Friday 28 July 2017

Camcycle Podcast 2 - comments

Not bad guys. Keep it up.

You're going to get a crap load of my opinions now so, well, there you go. If you don't like it don't read :)

I do think you should turn the microphone down and speak up more - background hum and slightly whispery nature of speaking makes it a bit echo-ey. 

An issue I've had with Ofo is just working it out - the instructions are pretty naff. Yeah, I've got the app but I've not worked out how - maybe a few words re. how you go about it and what happens when you leave it there afterwards?

Stop being so bloody nice about truly awful cycle facilities with cars parked in them - this risks our lives, say it, and say it clearly. Its unacceptable that councillors put as little value on our welfare as this.

Regarding North Cambridge Station - used it for the first time last weekend and rather liked the route to it, but there's a bizarre and perplexing lack of dropped kerbs around the cycle park. I don't get why they'd do that. Plans for changing cycle route do suck, but thats only part of whats actually a thoroughly uninspiring, ugly, unpleasant development plan. Nothing about the planning application there is good. Nothing.

Think maybe after a few of these rotating someone else in might not be a bad idea. You guys are cool and all but other views inside and outside of Camcycle would be worth hearing. Roxy is a good laugh and talks well, for example. The Polish guy building funky bikes on the market square or the folk making bike-themed art and occasionally on the market on Sunday, for example. Or someone from Outspoken who does bike training. Would be nice to talk to folk about where they cycle to and why, about what they ride and their experiences.

Thursday 27 July 2017

'Compromise' means cyclists always come off worst.

Short version - new, narrow cycle lane on Green End Road in Cambridge. During the planning process it had double yellow lines all along. When it was delivered, those double yellow lines were gone in places - and to object we were told to wait until we saw the TRO notice on lamp posts (because we're living in Dickensian Britain presumably?). And they've decided to go and tell us to fuck ourselves if we'd like safe facilities, the parked cars are staying because we're dirty hippies on bikes (I paraphrase. Slightly). So we've got to negotiate our way back out of the cycle lanes on a bend in front of some shops, which exposes us to angry drivers who believe we should somehow phase through the parked cars. This is a terrible cycling facility, its an act of violence against cyclists - but councilors see it as compromise. Risking our lives for some unspecified, largely theoretical (and certainly un-calculated) benefit to local businesses.

This isn't new, of course. Its the same story over and over again. Whether its an accusation that we're unbalanced in our analysis when all we're asking for is safe routes to ride. Or lanes that aren't really good enough (so kids use the pavement instead, and councillors direct the Police to make the kids go and play in traffic) but cycling campaign groups demand we must compromise. Or the outright mis-spending of vast chunks of cycling budget on traffic light upgrades for motorists. On every occasion what we're delivered is shoddy, bad cycle facilities which even at their best require taking bikes up stairs or which incorporate crossings that no one in their right mind would choose.

The problem is that each new scheme is just that - a new scheme, with competing self interests as each group seeks the best outcome. The result of this is that cyclists always come out losers - on every single occasion we're left with the dregs, and a promise that while planners care for our welfare the 'balanced' approach on this particular scheme is that we're not important so we can go and fuck ourselves. And the net result of this is that every single scheme is sub-par. We end up with a network of near deadly facilities designed to appease not us, but every other lobby group. You know. People who matter. We're the universal patsies in these consultations. Don't take my word for it - go and ride Green End Road and see.

Until planning and spending in cities like Cambridge is strategic rather than piecemeal and actually incorporates realistic models with cycling as a component (oh, you didn't hear? We're not modeled in road design here, we actually don't exist)  this piece-meal lack of provision where we inevitably lose out every single time will continue. Until our roads have strategy, not just case-by-case policy, we're screwed. 

Time to stop this niggling, piecemeal failure and demand better strategy. How though?

Thursday 20 July 2017

Yet more correspondence with City Deal re. Arbury Road

Ms Stoppard,

Without talking to me I don't get why you think you can't appease me.

I didn't get as far as making final suggestions for what should be planted - as you know (and as City Deal website still shows) the plan was to remove and replant in Autumn and we were given less than a weeks notice about this change. I hadn't had time to finish a list of whats representative in local hedging ecology and culture - the only ones I did have as certainties were hawthorn (which would always be there in any mix) and greengage (which was not included but, infuriatingly, planted as 'specimen' trees on other green spaces, and its a great survivor in hedges but a very difficult specimen tree). I don't see that any suggestions made by me or anyone else locally have been incorporated, when no one really had time to finalise any suggestions. 

