An illusion of choice and an opportunity not to be wasted
On Tuesday (3rd October), I attended the second GCP workshop regarding the development of the ‘final’ designs for City Deal alterations to Milton Road. This workshop focussed on trees, the removal of which under original proposals led to outcry from local residents and the development of their own Do-optimum alternative.
Cllr Ian Manning has provided a summary of the workshop structure and explained his concerns regarding the project. Here I note my own observations.
I think that it is worth highlighting that before presentations began the Chair of the Milton Road Residents Association raised the continued concern of residents regarding the extension of bus lanes along Milton Road. This is reducing the space available for cyclists and green verges without any evidence that it will lead to improvements in local public transport usage. Workshops have continued to avoid discussion of this key issue.
Regarding tree options, there were some positives. I was pleased to see that are aiming for taller tree species where possible, flowering cherry trees were on the list (at least for narrow sections), and that they plan to use multiple species (3 for narrow sections, 2 for wider) which will provide greater variety and resilience for the future. The Tree Officers also explained the lessons learned from previous failed plantings and highlighted the importance of choosing species that will cope with our changing climate.
However, the workshop task was of rather limited value due to the fundamentally limited selection of trees made available. For the wide section, 3 of the 4 options provided were different varieties of lime tree. Despite having a degree in Plant Biology, I did not feel adequately qualified to make a judgement on the very subtle differences between these options. A more knowledgeable member of our group declared the exercise “an illusion of choice”.
At the same time, we want Milton Road plans to last for a generation (at least) and it struck me as a real shame that local schools are not being involved in this process to help engage local pupils and develop stewardship in the future.
For the second task, we got to look at ‘opportunity areas’. The brief for this exercise was quite vague, but essentially our table was asked to discuss ideas and priorities for the copse of trees at the end of Woodhead Drive, as pictured:
Despite the open-ended question, this exercise did highlight the massive potential for Milton Road and the enthusiasm of local residents to make this project a success. The area we discussed is currently overgrown and inaccessible but our group all agreed that this could be a great space for our community and, again, could only be improved by engaging with local schools to discuss and develop ideas.
I am pleased to see such opportunities beginning to be recognised, but 20 minutes was not enough time to discuss them properly with residents. The ‘consultation’ process is rushed and plans are being increasingly railroaded back towards the City Deal’s original bus lane dominated proposals.
We have some superb local officers, highly engaged and knowledgeable residents and the opportunity to set new standards with Milton Road. It would be unforgiveable if the City Deal wasted that chance.