Warrington Westernlink Red Route comments from the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum
I am writing on behalf of the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum, as Chair, to express the views and opinions of our members concerning aspects of the Warrington Red Route Plan.
Our membership consists of hundreds of Warrington residents with a keen interest in Wildlife, several of whom are local ecologists and our partners such as Cheshire Wildlife, rECORd, RIMAG, Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust(MGET) and Liverpool Museum. Between them they have entered thousands of sightings into the rECORd database that is used as evidence to verify the biodiversity status of wildlife sites and scrutinise planning applications across the Borough of Warrington.
We have already spelt out and submitted our concerns about aspects of the Warrington Local Plan several aspects of which are broadly applicable in this case and hope that they will be taken on board with this submission.
We hope that our suggestions and ideas will be incorporated into the final plans rather than be ignored at the expense of the wildlife networks of green corridors, green canopy, water network etc. Examples can be seen on such approaches by the work of the Environment Agency and their flood defence work, the Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust monitoring the new bridge build and the many projects large (Saltmarsh) and small (Orchids) as well as Mersey Forest plantations to name but a few.
The red route is only a few miles away from the construction of the £600 million Merseylink Bridge. This has been the first major engineering project in the UK, maybe in the World, to have been built in association with the Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust (MGET). It also runs close to the construction of a second bridge that links Chester Rd to Slutchers Lane/Centre Park where an environmental impact assessment screening has been requested by Warrington Borough Council on the absorption capacity of habitats identified as sensitive. We will be watching with interest.
It would seem appropriate that WBC should consult with the organisations to see what lessons and practices by for example Merseylink can be learned that can benefit the Westernlink. The Merseylink Project did for example deal with expected and unexpected pockets of waste especially chemical, a huge traffic management exercise either side of the bridge, demolition of many buildings, extensive wildlife monitoring (that will continue for several decades) which includes birds on the estuary, aquatic life within the Mersey, the estuary embankments of salt marsh, transfer and relocation of wild orchids etc.
Following the opening of the new Merseylink bridge the monitoring will be managed by the MGET. The MGET’s area of interest includes part of the Warrington’s red route Westernlink network maybe WBC should contact them to see what is involved rather than duplicate effort as they both share the same water course of the River Mersey.
The route doesn’t simply mean the construction of bridges across the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey but it also means development of a network of roads (yet to be shown – but whose intersections give an indication of) for housing development. These roads of course are the nodes from which the Local Plan will be developed. It would be of great benefit if the whole network is shown on the Local Plan map so that people can see the intent and extent of the routes planned to be constructed.
If this route does get government approval and funding then we have concerns for the green areas that it will change particularly Sankey Valley Park, Morley Common, the United Utilities tree plantation memorial garden and others. It would appear from the Red route map that adjacent green pathways and networks will be untouched and hopefully maintained as Rights of Way. These are of great importance to both wildlife and humans be they walkers, cyclists and horse riders to name but a few.
We would argue for the need for great care with these and other local natural environments with EIAs where appropriate. These sites all require monitoring against impact, before and after, the networks construction with detailed measures, processes and procedures to mitigate any potential damage to these places and the River Mersey.
As stated in our comments, submitted for the local plan consultation, it would be very useful to be able to views overlay plans that WBC partners have in mind. These include Peel Holding and its Port of Warrington, Environmental Agency Flood Plains, Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust’s area of interest etc along the lines of map overlays already featured on the WBC interactive maps where various layers can be switched on and off.
Obviously, the impact of commuters has led to the need to find a solution to the Warrington Town grid-lock issues and need for change, but has the additional volume from industry and the Port of Warrington been considered as these organisations adapt by changing and modifying their routes, what is the networks sustainability life-span? Will there be a need for any form of sound proofing for the neighbourhoods along the route?
Talking of networks, we would like the planners to explore the need to mitigate the natural network of species in the area. We would like to see a review of the data held on the RODIS data base managed by rECORd and Cheshire Wildlife Trust to ensure that any such networks found are not destroyed. It might be that such investigations might lead to the creation of a new Local Wildlife Site that if designated would enhance the quality of the place and show that WBC has a VISION that incorporates and respects the NATURAL ENVIRONMENT. If it’s right for the wildlife then it will be right for the humans as argued by Hugh Warwick in his book LINESCAPE. We don’t need a vision of a concrete jungle purely driven by the Government targets we would like to see greater input and local control.
Austerity measures have unfortunately seen the demise of the WBC environmental office and the transfer of some of the services that they used to provide, to the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit based in Tameside. Some of our partners have had their funding from WBC reduced or withdrawn and we ourselves have lost our presence from the WBC web site after a couple of decades. It used to be an active portal with links to wildlife groups and archive of WNCF newsletters until it was removed in 2016 shortly after being updated! All these actions were confirmed as being due to cost cutting in a reply to our environmental question posed at Full Council twelve months ago. We hope that such action hasn’t reduced are ability to influence decisions, after all it was WBC who set up the WNCF decades ago.
