Sunday, 29 April 2012

Nottingham's disappearing Tram

If Nottingham City Transport (NCT) is to be believed, The Tram no longer exists — it's gone — disappeared. Look at the extracts from the latest NCT 'Journey Planner' dated March 2102 (below left) and the previous edition dated September 2011 (below right):

Some Nottingham City Council funded 'Local Link' bus routes have disappeared too, although they still exist — which is how I came to notice that The Tram had gone. I was looking for the times of the L5 bus route that runs hourly Monday–Friday mornings and afternoons between Middleton Boulevard (although the destination blind always says 'Wollaton') and the Victoria Centre in the city centre via the QMC, Lenton, Castle Marina and Broadmarsh. I couldn't find the timetable or any information the NCT website. Knowing it to be a City Council subsidised service I went to their website, but could not find it.

Also gone from the new map are the Tram 'Interchange Points'.

So I emailed NCT on 8 April 2012. I still haven't had a reply, but then they don't usually reply anyway. I then did what I did the last time I had a question, I eventually contacted city councillor Brian Parbutt, the Chair of Nottingham City Transport, on 20 April 2012, but I'm still waiting for a reply from him too.

I also contacted Nottingham's Big Wheel on the 8th as well, who were very prompt and provided me with a well hidden link to the L5 timetable on the City Council's own website, which proudly boasts that 'Nottingham is home to a multi award winning public transport authority, plus 2 multi award winning local bus companies, bringing you an excellent public transport network with the highest levels of accessibility and use per person outside London' — a claim I do not question, but and there is a but, why then has The Tram disappeared from the latest NCT bus map?

The Big Wheel gave me their own explanation: 'With regards to the bus maps; the Big Wheel produces walking and cycling maps as part of it's package of support for residents and businesses in the Nottingham Area.  We do promote bus services, tickets and integrated
links, however, specific bus timetables are produced directly by the bus
companies as they operate the routes and have all the up to date
information about stops, times and timetable changes. We collaborate with
the transport operators, but as businesses they create their own bus maps'.

Given that Nottingham City Council are a major shareholder in Nottingham City Transport and funding The Tram as well, you would think that they would want NCT maps still to show The Tram route and stops?

Nottingham's public transport services are fantastic and I share the City Council's pride — which is why I cannot believe that city councillors would let crude, petty, 'market' considerations be a factor in what and what does not appear on their city bus map. Afterall, they show the railway lines and stations and are they not 'competitors' too?

If I was the city councillor in charge, I would be taking the money NCT spends on their 'Journey Planner' and using it to produce a comprehensive Greater Nottingham public transport map showing all services by all operators.  Transport for London can still teach Nottingham a thing or two when it comes to transport maps, so why not try and match their example.

As for me I am working on a comprehensive public transport map showing all services in the Lenton area. I hope to have it ready for when the students come back in September and have found some funding to get a few thousand printed, unless, of course, the City Council and NCT have a change of heart and do it before me.

A FOOTNOTE:  I have received a reply from City Councillor Jane Urquhart, the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Transport which she has kindly agreed I can publish here in full. Thank you Jane.

Thank you for your comments regarding Nottingham's public transport.

In answer to your question regarding the NCT journey planner map - NCT kindly added in the City Council supported services onto their map previously but as a commercial operator they are not obliged to do so and have removed them this time.

They cannot however promote another bus company's services, this would not be acceptable under the Transport Act 1985. The City Council does however produce an all operator frequent routes map and destination finder and have done so for the past 10 years. This includes, all bus and tram services that offer a frequency of 15 mins or better . This map is available in leaflet form from NCT's Travel Centre, libraries and the Broadmarsh Travel Centre. It is also in all of the City Council's bus shelters, displayed in the sheltercase or it can also be found on-line on our website.

It would be very difficult to maintain an all operator map for Nottingham ( more than the one noted above), having 10 transport operators in the City. Service changes happen almost monthly with one operator or another adding new routes or changing timetables and routes.

