We were told that when the plantations were first proposed there were big protests. Red Herring Alert. Jean, who has walked on that moor longer than most people in that room have lived, remembers that the only protests were actually against the plans to re-open the quarries, not about planting trees.

It was pointed out to us that the moor was a man made environment and that a hundred years ago we would not have been able to walk on the moor because it was farm land. Red Herring Alert. What has that got to do with anything. If you go back far enough it was covered with an ice sheet a mile thick, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the price of fish either.

I'm not here at all mate, I'm just a red herring.
Trail Bikers entering and exiting the site from Brushes Clough car park
You can see this guy is really afraid of getting caught can't you.
A broken fence, one of many.
Broken fence with long drop beyond
Yet another broken fence at the top of a cliff.

Something Fishy.

There was something a bit fishy about the second meeting of the Crompton Moor User Group.

Perhaps it was the “expert” that had been brought in, that couldn’t seem to remember any of the projects he had worked on before.

Maybe it was the few vocal members of the audience that no one seemed to recognise even though we can usually spot a stranger on the moor within a few minutes.

Or perhaps it was just the number of red herrings that were being thrown in our direction to distract us from the real issues.

Richard Vink, who tells us that one of his primary job responsibilities is “green space development” once again told us that “nothing is set in stone”, which still wasn’t very reassuring as he went on the describe the plans for Crompton Moor as a “ground breaking model” and a “blank canvas”. Well the thing about a blank canvas is that there is nothing on a blank canvas to destroy. We happen to feel that there are plenty of good things about the moor that an ill considered and rushed plan could really mess up.

Karl Bartlett, a “recreational trail planner”, then treated us to one of the least professional Powerpoint presentations I have ever seen and although he had invited questions from the audience, he seemed completely baffled when I asked if he could tell us any of the other projects he had worked on, just so that we could check them out for ourselves. He eventually suggested that perhaps Richard Vink could supply this information to me, but to date I still have not received anything. Surely it is not unreasonable to want to check the credentials of such a central player in this tableaux that is being played out for us?

We were told by Mr. Bartlett that “trails are about people” and that the project would be “building on the strongest points, character, history etc.” Much was made of the fact that the plan would have to be “sustainable, inclusive, flexible and responsive” but very little was said about how these wonderful aims would actually be achieved. He also showed us a couple of pictures taken in terrain totally different to anything we have on the moor and told us that this was just how it was going to look.      Remarkable.

The

You see, here is the funny thing, most people I talk to believe that it is not such a bad idea to give the cyclists a properly maintained track on the moor. In fact it has to be better than the situation that exists at the moment.

The problem that most people have is with the double talk and spin that the council is putting on the whole project, which makes it very difficult to trust a single word we’re being told.

One minute we’re being told that the car park is such a mess because money was spent unwisely to prevent it being lost from the budget. We’re told that this will not happen this time but a barely a few minutes later we’re told that if the money for this project “is not spent it has to go back.”          Déjà vu?

First we’re told that there is no money to address the existing problems on the moor and then we’re told that this project will be somehow be fully sustainable in the future.

Repeatedly we’ve been told that “nothing is set in stone” but we are also told that the council expects to start building this summer.

If the council would like us to stop digging our heels in, perhaps they should take some time to address our concerns instead of trying to sell us a bucket of dodgy fish.

We want to see some real proposals to deal with the current problems on the moor. What we keep being told is that all the anti social behaviour on the moor will magically disappear due to the increase in legitimate usage if this project goes ahead. Red Herring Alert.

A typical days litter in the car park

That sounds great in principle but will somebody tell me how the increased presence during the daytime is going to effect the drug dealing, dogging and under age drinking that happens in the car park after dark?

An increase in visitor numbers is inevitably going to bring more rubbish to the site, the bins are not emptied regularly enough as it is, the litter picking team that did magically appear after last weeks meeting, told us that they had been to the site three times....... In the last year!!!

On this occasion they had turned up because they had just received a call from Howard Sykes requesting that they make a special effort, unfortunately they arrived shortly after one of the dog walkers had already cleared up four bags of rubbish herself, luckily there was still plenty left for them to pick up as well.   Why do we have to make such a fuss to get this sort of action?

