Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Early Council Housing in Nottingham

I've been doing some research into Council Housing in Nottingham and have written this guest blog for the excellent Municipal Dreams site. Enjoy.

Nottingham's Early Council Housing

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Order Ref: FPS/Q3060/7/1

An obscure title I know but all will become clear.  But be prepared, this is a geeky post of maps, rights-of-way and legal processes!

I'm a little late to this but hoping that this will bring the story to a wider group of people.  

What is a Right of Way anyway?

You've probably saw them on an Ordnance Survey map if you went for a walk over Christmas or the New Year break.  Little green line, sometimes dashed, sometimes dotted.  But what actually is a Right of Way?  Courtesy of "Public rights of way are open to everyone. They can be roads, paths or tracks, and can run through towns, countryside or private property."  Uh-huh.  "You have the right to walk along them. Some rights of way are also open to horse riders, cyclists or motorists".  Ok, I can live with that.  What are the different sorts?

  • footpaths - let you go by foot only
  • bridleways - let you go by foot, horse or bike
  • restricted byways - let you travel by any form of transport that doesn’t have a motor
  • byways open to all traffic - let you travel by any form of transport, including cars (though they’re mainly used by walkers and horse riders)"
The point is that no-one can close or divert (with a few specific instances around the ploughing of land) a Right of Way without going through the proper legal process and satisfying some pretty stringent tests.  

Why does that matter? 

It's one of the things that makes me proud to be British - a legal defined right to use paths, criss-crossing our country: no tickets, permissions, opening hours, nothing - just free access to the countryside (and quite a lot of urban areas too) that no-one can take away.  George Orwell summed this up brilliantly in his essay, 'Thoughts on the Common Toad';

"How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can’t. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, Spring is still Spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it."
The right to access land and enjoy it peacefully is a hugely political issue of course - the best example of this is the Mass Tresspass of Kinder Scout in the Peak District.  

Kinder Scout (image from:
Cool. I like a walk. Sorted.

Almost.  Some people don't like the fact that other people can access land that they own.  Every scrap of the United Kingdom is owned by someone and plenty of those people don't want anyone else to enjoy it.  In a recent Tory proposal lapped up by the Telegraph and other media outlets, it looks like this basic right could be under threat.  

Oh. But all the ones currently used are ok aren't they? 


(This is where it gets really geeky - stay with me).  

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 made it (among other things) a legal duty for Surveying Authorities (usually your local Council) to keep a map (the "Definitive Map") of all Rights of Way in their local area.  This means that everyone can see where the Rights of Way (RoW) are and there's no debate about them.  

One of the brilliant pieces of legislation from the 1997 Labour Government was the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.  Commonly known as the "Right to Roam" Act but actually much more than that, this Act "provides for public access on foot to certain types of land, amends the law relating to public rights of way, increases measures for the management and protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and strengthens wildlife enforcement legislation, and provides for better management of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Act is compliant with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, requiring consultation where the rights of the individual may be affected by these measures".  


In practical terms for a casual walker, it has two effects: (1) a right to access Mountain (land over 600 metres), Moorland, Heath, Downland alongside Registered common land.  (My sister was involved in the official mapping process following the passing of the Act and still has a set of 'Mountain', 'Moor', 'Heath' and 'Down' mugs from the office where she was working at the time).  And (2) puts in a place a deadline that if a RoW isn't on the Definitive Map by the year 2026 then it's gone forever.  

Ah, that'll shake things up a bit

You'd have thought so, but in reality progress against that 2026 has been horrendously slow and I imagine it'll be pushed further into the future as we get closer to that time.  

But it has meant that where paths were sort in dispute but everyone had been muddling along things were put into focus a bit more.  

And this is where it gets distinctly Nottingham-relevant.  

The City Council has an excellent (if small) Rights of Way team and the contents of the Definitive Map are integrated into 'Nottingham Insight Mapping' - click through the Layers section to 'Transport and Streets' and then scroll down to 'Public Rights of Way'.  

As a small-ish urban authority there aren't that many official RoWs and the number of applications to 'Modify' the Definitive Maps as recorded here has only ever been a dozen or so.  

But there's one controversial one isn't there?


