Saturday, 3 September 2011

How green was my Dollis Valley Green Walk?

This green ... until Brian Coleman got his hands on it, that is.

*Updated 16th October - see below:

Did you know that several Pre Raphaelite artists and their associates had connections with Finchley? Or that one of the most iconic of Victorian images, 'The Last of England' (seen above) was painted in the backyard of a house near where St Philip's church is now in Regents Park Road? Artist Ford Madox Brown lived there for several years, in the 1850s, a fact which you might expect to be commemorated by a plaque, were we not living in Broken Barnet, where we are not interested in our history or heritage, unless you can put a price on it and sell it to developers.

Brown was visited there by friends and fellow artists, such as Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal. Rossetti painted in the fields around Church End, as did Brown, who produced one or two local views, such as this study of what is titled the Brent at Hendon, but is perhaps more probably a view of the Dollis Brook, a tributary of the Brent, which flows at the boundary of Finchley and Hendon. Brown described his subject as:

"a mere brooklet running in most dainty sinuosity under overshadowing oaks and all manner of leafgrass,' he noted on 1 September 1854. 'Many beauties and hard to chuse amongst for I had determined to make a little picture of it."

In the mornings he would paint the brook, and in the afternoons work on another local scene, 'Carrying Corn' set nearby, in the fields of Grass Farm, between the brook and Hendon Lane.

The Dollis Valley Green Walk is a ten mile route which follows the path of the Dollis brook, from Moat Mount in Mill Hill to Hampstead Heath; most of it is a delightful place to wander through: a rare survival of the rural past, a rough track along side the stream, still overshadowed with Brown's oaks, crack willows, hawthorn and cow parsley, thick with ivy, wild garlic and other carpeting wild plants which one local ecological study says suggests a long history of woodland cover. The same study says that kingfishers, nuthatches and treecreepers are found in the area.

Mrs Angry was feeling particularly in need of some fresh air and unwinding yesterday, and eventually persuaded a reluctant and rather grumpy Miss Angry to accompany her for a stroll along some of the green walk. The sun was shining, and a slight balmy breeze was bending the willows with that odd creaking noise that trees sometimes make. The stream was full of sticklebacks, and a heron was standing still in the shallow water. It really did look like the brook in the Brown picture, and it was odd to think we were in the middle of Finchley, in the twenty first century.

There is an article in the local Times this week about the Dollis Valley Green Walk, written by local resident and journalist Francis Beckett, who is pictured by the brook, with a rather stern expression. Can't blame him for looking cross: he has bad news for anyone who enjoys the peace and tranquility of this lovely walk. The sleepy, rural idyll of the brookside footpath is about to be dragged right into the twenty first century, and changed for ever.

Like so many other things which are broken in Broken Barnet, this will be a victim of political ambition and game playing: decisions made in secret, the process of consultation a farce and trampled upon by the Tory tin pot dictators who have forgotten that they were elected to serve a community and not their own self interest.

In the article, Dennis Pepper, another local resident and Chair of the Friends of Windsor Open Space explains that more than two years ago a grant of £400,000 for the improvement of the walk was won in a competitive process from a fund held by the Mayor of London. Mr Pepper had helped to lobby for the successful bid, encouraging people to take part in the campaign and take what he thought was an active part in the process of consultation.

The grant was agreed in March 2009. Many local residents have been asking why the improvement scheme has not started. It is a very good question. But now we might begin to understand why: to Mr Pepper's dismay, Councillor Brian Coleman, yes, him again, Cabinet member for Environment and, oh who knows what it is called this week (ask Mr Mustard) Councillor Brian Coleman has decided £400,000 is not enough and has taken it upon himself to chisel another grant, from Transport for London.

Sounds good, you might think. Except that this grant comes with a demand for something in return: a cycle path. And Coleman duly authorised the change to the plans in hello, another Delegated Powers Report in February. No consultation needed, because Councillor Coleman always knows best what is good for us.

What's wrong with the extra grant, you might ask? Well, Mrs Angry has no objection to cycle paths -they are a great idea, and we need more of them - in the right place. The Dollis Valley Green Walk is not the right place.

