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Review: WalkRide GM September Open Meeting

Words by Nadia Kerr.

Helen Pidd opened the forth open meeting of the Walk Ride Greater Manchester family, setting the energetic atmosphere that prevailed through the evening. Every member of the turnout of around 100 was warmly welcomed to the Friends’ Meeting House on Mount Street.

Nick Hubble then provided a potted summary of some of the work that has been underway. In relation to our proposal to open Deansgate to people by removing vehicular access, he said that after months of negotiations with Manchester City Council (MCC) and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), led by Helen, with a target date for closure in September, we had to abandon the plan when co-operation ground to a halt. Then, suddenly, Extinction Rebellion (XR) arrived and occupied Deansgate for four days. That occupation helped to prove our point and, whereas we were disappointed that it wasn’t our proposal, we have supported and publicised the XR work and will continue to do so. The closure showed that longer-term prioritisation of people is feasible.

We now have 22 local Walk Ride groups and a map was shown to illustrate where these subgroups are based across Greater Manchester. We are still looking for subgroups to be set up in the areas shown in blue on the map and there is a lot of support to help new groups become established.

WRGM subgroups map Sep2019

Claire Stocks has worked on a league table representation of Bee Network schemes and funding, which shows a broad range of results. Salford have submitted bids equivalent to £300 per head, but Oldham to only £3.60 per head. Come on, Oldham. We are here to help you. Bee Network applications have now requested £300 million and very little of it has been spent. All of the existing bids have been tracked by Sam Tate on a web resource which was also demonstrated.

The Core Group has expanded with Ian Pennington now taking responsibility for website – offers of help are still welcomed and Ian is the contact; Liz Hannaford, who is the local group coordinator; Charles Ward with responsibility for formal structure, incorporation and fundraising; and Harrie Larrington-Spencer, who is a general member helping with lots of things.

In terms of structure, we are applying to become a Community Interest Company (CIC), which will enable us to have a bank account and then generate funds – in particular grant funding.

Dates for the diary were:

  • 15 September: Let’s Ride stall at Castlefield Bowl – can anyone help us with the stall on that day between 10-4 (contact Charles Ward). We will have our donation bucket as we are incurring costs we need to cover.
  • 5 September: Hyde Road (road without cycle provision) consultation meeting between 1.30-6.30 at Gorton Community Centre.

Nick then handed over to Claire and she talked about the Deansgate closure last weekend with her other group, Extinction Rebellion. Walk Ride have a broader objective than just prioritising people over cars on Deansgate – we are also promoting car restriction in town and city centres. Many talks were held with Manchester City Council, led by Helen. Walk Ride’s plan was for a one-day event and the conversations lasted 3.5 months. Children planned out what the space could look like, and events were planned. However, we ultimately didn’t get support from MCC.

Extinction Rebellion gave us an insight into what closure might look and feel like, but again that wasn’t generating space as such, because there were tents, a car and a big boat! At the moment, events organised on Deansgate number about 12 per year and have historically been for specific events such as cycling, Pride and athletics. What we want to see is space for people on a regular basis.

XR arrived on Friday 13 August and drew attention to the global climate crisis. What we saw was that people moving around on foot or using wheelchairs, bicycles and scooters were able to use the street – there was space. Earlier in the day in his BBC Radio Manchester interview, Nick referred to Deansgate being a “traffic filled gouge” which severs the city. There was lots of positive reaction on Twitter.

Pollution readings were taken and a visual was shown of the readings taken – it was clear that there was cleaner air during the XR presence. In a recorded interview, Councillor Pat Karney (Harpurhey/Collyhurst) suggested that for businesses it had been the worst weekend ever. However, XR spoke to shop and cafe owners and quotes are available for any publicity in relation to this. The MEN then published an article which actually was from 10 years ago when there was an ambition to remove vehicle traffic from Deansgate. And now it’s 2019… what we can see, 10 years down the line, is that MCC is doing nothing to disincentivise car use. Please sign the petition for pedestrianising Deansgate and support the campaign objective.

We now need to continue to put pressure on local councillors, particularly for the Deansgate Ward. We need to do a survey of businesses and need help with this.

We know that MCC is thinking of introducing a pedestrianised street, but they’re not telling us when this is likely to happen in relation to Deansgate. We also have to be aware that Salford are likely to be impacted by any displaced traffic and we need help to try to navigate that.