The tram route map used to show only NCT's connecting services and not the other 9 transport operators. The need for information about all  the connecting operator services  to be shown on the route maps has already been raised with the new  tram consortium.

Service L5 is a City Council supported service, information relating to this service has been on the City Council's website from its commencement, NCT linked to it originally from their website, but removed this link recently. Please find the link to L5 information -

I hope this has  gone same way to answering  your questions, we do try to provide as much public information as possible, and to improve where we can, but we are sometimes hampered by rules and regulations that we have to ‘work with’

Kinds Regards
Jane Urquhart
Cllr Sherwood Ward and Portfolio Holder for Planning and Transport

International news today:
Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador from Egypt and threatened to close its embassy and all its consulates in protest at a series of demonstrations against the arrest of an Egyptian man.
National news today: A majority of doctors support measures to deny treatment to smokers and the obese, according to a survey that has sparked a row over theNHS's growing use of "lifestyle rationing".

Nottingham news today: A FORMER leader of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers has been jailed for four years for stealing almost £150,000 from a Notts charity which cared for elderly miners.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Nottingham: Greater than the sum of its parts

Back in the 1980s and 90s my wife Susan worked job-share as Nottinghamshire County Council's Social Services Librarian and Information Officer. She never went a week without a telephone call from a Long Eaton resident seeking advice or assistance because the caller was convinced that they lived in Nottinghamshire. Susan would explain that they actually lived in Derbyshire, but more often than not back came the response "But I have a Nottingham postcode and telephone number and I work in Nottingham".

It is amazing how many people living outside Nottingham City Council's boundary feel very proprietorial about the city. Don't take my word for it. Just go through copies of the Nottingham Post for a week or two and I guarantee that you will read more letters about city services, facilities and events from non-residents living in the surrounding areas than you will from actual city residents.

As a local historian I have long argued that Nottingham should pay more attention to its 'Domesday' communities. Places now part of the Nottingham city council area, but with their own entries in William the Conquerer's great 'Domesday Book' of 1086. All of them were separate communities well into the 19th century. It is a historical fact that without the patronage and support of Lenton's Cluniac Priory, Nottingham the borough would probably have got less royal attention than it did. Without the coal mine owners, weavers, lacemakers and manufacturers in places like Ruddington, Beeston, Bulwell, Radford and Wollaton to name but a few, Nottingham's merchants and guilds would not have thrived or become as wealthy as some did.

There is a view that the tiny 19th century borough that was Nottingham expanded to take over the Lentons and Sneintons that surrounded it. I would argue that these communities very much wanted to be part of a greater Nottingham borough because they realised it would be to their ultimate advantage. They argued for the link roads that we now know as 'the boulevards' and ensured that we had open spaces for our leisure. I look at one, Lenton Recreation Ground, every day from my bedroom and living room windows and bless the negotiating skills of those 19th century Lentonians.

None of these places on their own amounted to as much as they did when they became one, when they joined forces at various times between 1877 and 1951, the last time Nottingham's boundary was extended in any significant way. Wollaton and Bilborough did not become part of the city until 1932, whereas Basford, Bulwell, Lenton, Radford and Sneinton joined the then borough in 1877. Clifton and the south part of Wilford joined in 1951. Since then? Nothing.

The last great local government re-organisation in 1974 has to be seen as a missed opportunity on a grand scale. Across the country, national and local politicians connived to protect their interests and one can only assume that some short-sighted Nottingham grandees conspired to keep Labour in and the Tories out, whilst in West Bridgford and Arnold there were almost certainly those who wanted to keep the Tories in and Labour out. The end result was a disaster in terms of good local governance.

