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An Open Letter Regarding 75% Cuts to Mersey Valley Funding

This proposal is not just about money this is a question of beliefs and principles. Parks and green spaces have been at the heart of Manchester’s metropolitan provision since it was a smoke filled, industrial city. The city governors recognised the importance of these spaces for free recreation and health. The fact that rivers like the Mersey, Irwell and Irk have been changed from poisonous, contaminated open sewers to the relatively clean waterways that they are now is nothing short of a miracle. Add in the changes to the environment around them that has transformed household rubbish dumps and toxic wasteland to clean open spaces and you have something that Manchester can be truly proud of. It wasn’t just a matter of money it was a much more a matter of belief and principle in what they were doing. It was a belief in what was good for Manchester and the people of Manchester.

The argument about what Trafford and Stockport are, or in this case are not doing, is spurious and irrelevant, it is what Manchester does that is important.

The popularity of the Valley is growing, on Sunday afternoons in the summer months the river banks are like Blackpool prom. It is providing the free, open recreation spaces that are even more desperately needed for hard pressed families in this era of gloom and cut backs. The enormous health benefits accrued by people using the Valley and its facilities have been outlined elsewhere and are increasingly important to both the healthy and the not so healthy.

I do know what an important wildlife corridor and special place it is in terms of ecology. Maybe even a victim of its own success! I will leave other more knowledgeable people to spell out the details of its extraordinary biological diversity.

I would presume that statutory obligations will be budgeted for. Of course I am realistic enough to know that non-statutory budgets have to be looked at and pruned. I would suggest that the Mersey Valley is a priority amongst the non-statutory provisions that Manchester commits itself to and the budget adjusted accordingly.

What is needed is to be positive about the Mersey Valley and its fantastic resources. Manchester should be shouting from the roof tops what a fabulous area it is. Where is the politicians’ spin machine when we need it?

There is talk of using volunteers and neighbourhood teams to bear the workload. This is nether practical or desirable. Volunteers, as any group will tell you, are becoming increasingly difficult to recruit, it is the same people stretching themselves even further.

The number of volunteers is limited and in an area as diverse and large as the Mersey Valley they need pointing in the right direction and the work prioritised and delegated at a small local level. Who’s going to do this? Where is the specialist knowledge coming from on a regular basis?

I would suggest that what is needed for the Mersey Valley is to look upon it as a huge positive contribution to the City and its citizens. It needs not just wardens but people who are advocates and champions of this wonderful area.

If these budget considerations are looked upon as a catalyst for change why not look at the warden service again and see what service can be provided in the future which might be more appropriate to more stringent economic times. And let us not forget if the Valley is allowed to deteriorate it will take enormous amounts of investment to return it to where it is now.

I suggest that a warden service should be kept but it should have a stronger emphasis of promoting the valley as one of Manchester’s great assets. It’s an asset that should be promoted far and wide, it should be an indicator of the pride we have in our green spaces. Perhaps one warden should be a volunteer specialist who could recruit and deploy volunteers in the best possible way but also look to businesses for volunteer teams for specific projects.

Using the Irk Valley as a model there should be a dedicated development officer to champion the Mersey Valley and attract funding and then wardens with specific but integrated roles. These could be for education and links with schools etc, biodiversity and volunteers. Each of these warden’s areas of expertise are ideal for attracting funding in a variety of forms via the development officer. This would take time to put in place and for a temporary period it might be that the Valley would need financial support from the Council.

If the councillors believe in Manchester and its people then they should believe in, and keep faith, with one of Manchester’s greatest achievements, the Mersey Valley.

Steve Parle

Chair - Didsbury Civic Society Chair - Didsbury Parsonage Trust