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All we want for Christmas is an Active Travel Neighbourhood

We should have heard about the details of the Levenshulme and North Burnage Active Neighbourhood by now. It is due to start on the 19th December, in 10 days’ time.

Surely Manchester City Council (MCC) would have announced its plans for the filter locations by now, after another round of thousands of comments by local people in the latest consultation?

Streets for People have learned via an MCC Highways Officer attending the council’s Walking and Cycling Forum that the filters will now be rolled out in the New Year, following notifications to residents this month. Streets for People’s educated guess is that the filters will be placed in early January, given the notice period required by law for temporary road changes.

Of course, this is far from ideal. It is in fact the third time the trials have been delayed in the last six months.

Of particular concern is that the trials will now coincide with the return to school after the Christmas break – traditionally the busiest time for local road traffic – rather than at the beginning of the break, which would allow residents more time to get used to the changes before traffic picks up again.

As things stand, the project will certainly get off to a more difficult start than we hoped for. MCC will now need to be both extra clear and helpful in its communications with all affected parties, and to have extra courage to allow the scheme to settle if things are difficult to begin with.

But an even worse scenario is that the trials are delayed even further, beyond the beginning of January. The more the trials are delayed, the more MCC are wasting money that could be spent on immediate improvements to the area.

What is more, further delays begin to put at risk the bulk of the £1.8million in permanent improvements, which would be released through the formal application by the council to Andy Burnham’s Mayor’s Challenge Fund towards the end of the trial. That money is currently ringfenced for Levenshulme and North Burnage, but Burnham’s team won’t wait forever for MCC to get their act together, and the money could go elsewhere.

But perhaps things are a bit different this January: there is every sign now (unfortunately) that we will still be under some kind of Covid restrictions come January. This should mean that traffic levels will be somewhat lower than the typical first week of the January school term.

Also, the delay would give MCC more time to include some school streets in the trial. School streets are relatively simple projects (there are hundreds already across the country) but MCC has had little experience of them so far. Perhaps an extra couple of weeks will give them the time to catch up?

As we stated in our consultation response,

Schools are a large trip generator and due to the nature of most schools having a local catchment area, most pupils live within 2km or less of their school… it is difficult to see how traffic problems will be avoided without the school streets aspect of the scheme allowing these short journeys to switch from car to walking and cycling. School streets must be part of the trial.

Finally, we really need to know the reasons behind these delays in order to avoid further mistakes in the future.

We recognise that this kind of a project is a first for MCC. Acknowledging that means allowing for mistakes – trial and error not just in the location of filters, but in getting the project through. But time and the patience of the community are running out.

We repeat what we’ve said all along: without clear, positive leadership from MCC and the councillors, this project is on very shaky ground indeed. It is not too late for either to stand up and be counted.

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