Thursday, February 17, 2005

Nutsford Vale Project

A stone’s throw from my house (or a 30 second sprint for your average burglar) is a large patch of wasteground that has become known as Nutsford Vale.

It’s alternative local moniker of ‘Jackson’s Tip’ gives a clue to it’s recent past. The area used to be the site of Jackson’s brickworks, but by 1980 the brickworks was long gone; our little estate of houses replaced the old kilns and buildings and the old clay pits had been used for landfill and capped off. All that remains of Jackson’s is the old and rather imposing office building now used as an Islamic Academy.

The landfill site has been left largely untouched since and as a result we now have a wild and unkempt heathland in the middle of an inner-city area.

A group of local residents have been working for over six years now to try and get this green space protected and properly managed. Most of the time however it feels like we’re wading through treacle and trying to get anyone to take responsibility for the land has proved nigh on impossible. Half the land is owned by Greater Manchester Waste, the other half by the City Council, but finding any individual or department in either organisation that feels they have responsibility for the upkeep of the space has to date proved to be a fruitless endeavour.

In addition to organising clean-up events, fun days, eco-surveys and stream sampling, we’ve been pretty successful in getting grants to improve the border security, lay hedges, cut back vegetation, create a protected newt pond and so forth. However, it becomes so disheartening to only be able to approach the issue in a piecemeal fashion or to discover the GMW have just laid weedkiller across the wild flower planting that has just been undertaken…

A major obstacle has proved to be the long mooted, potential transfer of management of the land to the Forestry Commission. Whilst I have some reservations about this (the FC being the party that planted 3000 hawthorn and similar saplings adjacent to main paths without any local consultation and in doing so created a major security issue to the space), at least it would mean that the management responsibility would at last be formally resolved. Unfortunately the transfer is still only a ‘maybe’ (the latest we know is that we’re on a reserve list). Accordingly we’ve now had years and years of being in limbo. Our plans get blocked in case they clash with any future proposal of the FC, but at the same time we’re no nearer to the FC taking over management than we were 3+ years ago.

If I sound frustrated it’s because I am. This space should be a community asset. It’s valuable, wild and beautiful. In a sea of tarmac and concrete it’s a little glimpse of nature un-restarined, fighting back against the human destruction that lies a few feet below the surface.

Tonight’s meeting however seemed like a little chink of light might at last be breaking through. Our MP Sir Gerald Kaufman attended and listened to what we had to say about the space and the problems we were having. He came across as sincere and supportive and has promised to see what he can do to help us. He was also able to give some excellent advice as to how we might resolve the ‘responsibility’ issues. We’ll see how it goes…

Also at the meeting was the local Operations Manager who heads up all the local community wardens and the Ward Co-ordinator (mind you, nothing is that simple – the land spans 3 wards!). They were really helpful and have promised concrete support and use of some of their resources.

Maybe this is the breakthrough we need. I do hope so, I’ve become really disillusioned of late.

If nothing else, I did at least manage to look Sir Gerald in the eye, without summoning up images of ‘that’ Spitting Image puppet…

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