There’s been an interesting debate going on over on The Culture Vulture blog about where the dividing lines are in Leeds.
Is the wealth and power concentrated in North Leeds to the detriment of those of us in the South? Or are other areas – Harehills, Seacroft, Bramley – all north of the river, just as deprived as Holbeck, Belle Isle and the rest of South Leeds?
It is very clear that these areas suffer from the same problems that we do – dense housing, poor environment, unemployment, low wages, poor health. One commenter dubbed it the “doughnut of despair”, which seems a bit grim even by my standards. I think he means to distinguish the area immediately around the affluent glitzy city centre before you get out to the leafy suburbs.
He’s got a point, but I would like to make a case for South Leeds being at the bottom of the pile. It’s based on an observation Councillor Angela Gabriel made when I interviewed her at the start of the year. It’s all to do with travel to work patterns – yes, the daily commute of the movers and shakers in this city.
It’s fairly clear that a majority of decision makers – Councillors, senior Council Officers, business CEOs, Consultant Surgeons, etc live to the north of the city centre. Most of them drive, which means they have to run the gauntlet of traffic jams in the doughnut of despair. Whether they are on Roundhay Road, Kirkstall Road or York Road they will see, however fleetingly, some of the problems those areas have.
This brings us to that minority of the power elite that live to the south of the city. How to they approach the city centre? Almost certainly along a motorway, from where you can very little of the adjacent poverty.
Think about Cottingley. It looks like a green oasis from the M621, who wouldn’t want to live there? How many motorists know about the isolation, the poor bus service and the problems of bin collections?
So what do we do about this? Well I approve of Cllr Gabriel’s strategy. Most Council meetings go on in the city centre, the Civic Hall or one of the other Council buildings. It makes sense – whatever the subject under discussion, that’s where most of the people in these meetings work.
Councillor Gabriel deliberately calls meetings in venues around South Leeds, in the communities that are being discussed. That way the officers have to come and physically see the area. I suppose it’s a form of “localism”. It’s a small step, but it’s one in the right direction – and that direction is south.
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.