To understand this bit, you need to know about the Park Estate in Nottingham.  It's a pretty special place in many ways - probably the best history I've found is here but the summary is that it's a private estate with some amazing architecture (including quite a few Watson Fothergill specials) and a fab location just a mile or so from the city centre.  Oh, and owls.  Lots of owls that you can hear hooting at night.  

Would you like to live in a house with a turret?
(image Copyright David Lally and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)
There's a footpath that runs along the Southern part of the Estate, as shown on this map that has been used for many years to cut through from Lenton to the City;

Click for link to Google Maps
Except that the Nottingham Park Estate Limited who run the services of the Estate and maintain the communal facilities like the green spaces and the (amazing) gas lamp system decided that it wasn't a Right of Way and that they would put a gate in (this happened in 2003) and then start regularly locking this gate in 2009 - essentially denying access to local residents over a Right of Way that has existed for nearly 1000 years.  

Nottingham City Council decided this wasn't right and so added the route to the Definitive Map (see, there was a point to all of the above background!) to make its status clear and ensure that the gate was removed or left open.  This was challenged by the Estate and there was an official enquiry and everything, eventually culminating in an official Decision by the Planning Inspector which can be found here.  

Bearing in mind the initial status of the Estate as the deer park for the Castle, the route from the West of the City including Lenton (originally an agricultural village separate from the City itself) makes perfect sense, especially with the Castle at the end of it.  I'm pleased as that all of this is clearly laid out in the Decision, complete with lots of geeky detail and references to some excellent maps too.  

To me it's important to stand up for what might seem like little things - once they're gone it's these kind of rights that we'd miss.  

Okay, thanks for that, good to know

You're welcome.  

(more here, here, here and here if you're interested).  

Monday, 6 January 2014

Detroit, Always On My Mind

It is fairly typical to see building like this on most blocks
I think I am a little bit obsessed about Detroit.  I see from my speaking notes to the Nottingham Roosevelt Travelling Scholarship annual dinner last year that I described it as a "tragic, brilliant, beautiful place full of contradictions, challenges and hope".  It is a place that really gets under the skin - see my previous posts on the place here.  I see that the backlash against the 'ruin tourism' is in full force which I've got some sympathy for - it felt quite voyeuristic looking around neighbourhoods that used to be peoples' homes.  I certainly don't like the idea of organised commercial groups charging for tours.  

The green clapboard house to the left was occupied, surrounded by abandoned and demolished homes
I thought I'd share a few articles from the last few months on Detroit and then point people to another broader piece about cities in general.  

This piece on the FT (registration, free) has been sitting in my pile of "things to read properly" for nearly six months but it's definitely worth checking out.  It's a good read and has a striking main picture to boot.  The key moment for me is this quote from a middle-aged firefighter, David McLeod, regarding his move out of the city to the surrounding counties,

"Everyone who can afford to leave has left.  The only people remaining are poor or sick or criminals"
The broad point here is right.  

But the key missing word in Mr McLeod's comment, however, is "Black".  

As this article and map shows, the divide between poor, decaying and Black Detroit and richer, successful, and White Oakland County is incredibly stark.  I talk a bit about this here but the map is a brilliant articulation of the issue.  If you're at all upwardly mobile in Detroit you "got out" years ago and moved to the more prosperous and probably safer suburbs.  Sadly this has the impact of making the city you left behind even more impoverished until it gets into the sorry state it's in today.  And even more tragically, even if you're geographically not living in a particular city you will often make calls on the city's services: roads, schools, museums, parks etc; without necessarily financially contributing to them.  This is relevant to us here in Nottingham (see what I did there?) with our phenomenally tight boundaries - I've covered this previously here.  

Talking of museums, I was incredibly pleased to see that the exhibits in the fantastic Detroit Institute of Arts may have been given a reprive.  The museum is an amazing little oasis of (free) culture and stimulation in the midst of a challenging area of the world and I'd be really sad to see this particular family silver sold off even given the dire straits the city is in.  

Hard to photograph but stunning when up close and a real tribute to Detroit's industrial heritage
I'd never seen any of Claus Oldenburg's work in person before - pretty incredible
All in all, I'd say that Mike Duggan (the new, albeit emasculated) Mayor of Detroit has his work cut out...

