Friday, January 22, 2010

The Road Ahead

Yesterday I went to a public meeting.

I tend not to go to public meetings nowadays since, in the past, I went to many and discovered that little came of these. I felt overall I had been used to camouflage a pre-existing policy which simply needed to be slotted in after 'consultations'.

The meeting had been organised to discuss Ouseburn Road. Traffic on the road conflicts with pedestrians since there is no pavement nor room for any. The road gives access to allotments and is used by people coming and going on foot to the local Heaton and Armstrong Parks.

The Ouseburn Road is 'outside' the focus of 'Battlefield', but not by much. So I went along.

The lowly steam which goes by the name 'Ouseburn' is actually of some interest. It winds its way to a confluence with the great and famous Tyne through the northern outskirts of the city of Newcastle. At points its progress is obscure and unprepossessing. Then it enters Jesmond Dene, where it's flanked by steep banks of mature woodland. At one point a natural rock fault creates a fine waterfall, something of an attraction. Here the famous (infamous) Victorian arms manufacturer Lord Armstrong laid out a stately park and a wonderful iron bridge across the valley at tree top height. The Jesmond Dene is now a public park and the Armstrong Bridge still stands, taking foot and cycle users high over the river below. Standing in the Dene it is hard to think how close are the busy roads in and out of a large city. Wildlife uses the Dene as a 'green corridor'.

The Ouseburn in high summer.

Dressed to kill. Lord Armstrong (seated right) clinches deal with Japanese visitor.

More than a decade ago the Jesmond Dene was the site of an environmental 'battle' over a new road which cut through part of the woodland and carried a dual carriageway over rather than along a snaking narrow route through the Dene itself. Protester's climbed and tied themselves to many trees. The furore lasted sometime. Strangely, I myself, not a fan of road building, supported this one. It took traffic away from the Dene by putting it on a flyover, creating a quieter, less dangerous environment beneath. The protesters however achieved much and the final plans and designs were better I am sure than might otherwise have been expected. I have some quibbles, but generally, after the scheme was finished there was a greater sense of peace walking down into the Dene by Armstrong Bridge than before.

Ouseburn Road is a survivor. As I mentioned in a previous post, older arrangements leave a thumbprint behind them. Ouseburn Road is clearly a descendant of an ancient cart track along the course of the Ouseburn towards the Tyne. Now the tarmac road is sandwiched between the rough fellstone walls of Heaton Park which rises up under magnificent trees on one side and the curving course of the Ouseburn below. There is simply no room to expand the roadway unless major work is undertaken. Even if there was a demand (the road is very much a back lane, known possibly to only locals) the destruction would rival any road scheme. Closure to motor traffic is opposed by the police and no doubt emergency services, which know of it as a short cut.

What to do? Allotment holders (a.k.a. gardeners) wish to get in and out without being mown down by traffic. There are some 'blind' turns. Last time I walked it, the traffic took as much care as I did myself but the closeness one is to passing 4 x 4's is unnerving to some.

My concern was less to do with traffic than amenity. I was worried that there might be a scheme afoot to re-build the road and, a la the Ouseburn Barrage, having an inflated and unnecessary impact on what is a lovely walk under trees and alongside a magical stream.

Also the Dippers.


To have come across these unusual birds on the Ouseburn one day last year was to say the least, gobsmacking. This dumpy species are a feature of more remote and rocky upland streams in my experience. I could not quite believe my eyes when I saw them (a pair) on the stones below the bridge which connects where I live to the further Heaton side of the Dene. Two hundred yards from my own front door! I have seen them since, one singing merrily, if somewhat tunelessly.

The presence of Dipper's says a lot about the water quality of the Ouseburn. Hopefully the Barrage will have no counter veiling impact.

When I left the meeting (held inside the amazingly nice new Ouseburn Community Centre) the allotment holders were still chatting away about traffic calming with Councillor Stephen Psallidas and John, a genial consultant to Newcastle City Council who listened.

The Ouseburn Centre

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