South of the River – driving through the doughnut of dispair


Compass-SouthComment logo 2There’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.

Jeremy Morton Aug13Councillor 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.

2 Replies to “South of the River – driving through the doughnut of dispair”

  1. This article raises some interesting points – but I’m concerned about the geography and over-simplification. I mean, Bramley in North Leeds??!!! That’s nonsense – and I say that as someone born and bred in that area before moving to Beeston.

    It might be ‘north’ of the river but it’s in West Leeds (yup, there’s not just a north and south in Leeds, there’s a west – heck, there’s even an east as well!). The only people concerned about using the river as some sort of societal ‘Berlin Wall’ are some of the people on this blog (and elsewhere). Truth is there’s pockets of deprivation everywhere.

    That said …

    I’d always understood the north versus south comparison to be just that ie ‘proper’ north Leeds ie your Adels, Alwoodleys, Chapel Allertons etc vs your Beeston, Hunslet and Middletons etc. Perhaps the whole thing is just overly simplified?

    Personally I think people ought to get out more. Through my job I travel across the city and attend different public meetings on a variety of issues. I can guarantee that each meeting – whether it’s north, south, east or west Leeds – people say ‘we get nothing here’ or ‘the council’s forgotten about us’.

    It doesn’t matter whether it’s rural Wharfedale, Adel, Horsforth or Holbeck they ALL say the same thing.

    In North Leeds I’ve been in several meetings where they’re after traffic calming and have said something like ‘Id we lived in Beeston we’d be getting it, they get all the investment there’. Some people think south Leeds gets the money ahead of them!

    Maybe it’s all down to people’s perceptions? Perhaps there’s no great conspiracy? Or maybe the truth is out there ….

  2. Cllr Gabriel’s approach in having meetings in more local venues is great – as is her genuine commitment to getting locally people involved in what’s going on – although different parts of south Leeds are not always very accessible to other parts by public transport.

    However, what is really needed is more decisions being made locally, I gather there are some moves in the Council to strengthen local decision making and change Area Committees into bodies with more powers: – community councils?? Of course, that would mean things would be done differently in (say) Cottingley from (say) Horsforth, but what’s wrong with that?

    More people getting involved in what’s going on is essential and changing public institutions so that they welcome people’s involvement is crucial. Why, for example, is the Council making such a meal of whether people should be allowed to record public Council meetings? It’s no-brainer.

    Finally, while south Leeds does have a number of issues and challenges to face let’s be careful about doing the area down. I genuinely think there’s a lot that’s positive and I for one love living in Beeston.

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