Since last talking to any of your colleagues you've mulched the site with wood chips - that meant that only those undergrowth plants with really ineradicable root-stocks (and which would re-grow from chopped up root portions) could thrive and spread. That means very few native species have come back, but a few species (cow parsley and bindweed in particular) are doing well - each of the bits of root grow back to new plants, and basically smother the site. They're excluding all other species from being able to establish, and competing very well against the hedging plants put in. In places bindweed is spreading over the top of the shrubs which will, obviously, threaten their survival. I can send you pictures of this if you like, there are spots where you can no longer see the shrubs. Without light, they'll die.

Bluntly, planting very late in the season (at short notice) meant no meaningful input could be given to species choice. This late in the season digging also killed off already germinating seed in the ground, and mulching has ensured that only a limited number of the most competitive species could re-grow there. Putting a fence up that bindweed can grow up and more effectively smother the hedge, one with gaps smaller than the hedgehogs that most often nest in the gardens on one side of the road but which forage on both sides, really did make it look amateurish. Our county councillor was told by Vanessa that they'd bought the wrong fence but put it up anyway.

All I want to achieve here is holes being cut in the fence, and getting some native undergrowth plug plants put in, probably in autumn, with some weeding of the most invasive species. That'll increase biodiversity, attract more insects (hence birds too), and crucially be less of problem in getting the shrubs you've planted established. Your officers won't even countenance discussing that - they're entirely dismissive of any re-planting and won't talk about it. But because of the mulch, if there is to be any restoration of habitat there this is the only route available to us, and its the only way (other than spraying or very expansive hand-weeding) to compete with the bindweed thats otherwise very likely to kill off some of the shubs over the next couple of years.

Other matters (making out as if the choice of shrubs to be planted was open to consultation despite the fact that they had been ordered already) are secondary to trying to get a resolution on the ground that isn't so brutally hostile to wildlife. I believe said resolution will cost a couple of hundred quid but will require getting plug plants of native species ordered earlier rather than later, for planting in autumn. There are numerous companies that can supply said plants, but its hard to achieve this as a rushed, last minute order.

Its too late to entirely fix the planting scheme but it isn't to late to rescue something from this - can you make time for a chat to discuss what can be done? Going forward it seems important that ecological considerations are something City Deal can take seriously. Are you willing to give that a shot?

CAB Davidson.

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Milton Road Plans - An Act of Violence.

So we've got new, updated plans for Milton Road in Cambridge.

As part of Greater Cambridge (re-branded from the toxic 'City Deal' but rapidly falling to the same level of disrepute again), they're wanting to dig it up and make it better. And they're promising everything to everyone - bus lanes, car lanes, cycle lanes, trees. The last plan sucked.

And it won't all fit, but I gather they've approved it anyway.

Camcycle have already done us a pretty good, but far too nice description of the state of play. No point covering the same ground but I will say, stop being so bloody nice. No one else is being reasonable, bat for the BEST outcome for cyclists AND ONLY THAT. Your collaboration with residents associations is great, but I rather feel that in a cavalcade of niceness the simple 'thats just not good enough' message is rather hard to find.

But a few thoughts about the scheme. I think this is best done with some pictures:

In diagramatic form...
So on the Left there we've got lovely lollypop like trees. I say lollypop like because that does seem to be how urban planners see trees - they're jolly green things on top on little sticks. That verge those trees are in is projected to be 1m wide. So thats a tree canopy that can extend 50cm before buses, cars and lorries clip it back - or in other words it can neither be a reasonable sized tree that can grow to adulthood, nor can it indeed take on any symmetrical shape at all. Its also right on the edge of the road and very vulnerable to damage by any cars that come off road and, frankly, it hasn't a hope of ever attaining a decent trunk width. That tree, for that location, offering any ecological or aesthetic value, is a big ask. That tree looking like THAT in this location is entirely impossible. Look at the second picture there. Look at the comically narrow bus they've drawn hard up against the opposite side of the lane - and look at how tiny the young tree there is and indeed how far over its planted. This is silly.

