Formal Response from Heaton Mersey Conservation Group (HMVCG) to Stockport Council’s proposed cycle routes in Heaton Mersey Common.
Reference: ‘The Heaton Mersey Common Path Improvements’.
Summary: HMVCG has grave concerns about this scheme but would like to offer some solutions alongside a clear explanation as to why we think the proposal on the table is deeply flawed. We believe this dialogue is important to increase understanding and we hope this will support opportunity awareness.
Consultation Question 1
We strongly disagree with this proposal but wish to make positive suggestions as to how the council could move forward to create opportunity.
Consultation Question 2
We strongly disagree with this proposal but wish to make positive suggestions as to how the council could move forward to create opportunity.
Heaton Mersey Common is a Local Nature Reserve (LNR). It has a statutory designation under Section 21 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. LNRs are designated spaces with wildlife or geological features that are of special interest locally. They provide opportunities to study or learn about nature or just simply to enjoy it. They are impressive natural resources which make an important contribution to England’s biodiversity. Heaton Mersey common is a valued natural space, an oasis amidst dense housing and urban sprawl. A sanctuary in a pandemic.
HMVCG believe a ‘natural capital’ (asset-based working) approach predicated on ensuring all activity recognises the value of natural assets is required in this context. Do not start by degrading the resources we have but make them work better for you. There is no evidence of this being applied in either the project design or consultation process. This is no doubt hampered by a weak and outdated open space assessment of the patch. Instead, residents are presented with an overly formulaic scheme lacking any nuance to play to ’place’ which appears to be dropped into numerous locations in the borough irrespective of context or need.
The binary nature of the consultation, the lack of context, the failure to provide access to even a redacted ecology report are all failings that need to be documented. Even the title of the consultation is misleading. This could be construed as loaded and inevitably will encourage bias. The fact the council has chosen to ignore their own four-week consultation period is also problematic in a pandemic as residents are less mobile. The consultation survey itself lacks any robustness and validity with its lack of regard to policing potential ‘rigging by interested parties’. This undermines public confidence in any real concern by the council to listen to the people.
HMVCG would like to point out the original consultation in 2019 was not inclusive nor representative. HMVCG is an established community group and the most active green group in Heaton Mersey. We were not consulted. Page 5 of the 2019 full consultation report also suggests the council did not engage with any other local conservation or ecological interest groups, and focussed solely on those who would have a positive response to cycling – if so, it’s even more important this group’s concerns are listened to and taken into account this time, particularly when we have no ecology reports/ surveys as a frame of reference in order to contribute to the discussion in a properly informed way.
Above all else, in this context we argue:
- Green space appears to be something which is traded for an ambition which we believe will fail to achieve its objectives, i.e. increasing cycling use.
- Fundamental design defects and a flawed ideology – all cycling is good whatever the price
- And the price is paid for by the environment not the motorist
- The plan and the materials specified do not represent a wise use of scarce public resource.
Who we are
HMVCG was established over 30 years ago to bring residents together to protect and enhance green space through greater engagement in ‘place’ by increasing community action and green space volunteering. Our whole raison d’etre has been to increase sensitive and appropriate access to green space, supported by greater environmental understanding to build engagement and commitment to the environment and our shared heritage. In order to do this HMVCG supported over 1800 volunteer hours in 2019 through task day leader led activities and events in Mersey Vale Nature Park, Heaton Mersey Park, the Bowl and the Sidings community orchard. We reached over 3,000 residents.
Agency is key to lifestyle change
Green space volunteers are the heartbeat of green spaces. We use this analogy purposefully given the scientific evidence that supports the value of green space for both mental and physical wellbeing; and specifically, the numerous epidemiological studies that report positive associations between the amount of green space in the living environment and mental and cardiovascular human health. All this volunteering is driven by an awareness of climate change, loss of species habitat and the quest for biodiversity. This is a driving force. This is not instead of cycling it must be as well as.
- Green space is an asset. It is not something to be squandered. Nor should it be considered as part of a zero-sum game when pitted against cycling opportunity. We need green space and cycling and both can be achieved with an appropriate scheme. This scheme fails on both counts.
- We believe by creating meaningful volunteer opportunity to support residents to engage with green space it is then easier to see how they will make the next step to changing entrenched behaviours to promote sustainability by further personal action. Realisation of just how damaging cars are follows. By degrading local green space, particularly that which is defined by its wildness, there is less opportunity to transform behaviour.
