Workshop 3: Transport & Green Spaces in the neighbourhood
Reading time: 8 mins
In this workshop we went on a walkabout in the neighbourhood, both literally and in our conversations afterwards.
The focus of this workshop was to explore the themes of transport and green spaces across the neighbourhood. Transport and green spaces are essential themes to address in the challenge of climate change. According to the 2021 DfT Environmental Statistics report, domestic transport in 2018 was the largest emitter of GHGs in the UK, producing 27% of the UK’s total emissions.
In the 1970’s nationally, the number of car trips that were under a mile was around 15%. This has doubled in recent times to around 30%. In communities like Sholver and Westwood this rise in short car journeys has increased noise, congestion and pollution in key areas and made it increasingly difficult for residents to travel by foot.
High quality and accessible green spaces and street greening can help encourage more walking within neighborhoods and mitigate climate change. Better and easier access to public transport will lessen the use of cars for short journeys and help congestion in places like Westwood and Sholver. As a rule of thumb, people are more likely to take public transport if it is frequent (ideally with a service at least every 10-15 minutes) and from a bus/tram/train stop within 400m of their home.
With both Westwood and Sholver residents, we did a walking tour of the neighbourhoods to understand the on-the-ground experience of walking in the local area. This prompted community discussions around how people travel within the neighbourhood and further afield to key destinations. We discussed the challenges and opportunities of encouraging the neighbourhood-wide uptake of sustainable and less energy-intensive modes of transport and movement, as well as the quality of place in the neighbourhood, looking primarily at the experience of the streets, open spaces and green spaces.
We began the workshops with a reflection on the topics that resonated with the participants from the last workshop. It was fantastic to hear that participants were noticing more green home improvements around the area and that they felt they had a better understanding of active measures they could take personally in this direction. Some of the participants mentioned that they had already made energy efficiency improvements to their own homes since the previous session.
After the reflection discussion, the participants split into two groups to undertake a walkabout of the neighbourhood. Each group walked a different route, and participants were given a map of the area to note down their experiences and observations at various stopping points along the way.
In Westwood, Kat led a group on a walk behind the Millennium Centre and walked around the northwestern neighbourhood area up to Berries Park. Then around the industrial compound owned by Armacell and through a small residential cluster of terraces just off Main Road.
The second Westwood group, led by Britt, took a walk down Featherstall Road North to look at the terraces to the southeast of the neighbourhood that sits adjacent to Oldham Way (a large dual carriageway). After the two groups completed their respective walks, they returned to the Millennium Centre to give feedback on their experiences and to discuss their findings together as a group.
One standout was the collective feeling that some places in Westwood are much harder to walk around than others due to various psychological and physical factors. There are several barriers in the environment that make it challenging to get around. Most notably heavy traffic along wide roads. Also physical road barriers along Featherstall Road are making it increasingly difficult for people to cross the street, in particular on certain days and during busy periods.
Public Realm Design, Cycle Lanes , E- Scooters and Public Transport.
The conversation with participants in Westwood highlighted the importance of good public realm design. As an example, for cyclists wishing to take the route along Featherstall Road many difficulties present themselves: Cycle lanes that do not join up, cars blocking the route, and many other barriers all contribute to making this a hostile environment for cyclists.
“During the lockdown we used to cycle every day in the daytime because there was no traffic on the roads. Now we cycle at night or in the early morning because it feels more safe.”
Whilst participants felt that Westwood had good provisions in terms of the public transport offered, (with frequent buses and a dedicated tram stop in Westwood connecting to Oldham and Manchester,) it was felt that the needs of cyclists are not as well catered for, with one resident noting “We have very few cycle lanes in Oldham.”
More carefully designed cycle lanes and parking restrictions along these routes would alleviate this feeling of frustration in the residents and would help facilitate a greener, more mobile future for the community.
“E-scooters (and e-bikes) are the way forward,
but they should be legalised and allowed to use the cycle lanes.”
As E-cargo bikes, e-scooters, and e-bikes grow in popularity, it will be essential to look at what policy and physical infrastructural changes are needed to better accommodate them.
On Street Parking, Traffic Control and the Community Focal Point
The participants commented that many people living in terraced housing in Westwood don’t have allocated on-plot parking, so residents have to park on the roadside. There are no residents-only parking restrictions, which results in people outside the neighbourhood parking along the residential streets and even sometimes mounting their vehicles on the pavement, obstructing pedestrians from using them. The group also highlighted the need for better traffic control and more joined up cycling paths (especially around Featherstall Road.) The participants also mentioned that on some days the problem was worse than others. For example on a Friday traffic builds up quite significantly along Featherstall Road as people come into the neighbourhood by car from other surrounding areas to attend Friday prayers at Oldham Central Mosque.
“You can go to school here, to the shops for everything you need,
the Mosque of course and there’s even a funeral home,
you basically never have to leave the area if you don’t want to.”
