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Our community deserves better: Streets for People statement

Statement from Streets for People – Levenshulme and Burnage organising group

Streets for People are pleased to see lots of engagement with Manchester City Council’s feedback site for the filtered neighbourhood plans for Levenshulme and North Burnage. We understand that residents in these areas are also receiving brochures, and there are plans for Webinars, public meetings, or similar.

However, we are concerned with some of the quality of the engagement material, and apparent delays in reaching residents. We have been told that the Project Manager has quit, leaving his boss in charge, and this explains many of the delays and mistakes in the project, including engagement. We were always worried about the amount of work being asked of the Project Manager (who was also responsible for several other high profile schemes), and it now appears that the pressures on him led to his resignation.

We believe that the Project Manager situation is illustrative of Manchester City Council not putting in the financial and personnel resources required for a successful project, including the much-needed funding of School Street trials. Too much of the engagement work has fallen on too few shoulders, with many of the tasks performed by already overstreched neighbourhood officers, and in some cases, councillors themselves.

Yes, the Covid situation has made everything more difficult, but social distancing requirements mean more space for pedestrians is a priority, not something that should fall down the agenda, as recent national and local government statements have made clear.

Councillors have told us that resourcing problems are due to a general lack of funds with MCC. To this, we argue that our councillors should not simply accept the situation as it is. What are they doing to fight for more resources for our community? Why is it that vanity projects like the Great Ancoats Street ‘European Boulevard’ project receive £10 million in public funding, despite doing nothing for walking and cycling (and with, as it happens, very little consultation at all), while communities like ours are left to fight over scraps? It isn’t good enough. The project requires a full time Project Manager, dedicated solely to making it a success.

Furthermore, while we agree that all residents should have as much information about the trials as possible, and opportunities to influence the details of the trial, we do not understand the purpose of collecting positive and negative feedback on the trials as whole prior to them taking place. Commenting on individual filter or crossing locations clearly makes sense, but the purpose of the ‘Have Your Say on the Scheme Overall’ section is less apparent.

Anyone glancing at the existing comments will see over 400 comments, balanced largely between extreme support and extreme opposition. We don’t think that adequately reflects the views of the community. It’s likely that many want to see the trials in action before they make their minds up either way, or have become tired of responding again and again to such similar questions.

There are also a number of questions regarding this engagement (consultation?) process:

  1. How will responses, including the ‘have your say on the scheme overall’ play into shaping transport policy in Levenshulme and Burnage? It is simply a listening exercise, or will it stand in favour of, or detriment to, creating a ‘filtered neighbourhood’? What does a successful engagement look like?
  2. How will the many thousands of responses already collected in previous consultation responses to this project, including previous Commonplace exercises, public meetings, meetings with schools and community groups, and postal responses, feature in any such evaluation?
  3. It appears that the Commonplace site has been subject to spamming from all sides. How will the Council account for that? It is easy to set up new email addresses, fake postal addresses and fake IP addresses. How do the Council know comments received are genuine?
  4. Similarly, postal forms are completely anonymised. What’s to stop highly motivated individuals from submitting multiple forms, thus skewing results one way or the other?
  5. When will the public meetings take place? They need to happen soon.

Clearly, there will have to be a formal consultation on the scheme conducted in the fullness of time. The only sure way to ensure that it is fair and representative is to give each person on the electoral and/or council tax registers one feedback form each, with provision for those not on the register for whatever reason to have their say as well, and once everyone has had the opportunity to experience the changes first hand, following a period of bedding-in.

It would be a tragedy if, after all of these maps, announcements, online questionnaires, street clutter surveys, postcards, public meetings, meetings with schools, places of worship and community groups, and emails and collective letters to councillors, that the real voice of the community is not heard.

Streets for People are clear that we are in favour of the scheme going ahead, but that it is crucial to generate as much feedback as possible from as wide a section of the community as possible to ensure that it best serves the community.

Please engage with current proposals here.

Sign our collective letter to councillors here.

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