanded, resulting in east Manchester's rapid urbanisation to accommodate a growing workforce.

Bradford Colliery
Bradford Colliery, 1963 -Credit:Manchester Libraries and Archives

But by the mid-20th century, what was once Manchester's industrial heartland was decimated by successive economic recessions and increased global industrialisation, and subsidence caused by mining at the colliery was blamed for damage to local buildings.

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In 1962, 11 council houses were so severely damaged they had to be demolished. Mining operations were restricted as an enquiry was launched into the economic viability of the plant, which lead to the pit being closed in 1968, despite still sitting on large reserves of coal.

Bradford Colliery being demolished in 1973
Bradford Colliery being demolished in 1973 -Credit:Mirrorpix

Bradford Colliery was demolished in the early 1970s, and for 20 years the land and its surrounding area became a derelict wasteland. But then, in the early 1990s, Manchester launched its bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympics, proposing a design for an 80,000 capacity stadium west of the city.

The bid failed, but city again bid to host the next Olympics - the 2000 one - this time focussing on building on the derelict brownfield site east of Manchester that had once been Bradford Colliery.

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The bid failed and the games went to Sydney. Undeterred, Manchester bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2002, submitting a proposal for a scaled-down stadium. After the Olympic disappointments, the Commonwealth Games bid was successful, and plans began to build a new stadium on the site, which by now was being called 'Eastlands'.

Despite some sources claiming the area had been nicknamed 'Eastlands' before, newspaper archives show no mention of the term until the 1990s, coinciding with plans for its redevelopment.

Before the project even began, there was more good news. Manchester City FC signed a deal to move the club from their home at Maine Road, Moss Side, to the new City of Manchester Stadium, following the Commonwealth Games in 2002.

An editorial in the Manchester Evening News on August 9, 1999, said the move would assure the future of the stadium following the games - 'deflecting any accusation that the city may end up with a white elephant.'

"It is particularly good news for east Manchester," we wrote. "The stadium site has for too long been an embarrassment to our city - a great swathe of derelict nothingness surrounded by tatty estates whose residents had begun to feel that local and central government had forgotten their existence."

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Following the successful games, the stadium was converted and Manchester City moved in time for the 2003-04 season. Since the successful Commonwealth Games in 2002, the stadium has been a beacon for regeneration in east Manchester. This new beginning was also symbolised by the sculpture B of the Bang which was installed south east of the stadium from 2005 to 2009.

Costing nearly £2 million it was the tallest sculpture in the UK, but the spiky artistic statement was beset with structural problems. After losing a number of its spikes it was removed in 2009 and melted down for scrap metal, recouping a mere £17,000 for the city's taxpayers.

B of the Bang Sculpture at Eastlands
B of the Bang Sculpture at Eastlands -Credit:steve allen

Another grand idea that didn't work out was the plan to bring the UK's first super casino next to the City of Manchester Stadium. A gambling palace to rival Las Vegas, the idea was championed by then Prime Minister Tony Blair. However when Gordon Brown took over at No 10 in 2008, a review was conducted on whether there were better ways of regenerating east Manchester, and the plans were scrapped.

But the 2008 takeover of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour's Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) brought significant investment to the area, kickstarting a new phase of regeneration. In partnership with the City Council, this has seen the evolution of the Etihad Campus and City Football Academy, as well as an indoor BMX arena, Velopark, and Manchester Regional Arena as well as other education, sports, retail and leisure facilities.

In 2013, the opening of the East Manchester Line of Metrolink gave Eastlands a direct tram route to and from Manchester city centre. New stops included the Etihad Campus in Beswick and the Velopark in Clayton.

2024 saw the opening of the new Co-op Live arena across the Ashton Canal opposite the Etihad. Once a centre of industry, now a global centre of sport and entertainment, this area is helping to power up the city yet again.

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