Yesterday the Levenshulme Bee Network accepted with regret Manchester City Council’s decision to end its involvement with the flagship ‘Our Active Neighbourhood’ project after the council expressed its desire to change the direction of the project.
We do not know what that means for the future of the Active Neighbourhood or the project areas that sit within it, including school streets, play streets, cycle parking, parklets and of course the filtered neighbourhood. But we hope the project now has a sound foundation and we also hope it can balance the desires of people in the community and respond to the need for action to make safer, healthier streets for all.
The Levenshulme Bee Network was set up at the request of local Councillors and as a direct response to the opportunity of accessing funding, using the skills, knowledge and passion of local advocates. It was a unique way of collaborating with the council to give a direct voice to community concerns within the project management team. With the help of the wider community, the Levenshulme Bee Network team wrote the bid and put in hundreds of volunteer hours to successfully secure programme entry for £2.5m from the Mayor’s Challenge Fund.
The bid was innovative. In that it gave an open brief to develop a scheme that would be right for the area. This was always designed to be a community-led project. Instead of presenting the community with a set of finished plans, we made sure there was a developing brief that meant the project could emerge and respond to what people wanted to see here. For some people this idea of not having a fixed budget, fixed plans or top down consultation has been a challenge.
We’re really disappointed – especially for the people and groups who have volunteered, supported and engaged with the process – that the Levenshulme Bee Network will not be involved in the next stage of consultation and delivery.
More than the filters, the bid would have included new junctions, crossings and traffic calming. There was an open invite by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) – the funding distributors – to include more improvement measures as identified in the submission of the business case.
There was a general positive idea at meetings that as a flagship scheme, additional street improvements were understood to be part of that overarching ambition and would emerge during the trial phase as requirements of a successful filtered neighbourhood. The ambitions of this project meant people were looking towards it as an exemplar and looking to the community for our research, our monitoring and our local response to the trials before taking the active neighbourhood plunge themselves.
Whilst developing the initial plans there were over 70 engagement events, workshops and meetings and thousands of people from across our neighbourhood engaged in the process; significantly more activation, engagement and consultation was done than would ever be legally required. But there is/was still more to do.
In April and as part of a response to Covid – 19, A TfGM led campaign called Safe Streets Save Lives, where measures included pavement extensions, one-way streets, removing through traffic on roads and adding cycle lanes became part of the project discussion. The Levenshulme/Burnage filtered neighbourhood project was identified along with other projects nationally to bring forward more quickly.
Combined with lockdown, the pace of schemes being brought forward to aid social distancing meant limited opportunities to inform more people about the engagement to date and the future trial. This, along with uncertainties about delivering non-essential post and face-to-face events meant the initial vision map was published only online to gain valuable feedback on the proposed trial.
Once finalised (so that accurate information could be sent to each house) and after feedback, all households in the area would have received information about the project, the temporary nature of the trial would have meant that anything that didn’t work could easily have been taken out. An approach used and taken from places throughout the country, Trafford being one. London more regularly. (The trial approach and its use as a live consultation tool has proven difficult to communicate to people who wish to be formally consulted in advance of the trial.)
Unfortunately lockdown brought an end to our public meetings meanwhile the council came under pressure to deliver quick infrastructure wins to help mobility.
Just before lockdown project co-ordinator Pauline became a new mum, it meant that to develop the project through lockdown Pauline has worked around the clock, through most of her maternity leave (having already worked throughout her entire pregnancy).
We understand how this rapid mobilisation of resources came as a surprise to many in the neighbourhood because of the gap in communication due to the pandemic.This was not helped by the manner that they heard the news, often via deliberately misleading or inaccurate statements first posted on Facebook.
We feel that these misleading statements marked a turning point for the project and a negative spiral in the spirit of the aims it wished to achieve.
For the past 6 weeks we have come in for a lot of abuse, some of it personal, some of it libellous, often defamatory. Members of the Levenshulme Bee Network team have been subject to threatening behaviour, including one member having to be warned that people were knocking on doors asking for their home address and others demanding the removal of people from their posts.
The team has received demands around the clock, 7 days a week to be answered instantly. This has created great personal pressures, affecting mental health and relationships.
We have always welcomed critical voices and at no point have chosen to exclude or remove voices. In fact, we think that pretty much all the demands that were being made could have been met within the project brief if people whose stated aims were to gather information had ever come to the team with that information. We really do, they could all be part of the scope of the project and we tried to communicate that but we couldn’t quite shout that loud enough on social media and the pause meant we couldn’t communicate in writing yet either. Rock and a hard place.
The support of this project is clearly there, there is a wonderful network of people that we have come to know. Levenshulme and Burnage are both great places to live and really intertwined. We have been overwhelmed by the offers of support and people wanting to help deliver the project: People willing to give up their time to assist and we are sorry to them that we haven’t been able to deliver on those promises.
We would really like to thank all those people who are and have been involved so far. You have been amazing, from the school assistants helping to set up meetings with parents and teachers, to the street auditors and clutter survey volunteers, to the open/play street residents who made Summer 2019 really memorable and the many more who came and offered their advice, knowledge and honest passion for the active neighbourhood vision.
Hopefully the council can continue to shape ways which people can get involved and use that energy we have helped to activate. The biggest thing is that it is our community, and we can organise whatever way we want. If we want to create walking buses, or organise events we can – it should never stop us working together to make our area better. We believe in trying things and doing things to make change possible… and it is possible!
Levenshulme Bee Network was set up to create a project, to coordinate between the community and the project management team and help deliver the project. Without that role there is no longer the Levenshulme Bee Network.
We are incredibly proud of what has been achieved, to identify a project and to secure project entry took an immense effort and huge amount of volunteer time.
We hope that Manchester City Council will honour their original commitment to the project areas and create an active neighbourhood which can put Levenshulme and Burnage on the active travel map.
Good luck and we’ll see you around (on bike, foot, car or whatever mode of travel you prefer)
We’d also like to thank the following people and groups for their involvement and active participation to date, this list is not extensive:
Levenshulme Clean Air Group
Manchester University Urban Observatory
Safer Streets For Levenshulme Group
Alma Park Parents – Park and Stride/Walking Bus Group
Bespoke Transport Consulting
St Andrew’s Parents – Walking Bus Group
Levenshulme High School – Eco/Geography School Group
Local Residents Associations
MCC Neighbourhood Officers
Open Street Trial Participants at:
Inspired Task Force/Community Conversations
South Manchester Muslim Community Association/Myriad Foundation
Alma Park Primary School
St Andrew’s Primary School
St Mary’s Primary School
Chapel Street Primary School
Acacias Primary School
Playing Out Group
Levenshulme Community Association
Levenshulme Traders Association
Noor Mosque representatives
And an extended thank you to those considered themselves advocates of the scheme. Your work and support on this is really appreciated by the LBN partnership. that