Let's look at the original objectives of the improvements as listed in this document:

The aims, clearly stated, are to make the walk cleaner, safer and greener.

The pathway is not suitable for walkers and cyclists, and in order to separate the two safely there will need to be an ugly, inappropriate and intrusive enlargement of the old route. The original application made no mention whatsoever of cycling on the path , and Mr Pepper would not have campaigned for any such facility. Anyone who is elderly, disabled, or very young should be entitled to use the green walk without fear of colliding with a speeding cyclist: interestingly the DPR, signed on February 14th, tells us that equalities and diversity clearance was signed off by an officer on the 31st of January, but it would appear that no proper equalities impact or risk assessment has been made of the effect that will result from combining a cycle track with the pathway.

In order to widen the existing path, trees and shrubs will have to be removed: do we really think this is acceptable? Has a full survey been made of the areas where this ecological vandalism is going to happen?

There are also some puzzling details in the schedule of work listed, eg:

"Footpaths where cycling is not permitted:

• Windsor
Open Space all but one of the highest priority areas have been able to be addressed as part of this project. The remaining priority area is between Dollis Road and Fursby Avenue which is in such poor repair it requires complete replacement. Due to the extent and complexity of the work required there is insufficient funding available within the project to include this section."

Meaning what? No cycle path in those areas, so cyclists will be expected to dismount and push their bikes along nicely until Brian's new speedtrack resumes? Yeah, right.

It is heart warming, however, that Brian Coleman has suddenly become a keen supporter of cycling. It is not an interest that is generally associated with our portly friend. In fact, quite the opposite. According to his wikipedia entry: 'In 2004 cycle lanes were removed and cycling proficiency funding cut by the pro motorist Cllr Brian Coleman.'

A few years ago, some local environmental activists, in an attempt to persuade Councillor Coleman of the joys of cycling, painted a dedicated cycle path outside Brian's house. I am sure he expressed his gratitude in fulsome terms.

Of course it may be that he is taking up some form of exercise in order to put up a good fight against Andrew Dismore in the GLA elections next May. Need to be fit for the campaign trail.

Ah. Next May. Mmm.

Mrs Angry notes that not only have we had a mysterious delay of two years since the Mayor's grant was made to Barnet, the latest, expended schedule of 'improvements' for the walkway is taking an awfully long time to get going. This programme allegedly began in March, although nothing seems to have been done, (although Mrs Angry noticed a series of fading yellow markers along the way) but it does help stretch things out nicely until ah, next March, 2012.

This fortunate timing will perfectly accommodate a grand opening, a visit from Boris Johnson, probably on a pushbike, and possibly Brian Coleman, AM, FRSA on his new BMX -( or perhaps more likely being driven in one of those cycle rickshaws along the path from his home in West Finchley to his adoring constituents in Totteridge.)

Result: a marvellous photo opportunity, a good news story, and all just in time for the beginning of the GLA and Mayoral elections. By coincidence, the £400k plus generation grant given to Barnet's most affluent high street, in Tory Chipping Barnet, will have been nicely bedded in by then too.

Mrs Angry urges you to go and take a leisurely stroll along the path soon, before it has been assaulted in the name of Barnet's corporate priority, as quoted in the One Barnet drivel of the DPR, to “protect and enhance our natural and built environment so that the borough is clean and green” geared towards continuing to make Barnet a successful London suburb."

The last of England, with a cycle path. What more could you want?

*Update 16th October:

At the very end of the slapstick farce of the last Finchley and Golders Green Residents' Forum, as reported here , there was a question about the proposal to combine the Dollis walk with a cycling path, and Mr Neil Richardson, Highways Manager for Barnet Council, replied quite unequivocally that there were no plans at all. This was deeply puzzling, and Mrs Angry asked him to confirm his response in writing. Weeks passed by with no further information and Mrs Angry was eventually obliged to ask for an answer (twice) from Greenspaces manager Jenny Warren, who confirmed that there are no plans to introduce a cycle path, but that:

" ... there are sections of the walk that already form part of the national cycle route – Laurel Way to Western Way. A section of footpath is due to be replaced in Windsor Open Space (works were already due to have commenced) totalling three quarters of a mile to address localised flooding, uneven surfaces and improve the drainage of water from the path when the river floods, the footpath is not part of the national cycle route and is also not a footpath upon which cycling is permitted and is signed as such, and there are no current plans to change this."

