Arrival of gondoliers on Rochdale canal provokes chorus of disapproval  

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The Independent Online

The Rochdale canal, a tea-coloured expanse of water once lined by cotton mills in the heart of industrial Manchester, has never invited much comparison with Venice.

It wasn't even selected for the Boddington's beer adverts parodying the Cornetto ice creams, which involved the theft of a pint on the Ashton canal more than 10 years ago.

But yesterday's canal-fronting mills are today's £100,000 studio apartments and one of the less sophisticated attempts to promote them has finally delivered the gondoliers singing opera on to the Rochdale canal, near its southern extremity at Ancoats in north Manchester.

Genesis Developments, which is building 92 apartments with a landscaped courtyard in a five-storey mill on the banks of the canal – itself spruced up with £23m of British Waterways money – has deemed the marketing exercise a success.

But Manchester's large Italian community called it an insult: a crude manipulation by the developers who want to associate their chic new district with Italy but have forgotten decades of Italian toil that helped to make it the workshop of the world during the industrial revolution.

"It's offensive. My forefathers had to work hard when they came here," said Patricia Schiavo of the Manchester Italian Association (MIA). "They were not lazing about on a gondola. They would have thought, 'Where are we in all this?'"

The Italians first descended here to escape the poverty of Turin, Rome, Venice and Italy's rural south 200 years ago and helped to make the district the cotton industry's capital, establishing what became known as Manchester's Little Italy.

This is not apparent from the mass of regeneration projects, including vast slum clearances, a £6m heritage lottery fund upgrade to a church and mill complex, culminating in an attempt for World Heritage Site status.

The MIA wants some way of presenting its artefacts – photographs and accordions, 19th-century letters sent from Italy and a 1950s ice cream van.

Tom Russell, the chief executive of the New East Manchester Regeneration Company, said economic renewal was a priority over heritage. "I entirely understand the Italian community's desire ... but it requires some very sound financial, organisational and development planning to make it a reality," he said.

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