South of the River – Spiral Scratch

Compass-SouthComment logo 2Two men have been walking in ever decreasing circles around Holbeck for the last week collecting objects of interest as they progress.

Luckily for you I’m not an art critic, otherwise I might have spun that sentence out to fill the whole column, lost you as a reader and ended up in Private Eye’s Pseud’s Corner.

On Sunday I visited Gary and Gregg en route and wrote an article about what they were doing. Last night I was there as they finished their walk and dismantled their makeshift sculpture back into its constituent pieces. They answered questions from the assembled audience as they patiently cut cable ties and unscrewed screws.

I enjoyed this piece of art, but as usual I found myself thinking what does it mean? What is it actually about? What does it tell me about the world? Perhaps that’s the real value of art – that it makes you think. Perhaps the questions are more important than the answers.

On this occasion one of Gary’s answers resonated with a very different story I also covered this week. The previous evening I had been at The Tetley art gallery, not looking at art, but rather a big, big development scheme. It wasn’t abstract, it was literally bricks and mortar.

Gary talked about why they chose conduct their spiral walk in Holbeck. Because it’s an interesting area with contrasts between shiny new business-y Bridgewater Place, areas of derelict land and back-to-back terraces. He also said how difficult it was to keep to the spiral route drawn on the map, the large physical obstacles in their way were non-negotiable.

The people designing the shiny new business-y and residential blocks on the old brewery site are keen to create routes through the site and encourage people (us) to use them. This is all very positive and needs to be supported.

The other big South Bank news this week was confirmation that the HS2 station will be built on our patch. Whatever you think about the project, there can be little doubt now that HS2 will happen. Theresa May’s government had the chance to cancel it when they took over from Cameron and Osborne, but they didn’t.

The new station will be massive and from early discussions the plans seem to be to make it, well, a destination. And not just for rail passengers. The idea is to replicate London St Pancras and other European stations. As this is Leeds, no doubt it will mean more shops, but it could include other things such as theatres, galleries and public spaces.

The other buzzword around the station is to make it porous. By that they mean allowing people to move through it, whether they are catching a train or not. I have full confidence that the building will be weather-tight. I think the Council now understands what a hash it made in the 1970s by cutting off South Leeds from the city centre with roads and motorways.

The third big piece of the South Bank jigsaw is Burberrys. Now I don’t want to jinx anything, but as someone pointed out on Twitter last week it has gone very quiet on the Burberry front.

Assuming it does go ahead, they are buying up a huge piece of land and putting it to industrial use. This traditionally involves security and doesn’t sit well with you and I being able to walk through the site. I haven’t seen any detailed plans but should we be lobbying to keep the existing road network open as a minimum?

So finally this week, what about this name: South Bank?

I know a lot of our readers don’t like it. For them it represents the posh-oes from North Leeds stealing parts of Holbeck and Hunslet. Always one to back the cock-up rather than conspiracy view, I take a more pragmatic approach. The area is being called South Bank and if we want to be part of the debate about how it develops we need to engage with the name.

Gary and Gregg have been walking around Holbeck this week. They have gone in and out of the South Bank area, but they’ve been in Holbeck the whole time.

The name South Bank isn’t aimed at us anyway. It is aimed at decision makers in London, Europe and probably China. The South Bank are is probably the largest regeneration scheme in Europe. Being so close to a major city centre definitely makes it the most important. The deal for the Tetley site was done between Carlsberg in Copenhagen and Vastint (the property arm of Ikea) now based in Switzerland.

Whoever is making the decisions, the lasting impact of the redevelopment will be felt here in South Leeds. That’s why we need to engage with plans and developments as they emerge and make sure it benefits South Leeds, in terms of jobs, connectivity and the rest. The South Bank consultation is open until 2 December, I encourage you to go and have your say.

I’ll be on back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.