The 63ha RHS Garden Bridgewater will be created on lost historic grounds at the demolished 1840s Edward Blore-designed Worsley New Hall, which was part of the third Duke of Bridgewater's estate next to the Bridgewater Canal in Worsley, Salford, close to the M60.
Peel had developed plans for a racecourse, golf course and leisure facilities on the land, which is an affluent area west of Manchester, before the RHS deal. A "world-class" landscape architect is set to draw up masterplan, with names such as Dan Pearson and Tom Stuart-Smith in the frame to redesign a 4ha walled kitchen garden and tree-lined garden approach as well as recovering the terraces, which sit between the lake and the site of the hall, demolished in 1949.
Peel and the RHS have signed a "confidential" long-term lease, which RHS vice-president Jim Gardiner said is similar to the 999-year lease Westminster School signed when it decided to give up its Lawrence Hall in 2011. That move generated £18m. Since the Westminster deal and the launch of its £100m "vision" in 2014, the RHS has actively been seeking to create a fifth garden to increase its presence in areas of the country where its membership is weak.
The RHS said the Bridgewater garden plan, which is set to open in stages from 2019, will cost £30m. It has a fifth garden fund of £7m and a fixed asset fund of £29m. It hopes to attract one million visitors a year to Bridgewater by 2029.
Gardiner spoke to dozens of local authorities and private landowners while looking for a 40ha site that the RHS can freely develop, with associated infrastructure including retail, learning centre and catering. He said Peel chairman John Whittaker was driven by "philanthropism" to approach the RHS to begin talks 15 months ago. Whittaker, who donated £1m to Royal Manchester Children's Hospital, said: "The RHS are perfect to bring this area to life and the fifth garden will leave an incredible legacy for Salford. Equally, its creation reinforces our investment in the northern powerhouse as it will attract interest and visitors from across the North West and beyond."
Peel owns 1.2 million square metres of property and 15,000ha of land and water, with a portfolio valued at £2.3bn, including Salford Media City 10km away. In January 2013, Peel bought Worsley Hall Garden Centre and nearby land on the garden site for an estimated £9m, for development for the £100m Salford Forest Park proposed racecourse, which the Government rejected in 2010. The centre houses six businesses and staff said the businesses will all go when building the garden begins.
The developer also wanted to build some 600 houses and a marina on nearby land at Broad Oak Fields and is making another legal challenge after losing a judicial review because the scheme "would cause unacceptable harm" to the area as an amenity resource.
Peel planner Georgina Crabtree said the firm has given the site to the RHS after failing to get permission for a racecourse to be built on the land. It has permission for a golf course on site, which will now lapse. She said Peel will be landlord, offer advice to the RHS and help to form community groups for the site. Given the council's support, Peel "hopes it would" pave the way for planning permissions at nearby sites it owns, she added.
The area is affluent and former footballer Ryan Giggs lives in a £4m house nearby. Salford City Council said its role will be to grant planning permission, "which should be a formality given the council's stated support for the project", although nothing will be submitted until 2016.
RHS director-general Sue Biggs said: "Worsley New Hall was an opportunity we couldn't miss," adding: "We believe (it) will become one of the UK's greatest gardens."