In 1974 I was a Birmingham city councillor and Secretary of the city's Borough Labour Party, and found myself embroiled in all the arguments we had there. Birmingham already had a population of 900,000 but still had Sutton Coldfield grafted on and became a city of over one million people. We wanted Chelmsley Wood, then part of Meriden, because it was home to thousands of Brummies in homes built by Birmingham City Council (one of my favourite books, Estates: An Intimate History by Lynsey Hanley, tells you what happened and why). We lost the fight and the area became part of Solihull. The Tories were cock-a-hoop. With twelve Tory councillors from Sutton they thought they would win control. They didn't. They had to wait until 1976. I tell you this because I came to Nottingham in 1979 and became a county councillor in 1981 and saw immediately all the disadvantages of the city being part of the county council and the problems caused by having its boundary so tightly drawn. I began arguing for a unitary Greater Nottingham council then and have lost count of the number of times I have been told since to forget the idea.

And here we are, thirty years on and for the first time I feel as if something may be about to happen.  By chance, today's Nottingham Post devotes a page to the topic under the heading 'Mayor debate opens up the thorny issue of whether to widen city boundaries' and includes a map, which I reproduce below:

The first thing that strikes me is how tightly drawn this boundary would have been and begs the question, what would have happened to the what was left of Broxtowe, Gedling and Rushcliffe boroughs? The trouble with the 2007 proposal was that 'the deal' (albeit that it came to nothing) was done behind closed doors. In a letter to the Nottingham Post recently I said that: 'Perhaps what we need is a 'Greater Nottingham Governance Commission' to collect evidence and views on how we could create a system of local government better suited to the needs of the 21st century in the conurbation which is, in reality, the 'Nottingham' we all recognise and identify with, even though we may, as yet, be unwilling to accept the fact'.

Once the mayoral referendum is out of the way, I hope something like my proposed commission can be established from the grass roots up to collect evidence and ideas. I would envisage the first part of the process to be a survey asking residents in Nottingham and the surrounding boroughs how they define 'Nottingham' in geographical and social terms. This data would then be used to produce maps of Nottingham as seen by residents in each local authority area. I would allow six months for this. 

During the same period I would collate data for each area covering a wide range of topics, from the number of councillors and voters per councillor to community groups and service 'satisfaction' ratings. This would bring us to early-2013 by which time 2011 Census data should be available — something I see as crucial if we are to understand our area better. 

With all this information in the public domain, I would give individuals and organisations three months to formulate and publish their own proposals based on the evidence. At the end of this period we would allow a further three months to collate the proposals and for verification of any disputed data in the proposals.

So the second year of the Commission would begin with a series of sessions in public so that those making detailed proposals could speak to them and answer questions. This would bring us up to September 2013 at the earliest. Hopefully, some of the proposals will be able to find common ground, with the result that we may be left with a manageable number of proposals to further debate. The aim would be to put at least three options to voters in May 2014, plus a 'no change' option, with a view that the chosen option would come into effect on 1 April 2016 (assuming voters reject the 'no change' option).  Elections, if needed, could be held in May 2015 and would allow for a twelve month changeover period.

This is my scenario of what could be done and would fit in extremely well with the work of Nottingham North MP Graham Allen and his Parliamentary 'Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee', which has proposed the codifying of the relationship between local and central government — a kind of 'Magna Carta', which includes the following:

Article 6 – Council Governmental Systems:  Local citizens, through their councils, have the autonomy to choose decision making processes which should be subject to a binding referendum. Processes must be reviewed every eight years. Any electoral system can be adopted by local citizens following consultation and a referendum.

This aim if realised could be tested by the people of Greater Nottingham making common cause for change.

I have deliberately stayed away from where an 'elected mayor' fits into all this because this idea is not part of my argument in favour of some kind of 'Greater Nottingham Governance Commission'. Anyone who has read letters by me published in The Guardian and Nottingham Post over the years, or heard me talk on the topic, will know that I believe in community empowerment and devolved budgets and control to councillors representing single member wards (once I would have argued for urban parish councils, but there are now legal mechanisms in place which actually give more powers to councillors should they want to exercise them).

My personal ideas for a possible 'Greater Nottingham Metropolitan City Area' have their origins in public transport connections across the area. My map below shows those places that have Monday–Saturday daytime links with Nottingham city centre every fifteen minutes or better. It's a simple test and a good one.

