Every morning, and every evening, hundreds of West Hampstead commuters use the Black Path that runs along the railway line to get to or from the stations. But at several points along the path they need to either dodge mounds of ivy or duck beneath tunnels of over-grown shrubs. During the summer this is annoying but, as winter draws in, the overgrown foliage makes parts of the path dark and unsafe. So unsafe that one user ended up in hospital after damaging his eye.
The Black (Eye) Path was cleaned up in a blitz a few years ago but has since deteriorated. So why does nobody do anything to get it sorted again… and that includes all those commuters?
The big challenge is that nobody seems to be ‘responsible’. It is, as I was once told, S.E.P. (Somebody Else’s Problem). The path itself is not a council-maintained path, it’s on Network Rail land and some of the foliage is also on Network Rail land, so no doubt that Network Rail bears some responsibility. But the biggest cause of the problem is foliage over-growing from gardens of houses on Sumatra Road (and it is often difficult to work out which ones).
Council officers are, if not pro-active, then at least willing to help, even in times of tight budgets. The path is kept fairly well swept (around the growing mounds of ivy)! But the council has employees (and councillors) who could report these larger problems and come up with solutions.
West Hampstead also has local civic groups such as WHAT or the NDF, but they have limited resources and are focused more on lobbying and policy than getting their hands dirty. It’s certainly not clear what role they should play.
The Black Path seems to be a Grey Area, where the role of the individual, the council, and the state in the form of Network Rail is still unclear. What are our rights and what are our responsibilities? Where do the council’s responsibilities end? And what happens then? There seems to be no clear answer.
One of the main issues that arose during the NDF consultations was the poor state of local streets and dumped rubbish – so it is an issue high on resident’s list of concerns. How to do something about it? Should residents abdicate all responsibility even when it is they (collectively) that do the dumping, or let their trees overgrow? Whatever your political persuasion, having a decent, pleasant local environment (where people care) is surely something everyone agrees on?
In the meantime it’s getting darker earlier. So rather than talk about it more, isn’t it time to do something? If you are one of those commuters who is constantly ducking under trees, or even if you just live locally and care about this kind of thing, then please email and join us on Bank holiday monday from 2pm in the afternoon to help clear up the Black Path. Even if you can’t make that date (and it is a bank holiday weekend) then still drop us an email, as there will probably be another date in September.
The very nature of nature means that this can’t be a one-time thing. And yes, of course, also speak to local councillors about finding some longer-term solutions and liaising with Network Rail. Plus this has taken on an added degree of urgency in the light of the attempted sexual assault on Billy Fury Way last week.