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Archive for the ‘Improvements’ Category


Introduction

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This is the response from the community group, The Friends of the Fallowfield Loop, to the consultation regarding the proposed improvement and development project for the Fallowfield Loop and old Stockport canal routes. The Friends of the Fallowfield Loop are a user group that was inaugurated in 2001. There are currently 130 subscribed members and the Friends host a public Facebook page that has over 1740 Subscribers. The Friends have created a multi-layered Fallowfield Loop Points of Interest google map, to which there have been almost 65,000 visits in the past 20 months.

The Friends of the Fallowfield Loop are familiar with the Stockport Canal route through both personal usage and reports by members, and because The Friends have participated in monthly “clean ups” along the route over the past 3 years.

The Friends group are involved in many aspects of the Fallowfield Loop, both independently and in partnership with other small and large organisations and groups. Activities include representing users in respect of crime and anti social behaviour, supporting the increased accessibility to a wide range of users, and engaging with small neighbourhood groups and schools. The Friends has over the past decade planted 3 orchards along the length of the Loop. The Friends have undertaken a number of Fallowfield Loop user surveys, advocated and brought about changes that have increased user accessibility on the Loop, and done a number of flora and fauna audits. The Friends have worked with Sustrans and other organisations to hold regular volunteering activities including fortnightly maintenance work (with the guidance of the Sustrans Land Manager), two litter clean-ups each month, and monthly wildlife walks (as part of the Sustrans Wildlife Champions Project). All of these activities have been suspended due to the Covid Lockdown, as has the Bike Rides Project the Friends had been planning to run over the summer of 2020 in association with Cycling UK.

The Friends have followed the process of the funding application to the GM Mayors Walking and Cycling fund with interest and are pleased to be taking part in this Consultation and hope that this submission will be appreciated as representing a wide range of views and experiences of the Fallowfield Loop and Stockport Canal routes. Once the consultation process commenced the Friends actively publicised it through the facebook page, through members’ mail outs and by putting up notices provided by Manchester City Council along both routes. A working group was set up and members fed into this group. Members were also encouraged to make their own submissions either by email or on the Commonplace map.

It is hoped that this paper is a fair summation and representation of the discussions had by members of the working party, and of the comments, views, contributions and suggestions that came to the working party from the Friends’ membership. There now follows a summary of items that The Friends have identified as being important in the development of a holistic and inclusive improvement and development plan.

1. Widening of the paths and resurfacing

There are a number of issues that need to be taken into account here: Some of the problems are caused by vegetation creeping onto the tarmac.
a) If there is an identified need for the path to be widened however does all this need to be done using a hard tarmac surface? There are bridleway paths alongside much of the Fallowfield Loop route that could be maintained as grass verge footpaths. These grass verges, provided they are managed by mowing and not chemical treatment, help to maintain the sense of countryside and the biodiversity of the route.
b) The Stockport Canal route: Much of the path is currently in a bad state particularly from tree roots, and this is bound to deteriorate further over the next few years. Also in many places, the path does need widening to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians safely, although this could be to the 2m width currently along the Loop. A survey of the path followed by remedial action should be undertaken as the top priority before any other improvements are considered.
c) A widespread concern is that, if the routes are further widened with a hard surface, there will be an increased use by motor bikes, mopeds and scrambler bikes (and newly available fast moving electric bikes and mopeds). This will result in further incidents of dangerous riding and ant-social behaviour to other route users.
d) Currently, in accordance with their Fallowfield Loop habitat management strategy, Sustrans mow the verges/bridleways at certain times in the year.

2. Maintenance

The Friends would like to see a substantial sum identified to pay for maintenance of the Routes. The maintenance of the two routes is undertaken by different bodies. There are also volunteer teams, who work under the auspices of Sustrans, who have been doing bi-monthly task mornings and monthly clear-ups and litter picks on both the Loop and Stockport Canal for the past three years.
These have been on hold because of the Covid Lockdown.
a) Fallowfield Loop maintenance — Sustrans have, within the limitations of their resources, been maintaining the Fallowfield Loop for two decades both as a cycle/walking route and a wild life corridor, with all the expertise that the organization has in respect of both these areas. There is a dedicated Sustrans maintenance team and vehicle that traverses the length of the Loop at least once a week. In addition there is a team of Sustrans volunteers that undertake twice monthly work mornings on the Loop. The work tasks are planned with the Sustrans volunteer coordinator and the Sustrans land manager. The volunteer clean-up and litter pick teams work on a section of the Loop once a month. Both of these volunteer activities have been suspended during the Covid Lockdown.
b) Stockport Canal route – Manchester City Council are responsible for the maintenance of the Stockport Canal route. We understand that they employ contractors to manage the vegetation and removal of rubbish. In addition, over the last three years there have been regular clean-ups led by volunteers which have improved the situation. Despite this, littering and fly-tipping are a
major issue and definitely puts some people off using the path.
c) One of the maintenance/safety issues that is reported to the Friends on an annual basis is the problem of wet leaves on the route during late autumn.
d) The Friends would like to see both waste bins and “dog poo” bins installed on the routes. However it is vital that the emptying of these and disposal of the waste is given to a designated authority, and that these tasks are undertaken on a regular basis. Otherwise they give rise to public health and litter problems.