I have some ideas about how strategic services and facilities in this area could be organised whilst strengthening local communities at the same time, but this is a topic for the future. Right now I want to get people thinking about how they perceive Nottingham as a place in terms of its geography. How different would your map be to mine or that published in the Nottingham Post today?

International news today: From the anti-austerity firebrands of Greece's imminent elections to the corruption crusaders in Prague, from the Pirates of Berlin to the populists who scored well in France's presidential election, a new wave of anti-establishment parties are on the rise across Europe, posing a threat to the political elite.

National news today: Pupils are ditching chips, hamburgers and sweets for soup, sandwiches and fruit juice at lunchtime in the wake of the school food revolution begun by Jamie Oliver, a new study reveals. But the chef warned that this "huge progress" was at risk from the government's "short-sighted and dangerous" decision to exempt academies and free schools from the rules that have compelled other schools to improve the food they offer to students.

Nottingham news today: Westminster City Council is considering plans to move homeless housing benefit claimants to Nottingham and Derby, according to proposals by one of its private providers, Smart Housing Group (SHG).

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Nottingham City Council: a heritage disaster zone

It's that building again. Seeing the Severn's Building the other day with its Nottingham City Council 'for sale' sign in the window, it seemed to epitomise everything that is wrong about Nottingham City Council and its failure to care for the city's heritage in so many different ways. This is not something I like saying, but things have reached the point where I do not want the Heritage Lottery Fund to give the City Council another penny until it comes up with a comprehensive heritage policy for the city.

Just yards from the Severn's Building is Brewhouse Yard, home to The Museum of Nottingham Life. The council's own website says 'This delightful museum is sited in Brewhouse Yard at the base of Castle Rock, a location that itself reveals much about Nottingham's social history. The museum depicts the social history of Nottingham over the last 300 years and is housed in five 17th century cottages adjacent to the famous 'Trip to Jerusalem' public house'. Unfortunately 'The museum now opens for special events and pre-booked tours of parties of 10 or more only' — in other words it is, for all intents and purposes, closed!

Three years ago, the city council closed Nottingham Industrial Museum in Wollaton Park. I wrote about that closure at the time in The Nottinghamshire Historian and more recently to report on its re-opening, thanks to the work of Nottingham Arkwright Society volunteers.

Other city museums have not been so lucky. The internationally acclaimed Costume Museum and the Nottingham Canal Museum have long gone, although both continue to appear on wildly out-of-date websites. Even the Severns Building once housed a lace museum.

The City Council also owns Newstead Abbey, which it only opens on Sunday afternoons and has been trying to dump for years. Its Lord Byron connections attract visitors from all around the world, many who never get inside the house and leave disappointed. The reason the city can't find a taker is because it will cost any new owner a fortune to refurbish and maintain.

Putting aside Green's Windmill in Sneinton, which opens just twenty hours a week, we are left with the jewels in the crown: Wollaton Hall and Nottingham Castle. It is these two museums which take the money, whilst more money has been diverted in recent years to Nottingham Contemporary and The New Art Exchange and both, as worthy as they are, have been culpable partners in the demise of city museums celebrating industrial and working class history.

They have some defence in the argument that they are under-resourced, but they do not use it. When they talk about 'cuts' the City Council is never referring to the city's heritage. I could talk about conservation areas, which I have written about in previous blogs, but what they have done with the city's museums is case enough.

The simple truth is that Nottingham has museums which serve a conurbation of 700,000 and five council areas, but the income of one derived from low levels of council tax and a population of 300,000 — in other words the city is starved of cash. Publicly it is very defensive about any suggestion that some of its services (and museums  are a prime example) need to be managed and controlled by the Greater Nottingham conurbation its serves and the other, surrounding, councils (the Hucknall part of Ashfield, Broxtowe, Gedling and Rushcliffe) should be putting money in the pot to help pay for services and facilities they are as much beneficiaries of as Nottingham city residents.

For me, this is the other side of the current debate we are having in the city about whether to have an elected mayor to run the city instead of councillors and is one of the reasons I will be voting 'no' next Thursday (3 May) — having a mayor will do nothing to address problems like this.

