Danger for The Orangery

I read with alarm last week that Beam, the arts charity which has been running The Orangery for years, have decided to stop running events out of the site at Easter and will pull out entirely when their lease runs out next year. I’m very far from blaming Beam for this – they’ve done a brilliant job and can no longer maintain the costs of the building on their own. They’re currently in talks with the council to resolve the issue and I truly hope some sort of resolution can be found.

The Orangery is not only a beautiful building but Beam have made it into an arts hub and, really, more of a community hub. Though I didn’t attend their outdoor screenings of films last summer, it was a pleasure to walk past and see so many people in the grounds enjoying themselves. I’ve attended a few events there now and I found it a brilliant atmosphere to read work in during the Lit Fest last September.

Of course, Wakefield Council is under financial pressure. Every council across the country is struggling in one way or another. However, in the Wakefield Express this week representatives were proudly trumpeting the demolition of Rutland Mill to make way for a public square. This is on top of various regeneration projects at the other end of town, including the utterly ridiculous idea to turn the old police station on Wood Street into a luxury hotel. That’s a rant for another day, though I will say that people are far more likely to visit the luxury hotel that Bretton Hall will be transformed into shortly rather than one in the centre of Wakefield where they will no doubt get lost in the one-way system before managing to find it. The regeneration of the Civic Gateway is, in some respects, vital. The old court building, now bought back from the developers who allowed it to fall into disrepair, is incredibly important to fix what has become a blight on Wood Street in recent years. Even so, I don’t think all this regeneration should take precedence over The Orangery and the very good work Beam does there.

So, to return to this regeneration of Rutland Mill – fine for a future project, but how about we hasten those plans (are there still plans or have they fallen by the wayside?) to regenerate the old Wakefield Westgate station car park into a public space which would lead up to The Orangery and provide a gorgeous accompaniment to the Westgate Chapel. Both The Orangery and the chapel have been isolated to an extent by the construction of Mulberry Way and the new train station. Creating this green space rapidly could have a knock-on effect at The Orangery – it’s a lovely place for a wedding or an event in itself but incorporate an expansive public space into the equation and it could be outstanding. One way to help The Orangery is to redevelop the grubby area outside of it. That counts as regeneration – so what’s the problem?

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WH Smith Leaving Wakefield

I’ve been regrettably absent from this blog but the amount of work I’m trying to do at the moment doesn’t leave much time for me to form and articulate opinions. However, as this is a blog with a local slant, I thought it was important to write about the news reported in the Wakefield Express on Friday – WH Smith are leaving The Ridings shopping centre and, by extension, Wakefield because they cannot find another unit to accommodate them in the city.

A recap on how this came about: The Ridings decided (or were told, who knows?) that Primark wanted to expand. So they, in their wisdom decided to evict WH Smith and Waterstones from the two units adjacent to the current Primark store saying, at the time, that the shops would be accommodated elsewhere within the centre. Anybody looking at the size of the units available back then could tell there was no chance of finding reasonably-sized space for them.  A book shop or a branch of WH Smith is not something you can squeeze into a tiny hole with any great success.

Waterstones jumped ship, understandably so. They closed down their branch in The Ridings and relocated to the old HMV shop just outside the centre. As it happens, it’s a much nicer space for a book shop than their old branch but that isn’t the point: they were forced out and the fact that they landed on their feet is mere accident not design, especially when The Ridings was unable (or unwilling?) to accommodate them.

WH Smith were not so lucky. Waterstones jumped into one of the only suitable units in the city and for months I’ve been speculating where WH Smith would go. The answer is nowhere: The Ridings can’t find anything suitable for them in there and, it seems, the wider centre doesn’t hold any options either. I’ll admit, I’ve been thinking hard about a decent-sized location that isn’t too far out of the way and I’ve come up with nothing. I don’t think the available units in Trinity Walk are large enough for a good-sized branch, though I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

The moral of the story seems to be this: The Ridings will move heaven and earth to accommodate a cheap clothes shop that doesn’t need an expansion (it really doesn’t, it’s adequate for the size of Wakefield) and treat two long-standing clients appallingly to get their way. Clothes over culture – that’s the message. Well done, you’ve lost us one of the shops that, I believe, is integral to any British high street these days. Quite a feat there.

Recent Political Thoughts

In a bid to be a calmer human being, I’ve been taking a break from following politics religiously. I even skipped PMQs yesterday (though I gather all I missed was a bit of ‘waah-waah-you’re-wrong’). However, I accidentally caught a little of Newsnight last night and my interest was reignited through a three person panel that I looked at and categorically disagreed with all of them. The details of the debate don’t matter. The thing that does matter, I’m back and I’m angry so I’d like to make a few relatively random points which I may follow up on at a later date.

