Parkland Walk

It’s called Parkland Walk – and I emphasize ‘Walk’ because many local people are up in arms in case ‘improvements’ wreck this haven of nature, peace and tranquillity by turning it into a cycle track. Opened in 1984, Haringey’s Parkland Walk stretches for four miles and is billed as London’s longest Local Nature Reserve.

This green lung nestling in our borough along the old train tracks (long gone), is used by pedestrians, dog-walkers and recreational cyclists (polite cyclists who warn of their approach with a bell and travel at sensible speeds – often parents taking their youngsters for a safe off-road ride) and it is under threat. Or the fear is that it is under threat.

Haringey Council successfully bid to Transport for London for funding for improvements for three ‘green ways’ – one of which is Parkland Walk. No one can deny that Parkland Walk needs some improvements. But as the Friends of Parkland Walk (www.parkland-walk.org.uk) made clear at a packed public meeting last week those improvements should be limited to improved drainage (lots of muddy puddles and flooding), better signs, repairing broken steps and improving access for people with disabilities and mothers with babies and pushchairs.

Where the controversy comes in is the idea of resurfacing it, turning the current meandering, rough path into a smooth surface which will then encourage commuter cyclists to use the walk at speed to get to Finsbury Park station and its super duper bike stand where commuters can leave their bikes safe and sound.

And of course, we all want to encourage cycling – that’s why there is such a great bike stand at the station. But large-scale tarmac (or similar) will strip the walk of its rural nature and also – almost certainly – result in not just more cyclists, but cyclists at high speeds – taking away yet more of its gentle, rural nature. Not every possible route is suitable for more and faster cycling – this one included.

Whilst council officers tried to reassure people at the meeting that the improvements would not ‘widen’ the path, that the meanders would be left in and that there would be no attempt to create a ‘smooth cycle way’ but only patching the path where necessary (albeit along 40% of the length of the walk) – local people did not seem completely reassured. Nor was I.

What became clear from the questions was that the funding wasn’t just a grant from Transport for London to improve green corridors – but that the funding was actually from Transport for London’s Cycling Excellence Centre for improvements for cyclists. So – there are suspicions that the work will really focusing on just getting more cycling along the route, even at the expense of Parkland Walk’s character, but also there is the question of whether this is really the right place to be spending that money. There are many other routes into Finsbury Park that could do with cycling improvements and would be better suited to a growth in bicycle traffic – why not spend it on some of them?

Local users were not generally anti-bike, and were happy with the recreational use by considerate cyclists. Indeed, several recreational bike riders who use the Walk were equally against it becoming a fast cycle track for commuters. I was in Parkland Walk at the weekend – and there was a perfect mix of pedestrians, dogs and family cyclists – all enjoying this amazing retreat.

The council officers promised to put the Parkland Walk funding bid on the web so we can see what the bid consisted of, but I have also written to Transport for London to ask what they believe the money will be spent on. We need clarity from both ends of the chain as there’s such a thing as paying the piper – and we need to know what Transport for London expect for their money – the bangs for bucks.

And if that turns out to be large scale high-speed commuter cycling, then the answer should be, “thanks, but no thanks – the money can and should be better spent elsewhere”. Because to turn it into a cycle path or encourage more or faster cyclists would destroy the ambiance of this woodland nature reserve. Yes – we want more cycling in London – but in the right locations.

This issue is likely to run and run for some time, so please do let me have your own views either by writing to me at House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA or on my blog.

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2007