Nottingham City Council has turned Nottingham into a heritage disaster zone and their track record to date suggests that, barring a miracle, things will get worse before they get better. In the circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that we need a 'Nottingham Heritage Trust' with the power to manage and fundraise for museums and heritage related services and facilities in the Greater Nottingham area. It's simple and would be easy to manage and could be done within months and be in place for 1 April 2013 if all the councils agreed to contribute money to cover running costs in proportion to their population.

International news today: French presidential election fight for fascist votes.

National news today: London councils make the headlines with their plans to move thousands of Londoners, who will be made homeless by Coalition Government cuts, to other parts of England, including Walsall, Nottingham and Derby.

Nottingham news today: City Councillor Jeannie Packer who represents Clifton on Nottingham City Council has resigned the Labour whip.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

History on show

This is a picture of the Severns building on Castle Road, opposite the entrance to Nottingham Castle. It is owned by the City Council and is for sale. I will tell you more about it in my next post. I think it fair to say that it has been neglected for a while…

…as this close up of the grass growing in the gutter shows.  I had this lovely old house in my mind as I went around the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, just south-west of  Birmingham, with Susan and our grandson Curtis last Saturday. It was a wonderful day out, albeit that it ended with us being towed home to Nottingham by an AA van after we broke down on Icknield Street (an old Roman road) somewhere between Redditch and Wythall.

Anyway, let me get back to Avoncroft and what we saw there. What I want to share with you is just some of the pics that I took.

Where our visit began and ended — in the Shrewsbury Co-op Tearoom. Originally a Tudor merchant's house it became an inn called The String of Horses in 1786 and a co-op shop in 1912, before being dismantled and re-erected at Avoncroft in the 1970s. We had a lovely bacon sandwich with a Worcester pork sausage on the side and I had a lovely lardy cake when we arrived with an excellent cup of filtered coffee.

One of the historic buildings on the site is a nailshop from Bromsgrove, part of which is occupied by a working blacksmith. If only pictures could have smells and emit heat. This reminded me of growing up and my grandfather's workshop at the back of the house where we lived in Wembley.

There was a modern open barn like building at the museum where various things were stored.  One section was devoted to the types of brick 'bonds' used in building. The stretcher bond is usually seen in the simplest of structures and walls…

…whereas English bond is usually used in buildings…

…as is Flemish bond. I could name them, but not describe them. In truth I would still be hard pressed to do that, so I'll just let the pics talk for themselves.

This is the fantastic 'king post' roof of the 'Cock Pit' which began life as just that in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, in the 18th century. Later it became a theatre and then a coach house, before coming to Avoncroft in 1973.

This sink is described as a 'Combined housemaid's sink & slop hopper' (see pic below) and is in one corner of the Cock Pit. A reminder of a servant's lot in pre-flush toilet days, although my grandparents continued to have a 'potty' in their bedroom until the day my grandfather died in 1976, even though there was a flush toilet less than twelve foot away.

I could not look at this without thinking about the thousands who die each year because they have no sanitation.

Curtis has kindly agreed to let me show him testing some related exhibits. The19th century Ledbury (Herefordshire) Magistrates' cell block has three cell, all are quite spacious and had their own flushing loos.

This loo (or 'earth closet' to give it its proper name) came with the Toll House (see pic below) and located in its own little hut away from the house. Notice the newspaper squares, which  we actually used when we were children. I grew up with a flushing loo attached to the side of the house with limed walls. Even the smell was the same. We had tiles on the floor just like these in the pic, which were simply placed on compacted soil.

This early 18th century earth closet from the garden of Townsend House, near Leominster, was an altogether grander affair. Going to the loo then was obviously a much more social affair. I had country relatives in Great Chesterford (Essex) with a outhouse and wooden box which contained a galvanised bucket and if I wanted a wee, I was told to go and do it on the beans — which I did!  The waste was poured from the bucket into a tank, which a council lorry came and emptied every week. I remember staying there when the council were putting in a communal cesspit for the row of country council houses my aunt and uncle lived in, so that the lorry only had to come every month instead.