And look at the top picture again - look towards the right. Do you see that? Do you? Yes, thats right, a pencil thin cycle lane next to the bus lane. I know, I wound't fit in it either, but thats ok, I'll ride on the bus lane. Kids and less confident cyclists? Oh, the'll be bullied off the road by this tremendously hostile facility.

But it gets worse, here's what it looks like towards Mitchams Corner:

So they're squeezing us into the parked car door zone and if we swerve we'll be killed by a bus? Well isn't that spiffing.

Look, here's a rather sarcastic but entirely accurate appraisal:

There is, physically, not room for two lorries and a bus to pass there - we can't fit that in with a cycle lane too. It comes down to this - the trees have to go, the bus lane has to go, or the cycle lane has to go. They've approved this conceptually. But. It. Does. Not. Fit.

The cycle facility proposed isn't just bad, its hostile - if you build a bike lane in a car door zone with bus drivers expecting to pass at speed then you're risking killing them. The roundabour re-design remains hazardous and will not reduce cyclist injury rate there (its a black spot). And the supposed 'segregated' cycle lane mostly isn't, in the sense any cycle campaigner would describe.

This isn't a model for road building, its an act of violence against cyclists, and against the residents of Milton Road. Councillors voting for this have been suckered into a myth, what we're looking at here isn't deliverable - to make this work something has to give. All for what? Oh, yes. According to City Deal 'up to four minutes on a bus trip'. Yes, thats right, that is JUST like an 'up to 40mb' internet speed claim. Its a nebulous, hand wavey, vague promise to save an indeterminate (but very small) amount of time, at the expense of a better treescape and high quality cycle facilities. Lets be very clear - this isn't a poor cycle facility because it can't be delivered, its a crap facility because they want it to be a crap facility.

And thats precisely what we've come to expect of City Deal. 

The Camcycle Podcast

Listening to it now. 

Pretty good guys.

A few thoughts - I agree with most of what you're saying. One thing I'd add re walking is that the difference between that and cycling is, for the most part, waking for transport (as opposed to walking between your transport and your work, shopping or entertainment) has been very nearly wiped out in the UK. We don't feel endangered walking very often because we don't walk anywhere. Crossing roads though? Terrifying, especially for kids and old folk and for anyone with any physical disability. Our streets remain hostile to pedestrians, so few bother.

Cambridge North station and access thereto - the biggest problem is, I think, the crossing to the Science Park. Needs digging up and starting again, its dreadful - I suspect this might restrict take-up of train and train/bike commuting using the new station.

Good first outing guys, will look forward to the next one.

Open to suggested topics?

Friday 14 July 2017

Copy of email to Cllr Lewis Herbert re. Arbury Road Hedge.

Dear Lewis,

Here's the most recent update:

Most relevant facts in addition to that are -

1. Hedge removal and replanting was due to be done in Autumn to limit wildlife disturbance. Thats even still there on the City Deal website.

2. I only worked out work might be going on earlier because there was interesting coloured paint on Arbury Road - even councillors didn't know what that was about (the mystery of the coloured paint was raised at NAC).

3. I proactively pursued to find out what was happening, was told the hedge would be removed. The consultation hadn't said that the hedge would be removed in its entirety but I decided to make the best of it by discussing how to replace it. I kept notes, publicly:

4. During this discussion the plans quite suddenly moved from the stated Autumn goal to, well, immediately:
While I'd mused a little on what should be replanted I'll confess to being totally wrong-footed. I was no where near a final position on regarding what should be replanted there - that was a job for Spring when the hedges on old Histon Road and other older hedges in Histon and Milton were in leaf so I could provide a more recently informed view.

5. Although I'd tried to chase to get some understanding of local hedging ecology and culture, the plants for putting in already been ordered - not only had the project quite suddenly moved to March, but any opportunity to influence planting was lost. No advice was taken as to what to buy, a poor species mix (for the location) was ordered.

Of particular concern is planting spindle and alder buckthorn right in front of a primary school, they're both appealing looking berries and rather toxic. Dogwood also makes up a major part of the planting scheme and cause, in a surprising number of people, contact dermatitis. Again I wouldn't choose to plant that in front of a school.

