In which we ask Steve Dyke to give us the green view from Strood..
This is a personal vision for the place I have lived in for fifty plus years. ‘Strood’ is used here as shorthand for the urban area west/north of the River Medway, bounded by the M2, the A289 bypass and the river itself. It therefore includes Frindsbury, Wainscott and other former hamlets.
If you do not know the area you may associate it with the A2 or the Medway Tunnel, perhaps with Medway City Estate or one of our three McDonalds drive-thrus. Now a dormitory town with some light industry and retail, its physical separation from the other Medway Towns gives it a distinctive character as far as I am concerned. Please don’t tell me I live in Rochester.
If asked to choose a colour to represent Strood you may well pick grey, which is often the predominant colour in the town.
However a satellite map of the area shows splashes of green, such as the open spaces of Rede Common, Broomhill Park and Church Green, as well as recreation grounds, school fields, cemeteries and churchyards. Walk the area and you find nature in unexpected or unplanned places: down half-forgotten alleyways or within derelict sites, on railway embankments and the margins of housing estates.
But splashes of green are not enough and what there is often seems to be under threat. Front gardens are block paved to cope with multi-car ownership and back gardens given over to patios. Orchards and allotments are replaced by housing. Abandoned pits which have become a haven for wildlife are filled and redeveloped. The boundaries of Strood are always being pushed out or challenged, whether by infilling areas up to the by-pass or by attempts to build on land within the green belt.
I think this situation should change. A future satellite map should show many green lines spreading throughout the area like a spider’s web, connecting the green spaces that exist today with newly created ones. Strood, Wainscott and Frindsbury used to be distinct settlements, surrounded and separated by agricultural and common land. I want a greenness and a natural wildness restored to my hometown. Despite being a crowded area, its gardens, parks, tree-lined streets, open spaces and reserves have the ability to allow plants and wildlife to thrive – if we are prepared to allow them to.
Here are three linked things that I would like future Medway Council administrations, of whatever political colour, to commit to doing for Strood:
1. Plant Trees
The Council has acknowledged that a shortfall in tree planting has been allowed to build up in recent years. Their responsibilities include replacing any tree that is removed, and yet many more trees have been cut down on the Council’s behalf than have been planted. It should be their priority to eliminate this shortfall. This should not be a one-off project, but part of a commitment to the creation of a new urban forest for Strood by protecting its existing trees and extensive new planting.
Trees bring real benefits to all of us:
- If the urban canopy is large enough they can have a cooling effect by creating shade on the ground and reducing the heat island effect.
- They can reduce heating and cooling costs for individual buildings by shading and sheltering them.
- They help clean the air by filtering particulates and other airborne pollutants, improving people’s health.
- They improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen into it.
- They look beautiful and bring a smile to people’s faces.
2. Create a green infrastructure
Our Council should actively protect, enhance, promote and invest in green infrastructure. This involves much more than trees, embracing parks, nature reserves, playing fields, open spaces and areas of woodland. It also includes allotments, private gardens, green roofs and walls, soils, even pot-plants on balconies. Strood needs a protected and maintained green network of integrated spaces and features, with ecological corridors to help various wildlife species travel between larger areas.
A good green infrastructure could deliver multiple environmental and quality of life benefits for the community:
- By encouraging active travel and supporting physical and mental health, particularly if accompanied by a proper cycling and walking network.
- By inspiring people to get outside in the fresh air, to meet up with old friends and make new ones.
- By reducing water run-off, filtering pollutants from storm water and providing sustainable drainage.
- By improving air quality, storing carbon from the atmosphere and cooling the urban area.
- By promoting biodiversity, providing habitats and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife.
3. Adopt green architecture
I would like to see Medway Council fully adopt and promote green architecture, which involves designing and building with the environment in mind, the aim being to create sustainable, energy efficient and environmentally friendly housing and other buildings.
Even if the Council does not build or commission many buildings of its own, there are things that they could do, such as:
- Ensuring that any new public and Council funded buildings are energy efficient and environmentally friendly, for example by making full use of solar technology and including living walls or roofs. A green architecture approach should also be followed when adapting or extending existing buildings. Zero-carbon construction should be the aim.
- Influencing the shape, character and materials of new developments, making them as sustainable and green as possible within the constraints of the current planning regime. This could include:
- requiring the use of green architecture and green building methods by developers and their architects;
- requiring any development to contribute to the urban tree canopy by including a minimum level of tree planting either on or offsite; and
- requiring any development of an appropriate size to include ecological corridors connecting it to other green infrastructure, so that the result is a net biodiversity gain for the area.
All of this will cost a significant amount of money – and require political will – to achieve. However if money can be found to revamp Rochester Airport for the benefit of relatively few people in Medway, surely some can be found to provide lasting environmental benefits for the whole community?
Sadly at the moment it seems that a good environment is thought of in the corridors of local power as something that would be ‘nice to have’ rather than being essential. We are told repeatedly that ‘development’ is needed for ‘economic growth’. But does there always have to be a trade-off between economic growth and protecting the environment? Many people now understand that green space and access to the outdoors results in a high quality of life, but you won’t find much on Medway Council’s website about improving our green infrastructure. With the local population set to increase substantially over coming years, it must be decided urgently how Strood and the other Medway Towns are to be made liveable places for the future.
One last but important point – many experts now say we are in a state of climate emergency. A growing number of councils have already passed motions declaring this to be the case and setting targets for themselves to be carbon neutral, including Bristol, Manchester, Brighton, Nottingham and Milton Keynes. Here in Medway our elected representatives should be doing everything they can to ensure the effects of climate change are mitigated. We are already feeling some of these effects with warmer, wetter winters, and hotter, drier summers, creating higher urban temperatures. We need to build climate resilience, by recognising and addressing the areas of vulnerability we have to the environmental consequences of climate change and finding ways to better prepare for its future impacts. The ideas of green infrastructure and green building I have outlined will have a part to play in this.
Steve Dyke is a member of Medway Green Party and a previous local election candidate for Strood North and Strood South wards. Born in Northfleet, he moved to Medway aged 5 and has been here ever since.