- Once green space is fundamentally altered opportunity is lost forever.
HMVCG has a dual focus on fostering a clear understanding about the relationship between green space and heritage and as such the Heaton Mersey common with its rich heritage is a key natural green space to support immersion in nature and ignite interest in heritage. The affectionately termed Monkey Path and the questions the name raises along with the ancient hedgerow that skirts it are a case in point. This scheme not only fails to capitalise on heritage it undermines future opportunity.
We have concerns about references to ‘some vegetation clearance’. Advice from Cheshire Wildlife Trust and other HMVCG and council partners on local greenspace is worth considering especially if the path itself has an impact on the habitats/protected species due to resurfacing or widening.
The Section B path also potentially presents as a highway to hell for unassuming cyclists. Burnage Lane is officially a destination not deemed fit for safe cycling. If the destination is Manchester then would it not be safer to route cycle users through a speed controlled, well-lit Bluestone Drive and make use of welcoming off road existing safe corridors like those represented by the one between Bluestone Drive and Aldington Avenue? Bluestone Drive and its tributaries run in parallel to Route B and Route A. It requires no resurfacing or lighting. Its ongoing maintenance is assured. The lighting bill is accounted for.
Q. Why would the council design a scheme that increases cycling risk?
Q. Why would the council not consider upcycling existing infrastructure to promote cycling on roads?
Q. How does the council realistically plan to mitigate against anti-social behaviour supported by lighting and what will be deemed as convenient ‘roads’ for off road bikes and trikes? How will this be monitored and evaluated?
Q. Where is the evidence of the need or driver for the proposed scheme given the limited number of respondents to initial consultations in 2019. As a guess at raw figures, if the council received less than 200 comments from 30,000 residents, we are building a scheme on a 0.58% return and these respondents were not all in favour.
Our greatest concern is the suggested lighting scheme which presents danger to wildlife and protected species. HMVCG believe we need to view light like any other pollutant. Both climate change and night-time lighting are human-driven and enormously disruptive to the natural world. Heritage lighting will magnify the negative impact of lighting spill. It might work in Bramhall Park but why in a common?
- There is a significant amount of research documenting lighting damage in nature. For most organisms, be they human, insect or plankton, the cycle of light and dark is an influential regulator of behaviour. It mediates courtship, reproduction, migration and much more. Fewer studies have examined plants, but those that have suggest that light is disrupting them, too. Artificial lighting is linked with ‘trees bursting their buds more than a week earlier, a magnitude like that predicted for 2 °C of global warming. A study of soya-bean farms found that the light from adjacent roads and passing cars could be delaying the maturation of crops by up to seven weeks, as well as reducing yield.’
- HMVCG feel it is important to note that lighting schemes presented to ameliorate these risks, by turning lighting off at key junctures, are generally ineffectual because the very time we humans are deemed to need the light, as day breaks and fades, are the very junctures when nature is busy at work and at most risk. We need to heed the scientific warnings. We also would like to remind the council of just how vulnerable lighting is to vandalism in this context. HMVCG understand immediate residents are concerned the lighting will also create unwelcome visitors and anti-social behaviour.
- Continually drawing comparisons with other areas such as Abney Hall and Bramall Park are not helpful; neither replicate the specific locale and characteristics of the Heaton Mersey Common, where houses back so closely onto the affected area.
- There is no correlation with increased lighting and cycling level. HMVCG also references TFGM research and the previous cycling consultation. The focus on heritage lighting therefore appears profligate at the very least. The introduction of such new lighting increases council utility costs and the boroughs carbon footprint.
- We believe the 3m wide shared cycle path cannot be located sympathetically nor be without significant impact on the unique history of the existing path and hedgerow. We urge the council to check measurements and reassure residents about tree loss and degradation of the nature reserve.
- The common is a destination for lots of reasons. It is a place for contemplation and reflection. There is therefore a conflict inherent in any proposal that purports to support shared use by pedestrians and cyclists. The number of collisions between cyclists and pedestrians has increased in recent years. TFGM’s own cycling guidance reflects this and indicates shared paths should be avoided and segregated paths encouraged. The 56-year-old killed in Didsbury in July 2020 after colliding with a cyclist is a sad reminder of why cycles are still deemed vehicles in law and what impact they can have on pedestrians. Pedestrians in the common will be oblivious to risk and unalert.