Sometimes the simplest of buildings are the most delightful, as with this 18th century stable from Wychbold, Worcestershire. The building to the right is a 18th century wagon shed from Hanbury in the same county.

This sign appears above the entrance to the Little Malvern Toll House which was built in 1822 and given to Avoncroft in 1985. Turnpikes were a 19th century attempt to build private roads which ultimately failed for a raft of reasons, but across England toll houses like this one have survived, usually by becoming ordinary houses.

Toll houses have attracted quite a bit of attention in recent years and it is easy to see why.

The toll house keeper lived in this little house with his family and conditions can best be described as 'snug'. I took this pic without a flash and it is probably only as bright as this because the door was open. There is also a back ground floor room and two bedrooms on the 1st floor. A romantic could live in the house, but a practical person would find it difficult. It would make a great weekend 'cottage' in the countryside or, even better, by the sea.

I first fell in love with this 16th century cruck-frame barn in 1974 — the year it was re-erected at Avoncroft. It came from a farm near Leominster in Herefordshire.

1974 was also the year I became Chair of the then Midland Area Museums Service which had its office at Avoncroft. I was a young Birmingham city councillor at the time and for the next four years I went to Avoncroft every few months. Much of what I saw then at this wonderful museum I cannot remember, but this I do.

This small building was the Counting House at Bromsgrove Cattle market from 1853 until 1978, when the market closed and the building moved to Avoncroft.

This 16th century merchant's house from Bromsgrove is another building I remember from my visits in the 1970s. It was the first building to be re-erected at Avoncroft in 1967. It has since been joined by twenty-four other historic buildings. Today, people spend good money having 21st century versions built with all mod cons and it is easy to see why. It really does look a picture…

…but the socialist and historian in me loves this humble post-war 1940s prefab from Birmingham so much more for lots of reasons. It was (and remains) a statement. A statement of intent by the greatest government Britain has ever had. In those dark years of rationing and austerity after 1945, the Labour Government under the leadership of Clement Attlee, found the vision and energy to tackle a housing crisis on an epic scale and to take the Tories along with them.

My Uncle Smiler and Auntie Wean lived in a prefab in Kingsbury, Middlesex, a bus ride away from Wembley, where I grew up. I used to go there on my own on the bus to stay and play with my cousins, Fiona and Derek. The prefab backed onto open fields and the Welsh Harp, a large lake, and had electric light and heating, a fridge and was light and airy. It had two bedrooms, a decent sized kitchen and a large living room. By today's standards it was big.

Prefabs were intended as short-term housing intended to last ten years or so whilst more permanent homes were built. And although the Kingsbury prefabs went in the late 1960s, others have survived to this very day and are lovingly cared for by passionate owners.

In 2012 we desperately need politicians and leadership to solve a housing crisis we should, as a nation, be ashamed of. In short we need a 21st century prefab program which takes on the private landlords who have thrived and grown in number since the days of Thatcher.

This house does not appear in any of Avoncroft's blurb because it is a staff house, but doesn't it look picturesque?

My final pic is of a tin Anglican 'mission church' from Bringsty Common in Herefordshire, which dates from 1891 and came to Avoncroft, complete with interior pews and organ. These were probably better known as 'tin tabernacles' and could, until quite recently, be seen everywhere' including Lenton, where I live.

Finally, from the top of Avoncroft's post-house windmill, its weather vane.

The are other museums which have since followed in the footsteps of Avoncroft and are better known — Beamish in County Durham and the Black Country Museum in Dudley to name just two. None are as intimate as Avoncroft, which takes you in and slows you down.

All in all, a perfect day with Curtis, Susan and I remember for ever, even though I suspect that the day will become parked in some deep recess of his mind only to be  re-called on a future visit, perhaps many years from now.

From the national news: West Bromich Albion beat Liverpool 1–0 at Liverpool and one Black Country girl goes to bed happy.