The Junction pub – pictured here in the distance at the top of the two rows of Lower Holme’s former mill cottages – was last night the venue for a second meeting between Lower Holme residents and developer James Marshall. The first was held ten weeks ago, just two days after the conclusion of our September performances of Multi-Story Water‘s “Red Route” tour – a walk beside canal and river which finished at Lower Holme and told audiences the story of how the former mill site (once owned by Titus Salt himself – and some believe he initially meant to put Salts Mill here…) has been left abandoned and derelict since the mill buildings were demolished in 2006.
One of the more unanticipated outcomes of our research for the performances was that, having met James at his family’s company office in Elland, I was able to set up contact between him and the residents. James is looking to build a Wickes DIY store and a KFC fast food outlet on the derelict mill site, and the normal planning procedure would simply require him to post the plans publicly (online, and at Shipley Town Hall), and then deal with any objections that individual residents lodged, as they arose. Everyone concerned thought there was a better way to do this, and James – to his great credit – was keen to meet in person with residents to discuss their concerns and address them where possible. Of course, none of the residents is particularly thrilled with the retail plans for the site, but proper development of the site is generally recognised as being a vast improvement on the ugly metal fence left up by former site owners Mandale for the last six years…
Now, this might seem to have little to do with “celebrating Shipley’s rivers” (as per our Multi-Story Water project objectives), but Lower Holme’s past and present circumstances are integrally related to the close proximity of the River Aire. The mill was originally built here (by CF Taylor, who bought the site from Salt) in order to make use the water supply, and the current proposal for commercial development is again a consequence of the river being there. Mandale originally wanted to build residential properties on the site (presumably because they were considered more profitable), but that planning application was (according to campaigning resident Margaret Wright) rejected on nine counts — not the least of which is that the entire site is located on a flood plain. So it was back to retail sheds and car parking space…
I was asked to by Heather Moxon (who has worked tirelessly – with Margaret and others – to rally other Lower Holme residents around to present a collective front) to act as an independent chairperson at both the Junction meetings. At the first, back in September, amidst torrential rain (up in North Yorkshire, the Ouse was flooding that week…), we had a packed room full of residents all wondering who Mr. Marshall was and what he was up to. He had sensible answers to most of the more pressing questions about noise, light pollution and rubbish from the retail site encroaching on the residential area, and he even repeated his willingness (first mentioned to me in Elland) to put fresh tarmac on the heavily potholed road running down the eastern side of the site – in front of the odd-numbered houses. The cost of this is close to £40,000, and he doesn’t have to do it at all – he doesn’t even own the road – but it’s a gesture of goodwill towards the residents (as well as, obviously, creating a consistent level of road quality around the site – which James no doubt prefers on aesthetic grounds as much as anything). Most of the residents seemed very satisfied with this at the September meeting, but a lot of questions were left hanging about how exactly the new road layout would work: would it be one-way, two-way, how would access be guaranteed in and out for residents without it becoming a ‘rat run’ for Wickes customers dodging the traffic lights, etc. etc. The crowdedness of the room, and the fact that not everyone could see the plans clearly, or hear all of the conversation, left a clear sense that certain things were unresolved.
James and his architect Tony went away, spent a long time wrangling with the highways people about access points, traffic islands and lane layouts on the main road (apparently he’s going to have to pay about £50,000 for ongoing maintenance of traffic lights that aren’t even his!), and then proposed a second meeting down the pub. So we duly reconvened last night. This time the room was bigger, the pool table provided a much better surface for laying out plans, and less of the residents turned up anyway (presumably happy for the dedicated few to do the remaining wrangling over detail). So we were able to have a much more structured conversation about the key outstanding issues… although that’s not to say that we didn’t have plenty of passion expressed and go down plenty of side-alleys (a couple of them I introduced myself…). But we did reach agreement that everyone in the room was satisfied with, which seemed like quite an achievement, all things considered.
Partly for the sake of recording those agreements in a public forum, for the record, I’m going to outline what was agreed. The main debate revolved around this diagram:
The existing road around the Lower Holme mill houses will become the stretches marked in red and pink. The pink represents fresh tarmac. The red represents the area where existing cobbles will be maintained and restored for conservation reasons (a stipulation of the planning authorities). The new road entrance to the retail areas (just below the red bit in the diagram) has now been agreed with the highways people, so the top end of Lower Holme’s even-numbered side will now be blocked off from the road (where the greenery is), leaving the cobbled street as parking space for residents only. Additional parking spaces for residents have also been made available in the area to the right of the pink strip in this diagram. Originally James intended this for use by the “Office Unit”, but he agreed at the September meeting that more residential parking was a real need (since there were only ten spaces for fifteen houses on the even side).