Claire then handed over to Paul Morris, who is a Director at Civic Engineers and working on a project called Glasgow Avenues in conjunction with Brian Deegan’s Urban Movement organisation. Paul told us that £115m has been allocated to Glasgow from the City Deal Fund to improve the public realm aligned with five core objectives – namely to improve connectivity, to improve the city image and have attractive streets, to increase the city’s economy, to redevelop to support a denser city and also to improve the environment.

There has been a lot of work done in relation to engagement of people who live and work in the city and that has generated momentum and excitement. This is an attempt to reconnect outlying communities into the city centre, which were cut off by arterial roads. Inspiring images showed what streets could look like when designed for people.

Some of the projects have already been delivered in Glasgow and that is the subject of feedback and learning. The initial drive came from the Council, a demonstration of political will. Paul is happy to arrange meetings with any groups impacted by the design. In terms of encouraging businesses to get behind the scheme, they were shown successful stories/precedents from around the country.

Robbie George (Walk Ride The Cheadles) then spoke in relation to how to set up a local group. He published a manifesto, which he is happy to share. It sets out the objectives and the plan. He set up Twitter and Facebook for his local group. He identified local community groups to target and contacted Walk Ride groups that were already established and asked questions. He also went to Brian Deegan’s ‘Bee An Activist’ training session. He identified goals – short, medium and longer term – and identified tactics of how he was going to achieve his goals. Robbie spoke about game storming (a method to identify ideas) and referred us to Hyper Island. He spoke through his HOW, NOW and WOW approach. He reviewed the Bee network map of the area and realised that lots of projects were already identified and therefore decided to work towards other smaller projects. There is a good level of engagement from the public in The Cheadles.

Helen then spoke about the community-backed bid in Romiley. That resulted in a £3.8m bid being submitted by Stockport Council – it has not yet been granted programme access approval, but the journey to the submission of the bid was the focus of Helen’s presentation. A lot of community engagement work was done and Helen paid tribute to the Levenshulme group for inspiration. It’s essential to get local councillors on board as well as the walking and cycling officers, the Head of Highways, the Head of Place and the Council Cabinet member. Tips when hosting local meetings were not wearing lycra, advertise broadly to appeal to people who do not use social media, identify an accessible venue, cast the net wide and identify groups you think can help and use appealing language.

Gathering evidence is key and a traffic survey was undertaken to identify e.g. severance points. Healthy streets criteria were used to identify aspirations and improvements. The group took a stall at its local market and evidence went together into a bundle in support of the bid. There are 56 submitted bids which have already gone in so far and can be seen here, so use resources already available. Concentrate on local journeys and keep it local. Put pedestrians ahead of cyclists, because of the alienation that cyclists can generate and think about quick-win projects, for example installation of cycle parking stands. Remember that the test is that a competent 12-year-old needs to be able to use it in all weather and also in the dark. Helen showed a video made of children cycling in the area to really demonstrate the existing challenging landscape.

Next, there was a redesigned model and the bid included an active/filtered neighbourhood – there is a target to have one of these in each borough. Parklets were designed with cul-de-sacs and maps were produced. Quotes of support were included. Ideas were tested on Facebook to test and check engagement of locals. Then there was a meeting with council staff to present the bid and the staff then wrote it up and submitted it. Ask the council to keep you notified, consulted, engaged and see assurance of this. Get a steering group together to hold this.

In terms of marketing, advice was given to use images, use pictures, show views, show people a different world.

We then watched a video of questions put to Chris Boardman and his replies – see it here:

Jenny Wiles from Living Streets then spoke of the Greater Manchester Walking Voice meeting on 11 September which has a few places still available.

She talked of the Living Streets local group network which can support campaign groups with resources, campaign materials, public liability insurance and so on. She talked of groups having dual identity. She also referred to the resources available on their website, namely school streets, anti-idling toolkit, walk to school, playing out and told us that the government had released guidance to local authorities to help with the process of making it easier to close roads. She also recommended registration for DfT notifications.

Finally, we heard from Tony Cross from the Northern Quarter residents’ forum and his message was: ‘If you’re going to do something in this city, do it yourself’.

He spoke of the Central Retail Park site on Great Ancoats Street and Manchester City Council’s need to recoup £2 million per annum income from that 10.5-acre site. Planning permission has been submitted for a car park for 440 cars, open 24/7, which will be right next to a residential area with a new primary school. The residents have occupied the site and every Saturday people meet between 1-2pm for a planting social. A petition has been released with 8,000 signatures so far. Direct action is what is needed here – this is a living street, which in 2019 from a ‘socialist’ government should not become a car park for 440 cars.

Our next meeting is 3 December and we are working on another line-up of inspirational speakers.

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