Some new wooden posts have recently been set up to stop the quad bikes driving round the quarry gate, so now the quads at least have to drive around the gun emplacement instead. Action again after we made a big fuss at the meeting. These are the same quad bikes we were told drive onto the moor from the Rochdale side of the site, because Rochdale apparently don’t close their gates. Red Herring Alert.   As you can see, it hasn’t made the slightest difference to the trail bikers.

We were told by Cllr Rod Blyth, that if the plan went ahead, there would be nice dry paths everywhere and we wouldn’t have to walk around in wellingtons anymore. Red Herring Alert. The only person in the room with shiny shoes was Mr. Bartlett, because most of us were sitting there in the shoes we had walked with on the moor a scant few hours before. We don’t need wellingtons and we don’t need metalled tracks, we just don’t want the existing tracks to be torn up by quad and motorbikes all the time.

All of these red herrings were being thrown in our direction to distract us before the real plot twist.

One walker asked if we would be required to keep our dogs on leads? The question was quickly evaded, with good reason as it turns out.

“Lets hope that Oldham Council utilise the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 which gives the Council the power to enforce Dog Control Orders where appropriate. This range of controls spans from enforcing that dogs are kept on leads in certain areas through to banning them completely from a chosen site.”    Mark McClure. 22nd February 2009 *

Many people suspected that our ability to exercise our dogs, off the lead, was going to be at threat and here, posted on a public information web site, is the stated opinion of a key member of Try-Cycles Ltd and also an administrator of the North West Riders mountain bike club website, both organisations that are intricately involved with the councils proposals for the moor.

Crompton Moor is one of the very few areas where we can actually let our dogs run free. Most other sites in the area have livestock on them meaning that is simply not possible.      Here, in black and white, we see a glimpse of what the future may very well hold.

Finally a proposal was brought forward, in the name of democracy, to form a sub group to discuss and vote on these weighty issues. Each interest group is to get an equal vote, which all sounds very reasonable. However, if there was any kind of true democratic process going on here then the council would have to make a proper demographic study of the users of the moor and give due and proportional consideration to those users.

That will never happen of course, because the cyclists, who are primarily to be accommodated by this plan, would clearly be shown to represent only a small minority of those users. Proportional representation is an idea so beloved by our Liberal Democrat councillors, until of course it becomes inconvenient to their own proposals.

Let us be very clear about all of this. The money must be spent on cycle trails. All the talk of other users getting improved facilities as a result is purely incidental as the plans stand at the moment.

One of the many broken fences on the moor. This one reported three years ago is at the top of a cliff.

Trail blazed with red paint.
You can see the fresh cutting.
Trees that stand in the way of the trail marked for cutting down.

Meanwhile, the trail that has “not yet been planned” appears to already be marked out and cutting has begun in the Whitesides plantation.

This does not look like “thinning” to me, this appears to be a continuous trail that can clearly be followed through the wood.

It also closely follows the track of a proposed trail shown to us at the very first meeting when we were told “Nothing has been set in stone.”

Well it might not be set in stone but it certainly shows up in the cut timber strewn along the trail clearly marked in red and yellow paint.

Is it any wonder that people are becoming so angry and distrustful. If the council has nothing to hide in this project, why does it tell us one thing and then do another behind our backs?

I actually walked through this wood with Richard Vink, showed him some of the markings on the trees and asked him whether this was the trail that had been marked out.

His reply to me was a simple unequivocal “No.”  

To further aggravate the situation, yet more illegal mountain bike tracks have been built in the lower woods recently, in direct contravention of the agreements made between the rangers and Northwest Riders that have led to this proposal.

It seems somewhat ironic that the council is bending over backwards to accommodate the very user group that is currently causing the most damage to the moor.                Maybe looking after the moor is not the way to get their attention?

Thinning?

* (A retraction of this statement was made on 3rd March 2009 along with an apology to me for the libellous accusations made in the same article.

However this comment still stands on the North West Riders web site at the time of writing. I leave you to draw your own conclusions from that.)

 Note 31st May. ( Comment finally removed sometime in May 2009 and forum data edited to make it appear that it was changed in March. )

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