Sunday, 22 February 2015

Victoria Road Public Realm Scheme - Further Thoughts...

Looking ahead to the public meeting on Wednesday evening at Saltaire Methodist Church Hall regarding the Victoria Road Public Realm scheme, a few thoughts on where we are at.

First of all, I would again like to thank the residents who were involved in the online consultation that finished at the weekend, and Jackie Mulligan in particular for taking the time to set up and manage the process. I particularly appreciated meeting Jackie, Jamie and Caroline yesterday to talk through all the issues and gained a much better appreciation for, and understanding of, the perspective of residents like them who have been so concerned about the process to date and the loss of the woodland trees.

The results of the survey make very interesting reading and  demonstrate that the Council can and should do more in future to open up additional spaces for debate and feedback when carrying out its public policy consultations. I hope that this will be taken on board by the Council and that other council representatives will meet with the residents as well to listen to and discuss their concerns.

You can view the survey and the feedback here:
The survey showed that many Saltaire residents feel understandably upset about the removal of the 32 woodland trees on Victoria Road. The comments were particularly revealing in this respect, although perhaps not all that surprising given the attachment that many people including myself felt for these trees.

The survey also confirmed that many of those who took part in this latest survey felt that the Council's earlier consultation was inadequate and that they did not feel that their views had been properly taken on board. This is quite serious as, regardless of the decisions that are eventually made in these circumstances, it is absolutely vital that as many people as possible (who wish to do so) are proactively engaged in the discussions. This is particularly important in circumstances where the options being considered are likely to generate such controversy.

Our priority as ward councillors now is to ensure that the Council pays close attention to the many residents who have expressed their support for trees on Victoria Road throughout this long process. The Council's own consultation last April showed that most people wanted to see trees on Victoria Road, and the Green councillors have pressed for as many replacement street trees as possible to be planted as the public realm project has proceeded. We have had to argue very strongly for this, because the Council's preference in mid-2014 was for no replacement trees at all - this was the decision made by the Project Board in June and backed by a majority vote at the subsequent Steering Group meeting. The Council argued that, since more people voted for Option 1 (no trees at all) in the April consultation than voted for each of the other two options that included trees, replacement trees should not be considered. This made no sense to us then or now, as the combined support for Options 2 and 3 clearly outweighed Option 1. Indeed, at the risk of getting overly technical, had the officers employed a preferential voting system for the three options, rather than the first past the post method that they used, it is reasonable to assume that Option 2 (as many replacement trees as possible) would have prevailed.

Anyway, we argued the case and the Council agreed to dig exploratory tree pits to identify where new trees could be planted. The tree pits had not been planned and we were told that carrying out this work would use funds that could be invested elsewhere in the project. However, we insisted on the pits being dug and they revealed that there is room for eight replacement trees on the upper stretch of Victoria Road. These trees are now being planted and - to be scrupulously fair - we are grateful that the senior councillors and officers on the Project Board listened to our point of view.

So, at the risk of labouring the point, these new trees are a direct result of our intervention in the process and would not have been included in the scheme at all if Shipley's three Green councillors had not repeatedly reminded colleagues that most local residents wanted trees on Victoria Road. This is documented clearly in paragraph 2.2.2 on page 5 of the report about the scheme that went to the Regeneration and Economy Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 8 October 2014 (you can, hopefully, read the report here:

Unfortunately, the tree pit surveys also revealed that the extensive presence of a number of underground services (pipes, cables) beneath the pavements elsewhere makes it practically impossible to plant replacement trees up and down the rest of Victoria Road. New trees require proper tree pits, these take up space and cannot go in where there are services like this. So we asked what it would cost to move the services; we were told that the cost of moving one of the cables alone would have been £113,000 plus VAT and that moving all the services was simply beyond the financial scope of the project. We felt that this was advice we had to accept.

So the Green councillors have sought instead to secure some replacement trees on the carriageway itself. We argued in the autumn that planting trees in build-outs or even tree tubs would not only help mitigate the loss of the woodland trees, but would slow car speeds and help Saltaire's many pedestrians to cross the road more safely. We were advised, however, that there are underground services beneath the carriageway as well, and that altering the line of the pavements would undermine the architectural heritage of the village. These are serious considerations, for sure, but we remained unconvinced and have urged the Council to revisit the option of providing additional street trees in some form on the carriageway. We argue that additional trees can be accommodated in ways that do not dramatically alter the heritage character of the village and would, in fact, help to screen the numerous parked cars that were certainly not a feature of Victorian Saltaire.

We have also, incidentally, asked the Council to do more to plant replacement trees on adjacent plots of land, such as the Caroline Street car park, and understand that this is an option that is under consideration as well.

The bottom line is this. The Green councillors want as many trees as possible to be planted in and around Victoria Road and we welcome all suggestions that will help us to persuade the Council to do so in the months and years ahead. The scheme will bring significant benefits to Saltaire, including beautifully renewed paving, but we need to ensure that this busy road has as much tree life as possible within the urban constraints of a 21st Century village.

Finally, in closing, I would strongly encourage residents to attend the Saltaire World Heritage Site Information Session at Saltaire Methodist Church, Wednesday 25 February, 7-9pm. All details here:

In the meantime, if you would like to contact the Council for detailed information about any aspect of this project, you can email our World Heritage Site Officer, Helen Thornton, at
You can also contact the portfolio holder on the Executive Committee with overall responsibility for the project, Cllr Val Slater, at


All of the Council information relating to this project can be found here:

The Scheme Drawing can be found here:

The independent tree survey can be found here:

The summary report of the public consultation held in March 2014 can be found here:

The Consultation Document can be found here:

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