Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Wrong Kind of Trams by Ian Brown

No doubt everyone has now noted the bulldozing of the Lower Hardy Farm SBI by GMPTE's contractors? I've been composing a piece about this but I asked my friend Ian Brown (formerly Chair of Manchester Wildlife) to comment on it first because he gave evidence at the Public Inquiry in 1995. Ian's piece is given below:

After successfully fighting off a plan, in the early 1990s, by U.M.I.S.T., the owners of Lower Hardy Farm, who wanted to fill the site with 23 ft of rubble, to make it level with the adjacent Upper Hardy Farm, for the extension of their playing fields, we were confronted by a plan to damage the site by an extension of Metrolink to the Airport.

In 1995, I attended the public inquiry into this proposed extension of Metrolink on behalf of Manchester Wildlife (a now defunct local conservation organisation). We were objecting on the grounds that the extension would destroy, or damage, a number of sites of importance to wildlife. The main points I made at the inquiry were:

a)That there was no need for a Metrolink extension, to the airport, as this was adequately covered by the new railway link. The airport was only a 15 minute train journey from the City centre; the Tram would take a lot longer than that.

b)That if there was a need for a Metrolink extension then it should be along a route with the best chance of picking up passengers. The planned route runs over several miles of unpopulated Mersey Valley. How much better would it be if it were to run along the Oxford Road/Wilmslow Road corridor. This would take it past the University, the Hospitals, Hollins College, Fallowfield, Withington, Didsbury and Northenden. A few more passengers to be found in those places! There would be less need for busses and the "tram" stops could be synchronised with the traffic lights to ease congestion. I was told that this was not practical as, in some of those places, there was not room for the platforms which the "trams" required and the "trams" were not designed for street running, except where it was absolutely necessary. This brought me to the point, which I was subtly making, that Manchester has the wrong kind of "tram". It should be better described as a light rail system. In most continental European, and some British, cities, Trams have access at pavement level. How typical of Manchester, with its love of White Elephants, to pick the wrong kind of "tram". It was at this point, in the inquiry, that I realised, what I had long suspected, that the people who are running things tend to veer towards the stupid side of stupid!

c)I also gave evidence on the wildlife and ecological importance of the sites which would be damaged, or destroyed, by the Metrolink extension. This included Lower Hardy Farm, which was a Site of Biological Importance. I suggested that, if the extension were to go ahead, the line should be taken along the Upper Hardy Farm side of the ditch, which separates the two "Farms". Then it could cross the ditch, at the last possible moment, in order to bridge the Mersey on the upstream side of the Jackson's Boat pub. This would have avoided the area where some of the more unusual plants, including orchids, were growing. I also mentioned the butterflies on the site. At the time, 13 species had been recorded. This may not sound a lot but, to put it into perspective, a survey at Rostherne Mere National Nature Reserve, at about the same time, found 14 species of butterfly. I, and others, have found that a good variety of butterflies is a sound, and easy, way to assess the ecological health of a habitat(See David Bishop about the importance of wild plants, in this respect). I knew not to put too much reliance on ecological evidence as, at the time, wildlife and wild habitats were not highly regarded by the planning system, particularly in Manchester.
For all I know, this may still be the case. I was relying more on the common sense arguments in a) and b). Common sense, when did that ever come into it?

I left the Inquiry with the feeling that the outcome was inevitable. Manchester wanted its prestige project (another White Elephant?) and was going to get it. Public Inquiry Inspectors are supposed to be independent but, as I attended a number of these farces, you will forgive me if I appear a little sceptical! Best of luck to you all.

Ian Brown, March 2011

No comments: