Colin's Cornucopia

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Chapter 19


A major piece of civic work we attempted was to produce a greenspace strategy. Medieval Coventry had been firmly based on the River Sherbourne. There are few cities on earth that do not have a river and in early times Coventry was the third most important city in the realm. Its life was firmly based on this tiny little stream. Around seventy percent of its basin lies within the bounds of Area Co-ordination North west so we were in a good position to take responsibility for it and work to protect it and, perhaps, restore some of its once natural beauty.
I June 1998 I produced a report which showed how all the local greenspaces were linked together by the railway line and the river from the Ring Road through to open countryside. It contained a fairly thorough geographical analysis of the area and also copies of several biodiversity audits on specific areas such as the allotments and parks.

The report was very well received by local activists and community groups and by councilors and council officers. I gave a presentation to the North West Area Forum of the City Council for the purpose of supporting a request by City Development for a full time officer to work on the city’s water problems. This was well received but we never got anyone to work on the river.
For two years I chaired the River Sub Group of the Environmental Program Delivery Group for Area Co-ordination and we had another biodiversity audit done and the Environment Agency paid for a survey and proposal for landscaping the river through the Estate. But we never got any funding and there was simply no money to do anything. 


Our endeavours revealed some fundamental problems with funding of the civic and voluntary sectors. The main focus of our interest was a green area intimately fitting between two areas designated as “deprived”, but the area itself was not so designated so no funds were available even though the green area could provide much needed open space and had much potential to bring many good things into this very crowded and aging inner city area.

The essence of my ideas revolves around a number of existing features that need very little expenditure, but lots of vigilance to maintain. Coventry has been blessed by good fortune with a large “green” wedge projecting into the north west side of the city. This was brought about mainly by accident. The area was under intense development in the late 1930’s when the second World War put a stop to it. The stringencies and restrictions after the war lasted long enough for local people to become conscious of “Green “ issues and aware of the very precious nature of their green wedge. It so happens that I spent and misspent the whole of my youth in those fields so they have a special meaning for me.

Jaguar Cars sought and succeeded in building a modern access road across the Wedge to their former “shadow” factory in Browns Lane. The fight put up by the people of Allesley and district has left an extremely strong impression on the  councilors of Coventry who will not lightly take on “The Wedge” again. 

Another important factor is that the wedge almost exactly coincides with the drainage basin of the River Sherbourne. This is the river upon which Coventry was founded and provided much of its water for domestic and industrial use and was a useful source of power for several centuries. Coventry became a rich and powerful city for around three centuries; so powerful that it is the only city outside London ever to host Parliament. And it all depended upon the River Sherbourne.

Now we regard it in many places to be little better than a drainage ditch but the upstream tributaries are still a haven of delight. The Environment Agency regards it as one of the most pleasant streams in the area. It is an asset that has not yet fallen irrevocably victim to the disease of development. It certainly needs some tender loving care but is by no means beyond repair and has along its banks thousand of acres of pure delight. My objective is to turn the whole river system into a haven for both responsible people and for wildlife and to preserve the whole for posterity.

The river rises on the high ridge between Meriden and Fillongly and flows through Hollyberry End, Hawkes End, Butt Lane, Washbrook Lane and Allesley to Coundon, Lakeview Park, the Allotments, Spon End and then under the city. Tributaries also drain the North Brook area and Eastern Green through Guphill Brook. The Radford Brook, and River Arthur, both of which are now completely culverted, join under the city, the latter through the Swanswell.

The river runs for most of its catchment through well developed farmland, much of which has been drained. This causes some runoff problems in time of high rainfall but the quality of the water is surprisingly good where monitored on the edge of the city. Guphill Brook, a major tributary, runs through the highly developed area of Mount Nod and many street drains add immediately to the flow during rainfall. There is occasionally a serious flooding problem in Lake view Park and the Sherbourne Valley Allotments, much of it short lived and due to surface runoff.

The Coventry Sewer, built to ample proportions during the 1960’s, runs in part through the Sherbourne Valley and has much reduced the flooding that used to occur up until 1965. The downside of this is that it may also take some of the water necessary to maintain a viable stream during dry weather.

Another factor is the demise of Coventry’s once famous car and machine tool factories since the 1980’s. They used to extract large amounts from the water table which is now rising again.  Severn Trent pump substantial amounts of water into the river at Spon End which serves both to refresh the river and keep the water table low. The Environment Agency have been testing the river flows with a view to pumping groundwater into the streams in the Allesley area.

Numerous audits of the fauna and flora are available from Allesley to Spon End and the whole river basin is a rich and varied habitat with a lot of potential for conserving a pleasant and useful green area well within the limits of one of the larger cities in the land.

What I believe is necessary is a locally based organisation which can bring together local organisations with direct interests in using the land, the Nature Trusts, landowners, the statutory water related agencies, and the City, with the purpose of protecting the defined river area from further adverse development, rectifying the few problems that exist and certifying the status of the land for all time.

There is virtually no water policy within Coventry and the City does not have even one engineer on its staff qualified in the matter of water. The City used to sub-contract care of the river from Severn Trent but no longer does so. Severn Trent and the Environment Agencies are both huge organisations, within which the River Sherbourne is a minor matter. Our river deserves much better care than this.


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