But the problem of tree selection runs deeper than that - this isn't good for the local ecology. Alder buckthorn is not historically used in hedging here because it likes a good wet location - which this isn't. Likewise several of the other species present have no history in hedging culture here because they don't thrive here, whereas many of the species we had (showing that it was a traditional native hedge for Cambridgeshire) do. The result is that we have no net gain in biodiversity in the tree species present, and many of the shrubs will, over a few years, simply die off when they're no longer being regularly watered. 

6. I tried to push for local cultivars to be incporporated, because we'd had them there previously. They were not - there has been some uptake of said as specimen trees, but they won't survive as well as they did in hedges. Good selection of specimens is not the same as good selection of hedge plants.

7. I could by this point only compile a species list of what had been lost from memory - the hedge was a repository for much that isn't really left in this part of the city because habitat is so fragmented. Once that hedge was gone getting things re-seeded there was going to be hard, but still do-able. I shared this list with the City Deal officers in the hope of getting some re-seeding, but their response wasn't positive.

8. The goal of preventing the shrubs there from being competed with by mulching effectively meant that many of the species lost will remain lost - only those that can penetrate from a substantial, tough root-stock and those with very vigorous seedlings that can get through the wood chips could come back. Because they're now dominating the site, unless we see some re-planting we're going to have poor species dieversity in the undergrowth. That means fewer flowers, fewer invertebrate species, and a drop in nesting bird numbers. 

9. To make absolutely sure as much ecological damage could be done as possible a fence was put in to protect the hedge from being trampled. Putting posts and wires in (which was, I was told, the plan) is a good idea. But making the holes smaller than a hedgehog (which often nest in the denser gardens on Arbury Road but forage in the estate on the other side) is just cruel. City Deal turned even getting holes cut in this fence to let hedgehogs through into a fight.

Bluntly, moving the scheme from Autumn to Spring meant that formulation of a good plan for our local ecology was impossible. The result is that we've an unsuitable species mix planted, and a representative native flora under-story will not re-grow without significant help. But I'd say the situation is worse than that - this is an opportunity wasted. Why weren't the kids at the Primary School talked to about getting a better hedge? Why did no one walk a few hundred yards to the hedges on the old route of Histon Road (they're still there, behind the slip road to the A14) and see whats tradition in hedging here and what thrives? Why did no one consider the implication of mulching on native biodiversity (this hasn't removed competition, it has merely limited the species richness thereof)? We are looking now at a severely depleted ecology - does anyone at City Deal give a damn?

The situation can't be recovered entirely, but replanting with plugs of native species that were previously there could help a lot. I would propose selecting species that are unlikely to seed themselves back - a dozen, maybe a couple of dozen species, which would of course benefit from the watering being given the hedgerow. I'd suggest planting in autumn or early Spring. This wouldn't be expensive - I should think it might cost a few hundred quid. 

This doesn't seem like much to ask, but City Deal are having none of it.

Would you care to speak up for that or not?


CAB Davidson

Correspondence with Chief Exec of City Deal

Chief Exec of City Deal sent me a response. It isn't labelled as confidential so I'm going to share it, removing names of people other than the Chief Exec of the County Council.

I refer to your recent correspondence to the Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council, Gillian Beasley, and your recent telephone discussions with (w), Interim Director of Transportation for the Greater Cambridge Partnership (formerly City Deal).
As I understand it, you remain unhappy with the actions we have taken in response to the concerns you have raised, and I have therefore reviewed our approach. Obviously we have also spoken previously when you raised some earlier concerns regarding the planting of the hedge and I believe the actions (x)  took, following a meeting with you on site, did go some way to alleviate some, if not all, of your concerns.
I understand you have recently had some additional concerns which you have raised with a number of colleagues and (w) has attempted to resolve these with you. This primarily concerned the access for hedgehogs through the fence and following discussion between you and Chris, I understand that he agreed to re-look at this with a view to providing the necessary access.
You also raised the question of undercover and the mulching that has taken place. In this case our view remains the same: that it is more important, at this stage, to get the hedge established by ensuring there is a plentiful supply of water and that the moisture is retained with the aid of the mulch. We will ensure that any invasive weed growth that could affect the establishment of the hedge is dealt with on a regular basis.

