Friday 21 April 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane and Hedge - Unmitigated Ecological Failure.

The story so far.

Then there was another one and no one knew about it, and much of it was ludicrous. But the cycle lane bit seemed like a good idea as far as it went, while actually entirely avoiding the dangerous and frightening fast, straight bit of the road that has parked cars parked on both sides. You know, the bit that puts people off riding because its terrifying.

Suggestions to improve the scheme and deliver something far better for far less money were ignored - because obiviously its not really for cycling its a way of paying to re-surface the road while also squandering good will towards cyclists.

Eventually the first stage was done during a school holiday. In itself not bad, but so ludicrously disconnected from any other safe cycling as to be beyond a joke. Yaay, a hundred yards of relative safety. Its the one fat kid waving happily at journalists being bussed past a shop full of wax fruit in North Korea. The presence of one good bit to ride on seemed mostly all about masking the fact that they're not going to give us safe journeys.

Arbury Road changes were then re-branded as part of a County Council/City Deal 'Cross City Cycling Route'. By cynically rebranding disparate schemes already in the pipeline, the City Deal managed to create a positive headline with the pretence of it being cross-city cycling. It isn't - its assorted individual infrastructural projects linked in no physical or design sense, varying from good to bloody awful

Then the wheels really fell off. Bright coloured paint appeared all over the road. Questions were asked at Council Area Committee meetings. No one knew why. So I called the guys at the County and yes, they were going to do the next phase in Autumn. I'd been asking questions about this during the winter, with a hope that I could start some restorative planting of an area of hedgerow that failed after being badly ripped up and re-planted in 2014, but plans for the road were all up in the air. So I started engaging to try to get the hedge we had (which looked like it might be extensively cut) restored. I pitched that as an opportunity, as a chance to do something for local ecology AND cycling. 

But with each further contact it became apparent that the City Deal people didn't give a rats ass about any of this. They didn't answer any detailed questions on any part of the hedge removal and replanting scheme - because despite acting like this was something they would consult on and get right they'd already bout replacement shrubs (the wrong ones) and they were in a desperate rush to rip out a hedge that already had birds nesting in it (before any MORE came along).

The process for complaining to the City Deal was slow, there was no avenue available to improve the scheme. Including phoning the city deal Chief Exec. Providing detailed information on local flora influenced them in no way.

What do we have now? A less diverse mix of mature shrubs containing multiple species with no history in local hedging culture has replaced a much more diverse, mature hedgerow supporting dozens of other species of native wild plants, and to make absolutely sure none of those plants can recover they're in the process of heavily mulching the site which will impact on soil structure, pH and basically prevent any resurgence in native wildlife. They now plan to re-seed in autumn - which of course you can't do through a wood-chip mulch. Its going to be effectively dead (or in a dreadful ecological state) for years because of this.

By rushing to do this badly we've got the wrong hedging plants, no chance of recovering diverse flora for years and likely enough the permanent loss of dozens of species from the site. We've lost cultivars of particular local historic importance. Are we going to get a good cycle facility? We still don't know, detailed plans we'd have to see have still not been released. But from what we're seeing in Green End Road, provision of quality facilities is not a priority for City Deal. To say the least. The shrubs they've put in? Well with watering two or three times a week through summer they'll survive. Well done, guys, you've blandscaped.

We're not looking at a hedgerow that was a national treasure - but in a part of Cambridge called Kings Hedges you'd think there might have been some will to get this right. Within a local context picking the wrong trees, failing to take any measures to restore the under-story of the hedge, and then actively suppressing the re-growth of anything that might recover is an un-mitigated ecological disaster. There are no positives to take from this. None. Not one.

The moral? Don't trust the City Deal, in any way, for any part of any of their projects. Require every last shrub, every last blade of grass to be specified in all plans BEFORE consultation because they'll screw you over otherwise. They have no concern other than tarmac and concrete. And the end result? It'll be cyclists who are blamed anyway. This reduces the chance of getting good facilities approved elsewhere, locals will entirely reasonably weaponise this issue against cycle facilities being built.

Thanks for nothing, City Deal. Thanks a heap.

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