The mayor of the West Midlands has released a map of his £15bn transport plan and it’s so, so beautiful

A detail from the new map. Image: Andy Street for West Midlands campaign.

There are mayoral elections coming up in several of England’’s biggest cities, in which the website you are reading is going to be a hugely, hugely influential player. No one gets elected in this town without the coveted CityMetric endorsement. 

That, at least, is the conclusion that Andy Street seems to have come to, based on the fact he’s just released a fantasy tube map of the West Midlands. During the Tory mayor’s first term, the Midlands Metro tram network has expanded very slightly – but let’s be honest here, three years is not enough to build a proper public transport network, even if you have the money or the power which England’s mayors do not. 

And so Street is teasing the voters with glimpes of the unattainable, in the form of a map of what the region could look like in 2040 if they’re sensible enough to re-elect him. The whole lot, he told a press conference on Tuesday, would cost £15bn. Here’s the map.

Click to expand.

So – what have we learned? Some thoughts.

This map shows several new metro lines

I’m not saying how many because, for reasons we’ll come to, it depends on how you define both “metro” and “new”.

The Midland line – from Birmingham up towards Wolverhampton – already exists, although this map shows it extended slightly on the far side of the latter towards the i54 business park. The Black Country line, better known as the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Midland Metro extension, received funding last year; although why this map shows it with a branch running apparently non stop down the Midland line to Birmingham is not exactly clear.

The other lines are, I think, new. The MacArthur line (in red; named for trade unionist Mary MacArthur) is, I think, the proposed eastside metro extension, but extended westwards to Bearwood and beyond. The green Chamberlain line – named, one assumes, for Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham mayor in the 1870s – from Minworth down to Longbridge isn’t something I recall seeing before. Neither is the Lee Woods line (in black, for mathematician Mary Lee Woods – this map does love its Marys, doesn’t it?) from Sutton Coldfield to Solihull.


Then there’s the Zepheniah line, named for local poet Benhamin Zehaniah, and running north-south from Walsall to the Maypole. As for  the Elizabeth line, a yellow loop around the city centre, it’s good that the authorities have resisted naming it “the Circle line” because a) that’ll annoy people when you inevitably decide it’d be better if it wasn’t a circle, and b) obviously what we need is more things named after the Queen.

At any rate: that’s a pretty extensive network. No idea if funding it is even remotely plausible, but dreaming big is good.

The plan involves 21 new railway stations, too

These include the planned re-opening of the Camp Hill line and the Walsall to Wolverhampton route, already under way; and a re-opened Sutton Park line, a freight route on the north side of the city through Aldridge. There’d be new stations in Birmingham and Coventry, too. Cool.

The Camp Hill line is the one via Kings Heath. The choice of orange for overground services is probably not a coincidence.

This is a fairly broad interpretation of “metro”

That purple line, heading east and then south from central Birmingham? That’s the proposed HS2 line to London. HS2 is many many things, but one it is definitely not is a part of the West Midlands metro network. It’s there, one assumes, to highlight Street’s support for investment in the region.

At the other end of the scale, the map also shows “automated pods” (in pink) linking Tile Hill station to the University of Warwick, and an “automated people mover” (in grey) linking Birmingham International to the HS2 Interchange and the NEC. Again: great to see a city experimenting, but it’s a bit Emirates Airline to put them on a tube map equivalent.

Coventry is a mess

The “Godiva line” – named for the 11th century Countess of Mercia, famous for riding naked through the streets of Coventry because of oppressive taxes something something – isn’t a line at all. Look at it.

No idea at all what’s going on there. Answers on a post-card.

Cars still matter

Lot of “park & ride” symbols shown on this map. This makes sense, if the plan is to get people in a car-based city off the road, but it still looks a bit odd to those of us used to London.

Street is still downplaying the whole Tory thing

His chosen colour, as with his 2017 campaign material, is green, not blue. Whatever could it mean?

Your move Labour. Best start by picking a candidate, I guess.

Jonn Elledge was the founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how we plant 2 billion more trees in the UK

A tree in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Image: Getty.

The UK’s official climate advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), recently published a report outlining how to reduce the 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from land use by two thirds by 2050. Alongside recommending cutting meat and dairy consumption by 20 per cent, the report calls for the annual creation of up to 50,000 hectares of broadleaf and conifer woodland for the next three decades. This would increase forest cover from 13 per cent to at least 17 per cent – a level not seen in Britain since before the Norman invasion.

