Following on from the meeting with Laura Vayro in June I received an E-mail inviting me to the first meeting of the Crompton Moor User Group on 27th November 2008.
Needless to say I was interested in what it would all be about, as were many other people I talked with on the moor. Dog walking has long been accepted to be a very sociable activity, and it is perhaps not surprising that there is quite a network amongst the regular users of Crompton Moor. Within a day of receiving the E-mail I had been informed about the meeting by no less than seven other dog walkers who were all equally intrigued about it.
Since the only visible sign of this meeting was a small flyer on the notice board, that most people had not actually noticed, the interest that this generated in such a short time was actually quite remarkable.
There was a great deal of speculation of course and a certain amount of cynicism along the lines of “That’s just the councils way of telling us what they are going to do to us.” Despite that, the turn out on the night was actually quite good and represented a fair cross section of the various users of the moor.
The meeting was chaired by Howard Sykes, Councillor, Shaw area committee member and as it happens, one of the moor’s dog walkers.
The meeting started with introductions and assurances that nothing had been fully decided. This last statement met with a low resigned groan amongst certain members of the audience at my end of the room an has since proved to be a bare faced lie.
Eirwen Hopwood, head of Oldham Countryside Service, then outlined the reasons for forming the group which seemed, as far as we could see, primarily to be a consultation exercise.
The agenda was moved quickly past the items labelled “suggestions” and “consultation” and the floor was then passed to Richard Vink, Green Spaces Development Officer for Oldham Council, who once again reassured us that no decisions had been “set in stone”, before unveiling a well developed scheme involving a visitor Centre, Mountain bike trails and hordes of visitors from the entire Greater Manchester area and far beyond.
By this stage many people were becoming quite alarmed and when Mr Sykes again tried to skip the agenda past the opportunity for “comments and questions”, a number of people, myself included, started to raise matters that were actually important to us.
It had been pointed out to us that no single user group had more ownership of the moor than another, but we were being told that in order to raise money to manage the site, it would be turned into a centre for mountain biking, as that was a very fast growing sport.
Up to this point we had not heard a single mention of how these plans would affect the dog walkers. It seemed to us that because we were not good press or likely sources of funding, were were being totally ignored.
It was pointed out that not only were we the largest existing group of visitors to the moor we were also there twice a day, every day.
It was also pointed out that we are the people who report fires on the moor, call the police to deal with burned out cars and drug dealing in the car park and we are the people that end up cleaning up the litter after everyone else on the moor has gone home.
While we did not expect preferential treatment, we certainly did not come to the meeting to be totally ignored.
What most of us wanted to hear was how existing problems were going to be handled, but everything we were being told suggested that the only way there were going to be addressed was as part of this grand scheme and with the money that would generate.
Call me a cynic if you like, but we have all seen grand plans that end up half finished when the money runs out, and leave us with more problems than we started with.
The “gun emplacement” that now dominates the car park is a good example. Not only has it improved access to the moor for the illegal motorcycles and quad bikes, it’s also blocked the view from our vehicles, unless we park in the disabled section, and you can’t even sit on the benches provided to see the view because the wall is too high.
Most people visit the moor because it is one of the few easy to access bits of natural space available to us. We bring our dogs here to get away from the traffic and noise of the city and many of us just want to preserve some of that.
There was a questionnaire passed round and one of the questions was something to the effect of “Why do you visit Crompton moor?”
Well if an answer to that question was ever needed, perhaps these pictures, all taken on just one day, will go some way towards answering it.
Crompton Moor is a precious and unique place, it’s a breath of fresh air which lifts us above the urban sprawl that seeks to smother us all.
I hope that the User Group will mature into something that can preserve and enhance the moor for all it’s users.
For the time being though, only time will tell.
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