Monday 26 June 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane - Hedge (again)

Chased this at the North Area Committee. Incensed that they tried to cut the public-questions section short and I had to heckle to get this heard. Turns out that our local democracy really is struggling, if you're not a geriatric belly-aching about non-resident parking I don't think they want to hear. Anway, raised it there, and that will probably achieve nothing.

This is a copy of an email I've just sent the elected Mayor:

Dear James,

I contacted you via. Twitter, as you're our new mayor, to discuss a problem I've had with City Deal.

You may be aware that we're getting some long-overdue upgrades on Arbury Road in North Cambridge. With any luck we'll eventually get a cycle route all the way down Arbury Road so people living in, say, Histon or Orchard Park will be able to ride to work at places like the Beehive Centre. We sorely need this, and I'm supportive of each part as long as we're working towards a cohesive whole (i.e. a route on the whole length of the road). I rather fear we'll end up with a good facility down half the length of the road, one that'll look good but hardly be used because it doesn't connect to anywhere. But thats another story.

Stage 1 has already been completed, and we're in the middle of stage 2. When the consultation stage of that happened, the proposal was that the hedge by Arbury Road would be 'reduced'. When the project kicked off in March, we were given just a couple of days notice that this would not be the case - the hedge would be removed in its entirety.

Now before going further I should stress that while this hedge wasn't one of the hedges that gave Kings Hedges its name it was still an old structure. Arbury Road is the oldest street name in Cambridge, and there were species present in the hedge indicative that it pre-dated the housing estate by some time - the presence of greengages in the hedge (which were grown in this area commercially before the 1960's) was one indicator, but the overall diversity of undergrowth plants was a clear measure that this hedge was historic. When I contacted City Deal about this, I calmly discussed with them what could be done to instead retain some biodiversity and restore the damage when the hedge was grubbed up and re-planted a little to the left (which was their plan). They initially seemed enthusiastic about this, to discuss what should be re-planted to retain local hedging culture, wildlife, and overall biodiversity, but it soon became apparent that they'd already bought more plants and that the discussion they were having was purely to try to appease me - they didn't meaningfully consult on the plants or replanting. My goal was to get a better planting scheme. Their goal was to make me believe I was being listened to while not changing a single part of any plan they had.

They claimed that the rush to get the job done at the end of March was to get the planting done before the end of the season. In truth, Spring had already come to Cambridge and this job was done too late. They claimed they were missing out sections of hedge where there were birds nesting already - by my estimation they came to within about 2m of nesting blackbirds with chainsaws and chippers. Needless to say those birds abandoned the nest. I think the rush came because they were in a hurry to spend money before the end of the financial year - the decision they took to cut and replace a hedge at the end of March makes no arboricultural or ecological sense.

I should stress that a mature hedgerow isn't just the trees, and that hedging isn't the same across the country (or even just this county). They're practical structures, and hedging custom across the UK has evolved differently with very good reason - what thrives is not the same in Cumbria and Kent! What we've got-replanted is a generic British mix, with numerous species that are entirely inappropriate for Cambridge. Dogwood, for example, can grow here but is a poor barrier species in our conditions. Spindle is in the mix, and it plays no part in local hedging culture. Alder buckthorn is in it too - its a tree that likes its toes wet, and when they stop watering the new plants it'll soon be out-competed. I certainly wouldn't plant any of these bright-berried toxic species right by a school in large numbers (and yes, they have).

But trees are only part of the full diversity of a hedge - and the City Deal have done their best to destroy any hope of the rest of the biodiversity of the hedge recovering. They've put down a mulch of wood-chips so the only undergrowth plants recovering are those with ineradicable root stocks. So rather than having a very varied habitat with multiple species, we're primarily seeing the site choked by bindweed, cow parsley and few others.

To make absolutely sure that the site is as wildlife hostile as possible they installed a wire fence with gaps at the bottom smaller than an adullt hedgehog. Its hard to envisage anything more stupid than that.

Now Kings Hedges hasn't got the busybody population that Milton Road has - the latter has a large, retired population who've owned their own homes for a long time and who know how to mobilise and badger for what they want. Kings Hedges doesn't - and City Deal took full advantage of that in cutting corners in their consultation. The idea that the hedge (an old boundary) was to be removed entirely wasn't in the consultation. City Deal staff insisted that they have consulted with hedge experts at the City Council but when I asked the City Council officer responsible for trees about their hedging expertise he told me that on the subject of native hedging, they don't have such expertise.

The amount of damage done to the local environment by this has been colossal -  but by hand-weeding and re-planting appropriate native plants (ideally sourced locally to retain local biodiversity) through the very damaging wood-chip mulch (which will itself ensure that any seeds surviving in the soil can't re-emerge as new plants, thats precisely what the mulch is for) we could still, perhaps, rescue something from a scheme which has been executed so very, very badly. The wire mesh blocking hedgehogs from the hedge urgently needs replacing with a simple wire fence that doesn't block wildlife. And owing to the wrong choice of plants being put in we need a much longer term commitment to replacing with more appropriate plants (specifically a mix with far more hawthorn, some elder and dog-rose) over the coming years. The degree to which the wrong plants have been tended this year means, I fear, we're looking at a much slowed death spiral.

I would rather hope you might lean on City Deal over this. If we're going to have ever more such projects going forward then messing up perfectly simple projects like this in a mad dash to get the wrong plants put in, at the wrong time, in the wrong way, is something we need to avoid of City Deal is to regain any trust locally. I'm aware they're trying to re-brand because they've got bad name already - perhaps fixing this could be something of an olive branch?


1 comment:

  1. "Their goal was to make me believe I was being listened to while not changing a single part of any plan they had."

    As politicians they will thus go a long way!