LBH recently approached us to take up the idea of a path through the orchard area, which would join the Black Path to the towpath walk down to Cow Bridge.
The group last discussed this idea as project 8 of the Master Plan ’30 Projects’, and liked it as long as the design fitted the character of this part of the park. It’s clear from the wear patterns that there is a desire line through this space (i.e. lots of people go that way). It forms part of a pleasant circular stroll via the filter beds, and seems to be one of the few routes that is more to do with enjoying the park than going through it to somewhere else.
LBH is taking this up now because they would like to transfer the Cow Bridge towpath to the park, so they want to get the orchard link done and dusted at the same time. Currently the towpath is managed by Streetscene, as the Traffic and Transportation section is known, and they are trying to get it off their hands. The funding comes from LBH’s 2011/12 sustainable transport allocation from TfL.
The towpath was originally given as compensation for the land lost to the M11 link road. Since then LBH has neglected it both physically and legally, with the result that they’re not even sure that they own it: some of the land is registered to the London Development Agency and Transport for London. As a final stroke, the path was closed for a long time as a result of works in the council waste depot.
In 2010 MUG pressured the council into reopening the path. It was promptly closed again on safety pretexts, so we got it opened again. Since then park users have been able to enjoy it. A benefit of its neglect has been the number of small birds which took to living in the tangle of scrub – a de facto wildlife corridor.
The wildlife suffered a severe setback this January when LBH contractors took a flail to the vegetation, leaving the path looking like a section of the Western front. MUG took this up and, to be fair, received a prompt, full and frank apology. And it was at least done before the bird nesting season had begun. The reason for this carnage was that LBH was clearing access to the streetlights along the path, which it proposes (with MUG’s agreement) to remove. The reasoning is that we obviously don’t want lighting in the orchard, and it is unwise to lead people into a lit path by Cow Bridge and then leave them in an unlit park. They have asked MUG about the lights and the committee agrees with their removal.
So, we come to the orchard proposal, which is part of LBH’s project ‘to bring the canalside path into a state of good repair and create a new path linking it to the Black Path’. LBH Streetscene had discussed the path with LBH Parks before bringing it to MUG, and their route drawing takes account of the need to avoid the root protection zones of established trees. LBH are asking MUG our opinion of both the route and the materials.
The committee feels the route, first, ought to link to the steps to the filter beds bridge. Second, it would be better to route it more along the eastern edge of the space, if possible. Whether the latter is possible depends on whether there is a way to run the path closer to trees. Committee member Harry Hewat, who has relevant expertise, has drawn an alternative route and is investigating path construction techniques and surfaces that might make it feasible. Harry’s drawing shows the council proposal as a double dotted line and a possible alternative as a single brown line.
The LBH design is also too wide. This arises from the fact that in theory the Cow Bridge towpath includes a cycle route and the work is funded by TfL sustainable transport funds. In fact there is no particular need for a designated cycle route on the towpath, since it doesn’t lead anywhere other than on a pleasant potter over to the marshes, or down through Daubeny Fields. Considerate informal shared use can continue. We have told the LBH engineer that the theoretical presence of a cycle route, and the funding conditions, must not be allowed to land the park with an inappropriately wide or hard-surfaced path, and LBH seems to understand this.
The surface should be as close to a natural earth surface as possible. The usual material for this is hoggin, which is basically clay. There is a hoggin path for example on Daubeny Fields, running north-south along the east side.