Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Winning the ideas battle (slowly, but surely)

Progress takes time, but in time we make progress.

It can be frustrating for people who are challenging the status quo with ideas that they believe would deliver many benefits, to confront others who hold differing beliefs. That is part of the process of achieving sustainable change.

Last night I attended a public meeting convened I believe by Conservative ward councillors in Clapham to discuss where developments are on the Quietway route that is due to pass through Clapham Common.

From the people that responded to the consultation there was a clear majority in favour of the proposals. Never the less, there were strongly articulated views by a number of people present at the meeting that these proposed changes would be particularly detrimental to people driving in and around the area.

I suggested, that if there were a possibility to trial the closure of Windmill Drive using temporary measures that might be a way of ensuring that the views of those concerned about the potential impacts of a closure are properly addressed and listened to, whilst also acknowledging the response to the consultation and the evidence base which suggests that there would be minimal traffic impact on the surrounding roads from such a change. The Cabinet member from Lambeth, Cllr Brathwaite, gave the impression that such an idea may well be considered.

On the slip of paper in the room, one of the other points raised was 'Loss of green space'. The officers present told the gathering that if the proposals went ahead there would be a net gain of around 250sqm. No loss of green space to be concerned about on this front, there were some murmurs about the gain being 'de minimis' or a tiny percentage of the common etc. We also heard from some residents on Windmill Drive, who spoke of the aggression demonstrated by drivers, and how some years ago when sewage works meant that the drive had been closed to through motor traffic for 6 months it was bliss.

It is part of the process of change that strongly held beliefs are challenged, and that is really difficult to overcome.

In terms of progress in Wandsworth, there are positive signs. Cllr Brathwaite also mentioned that Wandsworth Council had requested that if the closure were to go ahead, they would like a trial to be instigated in the first instance. As we can see with the on-going consultation for Dr Johnson Avenue on Tooting Common (not dissimilar issues are raised on this), Wandsworth Council have started to adopt a trial sort of approach.

My only concern is that the consultation for Dr Johnson Avenue, and the proposed trial, has no clear parameters as to how the council would define problems which would trigger a return to the status quo.

That is a difficult political space, but if we are to really improve our streets, and indeed other policy areas, we need our public institutions to be comfortable in these challenging spaces. Not every new idea is going to work, but where there are issues, doing nothing is not going to make them go away. If we try things and learn from them, we will be able to improve many areas of our lives.

NB - I didn't stay till the end of the meeting as I felt the key points that needed to be heard had been put across.

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