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black-path-cleanup_ft

Network Rail brings clarity to Black Path

Industrial strength machinery brought in to tackle Black Path

Industrial strength machinery brought in to tackle Black Path. Photo via Richard Olszewski

Months of recent community work and lobbying came to some fruition on Tuesday 20th with a site visit to the Black Path and meeting with local residents by representatives from Network Rail, the British Transport Police, Camden Council and the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team.

They were joined by two very welcome maintenance workers from Network Rail, who were armed with machinery more suited to the task of cutting back years’ worth of overgrown vegetation than that with which we came to the WHL-organised community clean-up day back in September. As a result regular users of the path will notice a huge improvement in some of the most obstructed stretches.

David Rose, from Network Rail’s East Midlands team and Tim Ramskill, who works on crime prevention for the BTP, came to discuss safety and maintenance issues on the path. In the wake of a small number of attacks on the path in the last few weeks, Jim Craig and Simon Bishop from the SNT were on hand, as was Fortune Green councillor Richard Olszewski – who himself uses the path regularly.

Personal security and the vexed question of overhanging vegetation were top of the agenda of course, but discussion points also included safety issues around the tarmac surface, walls and lighting, as well as ownership and responsibility for the path itself.

L-R, Network Rail's David Rose, local resident Julia Deakin, Cllr Richard Olszweski, Simon Bishop and Jim Craig from West Hampstead SNT discuss safety and maintenance on the Black Path.

L-R, Network Rail’s David Rose, local resident Julia Deakin, Cllr Richard Olszweski, Simon Bishop and Jim Craig from West Hampstead SNT discuss safety and maintenance on the Black Path.

Mr Rose was able to confirm that Network Rail owns all the land from the railway line up to – but not including – the walls and fences that border the backs of gardens along Sumatra Road, which belong to the respective property freeholders. However the path itself (not including fences on either side) is leased to Camden, so the council is responsible for the surface, lighting and security. He also raised the question of what might happen if or when government policy forces Network Rail to sell off the land in the future; an unknown quantity obviously, but a potential concern if the path were to fall into private hands and be taken out of public ownership.

The SNT told us that it is currently advising people not to use the path for the time being whilst their investigation into the recent attacks is is ongoing. If you do choose to continue using it, the police recommend carrying a personal alarm. All at the meeting agreed that installation of CCTV would be hugely helpful, but cost and logistical issues may make this unfeasible: the path is 500 meters long and would have to be cabled all the way, even before accounting for the expense of upkeep.

Whilst some of the worst of the overhanging tree growth was cleared by the Network Rail team and their chainsaws, many of the most obtrusive plants are impossible to deal with effectively from the path and would need to be tackled by their owners from within Sumatra Road gardens. By coincidence, later that same day, detective work on the part of a particularly diligent local campaigner revealed that the freeholder of one of the worst-offending gardens is a West Hampstead businessman. Residents are now urging Camden to issue an enforcement notice to the freeholder in order to oblige him to maintain his garden and repair its damaged fence, which intrudes onto the pathway.

It was a productive meeting that ended with a real sense that all the stakeholders were engaged with the problems faced on the path as well as other local Network Rail-owned properties, such as Billy Fury Way, and that solutions could be found for some of the most pressing issues. With vegetation cleared, sightlines would be improved along the whole length of the Black Path, giving better visibility both to pedestrians and cyclists – and fewer places in which to hide. There will be further challenges along the way, as budgets continue to be slashed both at Network Rail and Camden, but the willingness at least is clearly there.

Meanwhile, if you live on that side of Sumatra Road: please, find some time over the holidays to get down the end of your garden with a large pair of shears

BlackPath_ft

Things already look brighter on the Black Path

A fortnight ago WHL asked, How can you help lighten the Black Path?, ending with an invitation to come and help start sorting it out. Those of you who use the Black Path will have seen the difference, for the rest of you, here’s what happened next.

A group of West Hampstead residents, fed up with having to duck under overgrown foliage every time they used the Black Path, turned out on Bank Holiday Monday with secateurs, shears and loppers in hand to tackle the problem. They started at the worst section, a proliferation of ivy towards the Thameslink station. After two hours of hard labour we turned this:

Before ...

Before …

into this:

... after!

… after!

Aside from the satisfaction of sorting out a local problem, highlighting the issue has generated other benefits. Former councillor John Bryant got in touch to say that the path is in fact the joint responsibility of Camden Council and Network Rail, and that they tackled the issue a few years ago. It seems that the institutional memory had been lost. Someone from Network Rail also got in contact to offer help reaching the right person.

Many hands did indeed make light work

Many hands did indeed make light work

While we were working, many passers-by were delighted this was being sorted out, and in fact most helped too. Each was asked if they wouldn’t mind carrying a bag (or two) of green waste to the collection point at the Bloomsleigh Street end. They did, and by the end there was 43 bags of the stuff!

43 bags full, sir.

43 bags full, sir. Image: Penny Liechti

There is still more to be done, so a second sessions is planned for September to tackledthose overhanging shrubs. If you want to join us please email moc.l1496142258iamg@1496142258daets1496142258pmahw1496142258rette1496142258b1496142258.

Tunnel of shrubs - time to do something about it?  And throw some light on the Black Path

How can you help brighten the Black Path?

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?

Duck! Image: Caroline (who is tall and has to duck as well)

Duck! Image: Caroline (who is tall and had to duck as well)

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.

Rubbish behind the fence is also a problem image: Shelley

Rubbish behind the fence, on Network Rail land, is also a problem. Image: Shelley

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?

Tunnel of shrubs - time to do something about it?  And throw some light on the Black Path

Tunnel of shrubs – time to do something about it? And throw some light on the Black Path

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 moc.l1496142258iamg@1496142258daets1496142258pmahw1496142258rette1496142258b1496142258 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.