Consultation finds ‘overwhelming’ support for an Active Neighbourhood, but will Manchester City Council match the community’s ambition?

Yesterday, Manchester City Council (MCC) announced the details of the Levenshulme and North Burnage Active Neighbourhood Scheme trial. We were absolutely overjoyed by the news that the vast majority of people who responded to the consultation support the creation of an active neighbourhood.

Its great to know what we always suspected, that there is a deep well of support for active travel within Levenshulme. Manchester City Council noted that feedback was ‘overwhelmingly positive overall, with roughly two-thirds of all comments being positive’. This is a highly impressive level of support for what were quite ambitious initial proposals. Indeed, Streets for People are not aware of another low traffic neighbourhood proposal in Britain that has attracted a higher level of support at initial consultation.

The announcement shows where new ‘modal filters’ are going to be placed for the six month trial. Filters prevent motor vehicles from entering from one end of through roads. They stop ‘rat running’ (using smaller, residential, through roads for longer car journeys), while maintaining car access to all of a street’s properties.

The announcement significantly reduces the number of filters that are to be trialed in the Levenshulme area from those presented to the public in the consultation. Whereas the original proposals included 25 filters, this has been reduced to 14.

MCC indicate that five of the filters may be re-instated (without being clear as to which ones) if they are able to assess what the impact would be of including them in the trial.

Our view

Streets for People welcome the fact that this project is now moving again. The introduction of 14 filters will create a good number of streets where people feel safe to walk, cycle and wheel. We are particularly pleased that the original designs were retained for the area between Albert Road and Slade Lane. We urge the council to do what it takes to get the additional 5 filters which were welcomed by the community in place as soon as possible.

We are concerned that removal of some of the filters could result in unintended consequences. The original plan had a coherent design which split Levenshulme into cells, where transfer between cells by car was only possible via the “boundary roads”, thereby preventing rat running and making short trips by car less convenient, discouraging them. Discouraging short car trips would then ensure a reduction in the overall traffic levels across the area. The design meant that the filters were more than the sum of their parts because they worked together to stop rat running in whole sections of the community. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to design the active neighbourhood based on the popularity of individual filters, because filters work together. By removing some of the filters it is possible that some roads and areas will remain as rat runs, perhaps with heavier traffic than before.

We believe that if these problems occur, they are both foreseeable and remediable. We therefore have one big ask for our councillors. If the scheme has problems at first, fix it – don’t bin it. Work with residents to tweak the scheme until we get it right. The consultation shows that residents are overwhelmingly in favour of the scheme, so the council owes it to the local community to find solutions that work.

A trial will enable the community to find out what the ‘on the ground’ impact of the latest proposal is. This will provide the opportunity for Manchester City Council to experiment with both the number and placement of the filters. We believe it may be necessary to reinstate some of the filters that have been dropped from the most recent plans in order to achieve a truly active neighbourhood.

During the trial, the council will need to make a ‘business case’ bid to Mayor’s Challenge Fund, which is administered by Chris Boardman. The Fund has ring fenced £1.8million which can be spent making the Active Neighbourhood permanent, with additional features to improve its quality and reach. That fund comes attached to strict criteria. The changes that any scheme creates must feel much safer for walking and cycling, and form an integrated active travel network. We urge the council not to lose sight of that, and treat it as a positive challenge, not an inconvenient hurdle. Otherwise there is a risk that the opportunity for big improvements in our community will be lost, and the money will move to other councils in Greater Manchester who show more ambition.

Streets for People will now look in greater detail at the latest proposals and produce a more detailed response. We will seek to highlight both the foreseeable benefits and possible pitfalls of the latest design. We will aim to work positively to try and identify solutions to any problems which may occur. You can help by letting us know about any problems you might be experiencing or solutions you want to see.

Finally, it is important that the council indicate what its ambitions are for the North Burnage part of the scheme. The consultation for that closes on 21st December.

Streets for People will do everything in our power to make our community healthier, happier, more active, and greener. Our determination has never been stronger.

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