Whilst I understand your continuing concerns, I trust this addresses the points you have raised.  If, however, you are not satisfied with my reply, you may escalate your complaint further under the Council’s complaints procedure, which can be found at
Yours sincerely

So its evident that she hasn't got it.

The habitat we had has been wrecked, this was a great opportunity to do better, and that opportunity is being missed due to sheer bloody mindedness. We can't now fix all the damage but showing some willing to make it better would give some confidence that we can work with City Deal. They just aren't interested though - a hedge is a green thing you drive past to them, and any other local ecological concerns are irrelevant to them. Going forward this means residents groups and individuals can and will oppose them ever more on their ecological record - it would be entirely reasonable to object to any program on this basis. I've sent my reply thus:

Dear Ms. Stopard,

It does appear to me that you haven't grasped any part of my complaint.

I did meet with (x) and while I thought he showed some willing, the ecological situation on the ground is close to catastrophic. We have lost dozens of species, there is a fence in place which is actively hostile to wildlife, and by cutting hedgehog habitat in two risked starving the animals and which is, right now, killing parts of the newly planted hedge by providing support for bindweed to shade out the shrubs. The hedge itself was planted at the wrong time of year (despite saying it would be done in autumn it was done at the end of March), consists of many species that are both culturally and ecologically inappropriate in hedging in Cambridge - (the hedge will be 'gappy' once the wrong shrubs start dying back. i.e. when you stop watering them), and there must surely be serious questions asked about planting bushes producing toxic berries at the gates to a primary school.

Regarding the undergrowth - you have it already but, again, its the wrong kind. The tough, ineradicable roots of bindweed and cow parsley are already taking over and causing precisely the problem (competing for water) you're describing. They're plants with deep energy supplies in the roots and they've no problem coming up through the mulch, which they've done. You have not, by mulching, achieved your goal of suppressing competitive weeds, you've only managed to achieve a huge loss of biodiversity - the site will therefore be less interesting to look at as well as supporting fewer species of plant, invertebrate and bird. 

My biggest concern is that your colleagues have not shown any willing to engage on local ecology - it simply must not be a fight (as it was) to get them to acknowledge that a fence in hedge that hedgehogs can't get through is a mistake. Likewise, when looking at the undergrowth, the real biodiversity of the site ,it shouldn't be a battle. I cannot stress enough that in this scheme I can find no evidence of anything suggested to your team, by anyone outside, has been enacted at all.

Going forward there are bigger battles than this for City Deal - are you really wanting to leave this as an ecological mess? 

All thats needed is to acknowledge that local hedging culture and ecology are important to understand for future projects, and to look in to ordering plug-plants of native species that were in the hedge but which will struggle to re-seed on their own, for plating in autumn. This will probably only cost a couple of hundred quid, its not a big cost but it has a big ecological payback. 

Frankly, I don't understand either the recalcitrance or the sheer bloody minded, confrontational way your staff have approached this. Is this how you want City Deal to work with the public?

Can you please reconsider how you're handling this, and can we talk about re-planting some of the valuable species lost?


Thursday 13 July 2017

Sorry to drone on about Arbury Road...

I've just been looking at the Greater Cambridge website (thats what the re-branded City Deal call themselves now).

And its ever more clear that officers have basically gone rogue.
In order to avoid bird nesting season, hedge trimming and any removal will be undertaken in the Autumn from September onwards.
Well thats nonsense. They cut the hedge down and hastily re-planted in the last few days of March - this did cause massive disruption. Disruption and damage we're still fighting to reduce.

Whats interesting is that the original consultation documents aren't there on the site. Here's a link to them that doesn't work any more...

Forced to ask - why?

What are you hiding guys?

EDIT: I still can't find a link to the original consultation document which, I believe discussed reducing or removing parts of the hedgerows (not the removal of the whole thing). I have been directed here though - it seems Greater Cambridge isn't quite that keen to keep all of their old material in one place.

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Arbury Road Hedge: Tiny, beginning of a glimmer

I set out to co-operate with the City Deal to get the best outcome for better cycle provision and environmental improvement on Arbury Road - the old hedge was a fine old thing but due to poor management there was room for improvement.

Things didn't go to plan. Major balls up, if I'm honest.