According to the Westwood group, Featherstall Road is the focal community hub of the Westwood community, with the Millennium Centre, the Central Mosque and many shops located along its stretch. One participant mentioned that its popularity over the years has led to many of the residential properties being converted into local shops and businesses. It is worth exploring how a crucial area like this will adapt and thrive within the context of climate change.
Mix of Residential and Industrial Land Uses
The walk highlighted the conflict of Westwood being a mix of residential and industrial land uses. Frequent HGVs come in and out of the neighbourhood. One participant mentioned that bollards were introduced onto the pavements to prevent people from parking along the streets but also to ensure that HGV drivers could access the service yards.
We heard there were many accounts from residents who often feel the vibrations of these heavy vehicles as they move in and out of the factories and warehouses. They have recently formed a community group to explore ways to address these issues.
As we walked around the warehouses, we noticed a number of green spaces that could be utilised better and made more accessible for the community. The participants identified that Berries Park was the main community park that serves Westwood and it was well used by the community but that it, along with some of the other pocket parks and streets in the area experienced litter issues, especially around the rear ginnels. This obviously is another significant contributing factor that discourages people from walking in the neighbourhood.
Mix of Residential and Industrial Land Uses
Project ideas from the discussions with the Westwood group:
- Exploring improvements to Featherstall Road to reduce traffic issues and enhance cycling provision.
- Improvements to the green spaces to encourage better use, maintenance of these spaces.
- Public realm improvements to the streets to encourage walkability, linked to cleaner and safer streets.
- E-bike & scooter hire or share scheme
“As a driver I wouldn’t like it [traffic calming measures or car free zones], as a pedestrian I would”
The group also discussed how to accommodate electric vehicle parking and charging points within the streets and what some of the challenges will be with charging points having specific requirements with connection leads and discussions around where best to place communal charging points in the neighbourhood.
Walkability, Green Spaces and Wayfinding
In Sholver, the participants also split into two groups; one group of participants walked around top Sholver, and one group explored bottom Sholver. Each group diagnosed key issues or opportunities in the area, including their experience of the walkability of the area, green spaces, streets, connectivity and traffic issues across the neighbourhood.
“In Greater Manchester people are obsessed with using cars when they don’t need to.”
Following the walkabout, we regrouped in the lovely Sholver Community Centre Garden area to discuss the findings from the two walks around a large map of the neighbourhood. Using a series of flags and plasticine, Kat facilitated a feedback session of the two walks.
The group that walked around bottom Sholver, highlighted a number of high quality green spaces in the neighbourhood. Some of the participants on the walk were excited to discover Fullwood Nature Reserve for the first time; a large green space on the neighbourhood’s edge with stunning views across Oldham. One participant felt that one of the reasons she hadn’t seen it before was because it wasn’t well signposted. A dedicated set of volunteers, the Fullwood Rangers manage this green space and the community garden.
The key takeaway from the feedback session in Sholver, was the group desire for better signposting and wayfinding around the neighbourhood as well as improvements to seating in open spaces to support longer walking journeys as rest stops, in particular for those who are not as able.
Walking Paths, Travel to School and Street Maintenance
“Cop Road is a speedway!”
We also discussed how young people travel to the local schools. Those that walk along Cop Road find the experience unpleasant due to speeding along the road, the residents felt this was making the area dangerous for pedestrians and young people. The group discussed maintenance of the streets, highlighting one particular path where bushes had overgrown and made it difficult to walk. The participants identified a number of recreational walking paths in the neighbourhood with steps but without handrails, which make it more difficult for people who are less able to manage. Issues like this are likely to dissuade many from walking in the first place.
Project ideas that came out of the conversations in Sholver included:
- A Community Orchard could be developed in the green spaces to encourage community activity within existing underutilised green spaces.
- Creating a map of walking routes in the local area and establishing a walking group to encourage people to walk more locally and discover new places.
- The topography of the land in Oldham is hilly, which makes cycling more challenging but this could be an opportunity to explore an electric bike / scooter scheme.
- New recreational bike trails.
- School streets – closing off streets to vehicle traffic directly outside schools during peak drop off/pick up school times to create a more accommodating environment for school children to walk or cycle to and from school.
- Community school electric bus.
The session was very useful in raising a number of key questions that we will continue to explore moving forward into the imagining stage of the project.
1. How can we encourage people to walk/cycle on shorter trips within the neighbourhood itself?
2. Are there enough facilities within a walkable distance within the neighbourhood – can we explore better ways to connect them?
3. How can we improve the public transport offer, i.e. bus/tram/train. Can these improvements encourage people to use it rather than taking their car?
4. How can we make better use of our green spaces? Are there opportunities to develop urban greening areas to improve the sense of place and walkability of the neighbourhood?
Resources and interesting links on Walking and Green Spaces
Oldham Energy Futures Resources
Sustrans – charity dedicated to making it easier to walk and and cycling in the UK
The Ramblers – Walkable neighbourhoods, ten steps to developing walkable
Woodland Trust, Trees & Carbon Capture