None of the 3rd sector wildlife groups and individuals want wildlife sites to be reduced or threatened in any way instead we are asking for a clearer statement of how the places especially LWS sites they support are to be protected, enhanced, created and if appropriate linked especially between like species and environments. We believe that by doing so the final version of the Local Plan will be improved and more sustainable for wildlife and enhance our surroundings.
The Immediate area contains the Moore Nature Reserve, a vibrant footpath network, plans for a new Regional Park, Sankey Valley Park and Morley Common and more. We believe strongly that these natural resources should be linked in some way and an environmental plan drawn up to pull them closer together in an accessible way for nature to thrive and people to appreciate.
We feel that the local plan should say something about identifying new sites and joining up sites to create a eco network, by using existing networks of paths, rivers, tributaries as ecosystems worth saving, along the lines of the thoughts of Hugh Warwick in his book “LINESCAPES – Remapping and Reconnecting Britain’s Fragmented Wildlife”,
Members of the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum believe that the Local Plan must identify the measures to mitigate, protect and even create new wildlife places. Any plans should be an opportunity to make sure that their boundaries are protected and that wherever possible they are connected as described by Hugh Warwick in his research and his book along with green corridors and green canopies.
It must be beholden on WBC to offer the appropriate advice, expertise and knowledge to help and encourage developers to achieve a high standard of care for the environment as part of the planning process.
Following approval, the development of the Westernlink must be monitored on a regular basis to make sure that appropriate and timely action is taken to rectify any deviation from the agreed plans. On a larger scale, we expect the same to be done with larger construction projects, networks etc as they have been with the Merseylink bridge by Halton.
Having cited networks for the good they can be used for there is also a need to keep at bay wherever possible the evasive plants that are common alongside river and stream banks and using the water course networks on an inappropriate way. A policy for eradicating or at the very least preventing further expansion of the evasive species would be very welcolmed.
We would welcome the inclusion of being able to identify potential water vole’s habitat and increase the opportunity of improving their environment of any tributaries in the area for them and other species. We know that Cheshire Wildlife Trust have done an extensive study upstream in the Sankey Brook. One thing that this did highlight was the extent of evasive plants covering and destroying the banks of the rivers and streams which have eroded the water vole’s habitat, let’s not add to that negative situation.
One of the largest and significant LWSs under threat is Moore Nature Reserve (originally 2 LWS but more recently combined into one). It is an incorporated as part of the Local Plan’s Waterfront encroachment by the Peel Port’s development of the Port of Warrington. This new Westernlink routes, will open developments in the area whilst at the same time increase the risk to wildlife.
Our members are still coming to terms with what impacts the proposed changes will bring and is a great shock to them to see how close this construction and the rest of the local plan impact on Moore Nature Reserve and the surrounding area. It would be good if compensation could be made to mitigate any disturbance(s) that might accrue.
This has been a hugely successful wildlife site development especially the extended Nature Reserve which that has become home to at least six BoCC Red species of bird including the lesser spotted woodpecker and song thrush and at least nine species on the BoCC Amber list. ‘Friends of Moore Nature Reserve’ has many active members and it has been well supported by thousands of people from near and afar. Anyone who saw the early developments of 20 years ago and returns now will marvel at the changes, they just get better and better. However now that the funding from WREN, due to closure of Arpley Tip, has been ended from this resource once the remedial work to cap the Top is complete.
The transition to a regional park needs to have a formal wildlife conservation and biodiversity management plan in place as well as a carefully thought out plan for appropriate management features such as what the MGET is already looking such hides being sited to view the flocks of birds and tidal surges on the Upper Mersey Estuary across to Fiddlers Ferry.
Hides provide great leisure places for bird watchers and people travel long distances to see the and learn about the wide variety of wildlife that continues to be attracted to this place. Having said this at the opposite end of the spectrum are the vandals who have recently set ablaze a hide at MNR and a few miles away at Risley Moss. For this place to be built on or around (the map isn’t too clear) is certainly a retrograde step in our view and we wonder what consideration has been given to managing the flood plain. It is one of Warrington’s great successes that needs to be promoted not threatened by layers of concrete.
In conclusion although to some this is simply a road network it is on our view a very complex and rich natural resource. We await details of a more detailed plan and would like to anticipate receiving details of endeavours to protect and managed the rich wildlife that will be found within the ecologists reports and analysis. There are also local wildlife groups, organisations, experienced individuals and ecologists and rangers that WBC can draw from.
We believe that by doing so measures and suggestions at a finer level will be forthcoming that will be of benefit to the wildlife, people, diversity of ecology and future vision for Warrington adding to its many great wildlife sites provided it broadens its approach and outlook as it has done in the past. We need to be creating an environment for people and wildlife to live in harmony and thrive alongside each other enhancing each groups wellbeing.
Chair Warrington Nature Conservation Forum.