I shot this film on the way home yesterday to show how bad its getting:

If you're reading this and you've ever gardened where bindweed is a major pest you'll know that you can lose plants to it - it can cover over a young shrub, blocking light out from the leaves and effectively starve it of sunlight. The last thing you want to do is put a trellis up in front of newly planted shrubs, letting bindweed grow up it and shading everything out. Which is precisely what they've done with the fence.

The only undergrowth plants really thriving are the ones with really tough root stocks, we've lost the vast bulk of species we had - and it was quite needles. By planting at the wrong time of year with the wrong species and mulching heavily, restoring the undergrowth (where a lot of the real biodiversity lies) is an uphill task. 

But they're finally (after I've pestered City Deal chief exec, and the Chief Exec of the County Council, repeatedly) agreed to cut some holes in the fence to let hedgehogs through. Its a start. Its late, and its tiny, but its a start.

What comes now is a big push towards getting them to obtain and plant some native wild plants (there are various suppliers who do this well) - it'll need some weeding come Autumn, and then lets get some restoration planting in. If we were talking about a native hedge re-planted in the countryside we could just wait and it would all be fine - but this hedge has tarmac on both sides of it, gritted in winter to the earth will be liberally salted. If its going to recover it'll need our help.

I want City Deal to be a success. But for that we need to see them working with residents and understanding the environmental context of what they're doing. Otherwise they'll see nothing but opposition and endless protest against what they're doing. I want to see good quality cycle schemes (unlike the farce in Green End Road), but we won't get that if residents end up fighting City Deal every step of the way. Going forward there are still very serious concerns for planting schemes on Histon Road, Miltn Road and elsewhere - come on guys, do you not want to turn this into a win? Do you now want to show you can work WITH us? 

Monday 10 July 2017

Arbury Road - correspondence with County Chief Exec

I phoned the Chief Execs office, explaned the situation re. Arbury Road Hedge, and Chief Execs PA asked me to email. I agreed if Chief Exec would then be willing to maybe talk to me about it, and sent this last week:

Dear Ms. Beasley,
I talked to your PA, in the hope I might meet with you to discuss the colossal cock-up that suffices as the hedging scheme on Arbury Road. Its a complex set of issues best discussed in person, but I've kept a log of events mostly summarised here:
As you can see, there are numerous links therein to each part of the process.
Since then, they've done two further (stupid) things:
I'm facing a total refusal from the City Deal when trying to get them to make good on any aspect of this.
I'd like to meet with you and discuss what can be done - I know that Kings Hedges hasn't got the pester power of, say, Milton Road, but I don't think that means that City Deal should be able to take us for mugs. Simple things - resolving to re-plant the under-story with appropriate native species, sourcing a simple wire fence (or even just cutting holes every 3 or 4m to allow hedgehogs through) would make a big difference.

The response was disappointing - I was told that someone who is a communications manager at City Deal would be in touch. Thats good isn't it? Rather than escalate my complaint the desire was to nudge me sideways to someone who, when I talked to her this morning, hadn't a clue what it could possibly have to do with her.

I sent further emails about this on Friday (anticipating said Comms officer would think this daft):

Sorry that's not acceptable and I will not be expecting that contact - I don't want to de-escalate this, I want to take it upwards.
Multiple County employees have done everything they can to dodge this already and the season is stretching on - unless amelioration is urgently planned then we'll have no hope of restoring any of the damage done. I don't want to move this laterally, I want to escalate this to the Chief Executive directly.
Please can I have that conversation with the chief executive, as soon a possible?


I would also like to repeat an FoI request (so far completely ignored by City Deal) to you.
I would like you to release all documents related to any and all ecological surveys of the he hedge on Arbury Road prior to the removal thereof in March, and those pertaining to selection of species to replant. I believe that scant consideration was given to the ecology of the site and would like to inspect said documents.
I have requested this from City Deal already, but they have not responded to my FoI request.

And then this one today...

