Monday, 20 April 2009

A discovery walk

An 'aah' pic to start with. Ducklings with their mum on the Nottingham Canal between Gregory Street and Dunkirk. This posting is yet another to come out of one my Beeston 'shopping' walks, when I usually take different routes, depending on the weather and how long I have allowed myself to do the shopping and get back home. Today, it was down Lenton Boulevard, then along the Old Leenside path to Gregory Street, across the road, over the canal bridge and onto the towpath.

Not far along the towpath, the River Leen goes under the canal and emerges on the south side. It's easy to miss the footpath which runs beside the Leen from the canal to Willow Road. I diverted down the footpath and when I got to Willow Road, which is in the middle of an industrial estate, I stood on the bridge, looked back towards the canal and took this pic. Only the pylon hints at the factories and warehouses on either side of the Leen.

Carrying on along the canal, I walked under the Nottingham Ring Road, pass the Spider Park on the other side and came to Chain Lane Bridge, which you cross to get into present-day Dunkirk, but first, I climbed up the footpath to Redfield Way, which provides access to parking at the rear of a bowling alley, multiplex cinema and some 'nightclubs', all housed in what can only be described as 'tin sheds with gob-ons'. I then turn around and took this pic. I don't know how many people use this footpath, but it provides a quieter, quicker route from the bus stops on Beeston Road than walking beside the noisey ring road. The route of the path and the Chain Lane bridge need to be better lit. Otherwise, it's another case of a footpath which looks as if it could be in the middle of the countryside.

After crossing over the bridge, I turned left onto Gibbons Street and then right onto Cavendish Street, which leads to the railway and Montpelier Road on the other side. On the right is this dirt track, which still appears on maps as 'Newton Street', even though it is now gated at each end. Even I included in my first Lenton community map, when I should have known better.

Under the railway and you find yourself in Montpelier Road, which leads you to the Dunkirk Flyover and the Dunkirk and Old Lenton Community Centre, but today's walk is only taking me as far as the footpath beside Tottlebrook, which begins opposite the Dunkirk Hotel pub and Claude Street. On the way I go past this lovely terrace of houses called 'Birley Villas' and date from 1901. I must have walked past them a good few times over the years, but it is only this time I notice that they still have all their original sash windows and, under the hardboard cladding which covers most doors, the originals may still be in situ. I make a note to point tell the City Council's planning staff responsible for conservation areas about them. Any council with a half-decent approach to conservation would have noticed them long ago and put an Article 4 Direction on them, requiring that all the original features are retained and protected. They really do look lovely and were the highpoint of my walk.

I only know that the name of the terrace is 'Birley Villas' because of this rather nice, even though simple, stone set in the front elevation of the middle house. Just beyond, there was another nice terrace, called 'Lilac Villas' which as the picture below shows, dates back to 1884. Unfortunately, most of these houses now have uPVC windows. Then there was another terrace called 'Millicent Villas 1884',making the houses 125 years old. Where and when little pockets of historic housing exists they should be celebrated and protected in the same way as stately homes. At the time these houses were built, they would have been for middle-class occupants. The next time you go in the direction of Dunkirk, try and find five minutes, so that you can have a look for yourself. We are all guilty of failing to notice such gems until it is too late to save them.

From Montpelier Road, I took the footpath beside Tottlebrook to Highfield Science Park (which now has signs calling it 'Nottingham Science park'), where some new units have been built in the past year. From University Boulevard and the south entrance to Highfields Park, you can see this odd looking building. The large sign in front explains that it houses a 'biomass', energy efficient, boiler that burns wood pellets and provides heating for all the new office buildings.

Beyond the boiler house to the south, there is a long stretch of wooden decking, surrounded by what look liked reed beds. One of the seats has a panel explaining that this is a eco-friendly 'sustainable urban drainage system'.

I actually first visited the site a few months ago, but was drawn back because of something said by David West during his presentation about the planned MediPark last month, when he said that the decking and reed beds were linked to Dunkirk Pond. It made me wonder if there was a new entrance to the Dunkirk Pond Nature Reserve, which I had missed on last visit a couple of months ago.

Well, there isn't actually a link. This what you see from the end of the decking, which begins on University Boulevard. Between you and the bank in the picture is a ditch and, yes, as you can see, a footpath is already being made, as people step off the decking and jump across what water there is in the ditch to get into the nature reserve. It probably won't take much rain to fill the ditch, when it will become too wide for most people to jump. Even if you did manage it, the bank would be so wet and slippery, the chance are that you would end up getting your feet and legs very wet (and muddy).

Once you visit the site, you realise that walking from the bus-stops on the Boulevard via the decking to Dinkirk Pond is an easier, and much more pleasant route, than walking through the old Science Park to the existing entrance. In the circumstance, wouldn't it have been logical to have built a footbridge across the ditch and laid a proper gravel path down the slope on the other side (the pond is six-eight foot lower). I wonder who was consulted about this part of the scheme? I must ask David West. It's the kind of niggle which crops up time and again when outsiders come into an area with the best of intentions. As I said in my blog about the Medipark (see 1 April 2009 posting),
'This is what happens when you get fixated on a vision and ignore what seem like marginal issues'. Now, if we had our own Lenton Council, local people would be involved and there is a good chance the results would be better for all concerned.

The media is full of opinions by columnists and pundits about the forthcoming Budget statement by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, especially the possibility of an even higher rate of income tax for high-earners. We shall see.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Tunnel walk

Walking back from Nottingham city centre the other day, I began to climb the Derby Road hill from Upper Parliament Street towards Canning Circus, from where it was a straight walk down the hill to Lenton Recreation Ground and home, but when I got to Budgen's mini-market half-way up the hill, I decided to take a left turn into what, to anyone who doesn't know, seems like an entrance to an underground car park.

And that it was it is, but it is also something else. Not that there are any signs to tell you what it is.

Once inside the car park entrance and a few yards down you come to a flight of concrete steps and, yes, it is quite dark, as there is no lighting.

Walk down the steps and you find yourself at the beginning of a long tunnel, which has a light well in the middle of its length. Again, thanks to digital camera technology, it looks lighter than it actually is. The tunnel was built in 1855 to allow horsedrawn carriages access to The Park from Derby Road in Nottingham. The Park was formerly a private hunting park fo owners of Nottingham Castle. In the 19th century, the area began to be developed as a housing estate for wealthy tenants and owners.

Midway down, as you head towards The Park Estate, there are steps in the light well, which take you up to Park Terrace. For many years, there were closed off, but on this walk they appeared to open again.

At the end of the tunnel you come onto this path, which leads you down to the appropriately named 'Tunnel Road'. As you can see, it is all very pleasant and I have never seen anyone else using the tunnel on any of the occasions I have used it over the years.

Once out of tunnel, turn round and look back to get a good idea of its length. You can just see a pinprick of light at the far end and that is how it really seems.
This picture of the Park Tunnel entrance was taken at the end of Tunnel Road and, again, captures just how pleasant and quiet it is.
As you walk away from the tunnel and along Tunnel Road, on the south side you will have tennis courts and bowling greens, and on the northern side, as this picture shows, there is another bowling green. It also shows large Victorian villas in the distance. These are on Newcastle Drive and overlook The Park Estate.

At the first road you come to, Tattershall Drive, you turn right and past the tennis courts and bowling greens on your left. The road curves round to the right and becomes Holles Crescent, which you follow round until it meets Lenton Road. Until this point you will have been walking gently downwards, then on the level.

Once you cross the south side of Lenton Road, you begin a gentle climb towards this gate, which marks the point where The Park Estate ends and New Lenton begins. Beyond this point, the name of the road changes to Park Road. The Park Estate believes that, because the estate is privately managed, only residents have a right-of-way through The Park and the rest of us can be excluded at any time — hence the lockable gate. In fact, since the gate was put in place some ten years ago, there has been a long running dispute about the issue and at the beginning of 2009, Nottingham City Council issued a public order saying there is a public-right-of-way, which is being challenged by The Park Estate.

Through the gate and you begin to walk along Park Road downhill towards Castle Boulevard and, as I did so, I saw this entrance to a small building being used for storage. Part of the hardboard cladding has been torn away, revealing part of the signage on the door. I have yet to look for the builders in question, but I am really pleased with the picture I took and it has gone instantly into my personal 'top ten'. It is an image which speaks to me.

A hundred yards on and we come to end (or beginning) of this unexpected walk between the city centre and Lenton. This is the roundabout where Castle Boulevard meets Abbey Bridge and on the south corner is the Grove Hotel (a public house) and on the north side, where Park Road joins the roundabout. The building, which is now a Tesco 'Express', was once a public house as well.

My walk was really a leisurely stroll and took me thirty minutes. It wasn't the quickest way from the city centre, but I did get to walk through The Park Tunnel — something many people who lived in Lenton a lot longer than me have never done, whilst others have no idea that it exists. It is something everyone should do at least once.

The police officer suspended following the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 in London protests has been questioned on suspicion of manslaughter after a second postmortem examination showed the newspaper vendor did not die of a heart attack. Findings released today show that Tomlinson, who was thrown to the ground by a Met officer during the protests, died from an abdominal haemorrhage.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Does vision come at a price?

