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Ian Pennington (WSP Manchester, RTPI North West RAC member and Vice Chair of the RTPI North West Young Planners) reports back from a recent RTPI event.
On Sunday 24 April, 90 years to the day from the infamous Kinder mass trespass that is widely credited with furthering the Right to Roam movement in the 1930s, which eventually led to legislation in 1949 to establish the National Parks and latterly the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000, our group of planners and friends retraced the route for an RTPI North West CPD and social event.
“I may be a wage slave on Monday,” sang Ewan McColl in his homage to the action, ‘Manchester Rambler’. “But I am a free man on Sunday.”
And so we were free, as we set out towards William Clough in the footsteps of the intrepid activists with the words of our guide for the day - the local historian and writer David Toft from Hayfield Kinder Trespass Group - empowering every stride.
At the end of a week in which the government decided to shelve the publication of Lord Agnew’s Right to Roam report - originally commissioned to bring about ‘radical joined up thinking’ and explore ‘a quantum shift in how our society supports people to access and engage with the outdoors’ - the access issues from land division dating to the Norman era are clearly still unresolved. While much of the Peak District now benefits from Right to Roam rules, only 8% of English land as a whole can say the same - and only 3% of inland water bodies.
A recent Landscapes review included a section on Open Access Land alongside a suite of related measures aiming to police antisocial habits including car parking and recreational driving, and replace them with better sustainable transport options. But, aside from some soft-approach educational targets, engagement with nature continues to be minimal for many.
Projects like Who Owns England (together with its co-researcher Guy Shrubsole’s excellent book of the same title) have enabled a slightly clearer view of the murky world of landownership, but there is so much more to be charted. As planners, this would naturally help our job immeasurably, whether it’s for siting, routing, or resolving disputes.
He called me a louse and said, "Think of the grouse"
Well I thought, but I still couldn't see
Why all Kinder Scout and the moors roundabout
Couldn't take both the poor grouse and me
He said, "All this land is my master's"
At that I stood shaking my head
No man has the right to own mountains
Any more than the deep ocean bed
MacColl’s lyrics touch on the issue of grouse hunting on the moorlands, and our other guest for the day - James Richardson, an ecologist at Wardell Armstrong LLP - explained the landscape and biodiversity impacts associated with land management practices in the Peaks area, whose bleak, heather-dominated scenery persists. In contrast, James painted a picture of the more varied landscape of woodland, heathland, and blanket bog, supporting a more biodiverse and climate-resilient ecosystem that could be achieved with regulation and ambition.
There have been initiatives to explore habitat restoration or natural regeneration, but the tension with traditional human incumbency remains, exemplified by Mark Spencer’s insistence that “the countryside is a business”, in response to hushing the Agnew report. One vocal dissenter of Spencer’s logic, Caroline Lucas MP, joined our walk after staying in Hayfield following her keynote presentation as part of the Trespass Group’s festivities the previous day.
Right to Roam
While Right to Roam remains foreign to many in England, our neighbours in Europe and even in nextdoor Scotland have been peacefully coexisting with the concept. Norway, Sweden and Estonia are exemplars; all have sensible, listed exceptions to the right, and incorporate strict ecological and community responsibilities.
In Scotland - a country whose Right to Roam movement gathered pace prior to the Kinder trespass, in the 1890s, as one anniversary trespass attendee pointed out - similar rules apply. Since legislation came into force in February 2005, under the guidance of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, people have been enabled to respectfully enjoy the vast swathes of wilderness. There has been some pushback, notably from Stagecoach co-founder Ann Gloag, who contested the proximity of roaming to her Kinfauns Castle property. But by and large, the change has been exercised in the spirit that was intended.
Here in England, though, progress remains in flux, with political will in as limited supply as the land on which we can responsibly roam. With ten years until the Kinder trespass centenary, will we finally see a shift?
In the spirit of Ewan MacColl, David's final words before we set off were those of his poem:
Climbing Kinder (for the 1932 Mass Trespass) by D.E. Toft©
To these slopes
Here on the sides of this great and ancient plateau’s edge,
Where the curlew sings on a summer's day
Its solitary, swooping note
Like a crystal drop of Kinder water -
A song far sweeter
Than any music humans ever made -
The walkers came
To claim for all who'd follow
The right to hear that song
To breathe that air with smog-bruised lungs
To taste the sweetness of the open space
To pause a moment from the draining race
Of hard industrial existence
And they called those walkers 'trespassers'
As if by claiming back these stolen treasures
By repossessing all these hard won pleasures
It was they who were the criminals.
But when you climb up Kinder now
And feel your legs strain hard against the earth
And fill your lungs with fresh free air
And watch the long white hare
Kicking its legs in the very ecstasy of life
Remember there are those who would have kept this from us
And those who even now would, if they could
Keep us from the silver stream and open moor
And windswept wood.
RTPI North West Infrastructure Safari (12 May 2022)
It’s been called the single most important thing that mayors can do to tackle climate change: prioritising the needs of pedestrians and cyclists over space for cars.
In Greater Manchester, the active travel network – originally coined as the ‘Bee Network’, a moniker that has since also welcomed public transport under its wing – is underway with spades in the ground on a number of schemes, so a recent RTPI Young Planners event sought to find out how it’s all shaping up.
We teamed up with commuter cyclist, cycle blogger and founding member of Walk Ride Greater Manchester Nick Hubble to take fellow planners on an Infrastructure Safari around some of the new Bee Network routes – and the gaps in between. The idea was to explore the various highway interventions ‘in the wild’, not only to soberly assess them with our professional hat on, but to experience firsthand how various cycling interventions actually feel from a user’s perspective.