3. Seats and litter bins

These should be provided at frequent intervals to encourage older people and pedestrians generally.
a) Our long experience of seating is that it encourages litter, so, although more seating is welcome, it needs a thorough plan for litter bins beside and along the route as a whole, and for who is to take responsibility for emptying them. The Loop provides a good route for dog walkers and dog poo bins (not by the seats) would also be helpful. Picnic tables could be installed in open, more public areas of the Loop, but not in more secluded places. Again with litter bins, frequently emptied.
b) There are already a set of carved animal stone seat near to the Errwood Road access point. They are set in a railway supplies bay. And we would like to see them retained on the Loop. There is also a stone statue near to the Athol Road access point that also should be retained, however it could be moved to a different location.

4. Access points

There has long been a need for improved and increased number of access points along both routes.
a) The Friends have done considerable work in the past to make the case for improving access to the Loop with some considerable success. All current formal access points, with photographs and information about accessibility are shown on the Access layer of The Fallowfield Loop Points of Interest google map.
b) There are many “unofficial” access points on both routes and, where possible, these could be made visible and accessible. At present the Loop is in many places a barrier for pedestrians. More access points would encourage pedestrian use and mean that more thought should be given to helping people to share the use of the path. Most of the road bridges over the Loop could have an access point – many already have a gate which is locked. Some would require a path through the adjacent neglected land if the access points are not to be too steep.
c) There should be proper access for all the schools along the Loop – this is a time when we are encouraging children to walk or cycle to school. At Whalley Range High School this would require a bridge over the brook. The Consultation must take into account the interests of schools in the Loop’s vicinity if there is to be an increase in pedestrian and cycle travel to schools which is a council objective – their cycle voucher scheme is undermined if no thought is put into making the Loop’s links to schools more user-friendly. The timing of the consultation has not been ideal given it has coincided with lockdown and school holidays, and school managements have had other priorities, so we suggest there should be a separate initiative from the Commonplace consultation for schools.
d) There are a number of junctions along the routes that need considerable work doing on them. The following are examples:

1. Wilmslow Road junction We would like the traffic light sequencing changed to give priority to people crossing from Ladybarn Lane to Sherwood street. At present Loop users do not appear to have any effect on the sequencing of traffic lights.

2. The junction of the Stockport Canal and the Fallowfield Loop. This is very steep and inaccessible to many users.

5. Improved signage at all access points, junctions and bridges.

There are some good examples of signage on the Fallowfield Loop however the signage on the Stockport Canal is very limited.
a) All access points and junctions should be signed both on and off the path, to say where they lead. There should be consultation about each of them. All the signs on the Loop should say Fallowfield Loop and those on the Stockport Canal should reflect the origins of this route too (even if they also say part of the Manchester Cycleway).
b) The Friends have put a lot of work into producing signage and other accessible information about the Loop. The lectern maps provided by the Friends have become unusable and we would like to see a new solution to the provision of maps and notices.
c) There is a continuing problem with reporting crime and other incidents on both routes because there are no postcodes available to tell the police where it took place. We would like to see a solution to this. It should be possible to allocate postcodes to bridges and major access points and have these recorded on the adjacent signs.
d) The routes should be signed as “off road walking and cycling routes”. There needs to be a culture of “Share with Care” promoted for all users of the routes.

6. Accessibility

The interests of disabled users should be a priority in any improvements planned for. This includes re thinking the proposal to fill in some of the bridges. One of the advantages of both routes is that, because they were previously a railway line and a canal, there is very little incline. It is important that this feature is retained. Filling in bridges would make unnecessary hills, which are problematic to wheelchair users, older cyclists and those using adapted bikes, very young cyclists and parents with buggies and others.

