Monday, 17 August 2009

Walking but not seeing

This blog is about the everyday world around us which we often fail to notice. There can be many reasons for this. We are in too much of a rush to take notice of what we regard as familiar and commonplace. We are so wrapped up in self that little else matters. More likely than not we are so preoccupied by the next thing we have (or want) to do, that nothing between activities registers. I have written before about the demise of Bulwell Stone walls in Lenton, especially those on Derby Road (see my Christmas Eve 2008 walk).

On this occasion my interest was sparked by Marion Spencer, who lives on Harlaxton Drive, which is the last road in Lenton as you go towards the city centre and forms the border with The Park, an up-market residential area (but not as posh as it was once) which today we would call a 'gated community' because all its roads are private and, at times, public access is restricted. Until the mid-1800s it was Nottingham Castle's deer park. I digress. Back to Marion, who spoke to me about the Bulwell Stone walls on Harlaxton, which she thought were under threat from occupiers demolishing them so that they could park their cars off road. She asked me if I would take some pictures and do a survey with her, with a view to seeing if we could persuade Nottingham City Council to protect the remaining walls in some way, perhaps by creating a new conservation area.

This blog is a brief summary of what we found.

The south corner of Derby Road and Harlaxton Drive in Lenton has this rather fine wall with two pillars which I have never noticed before, despite walking past them hundreds of times over the past thirty years. Perhaps the fact that it is surrounded by a litter bin and telephone junction box has stopped me noticing it before. Now that I've seen it, I think its a street feature worth protecting.

Harlaxton Drive looking south from the Derby Road end on a mid-afternoon in August. There are no cars because there are few students about. Most have gone home for the summer vacation. Devoid of cars it is much easier to appreciate just how impressive Harlaxton Drive really is. On either side of the road, you can see original Bulwell Stone walling. The good news is that, as this and other pictures show, most of the Bulwell Stone walls are still in place. Many have lost their gates, but very few have been demolished to make way for off road parking. Gardens have been concreted over in a good few places, but this, I suspect is as much about reducing maintenance work for private landlords and lazy occupiers.

Since most of Harlaxton runs downhill towards Park Road, which in turn runs downhill to Castle Boulevard, a good half-mile away, all this concrete is contributing to low level flooding which now happens on the western side of the roundabout opposite the Grove Hotel. More concrete will only make the situation worse. There are now planning laws which say that to lay more than five square metres of hard-standing requires planning persmission. I have a nasty suspicion that this legislation is not being enforced because such things are not brought to the attention of local council planning departments.

The good news is that the walls remain and do not in any way contribute to the kind of drainage problems I have referred to. Just look at this picture of the north side of Harlaxton Drive towards the Derby Road end and this long and impressive Bulwell Stone wall. On the other side are the gardens of large houses in The Park Estate.

At the bottom of one of The Park Estate gardens is this delightful looking wooden structure. It's too good to be called 'a shed'. I can image people once relaxing here, shaded from the summer heat or a gentle shower, reading. This may be a rather posh boarded up window, but it could also be an old notice board once used to 'announce' long forgotten activities, perhaps in a local church or social club.

The gates may have gone, but given the quality of the paving the lack of gates it does not, at first glance, seem like a problem. Unfortunately it is a problem for all the reasons I have already mentioned, but we cannot turn the clock back, so we have to devote our energy to ensuring this kind of thing is stopped — not because we take any pleasure in suggesting that the rights of property owners should be controlled, but because the cumulative impact of individual actions can, quite unintentionally damage the urban landscape and environment that we all inhabit. One person's hard standing is another person's flooded home. There is a cost to us all when this happens. Higher water and drainage charges, higher home insurance costs for the victims. I agree with those who say 'the polluter should pay', but this is easier said than done. Which brings me back to the view that the only practical solution is stop the pollution before it happens.

What is that saying about a whole world in a grain of sand? The top of this Bulwell Stone wall has been softened by the moss and small plants which now grow on it. Let's hope no one decides to remove it, for it feels like velvet to touch.

However, you cannot say the same about all the street furniture and parking signs which litter Harlaxton Drive. A small fortune must have been spent putting up these signs. We didn't count them, but having noticed them, I intend to do a survey of all the streets in New Lenton and count the number of City Council signs. Back in the early-1970s when I was a very young city councillor in Birmingham, a planner I came to know and respect, described all the 'Keep off the grass signs' on council housing estates as 'municipal fascism'. It is a phrase I would use to describe Nottingham City Council's approach to corporate signage, be it on our streets or in our parks.
On my walk with Marian I saw things I had not noticed before. Some filled me with delight and hope, some made me cross and sad. So, given all this, what are we to do? Mariao's answer is that 'we keep on trying'. We do not accept defeat. And I agree with her.

At the moment I am more alert than I have been for a long time to the everyday Lenton that I see. Over the weekend I hope to spend a few minutes sharing a wonderful little gem I discovered on a house wall on Lenton Boulevard. Until then I will leave in my usual way with a story from the national media…

Sir Patrick Cormack, who stood to be Commons Speaker earlier this year, said in a submission to the committee on standards in public life that MPs should receive the increase, from £64,766 to more than £130,000, in return for scrapping their controversial second-homes allowance.

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