Here’s my latest piece for the Guardian.
As local authority cuts dig ever deeper and warden services face the chop, Greater Manchester‘s campaigners say green spaces are at an increased risk of over-use and vandalism. Every year, Manchester city council spends just under £2m on cutting grass across the city. It’s an important service, but green campaigners think that one month’s worth of grass cutting would be better spent on saving an important warden service that cares for the region’s entire 55,000-hectare Mersey Valley.
“The council has a legal obligation to conserve biodiversity to protect it and enhance it,” says Dave Bishop, chair of Friends of Chorlton Meadows. “I don’t see how they can do that without a warden service for the Valley.”
The Mersey Valley, which stretches to Stockport in the east and the Manchester Ship Canal in Irlam to the west, has been providing relief to stressed urbanites for decades. Its future, however, is in the balance. After worrying rumours reached Bishop that the Valley’s warden services would be disbanded in March, he got in touch with his local councillors. They confirmed the service would indeed be up for assessment. As Trafford council had decided not to pay its share of the funding, the city council proposes to withdraw its £150,000 from the Mersey Valley warden service from March.
“I understand that cuts have to happen but without the warden the area will become very neglected,” says Bishop. “There will be a lot more litter and vandalism and maybe motorcycle scramblers wrecking the area if we are not very careful. The fate of a well-loved piece of local green space hangs in the balance,” says Bishop.
Councillor Nigel Murphy, executive member for environment at Manchester city council, said: “The Mersey Valley is a fantastic resource and we recognise that we have obligations to maintain the valley, its habitats and wildlife, and keep the waterways safe. However, due to the savage cuts in central government funding we have been forced to make difficult decisions and we are presently consulting on budget options.”
An open public meeting will be held by the city council regarding the Mersey Valley cuts on 15 February at St Barnabus Hall, Hardy Lane. Although the decision is open to consultation, Bishop admits the signs are ominous and he doesn’t hold out much hope for the warden service’s continuation past March.
Alexandra Park, on the border of Whalley Range and Moss Side, is another Manchester green space facing uncertainty. The park is undergoing a £4.5m makeover to restore it to its former Victorian glory. While that may sound like good news, the restoration will mean the loss of 400 trees and 33 acres of wildlife habitat.
Nadine Andrews, who is part of the Save Alexandra Park campaign, says that the tree-felling is completely unjustified and a threat to the wildlife and biodiversity of the area. More than 3,000 people have signed a petition against the tree-felling, but plans have gone ahead regardless.
“The little bits of wild nature we have in the area are being destroyed,” says Andrews. “Of course, nature is resilient and will bounce back but it’s really distressing to watch these trees that are a hundred years old being cut down. It’s physically painfully to see that.”
As well as cherry trees, around 50 healthy Sycamore trees that formed an avenue along Claremont Road have been cut down. Protestors are now camping out in the park to stop further felling and work has temporarily come to a halt.
The Alexandra Park campaign group has been particularly critical of the consultation process with the council and Andrews states their input has been consistently ignored. “The decisions that they are making affect our lives. We use the park and so we should be able to play a full role in the decision-making but just from reading the comments of people who’ve signed the petition saying ‘I live right next to the park and I didn’t know this was happening’ it’s clear that people’s don’t know what actually happening.”
A spokesperson from the council responded: “The actions of the protesters are now holding up much-needed improvements to the park which have widespread public support and indeed all the evidence from our ongoing conversations with local people – which date back several years as these plans have been developed – suggest that the majority are behind the plans.
“We have taken community views on board as part of this process, and indeed reduced the number of trees removed after consultation, but now it our responsibility to deliver the plans.”
::Originally published at The Guardian.
Photograph: Rusholmeruffian/Creative Commons