... but some of the hope that I think he shows for the city is really well captured in a (longform) article from the middle of last year again in the FT (registration, free).  I'll let you read it yourself but will share a couple of the key points here;
"...Whole Foods, the organic supermarket chain, opened its first-ever store within Detroit’s city limits. The occasion was marked with street parties in its midtown neighbourhood. Others, including Detroit’s impoverished black majority, may feel less excitement about the arrival of an outlet some call “Whole Pay Check” because it is so expensive"
 "Students of the “new urbanism”, such as Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, which argues that cities are the best Petri dishes for new ideas and innovation, say their revival is assisted by a generational shift in US culture as well as deeper economic trends. Florida, who now lives in Toronto, just 250 miles north of Detroit (but still a million miles in terms of its vibrancy), grew up in suburban New Jersey in a second-generation Italian-American family. Like so many other immigrants, his parents fled the claustrophobia of Newark for the freedom of the suburbs. “To them the city was a ghetto – it was stifling and crowded and dangerous,” says Florida. “But to my generation, the suburbs represent a kind of poverty of living and it is the cities, rather than the suburbs, where you can breathe freely" "
"Technology is also an ally. The big out-of-town retail centres once spelt the death knell of Main Street. But the rapid shift to online retailing is now rendering many of them obsolete. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, at least a tenth of America’s remaining 1,000 enclosed malls will shut in the next seven years, mostly because of the internet. That is why people like Gilbert put so much emphasis on “place making” – creating a spectacle out of the street life that only cities can offer. It means good food, open-air events and renovated parks. Out go the discarded needles. In come the open-air chess boards. “American cities are becoming more and more European in their sensibility,” says Florida. “It is all about lifestyle.” As the new urbanists put it (somewhat annoyingly), the US urban revival is driven by the “3Ts” – technology, tolerance and talent."
Do read the whole article - it's a great piece of writing and offers a vision for the future that I find very exciting.  

Saturday, 4 January 2014


Spurred on by my colleague's excellent commitment to blog every day of 2014, I've decided to commit to my own blogging plan - twice a month at the moment but hoping to improve...

I've got half-formed ideas for posts on housing, the 2014 Euro elections, Detroit (always a favourite) and more.  

Here's to 2014.  

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

More On That Secret Nuclear Bunker

Further to this post, I realised the other day that I'd missed out a critical part of the story that first got me interested in this sort of Cold War history.  

As you can see from this brief story, a local historian has managed to get hold of a set of maps put together by the Russians during the cold war, showing an extraordinary level of detail of the country and Nottingham in particular.  

The exhibition mentioned in the article was excellent, albeit criminally under-publicised and there was a little card suggesting that the maps could be bought from Mr Grimes along with his email address.  Being a nerd and a maps nerd at that, I of course sent of a criminally small amount of money and get back a CD of the maps in return.  

There is a reference to a couple of articles by John Davies called, "Uncle Joe Knew Where You Lived" and Part II here which give a wealth of fascinating detail of how the maps were compiled.  

The four Nottingham maps on the CD are at 1:10,000 resolution - ie incredibly detailed: the usual map that you might use for a walk in the countryside is 1:25,000.  The bits that I found most strange when browsing through the maps is the phonetic rendering of English places names into their Cyrillic equivalents.  

I'm hoping that I'm not in massive breach of the intellectual property that exists in the maps if I post some little extracts.  If I am then please get in touch and I'll take the images down immediately.  

This is The Park Estate and the eastern side of city centre
To bring us back to the original secret nuclear bunker post, this is the Russians' view of our regional command centre;

Note the special pink colour for military installation
A couple of things worth noting - the orange colour of some roads wasn't by chance - this was to designate which roads were wide enough to accommodate the width of the tanks that the Russians were planning to invade the UK with.  Is it just me for whom this creates a terrifying image of military hardware rolling down the ring road?  

Secondly, bearing in mind these maps, according to the "Uncle Joe..." series as linked above, were based on independent research rather than cribbing from existing maps, compare the maps of the Broxtowe and Aspley estates above and on the modern Google Maps.  