On Monday evening I went to a meeting about the proposed 'MediPark' in Old Lenton, which was attended by just over thirty local residents. The Nottingham Evening Post was there and published a news story about the meeting. It was a fair account, but I suspect that some of the young reporter's story was chopped, so some of the detail was lost.

The proposed Nottingham MediPark and its location aims to build on the city's strength as a 'science city' and the site's proximity to the QMC hospital and new state-of-the-art Medical Treatment Centre (which is privately run for the NHS), as well as Nottingham University and Alliance Boots. All are based in Lenton.

So, where does the River Leen fit in? Well, the site's western boundary is the Leen and is what separates it from the QMC and Treatment Centre, which you can see on the right-hand side of the picture. The view is from Leengate towards Abbey Street and is the section of the river the developers of the 'MediPark' have promised to landscape and 'naturalise, as part of their plan to 'create a high-quality public realm around the edge of the MediPark'
The MediPark presentation was made by a David West and it was impressive, appearing to be full of details about the MediPark 'vision', whilst anxious to point out that when the buildings came to be designed and built they might look quite different. He spent time talking about how they wanted to naturalise the site by creating a 'lagoon' in the centre of the development to take surface water and then recycling it. They also plan to 'Grow an urban forest (of) 650 birch trees grown in a nursery they will create on-site when work begins on the first phase of the Medipark in 2011, subject to funding etc.

David West was right to point out that there is nowhere for anyone to sit beside the River Leen and that it would be better used it is was properly landscaped, but it is already used by lots of locals and by QMC staff as an amenity. Yesterday, the day after the meeting, I walked to Dunkirk Post Office and back and met Sheba and Ruth on the way. Ruth and her husband, David, are both well respected and well liked community activists and Ruth uses this stretch of the Leen regularly. Whilst I welcome the vision, it does nothing to ameliorate my sadness the about the fact that visions to create a River Leen walkway and green corridor along its length, from north of Bulwell, through Basford and Radford, to Lenton and the Trent, have come to nothing, after decades of talk.

Perhaps we can use this new interest in the Leen as an amenity to kickstart a campaign to make the long envisioned Leen walkway a reality. For the past year I have been talking about organising a walk through Nottingham hugging the banks of the Leen as closely as possible and, after listening to David West, I am determined to make it happen sometime in the next few months.

The MediPark display was three panels, so what you see in this picture is all there was to see. The information brochure was also slight in appearance and in content. It was Mr West, during his presentation, who put some meat on the bones and gave the ideas behind the MediPark some substance.

I did see visitors sitting down and completing the Medipark questionnaire, but it was also slight and provided little space for questions which needed answers. Generally the response seemed favourable. I did make the point in my answers that I wish those promoting MediPark had involved local representive groups, like the Forum and NAG, in their discussions from the beginning.

During his presentation, David West said: 'We spoke to potential tenants about our plans and the buildings and (their views) have totally driven the process'. If they could talk to businesses and others why couldn't they talk to the Forum or NAG? The truth is, like so much else that happens in Lenton, the process is driven by Lenton's location and the views of outside players, like the NHS, University, big business and the City Council, take priority over local residents and how any new development might impact upon the quality of their lives.

Dave Trimble (centre), our local Labour Party city councillor, turned out and found himself in the hot seat trying to answer questions about parking, traffic management and CPOs (Compulsory Purchase Orders). He really does his best and I have long been of the view that trying to represent your ward in the face of corporate city priorities puts councillors between a rock and a hard place, and that only elected urban parrish councils can overcome this problem. With Dave are Dorothy and Christine, two long-time Lenton residents, who take an active interest in local community matters.

Dave found himself having to address issues that the MediPark development team have paid scant attention to. They tried to say that these were matters which could be raised as part of the outline planning process, but local residents were less than happy with what they heard. Had they got the local community involved from the word go, these would have been issues they would have been alerted to and could have given the same attention to as 'the vision'. Perhaps this is what happens when you get fixated on a vision and ignore what seem like marginal issues. Solving these issues will come at the price. We have to make sure that it is not local residents who have to pay it in return for some 'high-quality public realm around the edges' of the MediPark.

A man who killed an innocent shopper after a row over queue jumping in a supermarket was jailed today for four years. Tony Virasami, 38, was sentenced at Southwark crown court for killing bystander Kevin Tripp after an argument between his ex-partner Antoinette Richardson and another man in a supermarket queue. Richardson, who called Virasami to the store and encouraged his violence, was jailed for 18 months.