  • Getting us out of the EU (you knew this one was coming) would save us millions every day, money that could be put back into our own infrastructure and businesses to help us trade properly with non-EU countries.
  • I’m relieved we’re not changing our voting date just to appease the EU.
  • The Europhiles (Ken Clarke, I’m looking at you) become more desperate every week and I can’t wait to see how many of you dare show your face at the reading of James Wharton’s bill. The voters will remember, you know, and if they think you don’t trust them then even you old dinosaurs may be in trouble. While I’m at it, Ed Miliband is playing a dangerous game. He plans to allow the EU bill through in the Commons simply by abstaining but will then contrive to block it in the Lords. It’s curious, is it not, that voters currently can’t hold the Lords to account but Ed Miliband can apparently make them do as he pleases and subvert democracy while he’s at it? Be very careful, Ed. This is something else the voters will remember – that you didn’t even have the conviction of your pro-European policies to order your MPs to make an appearance in the Commons and vote your way. Did you sense it might put too many of those marginal seats in peril? No one likes a wimp, Mr Miliband.
  • The economy seems be to be going in the right direction but you can’t base that assumption on one quarter’s figures. Stop the crowing and the celebrations and wait and see what the next set of results bring.
  • I think Maria Miller’s as useful as an axe murderer. Either give the arts brief back to Business or just find a minister that seems to care about the arts. And please don’t forget that the ripple effect caused by the arts is unquantifiable. Close a museum and the surrounding area just starts dying. Remember that when you’re saying that culture must make a ‘business case’ to survive.
  • The Bedroom Tax is still an unworkable and generally bad idea, penalising those who can’t alter their circumstances and particularly affecting disabled people most severely.
  • I agree with Sheila Gilmore that East Coast should remain a publicly-owed rail company – it’s working as it is and the rule of ‘ever-more privatisation’ seems pathetic when there is no business case for it. Why should we get rid of something that’s working well in the public sector so that it can work badly – and cost the taxpayer more – in the private sector?
  • Nick Clegg is still a weak-willed political non-entity who will, alas, probably retain his seat at the next election.

I think that covers it for now. Anything you want me to elaborate on?

Revitalising Wakefield

I’m usually an outspoken critic when it comes to developments in Wakefield. My view until recently is that the council and developers were making the city worse by creating monstrosities and disposing of good buildings. Take for instance, the hideous new hospital that blights the skyline and Trinity Walk, the shopping ‘centre’ that doesn’t have a proper roof. Whilst I appreciate the new shops that have moved into Wakefield as a result (Next, Debenhams, H&M) I wish they’d been housed in a building – but maybe that’s just me.

However, my attitude to developments changed with the Wakefield One building, the new home of the library, art gallery and some council offices. It’s a modern building that actually complements the city skyline and fits in with the surrounding area. Also cheering me up are the station redevelopments. Wakefield has two train stations and major work has started on both of them in recent weeks. I’m sure that the finished products won’t be entirely to my taste but the regeneration is certainly necessary and will hopefully give travellers a better impression than they currently get. Wakefield Kirkgate has been a danger spot for years and since it’s the closest station to The Hepworth it’s a very bad advert for Wakefield.

Speaking of The Hepworth, this week they announced they’re expanding into an adjacent mill this summer. I look forward to seeing the results of that. Wakefield is very close to becoming a culture hotspot. Down the other end of town there’s a bid to turn disused Unity Hall into a music venue and general cultural and entrepreneurial hub. Across the road, Theatre Royal Wakefield has received funding to help refurbishment and since a nightclub has become vacant further up the street there are rumblings that we may finally reclaim the so-called ‘Westgate Run’ of pubs and bars and turn it into something really special.

It’s an exciting time to be in this part of Yorkshire and I commend everyone involved in this turnaround for the city. I do, of course, have some further suggestions for improvement – if anyone’s listening.

  • Pay off the final businesses on Kirkgate to get them out of the old cinema building and rip it down once and for all. If you can’t think of anything to build there (no more flats necessary, thank you very much) then make it a public space, somewhere for people to relax after rigorous exercise at the new leisure centre.
  • Get some restaurants into the empty Merchant Gate developments, however you do it. The new station complex may help with this.
  • Encourage refurbishment of shops on the way to Trinity Walk. Currently, it’s like walking from one world to another.
  • Offer huge incentives to businesses to move into the stretch of Westgate decimated since Argos moved to Trinity Walk. The relocation of Sports Direct was a good start but with the loss of HMV and others that area needs some serious attention.

Have I missed anything?