- The common is a retreat for many dog walkers and their pets. Dogs are on long and short leashes or no leashes at all. Public Space Protection Orders on responsible dog ownership only apply to cemeteries. Cyclists are offered no protection from irresponsible dog owners. This begs the question how does the council seek to manage such inherent conflicts?
HMVCG understands this design specifies the use of flexi -paving. The detail is not specified so we can only make assumptions. Clearly the use of synthetic paths also has implications for the ecology. They cannot just be laid on existing substructures. Most flexi path uses polyurethane resin. This is hard to remove and as a new material there is little information about the impact on a locality as it breaks up or any substrate. It is made from chemicals that come from the production of planet-warming fuels (gas, oil and even coal). HMVCG believes both are inappropriate in this context. Flexi paving is an expensive and sensitive material. It requires specialist laying and repair. It comes at a substantial cost to the public purse. It requires management and maintenance and a budget to facilitate this. Flexi paving needs to be hand brushed and kept clear. You cannot use mechanical sweepers. If the flexi path degrades you cannot call on local green space volunteers to support repairs. It appears as an expensive liability more suited to a golf course or Bramhall Park- a manicured environment not a nature reserve.
Q. Who will be holding a budget to support any maintenance?
Q. Where is the management plan?
Q. How will anti-social behaviour related to or impacting on this lighting be managed in an already over stretched public purse?
HMVCG is clearly focused on environmental protection and encouraging biodiversity but this encompasses a concern to reduce car use and foster walking. HMVCG is clear about the need to support schemes which will effectively reduce car use. Our nations attachment to car use is a wicked problem and as such it requires a multi-faceted response. The options presented through this consultation create no sense of any reassurance that the complexity of this issue is understood by the design team. In point of fact, shared cycle paths are shown to reduce both cycling and walking propensity.
- Deal with the elephant in the room. Make roads safer for cyclists not nature reserves problematic for ecology.
- Avoid a shared path at the junction of Heaton Mersey Common and Hawthorn Road – toddlers and scooters and destination focused cyclists are a problematic, unpredictable mix no matter how wide a path.
- Invest in additional Mersey Road traffic calming measures.
- Make further use of School Street schemes at St Johns and Priestnall School, with residents-only motor vehicle access along this section of Mersey Road and Priestnall Road and consider implications for Cavendish Road at school pick-up and drop-off times.
- Create a designated (widened) cycling path down the side of Priestnall School between the allotments and the corner of Mersey Road/Priestnall Road. Push back the fencing on the council owned recreation centre to facilitate this.
- Make full use of existing safe cycling opportunities and numerous routes accessed by Cambo Walk and avoid/negate the need to invest in any significant lighting infrastructure anywhere in the common.
- Provide suitable signage to support navigation around the Bluestone Road estate to provide safe passage away from Burnage Lane.
- Update the common’s LNR management plan in consultation with residents!
- Put out a call to arms to the public to get involved in an exciting vision for the common which puts the environment first.
- Draw up a plan of action to rectify current neglect and address the need to upgrade existing paths which facilitate access immediately adjacent to the reserve in a connected manner. And support volunteer led path development and improvement. Use your community assets.
- Move beyond short term fixes with surfacing which is neither desirable scalable nor affordable.
- Be bold and ambitious about the common and inspire residents to get involved. The current offer does nothing to mobilise residents to contribute it confirms their status as passive onlookers.
- Set up a working group to establish a green space strategy for the common along with funding options. Make heritage assets work for green space.
- Above all else rebalance the thinking which positions cycling gain as requiring ecological degradation. It does not get motorists off the road. It does not increase green space volunteering and it does not change thinking.
- We need a commitment that, whilst there is not going to be a separate lighting consultation, the council will stand on their word to ensure that options are presented for agreement by residents regarding lighting given the concerns around pollution, impact on species and likely increase of ASB.
- We need to understand how these plans have been balanced against their 2020 Climate Action Now plans, and council’s commitment to protecting the local environment? Current plans to offset any damage caused are arguably not going far enough.
We look forward to having open and transparent discussion to future proof the common and the borough from now until 2035.