A master plan, more than a decade in the making, to balance conservation in the Medway Valley Heritage Forest with a plan to increase accessibility was rejected by city council Tuesday night.
The road map for one of London’s natural gems, which proposed a number of paved trails and new bridges, was controversial, especially among some environmentalists who argued the accessible trails and bridges could upset the delicate ecological balance in the area -writes lfpress.com
“It appears that we’re saying people with disabilities are less deserving of public spaces,” said Coun. Maureen Cassidy, who spoke passionately in favour of the proposed plan.
“The message they will hear is that disabled people don’t have the same value as non-disabled, and the drive to be accessible might lead to ecological catastrophe.”
Despite a presentation from city planner John Fleming, who noted the bridges could be constructed in a way that doesn’t compromise the natural features in the Medway Valley, council voted 4-10 to defeat the plan.
Mayor Matt Brown, Coun. Jesse Helmer, Coun. Jared Zaifman joined Cassidy in backing the plan. Coun. Mo Salih was absent, and all others were opposed.
Coun. Squire railed against the plan, and ultimately offered a new motion to refer the matter back to staff with a direction to delete two bridges that cross the creek, one near Fanshawe Park Road and Wonderland Road, and one further south near Windermere Road.
He argued removing the bridges wouldn’t hinder Londoners with mobility challenges from accessing the space.
Several councillors, including staunch environmental advocate Anna Hopkins, argued that environmentally sensitive areas – a designation within the Medway Valley Heritage Forest – should not be seen as parks.
“It could be no further from the truth that by not supporting staff’s recommendation (for this master plan) that we’re not supporting accessibility,” she said. “We are stewards of the land. We have to protect our environment.”
But council also voted to reduce paved trails wherever possible, instead looking for less-invasive options.
An already-complex decision was made endlessly confusing when council, after nearly two hours of debate, voted more than a dozen times on various parts of the decision.At one point council voted to overturn portions of its own vote in order to break down Squire’s motion, and several new amendments, to allow for separate decisions on each.
The complicated process confused many onlookers in the public gallery, and angered even more, including members of the accessibility advisory committee who consulted on the plan.
Council received hundreds of letters on the project, included pleas to protect the environment and to make it possible for Londoners of all stages and abilities to access the area.
Staff was directed to report back on a number of pieces of the master plan, including the need for further public consultation.
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