Ms. (x) was perfectly nice when I called her, but was as baffled as I was as to why a communications manager ought to be talking about a hedge.
Please arrange a time for for us to discuss this, Me. Beasley. I've discussed it with multiple County Council officers including (x), (y) and (z). None of them are willing to do a single thing to ameliorate the ecological damage caused by the scheme which has incorporated the wrong plants, at the wrong time of year, mulched to exclude the possibility of the vast bulk of native species in undergrowth re-growing and protected by a hedgehog-barrier that further fragments the habitat of this increasingly threatened species. 
I don't believe any environmental assessment was conducted and I don't think that the ecology of the site or wider area was considered at all - the plants were bought while consultation on what to plant was on-going, any and all community engagement was a sham to make us think we were being listened to.
Officers have failed here, in every important environmental aspect. There is no purpose referring me back to the same people who have demonstrated so clearly they have no interest.
The only course here is escalation.
Can we meet and talk or discuss this on the phone. Ms. Beasley. I will not accept that sending someone out for a couple of hours with bolt-cutters to cut holes for hedgehogs, and then re-planting plugs of native plant species in Autumn, are beyond the capability or budget of City Deal or the County Council.

I've contacted two different wildlife charities and I'm waiting their responses.

It would be fair to say that in my opinion County officers have failed here, misreably and entirely. Huge opportunity for a very positive environmental outcome has been squandered. What a shame. What a crying shame.

Friday 7 July 2017

Arbury Road, Continued...

Quick version - consultation on reducing some of an old hedge for building a cycle lane (much needed). Cycle lane allegedly coming soon but actual plans showing whether it'll be crap or not still not produced. Instead of removing SOME of the old, very diverse, wildlife friendly hedge it was removed in its entirety at the tail end of the planting season, with the many of the wrong shrubs (unsuited to local conditions, poisonous next to primary school, and not part of local hedging culture) planted - very mature specimens at massive cost, at the wrong time of year necessitating very frequent watering. And then they bought the wrong fencing (this was confirmed to our County Councillor) and insisted on using it anyway, and mulched the hedge with wood-chips to make sure the very broad range of native species in the seed-stock could never grow back - its already being choked with spreading species like bind weed. And the fence they put in is has holes too small for hedgehogs to get through. The scheme is brutally insensitive to every ecological concern.

Still with me? 


I complained again, of course, that the barrier to hedgehogs getting through is unacceptable, and that I found one little fellow stuck in there - he'd have got out eventually I should think but there's no need for this. 

And got a response...

I refer to your email to (County Officer A) and (County Officer B) on the 4th July 2017 concerning the post and wire fence erected alongside the new mature hedging on Arbury Road and the comments you make relating to hedgehogs being trapped within the meshing.
I spoke to an ecologist that we have used on a number of schemes and their opinion was similar to mine ie this issue isn’t something which requires attention. In fact their main thought was that the fence would be of benefit in stopping hedgehogs from wandering out into Arbury Road and endangering themselves in that way.
Consequently it is my intention to take no further action on the fence, especially considering its temporary nature and I also have to be very mindful of budget constraints as the scheme progresses.
I would urge you to contact me as the Project Manager for the scheme if you have any other issues which I would be happy to resolve for you.
So they don't get it. The complaint is about habitat fragmentation - 'hogs currently cross the road from the gardens opposite (shady and leafy mostly) where they tend to rest up, and they forage on and around the green spaces in the housing estate. If you block that route they'll walk along the road for longer - they'll go up and down looking for a route, rather than straight across. This will put them at GREATER risk.

I should also point out that I've talked to this chap before and made absolutely clear that I didn't want to complain -to- him, I want to complain -about- how he and his team are handling it. This guy didn't believe he had any duty to consult on what to plant or how - he doesn't believe there is any responsibility to get landscaping or ecology of the site right. To him the hedge is green stuff you go past, and he has no other concerns. 

And the fence is temporary? Not really - its there until the hedge is bushy enough so people don't trample through it. Its wispy and weedy now, and it'll stay wispy and weedy for years because they've planted the wrong species. Species that have no history in hedging culture in this part of England because they don't thrive here. Yes, the alder-buckthorn is pretty much going to survive for a few years because its being intensively watered, but it'll slowly die off when that stops - until hawthorn and other species planted sucker up into that space (which as the hedge won't be 'laid' as such, it'll only be trimmed) will be how long? 5 years? 10? The spindle trees will do sort of ok, but they're not a 'bushy hedging plant in our conditions. Nor is the dogwood - and its a poor barrier to people walking through.

