We support renovation and ecologically responsible management of Alexandra park. It has been poorly maintained by the council for many years, hence the £4.5 million funding for renovation.
At 60 acres the park is large enough to accommodate the needs of all its users, both human and non-human. Building renovation and improved sport & leisure provision is welcome and needed but it doesn’t require the destruction of 400 trees and 3 acres of wildlife habitat – not with smart design. The Heritage Lottery Fund has said it does not support unnecessary tree felling – so why is the council continuing to do it?
Close study of the plans and documents (e.g. see here and here) reveals that ecologically responsible management is not happening, and that biodiversity was never integral to the plans despite the council’s legal duty under the NERC Act 2006. The Planning dept made the production of a Biodiversity Masterplan a condition of planning approval because they noted its absence in the council’s application. Since works began this year, we have had to keep on top of the council to make sure they were implementing the Masterplan properly – which they weren’t initially, they were in breach of planning condition, as the Planning dept confirmed. Wildlife charities say the council should be felling trees and clearing shrubs over a much longer period to allow species time to adapt.
Restoring the park to its Victorian design is all very well but the Victorians were not living with climate change and the massive decline of species. There are protected and priority species in the park such as bats, hedgehogs, song thrush and house sparrow. We should be celebrating that and seeking to protect and support these populations to flourish, not destroy their habitat. 3 hedgehogs have been killed since the council began tree felling and shrub clearance – this is evidence of lack of due care for wild mammals (and could be a crime under Protection of Wild Mammals Act 1996).
Nature is important to people. People care about birds, trees and hedgehogs. It’s vital to our health & wellbeing. That’s why over 3,000 people have signed the petition to oppose the scale of tree felling.
People have been objecting to these aspects of the plans for the past 2 years but have not been listened to. We had a meeting with the council and HLF on Dec 17th 2012 to re-iterate our concerns but the council chose not to compromise. That is why some local residents have now chosen direct action.
The consultation conducted by the council would not be considered proper consultation by a court. Case law defines proper consultation as being in the formative stage and where people are given full information (which in this case would be full extent of tree felling and shrub clearance as well as the impact this would have on wildlife) so they can give an intelligent informed response. Comments on our website, facebook page and on the petition show that local people, even those living right next to the park, were not aware of the details. The onus is on the council to make sure people are fully informed, as part of their legal duty to consult. The council webpage - park regeneration project downloads does not even include the documents showing the extent of tree felling and habitat clearance! This information is buried in a planning portal site, the link to which is not provided on the project website (visit MCC docs page for links and downloads).
The council say the majority of local people support the plans but have never produced any verifiable evidence of that. We, on the other hand, have a petition of over 3000 people concerned about unnecessary tree felling and clearance of wildlife habitat.
Although the council has already felled 50 healthy trees that made up Red Sycamore avenue along Claremont Rd, it is not too late for them to agree to meet with us to negotiate a positive way forward that takes into account the significant proportion of local people who are unhappy about the scale of tree felling and wildlife habitat clearance. Surely everyone must now recognise that something has gone wrong with the consultation process.
As stated above, this is not and never has been a case of either/or. There is always a way of finding win-win solutions - it’s not necessarily easy: it takes will and commitment, courage and mature leadership.
When Alexandra park, paid for by public subscription, was opened by the city mayor in 1870 he declared the park “the people’s property”. We have a right be involved in decisions that affect our lives. The council has called our campaign “browbeating”. We call it participatory democracy.
If you see the March 2011 film you will see this is not the first time there has been problems in Whalley Range with extensive tree cutting without good relations with local residents!