I watched that documentary about the London Underground last night. My daughter, who is currently living in “that London” and I get quite excited about the tube. She even bought me a book about the tube map – created by the great graphic designer Harry Beck and copied all over the world.
A bit of the story I hadn’t heard before was that one argument for building the first stretch of underground railway was that it would improve public health by demolishing the slums around Clerkenwell and Farringdon. This was the area where Charles Dickens set Fagin’s den in Oliver Twist. Literally, a den of iniquity.
So the slums went, transport improved, traffic congestion was eased. In those days road transport was horse-drawn, so fewer horses meant less horse poo on the streets. The quality of life improved and the city, already the biggest in the world in 1860 was able to keep growing. What’s not to like?
On average everyone gained, but as the engaging stationmaster at modern day Farringdon explained, it was the poor who paid the biggest price for this improvement as their homes were demolished.
South Leeds is facing these issues again today. We don’t have an underground railway (I wish we did), but we do have a Trolleybus scheme and a new high speed rail line. Then there’s the Park and Ride scheme at Elland Road. I think we had better leave the ongoing saga of housing improvements in Holbeck and Beeston Hill for another day.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I like bright new shiny things and I like to look at the big picture, so I’m afraid I’m in favour of these schemes. But I hope I’m not uncritical.
I think the Trolleybus, a quiet road user with reliable journey times will make people question their attitude to public transport and tempt motorists out of their cars. There will be disruption whilst it’s built and we’ll have posts holding up overhead electric wires added to our street furniture. But I understand we will also have trees planted along the entire route and maybe they could incorporate street lighting into the posts to avoid adding extra clutter to our pavements?
HS2, the high speed rail link, is due to come along the existing rail corridor in Hunslet to a huge new station near Crown Point retail park. No residential properties will need to be demolished in our area and the building of the station gives an opportunity to tidy up the mess of unplanned semi industrial sites and that strange looping road into town from Beeston.
A long time before HS2 chugs into view a consultation is about to start on the Elland Road Park & Ride. Leeds is way behind some cities (York, for example) is setting up Park and Ride schemes to keep unnecessary traffic out of the city centre. The planners of the 1960s were big car fans – Leeds was the “Motorway city” and so we have the Inner Ring Road – a motorway in the city centre.
So how does Leeds catch up? And where to place a Park and Ride? If only there was somewhere that had extensive parking already in place that was underused. Hang on, we have – it’s called Elland Road football ground. I’m afraid it’s a bit of a no-brainer for me.
So I think all these schemes are good for Leeds. But are they good the people who live next to them?
The devil, as they say, is in the detail. In Beeston our Councillors are ready to do a bit of horse trading. If Leeds is to get a Park and Ride, what does Beeston get to compensate for the additional traffic and pollution?
If Hunslet St Mary’s Primary School loses part of its playing field to the Trolleybus, what does it get in return?
I have no sympathy for people who buy a house near a football ground and then complain about match day crowds. But people whose house becomes worthless overnight, because we are finally building a modern railway to link us to Europe, need to be given the means to move to an equivalent property to the one they’re losing.
Surely we’ve moved on since Victorian times? We shouldn’t just trample over the little people who live in the way of progress. We should look after them properly and take everyone into the shiny new future.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.