If anyone is interested in getting hold of a copy of the maps then please do let me know either through a comment below or via direct message on my twitter and I'll put you in touch with Mr Grimes.  

Monday, 11 November 2013

Review: Richard III, Nottingham Playhouse

(Setting aside the current political controversy over the proposed removal of the subsidy to The Playhouse by the County Council, of which I am going to diplomatically stay reasonably neutral - see a couple of opposing views: here and here).  

This is a slightly delayed blog (life has intervened) but I hoping that people who read it are able to get along before the run ends and support local live theatre (if that's important to you) in the most direct way possible - by buying a ticket.  

On that note, the house when I was there was perhaps two thirds full - yes it was one of the (incredibly good value) preview nights and a wet-ish Monday night but even so, Nottingham, where's your civic pride in a chance to get one over on Leicester...?

Although I was slightly more prepared than when I was scribbling notes on the back of my ticket for the acclaimed 1984, I still only have a few bits sketched out - so will restrain myself to a trio of observations.  

Modern Dress and Elizabethan Language

Despite discovering that H16 is the best possible seat for anyone my height (6'4") - the seat infront is offset so you're free to stretch out as much as you like and therefore being relaxed and in full anticipation of a good night's entertainment my heart sanked into my (well extended) boots the moment the curtain went up.  The cast were assembled in modern dress.  Modern dress I tell you.  I hate nothing more from a staging of Shakespeare.  Stop trying to convince people that it's all "relevant" and "contemporary" and in touch with our modern lives through dressing people in jeans and modern suits.  It's a 400 year old piece of drama about Elizabethan concerns and Elizabethan opportunities.  Stop trying to pretend it's anything else.  Stop it.  

As if to prove my point, the costume incongruity was forgotten within about two minutes with a brilliant rendering of the opening soliloquy by Ian Bartholomew;
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,To set my brother Clarence and the kingIn deadly hate the one against the other:And if King Edward be as true and justAs I am subtle, false and treacherous,This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,About a prophecy, which says that 'G'Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: hereClarence comes.
(Act I, Scene i.  Text from here

The key couplet showing Gloucester's malevolence was perfectly delivered with the pause between "As I am" and "subtle" lulling the audience into a brilliant moment of realisation.  When you've got language and delivery as world-class as that, don't go and spoil it with a cocktail dress, eh.  

My second favourite moment in the early part of the play came about fifteen minutes later when Gloucester shows his true colours with great piece of Shakespearean irony;
I do not know that Englishman aliveWith whom my soul is any jot at oddsMore than the infant that is born to-nightI thank my God for my humility.
(Act II, Scene i.  Text from here) 

The entire auditorium was silent during al the key moments - I suspect a combination of good textual knowledge and the excellent pacing and pointing up of the peaks of the action.  

Live Action

In keeping with a very traditional interpretation of the live theatre of the time, the action in various parts of the production moved to be in the audience and also used the full extent of the Playhouse's auditorium.  

Therefore at one point during the sham pleading for Gloucester to make a claim for the throne his cronies were standing right next to me in the aisle of the auditorium and calling up to Richard who was in the Circle.  This truly broke down the fourth-wall and made for a very engaging performance.  


Finally, I just want to commend the artistic direction when the action was back on the main stage.  

The trompe l'oeil effect of the stage with the various settings receding off into the distance was very smart - giving a good sense of place and space whilst maximising the playing area.  When combined with the lighting from in front giving a projection of Richard's hunchback and making him seem very fearsome this was a very powerful look.  

I also really enjoyed Act V, Scene v - the night before the battle where the rival leaders are shown in the stage version of a "split screen" - the same tent but divided into two with a tormented Richard stage right and his rival peacefully slumbering stage right.  A very clever piece of stagework, well executed with some technical challenges in the erection and dismantling of the tent well navigated.  


The production misses some of the polish that I might expect from a professional production with a couple of prompts needed (albeit very well coped with) and a few stumbles (literally in one case - Charles Daish injured himself on the night I was there and has been performing on crutches ever since!) in the flow of the action.  But overall was a strong performance of a topical play well worth a visit.  It closes on 16th November.  

Friday, 8 November 2013

One Year Ago - Washington, DC

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was reflecting on the end of my trip and enjoying the sights of DC.