7. The Proposed Installation of lighting along the routes.

The Friends are aware that there is a strong lobby for the routes to be installed with street lighting. However a number of different sources have indicated that, although the installation of street lighting is the common sense solution to night cycling and increased safety for users on these routes, this may not necessarily be so. For these and other concerns raised regarding impact of night time lighting on the wildlife along the routes, we advocate a cautious approach to any promise of a fully lit up Fallowfield Loop and Stockport Canal route.
a) There is a concern that the use of the routes for crime and anti-social behaviour would increase once street lighting was installed. This is in contrast to the argument for the lighting of public streets, where there is good evidence that lighting increases public safety. It is unlikely that there would ever be enough night time users on the routes to provide a counter challenge to threatening or illegal activities. We recommend that the advice of Greater Manchester Police’s Crime Prevention Unit is sought before any plans to install street lighting on the routes are drawn up.
b) The Stockport Canal route may benefit from street type lighting in some places as it is often a narrow path passing between streets of houses, but here issues of light pollution into adjacent dwellings would need to be taken into account.
c) Another concern that has been raised by members is the negative impact of night time lighting on wildlife. This includes birds, bats insects and small mammals, all which are vital to the natural habitat food chain recorded along the Loop and important to the bio-diversity of the locality. A number of these are listed as endangered species and are protected in law.
d) We are also aware that a scheme to install lighting along the length of both routes would be very costly, and could use up a significant amount of the money available. We also ask who would pay for the ongoing cost of power and maintenance of a lighting system. Would it be Manchester City Council? We ask that value for money and sustainability assessments are undertaken
regarding the proposal to install lighting.
e) We are aware that there are a wide range of lighting solutions available, for example: Solar powered lights embedded into the route surface have been found to be less disruptive for wildlife.

8. Safety, Crime and Anti-social behaviour.

The Friends are only too aware of the problems with crime and antisocial behaviour on both routes. GMP officers have been host speakers at members meetings and as a result of Friends campaigning work with local councillors and GMP there are now improved reporting systems for crime and ASB. We are aware that PCSO’s have the Loop as a regular part of their patrol routes and we know that there has been some success in apprehending offenders. Such incidents are reported on the Friends facebook page and we always respond by encouraging the reporting of an incident to the police.
a) The Friends believe that the most effective way to combat crime and ASB is with more presence on the route both by PCSO’s and members of the public. There may also be technical solutions which could help such as restricting access by motorised bikes, and providing lighting and/or CCTV at key trouble spots, However, as mentioned above lighting may actually result in an increase in these illegal behaviours, for example continual lighting under bridges might increase drug use and sexual activity on the routes.
b) We are aware that motor bikes and motor scooters are used continually on both routes, the junction at Debdale Park being a major off-road intersection for motor bikes/scooters travelling between East and South Manchester. We are aware that there are motor bike barriers that can be installed on off-road routes; however these are also inaccessible to mobility scooters, tandems, tricycles and cargo bikes.
c) It would be helpful to have a clear and unified reporting system for incidents as the routes pass through at least 3 police districts, and also it is usually not easy to identify the location where it has taken place. See above re the suggestion of post coding locations on the routes.

