Monday, 27 March 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane - What Next?

Well I rang, and emailed, to complain about this.

Response was lacklustre - they wanted to sort of talk me out of complaining by simply repeating themselves, there seemed to be some idea that maybe if someone else told me I'd understand (rather than accepting I understand and just don't agree). There are some good folk there, but they're in such a rush to get this done and replanted that there's really been no wiggle room. I think they've had to take what native-species mix they could get, with little choice right at the end of the season (I know that Elveden had sold out so they've had to go to another compay up in Yorkshire), and the result seems to have been a hurried order for, what I believe, to be the wrong mix of plants. Farcical - this needed to be planned in Autumn to do over Winter.

I was of course told that the Chief Exec of the City Deal would only say the same thing and that I had to go through the County Council complaints process (which MIGHT give me an initial response within 10 days - well after the planting will have been done), which was a load of crap really - its urgent NOW. Total removal of the hedging wasn't made clear in the in the consultation, I cannot describe the difference between the consultation and reality as anything short of a massive democratic deficit. To be directed to a complaints procedure only tangentially related and almost suspiciously designed to allow a response so slow as to make the process meaningless? Well, thanks but no thanks.

So I phoned and asked or the chief exec. And was told that this wouldn't be possible and re-directed again, and again, to the same 10 day + complaints process. And I persisted and eventually was given chief execs email address, and she also phoned me back later on. I expressed my concerns, and the urgency of the situation.

The hedge has now gone, except for one very short section where presumably they found a birds nest? Although if that nest hasn't been abandoned it would be a bleeding miracle, with the raging sound of the saws and shredders nearby. Both sections of hedge are gone, there is effectively nothing remaining. It has been totally destroyed. There is a (bad) replanting plan for the hedge itself but no plan that I'm aware of for under-planting. A hedge isn't a row of shrubs, its an ecosystem with multiple levels of growth, with different plants thriving in different ways, and this was an opportunity to create that in a space that had been badly managed. Looks like that opportunity is rapidly slipping away.

We still haven't seen plans for the cycle lanes - I know that in my own initial feedback I advocated for a different approach which would have provided a genuinely huge amount of space for world-class cycle provision, and I'm concerned that we've got as far as digging over before even knowing what we're going to get out of the project. Junction improvements are needed - but the longer we go without seeing the plans the more I think this is going to be a bargain-basement cycle lane barely wider than I am. If I were in their position and planning a really good facility I'd be singing it from the rooftops, but they're not.

Right, that enough 'told you so', and fretting. I don't like being critical without providing at least some thoughts for improvement. Lets get this straight - the project, even with the wrong plants, is saveable. Just about. Here's what I'd like to see:

(1) Can we have, in black and white, a statement as to the minimum standard of the cycle lane along its width? Not between (x) and (y) widths, but a plan showing how wide in each location with, crucially, a minimum standard of 2m? That is, after all, the width recommended in pretty much all documentation. In the alternative plan I put forward such wouldn't even be a challenge - so lets have that same standard please.

(2) Dogwood isn't a good hedging plant near primary schools - it is both emetic and parts of the plant can induce a rash. Neither spindle or alder-buckthorn thrive in this part of the City. If we really must have these plants can we have the hedging replanted as a staggered double row with the dogwood on the road side and alder-buckthorn and spindle staggered with strains that are locally more vigorous, such as blackthorn and hawthorn? When we (inevitably) risk gaps emerging when a short term establishment care plan ends, we'll at least have a barrier this way.

(3) We've lost greengage from the hedge when it was ripped out - we can still re-plant with Cambridge gage (which was previously growing pretty well there) and, and with the apple 'Chivers delight', both of which are excellent fits historically for this part of the city. They'll thrive in a hedge - and actually do so in other hedges in North Cambridge.

(4) Can we have clear guidance going forward on consultations in similar scenarios - plans really must include the quality of pavement and cycle lane provision, accurate and honest account of how much of a hedge or how many (and which) trees will be removed, and an appreciation of the species they'll be replaced with (and age of plants to be replaced). Lets have that up front, alongside an estimate of timing - I would certainly have voiced a very serious concern about dashing to do this with hastily bought shrubs at the arse end of the planting season, had it for even a heartbeat occurred to me that this might happen.

Maintaining biodiversity isn't about picking out a hedging mix broadly representative of an entire nation, its about understanding what grows well where you are and getting your schemes right within that context. We can still save this intended botch job from being the embarrassment that calls into question all other City Deal road schemes, which is pointed at as a reason why City Deal must not be trusted, but it requires at least a modicum of engagement from City Deal in restoring trust. 

Come on guys, work with us here. Fix this. Its not too late, if you actually give a damn. 

If not, go right ahead. To me, it looks like you're drawing your battle lines.

No comments:

Post a Comment