The tight-holed fence (rather than simple wires) is also a great place for bindweed, black bryony etc. to grow up and along - they're already starting to swamp parts of the hedge, and are shading out any other plants that dare put their noses up through the mulch (and endangering the planted shrubs - when it really gets going it can shade out and kill trees in their first year or two). The fence is actively hostile to restoration of the habitat destroyed.

I tried to escalate this again, right up to the Chief Exec of the County Council, but her PA is acting as a firewall and is insisting I speak to a 'Strategic Communications Manager'. Because presumably some comms person will be more adept at fobbing me off. What the hell has this got to do with 'communication' and how is that in practical terms any kind of escalation? Why would I want to talk to a 'communications manager' about a hedge?

My advice? Don't trust City Deal (or as they've rebranded themselves Greater Cambridge Partnership). They're not accountable, they're not following through with their own consultations, and they're brutally hostile to any and all concerns re. local ecology. Their delivery on cycle schemes so far is dreadful. And they've actually modeled cycling out of Milton Road. It is a shady, secretive, malicious, un-democratic, poorly accountable, waste of money. Will the cycle lane we get eventually be worth it? Probably not - it'll only go down half of the road, and where we most need it (a supposedly 20mph road but effectively a gauntlet of speeding cars pushing cyclists into tight packed parked cars on either end) its going to evaporate to nothing. 

It would be better had this bad joke of a scheme never started.

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Victim Blaming Cambridge Police Launch 'Share the Road' attack

So in many ways Cambridge is the capital of British cycling - we've a higher cycling modal share than other cities, we've a history and culture of cycling.

But lets be clear - our police service, local authorities, and indeed our new Greater Cambridge Partnership (a re-branding of Greater Cambridge City Deal - that name being damaged goods after numerous terrible schemes already on the ground) remain entirely hostile to cycling and primarily focused on facilitating motoring.

Take, for example, Green End Road. They've put paint on the road and thats it basically - you can legally block the narrow bike lane by parking your car and be certain that as you skim cyclists elbows whizzing past the absurdly narrow bike lane well above the speed limit, the Cops won't give a toss, and as a result 20mph limits have had no impact in Cambridge.

If you really want a single, simple snap-shot of our victim blaming culture look at this:

Lets take this apart. 

Cyclists are harmed disproportionately on the roads of this county. There are numerous ways to respond to this, of course - most rationally we could look at what does harm to cyclists and police it. Since West Midlands Police kicked off Operation Close Pass and started proactively policing for cyclist safety their campaign has been taken on by numerous other forces - with hugely positive press for doing so. But here in Cambridge we can't even get the cops to pursue motorists with crystal clear video evidence of wrongdoing

So, sadly, our police have not responded to this problem by saying they'll police in the interest of reducing road danger for cyclists - they've told us to #sharetheroad. The mutual respect fallacy. This bizarre idea that we somehow don't respect motorists so its all our own fault. The idea we're not sharing, we're not playing nice. Its complete bollocks, of course.

And best of all, they're reinforcing this vacuous message with an (un-commented) photograph of a van, crossing the solid white line en route to the blind crest of a the bridge on Mill Road, thus overtaking a lady carrying a child on the back of her bike (she's blameless here). And, comically, to really make sure we know our place, they've chosen a shot of a vehicle belonging to Cambridge City Council to show this point. Yep, a local authority van driver taking a liberty with cyclist safety.

Share The Road, they say. With drivers overtaking over solid white lines on the blind crest of a bridge in vehicles belonging to your local authority, and we as your Police force are so clueless about road safety we'll tweet this photographic evidence of bad driving not only without comment but we'll use it in a victim-blaming response to the shocking rate of cyclist injuries which we'll do absolutely nothing about.

We tend to get over-excited about the occasional bit of decent but ultimately disconnected cycle route in Cambridge. We could foolishly believe that we're an exception. But we're not - if anything, the reliance that the City Council has on car-parking fees and the Blue-Rinse Fenlanders who dominate the County Council mean that we're a more car-sick city than most. But if you really want evidence of how we're treated, look at that tweet from the Police force. They don't exactly hate us, they simply think everything is our own fault. They are motorists - we're policed by, and for, drivers. 

Go on, Cambridgeshire Constabulary. Prove me wrong. Prove us all wrong. Shake off #badlyparkedbike, and lets see you take on #OperationClosePass. 

Will they do that? Will they feck.