A lucky 13 – comprising 11 guests plus Nick and me – set out with our two-wheeled steeds from the long-established Oxford Road cycleway, some of us taking advantage of the new Beryl Bikes docked cycle hire scheme (named after multiple record-breaking cyclist Beryl Burton). We were armed with a simple survey compiled by Nick, asking us all to rate each of 17 stages, with pit stops after each of four legs to debrief and fill in our ratings (out of 5*) and comments.
Although our relatively small group – seven submitted their survey; three female and four male – hasn’t given us a scientific sample size, we do have an insight into the reactions to the different highway treatments of our participant cohort, whose self-reported cycling frequency spanned the full range from Hardly Ever to Most Days.
Of those who added an explanation of why they didn’t cycle more regularly, one tellingly wrote, “fear of death”. But change is coming. 89 km of routes (from a target of 100 km) were completed last year across Greater Manchester, and the Walking and Cycling Investment Plan January 2020 set a target of 1,800 miles in 10 years. So as we started our ride, it was recognised that the Bee Network, too, is still very much at the start of its journey and that it necessarily still has various gaps between completed schemes. Indeed, some of the more negative responses to sections of the route were perhaps predictable. Nonetheless, this concept of firsthand experience was important to show which stages were deemed better or worse.
Leg 1 was to cross central Manchester. The Oxford Road cycleway, which offers protection along the main carriageway, but not at junctions, scored in 3*s and 4*s, then the shared vehicle carriageway along Peter Street scored mostly in 3*s and a couple deeming it worse. ‘Traffic-free’ Deansgate, currently subject to a mishmash of temporary Emergency Active Travel Funded measures installed during the pandemic, scored mostly in 2*s or below, with one respondent noting the “terrible surfacing issues”. Since the event, Manchester City Council has unveiled plans for Deansgate as part of a wider City Centre Active Travel Scheme consultation, so positive change there is, one hopes, imminent.
Covering the route from Manchester Cathedral to, essentially, the University of Salford, Leg 2 saw a similarly mixed bag of scores. Navigating the littered, potholed and patchily protected Blackfriars/Broughton Cycleway during rush hour earned scores of mostly 2*s and 3*s, before respite in the form of the Trinity Active Neighbourhood (more commonly known as low traffic neighbourhoods or LTNs) collected mostly 4*s, and the short protected – and greened – Oldfield Road Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) bagged 3*s, 4*s, and 5*s.
Onwards to Castlefield via Salford Quays, Leg 3 continued along the ‘wand’-protected Oldfield Road stretch (averaging out at a 3.14* rating) before entering the recently-completed Liverpool Street kerb-protected and chicaned cycle lane, which features bus stop bypasses accessible for pedestrians via mini zebra crossings and secured an average score of 4.14*. Middlewood Street, with its kerbed protection that cedes priority at side junctions, managed almost the same average, while the walking and cycling bridge back across the River Irwell divided opinions from 2* to 5*, albeit with three respondents awarding the maximum. Partway through this Leg, Nick suggested a future safari ride could include the forthcoming protected lanes along Trafford Road, which has the promising prospect of creating a continuous journey from Manchester city centre right up to White City and the Trafford Council border, with concomitant access to Salford’s Media City.
Finally, we pedalled alongside vehicles along the Chester Road dual carriageway and through its ‘hamburger’-styled roundabout (mostly 3*s and 4*s), then via the completed sections of the Manchester-Chorlton cycleway (a majority of six agreed worthy of a 4* score) to experience the infamous CYCLOPS junction design, which top-scored with five 5* awards. A comedown to the Stretford Road painted cycleway provided a contrasting 2.42* average, before a 3*-average beeline through the Manchester Metropolitan University shared space led us back to our meeting point.
A bonus round asked participants to compare two roundabout treatments on the route – the M602 underpass, and the more recent Medlock Street/Princess Road at-grade crossings. Although the latter gained better individual results, with a couple of 5* ratings, the former didn’t score badly, with predominantly 3*s and 4*s.
So, what did we learn? It’s fair to say that we were riding around an incomplete network; that was understood in advance. Rather, the aim was to understand which highway treatments were more favourable to our guests. Of the protected stages, the CYCLOPS junctions were best received in both ratings and responses to the question of ‘Which piece of infrastructure did you enjoy the most?’. The Medlock Street/Princess Road roundabout and Liverpool Street chicanes were also singled out for praise. On the other hand, paint-only lanes and shared vehicle carriageways were naturally low scorers throughout, whereas routes with poor maintenance – broken glass and potholes were cited in the comments for Deansgate and Blackfriars/Broughton – also came a cropper.
Key future questions depend on the art of the possible. In one final reflection to the survey, the respondent can now “see new possibilities but only where there is space to work with”. As planners, we play a role in ensuring our schemes contribute positively to the Bee Network, which has set its standards in the Greater Manchester Interim Active Travel Design Guide (March 2021) – notably adding that the national Cycle Infrastructure Design Guide, LTN 1/20 (July 2020), should take precedence in case of conflict. From now on, our delegates’ understanding will also benefit from greater firsthand experience of which treatments contribute to a better riding experience.
Ian Pennington (Senior Planner at WSP in Manchester, RTPI North West RAC member, and Vice Chair of the RTPI North West Young Planners)