9. Habitat management and the natural environment.

Scything on the Loop
Scything on the Loop

The Fallowfield Loop and Stockport Canal were previously a railway line and a canal respectively. Canal and railway routes that pass through cities are renowned for providing wildlife corridors that help maintain biodiversity in urban/city environments. The Fallowfield Loop route has since its development, always been managed as a linear greenway as well as a cycling and walking route. This has meant that over the past two decades the wildlife and natural world aspects of the route have been nurtured and celebrated.
a) The fact that the ecology and biodiversity present along the routes are not included for consideration in the consultation is of grave concern to the Friends. In fact, the list of aims seems to imply that the developments proposed will tidy up and manicure the routes, for example: “Revitalise habitat and landscape to create more open and less intimidating environment for users.” and “Reduce/clear overgrown vegetation”. The Friends have noted that the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 Section 40 states:
a. “ Every public body must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as it is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity”
The fact that the ecology and biodiversity present along the route are not included as consideration in the consultation could put Manchester City Council in breach of this duty. The Friends request that as part of the work done in drawing up the improvement and development plan Bio-diversity Impact assessments are undertaken. Many of the habitats and species living on the embankments of the Loop are listed as Priority habitats and species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Species-rich grassland and broadleaved woodland are two such habitat examples on the Loop. Priority species living and using the Loop (both on the national and local species list) include bats (soprano and common pipistrelles plus others), hedgehog, badger, bullfinch, song thrush, flushes of orchids and other rare plants, butterfly and insects species yet to be investigated. Red and amber listed bird species of conservation concern such as house sparrow, mistle thrush and starling are also found on the Loop embankments. There are 5 areas of woodland along the Fallowfield Loop that are registered on the National Forest Inventory Woodland GB 2018.
b) In 2020 Sustrans published a draft Fallowfield Loop Habitat Plan that went out for consultation in July 2020. The Friends made a submission to this consultation and anticipate that this plan will underpin the management of the natural environment that is the Fallowfield Loop. We hope that this work will form the basis of how the natural habitat and bio-diversity along both routes are maintained and enhanced.
c) The Friends know from reports by members and from postings on the Facebook page that the opportunity that the Loop offers to be in a semi-rural environment is greatly valued as having mental health and spiritual benefits.
d) We have noted that both the Stockport Canal and the Fallowfield Loop routes are identified in Manchester City Council’s Blue and Green Infrastructure Strategy. We would expect that any developments of both routes would be linked with this strategy. Additionally we would expect that the My Wild City initiative being delivered in partnership with the Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Wildlife Trusts would be linked to any proposed developments.
e) Working in partnership with the GM RIGS Group of the Manchester Geological Society The Friends submitted an application for the length of the Loop between Ladybarn Lane and Slade Lane access point to be designated as a Regionally Important Geodiversity Site. This designation awarded in 2019 and is listed as The Fallowfield Loop Cutting. A submission regarding this has been sent to the Fallowfield Loop consultation by Dr Christine Arkwright: The Secretary, GMRIGS. The Friends ask that in respect of any work proposed in the area of the Fallowfield Loop Cutting that the requests made by Dr Arkwright are noted, also that the Sustrans Land Manager is also informed. The Friends note that in Section 4 of the Manchester Green Infrastructure Technical Report there is a detailed description of the Bedrock geology, Superficial geology and Landform underlying the City Of
Manchester. The Fallowfield Loop Cutting offers an excellent opportunity as a resource for formal and informal education in respect of the geology of Manchester.
f) The Friends have created and maintained 3 orchards along the Loop and expect that they would be consulted if it is planned to plant any more fruit trees along the route. The Friends hold significant knowledge and experience of this work along the route and can advise as to location, types and management etc.

10. The social history and cultural value of the Fallowfield Loop and Stockport Canal.

The pathways of both of these routes were laid out in the industrial past of Manchester. They also pass through various communities of the city and hold multi layered information about how the city and the life of the citizens have changed over past centuries. The routes provide an accessible and invaluable record of many features of Manchester’s past and The Friends believe that this knowledge should be recorded visibly and factually along each route wherever possible.
a) The Friends have collated much of this knowledge in respect of the Fallowfield Loop line and the Manchester and Stockport Canal society likewise hold a treasury of information regarding the Stockport Canal route. The Friends have included layers on the Fallowfield Loop Points of Interest google map that documents places of historic interest and also specifically the Fallowfield Loop Railway line. In this respect much of the material has come from The Fallowfield Line (2001) Eddie Johnson,
b) The routes also both connect to other locations of Cultural and Historic aspects of Manchester’s past, for example the Thirlemere reservoir and the Nico Ditch and other features identified on the Gorton Heritage Trail.

Conclusion

The Friends welcome this funding award for these off road routes and hope that the development will be a pioneering example of how the City of Manchester is working to achieve the target of achieving a zero carbon goal by 2038. In making our submission to the consultation we recognise that these well established routes have, over the years, developed their own identity and meaning to individuals and communities each section having its own discrete ecosystem and patterns of use.

There is no single vision, as yet, of what the outcome of this improvement and development project should bring. There are many for whom the routes are primarily an off-road pathway for getting from one place to another, for others it is this – plus doing so in a green/countryside like environment – for others the routes are off-road places for leisure walking, dog walking, sport, and social enjoyment, for being alone and for being with others. There are other people and communities that stress the importance of the routes as wildlife habitats and as offering natural environment havens within a highly urbanised environment. Any effective plan will need to work at a micro-level. Lighting for instance is not something desirable for the whole Loop, but may be more suitable in some small sections.

The Friends recognise that there is a careful balancing act that the project needs to manage between the conflicting interests of increasing the accessibility and use of the routes and, at the same time, preserving its natural environment for the benefit of wildlife and for the enjoyment of the communities who benefit from this. No-one is acknowledging it is easy, but this issue is central to the long-term success and sustainability of the routes.

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