By Peter Doveston - Northants Streets Campaign. Peter also writes his own blog .
During the pandemic, two academics were chatting. They were mulling over the effects, both positive and negative, that the emergency was having on people's ability to exercise outdoors. Negatively, people were trapped in their homes, unable to move as they wished. As a result, apathy had set in and they remained inactive. Positively, however, the situation had instilled a new intrigue. Left limited to only a small portion of the day to go outside and explore, people had revived their interest in the local area. Yes, that path does lead down there, yes there is a lake at Delapre and yes, you can spot herons and even otters. Yes, you can walk for several miles from Far Cotton without setting foot on a road. On exploring the area around the University’s Waterside Campus the two academics realised the wealth of nature and nature-based activity that surrounded them.
The Active Quarter was born. I spoke to Dr Peter Jones, an Associate Dean at the University of Northampton and one of the two academics, to get an idea of what the Active Quarter means for the town.
Peter comes armed with slides and enthusiastically fills me in on where and what the Active Quarter is. The area itself is a 900 hectare quadrant that runs from Becket’s Park just south of the Town Centre and reaches out south-east to Brackmills, Hardingstone and Great Houghton. Within its realms lie the University, Delapre Lake, Delapre Abbey, a golf course, Brackmills estate, and the newly installed mountain bike track. Intermingled within these locations is a warren of pathways and cycle tracks, some unfinished and disconnected. This will be one of the aims of the Quarter; to create joined up, well sign-posted pedestrian and cycle routes in the area. The process has already begun and if you’re interested take a look at this recent report.
Other short term aims include building community engagement, developing a Delapre Cycle Hub, creating a distinct Active Quarter logo and brand and holding related events including an annual festival. Whilst into the future, there are hopes that the success of this Quarter may influence other local infrastructure plans. The community engagement element seems central to me and connecting this engagement with funding will be one challenge the Active Quarter must face if it is to have its full impact. However it is to be hoped that, through the Quarter’s myriad stakeholders, the experience is present to make community ideas a reality.
The Quarter intends to promote health and well-being but, more fundamentally, in a way that shows how health and well-being can be embedded in our communities. This includes how we travel around and the proximity of green spaces to where we live. This latter point has been on the lips of central government very recently.
It will be down to the success of concepts like the Active Quarter as to whether this is merely lip-service or genuine action. The Active Quarter’s stakeholders include, among others, the University of Northampton, Delapre Abbey, Northamptonshire Sport, Brackmills BID and (especially pleasing) West Northamptonshire Council. A paper was delivered to WNC Cabinet on January 17 this year where Cabinet resolved ‘continued support of working collaboratively with partners, towards achieving the Active Quarter ambitions outlined within the report’.
Why do I write about this? I write because this is a serious opportunity for sustainable, healthy, nature-based, impactful growth for a town that desperately needs it. It is an example of like-minded collaborators coming together to produce a plan that has people's best interests at heart but also realises that human well-being does not have to be disconnected from economic well-being, that the two are often intertwined. There are opportunities here for all; for small businesses, for students and visitors, for town dwellers and for wider West Northamptonshire folk. I write because everyone has a responsibility here to back this plan if they support its aims. You could do this by patronising its businesses or organising visits among your local groups and clubs. You could write to your local Councillor or MP and tell them how good you think this is, or how good you think it could be. You could engage in consultations as and when they come up. As it happens, the CA-WN Exchange is an excellent resource for keeping up to date on these!
As Peter Jones rightly points out at the end of our talk ‘the hard work starts now’.
PS – Whilst thinking about consultations, please consider filling this one in by clicking on the link below.
The plan is for a heritage park to be developed on a piece of land near to Northampton train station. The land is on the former site of Northampton Castle, the ruins of which are now non-existent. At present, the site is in desperate need of regeneration and I think anything we can do to embed green spaces in our urban areas is a good thing. The consultation ends on the 7th April so don’t delay!
To all readers – On occasion people contact CA-WN to ask if they can get in touch with me. I wanted you to know that I am always open to listen to ideas, views and concerns from people who live in all parts of West Northamptonshire. If you want to talk about something in relation to transport, travel or the built environment then please do reach out to Petedoveston@hotmail.com