Last night, the first thing raised by residents was the cut-in road access between the sections of greenery shielding the houses from the retail site. This had been provided for ease of circulation for residents, but the clear consensus of the meeting was that it was not required. Having this bit open would simply encourage unwanted short-cutting by KFC customers (particularly those on foot), potentially creating a significant litter problem in front of the houses. Residents much preferred that a solid wall of green screening be maintained down the length of the road, even though this will require them to drive a bit further round to get to their parking spots. James and Tony were happy to agree to this.
The more complicated issue was road access around the pink section. Did residents want to maintain two-way road access (as currently), and rely on “Residents Only” no-entry signs to deter potential short-cutters and rat-runners? The alternative was to create one-way access at the point where the pink road opens onto the new retail site’s access road. That is, residents would be able to get out here, but one-way floor spikes could stop Wickes customers getting in (to circumvent the traffic lights… although some doubted that they would do this, since drivers would then simply be presented with another obstacle – a difficult right turn to head east towards Charlestown). For a brief moment we considered one-way access in the opposite direction, preventing access from the main road onto the odd-numbered side of Lower Holme, but this was quickly dismissed because (a) this side, running down to the footbridge over the river, is a public highway so can’t legally be blocked, and (b) all residents would have to enter Lower Holme through the retail area, which was not an attractive option.
After much to-ing and fro-ing, those present eventually agreed – and unanimously – that the preferred option would be to prevent any access from the retail side by both narrowing the access point to a single lane, and putting in one-way access spikes. Meanwhile residents were happy that No Entry signs at the top of the odd-numbered side, by the main road, would adequately deter unauthorised traffic from that direction. It was agreed that this ‘one-way’ plan was the best way to ensure that noise and nuisance was kept to a minimum (in practice, residents will still be able to get up and down the old streets in both directions – they just won’t be able to enter from the retail side). Again, James and Tony agreed to the residents’ request on this.
At this point, it looked like we had agreement. Then a bit of a spanner was thrown in the works by one of two representatives from Baildon Parish Council who were in attendance (a man named Ian whose surname I missed). He put it to the residents that, if James was re-tarmacking the road, this was the best possible moment to push for Lower Holme to be adopted by Bradford council. Since so many of the residents’ current problems are the result of it being an unadopted road (it’s deemed privately owned – previously by the mill owners, and now by a complicated mix of James as developer, housing association, and right-to-buy homeowners), having it adopted would solve a lot: proper maintenance of drainage gulleys, emptying of rubbish bins, street cleaning, etc. etc. So shouldn’t the residents push James to bring the road up to the required standard for adoption, Ian argued. James, for his part, pointed out that he was already spending close to £40k on relaying a road that wasn’t even his, and that the other things needed to bring it up to adoption standards (provision of street lighting, provision of new drainage channels, new pavement, etc.) would push that cost up much higher. If pushed to do all or nothing, he suggested, he would have to opt for nothing. The residents could see that this was a reasonable position for James to adopt (why punish generosity by demanding more generosity?), and they certainly did not want to let slip this opportunity to greatly improve the quality of a very degraded road surface. So Ian’s argument was politely rejected… or rather, it was turned around on the council representatives. Since James was doing the tarmac, why couldn’t the council meet him half way and do the rest? The response, predictable enough, was that Bradford has so many unadopted roads that paying to restore and adopt one would be the thin end of the wedge to adopting many more… at a potentially vast cost to the council (a council that is at present, of course, facing massive cutbacks owing to government-imposed austerity measures). So that wasn’t going to happen… much to the disgust of residents who pay the same Council Tax as everyone else, for only a fraction of the services…
In short, then, better to get something done than to ask for more and get nothing done. That was the pragmatic conclusion of the meeting. And with that, we finished our pints and headed off into the night. A good evening’s urban planning completed.
A small postscript here… By coincidence, the other representative of Baildon Parish Council last night was Barney Lerner, of the Aire Rivers Trust (aka Professor David Lerner, of Sheffield University), with whom I’ve met on a number of occasions about the ART’s present project to develop a Catchment Plan for Bradford Beck. A fellow river enthusiast. We were equally surprised to see each other at the meeting, and afterwards Barney congratulated me on my chairing of a meeting that had certainly been vocal and boisterous. “It’s a bit different from our meeting the other week in Saltaire”, he observed, “when everyone was very quiet and obedient.” Very different indeed, but then this was people’s homes we’d been talking about…
I need to catch up on some thoughts about that Beck meeting in another blog post. Watch this space.