Dennis Pepper has responded with the following comments:

"... the DVGW has always been a footpath (all of it, from Hampstead Heath Extension to Moat Mount - some 10 miles). This was established in 1992 with help from the Countryside Management Service and a grant from the Countryside Commission. It's part of the London Walking Forum."

He says that Barnet Council refuses to enforce the 'No Cycling' restrictions that apply and that, by default, this will allow cyclists to use the walk:

" ... cycling will be permitted and funding has been received from TfL for this purpose. However, because in many sections (Bridge Lane to Hendon Lane, for instance) it is too narrow to be classified as a 'joint' cycle/foot path it will not be designated a cycle way - but cyclists will not be prevented from using it. Existing signs should remain - all of which means, of course, that the footpath will become in fact a cycle route, even through Windsor Open Space, and we won't be able to do anything about it."

Dennis reminds us that when the Dollis Valley walk was first created, a leaflet was published by Barnet which explained:

"It links areas of public open space along the Dollis Valley in a green chain, to provide a pleasant and quiet long distance walk between the Green Belt and Hampstead Heath, right through the heart of Barnet." it also states: "The Dollis Valley Greenwalk is a walk suitable for a wide range of people, from families with children to the more energetic. Most of the route is moderately flat and surfaced and is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs ..."

The Dollis Valley Green Walk is a walk, not a cycle path: clearly it was created to meet the needs of walkers, families, children, the elderly and wheelchair users. The needs of these users are not compatible with those of cyclists, yet by refusing to enforce the no cycling sections of the route, Barnet is effectively creating a de facto cycle path, and is failing in its duty of care to the more vulnerable users of the walk. This is another example, in fact, of many recent actions taken by the current Tory administration which have ignored the requirement to make an adequate equalities impact assessment of their policies - and it should be noted that in some cases this has resulted in legal difficulties for the council.

There should unquestionably be more cycle paths in our borough: but can we please put them in the right place, and not shove them in the wrong place, when no one is looking, and without consultation with residents or proper consideration of the impact of such decisions?

If you are unhappy with the council's behaviour in this matter, Mrs Angry suggests you contact the Cabinet member for Environment, Councillor Brian Coleman, and tell him so. After all, only recently he was spouting off in a council meeting about cycle paths 'and other clutter'. You might like to remind him of this - and Brian will be delighted to hear from you, of course, so why not email him at:

Please remember to stand well back after sending, and wear protective clothing, if you do.

And don't forget to pass on Mrs Angry's best wishes, will you?


Mr Mustard said...

As the department has changed its name to Planning, Environment & Regeneration Mrs A, well at least for this week, then I expect Brian may well need a new longer title more representative of his burgeoning empire.

In reality Mr Three Jobs should be the Cabinet Member for Planning Lunches, Black Cabs, Hampers & Credit Cards ( Barnet is cashless )

Mrs Angry said...

Well, it seems we live in an age of miracles, Mr Mustard, with Brian finally embracing his inner cyclist. I expect shortly to see him running a soup kitchen in Hampstead Garden Suburb, and hosting a cocktail party for Barnet bloggers.

baarnett said...

You appreciate that he would prefer it to be a cocktail party in Hampstead Garden Suburb, and a soup kitchen for Barnet bloggers.

Mrs Angry said...

ha: think you may have a point there, baarnett. I was thinking of bringing Matthew Offord: wonder which event he would prefer?

baarnett said...

Well, he DOES have expertise in one, of course.

But I notice in the Telegraph that the Queen is advertising for a butler: HERE.

No doubt Mr Offord can point to previous experience in the 'liquid catering delivery industry', if he wants to go after the job.

The Telegraph blurb says:
"It may not command the highest salary, and the hours might be long and arduous – but jobseekers who want to work for a prestigious boss need look no further."

'Our Offy' might say this already applies to him in his PRESENT role, as Mr Cameron's soup waiter. He is, of course, also Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Crouton Or Bread Resupply Agencies (the government's secret 'COBRA' emergency committee, full of Belize action men like him).