Reforestation at that rate would mean creating roughly the area of the city of Leeds every year for the next three decades. At typical stocking densities of 1,500 stems per hectare, the ambition is to establish some 2.25 billion additional trees. Given that the UK, as with most of Europe, is in the grip of ash dieback, a disease likely to prove fatal for many millions of native ash trees, the scale of the challenge is massive.

On a crowded and intensively farmed island like Britain, unlocking a million and a half hectares of land will be no mean feat. But it’s not impossible – and is an unprecedented opportunity not only to tackle the climate crisis but also the biodiversity crisis that is every bit as detrimental to our wellbeing.

Trees and farms

One million and a half hectares is just 6 per cent of the mainland UK’s land area. To give some sense of perspective on this, 696,000 hectares of “temporary grassland” were registered in 2019. So if land supply is not the problem, what is? Often it’s cultural inertia. Farmers are firmly rooted to the land and perhaps understandably reluctant to stop producing food and instead become foresters. But the choice need not be so binary.

The intensification of agriculture has caused catastrophic declines in many species throughout the UK by reducing vast wooded areas and thousands of miles of hedgerows to small pockets of vegetation, isolating populations and making them more vulnerable to extinction.

Integrating trees with the farmed landscape delivers multiple benefits for farms and the environment. Reforestation doesn’t have to mean a return to the ecologically and culturally inappropriate single-species blocks of non-native conifers, which were planted en masse in the 1970s and 1980s. Incentivised under tax breaks to secure a domestic timber supply, many of the resulting plantations were located in places difficult or in some cases impossible to actually harvest.

Productive farmland needn’t be converted to woodland. Instead, that 4 per cent of land could be found by scattering trees more widely. After all, more trees on farmland is good for business. They prevent soil erosion and the run-off of pollutants, provide shade and shelter for livestock, a useful source of renewable fuel and year-round forage for pollinating insects.

The first tranche of tree planting could involve new hedgerows full of large trees, preferably with wide headlands of permanently untilled soils, providing further wildlife refuge.


Natural regeneration

Where appropriate, new woody habitats can be created simply by stopping how the land is currently used, such as by removing livestock. This process can be helped by scattering seeds in areas where seed sources are low. But patience is a virtue. If people can learn to tolerate less clipped and manicured landscapes, nature can run its own course.

A focus on deliberate tree planting also raises uncomfortable truths. Most trees are planted with an accompanying stake to keep them upright and a plastic shelter that protects the sapling from grazing damage. All too often, these shelters aren’t retrieved. Left to the elements, they break down into ever smaller pieces, and can be swept into rivers and eventually the ocean, where they threaten marine wildlife. Two billion tree shelters is a lot of plastic.

The main reason for using tree shelters at all is because the deer population in the UK is so high that in many places, it is all but impossible to establish new trees. This also has serious implications for existing woodland, which is prevented from naturally regenerating. In time, these trees will age and die, threatening the loss of the woodland itself. Climate change, pests and pathogens and the lack of a coordinated, centrally supported approach to deer management means the outlook for the UK’s existing treescape is uncertain at best.

An ecologically joined-up solution would be to reintroduce the natural predators of deer, such as lynx, wolves, and bears. Whether rewilding should get that far in the UK is still the subject of debate. Before that, perhaps the focus should be on providing the necessary habitat, rich in native trees.

A positive response would be to implement the balanced recommendations, made almost a decade ago in a government review, of creating more new habitat, improving what’s already there, and finding ways to link it together. Bigger, better, and more connected habitats.

But the UK is losing trees at increasing rates and not just through diseases. The recent removal of Victorian-era street trees in Sheffield and many other towns and cities is another issue to contend with. As the climate warms, increasing urban temperatures will mean cities need shade from street trees more than ever.

Trees aren’t the environmental panacea that the politicians might have people believe – even if they do make for great photo opportunities – but we do need more of them. Efforts to expand tree cover are underway across the world and the UK will benefit from contributing its share. Hitting the right balance – some commercial forestry, lots of new native woodland and millions of scattered trees – will be key to maximising the benefits they bring.

Nick Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Conservation, Nottingham Trent University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.